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Tech start-ups think inside the Thought Box

The man behind the tech incubator Thought Box

The man behind the tech incubator Thought Box I in Hicksville is Mark Fasciano, managing director of Canrock Ventures. The venture capital firm, also located there, has financially helped some tenants. (Dec. 6, 2012) Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Eight start-up companies have moved into the top floor of a former bank building in downtown Hicksville -- the latest experiment in fostering entrepreneurial "ecosystems" on Long Island.

The businesses, most of them technology-oriented, use clusters of white tables and black Aeron chairs in a large carpeted room.

Employees of one company stand around a white board discussing a problem. An employee of another company walks by and joins in, offering a possible solution.

Such collaboration is exactly what venture capitalist Mark Fasciano was hoping to encourage when he proposed Thought Box I.

The $30-million initiative seeks to improve the survival rate of tech start-ups by having them work together and be advised by financiers and veteran entrepreneurs who are on site. The project also is likely to attract workers from New York City due to an easy commute via the adjacent Long Island Rail Road station.


Casual interactions key

"There are no offices, no cubicles," said Fasciano, managing director of Canrock Ventures, a venture capital fund, also based at Thought Box. "Casual interactions are absolutely crucial . . . People are helping each other to build their companies."

Thought Box opened in late September in 1,100 square feet of rented space at 100 Duffy Ave., once home to a Chase credit-card operations center.

Fasciano said he chose the location because of amenities that technology entrepreneurs want, such as the LIRR station, access to the LIE and Northern State Parkway, a health club, restaurants, parking and apartments (a development has been proposed nearby).

He hopes to expand Thought Box, encourage a research institution to open a second incubator, and have established technology companies move operations into a vacant adjacent building. "We want to create a hub of activity," he said.

Last year, Thought Box was recommended by the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council for $3 million in state money, which it received. Fasciano is a council member but did not participate in the vote on his project.

He started Canrock 2½ years ago with partners Jim Estill and Ted Smith. They have invested $14 million in 22 companies.

Before Canrock, Fasciano co-founded FatWire Software in a bedroom of the Oyster Bay Cove home where he was reared. He later sold FatWire, which manages Web content, for several million dollars.

Most of Thought Box's tenants have received financial backing from Canrock, including Karma411, which specializes in online social fundraising.

Asked about the benefits of Thought Box, Karma411 chief executive John Murcott said, "The conversations, the expertise. I'm a software guy. Here I have access to a chief financial officer, someone who knows payroll, administration."


Do-not-disturb hats

Murcott, also a FatWire founder, likes Thought Box office customs, such as software engineers donning hats to signal they cannot be disturbed while writing computer code, or the "pizza-and-programing" sessions on some nights.

Tenants pay up to $350 per month for each desk they use.

Tal Eidelberg, chief executive of Intrigma Inc., plans to move to Thought Box from the Long Island High Technology Incubator at Stony Brook University. Intrigma sells computer software for employee scheduling to hospitals and other large institutions.

Fasciano "understands that Long Island needs a technology hub, a place where people with no money but great ideas can get help to build a business," Eidelberg said. "I think this really can become something, something that helps the Long Island economy."

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