Where are they Now? | Remembering Gayle Farman
Jeffrey A. Lawrence Lifetime Contributor Award 2020
| A Look Back | Resources for Entrepreneurs

The Tech Awards is a signature event of the Center for Economic Growth that we look forward to celebrating each year. It’s an incredible opportunity to bring together our region’s technology community and honor the companies and individuals making an impact on the way we live, learn and do business.

In light of the pandemic, we decided to cancel our 2020 event. But, we didn’t want to let this year pass without taking a moment to reflect on our region’s incredible talent and innovative and resilient companies.


Awardee: Commsoft


Then: Communications Software Consultants, or Commsoft, was the winner of the Most Significant Growth Award in 1997. Back then it had 87 employees and was located in the Corporate Woods Office Park in Albany. Commsoft Founder, President and Chairman Larry Davis said, “Back in 1997 people still had phones in their houses, now you just have internet bandwidth and cell phones. Technology and regulatory changes have had a tremendous impact on our clients.”

Now: Commsoft now has 43 employees and two offices, with one in East Greenbush and the other in Denver. Davis said, “The telecom industry has changed rapidly and constantly since 1997 and CommSoft has had to change to keep up.  Changes in technology have forced CommSoft to reinvent itself almost constantly in the last two decades.  Thanks to our loyal clients and phenomenal employees, CommSoft has been able to survive and thrive through all the disruption. We’re proud of the fact that we still have many of the same clients and employees that were with CommSoft when we won the award in 1997.  That’s how we define success.”


Awardee: Vicarious Visions


THEN: This video game startup began 1998 in the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Incubator Center and ended it in the Rensselaer Technology Park, where it moved to accommodate its growth aspirations. It won the Most Innovative/Unique Application award for its 3-D, real-time Internet space simulation combat game. The startup had five employees. “At the time of the awards, we were a group of students and recent grads who were just learning the ropes of effective game and software development, as well as the basics of business,” VV co-founder Guha Bala.

NOW: In 2016, the studio came under new leadership, bringing with it a commitment to a culture of teamwork, respect, and fun.  They have built a welcoming and relaxed workplace that invites creativity, embraces diversity and inclusivity, and encourages individual voices. In 2017, VV released the highly successful remaster, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy while partnering with Bungie to help expand the Destiny 2 universe.  In 2019 the studio moved from Menands to a new Colonie headquarters, and is set to release the highly anticipated remaster of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 & 2 on September 4, 2020.


Awardee: CommerceHub

AWARDEE: CommerceHub


THEN: This e-commerce fulfillment company won the Economic Winner in 2004. That year it moved its headquarters from Clifton Park to the Albany NanoFab campus, where it had 60 employees. It was annually processing $7 million in orders for companies such as Wal-Mart, Kmart and Sears.

NOW: In 2018, CommerceHub’s founder and CEO, Frank Poore, sold the company, which had 325 employees mostly in Albany, to two private equity firms for $1.1 billion. Since 2016, the company has operated out of SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s Zen Building, now processing $20 billion in merchandise annually for 12,000 suppliers, brands and distributors.



Awardee: Etransmedia


THEN: This a health care information provider was headquartered in the Rensselaer Technology Park in 2013 and had 325 employees and $50 million in annual revenues. That year it was ranked 3,871 on the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing companies.

NOW: Etransmedia’s founders, brothers Vikram and Vikash Agrawal, sold the company in 2017 to Formativ Health. By then its headcount has grown to 700. The company’s headquarters was relocated to New York City, but some employees remain in the region. The Agrawal brothers took a year to recharge after Etransmedia’s sale and then started a family investing office – Vik Brothers NY. Their new healthcare technology venture is Levrx, a pharmacy spend management software startup in Troy.



Awardee: United Concierge Medicine


THEN: UCM received the Lift-Off Award in 2017. The startup connects providers to patients around the clock via phone, text, video and secure messaging. The providers can diagnose, prescribe medications, order lab work and x-rays, and even give referrals to local primary care physicians and physicals. In 2017, the company, based in Clifton Park, employed more than 50 medical providers and 15 additional team members.

NOW: Whereas UCM was handling telemedicine for 10,000 patients in 2017, it is now handling millions. It surpassed 1 million patients in 2019 when it extended to a payer network with Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan (CDPHP). Earlier this year, UCM ramped up its business with CDPHP and added MVP Health Care as a customer. UCM scaled capacity to deal with five times greater consultation volumes during COVID-19, and it built out the team for platform and market expansion.


Just nine months after the Center for Economic Growth (CEG) awarded Passport for Good (P4G) the Start-Up Star Award at the 23rd annual Technology Awards in June 2019, the Troy software company’s founder died of pancreatic cancer. Gayle Farman’s untimely death last March at the age of 53 was one of two major blows with which P4G was dealt, with the other being the Coronavirus pandemic.

After growing up in Vestal, Broome County, Farman received her bachelor’s degree in public affairs from the University at Albany and her master’s in public administration from Long Island University, C.W. Post Campus. Prior to founding P4G, she had most recently worked as the director of certification and workforce development for the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Providers of New York State, and a senior director of resource development for the Foundation for Quality Care. She was the mother of two daughters, Emma and Katie, and a member of the Advisory Board of Best Buddies International, Capital Region Chapter, and the Center for Disability Services Institutional Review Board; as well as co-president of the Down Syndrome Aim High Resource Center.

Farman died on March 25, about a week after New York shut down in-person non-essential businesses. Business “came to a screeching halt,” said Steve Cina, P4G’s executive director. Farman had founded the company in 2016 to help high school students applying for college better track and document their time spent performing community service and other similar activities. P4G’s subscription-based Software as a Service (SaaS) enabled students to build a verified non-academic transcript of their engagement hours that could be incorporated into applications for colleges and scholarships. P4G tested its software at five local school districts and launched its web and mobile platforms in fall 2018.

However, with COVID-19 closing schools, student engagement – the core metric for SaaS – fell to an all-time low. So P4G’s board of directors recruited Cina to help the startup pivot. Cina, who has eight years of experience selling into the K-12 market, said P4G is modifying its platform to help students track not only community service but also career training, extracurricular activities.

There will be a new focus on projects that students complete in or outside of the classroom. “This is going to be a game changer,” Cina said. Further, students can upload documents, video and other media related to those projects, and teachers can verify prioritized skillsets developed while working on them. Projects can range from programming a robot to perform certain tasks to completing an artwork.

In the past month P4G has signed new contracts with two Long Island school districts and most of its existing customers renewed their contracts despite having tight budgets. In all, 19 school districts have contracted with P4G.  

“The DNA and passion that Gayle put in place is still very much alive,” said Cina.

When Walter L. Robb passed away last March in his 91st year, the Capital Region lost a leader whose innovativeness and business acumen transformed not only General Electric but also the area’s startup landscape. Described as having “boundless energy” and being almost “philanthropic” in his support for local entrepreneurs, Robb is being posthumously awarded the Jeffrey A. Lawrence Lifetime Contributor Award at the Center for Economic Growth’s 24th Annual Technology Awards.

During his 42-year career at GE that started in 1942, some of Robb’s notable accomplishments included creating the first artificial silicone membrane, overseeing GE Medical Systems’ transformation into a billion-dollar business and leading producer of medical diagnostic imaging equipment, and helping recruit Jack Welch in 1960. He was president of GE Healthcare, director of GE Global Research as well as general manager of GE’s Plastics Division (later Silicone Products) and Medical Systems Business. He served as GE vice president in 1974, and a senior vice president in 1984.

It was after Robb retired from GE in 1993 that his impacts on the Capital Region’s startup ecosystem began. That was the year Richard Honen, an Albany intellectual property lawyer, first met Robb. They both had been asked to join the board of Molecular OptoElectronics Corp. (MOEC), a Watervliet optoelectronics manufacturer founded by a former GE worker.

“He was really smart, really curious, especially technologically. He would ask lots of probing questions,” Honen said. Further, faster than many other former Fortune 500 executives, Robb “very quickly caught on to the idea that you can’t apply to startups the same strategies that you would at GE.”

Honen recalled how Robb would show up to board meetings with a composition notebook and take detailed notes. And when a report from one meeting did not align with that from another, Robb would probe the presenter on the discrepancy. Honen said it taught him much about “the simple art of listening.”

The year of Robb’s retirement was also when the Center for Economic Growth (CEG) merged with the Capital Region Technology Development Council, a nonprofit that provided managerial and other support to local startups. Robb was an early supporter of the Council, and with the merger his support of local startups grew, as did his involvement with CEG over nearly three decades, said Dave Rooney, a CEG consultant and former senior vice president.

“Walt was very much about staying active in the community and giving back his wisdom and experience to emerging entrepreneurs, and the region benefitted immensely from it,” said Rooney.

In 1997, Robb joined the board of Mechanical Technology Inc. (MTI), which had been founded in 1961 by two former GE workers. MTI President and CEO Rick Jones recalled Robb having a “fondness for the rebel-ness to leave GE.” Robb was “always looking for the next big thing at MTI,” and how “When he got behind something, there was no slowing him down,” Jones said. In fact, in 2014, Robb took over MTI’s micro fuel cell power business, which became MeOH Power, and he held that position up until his death.

In 1998, a year after Robb joined MTI’s board, Robb acquired the Albany River Rats hockey team. Seven years later he led the investor group that purchased the Albany Conquest arena football team. His attempts to keep professional sports in Albany were high profile examples of his commitment to the community, but there were many smaller examples that together had a greater impact.

“Back in those days there wasn’t a lot of angel investors or companies to invest in. He was one of the guys who set the pace,” said Chet Opalka, a co-founder of Albany Molecular Research Inc. (AMRI). He recalled how Robb was almost “philanthropic” in how he supported companies without an expectation to make a lot of money. He just wanted “to help people be successful.”

Michael Lobsinger, the senior vice president of CEG Business Growth Solutions, first met Robb through CEG’s VentureB Plan Series program. While attending RPI’s Lally School in 2002, Lobsinger, also the co-founder of Orca Gear (now FT Systems, Inc.), had pitched at the event.  “Walt took an early interest in our company and was one of the earlier investors to our team.  I clearly recall him being delighted that our technology was fairly developed, and he would follow by saying, ‘Now get out and sell!’  That is something I’ve taken with me in my own coaching and mentoring sessions: pushing startups to engage with customers early.” 

Robb’s acquisition of Tire Conversion Technologies in Latham about a decade ago was another example of his commitment to community. While the tire recycling company represented one of Robb’s less technologically advanced investments, it was by no means less important to him.  John Vogel, Tire Conversion Technologies’ CEO, whom Robb hired in 2016, said Robb believed it was just as important to the community to provide low-skill manufacturing jobs as it was to provide advanced technology jobs. “He did go out of his way to use and employ local small businesses for his companies.”

“He was a guy who would put his money where his mouth was,” said Opalka.

A glimpse into the past few years...

Special thanks to our award committee, investors, past sponsors, event attendees, nominees and awardees — you make this event possible and it’s truly an honor to celebrate our regions great success stories each year.

The Capital Region community now, more than ever, has come together to support each other, our state and our nation. Companies and individuals that call the region home are stepping up with innovative solutions to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, and enable our residents to keep moving forward through uncharted times. Thank you for all that you do.

Keep innovating. Keep inspiring. We will come out stronger, together. 


Funding Partners