October 24, 2013

Cornell ‘Leading the Effort’ in Spurring Startups, University Says

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As a hotbed of entrepreneurship, Cornell is leading Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D-N.Y.) effort to revitalize upstate New York’s economy, University administrators said at a public meeting Thursday.

“We haven’t necessarily been boasting about this as much as we need to, but we’re amazing at this,” said Mary Opperman, vice president for human resources. “I think Cornell has been leading the effort for a long time.”

At the helm of the University’s push to drive economic development in the state is Start-Up N.Y., a state-run program that aims to attract businesses, accelerate entrepreneurship and create jobs through partnerships with universities. As one of the institutions partnering with the state in the program, Cornell will offer businesses that move to the area University-owned space from which they can work starting from Spring 2014, Opperman said.

To sweeten the deal, Start-Up N.Y. is giving participating companies various financial incentives: it will allow participating companies to be exempt from paying taxes for 10 years and let companies’ employees pay no income taxes for the first five years of working.

State officials hope that Start-Up N.Y. — which Cuomo described as “one of the most ambitious economic development programs our state has seen in decades” — will bolster the state’s flagging economy. Upstate New York’s “weak population and labor force growth in recent years has raised concerns about a loss of educated workers,” the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said in a 2007 report. By offering tax abatements and work space to businesses moving to the state, Cuomo is optimistic he can fight the brain drain that has depleted upstate New York of highly educated workers.

“In a tax-free environment, no one can match what New York has to offer,” Cuomo said at the program’s official launch Tuesday. “Businesses that are looking to startup or expand, and most importantly create jobs, should look no further. We are leveraging our world-class SUNY system and prestigious private universities to partner with new businesses, providing direct access to advanced research, development resources, experts in high-tech and other industries and all with zero taxes for 10 whole years.”

Cornell administrators are optimistic, too. Start-Up N.Y. will allow Cuomo to “put higher ed at the front and center” of helping upstate New York find its economic identity, Opperman said.

“I think Start-Up New York is a way for the whole higher ed system to support the state, particularly upstate New York,” she said.

Even before formalizing its economic development efforts with the state, Cornell had long been involved with spurring entrepreneurship locally, Opperman said.

“We’re actually a very entrepreneurial campus here in Ithaca. A lot has been said about New York City, but I think we’re also doing a lot here,” she said.

From 2006 to 2011, Cornellians founded 141 companies in Tompkins County, 130 of which were based in Ithaca, according to Opperman. The companies alumni founded have created 576 of the 1,300 jobs that opened up in that time frame.

Cornellians have also helped raise $484 million in investment capital in Ithaca area, Opperman said.

“We’ve been involved in entrepreneurship for a while,” she said, highlighting the Cornell Nanoscale Facility, Entrepreneurship@Cornell, the PopShop and eLab as examples of incubators and advancers of the start-up scene in Ithaca.

Cornell’s involvement with Start-Up N.Y. is just another way the University can support its home state, Opperman said.

“It puts universities front and center in the attraction of businesses to upstate New York and is a great challenge for us. Its purpose is simple: to bring economic development through the attraction of new jobs to the region,” she said.