After slow start, SUNY incubator marks 15 years

OBSERVER Photo by M.J. Stafford Charles Cornell, director of the Fredonia Technology Incubator, stands in the lobby.

The Fredonia Technology Incubator has stood in downtown Dunkirk for 15 years. The incubator’s head, Charles Cornell, says it has made a loud impact with the community.

“There have been three key developments that began in 2014,” he said. “First, we have significantly increased SUNY Fredonia student involvement at the incubator. We have developed an annual student business competition, several internships each semester, and a summer entrepreneurial fellowship program. We also have the innovation design studio, which includes high performance computers and recording equipment. The studio was driven by student interest and we obtained private funding to support the purchase of the equipment and furniture.

“Second, is community engagement. We host hundreds of community events each year. As an economic development partner, we have become an economic development hub. Economic development organizations like the Chautauqua County IDA are tenants in our facility. We routinely collaborate with many community organizations. The Chautauqua County Partnership for Economic Growth has supported our progress.

“Third, we have substantially increased our external funding through grants and other revenue sources. The John R. Oishei Foundation, and the New York State Incubator program through Empire State Development have been major financial contributors to our development and success.”

According to its mission statement, the incubator “promotes economic growth by supporting entrepreneurship and development of new, innovative companies into successful business ventures.” Cornell stated it provides administrative and business services, mentoring, networking, professional consulting and education opportunities such as workshops.

Before Cornell’s arrival, however, the incubator faced a rough road as community expectations were high for a quick fix to the region’s lagging economy.

Some of those businesses that were highly touted but failed to meet expectations included: SellingHive, which billed itself as a social networking technology that facilitates working relationships between buyers and sellers; Silicon Wolves Computing Society LLC, which attempted a consumer-friendly, high-performance computing system developer and manufacturer of the most advanced workstations and computer gaming solutions on the market; and the Center for Sports Skill Measurement & Improvement, LLC, which aimed to help athletes of all levels reach their potential by providing a baseline, sport-specific skill measurement through its network of independent testers.

Cornell said that any entrepreneur that wants to access the incubator’s services should contact him or his staff directly. There is contact information and applications for clients, along with interns and business mentors, on the incubator’s website.

“The entrepreneur must then complete a short online application that is reviewed by our application review committee,” Cornell said.

One user of the incubator is Junaid Zubairi, CEO of ZubAir, which does flight data transmission and processing.

A SUNY Fredonia faculty member, he “was doing research and I got the opportunity to convert it into commercial prospects,” he said. The incubator offers him an office suite, complete with furniture and online access, and a research laboratory. In addition, it helps him with accounting and “reaching out, and finding contacts to reach out to,” he said.

Zubairi and a student assistant created a marketable prototype from his research. “We made a team and Chuck Cornell was part of the team as a mentor,” he said.

At a certain point, businesses will “graduate” from the incubator. “Basically, when a client becomes a free-standing enterprise and no longer needs our support, they graduate from the program,” Cornell said. “A team of staff and mentors determine when graduation has been achieved. The typical time period for a client of a business incubator is three years, no longer than five years.

Zubairi is still working out of the incubator, awaiting a grant to help him get his final product to market.

Cornell said successful clients have these traits: “Hard work, persistence, willingness to take a risk, and listening to advice.”

Zubairi said of the incubator, “It has been crucial for what we have done so far.”


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