Published January 22, 2015
In an event celebrating the opportunity for both social change and economic development, Bak USA officially opened its U.S. headquarters in Buffalo last week, partnering with UB and New York State in a venture to produce low-cost tablets and cell phones for developing countries in Africa.
The Danish company headed by founders J.P. Bak and his wife, Ulla, came to Buffalo through the START-UP NY program, which is spurring economic development by enabling universities to identify areas where new and expanding businesses can operate for 10 years without paying New York State taxes or franchise fees.
In the six months since receiving START-UP NY designation, Bak USA has established its headquarters at Compass East in Buffalo (the former Sheehan Hospital), trained its first operators and assembled the first 500 of the 80,000 tablets it anticipates producing in 2015.
The company has hired 20 employees and plans to train and hire as many as 100 people, many of whom will be from the city neighborhood where Bak USA is based.
Bak USA’s grand-opening on Jan. 15 was celebrated by President Satish K. Tripathi and a host of local dignitaries, including Buffalo Major Byron Brown; Rep. Brian Higgins; Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes; Thomas Kucharski, president and CEO of Buffalo Niagara Enterprise; and Howard Zemsky, incoming president, CEO and commissioner of Empire State Development.
“Today is a celebration of a dream come true for Bak USA and the 20 members of our company ‘family,’” said Ulla Bak, president, Bak USA. “In just six months, we’ve achieved so much and are poised to create the 250 jobs we promised to Buffalo.
“J.P. and I have lived in quite a few countries in the world and we have established a few enterprises besides this one,” she added. “But when we came to Buffalo we received a welcome which we have never received before.”
“When you have a startup… you need support from day one. We have been heavily supported by START-UP NY but, indeed, also by the University at Buffalo, who is our future partner when it comes to research and development. We hope to create some unique changes in technology and we look forward to doing that with UB students in our little lab that we have established in our new facility.”
To lead its R&D efforts, Bak USA hired UB PhD graduate Bilel Neji.
The company will be engaging UB engineering students in a senior design course, which will provide students with hands-on experience and help the company advance product development and efficiency. The Baks also intend to collaborate with the School of Management’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership in developing social entrepreneurship programs and activities.
“UB’s participation in Gov. Cuomo’s START-UP NY program aligns very naturally with our academic mission: from new internship opportunities for our students and new professional pathways for our graduates, to new opportunities for our faculty to lend their expertise to industrial research and development,” Tripathi said.
“Our partnership with Bak USA is the perfect illustration of the power and impact of these academic linkages. Bak believes strongly in the vision we are realizing in Buffalo, and shares our commitment to investing in our community and creating opportunities for the people who live here. We are delighted that Bak has chosen to be a key part of the bright future we are building for our great city, and we are excited to partner with Bak USA in helping to make that future a reality.”
Through START-UP NY, UB has partnered with 24 companies, including Bak USA. The companies anticipate creating 1,273 jobs in Buffalo and investing more than $28 million in infrastructure improvements over the next five years.
Bak is one of the first companies in the world to produce own-branded electronic tablets outside of Asia. The tablet PC devices are primarily marketed to Third World countries for educational purposes.
J.P. Bak said the company’s grand opening represents much more than the establishment of the company’s world headquarters in Buffalo.
“We created Bak USA because we wanted to be able to put affordable products on the market which would help students learn all around the world; products that would last for a long time and that would truly make an impact where help was needed,” he said. ”There are 750 million people in the word who are illiterate because they have no access to educational materials, and 150 million children will follow in their footsteps because they do not have access to schools or adequate resources.
“While Bak USA is a very small step towards tackling this urgent problem, it is a step nonetheless: we can begin to contribute towards solving world illiteracy.”