Local venture capitalists Jordan A. Levy and Ronald M. Schreiber, with a $4 million boost from New York State and support from a handful of area companies, are forming an incubator to help fledgling digital media firms develop here.
The idea behind the Z80 Labs Technology Incubator is to jump-start a high-tech sector in the Buffalo Niagara region, which lags behind other parts of the country in high-tech innovation and entrepreneurship.
The incubator will provide support services, guidance and advice from a wide range of prominent industry investors and entrepreneurs who have been recruited by Levy and Schreiber for support. Each entrepreneur who is part of the incubator will work with at least one mentor assigned to help that fledgling business.
"We're going to change the way young people think about digital media in Buffalo," said Levy, who, like Schreiber, is a partner at venture capital firm Softbank Capital.
That starts with showing talented college graduates and entrepreneurs that there are opportunities to start businesses here in the high-tech world and that it's not necessary to move to New York City or Los Angeles to do it, Levy said.
It also involves nurturing a sense of entrepreneurship -- and risk-taking -- among those young people, to encourage them to think about starting their own businesses, rather than working for another company, Levy said.
"We have tons of entrepreneurs in Buffalo," Levy said, from the restaurant owner to the local dry cleaner. "We've got to look at celebrating entrepreneurship and celebrating risk-takers."
Using their contacts in the technology sector and the venture capital world, Levy and Schreiber have lined up more than a dozen prominent tech officials to host special events, teach classes and conduct review sessions with incubator companies. Those include Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, Mark Pincus of Zynga and Dan Porter of OMGPOP.
Several local companies are providing support for the incubator, which will be located on the first floor of The Buffalo News building at Washington and Scott streets.
"I'm thrilled we're able to be part of it," said Warren T. Colville, president of The News. "It's a great opportunity to hopefully stimulate some business in Buffalo and help develop some new companies that hopefully will stay in Buffalo."
Synacor, a local Internet content provider, is helping with public relations and human resources. PC Business Solutions is assisting with the incubator's infrastructure and website. Campus Labs also is providing support, with company co-founder Eric Reich serving on the incubator's investment committee.
The investment committee will oversee the $4 million in funding that is being provided through an Innovate New York grant from Empire State Development Corp. That funding will be used to make investments in incubator participants that the committee believes show promise, Levy said. The state grant will not be used to fund the incubator's day-to-day operations, which are being financed by Levy and Schreiber, along with Softbank.
Ronald Frankel, Synacor's CEO, said that retaining and attracting top technology is important for the Internet content provider, and creating an entrepreneurial environment for technology businesses could provide a spark for the local tech sector. Frankel also serves on the incubator's investment committee.
Levy and Schreiber have built two successful technology companies in Buffalo Niagara. In 1981, they founded Software Distribution Services in Buffalo, a wholesale company that formed the nucleus of Ingram Micro's current operations in Amherst. In 1990, after selling Software Distribution Services to Ingram and holding executive positions there, Schreiber and Levy formed the call center company Upgrade Corp. of America, which was eventually acquired by Softbank.
"We've been fortunate to have built two immensely successful companies here in Western New York and hope we can inspire others to stay in the Buffalo area and build great companies right here in our hometown," Schreiber said.