Via the Rochester Business Journal
James Senall, April 14, 2020

James SenallWe hear local leaders talk all the time about the importance of technology and innovation. Why? The answer is simple: They create growth.

According to a US Chamber of Commerce Foundation paper, economists have calculated that approximately 50% of U.S. annual GDP growth is attributed to increases in innovation. And according to The New Geography of Jobs, by economist Enrico Moretti, for every high-tech job created, as many as five additional jobs are also created over time.

For some time now, the Rochester region has been working to build a tech- and innovation-based economy. We have all the ingredients experts regularly point to as needed, including a highly educated population, research universities, STEM programs, patent activity, incubators and accelerators and investors. In their 2019 book Jump-starting America, MIT professors Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson rank Rochester as the No. 1 metropolitan area in the country that could become the next big tech and innovation hub in America. The authors have been to Rochester multiple times to talk about the book and why Rochester is ranked so highly. We hope they keep spreading that message!

No conversation about tech and innovation, however, would be complete without bringing entrepreneurship in the mix. For years, the Kauffman Foundation has shown that most of the net new jobs in the country come from young companies, less than five years old. Of course, most of these fast-growth startups are tech-based.

This data clearly points to a roadmap for maximizing growth: Double down on tech- and innovation-related companies, and on the creation of startups. This roadmap already is yielding job and economic growth here, along with important community benefits, such as social and environmental gains that will benefit us and the world.

Impact on job creation

Earlier this year, three tech companies were in the news with plans to create more than 700 new jobs: cloud management platform company CloudCheckr, communication hardware company Mastodon Design, and Calero Software. Cloud security company Datto has already created hundreds of jobs here, and continues to add at a rapid pace. And just looking at some of the recent announcements from GRE and others, we see tech companies like Greenlight BioSciencesComTec SolutionsITX CorpSecurity Risk Advisors, Live Tiles, and Catalant Technologies that are expanding and hiring.

Impact on health care

In the area of health care, innovative startups from our region are changing the way people experience health care, from receiving treatment and care to influencing decisions.

GRYT Health—a NextCorps incubator graduate—began its innovation path by developing an award-winning, digital health community and research platform for people affected by cancer. Last October, the growing staff of 15 held the first-ever Global Virtual Cancer Conference. The interactive event brought 100 pharmaceutical companies, health care providers and global nonprofit organizations together with more than 3,000 patients, caregivers and advocates to increase survival and improve quality of life in oncology.

On the vision-care front, five companies participating in Luminate—the world’s only accelerator for optics, photonics and imaging—are developing advanced diagnostic instruments that permit early intervention and facilitate breakthrough treatments: Intelon Optics BOSSTM system creates “stiffness” maps of the cornea to identify if a patient is a good candidate for refractive or corneal surgery. Ovitz offers a handheld wavefront sensor that accurately measures eye-focusing irregularities and then uses proprietary software to convert the measurement into a unique contact lens prescription. AkknaTek’s Lens Reviewer provides quantitative information about the position of an intraocular lens to eliminate the need for corrective refractive surgery or the extraction and replacement of the lens. The Lumetrics QuickPic handheld, cost-effective fundus camera will enable vision exams to be done in remote areas. And Lumedica’s 3D imaging technology is enabling doctors to detect and proactively treat sub-surface diseases of the retina—years before visible symptoms arise.

Impact on the environment

Local innovation is also driving environmental impacts. One of the most invisible problems we have today is energy loss in buildings. Startup WexEnergy is eliminating the need for expensive window replacements or bulky window inserts with its WindowSkin(R) technology. These easy-to-install, custom-fitted panels snap directly on to single- or double-pane windows, reducing thermal loss through the glass pane by up to 50%. This provides property owners with immediate energy savings, increases the value of their buildings, and puts money back into their pockets.

SunDensity has developed a Photonic Smart Coating (PSC™) technology that will increase solar panel power output by a projected 20%, speeding the adoption of renewable energy technologies. And fuel cell membrane startup company American Fuel Cell, founded by former GM fuel cell facility employees when the Honeoye Falls R&D facility was closed down, went on to become acquired by Plug Power, and hired 80 employees to work at Eastman Business Park.

Impacts on COVID-19

No story about innovation would be complete today without mentioning how some startups are jumping in to help with the pandemic:

  • GRYT Health is partnering with the American Association for Precision Medicine (AAPM) to offer a suite of coronavirus resources, including weekly live programming to discuss the latest research.
  • Software startup 2daysmood is helping organizations track the moods of their employees weekly with a fast, fun and effective process via email or app. Moods are a factor critical to high productivity and employee engagement. With more people working virtually in response to Covid 19, 2DAYSMOOD is offering an 8-week free program to provide companies analytics with a science-backed method that can help call attention to important cultural dynamics.
  • ShopLocalli.com is providing a marketplace where people can buy from local artists and retailers from their site and get same-day delivery—a distribution service especially helpful now with people not being able to sell their products in-person.

These are just a handful of the many examples of innovation that are all around us in the Rochester region. With more than 75 tech startups at NextCorps alone, and many more at RIT Venture CreationsCornell Tech Farm, our local universities, and all throughout the community, it’s very possible that the next cure for a disease, the next 1,000-person company, or the next technology to improve renewable energy adoption could be right around the corner. As a community, let’s continue pushing innovation- and technology-based growth, so that we can claim the spot that Gruber and Johnson have reserved for us—as the next top-tech place in America.

James Senall is president of NextCorps, a not-for-profit catalyst for entrepreneurship and innovation in the Rochester and Finger Lakes Region.