Three Presidents

IC President Tom Rochon, Cornell President David Skorton, and TC3 President Carl Haynes at the opening of Rev, the downtown Ithaca business incubator.

Let the networking, business building, and job creation begin. The Downtown Ithaca Incubator, a collaboration among Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins-Cortland Community College, officially opened its doors on Monday, Sept. 22. The new business generator has been dubbed “Rev” by its creators.

“Ithaca used to make things,” said IC President Tom Rochon in his remarks to the assembled crowd on Monday morning. “We don’t always remember that. Well, we still make things, which is why we were made the Southern Tier Innovation Hotspot. [At the Downtown Incubator] we will focus on businesses that make things that the world wants to buy.”

The East State Street site is on the second floor of the Carey Building, formerly the home of Mayer’s newsstand and still the location of Homespun and the Old Goat. Renovations by Travis Hyde Properties began in January—following design work by John Snyder Architects—and construction on the second floor was essentially complete enough to allow occupation this week.

Frost Travis said he would begin construction of the third story “overbuild” in October. The third story will serve as an expansion of the incubator space. Floor four through seven will hold 20 new apartments (16 studios and four two-bedrooms). Travis hopes to have this John Snyder design completed by next summer.

TC3 President Carl Haynes credited Cornell President David Skorton with initiating the overture to collaborate. He said it was the first time all three schools had collaborated like this.

TC3 has a developing applied technology degree program and has “entrepreneurship faculty” who offer seminars that focus on identifying markets, creating business plans, and locating funding sources. All of these skills, Haynes said, will be put to use and honed when graduates make their way to the Downtown Ithaca Incubator.

The TC3 president looked forward to Rev serving as a conduit for directing Cornell’s “vast resources” into the community.

Skorton jokingly claimed that it was Cornell Executive Director of Regional Economic Advancement Tom Schryver and Cornell Vice President Mary Opperman who urged him to reach out to Rachon and Haynes. He called the incubator “a different kind of entrepreneurial education” that emphasized real world experience. “There will be entrepreneurs rubbing shoulders here,” he said. “And it’s important to remind people that it’s open to everybody, not just people associated with our institutions. This is for the community.”

Peter McCracken, whose company is called Ship Index, joined Rev even before the second floor opened. “I've been working downstairs in the old Mayers,” he said. “It is just great to have community, connecting with other people. When I get out of the house, I get more work done.”

McCracken's enterprise builds searchable databases that include data about ships. He hopes that incubator will serve a purpose similar to professional meetings. At a recent conference in Norfolk, Va. he learned about software that found vessels mentioned in unindexed databases. “It's called 'entity extraction,'” he said. “Computer scientists and linguists working together have created a program that can parse sentences to distinguish which items are people and which are objects, in my case ships. This will probably be its first use in the library industry and definitely the first in the maritime setting.”

As McCracken said, to find out about such things, you just have to be in a room with other people who are working. As Louis Pasteur once said, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.”

In a question and answer interval after their presentations Haynes said that TC3 had a strong connection to BOCES and he hoped that the enterprises that would be created at the incubator would serve as opportunities for graduates. “They can get experience and entry-level jobs at these companies,” he said, “and encourage them to then go on to more education.” •

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