Attendees at FuzeHub’s annual statewide Commercialization Competition.

Hitting a High-Tech Home Run: How One New York Center is Helping Businesses Boom

From a smarter way to treat contaminated groundwater to micro-greenhouses, FuzeHub is helping bring innovative ideas to life

In the chronicles of every startup comes a critical moment of truth that can make or break a young business: how to make the next big concept a reality. And without an experienced business network to guide startups through key manufacturing milestones, costly mistakes can stop production just as it’s getting started.

FuzeHub, a nonprofit statewide center that brings together a network of New York industry experts and programs, was created to answer the kinds of questions that help avoid those outcomes – like how to create manufacturing–ready prototypes or what equipment to buy and when. By providing access to a team of experienced manufacturing and business professionals, FuzeHub guides businesses through challenges to foster growth and progress. If funding is an obstacle, FuzeHub’s annual statewide Commercialization Competition, now in its second year, may provide a solution.

As the statewide New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership (New York MEP) center, FuzeHub acts fast to ignite next-phase plans for tech product development and manufacturing. The center responds directly to all company requests within a 24- to 48-hour window before connecting them to specialized technical resources, programs and services in New York State and beyond. New York MEP, supported by Empire State Development’s Division of Science, Technology & Innovation, focuses on helping small- to mid-sized manufacturers gain a competitive edge in the marketplace. It is also part of a national network funded by the National Institute of Standards & Technology.

Training workshops, symposiums and in-person meetings are also part of the FuzeHub catalog of competitive advantages, but the Commercialization Competition, and a new Innovation Challenge announced in November, are its cornerstones. Underwritten by an innovation fund honoring the late Jeff Lawrence, a longtime leader at the Center for Economic Growth in Albany, the competition supports pre-revenue businesses at a specific stage in their product development. Lawrence was a generous mentor to many in the Capital Region’s business community and a tireless advocate for manufacturing innovation across the state. Since 2016, FuzeHub has also administered more than $2 million through the fund to 32 academic facilities and not-for-profits connected to numerous high-tech projects throughout New York State.

Last November, seven New York State entrepreneurs were awarded $50,000 each from the Jeff Lawrence Manufacturing Innovation Fund at the FuzeHub Commercialization Competition 2018 in Albany. Chosen by a panel of industry experts from a competitive pool of 18 finalists, the winners pitched their ideas and business plans in front of a live audience.

The latest winners are developing products that solve challenging medical, environmental, manufacturing and agricultural issues. For Potsdam-based RemWell LLC, which is addressing public health and energy risks associated with groundwater contamination, the FuzeHub prize changed the company’s momentum overnight. “Without FuzeHub funding we would still be in the process of seeking alternative sources of funding, delaying our launch indefinitely,” says Michelle Crimi, the David Spatz ‘68 endowed chair for the director of engineering and management at Clarkson University, who co-founded the company with Ph.D. student Fiona Laramay.

RemWell has developed a lower-cost option to treat groundwater contaminated by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a set of more than 3,000 compounds contaminating our water supply. RemWell will use the funding for lab testing of the InSRT Reactor, the company’s  prototype device, as a critical first step before the reactor goes into production, Crimi says. “We are also collecting feedback from potential customers, a specialized drilling company that would work directly with each reactor, and a professional mechanical/electrical engineering firm. FuzeHub funding will allow us to address technical and operational feedback to advance the reactor to field-ready status. With a field-ready reactor, we can go direct to sales.”

RemWell’s groundwater treatment system.

RemWell’s groundwater treatment system.

Ithaca’s Íko Systems, creators of a smart tabletop micro-greenhouse for the sustainably minded foodie, wants to make its WiFi-connected, lamp-enabled indoor herb gardens as ubiquitous as  microwaves. The FuzeHub award, says CEO Santi Alegria, who founded his startup while an undergraduate at Cornell University, will help speed up development. Alegria plans to use the FuzeHub prize to hire consultants and fund a beta program “instrumental in fine-tuning our user experience and proving our recurring revenue stream to follow-on investors,” he says. “Without the award we would have built about one-third of the beta units and that would have at least tripled our timeline.”

Iko System’s smart micro-greenhouse.

Iko System’s smart micro-greenhouse.

Alegria first learned about the FuzeHub network and competition while prototyping early designs at Rev Ithaca Startup Works, a coworking space for Cornell and Ithaca College students and the Tompkins-Cortland community. “Cornell and Ithaca played a pivotal role in our success,” he says. “Cornell is a leader in precision agriculture and engineering and that allowed us to build an expert team in micro-precision agriculture to build our micro-greenhouse. And Rev gave us a space to prototype freely and that has also been instrumental for our growth.”

“These seven innovators—and truly, all 18 finalists—are a testament to the vitality of New York’s entrepreneurial ecosystem,” FuzeHub Executive Director Elena Garuc said at the awards ceremony. “It is clear that New York has a bright future in manufacturing, and FuzeHub is proud to do its part, and to support the competition winners with the funding to help advance their commercialization strategies.”

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