Development News

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Despite its early successes, founder and CEO Oscar Pedroso said the company faced a challenging crossroads a year ago.

The Buffalo startup, which offers home-delivered electronic and robotic educational toy kits through a subscription-based business model, had a back order of items and not enough cash to reorder products. They were running out of space in their 200-square-foot office within the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Innovation Center, and they needed to hire a committed staff to grow marketing opportunities.

Less than a month after moving into the Pierce Arrow Administration Building on Elmwood Avenue, Pedroso said the company now has 5,000 square feet of space, including a warehouse. And an investment from the Telluride Venture Accelerator has allowed Thimble to grow its staff from two to seven, while launching a new product line this month.

“The transition was not too bad,” Pedroso said about the company’s move. “We really needed the space and it has worked out to be great so far.”

Last spring, Pedroso told that a successful Kickstarter campaign and a partnership with Launch NY allowed the company to get off the ground. In the spring of 2017, Thimble was recognized by South by Southwest Interactive Festival, and they were accepted into the Telluride Venture Accelerator program.

“The accelerator came at a good time,” Pedroso said. “We were there for four months. We raised a small round, enough to put certain products back into production. And we were able to take some weight off our shoulders by bringing in new hires. That’s been good.

“We were generating sales every month. We just needed a little bit of help on the capital side,” he added.

Pedroso credits the program with an investment that allowed Thimble to add five new employees since the fall. The New York City native and Rochester Institute of Technology graduate said that growing online subscriptions will continue to be the company’s “bread and butter.” And a state contract with the BOCES education system will give them room for growth when they’re ready.

For now, the refurbished Pierce Arrow building, located at 1685 Elmwood Ave., provides about 1,000 square feet of office space, with the rest available for the warehouse.

Pedroso, who co-founded with RIT grad David Brenner, said the company is excited to announce the launch of a new product line that focuses on a younger audience. Uncertainty in the product and questions about the market and business model make finding investors locally a challenge, he added.

“We want to do a better job of getting out there. But we’re doing something people don’t know a lot about. We’re more than just a subscription box company. We’re teaching tech and engineering skills,” Pedroso said.

Ohio Street project leads to economic opportunity and investments in new businesses

Spring may seem far off, but thanks to work completed along a stretch of the Buffalo waterfront last fall, outdoor enthusiasts will have something to look forward to when the snow finally melts.

A project led by Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper and funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative finished in October, improving fishing and boating access to the Buffalo River at the Ohio Street boat launch, while also making the open area near it more accessible to cyclists, walkers, and picnickers.

The investment also came with improvements to the surrounding wildlife habitat, including the planting of trees and plants, along with pollinator-friendly flowers.

It’s all part of a greater investment along the Ohio Street corridor and Buffalo River that spans nearly a decade. Residential living, mixed-use and business facilities have replaced the crumbling infrastructure and roadways that hindered the neighborhood’s growth.

Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper Senior Program Manager Katherine Winkler said an ecosystem that was once an empty, industrial landscape now sees thousands of walkers, cyclists, and paddlers when the weather is nice. And while most of the landscaping accomplished in the fall is currently covered in hay and snow, this spring, the investment’s benefits will be on full display.

“I remember when we first started going down there, Ohio Street was just a vacant, desolate area … It’s amazing to see the transformation of that area and this habitat project will do nothing but enhance it,” Winkler said.

In the fall, U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins visited the project site, which Winkler said finished in about a month and a half.

In 2013, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper and GLCI partnered to restore wildlife habitats at eight project sites along a two-mile stretch of the Buffalo River shoreline.

“Ohio Street is a national example of the economic opportunities that come with federal investments in infrastructure and clean water. Just a few short years ago, there was very little activity on this section of the Buffalo River,” Higgins said during that visit. “Today, thanks to Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper's leadership in river restoration, and an $11 million investment that transformed Ohio Street from a crumbling industrial roadway into a beautiful riverfront parkway, we have new restaurants, residential living, and public parks and paths up and down Ohio Street. This project continues investments in natural resources, driving private sector investment and public enthusiasm along Ohio Street."

Winkler added that condo complexes are already fully rented out, and improvements to paving and lighting have made it a usable area for recreationalists and cycling commuters.

New residents means opportunities for new restaurants, shopping, entertainment, and jobs. “It’s a snowball effect,” Winkler said, adding that Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper credits the hard work of the organizations contracted to complete the restoration so quickly.

“Going back five or 10 years ago, people didn’t even know where the Buffalo River was. Today, you can see thousands of kayakers. It’s incredible,” she added.

UB summer camp teaches computer science to high school girls

Jennifer Winikus, a teaching assistant professor of Computer Engineering at the University of Buffalo, knew she was going to be an engineer since she was seven. STEM clubs and courses she took at a technical high school bolstered Winikus’ interest in engineering.
But later, she discovered that this early supportive environment seemed to be the exception, rather than the rule. As an undergraduate at Alfred University, she and the three other female students in her program struggled to prove that they “belonged” in their program.

“It was definitely a game along with the three other female students to make sure we were always the best in the class at everything because it didn’t seem as ‘bad’ that way,” she recounts.

While attitudes have changed in the last decade or so, Winikus believes there’s still a social pressure against girls going into technical fields. Engineering remains a male-dominated field. 
That' why Winikus hope to change perceptions with UB’s CSExplore, a three-day computer science and engineering summer camp for high school girls that she's helping to organize along with Carl Alphonce and Kris Shindler, UB associate professors of Computer Science and Computer Engineering respectively, 

“[The camp] is a clear signal to young women that they absolutely have a place in computing, that they have valuable contributions to make," says Winikus. "We are creating an environment in which they can focus on learning about all that computing has to offer, rather than worrying about having to demonstrate that they belong,”  
Also, Winikus hopes that students will continue to explore computer and engineering and science, and maybe take up computing as a future career.

Over the course of three eight-hour days, CSExplore students will get to experience many aspects of computer engineering and computer science, going beyond coding and building circuitry. 
They’ll be using Scratch, a block- based programming environment to build games and program robots. For hardware, they’ll be using the Arduino UNO and use the sophisticated Arduino API (application programming interface). Students will be working on integrated circuits and digital logic, which are fundamental to computer engineering. Some of the projects they will work on including programming a robot and designing a video game.

The CSExplore students won’t be the only ones learning from the program. Several female undergraduate UB students will join Winikus, Schindler, and Alphonce. They will assist in coming up with creative activities to teach the concepts covered in the course.

No previous computer science or engineering background is required. The camp will take place August 23-25 at UB’s North Campus. The $255 cost includes lunch, a t-shirt and lab kit to keep. To learn more and to register, please visit

The hatchet throwing club Buffalo didn’t know it needed

If you walk down the part of Main Street that has recently reopened to cars, you might just walk right past the newest brewery and activity location in Buffalo without even glancing up. “We do have an understated sign,” Hatchet and Hops owner Dustin says, smiling under an impressive beard.

Dustin Snyder opened the location on September 23, 2016, with co-owner Andrew Piechowicz; both first-time business owners. Andrew’s background is in risk and retail management.  Dustin’s background is Industrial/Organizational Psychology. Snyder takes care of the employee engagement and corporate culture work of the business.  His background also accounts for the team building exercises Hatchets and Hops offer to corporate groups. He likes an environment where people are encouraged to cut loose, to step out of your comfort zone and try something that you can’t do in the office.

“We wanted to bring people together,” Snyder says, “We wanted a place that was fun to work at as well, and where we could practice our values.”  Those values are authenticity, quality, confidence, discipline, pride, and community.  Values that are so important to Snyder and Piechowicz that they have them written across the backs of the uniforms their employees wear.

So why Buffalo? And why a bar where you throw axes?  

Over the thwack of hatchets and muted cheers, Snyder says, “We have great places to eat and great places to drink, but what do we actually have to do in this city.” It was league night, and the current patrons were serious about their scores. Hatchets and Hops is a way to eat great food and drink good beer, but also a way to try and combat the activity void they believe the city has, even with the current resurgence.

If safety is your number one concern, don't worry, because it's theirs too. Snyder admits that there were some challenges getting the business off the ground. "There have been a great many interesting challenges as we take our governments, vendors, contractors, and anyone working with us into totally uncharted waters. But that's half the fun. Each time something is sorted out, it gets faster and more efficient the next time it comes up,” he says.

Hatchets and Hops have dedicated highly trained instructors.  The business strongly encourages pre-booking lanes and has strict rules against intoxication any other dangerous behavior.

Hatchets and Hops is the first of its kind in Buffalo, and in fact the only club in New York State. There are a few business around the country and some in Canada, most notably a chain named “Bad-Axe Throwing” that are in Oklahoma, New Jersey and Canada.

As for next steps for Snyder and Piechowicz, they have no current plans in motion to expand but are optimistic about their business' future. "We would like to expand to a bigger location, and eventually other states as well,” Snyder says. 



Real-time accuracy hits the "SweetSpot" for app's success

The long line of academic buildings that make up the University at Buffalo North Campus hides one of the campus's most-cited flaws: lack of parking.

Like many of his peers, UB graduate student Atif Faiz Afzal was frustrated with what he calls "the notorious parking situation." He can recall times when circling the parking lots made him late to important meetings or classes. It is a common story – and not just for university students. What sets Afzal apart from the disgruntled masses is that he had a solution.

Enter SweetSpot, an app developed by Afzal and his peers to fill the gaps left by other, less-effective parking apps.

"We’re the solution that people already think exists," Afzal says. While other apps exist that claim to be the solution to parking woes, Afzal found them ineffective. They relied on data inputs from users and couldn't keep up with the real-time changes in parking availability. SweetSpot uses video footage from UB's security cameras to allow for accurate and up-to-date tracking information.
The prototype for SweetSpot won first place at the 2016 University at Buffalo Hackathon. In doing so, it attracted the attention of a UB Blackstone representative who approached the team with the opportunity to grow their software into a business.

Since then, Afzal and his team have been working to create a program capable of deciphering any video footage. It uses a machine-learning algorithm – the same underlying technology used by self-driving cars.

Just this month, SweetSpot won the People's Choice Award at the Bright Buffalo Entrepreneur Expo. The prize comes with $5,000, which Afzal says will be used to patent their software for tracking real-time parking. Anything leftover will be used to develop the software further. Ultimately, they want the program to integrate seamlessly with any security camera.

The team is finishing up UB's Summer Sandbox program and will be looking to work with other business incubators.

Afzal knows what's next – to "develop a highly secure architecture to integrate security cameras.
"We are working closely with UB police and security camera companies to help us with this integration."

Growing Green: Making farm-fresh produce accessible to Buffalo’s urban neighborhoods

With a staff of enthusiastic teens, the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) is embracing the opportunity to share healthy living initiatives while promoting entrepreneurial skills. 
Danielle Rovillo is the markets director of MAP, a non-profit urban farm that operates on Massachusetts Avenue in Buffalo’s West Side neighborhood.

“Our Growing Green Program offers job opportunities to kids from all over the city,” Rovillo says. “They can come in and learn about our process, develop a hands-on understanding of growing and cooking fresh vegetables, and then help sell all that produce on our Mobile Market, which is basically an ice cream truck for produce.”
Rovillo was optimistic when describing the organization’s mission to “nurture the growth of a diverse and equitable local food system” and “promote local economic opportunities to students, accessibility to nutritious food to families, and social change education” for those who need it most.

But it’s not always easy.
“We distributed over 20,000 pounds of food last year out of just three residential refrigerators,” says Rovillo. While 20,000 pounds of healthy, homegrown food isn’t exactly an ideal amount for hundreds of deserving families over the course of one year, she explained, the fact that it was grown for and by the community with such limited resources is certainly an impressive accomplishment.
Things are getting bigger and better for MAP, though.
“Pretty soon we’ll have a $2 million facility sitting on top of a cold storage unit encompassing the entire perimeter of the new space,” Rovillo says. “That’s basically a giant walk-in fridge we’ve never had before. It’ll be an incredible asset in helping us grow more, store more, and deliver more healthy food alternatives to our community.”
MAP, which is currently undergoing massive renovations as a result of many local and federal grants, is blending its mission to provide healthy foods for folks in the community with an objective to educate local teens.
“It all comes down to food justice,” Rovillo says. “Some families who live in urban areas around Buffalo live miles and miles away from a decent source of produce. They have forgotten the benefits of finding, cooking, and eating healthy foods. But our kids are learning to help.”
How do neighbors know when the Mobile Market will be around the corner?
“We post flyers and work with community organizations well before we pull up in our Mobile Market.” Rovillo says. “We also have social media, but since not everyone does, we work with our friends in the neighborhood beforehand to advertise when we’ll be there and what we’ve got to offer.”
It’s not just about community, of course. It’s also about accessibility. “We accept cash and food stamps,” Rovillo adds, “anything that’ll help make healthy eating a viable option.”
MAP, which grows a wide variety of vegetables such as peas, spinach, garlic, and so much more, has various crops surrounding the immediate MAP premises and nearby streets. To make things even sweeter, MAP’s main farm features a small orchard to grow fresh fruit and a bee sanctuary to harvest honey.

OneTen Capital looks to raise funds for local Buffalo startups

A small group of entrepreneurs is making a big splash in the startup scene on Buffalo’s East Side. Operating out of The Innovation Center at 640 Ellicott Street, OneTen Capital is an early-stage coalition investing firm that helps young tech companies raise the capital they need to make their business dreams a reality.

“The genesis of the idea was catalyzed in part by the great groundwork being laid by 43 North,” says Jenae Pitts, managing partner and director of operations at OneTen Capital. “We are focused on the long-term sustainability of this community’s start-up ecosystem, so we are building relationships with those who see it the same way.”

To help acquire capital for local engineering and hardware-based startups, the OneTen team employs a “Coalition Investing” approach—an active investing strategy that focuses on developing partnerships with portfolio companies. “We work together to tackle everyday hurdles as if they’re our own,” Pitts explained. “We work with them on a weekly basis, but we are constantly out in the community advocating for them, too.”

OneTen’s most recent portfolio company is Vader Systems, a liquid metal 3D printing company in Getzville, New York. “The team at Vader Systems is conquering hurdles of physical and mechanical science,” Pitts said. “Experts in their field, they’ve been able to control molten metal in ways no one has been able to.”

So how does the partnership work?

“We have seen that you can either raise money for your business or you can work on your business, but you cannot do both,” Pitts says. “When we took the stress of fundraising off their backs, they began making daily and weekly progress. To the same tune, OneTen will take some of the infrastructure-building off of the engineering team so they can continue to make leap-and-bound progress that only they can make.”

To accommodate the specific needs of portfolio partners, OneTen Capital works alongside existing sales and marketing teams, adopts and supports current goals, and builds relationships with like-minded investors who wish to see Buffalo’s entrepreneurial ecosystem thrive.

“Every case is different,” Pitts explains. “As much as we try to help our portfolio companies see around the next corner, we are realistic about what we do not know. We are, however, above average at finding the exact resource we need to get to the right solution.”

As far as dollars and cents are concerned for OneTen itself, the company shuns traditional venture capital techniques such as collecting standard fees regardless of results.

“Our company earns revenue by adding valueton our portfolio companies,” Pitts says. “With our model, all of the investment dollars go to work.”

When it comes to finding financial partners, OneTen has a particular type of investor in mind.

“We prefer to have people involved who care about Buffalo and care fundamentally about the businesses we are working with. Our ideal investor has a passion for manufacturing or engineering sciences and sees the vision for what Buffalo can be” Pitts says.

Dough cones in time for Independence Day

It’s delicious, it’s different, and apparently, it’s the latest trend in desserts.

For some sweet tooth lovers in cities including New York City and Montreal, edible cookie dough already has replaced the traditional ice cream cone. Here in Buffalo, with summer and the Fourth of July upon us, cookie dough cones now are available at the new area business called Dough Boyz in the Walden Galleria Mall.

For many people, the words "cookie dough" conjure memories of what mom's cookie-making bowl looked like, what the kitchen smelled like and the fun it was when you were able finally to lick the spoon. These memories are what led Joe Frankabanderio, owner of Dough Boyz, to embark on his new business.

“We have such great memories of mom cooking in the kitchen every holiday from the Fourth of July to Christmas," he says.

Of course, in many kitchens, cookie dough eating was a free for all until around the 1980’s. That’s when a study came out about the potential for illness from the raw eggs in the batter. For years, people would still sneak a pinch here and there, but in the back of their minds, many worried about getting sick. At Dough Boyz, these worries disappear. Eggs are not used to make the dough, so the risk of sickness is eliminated.

At the Galleria’s newest specialty dessert “restaurant”, customers can choose from flavors including the Classic Chip, Monster M&M and Peanut Mother Butter. The dough is scooped out like ice cream and even served in ice cream cones and cups, with options to add extras and make a sundae. Customer Julie Blake of Buffalo tells UpstartNY, “I eat here because the dough tastes ten times better than the actual cookies.”

Frankabanderio started the business with his dad Patrick and plans to open additional locations.

Fillmore Forward aims to bring businesses back

A grassroots organization on Buffalo’s East Side is bringing together business owners and community members to revitalize two historic, yet often neglected neighborhoods.
Fillmore Forward started in 2011 when residents and entrepreneurs in the city’s Broadway-Fillmore and Martin Luther King districts began discussing where they could combine efforts to improve the quality of life, restore economic vitality, and increase inclusiveness and wealth in the area.
“We saw that this person was doing this and that person was doing that and thought ‘why can’t we do these things together?’” Fillmore Forward Board President Rita Gay says.  “From there we decided to focus on one thing, which was the redevelopment of the business districts in both communities.”
Gay says the organization began with a mindset similar to associations in neighborhoods like the Elmwood Village and is propelled by the work of volunteers, fundraisers, and donations from local businesses and foundations.
“We’re here for the community, and it’s not just another organization founded to say that we’re a nonprofit for the sake of being one – that’s not what we’re about,” she adds. “We want to be recognized as an organization that wants everybody at the table so we as a community can redevelop our business districts.”
Currently, Fillmore Forward is working on its Open Storefront Makeover Program, which works with college design students, architects, developers, and business owners along Fillmore Avenue to design floor plans, then turn those designs into reality with light facade improvements and interior decorating.  
In the next few weeks, the organization plans to see this collaborative effort materialize for a woman who hopes to open a consignment shop on Fillmore. Interior design students from Buffalo State College have been on site to develop four to five concepts for the owner to choose from, and were so impressed with the building, they began brainstorming ideas for redesigning other spaces within it.

429 Rhode Island adds to West Side's Five Points

In the heart of the ever-changing lower West Side sits 429 Rhode Island, a three-story building in the middle of the neighborhood’s Five Points. Currently, the restored building houses a Pilates studio and an art space, and soon it will feature an espresso bar too. The Remedy House is set to open later this summer. Building owner and preservation activist Frits Abell says having a storefront for this building in the epicenter of the neighborhood’s business district was crucial.

“I love this building. I saw a lot of potential with it,” says Abell, a developer who splits his time between Buffalo and New York, says. “I wanted to reactivate the storefront. I thought it was an important part of the neighborhood.”

Built in the 1800’s, Abell says his space at 429 Rhode Island was once home to a mercantile space, a post office and also a residence in its long history. The neighborhood’s latest addition, The Remedy House, started as a pop-up coffee stand. Now, co-owners Andrew Trautman and Justin Smith will have a brick-and-mortar coffee shop in this historic building and evolving neighborhood.
Reactivating storefronts is what has brought new life to this area. Frits credits Urban Roots, a community garden center currently celebrating its ten-year anniversary, as the catalyst for the growth of the Five Points. Press, next door, sells fresh juice drinks and Paradise Wine to the left offers wines from around the world.
In addition to these neighborhood mainstays, Four Corners Bakery, started by Melissa and Kevin Gardner, offers a gourmet toast, whole grain bread, coffee, and pastries. The Gardners moved to their current location across the street from Abells’ building two years ago.
“From the 24-year-old to the 95-year-old, we cross all socio and economic paths,” Kevin says, adding that part of their success is the welcoming character of the neighborhood. ”It’s the comfort level in here. Everyone is welcome."

Jericho Road grows as patient needs increase

Providing culturally sensitive health care services to more than 12,000 patients in the Buffalo area, the Jericho Road Community Health Center is a growing health care facility, especially for refugee and low-income community members. 


The center, which works to promote wellness and self-sufficiency by addressing health, education, economic and spiritual barriers, recently announced it will expand to the East Side, taking over a 13,000 square foot space to accommodate the increased numbers of patients.


“We’re excited to embark upon our next 20 years by further expanding primary care services on the East Side of Buffalo with our new location at 1021 Broadway,” Mary Schaefer, Jericho Road Community Health Center’s Events and Marketing Coordinator, says.  “All our current sites will remain open, including our existing East Side clinic at 1609 Genesee Street, but the new facility will allow us to better serve even more individuals through medical care and supportive programming,” she adds.


Started in 1997 by Dr. Myron and Joyce Glick, Jericho Road started as the Jericho Road Family Practice (JRFP) at 184 Barton Street on Buffalo’s West Side. Regardless of a patient’s ability to pay, JRFP offered medical services to Buffalo residents and an increasing number of refugees.  In 2003, the Glocks founded their ministry, Jericho Road Ministries (JRM), which offered wide-ranging services from mentoring to small business advising. In 2009, JRM merged with Hope Refugee Services, and in 2013, the health care practice and ministry service merged into one.


Today, the arms of Jericho Road Community Health Center reach from Buffalo and around the world.  Globally, the organization has a footprint in countries like Burma, Congo, Nepal and Sierra Leone, where it has provided services and often medical buildings. On June 15, 2017, Jericho Road will host its annual global fundraiser “Bridging the Gap,” an event at the Statler Buffalo, to fund these efforts.


Here in Buffalo, it continues its commitment to medical care. “Over the last 20 years, Jericho Road has continued to be a committed anchor organization in Western New York, dedicated to providing medical services and non-medical programming to better meet the healthcare needs of all Buffalo residents,” Schaefer says.


In addition to medical needs, the center continues to treat the community as a whole. Under its umbrella, VIVE! is a shelter houses refugees waiting for appointments and interviews with border services. Jericho Road also houses The Hope Refugee Drop-In center focused on providing “tools for self-empowerment,” according to their website. This includes assistance paying bills, navigating social services and help looking for jobs. It also partners with organizations like WEDI and Neighborhood Legal Services to provide small business counseling and legal aid.


By maintaining a constant dialogue with the community, Jericho Road works to increase and improve their services. From a small brick and mortar building located in Buffalo’s West Side to the furthest reaches of the globe and now to the East Side, the path to Jericho Road remains open and welcome for business.




Northland Corridor: Search for WNY Workforce Training Center president underway

With a state-of-the-art 35-acre workforce training center, the development of the Northland Corridor puts a much-needed spotlight on investment in Buffalo’s East Side. And a search is now underway to select a president for the facility.


The Western New York Workforce Training Center was spearheaded by Catholic Charities of Buffalo, Inc, Goodwill Industries of Western New York, Inc., Buffalo Urban League, and the Buffalo Niagara Manufacturing Alliance. The initiative is committed to fostering both education and a culturally diverse working environment on Buffalo's East Side. "This is kind of a unique approach to really marrying the needs of the manufacturing community employers and the potential students that come from the East side among other parts of the city," states Tom Lynch, President and CEO of Goodwill Industries of WNY.


Jennifer Evans, a senior search consultant at Performance Management Partners, describes that the ideal individual is someone who can bring all of the key stakeholders and the entire community together to get this center off the ground. The focus is not only for this individual to secure funding, but also to build key partnerships, ensure that key metrics are being met and develop a strategic vision for the facility. 


“You have to be able to relate. They have to be entrepreneurial in nature. You have to have a passion and have worked in a mission related venture,” Evans says. “They have to want to make a difference with uplifting the underrepresented and making that difference.”


The Northland Initiative hopes to be a one-of-a-kind facility that will connect ready, willing and able people with jobs in the manufacturing and skilled labor sectors. SUNY and Buffalo State are currently putting together a curriculum for the Center. The target opening of the WNY Workforce Training Center is in 2018. 


For more information regarding this position, please see the following job position located on Performance Management Partners' website at

West Side Bazaar brings the world to Buffalo

Featuring Asian delicacies like Tha Khway Yai, Kanom Jeen and Banh Mi, Wa Wa Khiang’s dream of opening her own business now is a reality. 
“This is our eighth day open,” Khiang says as she smiles behind her counter at Buffalo’s West Side Bazaar.
Khiang arrived in the United States from Thailand eight years ago with her daughter Su Way. While they both worked in restaurants in the Buffalo area, Khiang always knew she wanted to be her own boss. Why? She says she wanted to be able to share her favorite Asian snacks and dessert recipes with the community, and WEDI’s popular international food court provided that opportunity.
Wa Wa Asian Snacks is the most recent startup at WEDI’s, or the Westminister Economic Development Initiative’s, West Side Bazaar, a small business incubator that grew from the organization’s goal to provide business opportunities to residents of Buffalo’s West Side.
Historically, this local neighborhood has been a hub for immigrant and refugee communities to settle, plant their roots and start businesses. Over time, the once-thriving area fell on harder times. Many businesses closed up as large groups of families moved.
But, today, thanks to initiatives including the West Side Bazaar, the area has become more popular and culturally diverse than ever. Burmese, Ethiopian, Sudanese and Thai immigrants, just to name a few, call the West Side home. And, the epicenter of this melting pot is the West Side Bazaar.
Located at Grant Street and West Ferry, this marketplace features authentic dishes and desserts from many different countries. Vendors sell handmade jewelry, textiles and art and artisans work at macrame, beading, and sewing. It has become a place where business owners and customers new and old now come to meet up and socialize and sample always changing fare.
For entrepreneurs like Khiang, WEDI provides subsidized rent and mentoring in small business development. Business owners, in turn, agree to comply with WEDI requirements that they share business information, accept business training and adhere to health and safety codes. This marketplace then allows small vendors the opportunity to grow, expand and eventually open up independent shops and restaurants in the community.

Buffalo joins national small business festival

Buffalo's involvement with the National Small Business Festival started with an invitation by local public relations executive Craig Turner. Turner, the President of Momentum Public Affairs in Tonawanda, had read about the festival's founder Matthew Pollard, a 33-year-old Australian entrepreneur, who has built five multi-million dollar companies and frequently speaks on rapid growth businesses.


The invitation turned into a conversation between Pollard and Turner about making Buffalo one of four cities across the United States to host Small Business Festival, a week-long event that started in Austin in 2016 to coincide with National Small Business Week during the first week in May. 


Turner is a member of SEAWNY, or the Small Enterprise Alliance of Western New York, a group aimed at assisting and organizing small businesses in Western New York. He and his board decided to accept Pollard's offer and, after just three months of planning, joined Austin, Texas, Sacramento, California and San Antonio, Texas to make Buffalo a host of this year's Small Business Festival.


"As soon as we got the word out, the city of Buffalo and Niagara region rallied to the cause," Pollard says. "We look forward to growing the footprint here next year and look forward to fostering an even stronger partnership with SEAWNY," he adds.


According to Pollard, the annual festival has three goals: to celebrate small business stories, educate people about building businesses and create strategies to move forward and inspire people to learn new skills and ideas. To meet these goals, Turner, who chaired the Buffalo event, said his group, with sponsorship from Lawley, Launch NY, and national sponsor CapitolOne Spark Business, organized 32 sessions or "tracks" as he called them. The tracks focused on digital marketing, traditional marketing, sales and networking and business in Canada.


“Small Business Festival Buffalo Niagara was a big success – especially for its first year when people weren’t quite sure what to expect. We’d set out with the primary purpose of creating energy around small business in Western New York, and from the moment the Kick-off Breakfast started Monday morning through our last educational session Friday afternoon at the Microsoft Store, that’s what we had," Turner says.


Turner said more than 400 people attended events focused on everything from how to network to increasing sales to best leadership practices and millennials in the workforce.


Starting from a chance partnership, Pollard and Turner already have plans to bring the festival back to the area next year.


"What a great experience, and we’re already fielding calls on how people can be involved next year," Turner says.

PUSH Buffalo works to redevelop school building

People United for Sustainable Housing Buffalo, or PUSH Buffalo, is redeveloping Public School 77, which will include “over 30 green affordable rental units for seniors, a new office space for PUSH, theater facilities for Ujima Co., office and program space for Peace of the City, and open recreational space for community members,” according to PUSH's Director of Policy and Strategy Clarke Gocker.
The organization is one of several area organizations that have bought and upgraded abandoned properties. Founded in 2005 by Aaron Bartley and Eric Walker, PUSH works to create stable neighborhoods with affordable housing, decrease the rate of housing abandonment, and develop neighborhood leaders with the ability to gain community control over the development process.


To create access to low-cost renewable electricity for low-income community residents, the group will install a community shared solar system on the roof.


“School 77 is a $15 million project financed with Low Income Housing Tax Credits,” Gocker says.


Since its inception, PUSH has insulated hundreds of homes around the city. Solar panels have been installed on homes so people can generate their electricity and combat the extremely high and unaffordable heat bills.


These green homes are providing a warm, affordable environment for low-income folks, including immigrant families, according to Gocker. He invites people to take a walk down Massachusetts Avenue to see the beautiful homes that were rehabilitated by PUSH in 2012.


In the coming months, PUSH will also be launching an EPA-funded job-training program.

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