Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate setting Monday to announce a new federal grant to encourage entrepreneurs in upstate New York.
At the former Trico Products windshield wiper factory now transformed into a gleaming new “innovation center,” other federal officials joined Gillibrand to highlight a $500,000 award from the Economic Development Administration to create an entrepreneurship mentoring program that will assist startup companies in 27 upstate counties. The money will be directed toward Launch NY, a nonprofit venture development organization.
“You are the ones who come up with the ideas,” Gillibrand told a gathering of entrepreneurs in the Ellicott Street facility, “not only as job creators but as innovators.”
The senator was joined by Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Jay Williams, the former mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, who is now assistant secretary of commerce in the Obama administration. He spoke passionately about the government’s role in encouraging new businesses to the approximately 30 executives gathered for a roundtable discussion of the challenges facing startups.
Williams said he knows from his Youngstown experience how former Rust Belt manufacturing centers can rebound if entrepreneurs can receive the necessary capital and guidance to launch new companies.
“This is what we are doing when we are at our best,” he said, “investing in places like Launch NY and Buffalo.”
Higgins also pointed to the location of Monday’s event at the northern edge of downtown Buffalo. It’s just down the street from the burgeoning Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and together they symbolize that “we are creating a dynamic new economy here in Buffalo.”
Sen. Charles E. Schumer did not attend Monday’s event, but he has also been active in the project and played a role in landing the EDA grant.
“Startup companies are the job-creating engines that will power our economic growth in the 21st century. But as any entrepreneur knows, the first few years can be especially challenging – that is why I made a personal call to acting Regional Administrator Williams and urged fast approval of this funding to support Launch New York,” he said in a statement. “Now, this federal funding, along with $637,000 we previously secured for Launch NY, will provide a real shot in the arm for upstate NY businesses that need the resources to get projects off the ground and create good-paying local jobs.”
Marnie LaVigne, Launch NY president, explained her organization was started in 2010 to pave the way for investments in business startups.
“High growth potential business are the job creators ... and something we have to support,” she said. “Who better than us to get rid of that Rust Belt reputation and turn us into ... the economy we can be? Finally, it’s not about a Rust Belt economy or loss of jobs.”
LaVigne pointed to the companies working out of the Innovation Center as part of the effort to encourage new companies to start up and create jobs in Buffalo and upstate New York.
The Economic Development Administration estimates the Launch NY project will create or retain an average of five jobs per company as well as increasing payrolls and revenues.
The EDA grant will help provide technical assistance along with legal, research and development resources to support new businesses. EDA said it relies on 1,600 mentors to work with startup firms throughout upstate – particularly in life sciences, advanced manufacturing, “clean tech,” and new information technology businesses.