No matter how brilliant the idea, one of the biggest challenges for any aspiring entrepreneur is convincing would-be investors that it can make money.
With that in mind, Stony Brook University recently hosted the founders of six fledging companies for a crash course in drafting business plans and pitching ideas to those with deep pockets. The event, called the Long Island Innovation Boot Camp, hinged on the Silicon Valley adage that successful inventors don't naturally make for successful entrepreneurs.
"Just because you are tech-smart doesn't mean you have the business acumen to get a company off the ground," said David Hamilton, director of business development for the university's Clean Energy Business Incubator Program, which has sponsored the program for the last several years.
Over three days the entrepreneurs worked with patent attorneys, industry experts and university business students to help define target markets, identify competition and clearly articulate their products, which ranged from environmentally friendly concrete to a cutting-edge AIDS treatment. At the conclusion they pitched their strategies to a panel of venture capitalists and start-up specialists who provided feedback that, at times, was brutally honest.
Tapping local sources
The exercise was part of the renewed push on Long Island to create a culture of high-tech start-up companies by harnessing brainpower from Stony Brook, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and elsewhere. Officials have long hoped that scientific breakthroughs here would produce jobs to replace those lost in the fall of the local aerospace industry.
The effort, however, has never gained much traction. Officials blame that, in part, on Long Island's lack of seasoned entrepreneurs who can sell their ideas to venture capitalists. Stony Brook's boot camp sought to impart that experience on the fly.
"Intensive workshops like this are a tried and true approach," said Mark Lesko, executive director of Accelerate Long Island, an organization promoting the growth of technology-based start-ups. "It is something that's been missing, frankly, on Long Island for too long."
On the boot camp's final afternoon the entrepreneurs hunched over laptops at conference tables, which were littered with water bottles and power bars. They sketched corporate organization charts on flip pads. And they plotted distribution methods. All the while, the lawyers and other members of their support teams pushed them to think about patents and other details.
"It was incredibly helpful," said Cynthia L. Bristow, founder and chief executive of Alpha-1 Biologics Corp.
An executive evolves
Bristow, a medical immunologist, founded her company in 2011 to commercialize technology she pioneered, including a diagnostic test for the AIDS virus using saliva instead of blood and a treatment to strengthen the immune systems of AIDS and cancer patients.
She moved the company last year from Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan to Stony Brook's high-tech business incubator. Part of the draw, she said, was the growing support for start-ups on Long Island, including the boot camp.
"As a scientist, I have tried to educate myself about how to be a businesswoman," she said. "But to have experts sit with you and go through the details . . . you get far more depth."
BOOT CAMP PARTICIPANTS
Alpha-1 Biologics Corp., Stony Brook: Testing and treatment for AIDS and other diseases
BlueStream, Stony Brook: energy storage and smart grid technology
Green Sulfcrete, Melville: environmentally friendly concrete
Gilman Industries, East Northport: hydrogen gas generators
SubSea, Manhattan: hydro power systems
Goddard Labs, Calverton: molecular food testing