DUNKIRK - "I think it's extraordinary what you're doing here already and what you plan to do here is very important," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said after she toured the SUNY Fredonia Technology Incubator Thursday afternoon.
Gillibrand was introduced by SUNY Fredonia President Virgina Horvath. "I'm thrilled that Sen. Gillibrand is here today to learn more about this initiative and to see first-hand the opportunities that exist here and the potential for even greater impact in the region and beyond," she said.
"I think this incubator is going to make a great deal of difference to the community and to our state," said Sen. Gillibrand.
"As I travel around the state, one of the things that we are doing well is what's happening at our universities and our colleges and our campuses. And what SUNY Fredonia's Technology incubator is doing is really setting a new standard. " Gillibrand told the gathering inside the incubator.
Gillibrand had great praise for the activities and 17 businesses in the incubator. "In just two years, this incubator has helped launch innovative companies in Western New York, creating over 60 jobs in our region's economy. This innovative hub has successfully developed concepts into companies, like Dunkirk Bioelectric, a company that utilizes anaerobic digestive technology to produce renewable energy from organic waste.
"While we have several great initiatives in Western New York and across the state focusing on commercializing research, many of our research institutions and universities across the nation lack the resources that they need to turn scientific breakthrough into a high-tech product with the jobs that we want to create. That's the gap between the ideas and the business opportunities that need further development," Gillibrand said.
Gillibrand cited a business within the incubator bridging the kind of gap she described. "This morning, I was touring a high-tech lab, and we had all these brilliant young scientists, but they didn't know how to patent something, or write the business plan, or commercialize it. So, there were some young business students who were combining forces with these young scientists, so that they could work together to bring that great idea to market. We want to have training for these young minds so that they can figure out how to do these things and be able to be successful and build their businesses.
"It's clear that we have to do more to bridge the disconnect and provide our scientists with the business skills and funding to get their ideas off the ground. So today, I am announcing legislation which will do exactly this. The legislation is called the America Innovates Act, and it creates an American innovation bank, which will help universities and research institutions turn scientific ideas ... into commercial products that could actually attract private investors and create jobs," Gillibrand said. "I was very excited to get to tour some of the businesses today. One I really thought was pretty amazing is the Silicon Wolves Computing Society, which is a veteran-owned business, and they are creating supercomputers. The fourth-largest supercomputer in the state is sitting right here in this building, which is pretty impressive. They are able to deliver that supercomputing and a much lower rate, so that is a business idea that will make money, and it is one that will continue to help more companies."
Gillibrand said new funding would be made available under the act, and while a potential business would need to pass a proofing process, there is flexibility for the recipients. "An example of the way this funding could be used would be testing a product in an industry setting, or hiring additional staff for specific experiments, or accessing experts in business development, patent or regulatory law," she told the audience.
When asked if she expects the bill to pass the House of Representatives, Gillibrand said she is "hopeful."
"This bill is sponsored by a fairly senior Democrat in the House. If we get a few Republican sponsors going forward then our chance increases, so I'm hopeful."
Dunkirk Mayor Anthony J. Dolce was on hand for the visit. "I'm very excited that Senator Gillibrand took time out of her busy schedule to come to Dunkirk and specifically the SUNY Fredonia tech incubator. ... I'm looking forward to seeing the legislation. As mayor, I consider the incubator as a key component of the development of Dunkirk."
Village of Fredonia Mayor Stephen Keefe was also enthusiastic about the visit.
"I think she's got some great ideas, and it's about time that you start coordinating technology and entrepreneurship and business and all these other aspects of it that can make things work, instead of great ideas being stuck with great people, and no way of getting them out and into production. ... But, is there going to be support from the other party?" he asked.
Despite the praise from officials, the incubator has come under criticism locally due to the perceived lack of information. When asked about the outdated website for the incubator, Director Robert Fritzinger said an update is days away.
"We're about to redo it. It's about three-quarters done. The problem with our old website is the content in it is badly organized. We've made a huge impact just by moving things around into new places, and it's also going to get the new logo and colors. ... We're doing a final review on it Monday, so it literally could be just days away," Fritzinger said. "When you see it released, it will be completely updated."
Fritzinger also noted many of the businesses in the incubator are still applying for patents and developing marketing plans for original ideas, so many are not willing to release proprietary information before the products or services are ready to market. "Not every one of these companies is public yet some are outright secretive so the amount of information you'll find on the web varies considerably. ... We defer to their sensitivities on confidentiality and press in every instance" Fritzinger explained.
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