Local group aims to grow local economy by helping entrepreneurs

Dec 13, 2017

Where do you go if you've got a great idea for a new product or business but need advice on how to get started? And how to fund your dream? A local organization is giving entrepreneurs across the region a leg up.

Credit LaunchNY.org

When Rachel Jackson, a working mom in Buffalo, invented a wearable device that helps make nursing mothers more comfortable she contacted Launch New York (LaunchNY) for help getting her product to market.  "I can't stress enough how much Launch New York has done for us," Jackson said.

She formed Rachel's Remedy in 2014 and two years later the medical device company received a $50,000 investment from LaunchNY's Seed Fund. 

Rachel Jackson, founder of Rachel's Remedy
Credit Chris Caya WBFO News

"So now we're selling nationally and we're about to go global with one of our products. So we're really excited about that," Jackson said.

LaunchNY is headquartered on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

"Our mission is specifically to help high-growth potential businesses on behalf of creating a thriving economy. But the second piece that we are constantly working on is creating a self-sustaining and robust entrepreneurial ecosystem," said Marnie LaVigne, LaunchNY's President and CEO. She points out, that   Kauffman Foundation reports show net new job growth in the U.S. is mostly due to high-growth companies less than 5-years old.
"If we are not in a community that has new businesses spawning every day, literally, we are not going to be in a position to be a thriving community in the future. We are well aware of the loss of industry the loss of population. Entrepreneurship and high-growth potential innovation-based businesses really are the key to our future," LaVigne said.  

Credit LaunchNY.org

LaunchNY is a nonprofit Venture Development Organization with partners in Rochester, Syracuse, Binghampton, and Ithaca. Since starting in 2012, LaVigne says, they've helped hundreds of businesses across upstate's 27 westernmost counties. 

"We now have 18 Entrepreneurs-in-Residence who provide free one-on-one tailored business support and coaching to high-growth potential companies. At any given time in a year will be servicing over 200 companies across that region. All sectors," LaVigne said.  
Jackson says, her company's Entrepreneur-in-Residence helps with day-to-day financial matters, manufacturing, and getting FDA clearance.

"The mentoring that we've gotten through LaunchNY has just been an incredible resource for us. I can't imagine all the different places we would have had to go for that or how we would've even found people like that to talk to," Jackson said.  

Along with mentoring, LaunchNY started offering seed funding, or high-risk capital, in March 2016. LaVigne says, unlike other states, fifty percent of their funding is from the federal government. The other half is from private investors including the Ralph Wilson Foundation. She says the goal is to attract investors who want to see businesses grow here. 

Credit LaunchNY.org

"There are many different ways that you can help these entrepreneurs and money is an important part. But also experts and experienced business and industry input is absolutely vital."  

And she believes the philanthropy motive is starting to grow.  
"And in fact that spirit of Buffalo rising up from the Rust Belt reputation, and frankly all the cities and rural areas in our region, there is a real love of these areas by people who grew up here or went to school here and those individuals are very much wanting to figure out how can they give back to their community," LaVigne said.

Their portfolio includes a variety of businesses. In the seed fund's first year, the nonprofit invested in 17 companies. And LaVigne says about a half-dozen received co-investment.

Marnie LaVigne, LaunchNY President and CEO
Credit Chris Caya WBFO News

"We know that having those kinds of dollars going into deals that have been vetted and assisted, curated by us, that's where we will continue to attract investors who want to see that businesses grow here and will continue to fuel that activity," LaVigne said.  

Jackson, who's working on a third product, says when she came up with her first idea she never envisioned having a whole line of medical devices.  

"LaunchNY and the Entrepreneurs-in-Residence and that support network has been so important to our growth. You know people think of Buffalo and they don't realize really what's going on here with our entrepreneurial community. But, I have seen it grow so much, since I was practicing law and working with small companies. It just didn't exist ten years ago like it does now. So it's really exciting to be a part of it," Jackson said.   

LaVigne says, entrepreneurship in Western New York is still in its earliest stages and it's open to everyone. She says she hopes others catch the fever.