When it comes to success in business, it’s not what you know, but who you know that matters. The City of Good Neighbors is lucky to know David Jakubowski, a Buffalo native who has been working at Facebook since 2014. Jakubowski was a champion for Ignite Buffalo and the Facebook Community Boost program to come to his hometown.
One of several such events held across the country, Facebook Community Boost was designed to help small-business owners improve their digital skills. But Buffalo’s program had an added incentive: the Ignite Buffalo competition, a $1 million dollar economic development initiative.
On July 9, the event kicked off at Erie Community College with keynote speaker Kevin O’Leary, a Canadian businessman, author, and television personality, who shared best practices from his years on “Shark Tank” and managing dozens of portfolio companies. Throughout the following three days, participants were able to attend breakout sessions and meet with Facebook staff to get answers to their questions on issues like connecting with customers and effective ways to use social media. The event culminated July 11, when 27 winners of Ignite Buffalo grants ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 were announced. These winners will also receive a year of free mentorship from Facebook and its partners.
Of the 27 winning businesses, 22 of which were women-owned, several were previously featured in Upstart NY. We asked a few of them how the program, and the grant money, will help their business.
Breadhive Bakery & Café and Revolution Spinning both received $25,000 awards. Allison Ewing, one of the worker-owners of Breadhive, says that they will use the grant to purchase another van, which will enable them to expand the café’s catering program. “It's amazing to see so many small businesses outside of the tech sector receive a capital infusion like this,” she said, “especially businesses like ours, that are difficult to capitalize!”
Colleen Kirk of Revolution Spinning explained that she and co-owners Amanda Meyers and Rachel McCrone are planning major renovations and expansion of their four-year-old business, and the grant will help them hire the additional staffing they will need, including a business manager, which will enable them to focus on long-term business development and community engagement. She added that attending the Facebook Community Boost workshops were an added benefit.
“Our biggest takeaways were social media related,” she said. “We learned some very useful info on how to better use Facebook and Instagram to target new clients, as well as some fun apps that can help our content be more engaging and interesting to our current clients. At 30-40 minutes per session, all the information was easy to understand, digest, and put into action!”
Both Mike Zak of Gro-operative and David Horesh of Oxford Pennant were the recipients of the top grants of $100,000 each.
“Winning this award is an honor and an affirmation that our mission of environmentally sustainable local food, that is democratically owned and operated by the workers, is as important to all people as it is to us,” Zak said. “We are going to use this money buy 10 new grow towers and six new fish tanks for our new, larger location. This will enable us to fulfill our current orders and more!”
Oxford Pennant has grown steadily during its five years in operation, Horesh said, but receiving the award was still “a really big deal to a company of our size. This is the largest injection of cash that we’ve ever received at one time, so I think the challenge that we face right now is making sure that we’re maximizing it and finding ways to combine it with our existing plans.”
Horesh is seeking guidance from his advisors and evaluating opportunities to ensure that he makes “the best possible investment and not just an investment that feels right.” Ideally, that investment will allow him to buy equipment, hire employees, and "supercharge the business.”
Whether they won an award or not, participants left the Facebook Community Boost program inspired with ideas to grow their businesses; ideas that they could immediately implement. It’s just another example of how Buffalo is continuing to find ways to support small business success.
Horesh notes that, thanks to the efforts of several local organizations, more new businesses are coming to Buffalo, and this influx is making Western New York an ideal location for programs like Facebook Community Boost. “I’m very grateful that we can enjoy the benefits of that,” he said.