Michael Tunkey
Michael Tunkey
November 21, 2019

HORIZON Buffalo: Fueling Buffalo’s Tech Ecosystem

Michael Tunkey
Michael Tunkey

Our Buffalo team recently hosted the newest installment of the Buffalo Urban Futures Forum (BUFF) to focus on Buffalo’s growing tech ecosystem and what we can do to make it even stronger in the future. 

The discussion focused on key topics related to Buffalo’s tech talent pool, other cities we can learn from, urban density and how we should define success moving forward.

We were fortunate to have an incredible venue at Delaware North HQ and a remarkable panel including:

  • Liz Tsai, HiOperator
  • Eric Reich, Co-Founder and CEO, Campus Labs
  • Jeff Wilkinson, Chief Information Officer, Delaware North
  • Michael Wisler, Chief Information Officer, M&T Bank

The in-depth discussion was moderated by Brandye Merriweather, Vice President of Downtown Development for Buffalo Urban Development Corporation. The group explored numerous important themes including those summarized below:

  • Learn from others, but personalize success. When asked to identify other cities we could learn from several names were raised: Boston, Austin, Indianapolis to name just a few. The team agreed there are ways these cities have approached real estate development, university partnership and more we should consider modeling. At the same time, they cautioned against sheer emulation as Buffalo’s tech ecosystem should be calibrated to our city’s unique culture and realities.
  • Competition for talent should be embraced. While many of the panelists inherently compete for technology talent, they welcome competition as a means to ensure more talented individuals call Buffalo home. A small increase in organizational turnover can be a good thing if it represents a stronger overall pipeline of talent in the city.
  • 43North has been a game changer. All panelists agreed 43North has been a wonderful catalyst for bringing new tech companies and talent to Buffalo. Their annual competitions sees more than 500+ applicants vying for eight shares of $5 million to build their companies. The group also provides mentoring and resources all year to help new companies thrive.  Liz Tsai spoke personally about her decision to relocate HiOperator in Buffalo through 43North. 

  • Capture homegrown talent. Speakers shared uninspiring data regarding how few data and computer science graduates from local institutions actually stay in Buffalo. The group quickly reached consensus the city needs to find better ways to connect with and retain this emerging talent to strengthen the ecosystem.
  • Think boldly. Incremental steps mostly lead to incremental growth, and the speakers all echoed that bold thinking and action will be necessary to push our city’s tech network to new heights. If we seek stronger urban density, we need to embrace urban development projects that push us there. If we want to lure top companies from other cities, we need to invest in dynamic resources that speak to them in new ways.

This event is the sixth Buffalo Urban Futures Forum we’ve hosted and we’re extremely proud of the series’ growth. I always say the attendees could all be panelists themselves. It’s an incredible group that’s passionate about the city’s future. Moving forward in 2020 we’re going to look to expand the series by bringing in new partners and identifying new ways to make positive impacts beyond just fostering discussion on key topics.