IDA eyes better (maybe not bigger) StartUp Connect

It all connects: Entrepreneurs and investors mix it up at the Suffolk IDA's 2018 StartUp Connect event.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

One of the hottest nights of the year at The Paramount is coming Oct. 3, with nobody whatsoever set to take the stage.

But don’t let the lack of smoke machines, classic heavy metal bands or Jim Breuer fool you. It’ll be standing-room-only in the Founder’s Room when the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency stages its annual StartUp Connect event, an always-engaging moshpit of innovators and investors rocking with potential.

Now in its seventh year at the famed Huntington venue – which gives it “a different kind of buzz than the usual networking event,” according to Suffolk IDA Executive Director Tony Catapano – StartUp Connect deals a familiar hand, but plays with a stacked deck.

The skinny: A chance for early-stage entrepreneurs to interact with potential investors, open to all Long Island startups (but featuring a Long Island Approved focus on technology companies, “reflective of the regional ecosystem,” Catapano noted).

Plenty of Long Island events make similar promises, but the Suffolk IDA assembles its annual effort with key parts from select groups: proven startups the IDA has assisted, advanced entrepreneurs already working with LaunchPad Huntington and other regional incubation programs, seasoned investors familiar with the Long Island Capital Alliance and other area programs.

Tony Catapano: Forming relationships.

Add the IDA’s outreach efforts with Small Business Development Centers at Stony Brook University and Farmingdale State College, and StartUp Connect becomes a topflight meet-and-greet for hot-to-trot regional business interests.

“We have a pretty robust list dedicated to this event that has grown over time,” Catapano told Innovate LI. “And we do reach out to the SBDCs and to LaunchPad and other partners in the area to help us promote it, which they have been gracious enough to do over the years.”

As for attracting speculators, “that’s where LICA comes into play,” Catapano added.

Accelerate Long Island has also been a key partner in the past,” he said. “And Phil Rugile at LaunchPad Huntington has a network of investors and venture capitalists that he’s very familiar with.

“Essentially, we use our network of networks.”

Also breaking from most startup-investor networking events is a complete lack of a “Shark Tank”-like business plan presentation, a true staple of modern business development.

StartUp Connect always includes what Catapano called an “educational component” – including last year’s rundown by Rugile of the business-incubation and coworking landscape, and a planned presentation this year on small-business investing (speaker TBA) – as well as a welcome from Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

But otherwise, it’s classic networking – no pitching, no judges, just mingling, chatting and a few sips and nibbles to loosen things up.

“We set it up so individuals and companies can truly exchange idea, or at least start to,” Catapano noted. “You’re not going to get everything accomplished in one night, obviously, but this night is all about forming relationships.”

While admission is free, pre-registration to the Oct. 3 event is required (more information available here). Past StartUp Connect events have attracted as many as 200 attendees, though pumping up attendance numbers is hardly the annual program’s goal.

The idea here is not necessarily bigger, Catapano said, just better.

“Last year, we had our highest number of individuals, and so far this year, people are [registering] quite nicely,” he added. “But our goal is that we really want this StartUp Connect to be the most meaningful and successful one yet.”