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New business incubator opens in Ithaca to aid entrepreneurs

Tom Schryver, lecturer at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management and a mentor at REV, works to mentor budding entrepreneurs in Ithaca.
A new business incubator opened its doors late last month on the Commons in an effort by Ithaca’s three colleges to better the city’s economy through innovation and entrepreneurship.

REV Ithaca Start-Up Works, or REV, offers students and citizens alike a space to collaborate, create, and mold their own start-up companies, particularly those of the technological kind. Cornell University, Ithaca Collegen and Tompkins Cortland Community College are sponsoring the project, which got its primary funding through two grants; one of these grants from the state of $750,000 over three years helped to form the Southern Tier Innovation Hotspot, which allows for REV to collaborate with nearby incubators in Corning, Binghamton University, and at the McGovern Center on Cornell University’s campus.

There have been what REV coordinator Alec Mitchell calls “co-working spaces” in the past that have given rise to such companies as C-Board, a company that makes keycard systems, and Novomer, a technology-based company that produces environmentally-friendly plastics and polymers.

C-Board, which was established in the mid-1970s, is a leading private employer in Ithaca, employing more than 300 employees, and Novomer, based on Cornell technology, came out of the McGovern Center and has raised more than $50 million thus far, said Tom Schryver, lecturer at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management and a mentor at REV.

Mitchell says the REV model is “different and better” because of the readily available mentors at REV.

“Business incubation is very much focused on having a co-working space where people can interact…but also [on gaining] the mentorship and the business advice you need to answer those hard questions,” Mitchell said. “People want to work on their products or their services. They don’t want to focus on the accounting, the model aspects, the questions that are difficult to answer.”

“Ithaca already has a pretty vibrant level of start-up activity, but we wanted to create a home for the community,” said Schryver. “That means we’re not trying to solve everybody’s problems but we’re trying to create a place where everybody can come together and find solutions to those problems and work together.”

Heather Filiberto, vice-president and director of economic development services at Tompkins County Area Development, said REV will help meet the increasing number of business and technology start-ups in Tompkins County.

“They’ve gone from a handful to over 60 companies in the eight years I’ve been here,” she said.

REV started with four members when it first opened on Sept. 22, and has since added two virtual members. REV will focus primarily on technological start-ups, while the McGovern Center focuses on life sciences.

“We’re not here to solve people’s real estate problems,” said Schryver. “We’re here to provide a place for the community, a place for support.”

For JP Heroux, REV has been vital in the beginning stages of his company, Looking Glass Innovations, which is in developing an app to help students better navigate college campuses. The incubator has provided Looking Glass with the right amount of guidance and the right amount of freedom.

“There was one point where I had some connections, had done some networking. At one point someone asked me to send a list of 50 companies [I] might want to work for, and [he’d] see if [he] could connect me. I couldn’t come up with a single one,” said Heroux. “I was just at a spot where I [didn’t] want to work for someone else.”

“It’s just creating a lot of great opportunities for employment, a lot of opportunities to keep [young] people here in the community, the kind of jobs and community life that attracts young people to want to stay here,” Carl Haynes, president of TC3 said. “It enriches the community.”

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