Elena Garuc, executive director of FuzeHub, recently spoke with NYS Manufacturing Now about FuzeHub’s previous successes, current programs, and plans for the future. From the Manufacturer Solutions Program to the Jeff Lawrence Innovation Fund (and beyond), FuzeHub is providing NYS manufacturing and technology companies with the programs and assets they need to overcome challenges to growth.
Steve Milito: Welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast that’s powered by FuzeHub. I’m your host, Steve Milito, and today we are with a very special and important guest, Elena Garuc, the Executive Director of FuzeHub. Elena, welcome to the podcast.
Elena Garuc: Thank you, Steve. I think it’s about time I made an appearance on this wonderful podcast.
Steve Milito: It’s great to have you here. So there’s a lot going on at FuzeHub and I was hoping you could tell us a number of different things starting with manufacturing grants, which is always a very popular inquiry. What’s going on? What’s coming next? So we just had a round, how many applications did FuzeHub receive?
Elena Garuc: It was very competitive. I think we received the most applications from any round we’ve held, over 50 applications from across New York state. For those that don’t know what the manufacturing grants are, those are competitive grants where a non- for- profit applies for a project with a manufacturer. So that can be a university, it could be an economic development organization, community college, or any type of non- for- profit that is out there working with manufacturers. So we were pretty excited to see the large interest this quarter.
Steve Milito: That’s great. And it seems to get bigger and bigger all the time, so great to see that. People want to know as well, when will FuzeHub announce the awards? What can you tell us?
Elena Garuc: So as we speak, they are being scored. We have a panel of experts from all different areas of business and technology. So those will be going to deliberation in mid- May. So by the end of May, we hope to make the announcements of the awardees then.
Steve Milito: And so the manufacturing grants, and thank you for providing some context to them, the grants are part of the Jeff Lawrence Innovation Fund and that’s one track. And there’s another track, the Commercialization Competition. What types of preparations are you making for this year’s competition?
Elena Garuc: Sure, and I should probably back up for those that are new to some of FuzeHub programs. The Jeff Lawrence Innovation Fund has about a million dollars a year that we administer to give out grants to benefit manufacturing and technology companies. And there’s different formats they come in and different ways the eligibility is aligned, but the goal is very similar. So our Commercialization Competition, which is pretty exciting because it’s typically in person and last year we weren’t able to do that and we’re hoping this year we will. We’re in the middle of planning that event. We give $ 50,000 awards to about six companies that are early stage, typically pre- revenue. And they are usually in the middle of working on their prototype. And very early, can’t really say for sure, but we’re hoping to combine that with the New York State Innovation Summit this year, which is held in collaboration with NYSTAR. So it will be a track throughout the day, we’re looking at that as an option. Either way, we do hope to plan the event in person.
Steve Milito: Oh, that’s great. Because I think that’s something that’s on everybody’s mind with any type of event these days. Is it in person? Is it virtual? And it’s great to hear that you’re thinking about that. So you mentioned something, this other event, this annual NYSTAR event. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Elena Garuc: Sure. It’s called the New York State Innovation Summit and in 2019 when we first debuted the new name of the event, it used to be the NYSTAR Annual Meeting, but we opened it up to the public really trying to showcase the assets and resources across New York state that are in the middle of innovation and technology and manufacturing and we had over 550 people that attended. We had over a hundred exhibitors, which represented innovation, manufacturing and technology sectors from across New York state. So it was very exciting. The event is typically two days. This year we’re going to have it November 8th and 9th in Verona, New York at the Turning Stone. Very excited. I just went up there. There’s a lot of space so we can accommodate some of the social distancing and things that need to be put in place to continue to make sure we have a safe and successful event.
Steve Milito: Oh, that’s great. That’s exciting. It’s a great place geographically, really in the middle of the state, convenient for everybody to get to or accessible. So really am looking forward to that as well as to hearing more about the Commercialization Competition. So I’m going to switch gears a little bit. Certainly the Jeff Lawrence Innovation Fund is a big thing that FuzeHub does and is very well known for. But FuzeHub also has a very successful manufacturer solutions program and I was hoping if you could talk about that program a little bit and the types of connections or matches that we make?
Elena Garuc: Sure. The solutions program really is the key to how FuzeHub was formed. It all started with an idea of getting manufacturers connected to technical resources across the state so we could look outside regional boundaries and really help those manufacturers connect to different experts and programs in other regions. And it was starting with events, we were doing tech matching events and it continued to grow and grow where we made it its own program where now we have a team of about four staff members and some additional experts that help us with the matchmaking. It’s typically very technical. We try to help companies that are really having a manufacturing issue as opposed to just general business. We’ve seen an uptick this year or in the past several months for requests such as co- packing. We believe that’s just an uptick of everyone doing work with COVID in their home. Lots of requests for reshoring. The continuous need for cybersecurity. So those are just a few examples, but we receive two to 300 requests a year, typically from small and media manufacturers. And our team works daily to make sure these companies are connected to the right resource. We also take it a step further. We bring in experts from other organizations to join us for our weekly match call, so we really can open up the Rolodex of other resources so these companies really know who to talk to and when to talk to them. And with the cybersecurity, it’s exciting to see more and more companies really taking in an interest in this issue. We know that the supply chain of the Department of Defense is requiring certain cybersecurity measurements to be taken within organizations and we have a program that’s actually dedicated to this in collaboration with Mohawk Valley Community College Advanced Institute for Manufacturing. We are out there working with companies then DoD supply chain. We have a cohort that takes them through training and certain workshops, consulting with assessments. We also have funding to support that work that needs to be done. So it’s very important. We will continue to get information out there to companies on the cybersecurity requirements and we hope to be a resource for companies in need.
Steve Milito: That’s a great thing. And if I can get a little cyber geeky with this, that NIST 800-171 Standard, if you’re a manufacturer anywhere in the defense supply chain and you’re not familiar with it, you need to get familiar with it because it really has a lot to do with your ability to continue to do the work that you’ve been doing, whether directly for the DoD or for the higher tier supplier. So enough of that side note. Elena, anything else you’d like to tell us about FuzeHub so far this year? We’re hoping to have you back on the podcast for another update at some point.
Elena Garuc: Sure. In March, FuzeHub was in collaboration with several New York MEP centers and we announced nearly $ 1 million of COVID Recovery Project Funding for manufacturers. Those areas of interest are PPE, supply chain and general manufacturing assistance. There’s a lot of information about that on the New York MEP website, which is www. newyorkmep, spelled out. Part of this, our role as FuzeHub, we did probably a fast track of 12 or so webinars since last year with several hundred manufacturers that attended. We did a lot of educating and training on different areas, topics range from market distribution, scale up, rehiring, product design, reshoring and remanufacturing and so we have funds available through our own organization in addition to our partners, ours are focused on a company that is looking to recover from COVID. It’s pretty broad. The company does have to work with an iStar funded asset. I know there’s a lot of acronyms we’re throwing out there, but those manufacturers would have to collaborate with an iStar center. Those are typically universities and non- for- profits funded through Empire State Development. Our team can help you connect with a center in your region to see if there’s a project that would fit our funding. Just an example of the types of projects we’re funding under that initiative, we recently funded a company that was looking to implement a new MRP system. This way they can move away from paper- based method and reduce person to person contact.
Steve Milito: Hey, one last question. I’m going to be a speaker at a digital marketing workshop that FuzeHub is having in May and I’m really excited about it. And I was wondering if you could tell folks the backstory to it, what’s behind having this event?
Elena Garuc: Well, marketing is something that I personally feel is very important part of a business, whether you’re a manufacturer or any type of organization. The team we have on this workshop has decades of experience in marketing, and the workshop really is geared for that one- on- one experience. It’s not your typical webinar. We’re really going to work with these companies and it’s a three hour workshop and bring the expertise to the team, to the attendees. Digital marketing is always going to be, now and in the future, just an important resource for companies. At FuzeHub, we spend a lot of time looking at the benefits, the different channels that we can utilize, and we’re going to continue to see that need that manufacturers need to be in the digital age. So it’s exciting. FuzeHub will also be rolling out some digital marketing services that we’ll be providing to manufacturers. Several of the folks on the webinar will be our team of experts that will work with these manufacturers. So we want to introduce the expertise, introduce the services, and really help companies with their marketing needs.
Steve Milito: It’s going to be a great event and there’s going to be a lot of great events this year. I forgot to ask Elena, we had a couple of events in the solutions program. We had a Long Island food event, and then we also have just had a North Country transportation event. Are you happy with the turnout? They were both online events. I know we’re all anxious to get back to in- person stuff, but what do you think?
Elena Garuc: Well, the interesting thing with the virtual events, now everyone I know everyone’s using the Zoomed out wording, we use a platform called Remo for our events and it receives a lot of great feedback. Our numbers for our events have tripled and quadrupled. Our food event, we had about 206 attendees. And our North Country transportation Event, about a hundred. And because they’re typically regional events that FuzeHub does, we like to go from region to region bringing together regional manufacturers with the resources. This allows companies from all of the state to attend and we’re looking forward to do a hybrid of events in person and virtual in the future.
Steve Milito: Great stuff. Elena, I know you’ve got a lot to do so we’re going to let you get back to the rest of your job, which is nonstop. We’re talking to Elena Garuc, Executive Director of FuzeHub. And you are listening to New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast that’s powered by FuzeHub. I’m your host, Steve Milito. And before I sign off, I would recommend that if you want to stay up to date with FuzeHub, go to www. fuzehub. com. Make sure you’re on the mailing list. There’s a mailing list sign up form right on the homepage. And if you’re a manufacturer, if you have a question, a challenge that you’re trying to solve, reach out to the Manufacturing Solutions Program. Easiest way to do it is to go to the Solutions Program menu and look for the request a consultation link. So again, we’ve been talking to Elena Garuc, Executive Director of FuzeHub. You’ve been listening to New York State Manufacturing Now. We’ll talk to you soon.