For LI entrepreneurs, a bevy of biz-building resources

Support system: There are resources aplenty for Long Island entrepreneurs -- including key mentorship programs -- even if they have to look off-Island to get them, notes Phil Rugile.
By PHIL RUGILE //

I’ve talked a lot about how startups can utilize physical spaces and how, as region, we need more centers for innovation. But meanwhile, we already have dozens of startups popping up every month – and they won’t necessarily wait around for the right space or support.

If there’s no easy way to find what they need, they’ll go somewhere they think can assist them. In our case, that typically means a move to Brooklyn or Manhattan, aboard the Brain Drain Train.

Keep in mind, sometimes you must reach outside your neighborhood to find the right resources. But what can Long Island offer early-stage companies, and how can they benefit?

A great place to start is the local Small Business Development Center, at Farmingdale State College or Stony Brook University.

According to Stony Brook University Entrepreneur in Residence Michael Chiang, who actually contributes to both regional SBDCs, the mission is “professional business advisement, education and network services to advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” through one-on-one consultations on business planning, product development and more.

With Chiang’s help, the Stony Brook SBDC has expanded its services to include several business-formation and -development programs, including an annual, two-day training workshop for the federal government’s SBIR and STTR grant programs.

The Farmingdale SBDC, meanwhile, regularly hosts workshops covering important topics like business-plan creation and search-engine optimization.

Combined, the two centers serve more than 1,000 small businesses annually, helping “entrepreneurs build something people love and helping them get the resources they need,” Chiang says, “whether it’s funding or marketing help, to get them to the next level.”

Phil Rugile: Support your local entrepreneur.

Early-stage entrepreneurs looking for a one-on-one mentor to stick around for a while can check out New York State’s Business Mentor NY program. This well-organized program, open to mentors and mentees, lets you zero in on specific experiences and skills, helping the mentee find the right guide and providing the mentor with an overview of the mentee’s business and challenges.

I have personally been contacted via the Business Mentor NY website and wound up mentoring an amazing early-stage fashion company right in my backyard.

If you’re ready to step up and put your business on the line with the mother of all startup programs – to go big or go home – there’s always the Techstars Incubator.

Started in 2006, Techstars has grown into an international program that’s presented more than 4,000 events, with 10,000-plus mentors operating in 150 countries. For many, it has become the ticket to knowledge (and some good funding).

Just ask local startup hero Aaron Foss, founder of robocall-blocker Nomorobo. Foss jumpstarted his business by getting accepted into the Techstars program, then moved into an incubator and worked 24/7 to go from concept to product – finally landing a six-figure investment (and ultimately much more) and becoming part of something much larger.

“It’s not about the money, it’s about the network,” Foss notes. “No matter what happens to your startup or your team, you are in the Techstars network for life.”

You, and some 300,000 alumni, a fantastic networking resource. Getting in is stressful – it requires a pitch process – but you can get a feel for it by signing up for the next Techstars Startup Weekend at LaunchPad Huntington. Another a great place to start is Techstar’s Entrepreneur’s Toolkit, full of tips and guidance.

Remember, there are no guarantees. Launching a business brings a high likelihood of failure and little work/life balance, and running a startup is not something you just know how to do. You only learn it by doing it.

But if you make it work, it’s gratification on steroids. So, find the right level of support to help you make some magic. Goals are important – and so are mentors!

Phil Rugile is the director of LaunchPad Huntington and a consultant on corporate innovation and workforce-development programs. Reach him at phil@launchpadhuntington.com.