Exploring Western New York's capital landscape: An interview with Noa Simons

Noa Simons is the executive director at Upstate Capital, an organization that brings capital providers and companies together to fuel the entrepreneurial ecosystem in New York state. Put simply, if you’re a business owner seeking capital in New York state, Simons and UVANY make for one go-to resource.

In New York state’s tumultuous capital landscape, Simons is the ultimate guide. With 10-plus years of experience in growth capital and business development, Simons can help us navigate the challenges, opportunities, and breakthroughs taking place in our region right now.

What sort of challenges are unique to the Upstate and Western New York regions? Is entrepreneurship/capital investment easier? Harder? Why?

The challenges with investment and entrepreneurship center around human capital—but the landscape is changing. Rich in middle-market investment opportunities for decades, Buffalo and the surrounding areas have had numerous manufacturing companies grow and evolve.

Early stage investment opportunities have been increasing since the Upstate Capital Association of NY got started in 2003; the organization was formed partly to support venture-backed businesses around the intellectual and scientific innovations that come from Upstate New York. In the past few years, initiatives and organizations like Launch NY, the Buffalo Angels, the Western NY Venture Association, and 43North have helped spur new company formation by bringing knowledge and resources to support entrepreneurs, and are making entrepreneurship easier.

Venture investors are gradually getting on board, but concerns around talented operators and investment managers cause a lag in the institutional venture investment community relative to making investment easy.

What are some ways we might better support entrepreneurship in our underserved communities?

Rather than build companies with high-growth potential, we need to focus on how entrepreneurship empowers individuals to take ownership of their own economic output. Doing so would give those who build entrepreneurial ecosystems the flexibility to decide which values to emphasize when they design programs to support entrepreneurship.

First, we must agree on the definition of entrepreneurship.

And second, we must agree that the value of inclusion is the best place to start. To support entrepreneurship in underserved communities, a practical approach would be to reduce barriers to programs that help people meet basic human needs (food, shelter, clothing, child care, etc.).

What are some current opportunities that you are most excited about? Why?

To clarify how we fulfill our role in the Upstate New York ecosystem, UVANY is going to focus on increasing access to capital for companies. To do so, we are simplifying access to information on various funding sources and providing company leaders with access to capital providers. Our goal is to streamline access to capital for both executives and investors. How? By increasing the efficiency of knowledge gathering and networking. I am excited because this platform allows us to continue bringing many different people and organizations together in mutual support of building strong businesses in Upstate New York.


What sort of breakthroughs or major developments have taken place that may have effects on capital investments?

From a global perspective, there are two areas where developments will continue to have a significant impact on both investors and companies:

  1. Evolution of globalization: Our globalized economy impacts the competitiveness of American businesses, which in turn changes the types of jobs available. Building a resilient economy is an ongoing challenge, and some people are turning to entrepreneurship to address that challenge.
  2. Advancement of technology: Automation is the main technological advancement that is impacting everyone—whether it is blockchain-based technology replacing manual reconciliation at banks, robots on packaging assembly lines, or self-driving cars. Routine work done by humans for the past century or more is being replaced by machines. As these technological advancements find their way into business processes across the globe, entrepreneurship can only be a part of the answer to the question of how people will work and how they will earn livings in the future.

Who are some major players in this industry in our area? What are they doing to shake things up?

Within Western New York, Launch NY and 43North are two of the dominant entrepreneurial support organizations focused on building high-growth companies in the region. I see a lot of innovative programming from Marnie LaVigne with funding and support programs, and a lot of visibility for entrepreneurship in Buffalo through 43North. I appreciate Marnie's approach to going out to the rest of North America to learn about what other communities are doing and bringing back ideas to test in Western New York.

For a closer look at how Simons and UVANY are networking with industry professionals to create smoother sailing for small businesses, start-ups, and other entrepreneurs in New York State, check out uvany.org.

Read more articles by James A. Colombo III.

James A. Colombo III is the grant developer & corporate content writer at Bak USA, a social enterprise that builds mobile computers in downtown Buffalo, New York. Lover of Labatt Blue, Elmo's wings, and live music, James is a Buffalonian through and through. He lives on the city's Lower West Side with his girlfriend, Mary.
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