First and foremost a scientist, Lawrence Weber – who studied physical chemistry at Michigan State University and nucleic acids during a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT – takes an analytical approach to his dual roles as the business development manager of both Stony Brook University’s Center for Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology and the university’s Sensor CAT, a NYSTAR-supported Center for Advanced Technology focused on material and logistical resources. But for SBU’s first-ever entrepreneur-in-residence, who holds or co-holds half-a-dozen patents, guiding other scientists into Long Island’s innovation economy is also a labor of love. In his words:
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS: I got here (at SBU) in 2007, around the time “venture capital” became a big buzzword. There was lots of activity and it was becoming a legitimate, recognized way to grow a company. People on campus started talking about how nice it would be to have an entrepreneur-in-residence. Well, there I was – I was already in residence and already an entrepreneur. Then I became business development manager at the Sensor CAT, and when NYSTAR asked me to duplicate my role as business development manager at CEWIT, I accepted.
NYSTAR-STRUCK: Empire State Development umbrella-sponsors a number of organizations on campus, including the Sensor CAT, CEWIT and the new Integrated Electrical Energy Systems CAT. Through the NYSTAR mission, we are all committed to helping companies create a real economic impact. That means real business events, real job creation, real patents, real funding – either government funding or venture capital – and working with companies of all sizes in all states of maturity. We don’t just proclaim our economic impact. We go to Albany and we calculate it.
WORLD TOUR: As technical director at Pall Corp., I led product tests around the world. I developed several filters and filtration techniques for processes that help run nuclear power plants, and I went to Switzerland for tests and to support sales there. I went to Taiwan, I went to Finland, I went across Northern Europe. I was instrumental in selling million-dollar bundles of filters in Finland and South Korea, and of course I was in Japan, where I set up a test program with a Japanese company.
BEEN THERE: So I’ve worked in the Fortune 500. I’ve started businesses where I didn’t make any money until I created the value. I’ve done a lot of work in contracts and a lot of work in IP management. I’ve directed tests of engineering-based products around the world. As the entrepreneur-in-residence, I’m a strategic resource. As a joke, I sometimes call it “mutual psychotherapy” – they call me, we make an appointment, we sit and talk about the issues and I try to hook them up with other people who can help them. I also give them direct ideas.
CASE IN POINT: I was able to place an inventor with a patented mechanical invention into a demonstration at the Metropolitan Transit Authority headquarters, which [SBU] will co-fund. The idea is to keep an eye on it for 30 days and compare it with what they’re doing now, using the same metrics. I’ve been working with the inventor for about two years and I’m proud to say I’ve been able to help him strategically. I don’t want to take his credit – it’s his business and he’s in charge – but I’ve given him ideas that have encouraged him, and I’m proud of that.
NOT PLAYING FAVORITES: You can look at Softeon, which entered the CEWIT incubator and in the last couple of years has been able to triple its personnel. You can look at Graphene Labs in the Calverton incubator, a company that’s now gone public in Canada and is developing corporate partners. But I don’t have a favorite. We’re just trying to be catalytic. They’re the brilliant minds; we’re just trying to help.
HONEST TO A FAULT: I don’t want anyone to waste their time or money. I’m not looking to destroy them, but I am looking to honestly evaluate them, and if that means helping them understand that things aren’t working out, then that’s what it means. I merely present information and ideas. Inescapably, some of them have missed something, and if I can I try very hard to help them come up with a cure. But if we can help them stop the leaking of effort and money, which is not going to help them in the long run, then that’s a public service.
FRESH BLOOD: I meet with new companies 25 to 50 times a year, depending on what’s going on. Out of those, I usually have a few more meetings with some of those companies, and I hate when this happens but often at this point I will discover a fatal flaw in what they’re doing – but if I don’t, happily, I will work with them more closely. More and more frequently, companies are looking solid, and when they do I get more into what they’re doing, their technology and their business plan. Sometimes I can open a door for them.
SO PROBABLY TRUE: I’m not an expert in regional planning, but I have heard the region needs better roads and more affordable housing, and I’m not in a position to argue with that.
POSITIVE OUTLOOK: I would say our biggest hope is to encourage companies and help them to grow, which will strengthen the innovation economy, enlarge it, directly improve it. I hope as the entrepreneur-in-residence and through events like the CEWIT International Conference I can work through the university as an agent for helping encourage these companies.
Interview by GREGORY ZELLER