© 2023 WRVO Public Media
NPR News for Central New York
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Former central NY science teacher among finalists for $1 million Genius NY prize

Genius NY
Among the 2020 Genius NY finalists is Jason Dean, founder and CEO of Eget Liber, second from left.

Five teams are competing for $1 million in investment funding through the Genius NY competition, a one year, in-residence startup accelerator for businesses involved with drones and other technology. The startup companies come from around the world to Syracuse. But one finalist is a former middle school science teacher from central New York.

To make it into the top five, Jason Dean, founder and CEO of Eget Liber, knew he had to come up with a solution to a local problem. So, he opened the newspaper and read about harmful algal blooms.

Credit Jason Dean
Jason Dean's harmful algae killing machine, still being built.

“I thought that was the perfect environmental issue to tackle," Dean said. "We spent months developing and building the current machine that we have now, that localizes and irradiates blue-green algae at the source.”

How it works is a drone identifies and targets the harmful algae in a freshwater lake, and a miniature, autonomous pontoon boat skims the algae and kills it using ultraviolet light.

The machine is still being built and needs to be tested. Even if Dean doesn’t win the grand prize, which will be awarded in April, he will still get a $500,000 investment in his company.

“Given the fact that I had to resign from teaching, I really can’t afford to fail," Dean said. "This has my full focus, my full energy.”

In its fourth year, Genius NY teaches companies how to grow their operations and pursue more investments. Jeff Fuchsberg, director of the competition, said the other finalists come from Australia, London, Seattle and New York City.

“This program really does have a global footprint, attracts the best and the brightest from all over, and is quickly becoming the place that you want to be if you’re a startup in the drone industry,” Fuchsberg said. 

He said 15 out of 17 teams they’ve invested in over the years, are still operating in central New York. They haven’t created many jobs, only about 30 full time. But he said the teams have been able to raise millions of dollars on their own in private investments.

“It’s starting to build that inertia to making it real that you can launch a tech startup in Syracuse and find the talent you need, and find the follow-on investment you need, and be extraordinarily successful here,” Fuchsberg said. 

The competition is funded by the Empire State Development agency and Upstate Revitalization Initiative, and is meant to help develop an unmanned systems industry in the region.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.