Voices: Hey, all you Buffalo ex-pats, it’s time to come home!

That’s right, I said it. 

Buffalo is in the early stages of an entrepreneurial renaissance, reminiscent of what built the technology economies of Austin, Provo, Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, Richmond, and many more. 

In all these cities where we’re seeing a resurgence in the forms of startups and high-tech companies, almost unilaterally it began with a concerted effort of a handful of people, combined with government incentives.

Buffalo is still early in this cycle, but the foundation for success is here. The next step is attracting and developing talent, and continued passion. 

I’m not just another blogger waxing poetic on the promise of Buffalo’s startup future. Exactly one year ago, I moved back after being away for sixteen years. My reason? See paragraph one.

Like many people a couple of decades ago (even shorter, really), I found Buffalo wasn’t able to offer the path I needed to further my long-term career plans in advertising technology. So in late 2000, my family and I moved to New York City which then was the epicenter of this new sector called “AdTech.” My position at a growing tech-minded ad agency provided an incredible opportunity for creating new technologies to solve new problems. That eventually led to two more venture-funded tech startups (New York City, then Phoenix), which ultimately brought us back to NYC two years ago. 

And soon came thoughts of, “okay, what’s next?”

There was plenty of “what’s next” in the Big Apple, but nothing that kindled any kind of flame that could be another new passion. So one day, as wives often do, my lovely wife just happened to say, “Is anything happening back in Buffalo?” 

I said I had no idea, but somehow, recalled that some thing called 43North was in Buffalo, so I consulted Google. And found that something that kindled a flame of passion.

Buffalo is back!

My road back started with watching the 43North Next Things Now video… several dozen times… often with moist eyes. Then Jordy Levy urging ex-pats to reconsider Buffalo in his Z80 video. It was a long day, as I consumed as many 43North pitch videos, Z80 videos and website, Bright Buffalo Niagara videos, and countless startup websites. 

That was it, we had to come home.

So on a complete leap of faith, we moved back one year ago, and have never been happier.

I’ve been to meetings, big events, and networking meet-ups in many of the big tech-centers; Boston, New York City, Austin, Silicon Valley, Phoenix, Dublin, and more. None has been as productive as any event here in Buffalo. There’s an overwhelming sense of renewed optimism that fuels a strong collaborative vibe, as if everyone was saying, “We’re all in this together, so how can I help?”

That can-do sentiment is bootstrapping a resurgence from the roots of Buffalo’s grass.  Take the original Coffee Club started by Mike Canzoneri, Dan Magnaszewski, Steve Poland, and others. This group of hopeful tech entrepreneurs met every week with the idea of, “We need to get this started, if not us, then who?” The roots of many Buffalo startup success stories can be traced back to that fertile gene pool.

Today there’s a group of great people who form the tip of Buffalo’s startup spear. Under John Gavigan’s leadership, 43North has become an internationally acclaimed business competition, the likes of which exists nowhere else on the planet. Marnie LaVigne and Al Culliton grew LaunchNY to a venture development organization that has created more than 1,500 jobs. Jack McGowan of the Western New York Venture Association is a tireless Buffalo evangelist with a growing list of success stories. Jon Spitz is not only driving the Z80 accelerator, but also bringing investors and entrepreneurs together to light some fires (you go Jon!). 

I could blather forever about the people driving Buffalo’s momentum, requiring you to keep scrolling. The important point is that each of these people, and all the others for which there’s no room, are willing to take a moment from their busy day to learn how they might be able to help you. That’s Buffalo.

Oh yeah, there’s also the great waterfront, all these amazing new restaurants, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, The Henry, a growing list of buildings being refurbished, and the most amazing thing… people walking their dogs in downtown! 

There so much new, that after a year, I still haven’t taken it all in. 

But that’s not why I came back… I came home to take a shot on a tech startup in Buffalo.

I’m now the CEO of what will be my fifth venture-funded startup. Its roots are also traced back to that Coffee Club, and nothing makes me more proud than being able to say I’m doing it in Buffalo.

Read more articles by William Irvine.

William Irvine is an expert in business-building and operations management. He has founded four successful tech startups, created tech departments in two ad agencies, and is now launching his fifth tech startup back in his hometown of Buffalo. He's always on the hunt for what's next.
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