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Sidebar: Start-up Engine

Sidebar: Start-up Engine

A plethora of small business incubators are bringing new businesses and new life fo NY's tech and science community.

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At 29th street and the East River, sandwiched between NYU School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital, is the Alexandria Center for Life Science—the largest biotech campus in New York City and the embodiment of the city's efforts to bolster commercial development of bioscience breakthroughs. Announced in 2005 after a competitive bidding process and opened in 2010, the Alexandria Center was founded with a twofold purpose—part one was attracting major biotechnology and pharmaceutical research activity to the city. Inaugural tenants like Kadmon Pharmaceuticals, ImClone Systems, and Pfizer's Centers for Therapeutic Innovation are conducting translational research on site. Roche recently announced that it will relocate its headquarters—and nearly 200 employees—from New Jersey to the Alexandria Center's new West Tower, currently under construction.

Alexandria is also home to some of the approximately 30 life science companies born in New York City each year, offering lower cost office and lab facilities and critical networking opportunities. It is one among more than a dozen small business incubators stoking the engines of entrepreneurship. Making New York City friendlier to technology start-ups, both by tapping the financial and venture capital communities and removing a major operational barrier—costly office space—has unleashed a flood of innovative local businesses unimaginable just five years ago.

In 2009, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) entered into a partnership with Trinity Real Estate and the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly), founding the first city-sponsored business incubator at 160 Varick Street. A few hundred dollars a month bought young entrepreneurs desk space, business development mentoring, introductions to the venture capital community, and connections to other entrepreneurs. By 2012, 22 companies had graduated from Varick Street, trailing 300 newly created jobs and $38 million in funding in their wake.

"Science Alliance teaches the kinds of skills that wouldn't normally be taught in academic programs."

In that same space, the tenants of the New York City Accelerator for a Clean and Renewable Economy (NYCACRE) were set to transform New York through wind, solar, and water. Started by NYU-Poly with seed funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, NYC-ACRE was created to nurture clean technology and renewable energy companies. From smaller-scale wind turbines to harnessing energy from water distribution facilities to create clean power, NYC-ACRE companies are commercializing technologies for a cleaner urban future. Its nine graduate and 11 current companies have created 115 new jobs and raised $32 million dollars.

Since 2009, the city has expanded its incubator program to house more than 600 start-ups, and recently opened its first incubator in the Bronx. In November 2013, the first city-sponsored biotechnology incubator, Harlem Biospace, will welcome 24 fledgling ventures. The incubator will offer low-cost space in a field where the start-up costs—namely specialized equipment and wet lab space—are at a premium. Some of the most exciting collisions of innovation and entrepreneurship in the city are in its most populous borough, Brooklyn. Amid the area's famed brownstone blocks and artisan food shops are the three nodes of the Brooklyn Tech Triangle: The Brooklyn Navy Yard, DUMBO, and Downtown Brooklyn. Ten percent of New York's start-ups are located in these few square miles, along with 12 universities and colleges. A consortium led by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership is developing the area to support a projected 18,000 technology jobs by 2015.

One consortium partner, NYU-Poly, has made entrepreneurship an integral part of students' experience. "We have imbedded the philosophy of entrepreneurship and innovation into our educational culture, from classrooms and labs to our start-up incubators that serve students, faculty, and the New York economy," says Katepalli R. Sreenivasan, president of NYU-Poly and dean of engineering at New York University.

Similarly, the Science Alliance program, now in its tenth year at the New York Academy of Sciences, has mentored more than 10,000 early-career scientists, complementing their technical training with "the kinds of skills that wouldn't normally be taught in academic programs," says John E. Kelly III, senior vice president and director of research at IBM and a member of the Academy's Board of Governors. Science Alliance holds regular gatherings and courses, offering real-world lessons in entrepreneurship, interviewing, teaching, and grant writing, pointing young scientists on a path to success.

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Hallie Kapner is a freelance writer in New York City.

Photo: Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in scientific fields gather at the New York Academy of Sciences for career development courses and networking opportunities.