START-UP Corporatization

By BB Shell

Governor Cuomo officially launched the beginning of START-UP New York early this year citing the intent to “revive” upstate New York by bringing in new businesses, and to create jobs for hundreds if not thousands of people. START-UP New York’s “SUNY Tax-Free Areas to Revitalize and Transform Upstate NY,” allows new and expanding businesses to operate tax-free, including employee income tax, for ten years after opening in New York State.

In order to qualify, businesses must meet certain criteria. There is a focus on start-up companies as well as technology firms. For instance, restaurants, law firms, and retail businesses do not qualify for START-UP New York. In addition, companies must partner with universities, either public such as SUNY (State University of New York) or CUNY (City University of New York), or private not-for-profit institutions. Under this stipulation, companies must “be aligned with the academic mission of the college or university with which [it hopes] to work,” as well as locating on such university campuses, or on university-owned property. Although there has been slight push-back regarding the tremendous tax breaks to new tech companies, especially by small business owners, there has been little visible questioning regarding what effect this will have on the university system.

Binghamton University is one of several schools participating in START-UP NY, selecting university space that will be used by new or expanding companies. SUNY Binghamton has allocated space in its newly completed Innovative Technologies Complex including the university’s Start-Up suites. Additionally, BU and the Binghamton University Foundation, in cooperation with the Broome County Industrial Development Agency, are building a 20,000 square feet Southern Tier High Technology Incubator in downtown Binghamton that will have space for up to ten start-ups.

In its guidelines for potential partners, SUNY Binghamton reiterates that businesses must fall in line with the university’s academic mission. Its webpage lists several ways in which this requirement can be fulfilled including: providing internships and/ or employment for students and graduates, research or development involving faculty or students, opportunities for grants from the company or its collaborators, and the “commercialization of University research and technologies through licensing or other partnerships.” Listed areas of possible collaboration are: “new materials; microelectronic innovations; new energy design models for data centers; electronics packaging and systems integration; solar cell technologies, healthcare systems engineering, biofilm remediation, sensor technologies, information security, and vibrations research.”

It is clear from simply looking at the listed potential areas of collaboration that START-UP NY at Binghamton University is not an inclusive program encouraging the betterment of the University as a whole, not that it ever claimed to be. It is a program focused on bringing “economic revitalization” to upstate New York, using this university as a means to provide space and resources to companies that are operating completely free of taxes. Furthermore, it is an illustration of the University’s willingness to put corporate interests ahead of educational aspirations. The University is spending its dollars on Start-Up suites and high technology incubators, catering to new tech firms, rather than investing in academics.

While companies participating in START-UP NY are required to “align with the school’s mission” by providing internships and allowing for the commercialization of research we must question what the mission of the University is. Is it in fact to commercialize research and to profit from the intellectual curiosity that is so prevalent in a university setting? Or is it to safely transition students from the common core of high school through an undergraduate degree and safely into jobs at technology firms? The purpose of a university ought to be to inspire a spirit of questioning the status quo and to invest in basic research by faculty and students. By catering to the needs of startup or technology companies, as opposed to investing more in university academics, the role of the university is surely shifting. START-UP NY is just the most recent, and perhaps most transparent means of altering the role of the university to align more comfortably with the needs of the business community.


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