Meeting with Matt Watson of Empire State Development

Steve Melito of FuzeHub talks with Matt Watson, the Director of the Division of Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR) at Empire State Development about NYS programs and resources available to small startup and manufacturing enterprises.


Steve Melito: Welcome to New York Manufacturing Now powered by FuzeHub. I’m your host, Steve Melito. Welcome to our very first podcast. We are honored to have as our guest, Matt Watson, the director of NYSTAR. Matt, welcome.

Matt Watson: Thank you, Steve.

Steve Melito: So Matt, you’re the director of New York State’s Division of Science Technology and Innovation, NYSTAR at Empire State Development, ESD. What do these organizations do, and how do they help manufacturers?

Matt Watson: Well, Steve ESD, Empire State Development is the state’s economic agency arm, their economic development agency for the state. NYSTAR, which is a division of ESD, it focuses on innovation and technology acceleration, assisting companies of smaller size all the way through maturity, trying to advance technology, improve processes, and really just trying to grow the innovation economy across the state.

Steve Melito: Outstanding. So Matt NYSTAR has many different resources and programs that manufacturers can utilize. Can you provide an overview of NYSTAR’s assets?

Matt Watson: Of course, NYSTAR receives over $ 50 million a year in state and federal funding. With that we fund over 70 centers across the state that we consider our innovation network. As part of that network we have 28 university research centers and that those are our Centers for Advanced Technology and Center of Excellence, and they focus on areas such as additive manufacturing, life science, materials research, ceramics, and things of that nature. We also have over 30 incubators across the state that are there to provide support and grow the entrepreneur network in their areas.
And that’s a strong network that we often turn to see what the promising technology that’s coming out and they’ll be soon going to the university research centers if they’re not already working with them. We also have 11 Manufacturing Extension Partnership centers, which is also known MEPs. That’s a federal and state program that’s designed to assist small, medium sized manufacturing with addressing the challenges that they face on a regular basis, really to remove the obstacles that keep them from growing. And then we also have some game development centers, high performance computing, and a whole network of other centers that makes up the NYSTAR family.

Steve Melito: That’s all fantastic information. Thank you. So Matt, what are some of the new and exciting developments in New York State technology and manufacturing?

Matt Watson: Well, a couple really come to mind when you ask that question. Rochester has a huge strength in integrative photonics. That’s a technology that is on the cusp of exploding. It could affect autonomous vehicles and so many other things that we do, such as internet of things, which is the communication between devices and a host of other avenues that this technology will affect. Very promising. There’s a lot of great work being done in Rochester and around that area, especially around the AIM Photonics Institute that we have there. In addition, Rochester Institute of Technologies, new Additive Manufacturing Center that was recently awarded, holds a lot of promise in the additive manufacturing field. Also, a area that has the potential to be explosive in terms of revenue generated jobs and other factors that we constantly measure.

Steve Melito: Okay, that’s great stuff. Clearly New York State supports manufacturing and does quite a bit. How does New York State compare to other states in terms of its commitment to manufacturing?

Matt Watson: Fortunate part about this job is I do get to travel to other conferences so I get to talk to other individuals from various states trying to get a sense of what they’re doing, what they’re investing in, how they’re, they’re really working in this field. And I got to tell you, I think New York State stands head and shoulders above the rest of the states. We have huge investments that we’re making in technology, really supporting companies that are focused on specific technologies that are tailored to our strengths in New York State such as life science. The governor put $ 650 million behind a initiative there, AIM Photonics, which there’s a $ 250 million investment that matches over $ 100 million investment from the Department of Defense and 250 million from private investments.
There’s $ 20 million put behind the REMADE Institute, really focused on reducing energy that’s put into products. It’s also focused on re- manufacturing, reusing products as they hit the end of their lifecycle. Also, NextFlex, which is a flexible electronics. There’s a $ 20 million investment made there with in partnership with Binghamton University, one of our SUNY schools. In addition to that, New York state is really home to a host of research institutions that we can leverage as part of our innovation ecosystem.

Steve Melito: Excellent. Matt, what are some manufacturing events that involve NYSTAR assets?

Matt Watson: We have the New York State Business Plan Competition. This is a great event. It’s tailored towards students. There are regional events that are held, so students compete in their region and the winners go on to a statewide competition. This has been going on for about four or five years. It’s a fantastic event. There’s also a commercialization competition that FuzeHub, one of our MEPs, Manufactured Extension Partnership centers holds on our behalf and that’s a competition that really is geared towards engaging early stage companies as they try to develop a prototype to validate a product and things of that nature. It’s really trying to fill the gap that we’ve seen out there, what is often referred to as the Valley of Death when a company is starting to exhaust their own money, looking for ways to take the next step to try to get ready for venture funding or other types of funding.
There’s also, on a regular basis, solution forums are held across the state. Again, FuzeHub, a partner of ours held matchmaking events where we have resources, a lot of the entities that we fund that will go to this event, they’ll sit at a table and manufacturers and other technology companies have opportunity to sit down and talk to them in a speed dating format. It’s a terrific event that we get a lot of good feedback from, see a lot of positive outcomes. On a regular basis we have a number of other competitions that are being held. We have 76 West, 43 North, Illuminate and Genius. These are all competitions that are similar to the commercialization competition.
They’re all focused on really helping early stage companies grow, really trying to make sure that they survive and get to the next stage. In addition, we are currently working with the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and the National Institute of Standard and Technology Developing Emerging Technology showcase that we’re currently targeting October 23rd through the 24th, that timeframe. And the idea is we’re bringing together national institutes, companies and a lot of our centers that we fund in an effort to collaborate, look for common projects to work together on and really spur technology in the state and across the nation.

Steve Melito: Sounds great. So Matt, what are some NYSTAR grant programs that you’d like manufacturers to know about?

Matt Watson: Currently, we have the grant that we’re doing in partnership with the Department of Defense. The idea is that we provide grants to defense companies to help them diversify. The Defense Department really wants to make sure that companies survive if there’s a downturn in spending, so next time that they need that product or service that company’s around. So they want to make sure that these are viable companies that will be around for the long term. So in partnership with the Department of Defense we are offsetting some of the costs in helping companies that are current defense suppliers.
We’re helping them diversify, to make sure that they’re sustainable in case of those downturns that I mentioned. In addition, FuzeHub administers the Jeff Lawrence Innovation Fund. And the purpose of that fund is again, it’s about really making sure that companies have access to the funding and services they need to continue and accelerate the technology that they’re working on. There’s two versions of that fund and one is a competition and the other is grants. So once a year through a competition there’s awards made to companies to assist in the evolution of their technology and the only one that is grant funded. Very similar concept just to make sure that the company is getting access to the expertise they need.

Steve Melito: Outstanding. Matt, what are some of the program’s greatest successes during your tenure as NYSTAR director?

Matt Watson: Well, a relatively new program that’s been around for roughly three years is our game development center and just recently, Rochester Institute of Technology had the first ever university published Xbox game. So that’s very exciting for a brand new program to already have that win. In addition, there’s a number of companies that we are seeing that are really making great strides in working with our assets. For instance, Jambox is a company started by Mike de Caesar and the reason he started that is because his neighbor had an accident where he became paralyzed and it’s basically a device that’s kind of looks like a harmonica that he can blow into and they can play music together. The device is hooked up to the computer, they can change the sound. So it could sound like a guitar, it could sound like dog barking, whatever they want. So in doing this they’re able to have jam sessions.
Now what they’re starting to see, and now they’re working with NIH about is they’re realizing that this could be a great device to use to help people with respiratory problems have something that they would enjoy while they’re going through therapy. So they’re currently working on a $1.5 million grant with NIH to evolve this and see if it’s a good therapeutic device. So very cool product, great concept that has multiple uses, holds a lot of promise. We’re very excited about that. Vader Systems out of Buffalo, New York, they’re doing metal printing. Early stage company. Again, showing a lot of promise. Has worked with a number of our centers and has addressed a lot of, through the help of our centers has addressed a lot of the technology challenges they’re facing. They’re still young and early, but are looking very promising and have started selling their product already.
Another great success story is Ephesus Lighting. Their LED lighting has been used in a lot of sports facilities. They’re used at the War Memorial in Syracuse, New York, and a number of other minor leagues, smaller venues. After proving their technology they were actually contracted with the NFL to have their lighting used at Super Bowl 49 in Arizona. Ephesus Lighting is being installed in sports arenas across the country. They’re at Buffalo Saber’s hockey games they light up, Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons. There’s actually a YouTube video of Ephesus Lighting being used at a Minnesota Vikings game where a touchdown is made, and the commentator stopped because the lights started flickering.
They turned purple, and the commentators were more excited about Ephesus Lighting than they were about the play that just happened. So that’s a great example of how cool this product is. These success stories I just highlighted, these are all technologies that are product of working with our incubators, working with our Centers of Excellence, working with our Centers for Advanced Technologies and our Manufacturing Extension Partnership program. It’s these centers coming together and assisting the companies and addressing technology challenges that they faced really made their survival and growth possible.

Steve Melito: All right, great. So there’s a lot of great stuff happening in New York State and New York State itself provides grants, funding programs, there are events, a lot going on. That’s today. Matt, where do you see New York State’s innovation ecosystem five years from now?

Matt Watson: The excitement in the collaboration that we see going on across the State’s absolutely incredible. The people that we’ve never seen team together on projects or research are coming together with a common focus and mission. Companies that are being supported today I know stand a much better chance at survival and growth because of what the work that’s being done. Art centers are laying the groundwork and foundation for economic development that’s going to be happening for the next five or 10 years. As you know, a lot of the work with these technologies takes five or 10 years for you to realize the economic benefits and the job creation and all the great that comes from that. So I want to look back and be able to see all the technology that’s come from the work that New York State’s been funding and supporting through our efforts.

Steve Melito: Outstanding. So everyone, thank you for listening to New York Manufacturing Now powered by FuzeHub. We’re really happy that you joined us here for our very first podcast and we’re honored Matt Watson, thank you for being with us. Matt is the director of NYSTAR and we will be back again soon.

Matt Watson: Thank you Steve. I really appreciate being with you today.

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