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Gillibrand announces legislation at Clarkson to help ideas boost the economy

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POTSDAM — Legislation announced by U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand at Clarkson University Friday could help Daegan A. Gonyer’s Blue Sphere Industries and its aeroponic plant growing units help feed the world one day.

Instead of using soil or hydroponics, Blue Sphere — one of the startup companies in Clarkson’s Shipley Center for Innovation — mists plant roots at high pressure with the nutrients they need. The vertically stackable units give plants the breathing room to grow 25 percent faster than in soil without the use of pesticides.

“We need a sustainable food source,” said Mr. Gonyer, a doctoral student. “One of these units can feed a small family.”

While the company has 92 commercial units that sell produce to Aramark, which runs Clarkson’s food service, Mr. Gonyer hopes Ms. Gillibrand’s bill, the America Innovates Act, is enacted to help his company grow faster.

“It’s exciting what’s possible with bright ideas,” Mrs. Gillibrand said. “So much of that work can be done right here in our colleges and universities. Clarkson is leading the way.”

The legislation could spur small business growth, add jobs and boost the economy while providing consumers with better products, Mrs. Gillibrand said.

The bill would create an innovation bank with a pool of grant money available for scientists and researchers to strengthen the “proof of concept” necessary to push a discovery from the idea stage to commercial success, she said.

The money could be used to test products, hire staff for experiments, expand labs and fund business incubators. It could also give graduate students a second level of training in subjects needed in the corporate world, such as how to apply for patents and develop a business plan, she said.

A vote could come before the end of the year.

“We have a number of co-sponsors,” she said. “This is truly a nonpartisan issue.”

Mrs. Gillibrand’s remarks on her first trip to the university were made in the atrium of Clarkson’s Center for Advanced Materials Processing Building. She is not, however, a stranger to Clarkson, and she invited President Anthony G. Collins to speak on innovation at a Senate outreach hearing.

“I think that speaks and underscores your commitment to why we’re here today,” Mr. Collins said.

Mr. Collins also introduced David C. Kuchar, a Clarkson graduate who left New York in 2003 to found a company in Silicon Valley, of an example of what the state should avoid.

“I went to Silicon Valley as the right place to start a business,” Mr. Kuchar said. “It doesn’t have to be the right place in the future.”

New York needs to do what it can to stop the brain drain, Mr. Collins said.

“We have to hold the Davids,” he said. “That’s the theme of today.”

Some of the other start-up companies showcased at the event included Neuroredox, a biomedical company focused on commercial applications that target strokes and other degenerative diseases, and FLY Technologies, which has developed an electric bike on which the rider pedals a generator.

“It doesn’t get harder when you go uphill. You decide how hard you want to pedal, not the road. If you don’t want to pedal at all, you don’t have to,” said inventor Mark R. Huber, a recent Clarkson graduate. “We are four to six weeks away from customer model ready.”

Mr. Huber credited the Shipley Center with what business success he has had.

“All I came in with was my idea, passion and drive,” he said. “Clarkson really is the one stepping in with the initial investment.”

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