Startup companies looking to grow and scale their businesses in Western New York have a new source of early funding to help them navigate the entrepreneurial journey.
Through Cultivator — a new program from the startup ventures team at Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships (BEP) — UB invests up to $100,000 and nine months of mentorship in early-stage companies founded by students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members.
The first of its kind at the university and in the region, Cultivator helps tackle a bigger societal issue, according to Richard Kim, interim director of startup ventures.
“Entrepreneurs often turn to their savings accounts or rely on friends or family members to provide financial support in the initial stages of business. But for some, that’s not an option. Cultivator fills the gap with early-stage funding to give more people the opportunity to choose entrepreneurship and build good companies that can make impacts in our community” Kim says.
How it works
Cultivator is split into two phases. The first involves three months of collaborative work alongside experienced business coaches who guide participating entrepreneurs through market validation.
“A lot of times in medicine and science, we’ll come up with great ideas in the lab or a new technology or approach and think we’re just going to build this great thing and everybody’s going to want to use it,” says Adam Utley, a Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences alumnus who participated in an inaugural pilot group of the Cultivator with Immunaeon, the company he founded. “The Cultivator helped us to define who really has a need for the product we’re providing.”
Select teams from the first phase move on to the second, where funding comes into play. In phase two, teams receive an investment up to $100,000 from the Buffalo Innovation Seed Fund, an evergreen venture capital fund managed by BEP.
In addition to funding, teams in phase two continue to work with mentors who guide them over an additional six months to develop a business strategy and minimum viable product, as well as make connections with potential customers and investors. They also receive complimentary co-working space at UB’s business incubators — the Incubator @ CBLS downtown and the Incubator @ Baird near the North Campus.
To date, 22 teams have participated in parts of Cultivator. Five teams have moved onto the second phase and received investments, including Immunaeon, Real Talk, Oro Sports, Embodi (formerly Alo) and Lemma Labs.
School of Management MBA alumna Janelle Fore, co-founder and CEO of Real Talk, says Cultivator has facilitated growth for her company, including a key milestone. “What has been the most helpful part of Cultivator is the honest feedback from mentors, entrepreneurs-in-residence and fellow founders. Our team has managed to become a revenue-generating business thanks to our phase two development,” Fore says.
Program part of larger ambition
Rick Gardner, associate vice president for economic development, explains that the university’s goal to accelerate and increase the velocity of startups in the greater Buffalo area is part of a larger regional objective.
“In the last decade, significant public and private investments have been made to grow Western New York’s startup ecosystem. The region is now experiencing the intended outcomes of those efforts,” Gardner says. “In 2021, Western New York startups received over $530 million in venture capital investment, more than doubling the volume of investment in any previous year.
“Through programs like Cultivator, UB is poised to help continue that trajectory as we advance the next generation of technologies and build early-stage startups.”