Making the global innovation connection

International B2B at work at this week's CEWIT 2015 conference.

By GREGORY ZELLER /// It’s a big world out there, and a true innovation economy must capitalize on it.

Selling widgets around town can get a startup off the ground, but to grow and help sustain real economic development, businesses must think bigger. That varies by industry, of course – the local bagel store needn’t focus, necessarily, on Asia – but in sectors with global potential, like healthcare and IT and other Long Island best bets, it’s paramount.

The point is not lost on Island innovators. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Brookhaven National Lab pack their cancer centers and nanomaterial facilities with international researchers and collaborate with thousands of other scientists around the globe. Up-and-coming corporations like Applied DNA Sciences and ClipFix act globally as a matter of course. And increasingly, the Island’s upper-education institutions endeavor to expose students, and the regional business community, to overseas opportunity.

This commercial diplomacy, on display this week at Stony Brook University and next month at Farmingdale State College, delivers multiple benefits. In addition to training the next generation of entrepreneurs and executives to recognize global markets, colleges and universities are creating priceless networking opportunities, a B2B bender without borders that puts Long Island innovators together with potential partners from around the world.

That was certainly the thrust this week as Stony Brook University’s Center for Excellence in Wireless and Information Technologies hosted CEWIT 2015, the center’s 12th annual international conference. For two days at the Melville Marriott, representatives of Long Island education and industry rubbed brainpans with academicians and executives from around the world, bonding through a slate of workshops, panel discussions and networking sessions carefully constructed to encourage global partnerships.

Shmuel Einav, SBU’s director of medical technologies and the CEWIT conference’s chairman, noted the presence of business leaders, professors and even government officials from 16 different countries – including China, Germany, Israel, Japan and South Korea – and called the meetup a double success, with well-attended workshops and company-to-company meetings.

Of particular note, Einav noted, was the presence of government officials from countries including South Korea and Israel, on hand specifically to help their countrymen understand the benefits of working with U.S. firms – in this case, Long Island firms.

“These government officials want to encourage their local industry to penetrate the U.S market,” Einav noted. “The basic R&D is done in their country, but the marketing depends on activity in the United States.”

There are also opportunities to convince foreign entrepreneurs to move those basic R&D functions here, according to Einav, who cited a trifecta of business-development factors working in the Island’s favor – making events like CEWIT 2015 golden opportunities to sell Long Island as an innovation destination.

The conference chairman cited the region’s world-class research institutions, including SBU and the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research; multiple business-friendly programs managed by Empire State Development, including the Start-Up NY tax-free commercial zones around colleges and universities; and the ready availability of investment capital, both on Long Island and in New York City.

“It’s a winning combination,” Einav said. “Long Island has a unique opportunity to attract companies from around the world.”

It’s a concept already familiar to several Island startups. Stony Brook-based Applied DNA Sciences field-tested its plant-DNA-based security markers with the help of police departments in Denmark and Sweden. Commack’s ClipFix only recently ordered up the first large-scale production run for its DIY modular-cable repair devices, but is already processing orders from South America and Europe and is in discussions with manufacturers and distributors in the UK and Asia.

This week, Ramuel Marama – CEO of Stony Brook-based Brimes Energy – is on a scouting mission to his native Philippines, where the international entrepreneur is looking for a permanent ocean-water test site for his “artificial jellyfish,” an ambitious device that promises to both harness wave energy and desalinate seawater. Maramara has previously noted his native Philippines as a potential jellyfish customer, citing increasing concerns about the sovereign republic’s freshwater supply.

That sort of global thinking is also behind the International Energy & Sustainability Conference, scheduled for Nov. 12 and 13 at Farmingdale State College. Sponsored by the college’s Renewable Energy and Sustainability Center, the conference will focus on such topics as climate change, recycling and energy efficiency in developing nations, and is expected to include representatives from Germany and the West Indies – as well as publications shared by scientists in China, India and elsewhere.

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Marjaneh Issapour

Renewable Energy and Sustainability Center Director Marjaneh Issapour, who’s chaired all four of FSC’s annual Sustainability Conferences, said including international perspectives on energy conservation is critical to the conference’s success.

“We have a lot of (sustainability) initiatives on Long Island, and a majority of our exhibitors are domestic,” said Issapour, a professor in FSC’s School of Engineering and Technology. “But sustainability is a worldwide effort. It’s important for our students to know what other countries are doing.”

And equally important, she added, for regional business leaders to get a glimpse of international energy efforts. While the annual conference is educational in nature, the event does include some fairly ripe professional-networking opportunities.

“Say a vendor has a product that’s been developed in the United States, and he attends to learn how his product can be integrated into research going on around the world,” Issapour said. “By bringing these people together, we’re hoping to create a market for domestic products abroad, and vice versa.

“There’s also the opportunity of someone working on an innovative product or idea abroad, and they meet someone from the United States who can invest in it,” she added.

The international sustainability conference is not Farmingdale State’s only foray into international business development. On Thursday, the college announced that it has joined the prestigious United Nations Academic Impact program, which encourages research institutions to work with the UN to promote a number of global priorities, including sustainable development.

Farmingdale joins more than 1,000 colleges, universities and research institutions in 120 countries participating in the UN program, which was established in 2010. While the program does focus heavily on human rights and international education, one side-effect is it will educate FSC students about foreign life and customs.

And that, noted SBU’s Einav, is precisely what these international efforts are all about.

“Conferences like these are among the better mechanisms for making connections with companies in other countries,” the CEWIT conference chairman said. “But the big challenges are always going to be knowing what’s happening in those countries.”