Dreaming big: Cornell invests $4.5m in the “innovation arms race”

By: Brian Crandall — Ithaca Voice

ITHACA, NY — Things that come to mind when one thinks of college: taking notes, studying, house parties. If Cornell’s administration has its way, it’d like to add “starting a business” to that list.

“It’s actually a great time to start a company, it’s pretty low risk, students are working hard and they have lots of university resources available to them, libraries, seminars, networking, it’s a very resource-rich environment,” says Zach Shulman, Director of the Entrepreneurship at Cornell program, called eShip for short. “There’s no real risk unless they’re blowing wads of money.”

Cornell, like many of its peer schools, is investing big in the business aspirations of his students. In what the New York Times recently described as an “innovation arms race”, elite universities from coast to coast to establish a strong and nurturing framework for startups, citing the achievements of schools like Stanford and M.I.T., as well as the successes of newly-minted billionaires of Silicon Valley tech firms.

“We want to help students in all aspects of their entrepreneurial journeys,” says Shulman. “From fundraising to launching a business to finding customers. We do that through coursework, conferences, seminars and networking event, basically to build a great program.”

While this is all well and good for Cornell and its students, this has the potential to benefit the Ithaca region as well. Historically, research done while at Cornell has been used to drive business ventures — a number of local tech companies, such as biotech firm Advion and laser manufacturer BinOptics. However, that wasn’t necessarily because Cornell nurtured those firms, but rather their lines of work made it a big asset to maintain close ties with cutting-edge research done on campus.More recently, as Cornell has taken on a more supportive approach, it’s yielded some big positives for the region — web application firm Rosie and food processor Ithaca Hummus are recent graduates of Cornell’s entrepreneurial environment, and the two companies plan on adding over 100 local jobs in the next few years.

According to Shulman, “It’s not that easy to move a company once it’s started up and you have employees. We hope that they stay in Ithaca. They graduate, they become members of Rev hopefully, and then when they’re too big for Rev, they move into other space in town, the tech park, downtown, they become embedded in the community. So economic development starts when they are students.”

“I kinda think of it as a continuum. You go from eHub to Rev and into the greater the Ithaca community, the next Ithaca Hummus or BinOptics.”

Incubator Space in Kennedy Hall (image courtesy of The Cornell Chronicle)

Incubator space in Kennedy Hall. (Image courtesy of The Cornell Chronicle)

Cornell’s latest investment in the entrepreneurial spirit involves establishing a stronger startup environment with longtime student-run corporation Student Agencies, located at 409 College Avenue in the heart of Collegetown. The $4.5 million collaboration, called eHub, will serve as a co-working and incubator space for budding Cornell businesses. Renovations are underway to 10,000 SF on the second and third floor of Student Agencies, as well as 5,000 SF in Kennedy Hall on Cornell’s campus, space that will host those nascent firms when the spaces open for occupancy in May 2016. eHub will host the eLab business accelerator, Student Agencies Inc., and other business-related offerings. The POPSHOP co-working space will be folded into eHub.

The space will be open to Cornell students, faculty and staff. Funding for the eHub project was provided through Cornell alumni donations, with the Student Agencies Foundation paying for some of the up-front costs.

So now it’s time to play a little devil’s advocate. Some folks might not be a fan of schools adopting a more business-friendly environment. Shulman says that those invested in scientific research, arts and teaching can happily live side-by-side with their more entrepreneurial peers.”Some students and faculty might be more interested in research, which is great. Some might be more interested in going into business. Different types of programs can coexist, there can be good combinations. Cornell can and does provide all types of programs help students to learn, we serve everyone.”


Originally published at ithacavoice.com on January 14, 2016.

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