First Niagara incentives to spur growth of small businesses - The Buffalo News

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First Niagara incentives to spur growth of small businesses

First Niagara Financial Group has designated $400,000 to four nonprofit groups to stimulate small-business growth on or near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and has an additional $100,000 yet to be awarded.

Buffalo-based First Niagara is providing $100,000 each to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Inc., the Buffalo Urban League, the University at Buffalo Office of Economic Development and the Westminster Economic Development Initiative.

Each of those recipients will administer the funds to support entrepreneurs and startup companies on the campus and in the Fruit Belt, Allentown and West Side neighborhoods.

First Niagara executives say that through the $500,000 business development fund, they want to bolster small-business growth and job creation in a section of the city that is expected to grow substantially.

Buford Sears, First Niagara’s Buffalo market executive, said that about 7,000 people were working on the campus in 2001; by 2017, that number is projected to surpass 17,000.

Some of the new businesses supported by the fund could provide services to the companies and employees on the campus, as well as to the increased number of people expected to live nearby.

“This funding will support commercial and retail business growth to help build thriving neighborhoods,” said Gary M. Crosby, First Niagara’s president and CEO. “It will also fund organizations which are taking a holistic approach to help the surrounding areas to fully benefit from the investments and institutional growth taking place” on the Medical Campus.

The Buffalo Urban League will use its $100,000 for a loan fund for startups owned by minorities and women on or around the Medical Campus, said Grace Tate, vice president of community initiatives and human resources.

For years, the organization has had a state-supported revolving loan trust fund for minority- and women-owned businesses, Tate said. The funds from First Niagara “will expand our resources to loan more money to more people.” She said the organization now will be able to make loans to businesses getting off the ground, not just those already established. “This allows us to expand deeper and wider into our own community, to focus on the minority and women business community, and to give us a stake in what is happening” on the Medical Campus.

Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Inc. will use its $100,000 to provide seed funding for startups, particularly those that come to its attention through the new co-working space known as “dig,” short for “design innovation garage.” At dig, aspiring entrepreneurs work with mentors to turn their ideas into business plan. “So the next step is, ‘OK, I’ve got a business plan, now I need some money,’” said Patrick J. Whalen, chief operating officer of the Medical Campus, citing the First Niagara funds.

Sears said First Niagara chose to provide funding to organizations that could identify what the needs of the community were, and were also capable of administering those funds. The bank will evaluate the program’s results before deciding whether to allocate more funds in the future, he said.

First Niagara is inviting organizations to apply for selection to administer the remaining $100,000, with the same intent of supporting startups on or around the Medical Campus. The bank’s contact is Anthony M. Alessi, director of specialized banking operations and support services, at 819-5549, or


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