By guest author Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold
I am talking to Micah Kotch, who serves as director of operations for NYC ACRE at NYU-Poly (the New York City Accelerator for a Clean and Renewable Economy). NYC ACRE is seeded by a four-year, $1.5 million grant from the NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority).
NYC ACRE is a subset of the NYU-Poly Varick Street Incubator, which Micah also helps to run.
Irina: Hi, Micah. Why don’t you start with your background and how you arrived at this point?
Micah: Sure. I am an entrepreneur. In the late 1990s I wrote a business plan, while in China, focused on the wireless telecom space. At that time the wireless telecom companies were looking at monetizing their data networks. I raised capital and helped put the first game on AT&T’s data network in 1999.
I spent the next several years in a business development capacity in a number of different startups here in New York City, again, working with carriers and device manufacturers to help them monetize their new infrastructure through text messaging, ringtones, mobile games, location-based services, and things of that nature.
In 2004, I met the head of Pratt Design Incubator for Sustainable Innovation, Debera Johnson, and she put me on a sustainability path. She introduced me to people like Paul Hawken and others who were making the case for building a low-carbon economy. I started doing some work at Pratt.
I began a relationship with NYU-Poly, which is the second oldest school of science in engineering in America. They actually had a functioning business incubator here in Brooklyn, and they were looking for some help in writing a grant for NYSERDA, which is the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority to create a clean tech incubator.
They brought me on board to help run that initiative once they won that PON (Program Opportunity Notice).
The same week this happened, Mayor Bloomberg announced that he was launching a series of startup incubators across New York City, and NYU-Poly was going to operate and manage the first one.
The incubator collectively has graduated eight to ten companies and created about 351 jobs, including full-time employees, part-time employees and interns in the past two years. Those companies have raised about $26.5 million in capital since 2009.
So, I wear two hats. I help run the Varick Street Incubator, which is focused on financial services technology, information technology, digital media, as well as NYC ACRE, which is the New York City Accelerator for a Clean and Renewable Economy.
Irina: What are your responsibilities as director of operations?
Micah: I am in charge of making sure that the incubator runs smoothly. I am also in charge of helping to recruit new tenants and providing tenants with the resources they need to ultimately succeed and graduate from the program.
Irina: So, you run both, the NYU-Poly Varick Street Incubator and NYC ACRE, which is a subset of that, right?
Micah: Yes and I report to Bruce Niswander. He is the director of the Office of Innovation Development at NYU-Poly, which is in charge of the patent portfolio, technology transfer, and so on. It’s all in that same department.
Irina: Let’s talk about the NYU-Poly Varick Street Incubator.
Micah: The NYU-Poly business incubator was started in 1999 as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s Five Borough Economic Opportunity Plan. That was an initiative of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. It was the first business incubator that the city has sponsored.
Irina: Does it service any specific neighborhood in New York?
Micah: Well, we’re in SoHo, but anyone who wants to create jobs in New York City can apply. We have a local economic development mandate.
Irina: And it’s not only for the students, right?
Micah: Correct. We do have recent graduates of NYU, of NYU-Poly, and faculty members who’ve created companies.
Irina: Does your incubator have any particular industry preference?
Micah: Yes. It’s a technology-focused business incubator. We focus on financial services technology, cyber security, digital media, social media, and health care technology.