Victoria Christensen huddled behind a monitor at downtown’s Aloft Hotel, showing off a video game she designed in front of attendees of a Startup Week Buffalo kickoff event.
At 10 years old, Victoria is hardly the target market for a flashy, well-funded conference like this one. But organizers of the inaugural, five-day event – officially “Techstars Startup Week Buffalo” – say they’re looking to inspire would-be business-founders with a range of backgrounds and experiences.
More than 500 people are expected to attend the event this week, hosted through Sept. 19 at the Aloft Hotel. The slate of 32 free lectures, workshops and networking events were organized by Techstars Buffalo, a paid partnership between 43North and the global business accelerator Techstars designed to rev Buffalo’s economy through its startup ecosystem.
“The goal of Buffalo Startup Week is to bring people into the community who don’t realize they’re part of it yet,” said Clark Dever, a longtime startup advocate and the new program director for Techstars Buffalo. “Innovation is what happens when you bring expertise from one domain of knowledge and apply it to another one – we’re looking to bring people and ideas together to have more of those collisions.”
To that end, Dever said, this week’s conference will address a wide variety of topics, from game design and blockchain to immigration law. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, will speak on a Tuesday panel about state cannabis legislation. On Wednesday, ACV Auction’s Dan Magnuszewski will discuss his path from computer programmer to co-founder of Buffalo’s most successful new technology firm.
The week kicked off Sunday with the fourth annual Buffalo Game Expo, a showcase of local and independent games convened by Buffalo Game Space, a nonprofit arts and coworking group.
At long rows of cord-tangled tables, roughly 90 artists, programmers, composers, volunteers and visitors played games ranging from Victoria's “Escape Being Grounded” to Joan Nobile’s “Adulting 101” and Wase Qazi’s “Shotgun Farmers.”
Qazi's creation, in which competitors fire bullets from vegetable-shaped weapons, is arguably one of the most successful indie games to come from Buffalo, with hundreds of glowing reviews on the online gaming platform Steam. Qazi, who serves on the board of BGS and makes his living entirely off sales of the $10 game, said events like the game expo and Startup Week encourage more people to get involved in the local arts and technology communities.
Those people include Victoria and her programmer dad, Matt, who began designing games together after attending a BGS event. Today, Victoria aspires to become a professional game designer herself.
"We live here, we like the area and we feel that it’s underappreciated," the older Christensen said. "A lot of people don’t realize you can live here and do things like make games. You can."