Building Buffalo’s New Economy
For most of the last several decades, the story of Buffalo’s economy has been one of loss. Thousands of good-paying jobs were lost in industries like manufacturing, causing a subsequent loss in population. Something else was lost, too. After being a hub of innovation for most of its history (thank Buffalonians for air conditioners, internal pacemakers, and Buffalo wings!), Buffalo lost some of its entrepreneurial spirit. But with the help of several new initiatives, this spirit is coming back.
This summer I’ve had the amazing opportunity to work as an operations intern at 43North in Buffalo. 43North is a local not-for-profit that runs an annual business plan competition, awarding $5 million in prize money to 9 of their finalists. It is the largest competition of its kind in North America and draws applications from countries all over the world. However, unlike many other startup incubators and investors of its kind, 43North does not seek to simply grow successful companies for maximum return on investment. Rather, the purpose of 43North is to foster a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem within Buffalo and the Western New York Region. As part of Governor Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion,” 43North provides incubation space to all competition winners and helps them become successful and grow roots in Buffalo.
So far, one of the main themes of the High Road has been that Buffalo’s people are its greatest asset. In the pre-course, we learned how Buffalo produces many qualified college graduates each year but lacks enough suitable jobs to keep them in the area. 43North helps alleviate this problem by creating jobs in the technology and life sciences sectors. The importance of 43North’s work in Buffalo cannot be overstated, as it is slowly bringing about a major change in Buffalo’s economy.
I’ve done a variety of work during my time at 43North. The most long-term—and arguably most impactful—component of my work has been the creation of a list of local resources for 43North competition winners. These resources include potential clients, manufacturers, and distribution partners. The creation of a sophisticated database of local resources for start-up companies is a small yet important part of convincing these businesses to stay in Buffalo as they grow, which keeps jobs and talent in the area. Another key task that I have been working on for the last few weeks has been managing judging logistics. This consists primarily of assigning judges to grade applications in the early rounds, scheduling live-pitch meetings with judges and companies, and emailing judges to answer questions and enforce deadlines. This is a very detailed process that has helped me hone both my Excel and organization skills. I have also had the opportunity to work on a marketing campaign for the finale of 43North’s first-ever Ignite Buffalo competition, which is a competition that gives out 27 grants to local small businesses. Recently, another part of my job has been conducting phone interviews with advisors of the companies currently in 43North’s competition. This has been very fun, as I have had the opportunity to lead conversations with some very influential business leaders; just last Thursday I spoke with the first-ever employee at Yahoo! who now helps run the most prestigious startup accelerator in Silicon Valley. 43North is truly bringing in some of the top talent in the world.
I’ve had a great experience working for 43North. As an organization, it has a fantastic culture and dedicated employees. Everyone sits at the same table in the open office space, which creates a collaborative environment and allows everyone’s voices to be heard. The company has a clear vision for how it will make a positive impact on Buffalo’s economy, as well as a demonstrable commitment to diversity and inclusion within their sponsored businesses. Working with them has been an incredibly educational experience for me. I have been able to build my communication and research skills, and have learned a great deal about the processing of investing in early-stage companies. Moreover, my job at 43North has made me consider a career in economic development and entrepreneurship post-graduation. I’m excited by how 43North has already made an impact on the area after just four years; its 2017 cohort was the most successful ever and has been hiring more employees in the first year than past cohorts! Although 43North’s role in Buffalo’s new economy is just one piece of a very large puzzle, I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of it!