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Turn science into jobs Federal venture capital funding will help region profit from its research

The Commerce Department and the Economic Development Administration recently received a letter from Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, that they ought to consider carefully.

The two lawmakers want the agencies to approve funding for a new organization called Launch New York as part of the federal venture capital effort, JumpStart America, which aims to bring together university-driven research and venture capital in order to create jobs.

New York is near the top of the list every year in the amount of money spent on research. Huge sums are being spent on innovation at a variety of educational institutions such as the University at Buffalo.

But this state doesn't rank well in terms of turning this research into private sector jobs in a high-tech economy.

What this state needs is more robust and consistent long-term funding for companies that can turn innovative ideas into successful products. Those spin-off companies create jobs and grow the economy, and we have far too few of them in Western New York.

And that's where Launch New York comes in. It is modeled after Cleveland's successful JumpStart program, which provided technical assistance and investments in more than 300 companies in 2011.

If its federal application is approved, Launch New York would serve 27 upstate counties. The effort is seeking $1.2 million in federal support as it sets plans to invest $5 million in approximately 17 start-up companies in its first 28 months of operation.

Launch New York will hire entrepreneurs-in-residence to assess a start-up company's likelihood of success, mentor the founders of the company and identify other executives who should be hired by the company.

Officials connected to the biotech industry say Buffalo Niagara offers low overhead costs and access to top-notch scientists; what it needs is investment capital.

"Talent begets money begets talent," said Marion "Marnie" LaVigne, director of business development for the state Center for Excellence in Bioinformatics & Life Sciences.

This state has to become more successful in the commercialization of new technologies and with a financial push from the government it should be possible, given the material we have to work with.

Silicon Valley and Austin, Texas, years ago figured out how to turn incredible research breakthroughs into jobs. In our transitioning economy it's imperative to get this right, and that is what Launch New York is about.

The region has a huge investment of money and effort in research at UB and other colleges and hospitals and other medical facilities. We need to turn that science into jobs, and Launch New York can help make that happen.