Bridging the gap between startups and manufacturers key to boosting Rochester’s innovation economy

Special to the Rochester Business Journal

Mike Riedlinger
Mike Riedlinger

Rochester was built on innovation. We’ve always been home to people with big ideas – from entrepreneurs tinkering in their basement workshops to researchers at university labs. From legacy innovators like Kodak and Bausch + Lomb to the next generation of startups, like lithium-ion battery company Cellec Technologies, we are a region teeming with creative solutions. But for all our region’s successes, there are great ideas which never get past the proof-of-concept stage.

The key to unlocking the future potential of our innovation economy rests on effective partnerships — ones that help innovators bridge the gap from prototype to production. Too often, entrepreneurs of all types lack the language of manufacturing required to take the next step to produce their products at scale.

Since opening the doors at NextCorps — home of Rochester’s regional New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NY MEP) center — we’ve heard from our partners in the field about these areas of friction between manufacturers and startups that lead to miscommunication, increased costs, and waste.

At the Scale for ClimateTech accelerator, we’ve worked to address that friction, bridging the gap between an inventor’s prototype and a ready-for-market manufacturing production plan.

We see it in the data, which shows that continued investment in resources and education for entrepreneurs helps ideas become game-changing products. This support helps commercialize innovative climate tech solutions while sustaining and growing manufacturing opportunities that make our region truly unique.

Since 2018, Scale for ClimateTech has supported 35 startups, helped complete 92 projects and fostered 124 manufacturing agreements.

Those partnerships have led to the creation of 316 jobs and generated more than $14 million in revenue, bolstering economic development in our state.

Zoom out to all of NextCorps’ programs and this impact grows to include 926 jobs created by startups with 4,374 jobs created and retained by manufacturers, resulting in an $824 million overall economic impact.

Achieving those results requires building and nurturing relationships between innovators and manufacturers.

While innovators have a deep understanding of their prototype — the knowledge of why it works, the research behind it, and the intended application of the final product — they often lack the language necessary to translate that experience into a detailed manufacturing plan.

Thinking about the vision is one thing, but planning for production is another. Contract manufacturers need detailed technical drawings with appropriate tolerances and lists of materials to be used. Parts used in manufacturing are often sourced in different quantities and from different suppliers than used for prototypes.

Think about the box of 25 bolts purchased at the hardware store to build the prototype. That doesn’t translate to the manufacturing world. The minimum order for industrial use may be 2,500 or 5,000, making it crucial to know how many units will be built the first year along with financing plans for the raw materials and tooling needed to make those first units for sale.

Innovators also need to understand the requirements throughout the supply chain to get their finished products into the hands of consumers. From certifications to packaging, warehousing, shipping and retail sales, there are details often overlooked by startups but critical to a contract manufacturer.

Not addressing each detail before meeting with a potential manufacturing partner can leave both sides frustrated, and projects languishing in limbo.

This is why it’s critical for entrepreneurs to invest time in learning the language of manufacturing at scale. Resources, like those at NextCorps, benefit innovators who show up to initial meetings prepared to speak the detailed language required to discuss a production plan. They also benefit manufacturers who gain new customers with a knowledge base of expectations and requirements. The resulting strong partnerships lead to successful projects and new revenue streams for both the entrepreneurs and the contract manufacturers.

With connections to many partnering organizations and investment from state agencies, including FuzeHub and NYSDERDA, NextCorps and Scale for ClimateTech have been able to bring innovators and manufacturers together, facilitating the partnerships that turn ideas into game-changing products, and sustain and grow jobs for our region.

We’ve seen how these collaborations strengthen our innovation economy in Rochester, across the state and across the industries NextCorps supports including climate tech and hardware innovators.

Our goal is to grow and strengthen partnerships between those with new ideas and those who can help bring them to market. This is what will help to maintain our region’s heritage in innovation.

Mike Riedlinger is the managing director for Scale for ClimateTech and Technology Commercialization at NextCorps.

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