This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Bright Forum helps lay foundation
for stronger, high-tech economy

Published: May 3, 2012

The climate for high-tech investment in Western New York has improved steadily over the past few years, and a driver of new successes is an annual investor forum that’s happening again this spring.

The Bright Forum is Buffalo Niagara’s premier event for introducing investors to promising technologies from across New York and Ontario.

Hosted by Bright Buffalo Niagara, a coalition of regional partners led by the UB, the forum features a series of pitch sessions where entrepreneurs present ideas to investors. Sponsors include UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, and Superior Group, a global workforce and business-solutions provider.

This year, the event will take place May 16-17 in the form of the 2012 Venture Forum, a collaboration between the Bright Forum and the Center for Economic Growth’s SmartStart UNYTECH Venture Forum.

Since its inception in 2009, the Bright Forum has not only catalyzed deal-making, but helped lay the foundation for a successful entrepreneur economy.

Eric Leinberg, president of InfoPreserve, a Rochester-area firm that provides a private, cloud-based platform for securing and managing digital records, says his company met one of its early investors through the Bright Forum and later connected at the forum with another prospective investor from Pittsburgh.

Jack McGowan, director of the Western New York Venture Association/Buffalo Angels, says the Bright Forum has enabled him to raise his organization’s profile and meet investors from other cities who may be interested in co-investment opportunities.

Marnie LaVigne, UB associate vice president for economic development, says the Bright Forum helped spur the creation of Launch New York, a new nonprofit that will accelerate the growth of high-tech companies in upstate New York by facilitating deal-making and serving as a direct investor.

Launch New York will provide high-potential startups with capital and expert assistance in commercialization and other crucial areas. One goal is to develop university research into products and services available to consumers.

“As we build a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem in Buffalo Niagara and neighboring regions, the Bright Forum connects investors with entrepreneurs who have urgent business needs,” says Scott Stenclik, president of Superior Group. “Given our expanding business in applying human resources solutions in regional and global high-tech sectors, our firm sees creative partnerships like the Bright Forum as a critical piece of growing a knowledge-based economy.”

Adds LaVigne: “All net, new job growth in the U.S. in the past 30 years has come from young companies, as shown by the Kauffman Foundation. Innovation and entrepreneurship have to be a centerpiece of transforming our region’s economy.”

Launch New York emerged from conversations between regional leaders and the Bright Forum’s 2009 luncheon keynote speaker from JumpStart Ventures, an organization driving the creation of high-growth companies in the Cleveland area.

“Everyone was so impressed, hearing what Cleveland had done to drive entrepreneurship as traditional industry struggled, that a group of us were motivated to bring the talent and funding together to make the same effort here,” LaVigne explains.

In accordance with a Regional Entrepreneurship Action Plan developed in collaboration with JumpStart, Launch New York was incorporated at the end of 2011. Regional supporters include UB, the John R. Oishei Foundation, National Grid, Erie County Industrial Development Agency, Genesee County Economic Development Center and Tompkins County Area Development.

The nonprofit will serve a 27-county region spanning upstate New York. The organization has received seed funding from New York State through the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council and is now applying for a federal Economic Development Administration grant.

Launch New York is just one example of how the Bright Forum helps build meaningful, long-term relationships between Western New York and partners that can facilitate the growth of the region’s high-tech economy.

McGowan says the Buffalo Angels network decided to join the national Angel Capital Association in 2010 after meeting the association’s chair, a keynote speaker, at the Bright Forum.

Leinberg notes that the Pittsburgh investor he met through the Bright Forum not only introduced InfoPreserve to the investor’s angel group, but has taken a personal interest in assisting the company. The investor has visited Rochester, where InfoPreserve introduced him to other emerging companies from the region.

“Success is all about making the right connections with investors, advisors and customers,” he says. “The Bright Forum has been a catalyst in making some of those initial connections.”