Buffalo's Renaissance, Powered by Innovation


This week Engine is traveling with Steve Case on the Rise of the Rest road trip to celebrate entrepreneurship, in all its forms, across America. Every day we’ll post dispatches from the cities we’ve seen. For more updates follow #RiseofRest on Twitter.

As the Rise of the Rest tour rolled into Buffalo, New York, we celebrated the long history of innovation in the city—beyond the uniquely-spicy chicken wing. In fact, in 1950, Buffalo was the eighth largest city in America. Home of Cheerios (the first ready-to-eat cereal), architectural masterpieces (several by Frank Lloyd Wright), and the Erie Canal (the main track of America’s commercial development), Buffalo has a long history of disrupting the status quo in search of better efficiency and a more united America. It remained a booming center of industry until the Saint Lawrence Seaway was built in 1959 and dramatically decreased commercial traffic through Buffalo, marking the start of decades of decline. But as we saw, Buffalo is in the midst of a renaissance.

CEOs, local government organizations, academics, and creatives are coming together to restore Buffalo to its former status  as a hub for new business and strong community. These efforts are supported by private funds and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative, which is funding leading industries and emerging startups to expand innovation and economic opportunity in Western New York.

Today, people are excited about Buffalo and this feeling resonated throughout the day. Native Buffalonians and Buffalo-educated innovators are returning to the affordable city, enticed by the growing number of available jobs or state incentives to start a new business.

In downtown Buffalo is the Innovation Center, which houses co-working space D!G, and incubators Z80 Labs and 43North. 43North boasts the world’s largest idea competition, which provides winners, (who hail from everywhere from New York City to Taipei,) with free space and mentoring in their Buffalo-based incubator. Steve Case spoke to the next wave of innovation that seems to be taking ahold of the city: inventions that reimagine health, education, and energy.

Several startups are reinventing the dominant trades from Buffalo’s past and bringing them into the 21st century. Bak USA, started by Danish immigrants early this year, is bringing tablet manufacturing from assembly lines in China to unique, made-to-order craftsmanship in Western New York. SolarCity’s efforts to expand their own solar panel construction has led to the acquisition of local startups and the development of a solar panel factory, taking the city from a steel town to a solar center. And the Rise of the Rest pitch competition winners are providing new solutions to energy harvesting (Energy Intelligence) and next-generation cancer treatment (POP Biotechnologies).

This boom in startups seems natural for the city that has long been a hub for American innovation. The scene is seeing vibrant growth alongside developments to enhance the city’s community spaces. There is no denying that Buffalo is on the rise, and back on the map. Reenergized manufacturing, design, and community is ensuring that products made in Buffalo are now finding their ways into homes across America.