Times Union: Troy's Software Cluster Part of Downtown Vibe; Software, Gaming Businesses Find Troy Location a Winner

Times Union: Troy's Software Cluster Part of Downtown Vibe; Software, Gaming Businesses Find Troy Location a Winner

Date posted: 2017-03-24 13:51:21

[March 11, 2017] 

It was little more than a decade ago that two video game startups, 1st Playable Productions and Agora Games, left the security of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute incubator and descended the hill to downtown Troy.

Tobi Saulnier recalled last week she wasn't sure it was the best move for her fledgling company. She remembered how downtown Troy used to be when she was a student at Rensselaer.

But things have changed.

The biggest may be all the other software and gaming companies that have joined them downtown. "Now, it's exciting to see all the movement," Saulnier said.

It's not clear exactly how many companies are working in Troy, although the Times Union identified nearly two dozen. Those companies employ nearly 300 people. 

Karthik Bala, who with his brother Guha created video gaming company Vicarious Visions in 1991, said the local software cluster is "lesser know within the community, better known in the industry." While Vicarious Visions, where Saulnier once worked, moved to Menands many years ago, the Bala brothers recently left it and returned to downtown Troy. Now, in an historic downtown building where the Troy Sentinel first published "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in 1823, the two brothers are supporting and advising startups through their Velan Ventures fund.

Karthik, the Velan Studios CEO, says being in downtown Troy is a plus. "We've relocated talent from Austin, New York City, Amsterdam (the Netherlands) and Boston to Troy," he said. "They live in downtown Troy. It's a really great environment."

Video gaming has expanded beyond entertainment. 1st Playable produces educational games for children, while other publishers are producing games that have health applications or produce simulations where individuals may hone their skills.

Bala finds the historic architecture and local arts scene help nurture the creativity that's so important to gaming. "The lifestyle we enjoy is a mix of the arts and sciences," he said.

Saulnier's company, which occupies two upper-floor spaces once used as ballrooms, is vacating some of its space so that Agora Games can move from smaller space on Broadway after being acquired by Warner Brothers.

Agora will occupy space along River Street, while 1st Playable will front Third Street on the triangular-shaped block.

The apartment boom in downtown Troy has been well-documented, and many of the young employees have chosen to live downtown, within walking distance of their offices, as well as restaurants, cafes and pubs. And more startups are launching in some of the newly available incubator spaces downtown. The historic Quackenbush Building at Third and Broadway has been turned into a four-story collection of tech startups, entrepreneurs, and the home of the Tech Valley Center of Gravity, a "maker" space that attracts a variety of creative people. Among the businesses is Spaceout VR, a producer of mobile virtual reality apps and content.

Meanwhile, Greane Tree Technology Group shares a building farther east on Broadway with Agora Games, the company that will shortly move over to River Street. Annmarie Lanesey is president and cofounder of Greane Tree, a company that develops software applications for other companies, including other companies downtown. Lanesey also launched Albany Can Code, a startup to train people in computer coding, after she realized there was a shortage of such talent. Both she and her partner, Joseph Payette Jr., are from the Capital Region and are graduates of RPI.

"This is our hometown and the community we know and love," Lanesey said Friday of their decision to establish their company in Troy.

Last week, the Troy Innovation Garage on Fourth Street held its grand opening, drawing a number of businesspeople and elected officials curious to see what the latest co-working space was about. Created by Tom Nardacci, who heads Gramercy Communications, the building is home to several software startups as well as other entrepreneurial ventures, many of them in media applications. Gramercy relocated to the Innovation Garage from the building the Balas now occupy. Other tenants include Jennifer Harris and Padraic Doyle, two of the four co-founders of InspectPoint, which has developed apps and software for fire protection companies.

Harris said the companies use the software as they conduct inspections. The iPad-based app provides the questions inspectors need to ask, and can take photos and scan barcodes. The product then produces all the necessary reports electronically, eliminating a lot of paper. The two, who also grew up in the Capital Region, considered other locations including Austin before choosing the Innovation Garage on Fourth Street.

"I'm a developer — I write code," said Doyle. "There's a vibrant coder community here."

And the Innovation Garage provides all the support services, from phones to ensuring the technology works. When Amazon Web Services went down recently, "we were, how do you guys get through this?" Other startups shared their advice on coping. InspectPoint has seven employees with most of its clients concentrated on the East Coast. Other companies downtown include those providing online security software, local marketing apps, hardware for virtual reality apps, cloud management software, and sales and marketing software.

Asked about drawbacks, Bala at Velan Studios said the downtown could use more fiber. But he said Troy has plenty to like.

"It's a vibe," he said last week, "a vibe that's really appealing to our employees and to the kind of talent we're trying to attract, the vibe and the coolness of the area.

"Troy's hopping."

eanderson@timesunion.com • 518-454-5323