The following blog was shared with Forge Buffalo by Rick Gardner, the Director of Startup Ventures at the University at Buffalo. A partner of Buffalo’s startup community, the Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships (BEP) at the University at Buffalo builds bridges between academia and industry, helps commercialize new technology, and provides students with experiential learning and employment opportunities.
In this guest blog, Gardner provides valuable insights on the importance of building a thriving startup ecosystem in Buffalo and the Western New York region.
Someone asked me the other day, “why are you so passionate about building a startup ecosystem in Buffalo? Why does it matter?” It’s a great question with a somewhat simple answer. Building a thriving startup ecosystem in Buffalo means boosting the economy, creating a talent source that generates jobs and several more obvious economic benefits. But the less apparent and somewhat more important reason is that being viewed as a hub of innovation with an entrepreneurial culture brings more businesses to the region, which creates more opportunities, brings more investors, more talent, and so on and so forth. Basically, success begets success.
“Being viewed as a hub of innovation with an entrepreneurial culture brings more businesses to the region, which creates more opportunities, brings more investors, more talent, and so on and so forth. Basically, success begets success.”
– Rick Gardner, Director of Startup Ventures at the University at Buffalo
I spent the first part of my career at large companies learning how to create products, what the market will buy and how to build teams that will be successful. I transitioned my career to the startup world about 8 years ago because I realized I could improve startup success by clarifying the market opportunity, defining the need and developing the strategies and teams that build the products.
As the Director of Startup Ventures at the University at Buffalo, my main goals are to grow and accelerate the university and partner startups’ total value creation by putting them on a path to success. I’m able to feed the startup ecosystem by helping to commercialize university technology and student startups. It’s an excellent opportunity to make a difference in a community that has a passion for growth.
I’m not originally from Buffalo, but I had spent a lot of time in the city on business before moving here last year. When I looked at the community, I saw a strong coalition of experienced entrepreneurs who wanted to help build the ecosystem, support from the state and others to facilitate economic growth via startups, a fundamentally strong research university and other institutions that were engaged in research and innovation and growing investments in the region’s startups. The strong sense of community and authentic passion for growth always struck me, and I wanted to be a part of it.
BUILDING BRIDGES TO DRIVE COLLABORATION
Building a thriving startup ecosystem doesn’t happen overnight. Several factors go into laying the groundwork for success. At the University at Buffalo Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships (BEP), we strive to impact Western New York, New York State and beyond by building bridges between academia and industry to help commercialize new technology. We work with startups in their very early stages, so early that some haven’t even formed a company. Our approach involves expert coaching, guidance, and mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs, early-stage funding, incubation space, and connections to the broader ecosystem and investors.
We help researchers turn new discoveries, innovations and unique ideas into commercial applications and help launch faculty and student-led start-ups. We also guide business-university partnerships and help facilitate university/industry opportunities that support research collaborations, projects and licensing agreements.
TEAMING UP TO GROW TECH IN BUFFALO
Part of the BEP, the Innovation Hub (I-HUB) consists of the University at Buffalo’s collaborative effort with our partners, Jacobs Institute, Roswell Park, Hauptman-Woodward and Kaleida Health, to start and grow more technology companies in Buffalo and the Western New York region. There is a ton of innovation within these partner institutions. I-HUB helps get those innovations into the world via startups and addresses some of the key challenges to a startup’s success by building an inclusive and diverse innovation culture and ease of access to services, resources and funding.
Think of the University at Buffalo and the BEP as a “feeder” to the startup ecosystem. The university and its partners have a tremendous amount of innovation that needs a pathway to the market. BEP provides the early funding and entrepreneurial support to get these innovations out of the lab and on a path towards commercialization. The university also has a great deal of entrepreneurial potential in the student and faculty populations. University of Buffalo’s programs, such as Blackstone LaunchPad, BEP, and I-HUB provide inclusive experiential learning and culture change opportunities that can also feed the ecosystem. Again, success begets success.
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