Schumer: Biz-development funds big deal for SBU

Innovation igniter: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) likes the Commerce Department's Regional Innovation Strategies program.

New York’s two U.S. Senators, including the freshly minted Senate minority leader, are heralding a series of competitive U.S. Department of Commerce grants that will fund business-development initiatives around the nation – including formal mentoring and new training through Stony Brook University’s Center for Biotechnology.

The SBU initiatives, including seminars for companies competing for National Institutes of Health funding, will be covered by a $500,000 grant from the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, which announced Tuesday a new competitive funding round through its Regional Innovation Strategies program.

Sen. Charles Schumer, who this week was selected by his Democratic peers to be the most powerful Democrat in the Republican-controlled Senate, said the federal funding will build momentum at the Center for Biotechnology and the Long Island Bioscience Hub, a regional commercialization effort anchored by the SBU center and member organizations Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, which joined the hub this spring.

“Startup companies are the job-creating engines that power our economic growth in the 21st century,” Schumer said. “This federal funding will … provide local bio-entrepreneurs with the resources they need to kick-start innovation and create jobs.”

The Center for Biotechnology was one of 35 organizations in 19 states – including colleges and universities, nonprofit groups and various entrepreneurship-focused councils – selected from 215 applications to receive a slice of the RIS’s $15 million pie. Winning organizations will earmark the funds for various efforts designed to help innovators turn discoveries into viable commercial products and companies.

Clinton Rubin: Big Biohub boost.

Clinton Rubin: Big Biohub boost.

The biotechnology center received one of 26 i6 Challenge Grants, referencing the Commerce Department’s ongoing effort to identify and support the best technology-based commercialization and entrepreneurship opportunities in each of six national regions. Each grant was for $500,000 or less.

Among this round’s i6 Challenge Grant recipients is a “recycled carbon fiber innovation ecosystem accelerator” in Washington State, a Rutgers University proof-of-concept clean-energy accelerator program in Central New Jersey, an industrial innovation center at Louisiana State University and the Idea Foundry, a nonprofit life-sciences commercialization project in Pittsburgh.

Closer to home, i6 Challenge Grants also went to a “fashion and design accelerator” at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn – Sen. Kirsten Gillebrand noted New York City is “perfectly positioned for a manufacturing boom, particularly in legacy industries like apparel and textile manufacturing” – and Mohawk Valley Community College’s Utica-based thINCubator.

The SBU stipend was actually granted to the Research Foundation for the State University of New York. Essentially, the circa-1983 Center for Biotechnology – an Empire State Development Division of Science, Technology and Innovation Center for Advanced Technology – will use the funds to develop a formal mentoring program and training seminars specific to early-stage companies interested in securing NIH program grants.

It’s a significant boost, according to Center for Biotechnology Director Clinton Rubin, a self-described “proto-entrepreneur” who believes Long Island’s innovation economy “is rooted in cutting-edge basic and applied science and engineering.”

But even if the science is there, the business acumen is sometimes lacking – making the new mentoring and training programs essential to “growing the high-technology innovations born in our region into fully realized ventures,” Rubin noted.

“This award and the initiatives it will support add to the growing, concentrated efforts the Center for Biotechnology, the Long Island Bioscience Hub and the hub’s partner institutions are making,” he said.

The RIS program also handed out roughly $1.5 million in “seed fund support investments,” with eight smaller grants targeting early-stage business-development funds in New York, California, Colorado, North Carolina, Louisiana, Florida and Texas.

Louisiana was the only state to receive two seed-fund investments this round, with both the Baton Rouge-based Louisiana Deal Flow Accelerator and the New Orleans-based Social Impact Equity Fund receiving $250,000 stipends.

The registered 501(c)3 Launch NY received a $245,460 support investment for its Buffalo-based Mentorship-Driven Seed Fund.

The $15 million in RIS program grants will advance innovation in markets across the country by addressing “two essential core components that entrepreneurs need to take their ideas to market,” according to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker: programmatic support and access to capital.

“As America’s innovation agency, the Commerce Department has a key role to play in supporting the visionaries and job creators of tomorrow,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Today’s awardees … will make U.S. communities, businesses and the workforce more globally competitive.”



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