Debrief: Carrie Cottingham, LIU Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

LIU's Carrie Cottingham: Long Island punches above its weight in innovation.

As director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and special counsel to the office of the university president, Long Island University’s Carrie Cottingham enjoys multiple perspectives on LI’s innovation economy. A lawyer by trade, she’s an innovator at heart: After obtaining her JD from Charleston School of Law, she earned a master’s in entrepreneurial law at Duke, completing a unique program for lawyers who want to advise startups or become entrepreneurs themselves. Cottingham, who signed on in October after serving as general counsel for Westchester’s Mercy College, knows how innovation works – and she believes Long Island’s innovation future is extremely bright. In her words:

SPECIAL AGENT: Serving as special counsel to the president’s office definitely gives me a very broad overview of the institution’s vision – of our strategic priorities, of where the opportunities are, of where we want to take this institution. I get to see how we are promoting entrepreneurial thinking in all aspects of our operations. We have a multifaceted approach, focusing on building partnerships with industry, being involved with various organizations like the Long Island Association and also achieving our Start-Up NY designation.

INCREASING INNOVATION: I see how all of these things provide our students with the skillsets for the 21st century workforce, so they can really contribute to the innovation economy. The innovation economy grew by 15 percent in the last four years or so and that trend is only going to increase. Jobs within the innovation economy are also going to increase; there’s something like 4 million innovation-economy jobs in the New York City-Long Island region, and that should grow by another million in the next 20 years or so.

HERE TO STAY: We recognize that innovation and entrepreneurship is not a passing fad. This is a shift in the workplace and a shift in the expectations for our students. A few years ago, the word “innovation” wasn’t even in the lexicon of recruiters; now it’s one of the top things they focus on. Our ability to prepare our students for that, whether they want to be entrepreneurs or not, is critical. We want our students to be immersed in gaining these skillsets, so they’re prepared for a workforce that’s only getting more competitive.

THE HOME OF INNOVATION: I think Long Island really punches above its weight in terms of innovation. The population really represents a significant percentage of people working in the innovation economy in the Greater New York area. The opportunity that Long Island can become a premier destination for innovation is there, and it’s only going to grow – not only because of our proximity to New York City, but because of what the people here are focusing on. This can really become what we’re known for.

IT’S A START: We were the first private university on Long Island to receive the Start-Up NY designation. Long Island has always been an attractive place for startups in biotech and the technology sectors. Those opportunities are growing, and the designation puts us in a unique position to be part of that. Bringing real-life entrepreneurs here will create partnerships that are of the utmost importance to our students. We can really give them hands-on opportunities to learn in conjunction with their academic coursework.

PARK PLACE: The Start-Up NY designation was also a critical first step for us toward developing our research park, part of the long-term vision for our university. We have acres of undeveloped land that’s uniquely positioned in proximity to the other great institutions here on the island, adjacent to NYIT in Old Westbury and close to the other institutions. That means we’re conveniently located to host this tech park.

FOCUS: This really is a very long island, with lots of different communities. Having a centralized location for the innovation economy can be really pivotal in creating this distinctive identity. It can really help organize the Island in a productive way. There needs to be a confluence of participation from everyone – it’s in everyone’s best interest to raise the tide, as they say – but I think LIU can be a driver and a leader in that space.

CENTER STAGE: That’s our goal. We need encouragement and support from all other participants, but there’s a real opportunity for us to be that player, to be the focal point that organizes what can otherwise be a very disparate economy out here. We have the land. We have the Startup-NY designation. We have the proximity to the other institutions. And we have the vision to do it. We think we can fill that role, and it can only enhance the Island as a whole.

Interview by GREGORY ZELLER