Debrief: Keeping busy with Phil Rugile

Phil Rugile: STEAM engine.

There’s never a dull moment when you’re Phil Rugile, who pulls double duty as director of the hyperactive LaunchPad Huntington and as “human capital strategist” at eGifter, the Huntington-based digital gifting/corporate prepaid solutions specialist that remains one of Long Island’s great innovation success stories. When Innovate LI last Debriefed the media-savvy entrepreneur, LaunchPad Huntington was barely a year old and still finding its way; two years hence, Rugile has honed the co-working space into a precision instrument of invention and job-creation, as evidenced by economic-development partnerships with the Workforce Development Institute, Stony Brook University and others. The director comes up for air long enough to note:  

eGifted: We continue to close investment rounds to expedite eGifter’s growth. The staff has doubled since moving into LaunchPad Huntigton, and we are looking at potentially doubling the current staff of 24 in the next year or so.

Not to brag, but…: Our Software as a Service platform now supports over 50 corporate clients, including Target, Panera Bread, Williams-Sonoma and others. eGifter for School, a gift service that allows students and their families to privately collect funds and leave personal messages for teachers and support staff, launched in April in the Great Lakes Region. And we’ve launched Version 2.0 of our Group Gifting platform, which added features to specifically make it easier than ever to create group gifts for coaches, co-workers, the holidays, baby showers, new homes, weddings, birthdays, graduations or any occasion at all.

Packing them in: LaunchPad Huntington marked three years last January, and we have lots of new tenants. We’re up to 26 now. Most people don’t use the space other than coming and going, so we can still fit in another eight, nine or 10.

Tech-plus: It’s not just focused on technology anymore. It’s a total mix now of marketing people, food companies, commercial marine-engine technologies, philanthropy platforms, including a nonprofit version of “Shark Tank” … we’ve got an investment fund platform, too.

Honoring the grads: Our biggest LaunchPad Huntington graduate so far is Envisagenics. They went and got accepted into Grand Central Tech, a high-end, invite-only incubator in Manhattan. While they were with us, they raised well over half-a-million dollars, so they’re sort of the poster child. There’s also FlightPartner, which started with us, and TalentBrowser, who’s out now and has clients and is doing well. And, of course, Jeff Leventhal and WorkRails.

Drawing cards: The success comes mostly from events. We have so many events that drive so many people in, which drives new tenants, which drives new event ideas, which drives corporate sponsorships. Bridgehampton National Bank is now on board as a sponsor, as well as a new angel-investment fund, AJA Capital Inc.

Playing ball on LI: AJA Capital is a startup fund that’s coming out from the city to Long Island to find investments. The guy who runs it just bought a stake in a regional baseball team in Connecticut, as a matter of fact, and they play the (Long Island) Ducks all the time. He looked around and decided he wanted to start a fund on the Island, in a less competitive market than New York City, and needed to be based out of someplace where he could have access to all the entrepreneurial activity out here.

Event-ful: The next big event we’re going to do is the first-ever Huntington Township technology-oriented job fair. We’re going to try and bring the whole Route 110 corridor down into the village. Every company, not just pure tech like WorkRails or eGifter, but also pharmaceutical companies along the corridor, places like Novartis and others. We want them to come down to LaunchPad and set up tables and commit to an open house that afternoon, and then when people get interested they can just walk down the street or hop in the car and go see what the work environment is like.

Launch team: I talk to (LaunchPad Westbury Community Manager) Michael Watt all the time. We talk regularly and do a lot of things together – for instance, we’re running a booth together at the Hauppauge Industrial Association Trade Show. When I get calls for people looking for space, if they’re not geographically close to Huntington and it makes sense for them, I’ll throw them to Westbury or Great Neck.

Plenty to go around: With LaunchPad Huntington, most of the people in our tenant base are from Huntington, or relatively close. There is so much entrepreneurial activity in Huntington. That’s why I want to have this job fair – to highlight the fact that there’s a ton of stuff going on in Huntington, which includes Melville and Huntington Village and Northport and Greenlawn and all these other places. We really don’t do much overlap, geographically, with the other LaunchPads.

Jobs are Job No. 1: What LaunchPad has become, the thing that’s not always obvious, is we’ve really become fully entrenched in the workforce-development stuff, by working with the WDI and Stony Brook University’s Manufacturing Technology Resource Consortium. We’re doing a lot of community- and workforce-development initiatives, all part of the overall puzzle, which is fitting it all together to create jobs. That’s why we work closely with the industrial development agencies and why they support us – we’re the poster child for creating new companies and creating new jobs.

Interview by Gregory Zeller

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