SUNY New Paltz has been extending its outreach within the Hudson Valley economy in new ways. The latest move came when its School of Business debuted a new program designed to strengthen the region’s start-up ecosystem early this month.
The Hudson Valley Venture Hub will be overseen, the college said, by entrepreneur-in-residence Tony DiMarco, an adjunct member of the business faculty at the school. DiMarco’s long-term goal, the May 3 press release continued, would be “to increase the number of entrepreneurs here and drive the economic vitality of the Hudson Valley region.”
SUNY New Paltz has been a school on the rise, especially within the universe of New York State’s public colleges and universities. The school has been improving its scores in various national rankings. Undergraduate applicants boast higher test scores. Despite perennial complaints about the lack of an appropriate level of state support, the school’s programs have been adjusting to changes in educational demand. Its engineering and science programs in particular have been strengthened in recent years.
When it comes to creating a broader economic base for the region by turning its students into entrepreneurs, however, the school’s record has been less than stellar. SUNY New Paltz can point to relatively few success stories. Despite a series of business incubators, accelerators, support services, occasional events and other initiatives over the years, the results have been disappointing. The college has more than 7000 students. Too few of the degree-earning knowledge-worker graduates have been able to start businesses which have had the capacity to create a robust number of Hudson Valley jobs.
Eight years ago, Donald Christian was appointed temporary president of SUNY New Paltz, and seven years ago its president. Christian has brought a revised focus to the evolving institution. If the college was to engage the broader community in the service of both education and economic development, it needed to create new intermediate mechanisms. To be successful, it would require technical knowledge, business acumen and an understanding of social organization. Outreach was essential, partnerships highly desirable.
Tony DiMarco was an interesting choice to lead the Hudson Valley Venture Hub, one of the college’s efforts. A 20-year IBMer who then taught management at Marist College for six years, DiMarco has been working with many others to create a spark that would fire up a more entrepreneurial climate. Roughly a year ago, the state approved a new SUNY New Paltz’s business school program which will combine classroom work, business planning and community engagement.
DiMarco walks the walk. He is co-creator and one of the five managing directors of the Kingston-based Hudson Valley Venture Fund. He has participated with management professor Mike Caslin in GSCEN, a locally headquartered educational non-profit whose purpose is “melding best business practices with sustainable local economy ventures.” He has also been teaching an entrepreneurship course in the SUNY New Paltz School of Business.
Earlier this month, the college held a three-hour forum of the Venture Hub leaders and advisors. About 70 of the 114 people on the rather eclectic leaders’ list attended. They networked, listened, participated in presentations, and networked some more.
“This is first and foremost about connecting with each other and discovering that we all share common beliefs and passions,” DiMarco explained in the May 3 press release. “The second objective is for us to help each other succeed.”
“Think of it as a connective tissue” was how School of Business dean Kristin Backhaus explained the Hudson Valley Venture Hub. It’s a network of people involved in building a more robust business ecosystem, she said. It’s a place for events where interactions such as the leaders’ forum can take place. And it’s a platform, a starting point for the evolution of other applications and processes; it’s hoped that a number of startups, including student-driven ones, will build on it.
Backhaus reported that on a tour of businesses in the region she found that the entrepreneurial community in the Hudson Valley was “fractured.” Partially due to the geographically dispersed nature of the region and the lack of communication among the players, there was the lack of a cohesive community of entrepreneurs. SUNY New Paltz’s students needed that sense of connection. It would encourage innovation efforts and develop practical business knowledge.
DiMarco showed a copy of a piece of paper graphically describing all the separate organizations in the Hudson Valley startup ecosystem. He was reminded that this organizational map looked vaguely similar to one that he had used several years ago to illustrate the complex but fragmented nature of the local venture world.
Yes, responded DiMarco. But the map was more crowded and looked even more congested now than it had been then.