Chief of staff

Incubator promotes development, devotion with the help of its ...

By Jamison Cocklin


Nowadays, it seems the fast track to wealth is no longer real estate or finance.

Instead, more young adults are turning to technology; wide-eyed over the next big idea or giant start-up with the potential to land serious profits.

Maybe it was Facebook, the social network conceived in 2004 inside a Harvard University dorm room, which eventually led to a $100 billion public offering in May, or perhaps it was Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who in 1996 developed a search engine for their Stanford University dissertation.

That search engine, now called Google, created a multinational company worth an estimated $200 billion.

But go further, beyond the fame, beyond the fortune, even far beyond Silicon Valley, where many of today’s young Internet and tech entrepreneurs flock and where many already have made enough money for a lifetime, and you might find guys such as Marv Schwartz.

Schwartz, referred to as a “chief architect” by nearly every person interviewed, works as both the chief science officer at the Youngstown Business Incubator and the Case Connection Zone at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

“Marv’s role is kind of this: We literally have 20 or 30 people knocking on our door every week, [and] if they don’t fit with our mission, then we refer them to the chamber of commerce or maybe a program at Youngstown State,” said Jim Cossler, chief executive at YBI, which works to foster successful development of fledgling software start-ups in the heart of downtown Youngstown. “But if it fits with what we’re doing, I give it the smell test and turn it over to Marv.”

From there, Cossler said Schwartz decides whether the idea is “technically feasible.” Schwartz determines whether software “has the proper skill and sustainability to uphold and sustain the company,” Cossler added.

In other words, Schwartz becomes the go-to guy, a sort of chief adviser on everything from designing a product and ensuring it can be sold, to marketing and networking that product at a higher level. He’s with a company for every step of its development, Cossler said.

“When they ask, I give them feedback,” Schwartz said of the young companies he works with.

“I do what I can to help out. I suggest ways that I might do it.

“The best thing about the incubator is its moral commitment to extend services to others, to those with very serious potential,” he added.

Schwartz sets aside one day a week to provide his expertise at the incubator. He lives in Solon, a Cleveland suburb, and much of his time is taken up between his duties at Case Western, where he’s also an adjunct professor of computer science, and his own forays into personal software start-ups.

At a paltry $250 a week to drive to Youngstown, Schwartz takes on his work with gusto because he views the YBI as a “playground.”

“The fact that there’s nobody like us in Northeast Ohio allows Marv to really play in the sandbox, and he’s been with us for over two years now,” Cossler said. “What you’re gonna find is we’re pretty much known all over the country. I’m not sure as if anything is as well known as the incubator in Youngstown; we get inquiries from all over the country about coming here to do a start-up.”

Indeed, Schwartz has been playing in the proverbial sand since he joined the incubator.

His role in aiding Youngstown-based Turning Technologies, which designs both the software and hardware for its world-renowned clickers that help make classrooms and other presentations more interactive, has enabled the company to achieve sales in 120 countries, Cossler said.

The company blossomed from an idea in 2003, to being named one of Inc. magazine’s fastest-growing American software companies in 2007.

The complexities that arise in developing software are numerous, but for Schwartz the reward of his work is witnessing the rapidity with which companies such as Turning Technologies rise.

For him, ironing out both the big and the small problems is worth it when product development and product quality, in some instances, turn around over night.

Schwartz himself has launched six of his own software companies.

Today, he is working on another called Visualize Energy, a venture that helps commercial and industrial businesses conserve electricity, water and gas to reduce utility bills.

The idea for the software stems from “two basic principles” as Schwartz explains it.

“If you can’t measure [utilities], you can’t manage from them,” he said. “Visualize Energy is a way to predict and provide visibility on how you’re consuming energy — it’s a way to break down your costs.”

Most recently, Schwartz’s technology was able to identify $700 a month in cost savings for a local supermarket when the software detected bad programming on a refrigeration unit that was spending too much electricity during peak operating hours.

At Case Western, he’s working with the Case Connection Zone to bring high-speed Internet service to rural homes. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 18 million Americans live in rural areas and have no access to robust broadband infrastructure.

And in recent weeks, Schwartz has been advising via680, a start-up at YBI that is experiencing a new measure of success with its Ving Web application. The application helps users create more engaging and effective emails with videos, pictures, questionnaires and audio files.

So why’s a guy like Schwartz still hanging around Ohio?

“The location of a software company is absolutely irrelevant,” Cossler said. “Nobody cares where they are at. I’ve never known of anyone who included or excluded a software company based on where it is. If you accept all that, then Youngstown is a perfect place for software.”

But Schwartz doesn’t need to be reminded. He thinks of the incubator as “the coolest place on earth.”

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