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Ithaca blossoms as a center for entrepreneurs andventure capitalists

By Zach Shulman

Cornell's push to foster an entrepreneurial mindset is paying great dividends: Ithaca has become increasingly attractive to venture capital-backed companies from across the country.
Zachary Shulman is a managing partner at the Cayuga Venture Fund and a J. Thomas Clark Senior Lecturer of Entrepreneurship at the Johnson School.
Zachary Shulman is a managing partner at the Cayuga Venture Fund and a J. Thomas Clark Senior Lecturer of Entrepreneurship at the Johnson School.
For example, the portfolio companies of the Cayuga Venture Fund have received over $250 million in aggregate venture capital investments. Local venture-backed companies employ hundreds of highly skilled employees and tout an aggregate revenue base exceeding $40 million.

Ithaca is gaining ground particularly as a great place for high-tech startups. Several Cornell-driven factors are driving this momentum. First, a strong and growing entrepreneurial spirit characterizes key Cornell constituents. Second, as part of Cornell's Life Sciences Initiative, a business incubator known as the Innovation Development and Economic Application (IDEA) Center will provide space and resources for Cornell faculty, students and staff who want to create startup businesses to commercialize technology licensed from the University. Third, Cornell is working to promote economic development in Ithaca by attracting businesses and creating an environment that fosters local startups and encourages them to stay here. Fourth, Cornell offers multiple shared-use facilities that startups may use.

A prime example of Cornell's entrepreneurial spirit is the Cornell Center for Technology, Enterprise and Commercialization (CCTEC), the owner of intellectual property developed by Cornell employees. One of CCTEC's goals is to monetize Cornell intellectual property by licensing a given technology either to a large, well-established company or to a startup company using it as a core technology for its business. This is welcome news to entrepreneurially minded faculty and students, as well as to venture capitalists seeking to fund opportunities "spinning out" of the university. The university's newly created position of vice provost of Technology Transfer and Economic Development also bodes well for a continuing startup trajectory.

Since 2003, Johnson School Park Fellows have worked on projects for the IDEA Center. Several companies have been virtually incubated in this way, including Systanix, providing continuous-flow micro reactors for chemical synthesis; DNANO, creating "pgel" protein expression systems using DNA as scaffolding; and Novomer, a producer of specialty polymers using CO2 as a primary feedstock. Cornell's administration and faculty are excited about the IDEA Center's potential to house multiple startups employing a variety of life sciences applications.

The Cornell Nanofabrication Facility (CNF), recently described as "a machine shop on steroids," is a great example of a Cornell shared-use facility. The CNF has served the Cornell community and its startups for 30 years. It is projected that in 2007 over 400 Cornell users and 400 external users will turn to the CNF to build structures, devices, and systems from atomic to complex large-scales. The facility's resources include equipment for photolithography, computer-aided drafting, electron-beam lithography, packaging, thin-film etching and deposition, scanning electron microscopes, and other imaging tools.

Similarly, the Life Sciences Shared Core Facilities, within Cornell's Institute for Biotechnology and Life Science Technologies, offers diverse resources, including a Computational Biology Service Unit, a Fermentation Facility, a Microarray Facility, a Mouse Transgenics Facility, a DNA Sequencing and Genotyping Lab, a Plant Tissue Culture and Transformation Facility, and Proteomics and Mass Spectrometry equipment. The Life Sciences Shared Core Facilities support research by providing a range of services, consulting, and training to the Cornell community, New York state for-profit businesses, and out-of-state businesses.

Startups have become a significant part of the local Ithaca landscape, and many of them are successfully commercializing technology developed at Cornell. Cornell's economic development planners work hand-in-hand with city and regional planners both to attract established businesses to the area, and to create a fertile environment for startups. We have not yet reached critical mass, but venture capital investors are investing millions of dollars in regional companies. Ithaca is on the map as a startup Mecca in the making.