Jan 06, 2014

Huntington: where tech startups call home

By Jane Lee Bock

For more than a decade, Suffolk County business leaders have been trying to figure out ways to keep the area’s brightest and most creative youth from fleeing Long Island and taking their talents to other states.

All that hard work seems to have paid off.

In recent years, a growing number of technology startups are flocking to what is now called “the Huntington corridor” — a strip of Route 25A between the Nassau county border and east Huntington — and other sites along the North Shore.

In the last year, Huntington became home to about five tech startups, according to Anthony Manetta, the CEO of the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency. He said that he believes that Huntington is becoming the focus of new tech startups because of its downtown.

“Huntington village provides a vibrant work environment, nightlife and recreational opportunities which are key to attracting successful startups like those in New York City and Williamsburg,” Manetta said in an interview in November. “What’s different from years past is that now the IDA is very aggressive at bridging relationships with tech startups. We have a bigger concentration of younger seed and venture capital investors working this market than we did in the past.”

In November, Matt Johnston, a Centerport resident and CEO of Teedot, launched his enterprise social media app in Cold Spring Harbor. His new high-tech product uses gaming technology to solve big data analysis problems for large companies and organizations. It is designed to match what is important to the user to people, places and things that will help companies make better business decisions faster.

“The domain of places that software can do what humans do is getting bigger,” Johnston said at his prelaunch event. “Software can tell you what’s likely very quickly, but humans tell you what matters and what’s important. So our software learns what’s important from tribes of people in order to help you make decisions.”

This process helps corporations and marketing agencies quickly figure out who their best customers are and how to address their needs more effectively, Johnston said. It also teaches them what people really want. 

Many leaders visit Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory every year, and each person carries a piece of information that could be useful to others, Johnston said. 

Combining that knowledge can lead to better decision-making, and the gaming technology Teedot uses to collect the information makes it more fun to participate in the collection process, Johnston said. The more people that play, the more “tribal wisdom” is gathered.

“It is profoundly important to us to be connected to Cold Spring Harbor, “ Johnston said of his enterprise. “The different sources of innovation have great value: Brookhaven, Stony Brook and Manhattan. The Huntington corridor has restaurants, easy access to Manhattan by train, and lots of talented and creative people to share ideas and social activities with.”

Johnston isn’t the only one making Huntington home to new ventures, according to Mark Lesko, CEO of Accelerate Long Island, a non-profit comprised of major research institutions. Another company, eGifter, is moving to Huntington from Hauppauge.

It will be the anchor tenant of a new 8,552-square-foot high-tech accelerator and incubator space that will open on Main Street on Jan. 6 with the help of seed money from the county’s IDA. Also, two firms with offices in Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s complex are already successfully providing services to the bio-tech industry, Lesko said.

“The perception to our young people has been that there are no opportunities here,” he said, when asked if this trend signifies the end to the brain drain that has haunted Long Island. “This is simply not true. There are nearly 150 startup companies that make their homes here. Some employ five to eight people; others already have more than 100 employees.”

Those companies run the gamut of industry focuses as well. They range from those that are developing food-related technology, bio-tech research processes, clean energy, various social media apps, job matching and more.

While many have chosen the Huntington corridor as home base, others have chosen to be closer to larger institutions that give them support, such as Stony Brook University, Brookhaven Labs and North Shore LIJ.

Downtowns are where tech companies want to be located because of the amenities, culture and the people they bring, Huntington resident Tyler Roye, CEO of eGifter, said. In the past, starting a new firm was difficult because resources like mentors and capital were centered in cities. 

With young entrepreneurs working 80-hour weeks, a commute to Manhattan is discouraging. With the resources, mentorship and advisory programs offered by Accelerate Long Island and the Long Island Software & Technology Network, they now have what they need to launch their own enterprises right in their own backyard.

What made these new tech startups possible is the emergence of “affordable, cloud-based high- tech superstructures” that make individual ownership of large servers unnecessary, Roye said. 

“This launchpad site can hold 60 to 75 people,” Roye said of the accelerator and incubator space in Huntington. “We expect them to stay for six months to a year and then probably move right across the street.” 

Roye’s company alone has 11 employees and 10 open positions. It provides social and mobile commerce focusing on gifting. Its commercial clients include about 150 national brands that sell gift cards to consumers.

Manetta spoke about losing Long Island youth to brain drain and stressed the importance of keeping startups and the young professionals they employ on Long Island.

“These efforts are critical to creating job opportunities for college graduates,” Manetta said.