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Conference to match startups, investors; Venture Forum 2012 merges two initiatives

The Buffalo Niagara region is hosting a joint conference next week aimed at encouraging innovation in the private sector and introducing entrepreneurs to the investors who can help bring their bright ideas to the marketplace.

Organizers for the first time are merging Buffalo's Bright Buffalo Niagara investment conference with the Upstate SmartStart UNYTECH Venture Forum, a production of the Center for Economic Growth in Albany.

Their Venture Forum 2012 collaboration is expected to draw more than 300 people to sessions next Wednesday and Thursday at venues in Buffalo and Amherst.

"I feel what's happening next week is the culmination of everybody getting on board with driving an innovation economy," said Marnie LaVigne, associate vice president for economic development at the University at Buffalo, lead organizer of Bright Buffalo Niagara.

That UB-led event, now in its fourth year, brings together the people who need funding to get their ideas off the ground and the people who have the money to invest in these start-up companies.

Those would-be entrepreneurs get brief windows of time to make their pitches for support.

Bright Buffalo Niagara initially emphasized reaching angel investors, people who give money to companies that are at an earlier stage than those traditionally supported by venture capitalists, LaVigne said. Now, Bright Buffalo Niagara is seeking angel and venture capital.

"We have more of both this year," LaVigne said.

The Upstate SmartStart UNYTECH forum seeks to connect venture-capital investors with companies that typically are further along in their development, LaVigne said.

The UNYTECH side started out touting the technology-transfer efforts taking place at Upstate New York colleges and universities.

This forum typically is held every other year in Albany and another upstate city, LaVigne said.

Buffalo was in line as a possible host of this year's upstate forum, she said, so a partnership between that forum and Bright Buffalo Niagara was natural.

"There was crossover," LaVigne said.

Dating back to SmartStart's formation 11 years ago, the upstate forum and Bright Buffalo Niagara combined have introduced 255 companies to potential investors, she said.

Of those, 60 companies have raised $500 million in investment capital.

For this year's joint conference, Wednesday's session will be at UB's Center for the Arts, featuring discussions on how industry can encourage innovation.

Thursday's session of the Venture Forum 2012 will be held in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, offering the opportunity for networking and connecting investors to representatives of start-up companies from across New York State and Southern Ontario. Some, but not all, of those companies are rising out of university research.

The 300 or so expected attendees include about 100 from the investment community, including more out-of-town investors than Bright Buffalo Niagara has drawn previously, and another 100 from the companies seeking funding, LaVigne said.

A complementary program, the annual meeting of the Business Incubator Association of New York State, will be held next Friday at the state's Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences.

The event will introduce attendees to the incubator programs in this region. For information, go to