The New York Capital District offers seemingly endless entrepreneur resources. And as a smaller metropolitan region, we have a tight and supportive startup community. This is truly an asset to anyone striking out on their own with a new biz venture.
However, it can be a little hard figuring out what's what. So - we pulled together a guide to organize local resources for entrepreneurs.
(Note: this list focuses on tech and creative startup companies. Other kinds of small businesses will have different needs.)
Okay, let's jump in.
1. For big-picture stuff, here's what you should know. 📝
The U.S. Small Business Administration provides resources for starting and running a small business. They provide basic information about business setup (like writing a business plan, choosing a legal business structure, and securing licensing or permits) in addition to information about how to apply for federal government contracts, if that's your thing.
For New York State, the NY Business Express organizes resources that might be helpful for running a business. For example, if you need to know how to certify as a Minority and Women Owned Business (MWBE) in New York, this is a good starting point. The Business Express is newly launched and it's a work in progress (we actually have been doing usability testing with them!) so I recommend that you keep checking in.
Locally, the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce is a good overall resource. If you become a paid chamber member, you get extra opportunities and assistance.
Also locally, Innovate 518 is a collaboration between SUNY Albany and a handful of partners. (Many entities mentioned in this post are affiliated with Innovate 518.) Their collective goal is to promote commercialization in Upstate New York by connecting entrepreneurs with resources for funding, facilities, and mentorship.
Okay, now let's dig a little deeper!
2. Competitions are sometimes a great starting point. 🏅
Many business plan and pitching competitions are strictly for students. Sometimes the final presentations are open to the public, so non-students can attend as audience members. Competitions are a good way to get feedback on your business plan, and winners typically receive a cash prize! Here are some competition examples for students:
- New York State Business Plan Competition
- Business Model Competition at RPI Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship
- Spark Tank Competition at Siena College's Stack Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Also, Saratoga Go! is a three-month innovation competition targeting technology ideas that support Saratoga's Smart City Commission created in 2016. This competition is open to anyone, from high schoolers to established professionals. All participants receive ongoing training and winners receive money and prizes.
3. If you need real-deal, hands-on guidance, apply for a startup incubator or accelerator. 💡
Incubators and accelerators are the most efficient way to get structured training for essential startup skills like legal requirements, business development, and commercialization. Though the two concepts are often combined, incubators are for validating a business idea whereas accelerators are for scaling a product once the idea is validated. In both cases, you commit to investing serious time and effort toward making your venture a successful reality.
Here are some local startup incubators and accelerators:
- The Emerging Ventures Ecosystem (EVE) is housed within the RPI Innovation Hub in Troy, but participants are not required to be students. EVE provides new and growing ventures with resources and mentorship. EVE also hosts the REVEAL ten-week summer accelerator program.
- Ignite U NY offers an eight-week summer accelerator program in Troy, helping startups develop critical skills for networking, pivoting, and growth. Good fits for this accelerator are entrepreneurs who have already created a proof-of-concept and a business model.
- New York BizLab is an accelerator space in Schenectady, providing an opportunity for established startups to rent affordable office space in a building with other entrepreneurs and mentors.
- Spark Saratoga is a startup incubator and accelerator. At least for the summer, they also provide free training workshops that are open to the public.
4. Once your venture takes shape, you can start pitching! 📈
Formally pitching your company is a way to raise awareness of your venture, and a way to seek solutions to needs like investment, talent, or users.
Here are some speaking and pitching opportunities:
- The Foundry-RPI program is intended to help RPI students develop pitches, but it is open to non-RPI students and non-students as well. During the academic year, the Foundry meets approximately weekly and dinner is provided.
- Startup Tech Valley is a monthly after-work pitching and networking event at Revolution Hall (which was formerly a beloved music venue) at Brown's Brewing in Troy. Attendance is high and the audience is a mix of entrepreneurs, investors, and community members.
- The VentureB Plan Series is co-organized by Center for Economic Growth and RPI EVE. VentureB enables startups to pitch to a panel of investors and a small audience of peers.
- 1 Million Cups Albany is a coffee-fueled Wednesday morning meetup. 1 Million Cups is a national organization for entrepreneurs and our local chapter typically meets at the Albany Barn, but sometimes the location and host varies. For each meeting, a different company pitches their startup and brainstorms their business challenges with supportive colleagues.
Feeling nervous to jump in? Practice public speaking skills with a supportive community at a local Toastmasters meetup. There are a bunch in the area, so you can choose a spot that's convenient for you.
5. If you need a coworking space, there are a few options. 🖥
If roaming coffee shops doesn't cut it anymore but you don't want to rent an office space, you might be into the idea of coworking. You can either seek coworking memberships or just pay daily for the times you want to pop in.
Local coworking spaces include:
- BEAHIVE (Albany)
- Bull Moose Club (Albany; opening Fall 2017)
- Electric City Innovation Center (Schenectady)
- Tech Valley Center of Gravity (Troy)
- Troy Innovation Garage (Troy)
- Saratoga CoWorks (Saratoga)
6. Funding is helpful. 💸
Funding your venture is challenging. You can go about it with loans, grants, or good ol' fashioned bootstrapping.
Here are some resources to get you started:
- At the Albany Small Business Development Center, you can make an appointment for counseling to get help on business plans, funding, loans, etc. They also offer monthly training events on small business topics.
- All Over Albany offers a yearly competition for a startup grant. Typical applicants represent a variety of industries, like crafts, tech, and specialty foods. There is a fun crowd voting process and the winning startup receives $2,500.
- Center for Economic Growth offers services for business growth and improvement, like training programs and loan assistance.
- SBIRs are federally-supported small business grants for research and development projects to support government initiatives. The application and budget process is very tedious and risky but, if awarded, SBIRs provide secure funding to undertake large projects.
- StartUp NY is a state-based program that provides tax incentives for businesses who partner with a New York State college or university. The idea is that you intend to contribute to economic growth in New York, and in return your company operates free of state and local taxes for 10 years.
- Upstate Venture Connect (UVC) is a nonprofit aimed at connecting entrepreeurs with resources like angel investors for early stage startups. (Angel investors, unlike private venture capital investors, are not buying control in the company.) Whether you are starting a new venture or looking to fundraise and scale, UVC is useful for listing your startup as an investment opportunity. UVC is also active on Twitter promoting local startup news and events.
7. Don't forget about other networking opportunities. 👯
There are so many great organizations and meetups locally that it's hard to keep up sometimes. Look through Meetup.com, Eventbrite, and Facebook to find groups and events that interest you. Even better, if there's a group you love, offer to volunteer your time as an organizer.
Here are some goodies:
- AIGA Upstate New York is focused on furthering design and creativity by hosting social events, lectures and workshops, and design shows and competitions. Events are scattered throughout upstate, so there is bound to be something in your 'hood. There is also a very active AIGA UPSTNY Slack channel, with many members who are freelancers or small business owners.
- AlbanyUX hosts quarterly meetups on user experience topics, rotating among locations in Albany, Schenectady, and Troy. (Note: I am a co-organizer! Please send me a note if you want to know more.)
- Saratoga TechOut is beers and networking. 🍺
- Sharatoga Tech Talks are a set of relatively informal monthly talks on topics from products to processes to personal stories. (A few years ago I gave a presentation on human trust in robots. Anything goes.)
- Startup Grind Albany hosts fireside chats with super impressive local speakers.
- Startup Town Square at the Electric City Innovation Center organizes presentations and panels on business- and innovation-related topics, with time for networking in between.
- Upstate Alliance for the Creative Economy hosts initiatives and events focused on growing the local creative economy, such as the formation of the Film Upstate alliance for attracting and incentivizing film makers. ACE also hosts a periodic Spark Freelancer networking event in coordination with the Freelancers Union.
If you are a local entrepreneur, I hope this list is helpful for organizing your brain (and calendar). If you think I’m forgetting something huge, shout it out and I'll happily edit the post to include more things I learn!
And, more specifically, if your venture needs assistance with product research and strategy, drop us a line! Kennason loves working with startups by adding a perspective of human psychology and user experience.