NextCorps gets $4.5 million in federal grant

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NextCorps’ track record in fostering innovation has resulted in a $4.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation. 

The nonprofit, which has successfully administered Luminate NY and a manufacturing accelerator, will test a replicable model to better support the needs of early-stage, deep-tech businesses over a two-year period, officials say. Binghamton University’s Koffman Southern Tier Incubator will test the model.

The overarching goal: augment commercialization of new ideas and bolster economic development in regional technology hubs across the nation.

“We are experiencing a period of rapid expansion in deep tech, including clean energy, semiconductors and biotech, and it’s critical that we help our nation support development and ensure a healthy supply chain,” says James Senall, president of NextCorps.

Called the Accelerator Ignition Program, the model will draw from curriculum and learnings at both NextCorps accelerators. Luminate NY focuses on startups in optics, photonics and imaging, while the Manufacturing Accelerator assists fledgling companies with reducing risk, waste and costs associated with moving a prototype into mass production.

The Koffman Southern Tier Incubator’s new accelerator will support startups working on energy storage applications. It will pair entrepreneurs with NextCorps’ packaged curriculum and the region’s battery industry expertise and resources, which include support from academia, business, regional clusters, professional societies and government entities, officials say. 

“With the NSF’s support, we can train business accelerators in deep tech centers around the country to take advantage of the unique offerings of their region, such as we did with our rich OPI community,” Senall says. ”These centers will be able to run their own self-sustaining programs that both deliver game-changing innovation and support local economies.” 

The addition of an energy-focused startup accelerator at the Koffman also is expected to  attract the best startups and talent to the region to advance new ideas.

“The critical energy storage issues facing our world can only be addressed by investing in innovation,” says Per Stromhaug, associate vice president of innovation and economic development at Binghamton University. “By effectively supporting entrepreneurs and giving them knowledge, tools and access to battery innovation ecosystem and resources, including manufacturers, we can help them accelerate the commercialization of energy storage solutions that prioritize climate goals, meet the growing energy demand, are financially sustainable and provide quality career opportunities.” 

This initiative lines up with New York’s efforts in energy storage technology. The state has secured $63.7 million in federal funds with a $50 million match from Empire State Development to build a battery industry cluster. It hopes to position the Southern Tier as a leader in battery innovation, workforce development and manufacturing. Binghamton and New Energy New York also are finalists for an NSF engine regional designation.

“This new $4.5 million NSF investment will supercharge the proven strengths of NextCorps and Binghamton University to grow new battery and energy storage startup companies across the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier,” says Sen. Chuck Schumer. “I was proud to deliver the once-in-a-generation $63 million investment last year to create the battery industry cluster that is now transforming the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes into America’s home for battery innovation and production. 

“This new partnership will further boost our efforts to bring manufacturing back from overseas, and train thousands of workers for good-paying jobs in an industry that will define this century.”

New York has already made strides to boost its presence in research, manufacturing and supply chains for semiconductors—critical to deep-tech applications—through the CHIPS and Science Act.

For NextCorps, the grant is a nod to its work in leveraging university, community and industry to guide and speed the delivery of emerging technologies, with the Luminate and Manufacturing accelerators. In the last five years, NextCorps has served 536 companies and helped its startup clients raise $562 million in funding, officials say. 

“The early-stage time frame is when some of the most transformative innovations emerge, yet it’s also when startups are the most vulnerable. This acceleration model will give them a safe harbor, as well as the time and support needed to initiate their first profits and grow their businesses,” says Sujatha Ramanujan, Luminate’s managing director. 

Luminate now has 60 companies with a total estimated valuation of $650 million. Last week, it concluded the sixth round of its program. The Manufacturing Accelerator has been successfully implemented in Rochester and in Pittsburgh, in partnership with local National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Extension Partnership Centers in each region.

By testing the new model, NextCorps hopes to improve startup success nationwide. 

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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