What are they thinking? UpstartNY follows up with founders and leaders


UpstartNY checks in with startups, investors and entrepreneurs in the Western New York ecosystem whose stories we’ve shared within the last year. See how these determined and forward-thinking folks have dealt with changes since March.


Company: Architectural School for Kids

Founder: Polina Broitman
Featured on UpstartNY (October 25, 2019)

Her take:


The pandemic changed everything! Right before it started, I was feeling uplifted, having fun with students, making awesome and original projects together. Everyone was happy—the students exploring and creating, the parents seeing the development of their kids. From the moment the pandemic hit, everything went in the opposite direction; everyone was worried, anxious, and confused. Being a parent became much more demanding—online schooling, missing workdays, isolated at home. So my classes were canceled. I could have transferred everything to online then, but I didn’t. I guess I had to focus on other things as many others did—baking bread, gardening, spending time with my own kids, and cooking tasty meals for everyone. We spent awesome family quality time, including many hours in nature. The summer was good, and now we are ready and energized for a new school year. I had time to build new online learning programs, and starting mid-September, I open online classes for children from 6–9 and 10–13 years old. Many parents have shared concerns about schools not being able to satisfy all the needs for education, engagement, and development that they seek for their children. ASK’s program aims to develop creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving by introducing topics from architecture, design, art, nature, and storytelling. Each student follows their own ideas and is encouraged to develop their own concepts.


Company: Foodnerd

Founder/CEO: Sharon Cryan
Featured on UpstartNY (March 19, 2020)

Her take:


While the pandemic had an impact on how we do business, it’s also presented some unique opportunities that we might not have otherwise explored. We launched our first superfood product, OverNights, in May. Because we connect with our customers directly through our website, where they can purchase our products, our model hasn’t been disrupted all that much. We’re testing more products, growing our team, and working with some incredible partners to build out a manufacturing facility. Our team shifted to a virtual work environment, and stayed productive, even though we can’t work together in person. We’re excited about the products we have in R&D. We’re proud to back our products with research and science so that we can offer evidence-based nutrition to our customers. While we’re in the midst of this public health crisis, we’re doing our best to educate people on how we can take care of ourselves and prioritize our health and wellness. There is going to be a strong demand for products that can help people feel their best and we look forward to providing these solutions.


Organization: Launch NY

President/CEO: Marnie LaVigne

Featured on UpstartNY (August 27, 2020)


Her take:


Our region’s greatest resource is its brainpower. Even amidst a global pandemic, we still had significant activity across all of our Invest Local platforms. Inventors kept innovating, entrepreneurs kept creating and investors kept supporting. I am very proud of these fearless and formidable changemakers.


2020 second quarter investments from both Launch NY’s nonprofit Seed Fund and for-profit LP Fund totaled $385,000 across nine companies. The startups reflect Launch NY’s multifaceted approach to investment, and span from Buffalo to Syracuse, representing the food, technology, insurance and automotive industries, to name a few. Aviate Audio, a Buffalo company that has developed a unique wireless controller to put great music at a musician’s fingertips, was the 60th company added to Launch NY’s nonprofit Seed Fund portfolio and the 34th in its for-profit Limited Partner Fund portfolio.


Company: Viaduct

Managing Director: Pete Petrella

Featured on UpstartNY (February 21, 2020)


His take:


We haven’t seen much change in the demand for skilled talent in Upstate New York. Some businesses were forced to make difficult decisions early on, though hiring is still taking place. Viaduct’s technology practice has witnessed a surge, but the Buffalo area lacks an abundance of tech talent. To solve this problem, we’re participating in local initiatives to help candidates “re-skill” and have a better chance of securing employment. Candidates with proficient technical skills are in demand, especially at high-growth startups, in positions like software engineers, machine learning experts, and data analysts. Our company continues to assist startup organizations in adjusting their corporate operations team to match labor market conditions. Viaduct tries to predict the future through the lens of hiring and talent management trends, which are two great indicators of the economic climate. We’re optimistic that business will return to normal sooner rather than later. Recent market data shows lessening unemployment numbers and a hiring uptick. These are signs that companies are bullish on the general business outlook, which is great news for the American economy and the labor market.


Company: WeRadiate

Founder: Sashti Balansundaram

Featured on UpstartNY (January 23, 2020)


His take:


WeRadiate faced supply chain issues as a result of the pandemic, but we kept our focus on product innovation and market readiness, adjusting with improvements in our premium compost data management platform, and working to expand our market reach. We will now be on-boarding new compost facilities from the State of California after a successful $1.3M grant application through Cal-Recycle. As we expand our business and market traction, we are committed to the WNY region for manufacturing and building the capacity to enhance composting and food waste reduction across New York state using science and data.

Read more articles by Jana Eisenberg.

Jana Eisenberg is a Buffalo-based freelance writer/editor. In October, 2019, she was named managing editor of UpstartNY. She grew up in Los Angeles, called NYC home for 20 years, and now enjoys telling the stories of life in Western New York.
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