Capital Connect helps Buffalo’s underserved entrepreneurs find money, mentoring, and more

Many new entrepreneurs envision a great idea for a new business, but don’t know where to start. They have a goal and a drive to succeed, but may struggle getting access to capital. This is especially true in underserved minority and immigrant communities in Western New York. That’s where Capital Connect comes in.

Capital Connect joins four local Community Development Financial Institutions-- Launch NY, PathStone Enterprise Center, the West Side Economic Development Initiative (WEDI), and Excelsior Growth Fund--into a one-stop shop for new business owners.

“All four of us provided some forms of small business finance, and we wanted to be able to collaborate with each other in a way that would make it easier for small businesses to access capital in the area,” explained Hubert Van Tol, president of PathStone Enterprise Center. “Out of those discussions, we developed this idea of having a common portal that we can share which would make the process simpler for small businesses and would provide all of us with a less expensive way of developing clients.”

Capital Connect eliminates barriers to accessing capital and ensures every business owner gets the opportunity to start and grow. Quite often, a startup may have trouble getting traditional bank loans because they lack collateral or have credit problems. Because new entrepreneurs have difficulty securing bank financing, they might turn to online loan companies that are really predatory lenders. Capital Connect solves this problem by providing alternatives to traditional banks or loan companies so fledgling entrepreneurs can get the capital they need. 

Read more about Capital Connect's launch event here.

Networking and informational events are one way Capital Connect is getting the word out about business financing and services. Back in April, Capital Connect partnered with JP Morgan Chase to host roundtable discussions at the Beverly Gray Center in Buffalo, and the response was overwhelming—120 people attended the launch event.

“It was just a wonderful showing from the community of people who are interested in getting more capital to grow their businesses,” said Celine Keefe, marketing director at Launch NY. “So, we're finding that people are interested in learning more; they just need the opportunity to do it.”

Different entrepreneurs may have varying needs, so Capital Connect complements what Launch NY and other CDFIs are already doing. For example, Launch NY provides equity, so a business owner who needs equity rather than debt can access Launch NY’s services. WEDI mainly serves immigrant businesses looking for microloans. Excelsior Growth Fund focuses on existing companies that need large loans, while PathStone serves those in between WEDI and Excelsior. In the past, new startups had to figure out their financial needs on their own, but Capital Connect puts all of these CDFI services in one place. This makes it much easier for new business owners to find the services they’re looking for at a single point of entry.

An online form is available for entrepreneurs looking for assistance at, and Launch NY has a local platform that helps potential investors decide if they’d like to apply to donate. For both entrepreneurs and investors, the site is free to use.

Capital Connect’s long-term goal is to get more entrepreneurs involved and find the money and mentors they need to build their businesses, said Marnie LaVigne, president and CEO of Launch NY. She noted that the group is planning other activities in the future, and that it plans to promote services and success stories through

“We had a tremendous group of underrepresented entrepreneurs (at the launch event), including minorities and women who oftentimes are not presenting themselves at other programs or necessarily getting funding or support,” she said. “So, we're excited about the fact that we're pretty unique in inclusive entrepreneurship and diversity among the companies we help. It’s really a strong commitment of ours. It's a real priority.”

Read more articles by Jeff Dahlberg.

Jeff Dahlberg is a freelance writer and the author of “Not Just Snow and Chicken Wings: Positive Stories About Buffalo’s Rebirth.” He was born and raised in Western New York. A University at Buffalo and Second City graduate, he longs for the day when both the Bills win a Super Bowl and the Sabres win a Stanley Cup.
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