Tom Cullen, director of St. Bonaventure University’s Innovation Center, plans to kick-start five Cattaraugus County businesses with $35,000 in funding for participants in the Laine Business Accelerator.

A three-month program designed to attract and quickly grow local businesses, the Laine Business Accelerator program is named after the late Olean entrepreneur who founded Alcas Cutlery and Cutco, Erick Laine.

Business owners can learn more and apply for the program through July 30 at www.laine business

The five businesses selected will receive funding, mentorship from top entrepreneurs, coaching and workshops specifically designed to boost their businesses. The five winners will be announced in mid-August.

“It’s not a new concept, but it hasn’t been done here before,” Cullen said in an interview Sunday.

“This is an amazing opportunity for our community. We’re going to put everything into growing and supporting these businesses,” Cullen said.

The program will run from September through December 2021 and feature mentorship meetings once a week along with entrepreneurs sharing their tips to build a successful business.

Jamestown Community College, Olean Business Development Corp. and the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation are collaborating with The Innovation Center to present the business mentor program.

Cullen started the Innovation Center at St. Bonaventure two years ago. Besides student instruction, the center’s goal is to help the local business community “build on the economic ecosystem that’s already here,” Cullen said. “It’s for people who have an idea. We show them a path to getting it done.”

“SUNY JCC is excited to work with St. Bonaventure and our other community partners in Cattaraugus County on this new venture made possible by the request from the Laine family,” said Daniel DeMarte, JCC president. “This initiative and its development provides us the opportunity to collaborate in new and exciting ways.”

Each winner will receive $1,000 on being accepted and the program will finish with a Community Showcase Day on Dec. 7, when one team will be awarded $10,000; the remaining four will each receive $5,000.

More than a dozen businesses, organizations and educational institutions have already committed to partnering with the program to help advance Cattaraugus County’s economy, Cullen said.

“The accelerator program gives local entrepreneurs a tremendous opportunity to boost their businesses,” said Jim Stitt Sr., executive chairman of Olean’s CUTCO Corp.

The program is funded by the Erick Laine Entrepreneurship Fund at Olean Business Development.

As president, CEO and chairman of Alcas (which became CUTCO in 2009), Laine oversaw the transformation of the “little knife factory” into the largest cutlery company in North America, expanding sales, work force, and the company’s global presence. He died last year.

A man of remarkable generosity, Laine was a transformative figure in the region for 40 years, serving on the boards at Olean General Hospital, St. Bonaventure University, Alfred University and the Cattaraugus Economic Development Zone. Erick and his wife, Marianne, chaired the fundraising for the downtown JCC campus.

“He was a great entrepreneur,” Cullen said of Laine. “A program like this has been on our radar for a couple of years. We decided a few months ago that now is the time to present this opportunity.”

Cullen said about 15 businesses have applied so far and he expects about 50 to apply before the July 20 deadline. He expects all applicants to take something away from the program — not just the top five.

A Cattaraugus native, Cullen ran a similar entrepreneurial program for 18 years with the University of Chicago and Northwestern University before returning to Cattaraugus County. “I’ve seen it work successfully. This is an opportunity to advance our area. The community support has been incredible.”

The program is also getting support from the Seneca Nation.

After all, “We’re a start-up ourselves,” Cullen said of The Innovation Center. Stitt and DeMarte have been driving forces for the program, he added.

Mentors for the program are both local and from across the country, Cullen said. “The mentor will depend on the business and what they need.”

He encouraged business owners to apply if they want to participate. “Our goal is to help them,” Cullen said. “The local impact is the potential to add jobs. “We’re looking for something that could change the area. One question that will be asked is ‘is this a business we see that will grow and get bigger in five years?’”

Participants will have to be in Olean about once a week to meet with their mentor. “If they can show they will have an impact on this area, we want them to apply,” Cullen said.

“We have amazing (business) people here if we can pull them out and share their knowledge,” he said.

Round two next year “will be much bigger,” Cullen promised. “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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