For 10 years now, FuzeHub has helped companies navigate the resources available to them while providing the support they need to accelerate technology development and commercialization. FuzeHub’s Executive Director Elena Garuc sits down with Steve Melito to unearth the story of the statewide MEP’s evolution, the victories and challenges, and the immense impact they’ve made on New York’s economy.
Steve Melito: Hey everybody, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast that’s powered by FuzeHub. I’m your host, Steve Melito. Today, we’re talking to Elena Garuc, the executive director of FuzeHub in case you didn’t know FuzeHub is the statewide center for the New York State Manufacturing Extension Partnership, or NYMEP. This nonprofit organization is also a tireless champion for manufacturing and innovation. When I say tireless, I mean it. FuzeHub is celebrating its 10th anniversary here in June 2023, and it’s full steam ahead towards a bright future. Elena Garuc, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now.
Elena Garuc: Thank you, Steve.
Steve Melito: So, Elena, how has FuzeHub evolved since it was founded 10 years ago?
Elena Garuc: I know I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. I feel like I woke up this month and saw, wow, 10 years. It kind of stumbled upon me, but I think the growth that we have experienced is really our programs and our people. I feel like we’ve worked really hard to embrace our role as a statewide resource for technology and manufacturing innovators. We set out on a mission of making a difference for the New York State economy and we continue to evolve. We try to listen to the community, to refine our program. We tap into our national network of other MEP centers and that has been such an incredible resource for us and for me as a leader hearing what others are doing and that network is so valuable that I just can’t say enough about it As we continue to evolve. I think what I really love about our organization is we never settle for just OK. Continuous improvement is a big part of the working culture here at FuzeHub, we’re constantly looking at what we did last year. How could we make it better, how could we make it bigger and how could we have a better impact on the community that we’re serving, and I’m always amazed how many people and companies know who we are and how many opportunities are brought to us or that we’re invited into to participate. It’s a great feeling. It makes all the hard work over the last 10 years pay off when you can look back and see what you’ve accomplished.
Steve Melito: It’s outstanding Now. what are some lessons learned, both good and bad, over the past 10 years?
Elena Garuc: Well, that’s a good one. I’ve had many lessons, and some are personal. I’ve come to learn how to push myself outside my comfort zone. For those that don’t know, I became the executive director of this wonderful organization in a twist of fate, but it was not the original plan. So I had a lot of self-doubt, I doubted my ability, I questioned my skill set And there were times I said to myself I can’t do this. But I’ve learned that if you surround yourself with a good team, you tap into amazing mentors, shout out to Rich Honen, and you focus on your strengths, anything is possible and the most important thing that I struggled with as a leader is defining how to lead. What does an executive director look like? And then I realized over the last several years that the only person that can define that is myself. I lead in my style, I lead in my way And I run this organization defined on how I feel I should be presenting myself. So that was a personal journey for me over the last 10 years, also sidelined two kids in the middle of it. I have an eight and a five-year-old. So there’s a lot going on and I’m learning a lot, and it’s been a wonderful experience. But for the organization, I think when you’re creating and then scaling a company, you have many ups and downs And for every obstacle and unfortunately sometimes those obstacles are people. There are five more opportunities for you to address. So you kind of have to tune out the noise, focus on your mission, keep your head down and work hard. And eventually some of those obstacles become irrelevant.
Steve Melito: That is good advice and from the heart. So Elena FuzeHub has a lot of accomplishments. What are you most proud of?
Elena Garuc: I really have to say the team. I mean, if I have to say one thing about FuzeHub that I just adore, it’s the cheerleaders, it’s the champions that we are staffed with, and I don’t know how I’ve been so lucky to find such good employees. I don’t even want to call them employees. I feel like we’re family. I really think that everyone who works at FuzeHub is passionate about what we do. They come to work curious, they want to help companies and really just fostering an organizational culture that you need for your team to thrive and deliver. I think that is one of the things that makes me most proud. Secondly, I think our reputation. I hear in the community about our organization. Quite often I’ll be sitting at an event. No one may know I’m even there and I hear someone talk about FuzeHub or how they’ve worked with us or how our organization has impacted their company or even brought them some companies to work with. So that’s a good feeling and I can’t not mention some of our impacts and numbers, and for anyone who runs an economic development organization, you know they’re challenging to collect but we do the best that we can and we have some great numbers we’ve collected from companies that have worked with us. But since our inception we are responsible for over $230 million of economic impacts and close to 1,400 jobs in New York State’s economy. So that’s pretty big, you know. We’ve assisted close to 4,000 New York State companies with connections to technology experts, resources, and programs. And, my favorite, we’ve held over 150 events attracting almost 15,000 attendees over the last 10 years. So we’ve been busy. We’ve done a lot. The Jeff Lawrence fund continues to grow. Since we launched we’ve invested almost $8 million into companies and technology and manufacturing companies in New York State to the tune of almost $8 million. So those are just some amazing impacts we collected for our 10-year anniversary. But I cannot leave out my personal favorite, my baby the New York State Innovation Summit. Obviously, and none of this would be made possible without the support from state, Empire State Development, and our federal funders at NIST, MEP. But the New York State Innovation Summit, in a short time since we launched, really has outgrown any of my original expectations when I sat down with the team and we started to kind of create the concept. So if you’re listening, you should come October 16th and 17th, to Saratoga Springs.
Steve Melito: Absolutely. I know that I will be there. I’m looking forward to it this year.
Elena Garuc: Yes.
Steve Melito: So you mentioned something, the Jeff Lawrence Innovation Fund, and it’s a really important thing for us to talk about, I think. why is it very important to you?
Elena Garuc: Okay, so Jeff Lawrence was a executive at the Center for Economic Growth in Albany, New York, where I spent close to a decade right out of college working for. It was one of my first jobs and I worked pretty much under Jeff, and he died unexpectedly several years ago. So when I had the opportunity to create a new program at FuzeHub, I had to name it something, and when I thought about the mission of what this innovation and this technology acceleration fund was going to do, it really embraced how I felt personally and many others in the community about Jeff Lawrence. Jeff always had a smile. He didn’t want to get into politics, he just wanted to help companies, help others and make a difference. So now, if you take the Jeff Lawrence Innovation Fund, which supports these entrepreneurs and these manufacturing companies and these innovators, just spur technology development and make an impact on our community that’s what Jeff stood for. So I don’t think there is any better way to brand that fund than to honor his name, and it’s very special to me. I still have things that remind me of Jeff in my office. He’s played a big part in the career growth that I’ve had, even though he’s not here anymore, and it just holds a special place in my heart.
Steve Melito: It’s a great story. One person really can make a huge difference. So New York State has a rich innovation system, and FuzeHub’s manufacturing solutions program has helped thousands of companies. What makes this program special?
Elena Garuc: I think I mentioned this earlier, but I’ll have to bring it up again because I think and if any of the companies that we’ve worked with are listening, I think you’ll agree we have a team that is just excited to learn about new companies and new technologies. There’s a natural curiosity and they’re naturally enthusiastic about what’s being developed in New York State. I don’t think it’s just a job to them, right? They care about making sure these companies understand the resources that are available to them. I always hear some great stories from companies of, hey, I talked to Steve, or I worked with Eric, or I talked to Patty, or I talked to Everton, and just everyone’s names are always in an email and the testimonials that we get are really top notch and I think that program we really try to make it simple. Let’s be honest. resources in any state are challenging to navigate okay, but a company doesn’t really need to know every resource, every program, every expert that exists. I think what a FuzeHub tries to do, and this is how we kind of launch the concept is just come to us, tell us your biggest hurdle and we will do our best to get you to that right person, that right place or that right resource, and I think we have a unique position in being statewide and we also have ties to, as I mentioned, a great national network. This means that we have an avenue of helping everyone, no matter where they are.
Steve Melito: Excellent. So last question, Elena How do you think FuzeHub will change and grow in the next 10 years?
Elena Garuc: Yes, very good question, And I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately And there are some things kind of in the works. I would love to see us do some more work nationally using our model. I think we have a lot to offer for states that want to accelerate technology development and commercialization, boost manufacturing competitiveness and make their innovation ecosystems operate more effectively and efficiently. I think we have something to offer, whether it’s participating, partnering, or giving advice on how we do this at FuzeHub in New York State. Obviously, as any organization in economic development, we want to grow our funding base, so we’ll continue to look at funding opportunities on a state and federal level as we look at scaling our organization and growing our programs, growing our organization and people. So I think we need to change with the ecosystem. As technologies change, the economy is going to change and we have to be flexible and nimble in our approach of what services and what programs we deliver and offer. And with the wave of federal investments in science and manufacturing, I think it’s going to have a significant impact on New York’s economy. We’re seeing early signs of that. So 10 years from now, I’d like to be able to say we really helped our current industrial base adapt all these new opportunities and thrive and create vitality in their communities.
Steve Melito: Alaina, thank you so much for being on New York State Manufacturing now.
Elena Garuc: Thank you, Steve. It only took you guys 10 years to invite me. I appreciate it.
Steve Melito: Hey, we’ve been talking to Elena Garuc of FuzeHub, the statewide NYMEP Center and a tireless champion for manufacturing and innovation across New York. Whether you’re learning about FuzeHub for the first time or remember some of those early days with us, we want you to know that FuzeHub is here to help. Are you a manufacturer, an inventor, or an entrepreneur? If you are, what type of business or technical challenges are you facing? As you’ve learned from this podcast, help is available, but it’s up to you to take that first step. Just visit www.FuzeHub.com and click the Speak to an Expert button. It’s right there on the home page. Then fill out the short online form and let us know what you need. A member of our manufacturing solutions program will be in touch sometime within the next business day. We hope to hear from you soon. On behalf of FuzeHub and New York State Manufacturing. Now this is Steve Melito signing off.