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$5M state business grant awarded to Queens CUNY

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A Long Island City incubator for small businesses that merge high technology with innovative design received a $5 million windfall from the state Assembly last week, putting the project in position to start up by early next year.

The LaGuardia Community College program, dubbed the East River Studios, is envisioned as a means of providing space and resources to start-up businesses to help them grow and eventually succeed on their own.

“The New York State Assembly has taken it on as an idea to help rebuild community, and I think that’s a great approach,” said Jack Rainey, the executive administrator of entrepreneurship programs at LaGuardia. “We had no idea that the Assembly was going to come through with as much as they did or when they did.”

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) announced the $5 million grant to LaGuardia on Oct. 16. The funding, which will provide capital support to build the facility for the studios, is the largest part of a $7.5 million grant awarded to the New York to establish a network of incubators across the city.

East River Studios will open this winter on a small scale as a demonstration program before gradually expanding into full-scale operation.

Its clients, small companies that invent creative products exhibiting innovative design and cutting-edge technology, are expected to take their products to market before graduating out of the program.

“They’re appealing to your aesthetic taste, not just utilitarian,” Rainey said. “That’s our niche. It’s a huge niche in America. There’s this growing demand for design-oriented goods.”

Students and faculty from LaGuardia Community College will also have a chance to get hands-on experience with the companies.

The incubator is still seeking operating funds to cover costs during its first two or three years until it becomes financially self-sufficient.

The first two tenants slated to occupy the space are already well- established in their fields but are seizing the incubator’s resources to expand in a way that otherwise would not be possible.

One of them will be Krypton Neon, a Long Island City design company that produces scenery for Broadway shows.

“I’m literally bursting at the seams and climbing over work to get to other work,” said Kenny Greenberg, the company’s founder and owner. “Just to simply have that obstacle removed is removing a huge barrier to my ability to do more work.”

Greenberg will hold onto his Vernon Boulevard studio, his home base for more than two decades, while using the East River Studios space for a project related to architectural lighting systems and lighting control technology.

“I was floored,” Greenberg said of the funding announcement. “It really meant that we could quickly proceed through the earliest stages of the demonstration phase and really start seriously considering the full beginning, to build out the full incubator. That’s just a very exciting proposition.”

The East River Studios will occupy the college building at 29-10 Thomson Ave., an 800,000-square-foot facility currently being renovated for LaGuardia. The incubator will start out with about 4,000 square feet servicing three to five clients and will ultimately expand to about 30,000 square feet and a few dozen clients.

“Incubators nurture young firms, helping them to survive and grow during that very difficult start-up period when they’re most vulnerable,” Rainey said. “The goal is to produce successful business ventures that will graduate from the program financially viable and freestanding.”

The incubator is a product of the Long Island City business community as well as a potential boost to its future growth, Rainey said. The design firms targeted are already flourishing in Long Island City, and the businesses that graduate out will likely remain in the neighborhood after they leave East River Studios.

“The incubator wisely builds on existing strengths and hopefully will make it easier for existing ventures to expand and new ventures to start off,” said Dan Miner, the director of business services at the Long Island City Business Development Corp.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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