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Ralph Wilson Foundation awards $2.5 million to Launch NY

Launch New York, the venture development organization that seeks to help startup companies in Western and Central New York, has received a $2.5 million grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.

The Buffalo-based nonprofit will use the two-year award to boost a seed fund that provides investments to fledgling companies, to scale up the organization’s mentoring services for company founders and to support a strategic-planning initiative over the next 24 months.

Launch NY officials announced the award, the largest single grant in its history, Monday morning.

“This is just the beginning,” said Marnie LaVigne, president and CEO of Launch NY.

Wilson Foundation officials said they were looking to support entrepreneurial activity in the Buffalo area and to invest in a nonprofit that had a track record of success.

“This was a shovel-ready project,” said David O. Egner, the foundation’s president and CEO, in a phone interview.

Launch NY began operations in 2012. It has two full-time employees and is looking to hire a third.

It is funded through a range of public and private sources, primarily the New York Power Authority, and it provides funding for the 43North business plan competition.

The nonprofit has used its seed fund to invest $50,000 in one company, Rachel’s Remedy, a Buffalo medical device company that makes breastfeeding heating packs.

It has mentored 500 companies in 27 upstate counties through its entrepreneur-in-residence program, and LaVigne said those companies have gone on to raise $50 million in investment capital.

“Both parts of our mission are equally important,” said George Chamoun, Launch NY’s board chairman and a founder of Synacor, the information technology firm.

The award from the foundation will be paid out over two years. Egner said that in addition to producing an economic impact, the foundation is seeking through its awards to Launch NY and similar recipients to produce a change in the business culture in Detroit and Buffalo.

He said he could not put a timetable on when the next awards from the foundation would be announced.


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