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Representives from startups Big Daddy Garden Caddy, Laila, Digital House Call, Redprint and Yamacoo pose for a photo at the Cultivator graduation ceremony in July. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi
By JESSICA SZKLANY
Published September 14, 2023
An AI-driven hiring tool. Cooling apparel to prevent heat injury. A platform to help colleges and universities increase student retention.
These are just a few of the products being developed by the 13 — and counting — Western New York-based companies that have graduated from Cultivator, a startup program powered by UB.
Managed by UB’s Business & Entrepreneur Partnerships team, Cultivator builds new companies in the Western New York region by supporting medium- to high-growth startups in their earliest stages. Funding at this juncture is critical for companies to succeed, yet traditionally difficult to obtain, organizers say.
“For startups in their earliest, riskiest stages, funding often comes from wealthy friends and family, but not all founders have these relationships,” says Richard Kim, director of startup ventures at UB. “We believe there are talented entrepreneurs in every corner of Western New York. Cultivator democratizes access to funding and provides more founders with opportunities to successfully build and scale business.”
Cultivator also provides a steady funnel of homegrown, high-growth, risk-reduced startups for community partners in the local startup ecosystem, such as Launch NY, 43North, the Buffalo Angels and the Western New York Impact Investment Fund.
To participate in Cultivator, startups are not required to have any prior affiliation with UB, but they must come from one of the five counties of Western New York: Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus or Allegany.
Startups Arbol, Lemma Labs, Oro Sports USA, JECA Natural Foods Corporation, Unapologetic Coffee, Immunaeon, Latte and Team Real Talk graduated from Cultivator at a ceremony last March. Here, representatives pose with a memento recogizing their accomplishments throughout the program. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi
After joining Cultivator, startups work with dedicated mentors for the first few months of the program.
“We pair founders with experienced entrepreneurs who have walked in their shoes and can help them answer critical questions about the problem their business solves and the market it serves,” says Peter Burakowski, associate director of startup ventures at UB, who leads Cultivator.
If accepted to the next phase of the program, the startup receives a $100,000 investment from UB and an additional six months of mentorship until their “graduation” from the program.
To date, 50 startups have participated in Cultivator and 13 have graduated. Graduate companies include:
Three more companies — Offerwell, Sadie’s Foods and V-Markings — will graduate from Cultivator next week.
One of the goals of Cultivator is to help prepare companies for future investment from other funding sources postgraduation.
This recently came to fruition for Arbol, which announced in June that it closed a $350,000 pre-seed funding round led by the Western New York Impact Investment Fund.
“Cultivator was a game-changer for us. We came into the program with an idea and, a few months later, launched the company with funding,” says Favio Osorio, co-founder of Arbol. “Through our affiliation with Cultivator, we have developed a network of friends, mentors, investors and advisers who have given us incredible guidance, support and introductions. This network has played a crucial role in the development of Arbol.”
Cultivator is open on a rolling basis. Interested companies are encouraged to apply at buffalo.edu/cultivator.