In January 2012, New York state Senator Chuck Schumer stood on the corner of Hawley and Carroll streets in Downtown Binghamton, bracing himself against the winter wind and promising to seek federal funding for the creation of the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator at that location.
His pledge, coupled with the collaboration of numerous individuals and organizations at the local, state and national levels, ensured the construction of the incubator, which opened its doors on April 4. The building features state-of-the-art facilities, including laboratories and office spaces designed to foster a community of entrepreneurs within the Southern Tier.
“This will be the single largest investment in our history that will impact the entrepreneurship activity at Binghamton University,” said BU President Harvey Stenger in April.
According to Stacey Duncan, deputy director of community and economic development at the Broome County Industrial Development Agency, the building’s primary use is to house startups generated within the University or that stem from the greater Binghamton area. The hope is for these startups to become economic assets to the community. The facility will also provide spaces for collaboration between companies and offer innovative programs aimed at helping tenants achieve entrepreneurial success.
Planning for the incubator got off the ground in 2011 with the process of obtaining funding from county, state and federal levels. The price tag of the 35,000-square-foot establishment was $19 million and construction officially began in October 2014 after the site was leased from the Industrial Development Agency. The progress and financing of the construction was overseen by a board of seven directors, comprised of members of the University administration, members of the BU Foundation board and one representative from the county.
New York state provided a significant amount to the creation of the incubator, with $7 million coming from the Regional Economic Development Council and another $6 million from NYSUNY 2020 through SUNY Broome’s Bridge to Entrepreneurial Excellence program. The remaining $6 million comprised of funds from Broome County Industrial Development Agency, the Federal Economic Development Agency and the BU Research Foundation.
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Laura Holmes, assistant director of BU’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Partnerships, wrote in an email that the incubator is part of the University’s effort to build a cooperative relationship members of the BU community and the city of Binghamton.
“The Koffman Southern Tier Incubator will provide multiple levels of opportunities to faculty, staff and students by providing physical space to work on and launch their ventures as well as programming, mentoring and invaluable connections to local businesses, entrepreneurs and alumni,” Holmes wrote.
Each member of the incubator has access to the co-working spaces, the ability to reserve events space in the building at no extra cost, as well as free parking, Wi-Fi and all other utilities. Fully furnished office space can also be leased, with the options of a basic “administrative office”; a larger, “dry lab” office; or a state-of-the-art “wet lab,” which is equipped for scientific experiments.
Daniel Mori, director of business incubation at the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator, wrote that the city of Binghamton is a “natural choice” for the new high-technology facility.
“We are experiencing a time where collaboration between state, regional, and local economic development partners is at an all-time high with the University and community businesses,” Mori wrote in an email. “There is also a generational shift occurring where ideas and innovation are happening at a much greater frequency and pace.”
The incubator’s services extend to BU students, who can utilize co-working space at no cost. BU entrepreneurs can apply to be a part of the incubator’s accelerator program, a six-month workshop in which students are mentored through every stage of launching a company. The program’s first three student-run businesses — Tibah, Enhance VR and Powder Partner — are set to graduate in late November, when they will be given the option to become tenants of the building.
The incubator will also provide a GrowthWheel International program to tenants and students, which takes startups through an entire of programming on the fundamentals of getting businesses up and running.
As of June, the building has 12 tenants and is expected to add five more by July 1. According to Mori, an influx of businesses and employees in the city would have an unprecedented economic impact on Broome County and the Southern Tier.
“When you help companies start here, they establish roots that will tie them to the community for the long term and make them less likely to leave,” Mori wrote. “As long as we continue to support that model, we will see many layers of growth over the years and ultimately a model that continues to create new ideas, innovation, companies, and jobs.”