Campus News

Buffalo’s thriving startup economy keeps student entrepreneurs in WNY

photo of ColdSpace founders Elijah Tyson and Abid Alam

UB alumni Elijah Tyson (left) and Abid Alam co-founded ColdSpace, a company that's developing a refrigerator with food storage compartments, similar to lockers, that users can rent. Tyson is from Long Island, and Alam is from Chittagong, Bangladesh. Photo: ColdSpace

By CHARLOTTE HSU

Published November 26, 2018

“Buffalo is a great place to be right now. You’re on the ground floor of a city that’s really changing. ”
Ryan Jaquin, co-founder
Algorhythm Technologies

Through pitch contests, courses on entrepreneurship and more, UB and regional partners have invested increased resources in supporting the local startup community in recent years.

One sign that these efforts are paying off: UB students and graduates from outside the region are staying in Buffalo Niagara to pursue entrepreneurship.

“We’ve located the company here because that’s where our support is, and where all of our opportunity has come from,” says UB alumnus Shane Nolan, co-founder of Algorhythm Technologies, a music electronics startup whose first product — called LUNR (pronounced “lunar”) — enables musicians to mount a simple device to their electronic instrument or microphone to access sound effects such as distortion and reverb, which can eliminate the need for bulky, external pedal boards and complicated rack-mounted equipment.

Nolan is from Croton-on-Hudson in Westchester County. His co-founder at Algorhythm Technologies, Ryan Jaquin, is from Remsenburg in Suffolk County, Long Island. Both received a dual degree from UB — a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and an MBA — and they are among a number of recent UB graduates who have made Buffalo Niagara their home as they build their startups.

“We are really a part of the community here,” Nolan says. “There are so many resources at UB for students and for companies at all stages. It started with the business pitch competitions, and has continued with all the other opportunities, like mentoring and networking. We’re in the UB Technology Incubator now.”

“Buffalo is a great place to be right now,” Jaquin says. “You’re on the ground floor of a city that’s really changing. We think LUNR will truly change how musicians create their signature sound, and the constant mentorship we’ve received in Western New York’s startup community has helped us move this technology forward.”

Investments in entrepreneurial ecosystem

Algorhythm Technologies' co-founders Ryan Jaquin and Shane Nolan; Jaquin holds a big check for winning the Panasci competition; Nolan holds a guitar

Ryan Jaquin (left) and Shane Nolan, winners of the 2018 Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition for their company, Bitcrusher — now known as Algorhythm Technologies. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi.

Algorhythm Technologies — at the time the company was named Bitcrusher — was the 2018 winner of UB’s Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition, earning the company $25,000 in startup capital and in-kind services valued at $27,000. The contest — created by the School of Management and the Office of Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships (BEP), and funded with a $1 million endowment from the late Henry A. Panasci Jr. — has been a staple of the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem for many years.

But newer programs run by UB include a variety of pitch contests, UB’s Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars and the WNY Incubator Network (WIN), which is managed by BEP.

In the Entrepreneurship Lab (eLab), a three-credit course, students learn how to develop a business plan, pitch investors and engage potential customers and partners. Similarly, the Buffalo Student Sandbox acts as a bootcamp for startups, giving students the chance to work for eight weeks alongside a venture coach.

All of these initiatives were launched in the past five years or so, complementing efforts by regional partners such as Launch NY and 43North, the $1 million startup competition that has raised the profile of Buffalo Niagara’s startup economy nationwide.

“Innovation and a strong startup culture are vital to a flourishing economy, and we’re hearing from our students that there’s a lot to discover here at UB when it comes to entrepreneurship,” says Christina Orsi, associate vice president for economic development. “By investing in Western New York’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, we’re laying the foundation for economic growth that will bring new jobs to the region.”

Attracting talent from outside of the region

UB alumni who decided to stay in Buffalo Niagara to pursue entrepreneurship include Brian Bischoff and Oscar Lee, both from Staten Island, who started SmartPrint3D. Elijah Tyson from Long Island founded ColdSpace and Hustle Aesthetic. Dan Buckmaster, from Maywood, New Jersey, launched engineering services startup Tresca Design. He received his bachelor’s degree in aerospace and mechanical engineering from UB, and is staying to get a master’s degree.

Buckmaster and Tyson are past recipients of the Western New York Prosperity Fellowship, which provides up to $25,000, along with internship, mentoring and networking opportunities, to UB students who are actively preparing for careers that further economic development and growth, especially in Western New York.

Buffalo Niagara’s startup community is also drawing international talent.

Rohan Shah, who came to UB from India, is a computer science graduate and CEO of interactiveX, whose technology platform Classavo helps professors create engaging digital learning experiences and get real-time feedback of student learning. Classavo has been used by thousands of students, helping them reduce their spending on textbooks and other course materials.

Thiru Vikram, a UB computer science and electrical engineering student from India, is CEO of Buffalo Automation, an artificial intelligence startup that recently raised $900,000 to advance its driverless boat technology. The company’s AutoMate system has been installed on a number of Great Lakes freighters, with more sales expected soon in Europe’s shipping industry.

“It’s a tight-knit community here in Buffalo. All the entrepreneurs know what’s going on in the ecosystem, and we help each other out,” says Abid Alam, who co-founded ColdSpace with Tyson. Alam, a UB MBA student, came to Buffalo from Chittagong, a port city in Bangladesh.

He and Tyson both cite Buffalo Niagara’s supportive startup community and affordable cost of living as reasons they stayed in the region after completing undergraduate degrees at UB (Tyson holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Alam a bachelor’s degree in accounting).

Their company, ColdSpace, is developing a refrigerator with food storage compartments, similar to lockers, that users can rent. Their first prototype was installed this fall on the North Campus in the office of UB’s Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars. It’s a fitting location: Both serve as venture coaches at the LaunchPad, helping other UB students get their ideas off the ground.

“Taking the leap into entrepreneurship isn’t easy. Support is critical, and as a venture coach, I can tell students from a practical standpoint what it’s going to take, all the grit,” Tyson says. “I volunteer because I think we have a great startup culture here. I benefited from it, and now I’m sharing what I learned with the next entrepreneurs.”