#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Peter Burakowski, Director of Marketing at 43North
This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.
What is 43North?
43North is a $5 million-startup competition born out of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s visionary Buffalo Billion initiative. Since its inaugural event in 2014, it has attracted startups from across North America and beyond to build and grow their companies in Buffalo. The winners receive cash awards that range from $500,000 to $1 million, as well as incubator space, mentorship, follow-on funding opportunities, access to investors, marketing exposure, and the chance to participate in the START-UP NY program, which allows companies to be free of state taxes for up to 10 years.
We have crowned 37 winning companies, which have raised more than $40 million since joining our portfolio.
What’s your role at 43North and the Buffalo-area startup ecosystem?
For the last four years, I’ve served as 43North’s Director of Marketing. My responsibilities include identifying and recruiting great startups to enter our competition; sharing the stories of our winners; mentoring our winners on marketing strategy; and connecting North American VCs, angels, incubators, and accelerators with 43North and Buffalo.
How did you get started in this work and why you have decided to make a career in supporting startups?
In the fall of 2013, my wife, Kara, and I learned that, in addition to our son, George, we would soon be having triplets. Fortunately, my sudden need for a career change corresponded with the inception of 43North. I became one of 43North’s original staff members in January 2014, and we launched our first competition one month later. In May of that year, my daughters Ada, Rose, and Greta were born. It was an incredible year for me, to say the least.
It’s fitting that my first step into supporting startups came out of a family decision because my continued passion for my work is fueled by the thought of the opportunities that my kids will have in 10 or 15 years if we keep the foot on the pedal today.
Sounds like 2013 was a big year for you, and 2014 was a big year for Buffalo! Can you tell us about something exciting that has happened for Buffalo in the past year?
When Governor Cuomo introduced the Buffalo Billion plan several years ago, it called for more than a billion dollars of state investment in Buffalo’s economy. In addition to the creation of 43North, Buffalo Billion projects have ranged from building a massive Tesla solar panel manufacturing facility to improving our waterfront infrastructure.
At the beginning of 2017, Governor Cuomo announced that he was doubling down on the Buffalo Billion with a Phase II, which features an additional $500 million in commitments to our region, including the allocation of $25 million to 43North to continue our work for several more years to come.
Besides the presence of 43North, what makes Buffalo an ideal place to start a company?
It starts with our people. When founders come to Buffalo, they are often taken aback by how welcoming, down-to-earth, hard-working, and helpful Buffalonians are. We are also one of the top cities millennials are moving to and we have a highly educated workforce, thanks to the more than two dozen colleges in the region, including the State University of New York at Buffalo.
In addition, we have leafy, walkable neighborhoods, a vibrant waterfront, world-class art, incredible architecture, parks by Frederick Law Olmsted, great nightlife, and an up-and-coming food scene. On top of all of that, the costs of living and doing business in Buffalo are some of the lowest in the U.S.
Last but not least, we also have easy access some of North America’s top tech hubs. Both New York City and Boston are only one hour away by plane, and, since we’re right on the Canadian border, Toronto and Waterloo, Ontario are each less than two hours away by car.
Sounds like a pretty appealing place for startup founders. Taking a break from new companies for a minute, what industries have historically thrived in Buffalo? How has this shaped the ecosystem there?
The world-class Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is home to the University at Buffalo’s new Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the Jacobs Institute, the Gates Vascular Institute, the NYS Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, and the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute. As a result, our region is fourth in the nation in life science jobs on a per capita basis. The attractiveness of this environment for startups is reflected in the fact that one-third of 43North’s winners have been life sciences companies, ranging from Cytocybernetics, who has developed a novel technology to improve drug safety screening, to Oncolinx, who is creating the next generation of targeted cancer therapies in conjunction with the National Cancer Institute.
Additionally, Buffalo’s proud heritage of manufacturing extends back two centuries and continues today with 60,000 employees in this sector. Our community’s manufacturing expertise and assets (like the new Buffalo Manufacturing Works) are part of why 43North winners like CleanSlate, Formarum, Asarasi, Ultracell Insulation, Femi Secrets, and Suncayr wanted to grow in Buffalo.
What are some of the inputs that have helped your ecosystem grow?
43North is one of more than 50 organizations that support entrepreneurship in our community, such as:
Z80 Labs, an incubator that invests up to $150,000;
Launch NY, which provides proof of concept funding and support;
The Western New York Venture Association and the Buffalo Angels;
Invest Buffalo Niagara, our region’s nonprofit, privately funded economic development organization;
The Western New York Incubator Network; and
The University at Buffalo’s many entrepreneurship-focused entities and initiatives, including the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, Blackstone LaunchPad and Bright Buffalo Niagara Entrepreneur Expo.
It sounds like Governor Cuomo has invested a lot of energy in growing the Buffalo startup ecosystem. Are there any other policymakers who are playing a role in the growth of Buffalo?
Buffalo mayor, Byron Brown, has put a heavy focus on our city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and worked hard to ensure that it’s an inclusive one. For example, he is one of the founding presenters of The Pitch, which is a business competition aimed at supporting female and minority entrepreneurs in Buffalo.
Are there some startups to watch coming out of the Buffalo area?
Absolutely. For starters:
Circuit Clinical is making it easier for patients to take part in clinical trials.
Bak USA is building laptops and tablets on Buffalo’s East Side.
Sentient Science is using materials science technology to test and monitor large industrial equipment.
PostProcess Technologies introduced the world’s first automated support removal and surface finishing system for 3D printed parts.
Rachel’s Remedies is making breastfeeding relief packs are practical, portable and hands-free.
And, of course, keep an eye out for 43North’s portfolio companies. Here are just a few:
ACV Auctions is an online wholesale used auto auction. Since winning our competition, they’ve raised more than $20 million and expanded rapidly into new markets.
HigherMe helps retail and hourly employers like Dunkin’ Donuts and Panera Bread find, screen, and hire quality employees faster.
SomaDetect is an agricultural technology company that provides dairy farmers with key milk quality indicators.
We’re also proud that we have three members of this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 class in the 43North family: Sourav Sinha of Oncolinx (our 2016 million dollar-winner) and the cofounders of 2017 winner TARA, Iba Masood and Syed Ahmed.