StartUp Meeting Offers Advice, Success Stories

By John Cropley The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "Startup Town Square" is providing upstate New York entrepreneurs great opportunities for networking. Budding entrepreneurs receive the opportunity to connect with advisers who have track records of success in investing and entrepreneurship.

The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y.

The Electric City Innovation Center on Wednesday launched StartUp Town Square, an entrepreneurial program to boost the ecosystem in which young companies operate.

ECIC is a co-working environment and as such is a good place for collaboration, said Jeff Goronkin, CEO of ECIC and founder of StartUp Town Square.

But the monthly program will provide a larger group of potential contacts for networking and learning, he said.

"We're trying to shine a light on the ecosystem we have here," he added. "There's a lot going on in the region."

Goronkin and Susan Bardack of Buzz Media Solutions acquired majority ownership of ECIC earlier this year and set about making it more effective at its mission.

The industrial-styled glass-and-steel room is a very neat space in which to work, Goronkin said, but ultimately it's just a space. What happens there matters more than what it looks like.

"We just want to keep it really vibrant," Goronkin said.

His idea for an event like StartUp Town Square predated his ownership of ECIC, but ECIC provided an ideal venue for it, with its open floor plan and mini-amphitheater.

On Wednesday, the theme was the Internet of Things. A handful of tech companies gave technology demonstrations and Wink and POMCO gave presentations on themselves and their work.

There were also opportunities for networking and for entrepreneurs to meet with volunteer advisers with a track record of success in investing and entrepreneurship.

Dave Dussault, an adviser to StartUp Town Square and an investor in POMCO, spoke about the progress the Clifton Park firm has made bringing its personal safety device to market.

POMCO -- Peace of Mind Company -- sells a bluetooth-enabled fob that can signal for help, or broadcast the user's location, or even find lost car keys. It is aimed at the college market, where students provide millions of potential sales. POMCO made its first inroads at the Sage Colleges and is now on 23 college campuses. The goal is 60 campuses within 24 months.

"The POM device is revolutionizing campus safety," Dussault said.

He said it is stronger than other student safety options, including blue-light safety stations that may not be nearby and smartphone apps that may be cumbersome to use in an emergency.

The POM fob is activated by the press of a button in the pocket or purse, so potentially threatening people nearby won't realize it's being activated. The button push can be programmed to send a call for help to campus police; establish GPS tracking as someone walks in an unfamiliar area; send a text to a parent or friend; or even call the user's own phone, giving him or her a ruse to break away from an uncomfortable situation.

A few thousand POM fobs are in service now, and are being used mostly for non-emergency situations. Only 2 percent of the activations have been made under circumstances of danger.

"We don't want that number to be higher," Dussault said.

Wink, the other company featured at Wednesday's event, has a large presence right upstairs from ECIC, on the top floor of Center City on State Street.

Director of customer contact Stephanie Mirch said high-tech homes have not evolved in the way envisioned a half-century ago by "The Jetsons," but they can be extensively automated.

With the Wink Hub or second-generation Wink Hub 2, users can control multiple wireless-enabled appliances or devices in and around their home with a smartphone, one at a time or in groups based on situation or function.

For example, a user could turn the thermostat up while still at the airport, so the house would be warm upon return from a winter vacation.

Also, a user can create a single command to trigger multiple and simultaneous actions. A "go to work" command, for example, would close the shades, shut down the heat or air conditioning, turn off the coffee pot, lock the doors and arm the alarm system when the user leaves the house empty.

Wink, Mirch said, was a major step forward in home control, offering simplified and unified control through partnerships with multiple manufacturers.

"You can stay with the products you have and have your connected home," she said.

The system does not require advanced skills to operate, she added.

"We wanted to make sure this was accessible to everyone."

When Mirch and Dussault were done, law firms Whiteman Osterman and Hanna LLP and Heslin, Rothenberg, Farley & Mesiti gave a presentation on a different aspect of the tech world: developing and protecting intellectual property.

Goronkin said future events this year each will be slightly different, with themes including power of story and social entrepreneurship.

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