Ithaca Incubator: Higher Education and Government Collaboration

Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3)  have partnered to deliver a 9,000 square foot incubator in downtown Ithaca. The new startup space will be located in the Carey Building at 314 East State Street in Ithaca.  Renovations have begun.  The funding of $1 million for the building’s renovation was made available through the Southern Tier Innovation Hotspot, an economic development initiative in the State. Total building renovations were estimated at $3.5 million with Travis Hyde Properties investing $2.5 million, so it was reported.


Carey Building under renovations courtesy of Ithaca Builds

Carey Building under renovations courtesy of Ithaca Builds

Programming for the three years was set at $250K a year for three years for a total of $750K.  It isn’t clear if the educational institutions will pick up the operational costs or if the incubator itself will, however, it seems the former is the case, at least at this moment in time, according to the Cornell Daily Sun.

Artist rendering of the Downtown Ithaca Incubator   Ithaca, New York

Artist rendering of the Downtown Ithaca Incubator Ithaca, New York. Courtesy of Ithaca College and Cornell University.

First and foremost, the incubator is about community.

“This is not an institutional space. This is a community space,” Skorton said, adding that the space will be not only for the entrepreneurs of today, but also available for generations to come.

The incubator’s doors will be open to the wider community, and not just for members of the three educational institutions.

Furthermore, the incubator is meant to enhance the imagination economy in Ithaca:

Once the incubator opens, the “wealth of imagination” in the region should allow the incubator space contribute to the area’s economy, according to John Conners, vice president and provost of TC3.

“Imagination is the lifeblood of what we do as institutions of higher education, and I think that is true of so many people who we align ourselves with here,” Connors said.

The incubator’s mission will be to help new student ventures start and grow.

“This is going to be an enormous benefit to our students, who will get to see the entrepreneurial spirit in action, who will lend their own advice and their own support and work” said Ithaca College President Tom Rochon.

A more elaborate comment can be found on the Ithaca College website and news release:

“This venture is the very definition of a win-win situation, both academically and economically,” said Ithaca College President Tom Rochon. “The incubator will be a terrific resource for budding entrepreneurs whose success depends on the caliber of the mentoring and support they receive in the critical early phases of developing their business ideas and plans. Equally important to Ithaca College, the incubator will offer tremendous benefit to our students, who will have the opportunity to work alongside, learn from and provide support to these entrepreneurs. They will see the entrepreneurial spirit in action and learn by experience what it takes to launch a successful business.” 


Ithaca Downtown Incubator, slated to open Summer of 2014, to be located in the Carey Building

Ithaca Downtown Incubator, slated to open Summer of 2014, to be located in the Carey Building

Cornell Executive Director of New Venture Advancement Tom Shryver ’93, MBA ’02 explained the reasons and activities of the incubator further:

Tompkins County has received $57 million between 2008 and 2012. The money was received through the Small Business Innovation Research Grant, a federal grant given to startup businesses to commercialize ideas coming from universities. This amount, he said, is more than half as much as that received in New York City during the same time period.

Schryver said there are five elements that make up a good entrepreneurial model: coaching and mentoring; a network of potential employees, service providers and partners; a community of entrepreneurs; access to capital and access to a workspace.

“That’s the vision for this place,” Schryver said. “A place where all of those things can come together, where people can have programming events to serve as that epicenter for the community and to be a place where people can start and grow their companies.”

Those that graduate from the incubator can qualify for further funding through the State’s new START-UP NY program. This is another initiative of Governor Cuomo.


Analysis of the Academic Entrepreneur

Ithaca has always needed an incubator in the downtown area. Its great to see that the City is finally getting a proper startup space and leveraging its base of entrepreneurial students across the three institutions. There will be  need to expand and figure out a good business model as 9,000 square feet won’t be enough in a couple of years, and the breakeven point of incubators is about 40,000 or 50,000 square feet for a network of space in a downtown area.

Ithaca is a small city of 30,000 and sits within the Tompkins County region of 150,000. However, there is a great need for incubation space in the Ithaca area at various geographic points. As the former CEO of Student Agencies Incorporated in Ithaca, the Academic Entrepreneur also saw the need for more incubation space in Collegetown near the university as well. While Cornell has a new biotech incubator and Student Agencies Incorporated has formalized its program, there remains a guesstimate need of at least 50,000 sq. feet more of incubation space in Collegetown and another 50,000 square feet in downtown Ithaca (over and above the new Ithaca Downtown Incubator).  In addition, arts and kitchen incubation needs space as well. Fascinatingly, Ithaca remains still at the early days of its development as a mini-region of innovation, despite its awesome potential, flanked by a world leading research university and two quality colleges. Interestingly, Ithaca remains the bright spot in Upstate NewYork, which has been characterized by lingering recession.

This model of collaboration amongst institutions of higher learning is a useful one to learn from as well. Sharing of resources is key, and the combined front is often more effective in raising governmental funding.  Take note of how the 3 institutions split the operating costs of the incubator over three years; and how private money was leveraged by government money for the workspace renovation.  This is a fine example of the Triple Helix in action, with university-government-industry collaboration. Plugging the workspace gap will be beneficial for the “logjam of startups” described by a university administrator in one of the above referenced articles.


Further Details

Overview of the Ithaca Downtown Incubator and FAQs

The downtown business incubator floor plan can be downloaded here. The artist rendering can be found here.

or found below:

Ithaca downtown Incubator Floorplan


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