An incubator-style project for early-stage tech companies is set to open in downtown Buffalo's Brisbane Building, adding to the region's growing portfolio of spaces catering to the entrepreneurial or startup community.
The project is being overseen by Algonquin Studios, a software development firm whose leadership team has a long history of creating new companies and nurturing them within Algonquin's footprint.
"This is about creating jobs," Algonquin president Steve Kiernan II said. "This is about being part of what turns an entire city and region around."
The incubator project coincides with a larger renovation and expansion of Algonquin's second-floor space in the Brisbane building. The expense for the project, estimated at between $500,000 and $600,000, will be borne by Brisbane's owners in exchange for Algonquin's new ten-year lease.
The new 18,000-square-foot space will be a mostly open floor plan, compared to Algonquin's current labyrinth of hallways and offices. It will stretch across most of the second floor, from Main Street to Washington Street, and include a gymnasium for employees, an expanded cafeteria, large conference rooms along with a ring of smaller meeting spaces and a lounge area with big windows facing Ellicott Street and the Hotel @ The Lafayette.
The other second floor tenant is a satellite office for Hodgson Russ LLP, which has three years left on its lease. Algonquin will have first crack at that space if it's ever vacated.
But the most novel aspect of the project is the V-CAMP (validate, challenge, accelerate, mentor, pressure) initiative, which Kiernan described as a mixture between an incubator, accelerator, business school and "real-world experience."
The idea will be to take early-stage tech companies and help them develop their idea for roughly a year, before graduating them out with a comprehensive strategy and well-developed business skills. Algonquin's leadership team will provide hands-on mentorship. The companies will not have leases, but will likely have to sign over a small equity stake in their company and a percentage of revenue while they're V-CAMP residents.
Kiernan, vice president David Thiemecke and CEO Steven Raines said that given the kind of companies they're targeting, that means Algonquin will barely be asking for anything when they enter the program. But if they scale up quickly under Algonquin's advisement, everybody benefits.
"When you win, we win," Raines said.
While the program isn't yet tied to a specific venture fund - such as Z80 Labs Inc.'s connection to the $45 million Innovate NY fund - Algonquin will consider potential backing and also connect participants to their network of venture capitalists and experienced entrepreneurs. It will be seeking a connection to the Innovate NY fund as well.
Algonquin has already extended an offer to one company, GradFly, to become part of the V-CAMP program. GradFly is currently leasing space in Algonquin's current space after graduating recently from Z80, and launched its forum to connect technical students to companies in February.
The number of innovative spaces for entrepreneurs near downtown Buffalo has greatly expanded in recent years, though they all have different missions. Z80 opened in 2012 in the Buffalo News building, and has gone from scraping for tenants to near-capacity in the past year. CoworkBuffalo also opened in 2012 and recently moved to new ground-floor building on Main Street, and has doubled its members since founding. Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Inc. introduced its d!g space in the Thomas R. Beecher Jr. Innovation Center in March. D!g, also based on the coworking concept, has become a popular hub for events and BNMC officials have said membership numbers are ramping up. Raines and Thiemecke are d!g members, and Algonquin's leadership team have been active mentors there.
The Algonquin renovation will take place in three phases and is expected to be complete by the end of this year.