By Hollis Templeton
In August, 14 international start-up companies embarked on a journey to learn more about doing business in the United States. They were in search of new markets for their products and services, which range from energy storage solutions to luxury olive oil to biodegradable shipping material. The companies represent 13 countries and four continents, and together they make up the first cohort of Soft Landing New York.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration in 2022, Soft Landing New York helps foreign companies evaluate and navigate their way into the U.S. market, set up operations, and successfully integrate into the regional economy. Qualifying companies are provided programming, mentorship, and student assistance at no cost.
“The Southern Tier has proved to be the perfect place for this program, as we have access to two top-tier research universities,” said Dr. Elena Iankova, Director of Soft Landing New York. “We developed the program as a partnership between Binghamton University and Cornell. Our key partners include the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator, the Center for International Business Advancement, and the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.”
Over the past four months, international companies completed a series of workshops on the U.S. business climate. Topics included culture, immigration, choice of legal entity, intellectual property, banking and finance, accounting and taxes, raising capital in the U.S., export-important regulations, and labor/HR regulations.
The companies also worked side-by-side mentors from the Koffman Incubator; participated in bootcamps on customer discovery and go-to-market strategy in the U.S.; received business, research, and technical assistance from students at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business and the Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science at Binghamton University; and built connections across New York State.
On December 15, the start-ups came together with program staff and student research teams to reflect on the accomplishments of the inaugural Soft Landing New York cohort. The graduation ceremony was held via Zoom, with entrepreneurs logging on from Canada, Mexico, Nigeria, and across Europe.
Local students help international businesses navigate market-entry challenges
Under the guidance of faculty advisors, undergraduate and graduate student teams from Cornell and Binghamton Universities spent the fall semester working closely with select Soft Landing New York companies on a variety of projects.
Christian Carranza, an undergraduate student at the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, was paired with Portugal-based Cleanwatts. The digital cleantech company offers metering systems and software solutions to help universities, cooperatives, and other institutions with large energy footprints manage their energy consumption. As their starting point, Christian and his team set out to learn about the problems that universities and cooperatives are facing in their transition to clean energy. They also evaluated the institutions’ openness to participating in Cleanwatts’ pilot program.
Christian quickly realized that cost was the biggest prohibitor. From there, the team helped Cleanwatts develop a cost-effective, software-only pilot program that allows universities across New York State to try Cleanwatts without needing to install costly metering systems.
Graduate students from Binghamton University’s Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science are also helping Soft Landing companies evolve their technology and strengthen their customer discovery process.
Mohammad Al Syouf is working with OXTO Energy Storage, a UK-based business developing a new generation of flywheel batteries that will offer longer-duration energy storage to industries like manufacturing, transportation, and real estate. After an extensive literature review and computer modeling phase, Mohammad has moved on to designing an ad hoc model of OXTO’s proprietary flywheel.
Andrew Benner is working alongside Serbia-based Watchroom Technologies, a “digital tavern” for the fast-growing anime market. Fans can use the app to join watchrooms and discuss episodes anonymously, adopting the voice of their favorite character. Andrew spent the fall semester researching the best approach to offering real-time voice conversion. He landed on an open-source text-to-speech network, which he will begin to build out next semester.
Shantanu Gaurkhede partnered with Canada’s Ionic Solutions, which uses desalination technology to significantly reduce the cost of water compared to reverse osmosis and other systems. Shantanu assisted Ionic Solutions with customer discovery and outreach.
His team identified more than 35 potential customers in the New York Southern Tier and devised a plan to efficiently demonstrate water desalination for them. The team will install a small water treatment unit at Binghamton University in the spring of 2023. The local unit will allow Ionic Solutions to expedite desalination demos for businesses across the area.
Start-ups achieve Q4 successes with support from Soft Landing New York
Following student presentations, participating foreign companies shared their achievements, challenges, and next steps. In addition to customer discovery, networking, and learning about the U.S. business ecosystem, several companies achieved significant milestones this quarter:
- Watchroom conducted approximately 160 customer discovery interviews and forged partnerships with anime festivals in Germany and Guyana.
- Cleanwatts signed on Ithaca College and the City of Ithaca for pilot projects in 2023.
- India-based sodium-ion battery manufacturer Rechargion modified its business model to better fit the U.S. market, focusing on batteries for electric scooters.
- Agritech startup Feed Afrique created a social benefit company as a subsidiary. It will allow people to invest in cattle and other activities that support carbon-neutral dairy farming and renewable energy production in Africa.
- Mexico-based energy consultancy Bmate began the expansion of its portfolio of oil and gas companies to include clean energy businesses as well.
“Being an active company participant in Soft Landing New York takes commitment and effort, and you have devoted both this year and earned our sincere congratulations on what you have accomplished,” said Linda Barrington, Associate Dean of External Relations for the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, at the conclusion of the graduation ceremony.
“Secondly, and most importantly, I want to say thank you because experiential and impactful learning is at the core of our Cornell SC Johnson pedagogy,” Barrington continued. “We are so pleased that our students have been able to share some of their energy, talent, and enthusiasm with you. We also recognize that you have generously provided your businesses and your own time to our students.”
Per Stromhaug, Associate Vice President for Innovation and Economic Development at Binghamton University, also thanked participating companies for helping strengthen the business environment in the Southern Tier.
“When we work with companies like yours, we look at every one of you as a partnership,” he said. “You’re not just a client or someone we help or serve. Our success depends on the fact that you can make progress. If we work together and look for opportunities to support each other, it’s more likely that we can pull in funding to make us both successful.”
Soft Landing New York is expected to create 365 local jobs and generate $2.7 million in private investment from the integration of 45 international startups into the regional economy over a three-year period. Best of all, the program helps to internationalize our local communities and draw some of the brightest minds and most innovative technologies to the cities and towns we call home.
2023 programming will carry momentum into the new year
Soft Landing New York will welcome its second cohort of 12 companies from 11 countries and four continents in January. The Spring 2023 cohort will add a three-day bootcamp in New York City on April 19-21. Fall 2022 cohort participants are also invited to take part in this event.
The bootcamp will coincide with the eighth annual Center for International Business Advancement Global Forum, which will be held on April 20 in New York City. The theme of this year’s event will be Soft Landings and Smart Takeoffs, with programming focused on driving innovation and economic growth across borders. All Soft Landing companies are invited to participate in clean energy and food & agriculture panel discussions and share their experiences as start-ups exploring U.S. market entry.
Companies traveling to New York City for these events are also encouraged to visit Binghamton University, Cornell, and the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator during their trip. Soft Landing New York team members look forward to meeting more participants face-to-face and watching their businesses flourish in the United States.
To share program feedback or learn about future Soft Landing New York cohorts, please email Elena Iankova at email@example.com.