On November 28, 2017, Ken Iwama,CSI Vice President for Economic Development, Continuing Studies, and Government Relations, testified before the New York City Council Committees on Technology and Higher Education about the success of the CSI Technology Incubator, which is funded by the New York City Council. The following is the full text of Vice President Iwama’s remarks:
My name is Kenichi Iwama, and I am the Vice President for Economic Development, Continuing Studies, and Government Relations at the College of Staten Island.
On behalf of CSI President William J. Fritz, I want to thank the City Council Committee on Technology and Chair James Vacca, with a special acknowledgment of our Staten Island representative Joseph Borelli, as well as the Committee on Higher Education and Chair Inez Barron for their tremendous support of the tech incubator initiative.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be here today to tell you our story about how the CSI Tech Incubator, the newest incubator funded by the City Council, has already greatly advanced tech innovation and entrepreneurship at the College, the Borough of Staten Island, and New York City.
In our case, the impact of your funding cannot be overstated. On a macro level, you have allowed us to do something quite remarkable. While innovation centers are omnipresent and driving business development and job growth in other areas of New York City, prior to your support, Staten Island did not have a single business accelerator or incubator dedicated to technology innovation. The CSI Tech Incubator not only allowed us to put our stake in the ground as the Borough’s first-ever tech start-up program, it has added a vital legitimacy to the advancement of Staten Island as a growing technology ecosystem.
Upon receipt of initial support from the City Council during the 2015-2016 academic year, we moved quickly to establish the CSI Tech Incubator at 60 Bay Street in a completely renovated and modernized 1,800-square-foot space in the heart of the St. George neighborhood of Staten Island’s North Shore. Our location allows start-up companies to leverage the great economic promise stemming from the renaissance of new development in the North Shore, while also providing workforce and other opportunities to an area with significant socioeconomic need.
During the 2016-2017 academic year, following a comprehensive recruitment process which resulted in a very diverse applicant pool of start-up companies, we accepted the three most promising companies as our first members of the CSI Tech Incubator. Our inaugural member companies are 100% minority and/or women owned. Following their completion of our six month Incubator program, I am pleased to be able to share with you some of their success stories.
Our first start-up company, Vectuel, is an IN2NYC affiliated firm from France that creates highly interactive 3D applications for real estate and other urban projects, combining enhanced maps, 3D models and virtual reality media to help developers tell their story in a visual way. Vectuel was recently featured in the media for its work with the Meatpacking Business Improvement District. They were hired to create a virtual reality 3D tour video which envisioned the completion of 13 major development projects including the redesign of Ninth Avenue. Additionally, they partnered with the Long Island City Partnership and won the Small Business Service’s Neighborhood Challenge Program to create a smart wayfinding signage system for the community that will use Vectuel’s 3D visualization tools to promote Long Island City businesses and attractions. Vectuel now intends to stay in New York City and expand its business, and has already hired three New York City employees and three interns.
Our second company, mTech, was actually founded by one of our brilliant Computer Science students who I am proud to say graduated from CSI this past spring. mTech employs Artificial Intelligence and facial recognition software originally intended for educational purposes, automating administrative tasks in a school setting through an online venue. Our success with mTech was in helping the company pivot its software application to a wider commercial use beyond its educational platform for greater market viability. Helping start-ups evolve their business models is a critical component of our Incubator program, and mTech is now in a much more advantageous position to succeed.
Our third start-up company Walk & Explore came to us with an already impressive resume having been named the 2017 Best Destination App by Fitur, which is the largest international tourism trade fair in the world. Walk & Explore creates artificial intelligence software enabling smart cities to combine city services such as tourism and transportation with personalized user profiles to turn city exploration into an interactive game. Walk & Explore came to our Tech Incubator to grow and scale its business in New York City, and the company is actually on the cusp of a potential major deal with a fortune 500 Company. Should this deal go through, Walk & Explore intends to build its business on Staten Island. The company’s dynamic and visionary owner Georgina Castanon is here today to personally share with you some details of her experiences with our Tech Incubator.
Finally, although not officially a member of our Tech Incubator, we also assisted MACAY Labs, a Staten Island-based start-up company comprised of three Staten Island Tech students and two College students including one from CSI. The Incubator helped to prepare the company for their cellular phone modification product pitch at the Motorola Moto Z – Moto Mods Pitch competition in Chicago. Incredibly, MACAY Labs won the grand prize receiving up to $1M in investment funding from Lenovo Capital to start their business.
The Tech Incubator’s auspicious beginning owes its success to our CSI team, as well as the great support we received from our growing list of public and private sector partners including the Staten Island Small Business Development Center, Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, Staten Island Economic Development Corporation, Intel, ATT, and IBM to name just a few.
Beyond providing support for the Incubator and start-up companies, our partners have allowed us to expand tech innovation programming to engage high school students through our Game App Development and Entrepreneur Start-up Camps, sponsored by ATT; engage members of the Staten Island community and our College students through tech meet-ups and tech job interview training; and engage international higher education tech and entrepreneur partners including Shanghai University and Zhejiang University of Technology in China. These are just some examples of the tech ecosystem we are building, all of which did not exist prior to your funding.
This academic year, we will be welcoming our second group of start-up companies as members of the CSI Tech Incubator. RiskEx is an IN2NYC affiliated technology-driven commodity brokerage from India that removes the middleperson from over-the-counter derivatives trading. Find My Everything utilizes GPS and tracking devises to pinpoint the exact location of any personal items as well as people including wandering children. g-dii Enterprises is a tech company utilizing diagnostics to help businesses assess unconscious attitudes and perceptions within the workplace, and provides employers with the tools they need to modify behaviors to advance performance. Two of these three new companies are minority and/or women owned.
We have an ambitious future planned for the CSI Tech Incubator. With the City Council’s support, I can announce that we are now planning to expand our Incubator to a larger 4,800-square-foot space in our current building to create the Borough’s first-ever comprehensive tech innovation hub. Our expansion will allow us to double the membership of start-up companies. Equally significant, we plan to utilize the additional space to surround our Incubator with innovation-related technical workforce certification programs; faculty tech transfer integrations; and tech innovation seminars, conferences, and meet-ups for community members, faculty, and college and high school students. Ultimately, our Incubator space will become the initial point of integration and synergy for all things related to tech innovation in the Borough with the outcome of creating more internships, externships, job opportunities, and meaningful partnerships with our start-up companies and Incubator partners for the benefit of all.
In closing, this is the future that the City Council’s ongoing support has allowed us to envision, and we are building it on Staten Island. Again, on behalf of the College of Staten Island, I thank you.