For entrepreneurs in Buffalo, it is possible to have their cake and it, too. In fact, some might want to grab a bigger fork.
The region’s supportive environment for startups – combined with its abundance of renowned cultural institutions, parks, and a bustling food and drink scene – makes it possible for entrepreneurs to have the best of both worlds. They can take advantage of a wide network of organizations and programs that can help their fledgling business build momentum during the day, and have plenty of things to do to unwind after a grueling day.
Just ask Lena Levine, who came to Buffalo from Russia in 2009. “Buffalo is a unique city with the perfect combination of a great location and a growing startup and cultural scene,” says Levine, who in 2014 founded Lena Levine Studio, a full-service web design studio that provides high-quality web design, e-commerce and mobile app development to clients across the U.S. and Canada.
Her operation started as a one-person company, which then quickly grew to the team of 10 talented developers located in Buffalo, across the U.S. and Europe. The studio, whose clients include universities, online retailers, startups, and design agencies, is one of numerous companies that operate out of the Innovation Center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
“I picked this area due to the proximity to Canada. I loved the fact that I had an opportunity to explore two different countries. Plus, Buffalo’s convenient location allowed me to take day or weekend trips to Toronto and New York City while enjoying the relaxed and affordable lifestyle of Western New York,” Levine says, adding that the number of organizations and programs aimed at supporting young businesses has grown tremendously in recent years.
Among them: Launch NY, Z80 Labs, 43 North, the University at Buffalo School of Management’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL), Urban League, and the Canisius College Women's Business Center.
Events like Startup Weekend, Create Upstate, and WordCamp have also drawn hundreds of people from in and outside the area, according to Levine.
In the summer, Levine spends her spare time outside, whether it’s joining the throng of bicyclists exploring a new neighborhood on Monday nights as part of Slow Roll, or releasing some energy while taking a class at Fitness in the Parks.
“As entrepreneurs, we tend to give all our energy to our businesses, but it is crucial to take care of physical and mental health to stay productive and produce our best work,” she says.
While exciting new restaurants open up across the city, enlivening the region’s already robust food and drink scene, Buffalo’s cultural institutions continue to do their part. Over the summer, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra teamed up with the Richardson Olmsted Campus to offer enLIGHTen, a BPO concert combined with a stunning visual display projected onto the historic Richardson Towers Building. Thousands attended the event.
The Buffalo Zoo, the nation’s third oldest, developed $50 million in new exhibits and visitor attractions over the past 17 years. The venerable Albright-Knox Art Gallery has embarked on a $125 million expansion, the third time the gallery has grown over its more than 150-year history.
And the restaurant scene?
“When it comes to restaurants and bars, there are too many to keep pace with, as there are so many opening,” says Buffalo native Michael Hamilton, co-founder and CEO of Peeva, a universal scanner and central pet registry that is the first and only technology to read, analyze, and catalog a microchip regardless of the manufacturer.
Hamilton returned to Buffalo last year to start Peeva after working in New York City since graduating from the University at Buffalo in 2000. Peeva was among the semifinalists in this year’s 43North business competition.
For Hamilton, Buffalo’s parks provide an opportunity to let his mind wander. The park is also where the inspiration for Peeva originated. “A lot of people don't know this, but Buffalo was built around an extensive park system unlike any other in the world. It is actually where the need for Peeva was identified,” said Hamilton, whose family dog was stolen when he was a kid. The company is named after his current dog, a puggle.
In addition to Delaware Park, Hamilton is a fan of the Albright-Knox, Burchfield Penney Art Center, and Buffalo’s rock clubs like Town Ballroom and Mohawk Place. “It's always nice to check out a band coming through town in a more intimate club that would otherwise play a much larger club in New York,” he said.
Buffalo’s burgeoning restaurant scene offers plenty of new options, but Hamilton said he enjoys unwinding at Elmwood Avenue mainstay, Pano’s. “The food is awesome and the conversation is always great. Everyone that works there is either an artist, in a band, or in school trying to figure it all out,” he says.
Oh, and the dessert menu features a variety of cake.