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43North, Facebook and M&T to boost small businesses with $1 million in grants

A new partnership that includes 43North, Facebook and M&T Bank is launching a program that will award 27 grants worth a total of $1 million to bolster small businesses.

The "Ignite Buffalo" program also will provide opportunities for small businesses – not just the grant winners – to attend mentorship sessions over a 12-month period to learn about everything from access to capital to sharpening their digital skills.

The grants, using funds supplied by Facebook, will be worth between $25,000 and $100,000. Ignite Buffalo's grants are aimed at established, "Main Street"-type small businesses with smaller capital needs than the startups than typically apply to 43North's $5 million entrepreneurship competition.

Applications must be submitted to ignitebuffalo.org by noon on June 13. Small businesses must be located within the eight counties of Western New York. The CEO or founder, along with more than half of the company's employees, must be in the region.

The companies also must have some existing customers or revenue. And its leader or designated representative must be in the Buffalo area July 9-11 to participate in the three days of Facebook Community Boost activities. The free event is designed to help small businesses improve their digital skills and prepare them for a "mobile-first economy."

Bill Maggio, left, of 43North, and Rene Jones, chairman and CEO of M&T Bank. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Judges will trim the applications for the 27 Ignite Buffalo grants to 50 contenders. Those applicants will make pitches before another panel of judges at Facebook Community Boost, explaining how a grant would affect their business.

Facebook Community Boost events are taking place in 30 U.S. cities this year, including Denver, Phoenix and Minneapolis. In each city, Facebook tailors a program suited to the business community's needs, said David Jakubowski, a Facebook executive who is also a local native. "When 43North first started to bring all this together, we quickly recognized the rich tradition that Buffalo has for entrepreneurship and family-run small businesses."

Jakubowski called the $1 million worth of grants "just kind of the icing on the cake. The real meat of this is the mentorship and sustainability program, so that we can bring the kind of training and education around growing a business to all of the small businesses in the Buffalo community."

William Maggio, a past 43North board chairman, said Ignite Buffalo builds on other efforts to improve the climate for entrepreneurs.

"The fact that Facebook would come in here and commit the resources, time and money to Buffalo, I think it sends a clear message to our community that we're serious about what we're trying to do here," he said.

M&T brings its small business expertise to the program, said Rene Jones, the bank's chairman and CEO. The bank will provide education to businesses in areas such as access to capital.

"Today, particularly when the economy is doing as well as it is, and we're on this sort of upswing in Buffalo, as well, there are a lot of places where you can get access to capital," Jones said. "But there's very little knowledge about the different aspects of that: who you are borrowing from and how do you present yourself?"

The other partners in Ignite Buffalo are QuickBooks, Amazon Web Services, WordPress and WooCommerce.

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