BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Downstate and out-of-town investors are coming
to Buffalo in May looking for deals and new ideas. The 2012 Venture
Forum is attracting new attention from investment firms from New
York City, Ohio, California, Maryland, Illinois and
The 2012 Venture Forum is a collaboration between the Bright
Forum -- Buffalo Niagara's premier event for connecting investors
and entrepreneurs -- and the Center for Economic Growth's
SmartStart UNYTECH Venture Forum.
For the first time, the two events, typically at opposite ends
of the New York State Thruway, have joined forces to capitalize on
their past success. The annual forums have introduced more than 255
companies to the venture capital community with more than 60
companies raising over $500 million in equity financing, including
$72 million directly attributable to companies' participation over
the past 11 years.
One newcomer this year, Managing Director Richard Stuebi from
Early Stage Partners in Cleveland, Ohio, said, "The ground for
venture entrepreneurship has the inherent conditions to be fertile
in upstate and Western New York; we would like to better get to
know the opportunities."
Stuebi said his firm has to date been regionally focused on Ohio
and Michigan, but that they are considering expanding into what he
thinks may be an underserved market as they begin planning for
their third fund.
"The Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse markets, stretching to include
Cornell, have a history of innovation, given the region's research
universities and the legacy of such pioneering corporations as
Kodak and Xerox." Stuebi added: "We want to make contacts, look for
potential co-investors in our portfolio companies, and build deal
flow for future funds."
Early Stage Partners is a venture capital firm formed in 2001
with the belief that the Midwest would create a significant number
of early-stage technology companies that would provide attractive
Another first-time attendee this year, Thomas Parkinson, a
partner with Hopewell Ventures in Chicago, Ill., said a Venture
Forum email got him thinking of the good networking opportunities
for his company's new fund.
"I could consider the event a success if we get to meet the
leaders in the investment community and those persons active in
supporting upstate/Western New York's entrepreneurial community,"
Hopewell provides equity capital and strategic expertise to
high-growth businesses, primarily in the Midwest, with a current
focus on central and northern Appalachia, including parts of New
York State. Parkinson said the growing investment in shale as an
energy resource piqued the firm's interest in attending the Venture
Forum and learning more about the entrepreneurial activity in this
Managing Partner Timothy O'Neill of Golden Seeds in New York
City feels it's incumbent on the city-located investment firms to
reach beyond their urban boundaries.
"Good ideas are not the sole purview of major metropolitan
areas," O'Neill commented. "While it's easy to find many investment
opportunities in the city, we need to push ourselves
geographically, and it's exciting to hear about what's happening
elsewhere in the state."
A newcomer to the Venture Forum, O'Neill said it was a good
place to start connecting with upstate and Western New York
entrepreneurs and investors.
Golden Seeds is one of six companies that received a grant
through the federally funded Innovate NY Fund, which will be
addressed in opening remarks at the forum by Steven Cohen, Empire
State Development's (ESD) deputy commissioner and senior vice
president for community economic development. Distributed through
ESD, Golden Seeds received $4 million to invest in general
technology, life science, or consumer product focused seed stage
businesses located across the state.
Golden Seeds now has two seed/early stage venture funds and the
fourth largest angel investor network in the U.S. It invests in
young companies with women in senior management positions who also
have significant equity positions in the companies.
Former Western New Yorker and Managing Partner Thomas Matthews
Neale of Patriot Capital in Baltimore, Md., whose firm has invested
across the country, is optimistic about the value-add manufacturing
and service companies in Western New York.
"We want to invest in New York and are looking for opportunities
in former heavy manufacturing industrial cities such as Buffalo
with its very capable and highly skilled workforce," said
Patriot Capital is a mezzanine funder, working with other
private equity firms interested in investing in middle-market
companies in the 30-80 employee range. Neale says Patriot Capital
looks for companies with good management and a minimum of $3
million in annual cash flow that want capital to expand their
businesses, make acquisitions or recapitalize.
The 2012 Venture Forum (May 16-17) features a series of pitch
sessions where entrepreneurs present ideas to investors. Primary
sponsors include the University at Buffalo's New York State Center
of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, The Center for
Economic Growth, and Superior Group, a global workforce and
business solutions provider.
Marnie LaVigne, associate vice president for economic
development at UB, welcomes the alternative perspectives that new
investors bring to the forum and is hopeful that it's the beginning
of many fruitful relationships.
"The Venture Forum is all about accelerating the growth of
high-tech companies in upstate New York by facilitating
deal-making," she said. She continued, "Events like these are
vitally important because Kaufmann Foundation studies have shown
that new net job growth comes from young companies, so innovation
and entrepreneurship have to be a centerpiece of transforming our
To register for this year's Forum or to learn more, visit www.brightbuffaloniagara.com.