Portions of two RIT-owned properties — 40 Franklin Street in downtown Rochester and 125 Tech Park Drive in Henrietta — have been approved for the START-UP NY program. To create entrepreneurial synergy, the 40 Franklin Street space is also home to the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship while 125 Tech Park Drive houses RIT’s Venture Creations business incubator.
Under START-UP NY, businesses that create net new jobs may obtain New York state approval to operate tax-free for 10 years—paying no state income, business, corporate, local, sales, or property taxes or franchise fees. New employees may be eligible for New York state personal income tax credits. State officials say the tax benefits will help accelerate entrepreneurialism and job creation across the state on a large scale. These companies are helping to retain more RIT alumni in upstate New York and creating additional co-op opportunities for RIT students and employment possibilities for graduates.
“RIT is proud to be part of this state program that will stimulate economic development in the Rochester region and foster further innovation in New York state,” said Ryne Raffaelle, vice president for research at RIT and associate provost at RIT. “The university anticipates that its sponsored companies will generate technical, high-paying jobs for the Rochester region.”
Datto Inc., a backup and disaster recovery firm launched in 2007, was the brainchild of Austin McChord, who started the company while finishing his bioinformatics degree at RIT. Datto, headquartered in Norwalk, Conn., has more than 550 employees worldwide spread across seven different offices including Rochester. It’s a vendor of award-winning hybrid cloud-based intelligent business continuity and disaster recovery solutions. Datto was one of the first companies to join the START-UP NY program in June 2014. The company occupies the fourth floor of the RIT Downtown Center at 40 Franklin Street, site of the historic former Rochester Savings Bank.
“RIT has been an enormous help to Datto by guiding us through the START-UP NY process,” said McChord. “As an RIT graduate, I am connected to the Rochester community so the combination of RIT with START-UP NY made Datto’s continued expansion in Rochester an easy decision. Our goal is to be the best employer in the Rochester area and to continue recruiting top talent from RIT and the surrounding region.”
In conjunction with the START-UP NY initiative, Datto is committed to creating more than 70 jobs in Rochester over the next few years.
Another company launched by RIT students that is part of START-UP NY is Darkwind Media, a game development studio that also provides consulting services to other game development studios. Colin Doody, Matt Mikuszewski, Brian Johnstone, and Scott Flynn founded Darkwind Media in 2007. Darkwind Media recently moved from Venture Creations to 40 Franklin Street.
“Our new space is triple the size, which is great for us as we get ready for some upcoming hiring phases,” said Mikuszewski. “START-UP NY will be a helpful recruiting tool for us.”
Darkwind Media’s philosophy has been to grow its company slowly and methodically. The company currently has 17 employees. All of its work is generated solely by word of mouth. Darkwind Media has clients all over the world, including London, South Africa, and Seattle.
Factors such as quality of life and the cost of the living had an impact on the company’s decision to stay in Rochester. Doody says Darkwind Media wants to have an impact on Rochester.
“We are really excited about the new space in downtown Rochester,” said Doody. “Everybody wants to see our industry grow in a community downtown. We are trying to do our part and put our stamp on the community.”
Optel Inc. became a START-UP NY participating company in spring of 2015. Jay Eastman co-founded the company with his son, Zach, a 2004 graduate of RIT’s mechanical engineering program. Jay Eastman describes himself as an “addicted entrepreneur”—Optel is his fourth startup company.
“I think START-UP NY is going to be a great magnet for hiring,” said Jay Eastman. “We plan to start hiring early next year. When you tell people about the tax breaks that are associated with START-UP NY, particularly that they are in effect for 10 years, that’s a big draw for employees.”
Housed in Venture Creations, Optel provides a variety of consulting services to companies designing and manufacturing propriety medical devices. Optel ensures compliance with the requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s current Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and other medical device manufacturing requirements throughout concept, design, and manufacturing phases. Optel manufactures a microscope objective—a sophisticated magnifying lens that allows the iPhone to image individual cells—to measure the quality of dairy milk. Eastman says that dairy farmers are paid based on the quality of milk the cows produce and one of the criteria that determines its quality is the milk’s somatic cell count. Levels of somatic cells that are too high indicate an infection in the cow.
In addition to this manufacturing project and other design work, Optel is redesigning two devices for the ophthalmology industry.
Zach Eastman says Optel has already targeted people to bring on board in the next few months.
“There are several people currently on our radar who have degrees in optics, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering,” said Zach Eastman. “Their expertise would nicely round out our company’s capabilities and two of those potential hires are RIT graduates.”
ClearCove Systems is a renewable energy company that reduces municipal costs and creates potential revenue by using biomass to produce energy. Greg Westbrook is an RIT alumnus who co-founded ClearCove Systems with Terry Wright, his former roommate at RIT. Westbrook and Wright were 1981 graduates of the civil engineering technology program.
Because of the company’s growth after coming into the START-UP NY program in 2015, ClearCove Systems exceeded the size of available space. RIT helped facilitate ClearCove’s transfer to Finger Lakes Community College.
“As a result of engagement with RIT at all levels of the university, we are delighted to announce our first significant orders from municipal and industrial customers,” said Westbrook, ClearCove Systems CEO. “We could never have gotten there without RIT’s assistance.” Westbrook says ClearCove Systems has created seven new jobs to date in 2015 and expects to exceed that number before year’s end.