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Incubator looks to hatch businesses, students' potential

SUNY officials see the new incubator at the Fredonia campus as a vital cog in the region's attempts to make an economic comeback.
Nick Gunner
SUNY officials see the new incubator at the Fredonia campus as a vital cog in the region's attempts to make an economic comeback.


Business incubators take in small businesses with promising ideas and try to grow them into viable companies.

But one western New York outfit is taking it a step further. SUNY Fredonia is placing students in its incubator so they can grow along with the businesses they work for.


Robert Richardson is addressing a group of college students.  He runs Selling Hive, a social media website linking firms with salespeople around the world.

“We need a lot of you.  We need a lot of you to become our future employees,” Richardson says.

But Richardson isn't recruiting students to move to Silicon Valley or New York City.  His firm, and others attending a hiring meeting at SUNY Fredonia, are head hunting in Dunkirk, N.Y., population 13,000.

The bottom line

“Our bottom line is we want to create jobs in Western New York,” says Dennis Hefner, president of SUNY Fredonia.

The idea to create a business incubator was conceived more than eight years ago, but it just hatched last year.

“So far our incubator has created 39 new, full time, permanent jobs. And if their business plans are accurate and we think they are, we will within the next year and a half have created 200 additional jobs,” Hefner says.

Hefner wants to harness homegrown ideas and talent: More than half of the firms were started by SUNY Fredonia alums, most of whom left the region only to move back. 

Hefner says the goal is not only to help those who have completed a degree from his school, but also those working on one.

“We're not interested in students going over there and doing copying,” he says. “This has to be real work for the students. One of the reasons we put the incubator in place was to encourage students graduating from WNY universities to stay in our region.”

“Moldable putty”

Inside the incubator, everything has that clean “new building smell” to it.  

Helping breaking in the place is Michael Renn. Before the ink was dry on his SUNY Fredonia degree, he took a job here, at Haledyne Incorporated. They're marketing a new device, the ultra-violet germicidal irradiance tool, to hospitals.

In English, the UGVI is an air cleaning system using light outside the range of human sight to kill germs. Renn says the gadget will make it safer to breathe, in a more cost-effective way.

For Renn, the incubator offered him a good job less than a year after graduation. He says it's a valuable part of students' real world education.

“I think they can come in when these companies are fresh and they're still merely an evolving idea - they're still that moldable putty, where each person who gets involved has a different hand in sculpting the business, and really changing it into that final product,” Renn says.

Freshman Max Deines is one of those sculpting the business - between classes. He's working for grades, not money, as an intern with Haledyne.  His boss is only a few years older than him, but he says the experience has been great, and he's learned a lot more here than in the classroom.

“At first I was like I don't know,” he says. “All this book stuff. I didn't know if it's going to really apply but then when you really get into it a lot of the things like, basic things, you can apply.”

The advantage for Deines is that he'll get to mature along with the firms he works for.

But SUNY officials are quick to point out that being in an incubator does not guarantee success for businesses - or students.

In fact, looking on the bright side, only a handful of these startups are projected to “graduate” from the incubator in the next 18 months.

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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