Rochester sits in a precarious spot between promise and struggle as far as the typical entrepreneur goes. A tech entrepreneur in the city is blessed with a wealth of resource and networking opportunities comparable to bigger markets, due to the presence of Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Rochester. Yet, Rochester still has a visibility problem, it still has a poverty problem, it does not have the same infrastructure as Boston or Silicon Valley, and while organizations like the Small Business Council (SBC), the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and NextCorps have all worked to bridge those gaps, they still can be treacherous.
But entrepreneurs in Rochester can succeed, and Austin McChord is one of them. McChord, a 2009 RIT grad, is the founder of Datto, a data backup company now valued at over $1 billion. On Thursday, May 17, the SBC brought McChord to Rochester for a “Headliner” event to speak on fostering a successful business and the future of Rochester’s entrepreneurial community.
“The first thing I see when I come back to Rochester is change,”McChord said. “When we first started out in our office at 40 Franklin, I’m not going to lie, it was pretty rough. I remember we actually had several board meetings about how many bank robberies could occur below us before we decided to move. But now, downtown is seeing a bit of a transformation, and I’m really proud Datto gets to play a small part in that.”
Datto is based in Hartford, Conn., and operates a satellite office here in Rochester. McChord is adamant that companies can start and stay in Rochester throughout their growth, yet points to policy and regulation as his reason for heading for greener pastures.
“My experience with the City of Rochester has been fantastic, and with Monroe County, very good,” McChord said. “With Albany, I’ll just say no comment.”
He does say, however, that the grass really isn’t always greener on the other side. He points to Silicon Valley as a place often “divorced from reality,” detached from the regular people that a tech company is typically meant to serve.
“There are plenty of people graduating from RIT or the University of Rochester, right now, with some big idea, many might be in this room,” McChord said. “My advice is don’t leave. You don’t have to go to Silicon Valley, you don’t have to go to Boston—you can build something great right here.”
It’s the new Rochester way, said SBC secretary John Raimondi, who is president and CEO of Nifty Bar Grinding and Cutting Solutions Inc. Building up young entrepreneurs is the only way to keep the city on track.
“For a long time, what powered Rochester was the big three; Kodak, Xerox and Basuch & Lomb, and those companies have now fallen by the wayside,” Raimondi said. “Small businesses have now stepped up to the plate, hundreds are now supporting the community to grow and thrive.”
The SBC, a partner with the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, supports virtually all local businesses, from single entrepreneurs to companies with over 50 employees.
“It’s contagious—people want to be a part of a winner new business,” SBC treasurer Mike Mancuso said.
McChord acknowledges that drive to be the next big winner as something innately Rochesterian. Rochester, he said, is a city with big dreams—sometimes dreams too big for the city itself to support, pointing to such projects as the doomed fast ferry.
“It can be the fast ferry, it can be the fact that this is the smallest city in the world to ever build a subway system. Rochester is a city that has big dreams, and there are some incredibly talented people here that are still carrying that dream,” McChord said. “When the spark comes out, they are able to do some incredible things.”