One of NextCorps longest partnerships has been with Rochester Gas & Electric. RG&E — a subsidiary of AVANGRID — serves 378,500 electricity customers and 313,000 natural gas customers in the nine-county region surrounding the City of Rochester. We recently spoke with Kyle Banks, senior economic development specialist at RG&E, about the company’s community focus and how it is striving to make New York more competitive in the global marketplace.
What would people be surprised about in how RG&E supports our community?
Many people view RG&E solely as a utility provider. But we also offer a host of economic development programs to help build a strong and healthy economy in upstate New York. Our goal is to be a catalyst to increase capital investment, create jobs, and build economic vitality, and we’ve made significant progress over the years. Since 2010, RG&E and NYSEG alone have provided more than $90 million in economic development assistance to support over 450 projects, which leveraged over $4.4 billion in private sector and capital investments.
In addition, people are surprised to learn how much our region has become a resource to high-tech entrepreneurs. Many founders have chosen to either start or move their companies here to take advantage of the talent, manufacturing, and support services like NextCorps that are available.
How does RG&E specifically help startups and emerging businesses in the Finger Lakes Region?
We have a number of development programs available to area entrepreneurs, small businesses, and manufacturers. The two most applicable are our Ignition Grant Program and the Manufacturing Accelerator Program, which provide funding assistance to support new and existing businesses, and to attract new businesses to our region.
To date, RG&E has awarded $25,000 each to 24 startups through its Ignition Grant Program. These grants offer one-time financial support to promising local, early-stage startups that are located in Rochester’s Innovation Zone. Recipients, typically pre-revenue companies in a proof-of-concept stage, are determined based on the technical and commercial opportunity of their businesses. They must also agree to keep their business in New York for at least three years and commit to making a combination of in-kind and cash contributions as a match for their grant award.
The Manufacturing Accelerator Program (MAP) is also grant-based, but it’s targeted to manufacturing companies that want to strengthen their businesses through growth and productivity-based initiatives. Through MAP, RG&E (and its affiliate NYSEG) provide matching grants up to the lesser of $15,000 or 40 percent of the total costs manufacturing companies incur on productivity improvement projects, such as Lean manufacturing, Lean office procedures, waste reduction, ISO quality programs, and other projects that lower costs, improve quality, and reduce lead times.
In addition, the program provides matching grants up to the lesser of $15,000 or 50 percent to fund growth-targeted activities, such as new product development, export initiatives, sales and marketing system improvements, and other projects designed to increase revenue.
Applicants who commit to both productivity and growth initiatives are eligible for grants of up to $40,000 or 60 percent (whichever is less) of the costs they incur.
Through the program, manufacturing companies also work directly with high-tech advocacy partners, including NextCorps, Insyte Consulting, and Alliance for Manufacturing and Technology (AM&T). These companies are strategically placed throughout New York State to provide critical assistance, including expertise, mentorship, and access to a network of support services.
What one piece of advice would you give founders who are interested in applying for RG&E grants?
Many people start to engage RG&E based on the projects that they think our grants cover. Instead, they should think first about what their business really needs. What projects do they need to do that will have the most impact on their growth trajectory?
Having this clarity will help founders and manufacturers enter into constructive conversations with partners like NextCorps. Its team can help companies outline what’s involved, who to work with, and collect the information that’s needed to craft a solid project proposal. This information can then be used to submit a strong grant application.
We’re eager to collaborate in this process because we’ve seen firsthand the difference that RG&E’s financial help and expertise can have in implementing the initiatives that are not only important to growing businesses, but improving the health and competitiveness of our region as well.