Synergy and support: Launch NY celebrates investors and entrepreneurs

What do green energy initiatives, pierogi, and drones have in common? They are all Buffalo-born enterprises under the Launch NY entrepreneurial umbrella.

Viridi Parente, Ru’s Pierogi, and Eagle Hawk were among the two dozen featured portfolio companies and its Emerging Cleantech Opportunity incubator clients that participated in Launch NY’s inaugural Invest Local Summit and Expo at UB’s Clinical and Translation Research Center on Feb. 6, 2019. More than 200 entrepreneurs, investors, funders, and other stakeholders attended.

At the event, Launch NY introduced its new Investor Network, which will afford accredited investors the opportunity to participate in funding companies they select from Launch NY’s robust pipeline of seed and early-stage client businesses. The Investor Network works in tandem with Launch NY’s nonprofit seed fund, which is built on donations and grants. Formed in 2016, it is one of the most active seed fund in New York state.

“We saw the demand for the Investor Network because we have such a rich pipeline of promising entrepreneurs who are ready to take off with an injection of capital,” said Marnie LaVigne, CEO and president of Launch NY. “Our investment team made it clear to me that they want to do more. In fact, our startup company clients have requested nearly 30 times the capital we have deployed to date. Now is the time to build on this momentum to meet the growing demand.”

The event was a celebration of the power of local investment and its ability to create unique business opportunities that contribute to our region’s economic prosperity. Entrepreneurs are the visionaries who create the new work, and it’s the investors that help make it so.

Launch NY’s seed fund invested more than $1.6 million in 35 companies. Of these, 34 percent are women-owned, and 23 percent are minority-owned. Funders and sponsors are the backbone, with the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, New York State Energy Development Authority, Viaduct, and the Local Initiative Support Corporation that specifically fund the Invest Local program.

The support is essential, and so is the mentoring and shared wisdom.

“Investors are pivotal to our success, along with advice and expertise,” said Olivia Goldstein, COO and co-founder of RepHike, (a company that developed software used to vet and share social media content).

Paul Buckley, one of Launch NY’s two dozen Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, acknowledges that investors have the resources that startups need, and entrepreneurs accumulate the data that demonstrates need for innovation.

Investors and co-investors work under the Launch NY umbrella to target entrepreneurs who have products or services that are in demand or can spark demand with a consumer base within and beyond our region. This goes beyond sharing a vision and forming a partnership.

“You want to find someone who can return on your investment, and who does it well, and who is committed,” said Jack McGowan, director of The Buffalo Angels, a division of the Western New York Venture Association. “We don’t invest in ideas: we invest in a team.”

Entrepreneurs embrace the opportunity to grow their enterprise through wise investment, too. When Michele Liddle, founder of The Perfect Granola, was developing her granola and granola bar recipes in 2016, she knew there were other companies creating specialty granola blends. Her products--tested first by her two young children--would be more than delicious, healthy, gluten-free, vegan alternatives. They would be tangible ways to give back. Liddle shares 5 percent of her proceeds with homeless shelters, outreach centers, and food pantries in 23 communities. While her appealing flavor profiles earned her shelf space in Wegmans, Tops, ShopRite, and other regional retailers, her smart growth, vision, and position as a Launch NY portfolio company helped her launch a second enterprise in 2018. Perfect Foods and Manufacturing is a cold-pack manufacturing facility in Rochester that will employ students with an interest in food and who need good work. “We will invest in kids to help break the cycle of poor eating habits, poverty, and limited opportunities,” said Liddle.

Vision like this requires support. As Maurice A. Jones, president and CEO of LISC, told the crowd, “We need some companies to support the economic development of Western New York, and to keep talent here, and to invest in today and tomorrow. We’re happy to be on the team. We need more teammates. Now is the time. Let’s go.”

Launch NY is upstate New York’s first and only venture development organization to provide pro bono mentoring and capital access to high-growth potential startup businesses across the 27 westernmost counties of the state. Its Emerging Cleantech Opportunity Incubator is one of only six in the state and was launched last year. This event was sponsored by Freed Maxick.

Read more articles by Cherie Messore.

Cherie Messore is a native Buffalonian and has longtime experience in the region's vibrant not-for-profit sector with special interests in the cultural community and education. She is also a freelance writer, public relations practitioner, and volunteer docent at Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House.
Signup for Email Alerts