NextCorps Inc. — which recently celebrated three years at Sibley Square downtown — has continued to help develop cutting edge companies despite the COVID-19 pandemic and is now looking to add to its list of services for entrepreneurs.
The organization’s goal in 2018 was to support 100 startups within five years, but instead met that goal in only three years, now serving 106 startups, as well as 17 University of Rochester student startups, according to NextCorps’ 2020 impact report.
The report also shows that, since 2018, NextCorps has facilitated 900 one-to-one mentor meetings, hosted 136 founder roundtables and distributed $450,000 in ignition grants to 18 companies.
“I’m very happy with where we are,” says James Senall, NextCorps’ president, adding the organization had little way of knowing the demand for its services since there are limited statistics on the number of entrepreneurs in the region. “I’m pleased to see the demand.”
In 2017, the company, formerly High Tech Rochester, moved from its former home in Henrietta to a 1 million-square-foot space at Sibley Square that includes a business incubator for startups and offers access to resources, mentorship, office space and investment opportunities for businesses.
NextCorps runs five programs, with the most visible and active being its business incubator, Senall says. The incubator program supports some 60 businesses, including those located on-site, as well as associate members who have their office elsewhere, but have access to the incubator’s services.
Other programs at NextCorps support climate-focused startups, through Venture for ClimateTech and Scale for ClimateTech; growing the area optics, photonics and imaging portfolio through Luminate NY; and helping regional manufacturers remain competitive through its Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
When COVID-19 hit, the organization had to pivot and quickly moved to a virtual format. It was a contrast since most networking and other events were done in-person, Senall says, noting he is eager to get back to that face-to-face interaction.
The continued goal is determining how NextCorps can best support entrepreneurs and build its networks, whether that be through programs and events or the use of mentors, angel investors and venture capitalists, he says.
Senall says of note is the success of its Luminate NY program, which has drawn companies in the optics, photonics and imaging space from around the world.
Luminate has a track record of success in helping start-ups, Senall says.
Since the program’s inception three years ago, all 30 startups in the Luminate portfolio remain in business, with a combined portfolio valuation of $160 million and the creation of 80 jobs in the region, according to NextCorps’ 2020 impact report.
Luminate is in the process of beginning its fourth cohort, which includes 10 firms. The organization received nearly 130 applications from more than 20 countries for the cohort.
NextCorps’ newest program — Venture for ClimateTech — will launch its programming later this month and includes nine companies, but drew 580 applications from 60 countries, Senall notes.
Looking ahead, NextCorps may expand its offerings, he says.
Given the large number of software firms the organization draws — some 67 percent of the start-ups NextCorps serves are in the software sector — the organization is looking into adding a program similar to Luminate, but for the software industry.
Steven Smith, CEO of Perdix Software Inc., says NextCorps has been instrumental to his personal growth as an entrepreneur, as well as the growth of his business. The business offers software process improvement for manufacturers.
Smith came to NextCorps in 2015 as part of a cohort in the HTR LaunchPad program for software startups. From there, the business completed the TEN Bootcamp and participated informally in the NextCorps community before applying to be an incubation client.
“NextCorps networking events, founder roundtables, coaching from the entrepreneurs in residence, access to grant funding and participation in some of the incubator affinity programs, have all been extremely helpful to our startup,” Smith says. “There is a good business return.”
NextCorps is a diverse, supportive community and often serves as a hub for other communities similarly aligned toward a good, prosperous future, he adds.
“I’ve had conversations with passionate people from all over the world through, and sometimes at, NextCorps,” Smith says. “We’re a good community in our own right, but the real and lasting value comes from this connecting of communities.”
Christopher Ball, president of Belvista Software LLC, was introduced to NextCorps through the MBA program at the UR’s Simon Business School and later joined as a member.
Belvista Software provides accounts receivable management software that enables clients to enhance customer interactions and streamline business processes.
NextCorps has helped Bell and his firm in two areas. First, their entrepreneurs in residence have provided guidance and challenged Ball to find optimal ways to deploy limited capital and grow the software business within a niche market.
NextCorps also has network opportunities with other business founders to share ideas and challenges and receive feedback from folks with a diversity of backgrounds and experiences, he adds.
Max Richmond, vice president of business development at Farther Farms, says NextCorps was a wonderful home for the venture when it first arrived in Rochester after relocating the business from Ithaca.
Farther Farms is a food technology company working to commercialize new processing methodologies for fruits and vegetables. Its first technology extends the shelf-life of fresh-cut produce by months without the use of chemicals, artificial preservatives, refrigeration or freezing.
“Being surrounded by a like-minded community of entrepreneurs and thinkers provided an invigorating environment that helped us to grow our network and more deeply appreciate the breath of resources, talent and ventures present in Rochester,” Richmond says. “As we continue to recruit other start-ups to the area, NextCorps is ever-present in our sales pitch as to why Upstate New York is an ideal place to start and grow a business.”
Andrea Deckert is a Rochester-area freelance writer.t