People may choose to be a “quiet” investor, simply placing their funds with Launch NY, or they can be more active, assertively investing in individual portfolio companies, as well as mentoring and providing advice as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence, or EIR.
Investor Siva Kakuturi is committed to helping grow the area.Siva Kakuturi is one of the active ones. He is CEO for CK Consulting Services and Sivic Solutions Group. Kakuturi grew up in India, attended college, and started his first company there, before moving to the United States for further education and opportunity. (“My wife and I landed at JFK with $20 in our pocket,” he says.)
That was in the early ’90s. He went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in upstate New York, earned his master’s degree, and stayed in the Mohawk Valley. They’ve now lived in the United States longer than they lived in their original homeland, raising their family and enjoying what truly seems like the American dream.
After starting out in a corporate career, Kakuturi, a self-proclaimed “people person,” became a successful entrepreneur. UpstartNY talked with him about the silver lining of the pandemic, off-shore vs. “on-shore” workforce, and the business environment in New York state.
Jana Eisenberg: What did you do after you got your master’s?
Siva Kakuturi: My first job was in Syracuse, at Bristol Myers Squibb, then Burrows Paper Corp. Then I worked at another publicly owned company, where I built up a line of business for them. When they wanted to shut it down, I made the entrepreneurial decision to purchase it, and keep the business going. That was in 2008; we grew ten- to fifteenfold, then in 2019, I sold it to Solix.
JE: Why are you interested in investing regionally now?
SK: I want to give back to the community where I spent most of my life. My son was born here; he went to Cornell. We love the whole area. The people are so nice.
JE: How are you giving back?
SK: I’m involved with couple of venture funds as an adviser and investor, trying to help entrepreneurs and grow the area. One of them is Upstate Venture Connect (UVC); through an event in Syracuse, I met Marnie [LaVigne, Launch NY CEO and president].
We talked, and (pre-pandemic) I came to Buffalo to meet the team. I knew I wanted to work with them. Now, I’m fully invested with Launch NY: I’m an Entrepreneur In Residence, I’m in their Limited Partner Fund, their Investor Network, and have invested in a couple of their portfolio companies.
JE: What is it about Launch that appealed to you?Kakuturi says leaders like Marnie LaVigne of Launch NY are headed in the right direction.
SK: The people—if I like the people I will give anything; that’s how I grew up.
Launch has great leadership and good processes; they’re a bit more organized. It’s not easy, for example, managing over 20 diverse EIRs. Entrepreneurs have their own ideas about how to do things. [Laughs] Also, the organization is continually growing, changing, and adapting. You can’t stay static.
JE: What do you see for the region's future?
SK: Even before COVID-19, people and businesses were realizing they don’t need to be in big cities, for a lot of reasons. It really doesn’t matter if your development team is in NYC or Utica. If you need to shake hands on something, you can drive four hours. I’ve been pushing this model for a while.
In my old company, we kept our resources 100% on-shore, rather than off-shore, but in lower-cost areas. You can get the same—or better—talent for lower rates. And your workforce gets a much higher quality of life and cost of living. With the pandemic, people will find it even more appealing that they don’t have to live so close together; they’ll be moving away from cities. That’s a benefit for us.
JE: What are any challenges you see to doing business in New York state?
SK: The tax situation is not totally business-friendly. Over the last 30–40 years, some businesses have left, gone to places like Texas or Florida, where there are no taxes. Without government support nothing will change; New York needs to try to bring more business here.
And, we have to keep trying from the private sector, though one person cannot do it alone. Leaders like Marnie and Martin Babinec of UVC have started something, and people have to contribute. It takes the proverbial “many hands,” and I want to do my share.
Launch NY is a sponsor of UpstartNY.