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Venture capitalists gather here to see promising inventions UNYTECH05 attracts 200 visitors

Upstate New York is sprouting more start-up technology companies -- and attracting more capital to grow them, participants in a venture forum in Amherst said Thursday.

That's important for cities that, like Buffalo, hope high-tech growth will fill some of the economic gap left by factory closings.

The Buffalo region was a magnet for venture capitalists on Wednesday and Thursday, as firms came to hear about inventions coming from universities across upstate.

The UNYTECH05 venture forum, held this year in Amherst, attracted 200 visitors, including venture capital fund representatives and 35 individual investors, organizers said.

Visitors heard ideas for things like a 20-year battery fueled by radioactive decay; nanomaterials that store data at the atomic level, and better filters for the soot spewed by diesel engines.

"There are a lot of opportunities for investors -- a lot of companies out there looking for money," said Scott Murphy, principal in Advantage Capital Partners in New York. The firm has a $75 million fund devoted to investing within the state.

The event was organized by 10 universities, including the University at Buffalo and Alfred University, to showcase laboratory spinoff companies. Two local start-ups, Buffalo BioBlower Technologies and OsteoInvent Biologics, gave presentations on their inventions for air sterilization equipment and bone-regeneration technology, respectively.

Upstate New York may not have the draw of Boston or New York, but neither is it as foreign to venture investors as in years past, investors and university technology experts said.

Funding availability "is improving," said Scott MacFarlane of Cornell University's technology licensing office. The university generates about 200 inventions a year and applies for half that many patents, he said.

In addition to start-up funds, local venture firms provide credibility and contacts to attract further investments from out-of-state firms, he said.

"Good ideas get funded . . . if (people) know they're out there," said John A. Cococcia, principal in FA Technology Ventures in Albany, a $100 million fund.

Venture deals are happening more often than a decade ago, according to the "Moneytree" survey of venture investing by PricewaterhouseCoopers. A typical year in the early 1990s saw 10investments upstate, about a third as many as the current pace. Moreover, the survey doesn't include non-venture investments from wealthy individuals known as "angel" investors, who are an important source of seed money.

However, venture investing has cooled from its pace during the tech boom. Upstate firms attracted 29 deals for $104 million in 2004, compared to 33 deals for $302 million in the peak year of 2000, the survey said.

Besides, it takes more than money to get business ideas off the ground, experts said.

"One of the big challenges we've found in upstate New York is (lack of) experienced entrepreneurial management," Murphy of Advantage Capital said. "That's a big part of our ability to bring in other investors."

In addition to venture firms, large corporations with operations in the Buffalo region like Moog and National Grid attended UNYTECH. Established companies can be important partners for start-ups, or buyers of their technology.

UNYTECH, short for Universities of Upstate New York Venture Forum, was the third such annual event, and the first to be held in the Buffalo area.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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