Here is another in our continuing series of articles about things going on around Rochester. Enjoy.
When it comes to starting up a business, there’s plenty that can go wrong for entrepreneurs — especially if they take on too much debt after contacting so-called high-pressure “debt sellers.”
But thanks to government-backed programs, business owners of Rochester, N.Y., tech companies will be able start with the resources that they need without the pitfalls that some start-ups can see.
The programs, Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer, take grant money from federal agencies to reward small businesses in the areas of research and commercialization. The programs are both coordinated by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Since 2009, the programs have awarded more than $11.5 billion in grants throughout the United States to help businesses and entrepreneurs fund research and bring new projects and innovations to market.
California, with its Silicon Valley region, has received the highest number of these grants — 6,238 of them totaling about $2.3 billion.
New York state has earned a total of 1,434 of those grants, with a collective worth of $583 million.
In fact, Rochester leads the way in the upstate region with a total of 33 grants since 2009, worth a collective $13 million. Other cities in upstate New York have received far less: Syracuse has had 15 grants worth $2.6 million, Buffalo had 11 grants worth $4 million, and Albany has only had three grants for nearly $1 million total.
Rochester also has extraordinary luck when compared to similar-sized communities in other states, too. Harrisburg, Pa., Richmond, Va., Tulsa, Okla., and Fresno, Calif., have had no SBIR or STTR grants since 2009.
In Albuquerque, N.M., companies have received three grants worth about $950,000. Birmingham, Ala. has had two, worth $556,330, and Oklahoma City, Okla., received five at a total of about $10 million.
Since 1990, Rochester-based companies have received 66 innovation research grants and 13 technology transfer grants. The total: 79 awards worth $22 million.
Twenty-seven of the awards since 1990 have gone to Photonics, although their last award was in 1998. Between 2007 and 2011, Impact Technologies in Brighton received 14 grants worth more than $3.4 million.
Businesses outside of Monroe County have also benefited from these grants. OptiPro Systems in Wayne County has received 30 grants of about $2.4 million since 2004 for its work with the Navy, Army and NASA, allowing them two expansions, a 30,000-square-foot facility and 65 workers.
The difference, says Mike Riedlinger, director of the Rochester BioVenture Center in Henrietta, could be that Rochester is “a very technically-oriented community.”
Former industry giants such as Eastman Kodak Co., Xerox Corp., and Bausch + Lomb Inc. may have even influenced scientists and engineers to start high-tech companies of their own in the region. The city is also home to several tech-based institutions, such as the University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology.
“Having a university connection almost doubles your odds of winning an SBIR grant,” Riedlinger said.
For others, it’s about thinking outside the box. One of Bioventure’s firms, Thermal Gradient, is developing a portable device that can perform HIV tests; Worm Power, which uses worms to turn manure into compost, received a $99,000 innovation grant just last month.
The main criteria, however, is for companies to do research that could lead to commercial innovations. It’s beneficial for businesses in another way, too: the government will often contract companies for a product if they develop it.
Although the grant process can be confusing, all tech-based start-ups are encouraged to apply. They can seek information, webinars and other services on SBA’s website.