The Koffman Southern Tier Incubator’s new Soft Landings program is set to receive a $1.6 million grant from the Economic Development Administration.

The three-year program is designed to attract international startups and provide them with free resources to grow their companies in the Southern Tier. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced the grant earlier this month, stating he pushed for the federal funding because the upstate New York region is “on the rise” and calling Binghamton University a “cornerstone of the Southern Tier.” The S.C. Johnson College of Business at Cornell University will be Binghamton University’s key partner for the project.

Elena Iankova, the head of the Soft Landings program, described her vision for the program.

“My goal is to develop [the Soft Landings program] as a strong brand that would be easily recognizable nationally and internationally five years from now,” Iankova wrote in an email. “I see the program helping the Southern Tier region retain the best student talent from [BU] and Cornell [University]. I see graduating students not only staying in the region but also competing for the high-paying, attractive and prestigious jobs that will be generated by the foreign companies — graduates of the Soft Landings program. I see the Greater Binghamton area and the Southern Tier region — with its focus on clean energy and cutting-edge achievements in new battery technologies — as acquiring a new, highly recognizable brand, the green valley of opportunity.”

According to Iankova, the program’s goals are to ensure a gentle transition for the incoming startups and scale-ups, help international entrepreneurs adjust to the U.S. market and integrate them into the Southern Tier regional economy. In addition to securing professionals to run and administer the project, Iankova said the grant funding will be used for student and faculty engagement with international companies, organization of workshops, customized mentorships and travel.

Iankova and others at the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator estimated that 45 foreign companies will graduate from the program, and in the process it will create over 365 high-paying jobs and generate $2.7 million for the region in private investment. In fall of 2020, the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator had three international startups under its roof. In just over a year, that number grew to 10.

After a company has been selected for the program, they will be connected with a team of students from the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science and the S.C. Johnson College of Business at Cornell University. According to Iankova, the student teams will work under the guidance of faculty, assigned mentors and industry experts to work out how to grow the companies and expand their operations in the United States. An estimated 270 students will be involved in engaged learning opportunities over the three-year duration of the project.

BU President Harvey Stenger, who also serves on the board of directors for the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator, recognized the multifaceted benefits of the project.

“I’d like to thank Sen. Schumer and all key players involved, Cornell University in particular as our partner, for making the Soft Landings program a reality,” Stenger said. “This is a game-changing opportunity that will not only help bolster the economy of the Southern Tier, but also further the University’s reputation as a leader in economic development and in the growth of the regional clean energy ecosystem in particular.”

The Soft Landings program is not the first program from the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator to foster connections with BU students. The Entrepreneur Connect Club was founded in 2020 with the goal of bringing together students interested in entrepreneurship with the resources at the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator.

Lazaro Martinez, head of startup for the club and a sophomore majoring in business administration, spoke about his experience working with the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator.

“What Entrepreneur Connect does and specifically what [startup is] trying to achieve is give students the opportunity to learn how to start up a business in the modern day with all the technology and all the resources that we have,” Martinez said. “Personally, it’s been a very good learning experience and it’s taught me a lot about the professionalism that goes on in business.”

Mallory Fowler, president of the Entrepreneur Connect Club and a senior majoring in business administration, said she thinks the grant will further economic opportunities for the region.

“In the ’80s and ’70s, this area was booming with a lot of technology and a lot of innovation, like IBM and a lot of other businesses,” Fowler said. “I think that this is a long time coming to attract more businesses here. This is a great area to innovate and have businesses, so it doesn’t surprise me, but it’s also really awesome.”