Orange County Business Accelerator

Not long after Orange County Business Accelerator was launched in October 2009, County Executive Ed Diana characterized the business incubator as “a perfect example of how government can support industry.”

Moreover, he suggested its performance defines “the helpful – not hindering – role government should play” in nurturing start-ups involved with cutting-edge ventures that ultimately create new jobs.

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In the current political climate, where everything government does is greeted with a raised eyebrow, one wonders if it gets any better than that. Such a ringing endorsement, however, is entirely appropriate for an agency that massages entrepreneurial dreams into job-creating, revenue-producing reality.

In a little more than a year, the Accelerator has exceeded all expectations, serving 14 clients and tenants, already adding additional space beyond the 10,000 square feet available when it opened its doors, and creating more than 50 jobs with the prospect of hundreds more developing once its clients move on. With every passing day, inquiries from hundreds of other potential entrepreneurs pour in.

Veteran Orange County economic development impresario Michael DiTullo, the incubator’s managing director, says the environment that’s been created is at the intersection of “capital, talent and innovation.”

As a result, “we’re creating jobs from within the county,” which, he adds, “is what we’re all about.”

Services Offered

Much of what the Accelerator provides clients is not that dissimilar to hundreds of other incubator-type programs scattered throughout the United States.  State-of-the-art offices and innovation suites, all the latest technology in a plug-and-play environment, and well-appointed and spacious conference rooms overlooking the grand vista of Stewart Airport greet the prospective tenant. And it’s at a price tag that’s about 60 percent of the market rate.

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The entire overhead – from lights to heat as well as a full complement of administrative support services – is included in one fixed rate. It’s true turnkey operation.

Usually a new client signs up for a three-year commitment; after that, the hope is the incubated companies will be of sufficient strength to move into their own location, add employees and function as yet another important cog in the county’s economy. Studies suggest that 80 percent of the businesses started in an incubator are judged to be “successful,” a rate that’s far higher than those that go it alone.

Besides the physical amenities, start-up businesses can utilize an impressive array of other services, including mentoring programs, access to marketing and public relations professionals, legal services and an unending succession of networking opportunities. Through its Entrepreneur Knowledge Series, the Accelerator stages monthly seminars about the issues of the day, giving start-ups access to brainpower that might otherwise not be readily available. Among the topics covered to date: cloud computing, patent protection, corporate sustainability and the growing influence of social media as a tool of business.

According to DiTullo, the monthly series “creates a dialogue between the Accelerator and the business community so we can improve our services and adapt to growing market trends.” Using the Entrepreneur Knowledge Series as a springboard, the Accelerator has added two additional information exchange programs, the Pop-Up Knowledge Series and the Service Provider Series. In both cases, clients meet with experts who perpetuate the sobriquet that knowledge is power.

The Accelerator’s well-regarded Enterprise Development Director, Peter Gregory, handles many day-to-day operations.

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The initial drivers behind the incubator idea were IDA Chairman James Petro, Jr. and board member and IDA attorney Philip Crotty. In 2008, the IDA was approached with a number of investment ideas but none rang true. “None of the opportunities offered the meaningful jobs that IDA sought for Orange County,” Petro said. “So the IDA board decided to explore alternatives.” The Accelerator was born with the mandate to establish a home for entrepreneurial start-ups in exciting new industries, including renewable energy, life sciences and information technology.

The Accelerator “helped us with everything from getting our logo squared away to marketing advice and access to capital,” said Michael Finnegan, co-founder of Continental Organics, a firm focused on aquaponics. Continental Organics became a client in January 2010 with the dream of eventually opening a huge aquaculture operation. That dream’s about to come true as the groundbreaking for a facility in the Town of New Windsor is only a short time away. Finnegan explains, “If it wasn’t for this start-up assistance, we’d be nowhere near ground-breaking.”

 Photo by Michael Nelson

Enterprise Development Director Peter Gregory, Ida Attorney, Philip Crotty and Deputy Executive James O’Donnell

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