The recent announcement of Liazon’s $215MM acquisition by Towers Watson and early funding for Decision Pace and CoachMePlus is further evidence that good things are happening in Buffalo. As 2013 draws to a close, we wanted to recognize some of the key players who are helping lead and shape WNY’s emerging tech ecosystem.
Among the builders and supporters of the WNY ecosystem are early stage investors like Rand Capital and WNY Venture Association, that provided the fuel and the visibility for local startups. Dan Penberthy and Pete Grum from Rand have backed Synacor (NASDAQ: SYNC), Liazon and many other companies that are continuing the growth curve. Jack McGowan, David Colligan, Neil Arnold, Kent Keating and others have been building the local angel investor community and hosting regular venture forums where startups are introduced to potential investors. Other entrepreneur leaders with a long term perspective on building community are Keith Blakely of Inventures Group and Brian Bell of First Wave Technologies. At a less visible, but equally important grass roots level, there were multiple tech groups meeting regularly including 1st Thursday Networking, Buffalo Open Coffee Club, WNY/Buffalo Ruby Meetup, and Buffalo Lab, a maker space.
On the UB front, key players like Woody Maggard and Bob Genco laid the foundation of tech transfer and incubation on campus. Marnie Lavigne, Jeff Dunbar and Martin Casstevens took these efforts to the next level by building a truly regional community and pulling in investors and entrepreneurs from Canada, Pennsylvania and Ohio into the mix as well. The Bright Buffalo Niagara Venture Forum they host each fall has become the must-attend event for startups and investors.
The IT and software community got a huge boost when rockstar entrepreneurs and VCs Jordan Levy and Ron Schreiber launched Z80 Labs, received Innovate NY funds to make early stage investments and recruited Dan Magnuszewski to manage the program. The result, tech and business luminaries from Fred Wilson to Chris Sacca and Seth Godin have all come back to visit Buffalo and connect with the talent that is building tomorrow’s big companies.
A new player to the scene this year is John Seman, CEO of LaunchNY, a multi-county venture development organization with a model similar to NE Ohio’s Jumpstart program. Together this team has the potential to once again make Buffalo the economic engine of the future.