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A Region of Entrepreneurs: A chat with Andrew Farah

By Rob Simpson and Kyle Blumin

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The action and optimism of 2013 has provided a great starting point for the year to come. We believe 2014 will continue to build exponentially on all of the entrepreneurial activity of the region.

Upstate New York has truly become a hotbed of action. The tech start-up scene is more than gaining momentum — it is here to stay. Substantial real-estate development is evident in many areas and attitudes of the past have died a quick death.

Venture and angel funds have been created all across Upstate to help drive growth further. The future could not be brighter and more sustainable for the region, and many people are taking advantage of the positive activity.

We could not have made it this far without a true ecosystem being developed over the past 10 years. Those building blocks have provided the foundation for sustainability and substantial wealth creation over time. A great example of one of those building blocks is the tech start-up Rounded.

Rounded — a Syracuse–based firm that designs and develops web sites, apps, and products  —  is a great story of collaboration and a true example of how an entrepreneurial ecosystem can breed success. The partners of Rounded will tell you they couldn’t have garnered the success they have without the supportive nature of upstate New York.

Andrew Farah is one of those partners. We recently sat down with Farah to get his perspective on the region, to understand why he stayed here, and what he sees in the future.

 

Q: You have an interesting story that is becoming more commonplace than maybe people realize. You went to Syracuse University and stayed in the area upon graduation. You had other options. Why did you stay?

A: The four, initial founding partners of Rounded were all from different cities; myself included. 

I stayed in Syracuse because two of my three business partners had a year left before graduation. Even under those conditions, the decision to stay was not self-evident. We also didn’t draw our conclusion by process of elimination. At the time, we believed there was only one option: Two partners would work remotely while the other two finished school. And we’d establish Rounded in another city (New York or Denver). After a month of city-to-city comparison: weighing potential market size, quality of life, proximity to family and friends, I remember it was my wife (a Texan native) who asked the question we had yet to consider, “What if we stayed in Syracuse?”

Somehow, living and working professionally in Syracuse had never even entered our calculus. In my opinion, this mindset is a major factor in the steady outflow of graduating talent today.

 

Q: If you were graduating from a regional university today, why would you stay in upstate New York to build a business?

 

A: Students can be given a litany of compelling reasons to stay in Syracuse — low cost of living, low startup costs, employers hungry for talent, a community eager to support, the chance to be a big fish in a little pond, outdoor lifestyle, surrounded by universities, no major commute, etc. — but if living here never even occurs to them and they are never asked, “What if you stayed?,” they will continue to leave.

 

Q: We think that the culture of upstate New York is changing for the better. Do you see that as well?  Explain.

A: If you count my time at Syracuse University (SU), I have lived in and around this city for nearly nine years (four years as an undergrad, two in graduate school, and three years professionally). In the first four years, essentially, I was blind to the condition of the city. I had little engagement other than visits to the Warehouse owned by SU in Armory Square and the occasional trip to bars in Armory Square. During that period, I likely spent more time at Destiny USA, which was farther away, than I did in the heart of the city.

These last five years I have lived and worked exclusively downtown. I even own a home in Strathmore. At least within that sample time-period, the coffee is now better, the demographic is younger, there are more bicycles, more startups, more dogs, cleaner sidewalks, better-paved roads, new apartments, and at least one venue where you can buy a shot of wheat-grass. If that’s not transformation, I’m not sure what is.

 

Q: Rounded Development is located in the Syracuse Technology Garden. How has that contributed to the success of the company?

A: The Tech Garden is where I met my co-founders. It’s where I met my most trusted adviser, where I opened our first office, hired our first employee, and signed our first client. The people who work at/or with the Tech Garden and the iSchool at Syracuse University are uniquely generous individuals. And, the time they have given me over the last five years is a debt I’ll find very difficult to repay.

In short, the Tech Garden was instrumental in Rounded’s existence. 

 

Q: There are a lot of social and entertainment outlets for entrepreneurs in upstate New York. What do you take advantage of when you’re not working?

A: I like to hike, fish, and study martial arts and aviation. Interestingly, Syracuse has a rather vibrant community for the last two activities on that list.

 

Q: In your opinion, what’s the most telling sign of the success that the region is realizing? 

A: Measured from Rounded’s perspective, our company, while housed in Syracuse, employs a highly sought-after technology professional who hails from Seattle, the home of Amazon and Microsoft.

 

Q: What has entrepreneurship provided you that a 9-5 job wouldn’t? 

A: I’m reluctant to assume that all lessons in a startup can’t also be learned at a 9-5 position.

However, there is one thing I have learned that I will never forget. As far as I can tell, the world was built by people no smarter than you or me. Once that’s understood, you’re free to realize that ambition is only yours to limit.

 

We want to thank you for continuing to read our coverage of the re-birth of upstate New York. The progress is great to see and it’s even better to think about what is to come. The more people that get involved, the more successful and sustainable the region becomes.

You can reach Rounded at www.roundedco.com

For more information about how to get plugged into the ecosystem, contact Upstate Venture Connect at www.uvc.org

For more information on the entrepreneurial ecosystem check out Victor Hwang’s book, “The Rainforest” at www.therainforestbook.com

 

Robert M. (Rob) Simpson is president and CEO of CenterState CEO. Contact him via email at: rsimpson@centerstateceo.com. Kyle Blumin is a serial entrepreneur, with multiple business exits, based in upstate New York. He is passionate about driving personal and professional success through entrepreneurship. You can follow Blumin on Twitter @KyleBlumin.

 

 

 

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