Debrief: Phil Rugile, LaunchPad Huntington

Phil Rugile: STEAM engine.

A longtime strategic consultant and successful entrepreneur in his own right, Phil Rugile is the perfect soldier to fight for Long Island’s innovation economy, and the right man to lead the energetic LaunchPad Huntington facility. Also an Entrepreneur in Residence for Accelerate Long Island, the human capital strategist at eGifter and founder of 100 Urban Entrepreneurs – a nonprofit mentoring program for inner-city startups – Rugile is media-savvy, highly creative and enthusiastic about the Island’s economic future. In his own words: 

CROWDED LAUNCHPAD: I think it says that Long Island has this economy of startups and small businesses and nobody has really understood how to cultivate them and pay attention to them in a meaningful way. I think this realization has finally hit a lot of people, which is promising – and that’s why things like LaunchPad are having success helping companies get exposure and collaborate and get themselves into situations where they’ll possibly stay on Long Island and not leave, which they have historically done.

URBAN WARFARE: 100 Urban Entrepreneurs was a mechanism to identify, seed-fund and mentor minority-owned businesses. It was national in scope and fairly successful – we even toured with the U.S. Small Business Administration. We had several funding partners, including Gillette and Sean “Diddy” Combs, and we ultimately put 60 companies through an eight-week, one-on-one mentoring program. They each got a $10,000 grant.

LESSONS LEARNED: We were in second-tier cities up and down the East Coast and outside of LA, and through 100 Urban Entrepreneurs and other ventures, I was actually out of the Long Island economy for about a decade. What I learned off Long Island is that there’s a thriving entrepreneurial environment outside of the technology industries, and people don’t really pay attention to it. There’s also an innovation economy in things like interesting retail businesses, clothing manufacturers, bakeries, food-service companies – all these other endeavors that are not as sexy, perhaps, as the “next Google.”

ACCELERATION FOR ALL: The reality is, the “next Google” most likely won’t come out of someplace like Long Island. It could, but that’s a longshot. What’s really exciting about working at LaunchPad is the work we’re doing on the non-technology sectors, which are very entrepreneurial but a different kind of play. The way investors look at non-technology companies, the types of investors attracted by those business models … it’s a very different animal.

THE FIVE HEARTBEATS: We had five startups pitch at our last Pitch Night. It was a broad range, everything from education to a manufacturer of portable hospital decontamination units. A nice mix of hardware, software and services, and not all tech.

MIXED BAG: Some of these startups are more polished – you can tell they’ve been doing it for a while and they’re looking for money now – but there are others who need the practice. I like the mix. What I don’t like about a lot of other pitch nights around the country is the bar is set too high. You must be at a certain level of professionalism. Here, the bar is set so you can be a very early-stage company or even just an idea that needs exposure in front of an audience.

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: For those newer startups, it’s really good practice, and I think that’s really, really valuable. If you don’t have that outlet, that resource, the first time you do go in front of investors and make a pitch, the odds are going to be against you.

PROMISES, PROMISES: The Long Island innovation economy is promising. As long as people who have the ability to assist these companies in a collaborative manner and create opportunities through places like LaunchPad Huntington keep doing it, then we’ll draw out a lot of people who might not otherwise even consider staying here or starting something here, because they don’t think Long Island has the resources to support them. We’ve seen some really good things happening between Accelerate and LISTnet and the LaunchPad initiative, and if that continues it will be very positive.

GOTTA HAVE HEART: The thing that scares me most is that people will lose heart, because there’s no instant gratification when you’re doing something like this. You have to be in it for the long haul. But as long as individual investors and these groups continue working in a collaborative way and have patience, we’re going to see some real success stories on Long Island. There are some really interesting, smart people out there doing some really intelligent things. They just need time to incubate.

Interview by GREGORY ZELLER