What does it take to grow a world-class business in Upstate New York? We set out to find the answer to that question by interviewing founders from across the region. The result was the “Upstate Founders Playbook,” a candid look at the ups and downs of high-growth entrepreneurship and how different founders approached their challenges.
As in many areas of the United States, deindustrialization left Upstate New York communities with a rich and storied history, but no clear path to the future. As the golden age of Kodak and Xerox gave way to Instagram and Snapchat and once mighty IBM and GE struggled for relevance in the era of pocket supercomputers and alternative energy, upstate leaders and communities have been forced to search for ways to make this region a place where high-paying jobs and a great quality of life can go hand in hand.
The founders we interviewed—at the helm of globally competitive companies—are helping to show the way forward by retaining the brains coming out of our regional colleges and universities:
- Guha and Karthik Bala (Vicarious Visions, a video game developer, and Velan Ventures/Studios, a game development studio)
- George Chamoun and Dan Magnuszewski (Synacor, a multiplatform and revenue partner for communication networks, and ACV Auctions, a platform bringing technology to used-car dealerships)
- Devin Daly and Michael Quigley (SpinCar, digital showroom platform for the automotive industry)
- Greg Galvin (Kionix, a global MEMS inertial sensor manufacturer, and Rheonix, an integrated molecular testing device company)
- Charles Green (Assured Information Security Inc., a company focused on critical Air Force and Department of Defense cyber technology requirements research)
- David Hangauer (Athenex, a global biopharmaceutical company focused on novel therapies for the treatment of cancer)
- Michael Lorenze (Ephesus, a leader in solid-state lighting for indoor and outdoor sports)
- Mikael Totterman and Alex Zapesochny (iCardiac, a core laboratory for cardiac safety and respiratory services, and Clerio Vision, a biotechnology platform for the global ophthalmic market); and
- Christine Whitman (CVC, a semiconductor processing and equipment supplier, and Complemar, a packaging and fulfillment company)
As we synthesized the interviews, we discovered a set of shared themes surrounding their success:
Distant Customers—A shared context for each of these companies is that their customers were spread across the world (Guitar Hero players) or concentrated in distant places (like CVC customers in Silicon Valley).
Global vs. Local—Each of the founders is deeply rooted in his or her local community, but has a global view of business. They are clear-eyed about the challenges of living in communities with few direct flights and scarce growth capital, but also are aware that the life for an emerging tech company in any location requires an enormous amount of resilience.
Focus on Excellence—All of these leaders focused on being better than their competitors and were relentless in their learning velocity. They effectively made location a non-issue for prospective employees, customers, investors and acquirers.
Each of these companies is a direct beneficiary of the research and talent that sets our region apart. In addition, each founder firmly believes in supporting the ambitions of future founders. That is a simple formula for building a growing entrepreneurial economy.
Jennifer Sertl is president and founder of Agility3R, a strategy company dedicated to strengthening enterprise organizational capital. Nasir Ali is co-founder and CEO of Upstate Venture Connect, a nonprofit focused on building a regionwide startup community. Copies of the “Upstate Founders Playbook” can be ordered at https://uvc.org/upstate-founders-playbook/. All proceeds benefit the UVC mission to empower and accelerate Upstate New York’s next generation of founders.
(Editor’s note: Alex Zapesochny, co-founder of iCardiac and Clerio Vision, is Rochester Beacon publisher.)