Westchester County Holds First Incubator Summit
John Jordan | August 2018
VALHALLA—As part of it efforts to enhance county government support of small business, Westchester County staged its first “Incubator Summit” on Aug. 2 at Westchester Community College.
The well-attended event featured presentations by county government officials, as well as approximately 40 representatives of the business, education and investment communities who discussed the merits of incubators and whether there is a need for the development of new incubator facilities in Westchester County.
“Incubators” are business development centers that assist new businesses and normally offer an array of services, including seed funding, marketing, legal, and accounting services, office space, mentoring and technical assistance.
Bridget Gibbons, deputy director, economic development for Westchester County, explained that the genesis for the Incubator Summit came from conversations with about 25 business leaders who contacted the new Latimer Administration about the need to cultivate fresh ideas and turn those ideas into action that can help grow the Westchester economy.
Gibbons said the goal of the Incubator Summit was to obtain feedback from the business community about incubators and then later ascertain how county government can provide assistance to start-up businesses.
She stressed that the county plans to convert the “talk” at the summit “into action.”
“This is a first step in a series of conversations with current and potential business leaders about the county’s role in turning Westchester into a hotbed of incubator activity,” Gibbons said. “We have the diverse workforce companies want, we have access to vibrant downtowns to attract new customers and we have the office space available to house those who want to succeed here. This summit is all about how we can connect the dots and help Westchester become the place to be for new, innovative ideas.”
The “incubator” summit was held in conjunction with the Business Council of Westchester and was hosted by Westchester Community College.
BCW President and CEO Marsha Gordon noted that there are a number of highly successful incubators in New York State and the metro region. She also shared about a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce-sponsored business trip to Israel where she learned that there are 22 incubators and 78 accelerators there that support approximately 5,800 innovative and start-up companies in a variety of fields, including high-tech. Those Israeli incubators and accelerators are supported by government as well as private business.
Dr. Gordon said Westchester should be developing more incubator space, but warned, “Incubators are more than just getting small businesses together. We have to really think about what are our strengths, what we should focus on and what investments are we going to make and what are we able to get back?”
She added, “When I reflect back on my work over the years with incubators, I think about a conversation I had about 17 years ago with Westchester Community College about starting an incubator. This is an idea that exists here in Westchester County and I look forward to partnering with county government to foster an environment that can help some of these small start-ups who want to call Westchester home have the opportunity to do so.”
WCC Assistant Dean of Workforce Development Jeanne Maloney characterized the discussion at the Incubator Summit as “really significant to us because here at the college we have been working in this field and always welcome input on best practices and how to utilize the resources we have here in Westchester. We thank the county and BCW for holding this important discussion.”
Sandy Wollman, co-founder of the Westchester Angels, an investment group focused on entrepreneurial businesses, said that while incubators are worthwhile, 85% to 90% fail. He said the two major causes for incubator failures are the lack of consistent funding as well as a lack of a sufficient pipeline of start-up businesses.
Wollman, who told the attendees that “this is the right time to get this thing done,” said the structure of the incubator could prove critical.
“Incubators that fail the most are sponsored by government entities,” Wollman said. “Why, respectfully, governments are not good at running businesses and an incubator or an accelerator is a business.”
He concluded his remarks by stressing that the key to the success of an incubator or an accelerator is funding and also suggested that a fund be established to attract and help finance new start-up businesses to the county. Wollman said that this fund could be financed by both public and private corporate sources.
“We have had success in the past attracting major corporations who chose to call Westchester home – but future business ideas are coming from smaller organizations, start-ups, and entrepreneurs who have an interesting idea and are able to turn it into a profitable business,” Westchester County Executive George Latimer said. “We must figure out how we in government can shift what incentives we can offer to help these new businesses take off—and that is what the point of this summit was.”
There have been a number of small business and industry-oriented incubators operating in Westchester County and the surrounding metro area, including the Biotech@NYMC biotechnology incubator at the New York Medical College campus in Valhalla. BioInc@NYMC occupies a 10,000-square-foot wing of a 129,000-square-foot campus building at the campus.
Late last year, New York Medical College was awarded $1.25 million by Empire State Development and the Mid-Hudson Regional Development Council to support operations of BioInc@NYMC
Launched in October 2014, BioInc@NYMC is the Hudson Valley’s only biotechnology incubator offering shared resources, turnkey wet lab space, and sponsored professional services to promising, high-potential entrepreneurs and start-ups.
In addition to providing best-in-class infrastructure and operational services, BioInc@NYMC assists its members in refining their business strategies, conserving capital, building strong teams. and achieving development and funding milestones.