ROME — Five teams are competing for investment funding in the inaugural HUSTLE Defense Accelerator at the Innovare Advancement Center in Rome, part of the Griffiss Institute.
HUSTLE stands for Helping Upstate Science and Technology Leaders and Entrepreneurs.
The HUSTLE Defense Accelerator is described as an “elite and immersive” accelerator for seed-stage tech startups pushing artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML), cyber, quantum and UAS solutions with dual-use potential and the drive to elevate the United States’ national security and economic competitiveness, per the organization’s website.
UAS is short for uncrewed aircraft system. A UAS includes a drone and equipment used to control its flight. A drone is also referred to in the industry as an uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV).
The program is similar to Genius NY at the Syracuse Tech Garden, 76West in Binghamton, and 43North in Buffalo, except it’s the only New York accelerator focused on defense and national-security applications
“HUSTLE is about unleashing innovation that is happening in our upstate New York ecosystem all across academia, in industry, as well as in the government,” says Heather Hage, president and CEO of the Griffiss Institute in Rome. “We put together a framework to be able to call out to people who are pushing technology boundaries … in artificial intelligence and machine learning, in cyber, in quantum, and in UAS.” Hage spoke with CNYBJ in a phone interview on July 8.
Those involved in the program are participating on-site, having started May 23 and continuing through Aug. 12, per its website.
The HUSTLE Defense Accelerator culminates in a pitch day where qualifying HUSTLE teams will have the opportunity to make their case for up to $300,000 in investments to scale their ventures in the Mohawk Valley. Empire State Development provided the $300,000 in seed funding.
The program, which Hage describes as a “really aggressive and intensive curriculum,” is 12 weeks long, is organized topically, and is also customized for the teams involved in the program to help them advance in their development.
Some are early-stage inventors, and the program helps them discover use-cases in the national-security and defense environment so they can build their technologies to “both enhance our national security and also help us grow the regional economy,” according to Hage.
The five teams involved only have operations at the Griffiss Institute, and most of the companies are from upstate New York, she notes.
The five teams are from Canton in St. Lawrence County, Syracuse, Binghamton, Albany (a firm with a CEO from the Mohawk Valley), and a team from Maine that has partnered with Quanterion Solutions Inc. of Utica.
The teams include ThermoAI with operations in Binghamton; Cyberspara of Canton with technology developed at SUNY Canton that it’s spinning out into a commercial and defense focus; McGuirk USA of Maine, which is partnering with Quanterion Solutions; and SecWins of Syracuse, says Hage.
The program is similar to Genius NY at the Syracuse Tech Garden, 76West in Binghamton, and 43North in Buffalo, except it’s the only New York accelerator focused on defense and national-security applications, she added.
“When we conclude this summer’s program in August, some of them will be offered the opportunity to stay on in our incubator. They will also compete for $300,000 in investment capital to grow and scale their businesses in the Mohawk Valley. Upon conclusion of the program, we’ll work out with the teams who will stay on [and who won’t],” says Hage.
The program selected teams though a competitive process. The program has a proprietary curriculum that involves focusing on different topics in different weeks, including business development, communications and marketing, intellectual-property, systems, and defense contracting.
“I have been overwhelmed by the amount of support that we’ve achieved in engagement from our local business community, in particular… mid-stage or mid-tier companies that have broken through and have been successful and are very interested to come back and help support these teams to be successful,” says Hage.
Griffiss Institute has a team of about 40 mentors who volunteer their time to come in and give talks and meet one-on-one with each of these teams. They also get support from an entrepreneur-in-residence and the institute’s director of innovation and partnership as well.
The teams involved will compete in the second week of August for $300,000 in seed capital. They’ll pitch their product before a panel of experts including those from the security and intelligence and investment communities.
Program officials will determine how they’ll disperse the investment funding on the day of the pitch event, Hage noted.
The Demo Day is set for Thursday, Aug. 18 from 4-7 p.m. The event is open to the public and those interested can register on the Griffiss Institute website.
Teams that secure funding are required to continue their operations in the Mohawk Valley.