Ithaca, N.Y. — Two recent stories in national publications have highlighted Ithaca’s growing startup scene — and questioned how or if the city of gorges can compete with the Big Apple and Silicon Valley.

The number of business and technology startups in Tompkins County has dramatically swelled in the last few years, Heather Filiberto, vice-president and director of economic development services at Tompkins County Area Development, told Ithaca-Week.

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

Cornell’s president at Rev, a new startup incubator in downtown Ithaca. (Photo courtesy of Cornell)

National publicity

CNN Money published a story Thursday about Ithaca’s startup scene under the headline, “Can this small town compete with Silicon Valley?

The story lists several key factors in support of this premise:

— Cornell has “heavily invested in fostering bright, entrepreneurial minds.”

— Two weeks ago, Ithaca and the local colleges opened the downtown incubator Rev.

— There are many success stories already. CNN Money looked at entrepreneur Greg Galvin, who — according to the story — has launched three businesses that  have brought in approximately $400 million in revenue and created 300 jobs in the city.

— A growth spurt in other fields — particularly $300 million in real estate development — is bringing other money into the city of Ithaca.

Before the CNN story, the Wall Street publication “The Street” interviewed Mayor Svante Myrick about the growing startup scene in Ithaca. That interview was published Sept. 29.

The Street said:

As the economy and job market improve, entrepreneurship has been on the decline in the U.S. However, entrepreneurship is on the rise in Ithaca, New York.”

Last year, The New York Times also highlighted the strength of Ithaca’s growing start-up scene:

“Ithaca has used the deep intellectual bench of its neighboring colleges and community entrepreneurs to help create everything from skateboard companies to high-tech start-ups, an approach to job creation that has attracted the admiration of nearby municipalities.

“They’ve been able to cross over the barrier from nonprofit and transition into a for-profit entrepreneurial model, which is not an easy task,” said Stephanie A. Miner, the mayor of Syracuse, about 45 miles to the north. “We’ve done it as well, but we don’t have the kind of penetration that Ithaca has.”

Institutional support for new business, Ms. Miner added, also attracts investors unconnected to the schools. “When you look at the venture capitalists that are in upstate New York or that are investing in upstate New York, always first, in the areas that that money is going to, is Ithaca,” she said.


Revving the startup engine

(Editor’s Note: This part of the story was written by Ithaca Week reporters Sage Daugherty and Mia O’Brien. Ithaca Week, an Ithaca Voice partner, is a magazine produced by the students of the Advanced Multimedia Journalism class at the Roy H. Park School of Communications, Ithaca College.)

Cornell University, Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College are sponsoring the new Rev incubator, which got its primary funding through two grants.

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.

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.”

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.

For JP Heroux, REV has been vital in the beginning stages of his company, Looking Glass Innovations, which is 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.”


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.