By Danny Schrafel
Hundreds of tech-minded people converged in Huntington Tuesday to take a closer look at some of Long Island’s new, cutting-edge technology-driven startups, all gathered under one roof.
Hosting LI Tech Day at the 8,500 square-foot LaunchPad Huntington startup hub, was part of their continuing efforts to “grow the ecosystem,” eGifter’s Tyler Roye, the major backer of the tech startup accelerator, said.
“We’re looking to raise the profile of the start-up activity that’s happening so that we can attract new companies, attract more investors and attract would-be employees,” Roye said. “Having a big expo like this is a natural progression of what we’re doing.”
Ranging from proponents of apps designed to thwart robocalls, designers of smart device-powered guitars to inventions designed to create electricity using the kinetic energy of the waves, the 43 exhibitors covered all the bases, and included angel investors and others who might provide the financial backing to make those projects come to fruition. Nearly 700 registered for the event.
“It’s every player in the ecosystem,” Roye said.
Huntington’s Michael Rudes, founder of iRock Guitars, was there with a raw prototype of the iRock Guitar, the world’s only guitar that can support an iPad, iPhone or similar smart device.
“You don’t have to plug into anything exterior,” he said. “It works well, but it certainly can look a little cleaner.”
He was there with hopes of meeting interested investors who would finance development of a second, more refined prototype.
Port Jefferson’s Aaron Foss, founder of NoMoRobo, was side-by-side with longtime friend Chris Lopinto, president and co-founder of ExpertFlyer.com. Foss said he was “really excited that the Long Island start-up and tech ecosystems could come together in one place.”
“This is the first one I’ve seen on this level, and this level of excitement,” Foss said.
“We’ve been looking for a tech startup community on Long Island for the past decade. There have been some fits and start, but things like LaunchPad and Tech Day seem to be the start of a really solid and lasting tech movement on Long Island,” Lopinto added.
Later, elected officials, labor leaders, business advocates and academics threw their support behind a legislative proposal they argued would jump-start small companies like those gathered at the Expo.
Congressman Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) introduced the SAVE (Savings Accounts for a Variable Economy) Act, which they said would help start-ups like those at Long Island Tech Day by allowing them to create tax-deferred savings accounts that can be accessed, tax-free, during certain economic downturns.
Startups with 50 or fewer full-time employees would be allowed to deposit up to 10 percent, pre-tax, of their gross profits per year into a special savings account as a “rainy-day” fund of sorts. That gives businesses incentives to save money when times are good so when struggles emerge, it reduces their need for outside credit. The money can be drawn upon during “qualified periods” so long as the funds are used to maintain existing jobs or to create new ones.
“This is simply common sense and will provide a needed cushion for New York small businesses that create jobs and keep our economy moving forward,” Israel said.
The bill was a collaborative effort between Israel and Bishop’s offices, Northport-based smart growth advocates Vision Long Island, the Long Island Regional Business Council, the Long Island Federation of Labor and the American Communities Institute at Dowling College.
Bob Fonti, co-chair of the Long Island Regional Business Council, praised Israel’s “common-sense” approach.
“That rainy day that we have, we’ll be able to stay dry,” Fonti said. “There’s about a half million businesses that start every month, and we need to keep them alive.”