2016 Venture Ecosystem Award Winner Marnie LaVigne is an Upstate startup force to be reckoned with.
Marnie LaVigne is the president and CEO of Launch NY, a Buffalo-based venture development organization which serves 27 Upstate counties. Previously, LaVigne spent nearly a decade at the University of Buffalo, where she served as the director of business development and then as associate vice president for economic development. LaVigne was a 2016 Upstate Venture Ecosystem award winner in the Ecosystem Champion category.
In the following interview, I talk with Marnie about what makes Launch NY different, how entrepreneurs can get her attention, and her organization’s ‘soul mate’ connection with Upstate Venture Connect.
What makes Launch NY different from other organizations that help grow startups?
What’s unique about us is that we are the only venture development organization serving the 27 westernmost counties of New York state with the model of pro bono mentoring and seed capital. There are other organizations serving portions of our marketplace, but we’re the ones who actually have a mission to serve that entire region. This gives us the ability to try to leverage resources across all of the communities—we are headquartered in Buffalo, but you’ve also got Rochester, Syracuse, Ithaca, Corning and Binghamton.
Additionally, we are certainly one of the few groups that has female leadership running a seed fund. This is remarkable when you consider that less than 12 percent of such organizations around the country have female leadership, despite us being half the population.
Also, Launch NY just received federal designation from the US Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution, or CDFI. We are the only CDFI in NY state. And we are one of only 16 in the entire country.
Which Launch NY services are most popular with startups?
We started out with a pro bono mentoring model—that is, one-on-one coaching, through what we call entrepreneurs in residence. We have approximately 18 experts in business and industry and entrepreneurship who provide one-on-one, free guidance to our clients. We have supported over 650 companies since 2012 and now, in the last year, we have introduced our new seed fund. Our seed fund has made 13 investments in 10 companies in such a short period of time—double the typical rate if not more for the other funders in the region who are providing venture capital, so that now is obviously a very popular part of our service.
How can a startup get on your radar?
Easily. Even if you haven’t met someone from Launch NY, you can go to our website, fill out a very short online interview, and we will set up a half-hour intake call with you. That half-hour call is typically done with two of our entrepreneurs in residence, who are both very experienced in investing as well as coaching. From that phone call, both the entrepreneur and the Launch NY team will determine if we’re a good fit to help you. If it looks like a good fit, we assign one of our entrepreneurs in residence to work with you and then we let you take the process from there. We are here for one-on-one coaching, but we also work with all the partners in the ecosystem to make sure that you’re getting the best support possible
What are your top priorities for the coming year?
Our top priority is to continue to ramp up our seed fund—we have had a target of capitalizing the funds to five million dollars. At this point we are looking for contributors who want to grow the region, want to help startups, and are willing to do so either through grants or charitable contributions to our seed fund.
The second priority is for us to help connect our ecosystem to the larger global entrepreneurial ecosystem so that as our startup companies are succeeding and making progress, we can help them have access to customers and strategic investors.
How has UVC been able to help you?
I think the most important part of UVC’s impact has been that they share the same philosophy. Often, organizations work in a way where their heads are down, and they are addressing their service delivery and their needs on a day-to-day basis without necessarily looking at the bigger picture. For me, UVC feels like a soulmate who shares our same perspective.