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Upstate New York funnels $1 billion into high-tech start-ups

Collegiate organizations and technological research firms in Upstate New York are boosting student entrepreneurship with new startup programs and over $1 billion annual investments in research and development.

At least eight successful businesses have sprung up from Cornell’s eLab program. Syracuse’s Student Sandbox business incubator has produced more than thirty startups since its inception in 2009.

The recent innovation has been incorporated into New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s economic development program, which includes selecting ten Upstate New York higher education and private sector high-tech incubators as “hot spots” for new businesses by providing tax incentives and support services.

Other programs at Cornell and Syracuse University, such as Start-Up Weekends, and the Tech Garden, as well as national competitions, have helped spur students and Ithaca residents to generate their own products.
Nick Nikitas, a graduate student at Cornell, is already poised to launch his new application, Rosie, a multi-retailer “personal shopping genius,” on April 3. According to Nikitas, Rosie will pull data from customers’ purchasing behavior and aggregate store data to help users purchase the items they need at the lowest possible cost.

Rosie has partnered with the new Neighborhood Pride grocery store to test the app when it rolls out next month. There are currently over 1400 people signed up for its beta launch in March.

“There is currently no multi-retailer platform where you can go and look at all the things that are being offered in your town,” Nikitas said. “If you go shopping at a store, it takes you almost 60 minutes to buy 30 items. Using Rosie, you can do it in five.”

Nikitas’s business currently operates in an office looking over College Avenue, where he and his coworkers are preparing their product for its release. According to Juno Kim, whose participation with Rosie runs from programming to product design, Nikitas’s team ranges from freshmen to graduate students and beyond.

Multiple groups in town helped Nikitas develop his idea into a full business. Cornell’s eLab, a non-profit established in 2008 that helps students accelerate their products, has taken Rosie under its wing. eLab has launched several different businesses since its creation, from the cloud storage platform Hulkshare to body care line Anjolie Ayurveda.

Local competitions, such as the nationally held Startup Weekend and the Ebay Hack-a-Thon, both hosted at Cornell, helped create “milestones” for Nikitas’ company. Ithaca-based development firms Singlebrook and Gorges have helped work on the app since day one.

“It helps encourage entrepreneurs like us to build companies in Ithaca because they’re giving us a network,” Nikitas said.

Jessica Krause, another one of Nikitas’ coworkers, said that the company has engaged with the community at large to help prepare it for its launch. Rosie’s team has communicated with local parenting blogs to help generate interest.

“They love our product because they realize how much time they spend in the grocery store,” Krause said “We’ve been able to really start up interest in the community that way.”

Ithaca College has seen similar progress in web and programming entrepreneurship. Sophomore Jaclyn Cheri won in the School of Business’ Second Annual Business Idea Competition – along with a $5,000 grand prize – in November 2012 for her “Sales Hop” application.  Cheri’s concept markets grocery items and recipes from respective stores to customers based on what foods will soon perish.

“Those recipes actually correspond to the items that really need to be sold that week or otherwise they’re going to be waste,” Cheri said.  “So they’re kind of featured recipes based on what needs to be pushed out, so that helps the grocery stores while also helping the customers.”

Along with her passion for sustainability, Cheri said Ithaca College’s resources assisted her during the eight week long development program, which culminated in a pitch to former college alumni and local business representatives.

“Marketing communications – my major – has really helped me in developing the app because I’ve learned kind of how to identify a target market and try to understand their needs,” said Cheri, who was also coached and mentored by Ithaca College professors.

“From doing the idea competition and developing the app, I’ve learned that resources and other people are invaluable,” she said.  “I couldn’t have done it without talking to these professors and going to the managers.”

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