Many startups set up shop in places like Los Angeles, New York, and Silicon Valley for one reason: It’s where the action is. But several companies, including the three featured in this article, have moved away from these entrepreneurial hubs and to Buffalo. It’s true, that as 43North winners, they had to move to Buffalo as a condition for receiving state investment. However, they found that Buffalo better reflected their business needs, and often, also their personal ones.
Buffalo’s entrepreneurial community has offered these companies the support and assistance they have needed, whether it is advising them the best pathways to grow and sustain their businesses, or connecting them with investors and key individuals in their industries. But beyond this, the area also offers other unique advantages for businesses.
Seyed Nourbakhsh initially established his company, Formarum, in Toronto before coming to Buffalo and launching his company’s first product, the Dive Smart Sanitizer. Operating in Buffalo made sense from a production standpoint, given the city’s history and reputation in manufacturing. According to Nourbaksh, hardware and manufacturing talent has been easier to find here than in Toronto, and his company just hired its first full-time US employee, a manufacturing engineer.
“We have been very happy with the quality of the hire and the candidates that applied for the job, as well as the interest we are getting for our future positions,” said Nourbakhsh.
Burner Fitness relocated from Silicon Valley to Buffalo two years ago. Thomas Hessler, one of the co-founders, was drawn to Buffalo because of the ease of access to entrepreneurial resources and lower operating costs, which helped him focus on his product.
“Making ends meet to support a startup has also never been easier here, and the resources are readily available,” said Hessler. “The talent is here, the support is here, all it takes is driven individuals to get started.”
Su Sanni’s company WeDidIt, which offers a fundraising platform for nonprofits, was originally based in New York City prior to moving to Buffalo. It had operated out of the New York University’s Urban Futures Lab, an incubator for NYU-affiliated startups, for a little over two years. Despite being in an incubator, WeDidIt still suffered from being a small fish in a very large pond.
“It was harder to get the attention and resources to demonstrably move your company forward [in New York City] without something really, really extraordinary special happening,” explained Sanni. “Our business, we’re not a unicorn company. We work with nonprofits, which isn’t typically the sexiest industry for tech investors.”
Sanni found that moving to Buffalo allowed his company to build closer, and ultimately more profitable, ties with potential customers. Before moving to Buffalo, his company’s sales outreach efforts were diffused across the United States. But since the move, his company has focused on local Buffalo and Western New York nonprofits, which have been largely ignored by competitors.
“By the end of (December 2017), our revenue ... quadrupled, compared to January [when WeDidit moved],” said Sanni. “That’s a direct effect from being in Buffalo. Some of the presentations and events that we’ve participated in had funneled nonprofits in Buffalo and Erie County to WeDidIt.”
Nourbakhsh agrees that cities like Buffalo provide a better chance for companies to stand out.
“I would say that it is easy to get attracted to major startup hubs like the Silicon Valley and assume that starting your business there will automatically improve your chances of success,” he said. “But in my opinion, there is a tremendous value in not being drowned by noise and saturation, and you get that here in Buffalo.”
Read more about why Burner Fitness loves Buffalo here
Along with lower operating costs, the area has a lower cost of living while still providing similar perks found in larger areas. Hessler, for instance, struggled with being able to afford living in Silicon Valley. He moved to Buffalo on the advice of his friend and fellow Burner Fitness co-founder, Leo Schultz, who grew up in Western New York.
“Leo would speak of Buffalo so highly and it was difficult to believe some of the time. Too good to be true,” said Hessler. “He convinced me, though, that the high standard of living combined with the friendliness of the culture and the eagerness to enter into the global startup scene, would (make it) a great place to build our first business.”
Sheryl Nuesch, Burner Fitness’s first employee who also made the move from Silicon Valley, doesn’t miss life in the Bay Area either. “I loved the relaxed lifestyle (here) and was charmed by the character of the thriving local businesses,” she said. “The Bay Area is over-populated and over-commercialized. The summer weather was beautiful and being close to the water makes it feel like a coastal city."
Sanni, by his own admission, didn’t know much about Buffalo, but the city quickly impressed him.
“I didn’t realize how the quality of life in Buffalo was so much better than other cities. Perhaps even better than New York,” he said. “In a lot of ways, you can live really, really comfortably in Buffalo, whereas the same salary and income in New York isn’t comfortable at all.”
Beyond the cost of living, Sanni also was attracted by how much it reminded him of his native Brooklyn, where the city and state invested money and effort in creating a business environment.
“I got a chance to really see Buffalo from a different light, and I got excited about moving here because it reminded of the renaissance Brooklyn had gone through over the last 15 years,” he said. “We might be moving into a situation that’s part of a renaissance of a city, one that’s transforming. What I went through and saw growing up in Brooklyn made me more interested in looking into Buffalo.”
He noted that moving to a city like Buffalo can make it easier for entrepreneurs to expand their businesses, hire talent, and find funding resources. “We found that opportunity in Buffalo,” he said.
Nourbakhsh holds a similar view of the city and its people.
“The number one attraction of Buffalo to me are the people. Buffalonians have been extremely kind and welcoming to me personally, and that is a very attractive and valuable trait of the community in general that I have noticed. It is also a great feeling living in a city on the rise and witnessing its transformation.”
“I would recommend that anyone thinking about making a move to Buffalo to not to second guess the decision. Do it, and get involved,” Hessler said. “People here are excited to welcome you into their community. Explore the area, try new food, meet new people. The City of Good Neighbors is no joke—people look out for each other. Buffalo is a great place to be, especially as you start a company. It’s all about how you use resources, and they are more than readily available here.”