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March Innovation Hot Spot Meeting Showcases NY Resources, New Companies

In early March 2024, the NYC Innovation Hot Spot hosted an inaugural Network Resources Meeting at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice to highlight resources available to startups that have already participated in regional and national I-Corps. In conjunction with the event, for the first time, CUNY I-Corps awarded 30 startups up to $3,000 in grants to support prototype development. A dozen of those companies presented their story to the 100 attendees, describing how they had leveraged their grant to advance their work.

John Blaho, Director for Industrial Academic Research at CUNY’s Division of Innovation and Applied Research, kicked things off by sharing the success story of I-Corps at CUNY over the past decade, describing the resources available through the NYC Innovation Hot Spot.


Blaho described the dreaded potential “valley of death,” the gap that can occur between initial funding for basic research and I-Corps programs, and securing the private funding needed to bring a product to market, with so many challenges to building that bridge to investment. “If you look at the commercialization pathway, one of the steps is often prototype development,” said Blaho. “Today we are showcasing how we can help companies with this step. And after the Hot Spot, there are other federal programs, like the manufacturing extension partnerships, to help get to the next phase, such as supply chain and staffing.”


Ariella Trotsenko, Director of the New York Innovation Hot Spot, who organized the meeting with Cira Cardaci, Manager of the New York Innovation Hot Spot, then introduced a panel representing incubators and accelerators to describe the array of resources available to companies in New York and beyond. Carlo Yuvienco, the inaugural director of the new Ford Incubator at Rockefeller University, described the recently launched initiative and facility offering seats for up to 50 scientists, likely 10-15 startups. Yuvienco described the high-end labs and modern offices, including freezer farm, tissue culture suites, CRISPR, and more. Their application encompasses pre-seed, seed state, and series A funded companies. The Ford Incubator does not take equity in its incubator companies. 


Next, Richard Mullings, assistant director of LaGuardia Apex Accelerator, shared how his organization advises startups on securing government contracts, whether city, state, or federal. He described the wealth of government contracts at stake—for example, with the federal government seeking to allocate 23 percent of its $750B annual spend with small businesses, and 30 percent with minority and women owned businesses. Mullings reviewed the specific three-step process necessary for companies to qualify as a potential government vendor. He also shared tools for research and marketing, to help startups determine whether the government buys what a company intends to sell.


Kinda Younes, executive director of ITAC, shared her perspective on advising startups with manufacturing and technology. ITAC—the Industrial Technology Assistance Corporation—is a nonprofit funded by the federal and state government. She shared how her organization helps NYC-based firms, working one on one to address specific concerns, financial planning, succession planning, growth, marketing, supply chain optimization, improving on-time delivery, and more. 


The panelists also responded to audience questions, including “What services do they offer that companies don’t initially realize they need?” Mullings described how they advise on hiring the right staff to grow their business. Younes shared how ITAC begins with a holistic discovery meeting that becomes an open conversation about priorities to help uncover unknown, unmet needs. Yuvienco said applicants are sometimes surprised by the array of resources that they offer to scientists, such as in-house pipette calibration. 


After a brief break came the Flash Demo Presentations—two minute “lightning” presentations by a dozen startup teams. Most shared how they had leveraged their grant to further their product development. Participating companies included Beamfeed, Cienca, Backyard Quarterback, Addinex Technolgoies Inc., Vyirtech, Nesys, NeARabl, SynchroPET, Epiph AI, Malamute, Sentinel, and Shieldlytics.


Arber Ruci, Entrepreneur in Residence at CUNY’s I-Corps Program and an I-Corps instructor, concluded the presentation round, saying, “This was not a pitch competition. Everyone here won! What you are looking at is companies that are going to be in our lives every day in the next three to five years.”


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