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Syracuse's once struggling startup ecosystem now attracts international talent

Katie Zilcosky
Archangel Imagine presents their final pitch at the GENIUS NY finals night at the Marriott Syracuse Downtown. November 3, 2022.

The winner of this year’s GENIUS NY competition, Archangel Imaging, is a United Kingdom based company that calls Ministry of Defence, Network Rail, and European Space Agency customers. With the success of their company, they were looking to expand into the U.S. market. CEO Dan Sola said New York and the GENIUS NY program had all of what it was looking for.

"There's only a few reasons to pick a location," Sola said. "Access to customers, talent, partners, capital."

And they were able to acquire some of that capital when Archangel Imaging was named the winner of the sixth round of GENIUS NY. The program is the world's largest business accelerator program in the world. Since its launch in 2017, the program has help create an environment that's allowed uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) startups to flourish in Central New York.

Katie Zilcosky
Archangel Imaging CEO Dan Sola (L) and COO Charles Smith (R) pose with their $1 million check after they were announced the winners of the sixth GENIUS NY competition. November 3, 2022.

The collaborative nature of GENIUS NY also allowed Archangel to find new partners. They're now collaborating with two past GENIUS cohort members, Airial Robotics and Circle Optics.

"The physical nature of the Tech Garden, the GENIUS Center there, means we are fairly intimate neighbors automatically, actually," Sola said. "It helps that everyone in the program has been fantastic. There's a genuine sort of feel of building things. And people want to help each other out. And that's exactly the kind of neighbors we wanted when we were looking for somewhere to land. It's really the kind of neighbors anyone would want."

Archangel continues to work out of the Tech Garden in downtown Syracuse, and they’re planning to grow.

"Our immediate plans in New York are hiring and manufacturing. So we're working through refining the spec for version two of the Argonaut, which will be built here," Sola said. "We have three live propositions already. We kind of know who the first seven hires are. With the success we're having at the moment. We'll probably double that number of hires over the next year."

Archangel is now one of many GENIUS program participants that are making an impact on the Central New York economy. According to the Governor’s office, the GENIUS NY program has created 75 jobs in New York and brought $90 million in follow-up funding to the region.

But CenterState CEO President Rob Simpson points out that the region’s startup economy hasn’t always been this prosperous.

"Reflecting back on where we were 15, 16, 17 years ago, when Syracuse and Central New York were near the bottom of the top 150 metro areas in the country in terms of our ability to start up companies, the ratio of bursts to deaths, right. We were 134 out of 150 communities. There was no entrepreneurial support system. There was very little ecosystem," Simpson said.

Simpson said there are now "phenomenal tools" to support start-ups in Central New York.

Those tools were created intentionally. Local economic development officials were identifying technology as a path forward for the region’s economy as far back as 2013. Then, the 2017 Central New York Rising Plan specifically mentioned supporting the Tech Garden and UAS startups. Simpson said the continued success of the GENIUS NY program is validation of that work.

Office of the Governor of New York State
Plans for the Tech Garden expansion project show it would increase space in the building and a drone access roof.

"There's a lot of very exciting things that are happening in Central New York right now," Simpson said. "But let us not forget the importance of these investments, these seeds we're planning in our startup community, because it is those investments that are going to lead to the jobs, the economy and the companies of the future."

There’s room to improve, and the GENIUS NY program has more to look forward to. The state has funded the program for ten total rounds, which means many more UAS startups will make their way to Syracuse over the next few years. And the Tech Garden is planning an expansion project that's expected to start in 2023, and in the plans are a drone access roof.

Katie Zilcosky is WAER’s All Things Considered host and features reporter. She also co-hosts WAER’s public affairs show Syracuse Speaks. As a reporter, she focuses on technology, poverty, and identity.