By Richard E. Honen, originally published on August 23, 2018.
During Startup Week, Let’s Take Tech Valley to Next Level
Twenty years ago, the Capital Region was branded as Tech Valley—and in many ways, we have lived up to the name.
Our region is home to tech-based start-ups and growing companies, accelerators and incubators that spur innovation and commercialization, and universities that prepare their students with the skills they need to stay ahead of the pace of change.
There’s plenty of data, from recent analyses by the Center for Economic Growth, to back up these observations: More than 12,000 people were working for privately owned startups in the Capital Region in 2016. Area colleges and universities saw a 10 percent increase in STEM degrees last year. And, one in 20 semiconductor-related patents were awarded to local inventors in 2017.
When it was launched, Tech Valley was an identity we could rally around—a shared vision for what the Capital Region could become—and so many of us have worked hard to help bring it into reality. It is something the region can truly be proud of.
Now, it’s time to take the next step.
This week has been designated as Startup Week Across America, an annual call to action championed by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The organization strives to draw the nation’s attention to startups and grow awareness of the economic impact of entrepreneurs.
That makes this week the perfect opportunity for each of us to commit to doing our part to help Tech Valley achieve the next level.
As a region that aspires to become—and remain—a hotspot for tech jobs, we have devoted a lot of well-spent time celebrating startups and entrepreneurs. But the time has come to move beyond participation awards.
We need to demand success, not just attempts. We need to look towards growth, employment, and successful exits. And we need to see more Capital Region companies on the buy side, not just the sell side, of the M&A deals. We have the infrastructure and talent we need. We can demand even more out of our region’s startup ecosystem because we have proven that we can produce sophisticated, successful companies. I’m confident the Capital Region can grow more companies that employ hundreds and sell for tens and hundreds of millions.
We need to move to the point where companies like Fortitech, CommerceHub and Etransmedia are no longer the outliers.
We need to accelerate the pace at which we’re replicating stories like theirs. It’s not just for the sake of doing it—but because the long-term vitality of our local economy requires it.
Those 12,000 startup employees that I referenced earlier represent only three percent of our region’s private-sector employment. Obviously, tech jobs aren’t only created by early-stage companies, but a tech-driven economy does require new business formation and its resulting employment in order to foster sustained economic growth.
At this critical juncture in our ecosystem’s maturation, we can’t let ourselves become complacent or succumb to those who still question the vision. There were a lot of naysayers when the region was first labeled Tech Valley, but we didn’t let it discourage us. Rather, we dug in and did the work necessary to make it happen.
After decades of working with startup founders and venture capital firms, I believe we can take Tech Valley to the next level. Startup Week Across America is the perfect time to commit to the work it will take.
Rich Honen is Partner and Albany Office Leader for Phillips Lytle LLP. He also leads the firm’s Venture Capital & Technology Practice.