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Case urges Buffalo to capitalize on startup successes

Case urges Buffalo to capitalize on startup successes

Steve Case, the America Online co-founder turned investor, last visited Buffalo in 2015.

Back then, the city’s tallest building was virtually vacant, and Canalside was still emerging. And the 43North business plan competition was in its infancy.

Case was back in town Thursday and declared he was impressed with the progress he saw.

“There’s a lot of momentum on a lot of different fronts, so that’s good,” Case said during a talk with 43North president Colleen Heidinger, at now-thriving Seneca One tower. “One thing would be, make sure as many people in the community know that as possible, so that people know progress is being made and therefore they’re a little bit more optimistic, a little more likely to lean in.”

The billionaire entrepreneur also warned his audience not to get complacent.

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Steve Case

Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, participates in a discussion at One Seneca tower. “There’s a lot of momentum on a lot of different fronts, so that’s good,” he says about the Buffalo region.

“But also recognize: It’s game on,” he said. “Guess what? There are lot of other Buffalos that are out there fighting to be a city on the rise. There are dozens that are fighting to be a city on the rise and trying to figure out how to win on their talent and on their capital and on the collaboration point.

“Now is not the time to say, ‘Oh, look at all the things we did in the last decade,’ “ Case said. “Instead, ‘OK, progress, good, we should celebrate that, but the next decade is showtime.’ “

As CEO of the Revolution LLC investment firm, Case has focused on startups in areas outside of the tech hotbeds like New York City, Boston and Silicon Valley. He crisscrossed the country with his “Rise of the Rest” bus tour, and wrote a book of the same name. Revolution has invested in more than 200 companies in over 100 cities, including some past 43North prize winners.

Steve Case, author, chairman and CEO of Revolution, a D.C.-based investment firm and co-founder of AOL, participates in a discussion with 43 North President Colleen Heidinger in the auditorium at Seneca One on Oct. 12, 2023.

Case shared lessons and insights about the startup scene:

  • Places like Buffalo have a better shot at attracting investment when they take a regional approach, Case said.

“When people are thinking about Buffalo, they’re thinking about a region in New York that likely includes Rochester and Syracuse,” he said. “And if you’re thinking of making a big investment there, you’re probably thinking of it in a broader context.”

He praised the joint bid by Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse to secure potentially millions in funding in the federal government’s “tech hub” competition.

  • A great startup idea can emerge from a budding entrepreneur identifying a problem and deciding to do something about it, Case said.

“If you see something in your daily life or work life or whatever it might be, and you say, ‘I think there’s a better way,’ then go do it,” he said. “And do it now, and do it here. Most people have that insight but they don’t do it, for a whole host of reasons.”

  • Heidinger asked Case about the key ingredients to a startup ecosystem. “You have to win the battle for talent, and you have to win the battle for capital,” he said.

Winning the battle for talent, he said, includes keeping more of the people you already have, but also attracting new people to the region. And it’s critical for a region to have sources of capital that startups can tap into to get off the ground – while remaining based there.

  • Regions like Buffalo should capitalize on their startup successes, he said.

“That dynamic of making sure you keep your winners – don’t sell your winners short, don’t sell too early, which can often happen in rising cities,” Case said. “And when you do have a winner, what we think of as a tentpole company, you leverage that so that momentum begets momentum.”