Jan 11, 2022
Melissa Bime, a native of Cameroon, moved her business to Buffalo from Alabama – just in time for last week's winter blast.
Sam Eder relocated his business here from Austin, Texas, and now has an easy commute: he rides the elevator to his office in Seneca One tower from his apartment in the same building.
Both Bime and Eder are getting familiar with their new surroundings. They are founders of two of the eight startups that won prize money in the 43North business plan competition last October. This week, the eight companies moved into office space on the tower's 24th floor, kicking off the one-year commitment to Buffalo that is a condition of the prize money.
The 2020 competition was canceled, so this was the first time in two years 43North has welcomed a new group of winners. While the pandemic continues to disrupt everyday life, 43North's staff is working to get the companies acclimated to Buffalo, in hopes of persuading the startups to remain here long term. (Three of the prize winners were already based here.)
A group photo of members of the new class of 43North prize winners, in the lobby of Seneca One tower.
43North's big-picture goal is to build up the region's startup community, and perhaps launch a breakout star or two. But behind those startups are founders, juggling development of their companies with practical needs like furnishing an apartment.
"You're moving into a new office, you're moving into a new city, but you're also running a business," said Eder, the co-founder of Big Wheelbarrow. The startup helps grocery stores get more local food on their shelves.
Bime, the CEO of Infiuss Health, had never seen such a big snowstorm before, or felt such low temperatures. Of course, she knew about Buffalo's winters before moving here. "It's one thing to hear, and it's another thing to experience it," she said with a laugh.
Bime said she is taking the weather in stride. "Overall, I am always that someone that is down for change, and the 43North team has been incredible, so I think that really made the transition smooth," she said.
Colleen Heidinger, 43North's president, said she was looking forward to the new class of startups getting a chance to discover the region. "We can already sense the excitement not only for this program but also for the Buffalo community, as they have started to visit coffee shops, buy furniture and meet their landlords."
Something the eight prize-winning startups have in common: each other. They say just talking with fellow startups is helpful.
"What people don't realize is that startup executive life is so lonely, and stressful," Eder said. "Most of your friends and family don't understand what you're doing. And they don't really understand the pressures that you face. To be with a group of people that are living the same thing day to day - it's incredibly helpful for just getting business done, but also your mental health."
Rebecca Brady, the CEO of Top Seedz, said startup leaders can relate to each other in unique ways. "If you can talk to other people about the same problems, it is nice," she said. "You can't really confide in your team on everything. If things are going wrong, you've still got to put on a brave face."
Now that the nerves and euphoria of 43North finals night are behind them, the founders are working on growing their businesses. Top Seedz captured the $1 million grand prize, while the other seven won $500,000 each.
Infiuss Health is a digital platform that supports research and clinical trials in Nigeria and Cameroon. From Buffalo, the company will focus on connecting with customers for its services in the U.S. market.
43North is helping Bime recruit talent as she staffs up. She has made friends with other startup founders and 43North staff members.
"It's a more supportive environment than I've ever been in," Bime said. "I don't think anywhere has ever been so excited to have me, so I'm really excited about this. I'm so happy to just see where this goes."
At Top Seedz, part of Brady's grand-prize-winning pitch involved scaling up cracker production. That will require more automation.
The company, which is based in Cheektowaga, plans to move into larger production space and is choosing between a few sites. Top Seedz is also deciding what equipment to acquire.
But Brady said she's careful to keep a human touch in production, to preserve what she calls the "unique selling point" of her crackers. "At the end of the day, we want to keep that product the way it is," she said.
Top Seedz has 20 employees, a workforce that draws from the refugee community. The company plans to hire more people, as it maps out its growth projections.
While Brady copes with the pressures of building a business and making best use of the $1 million prize money, she keeps things in perspective.
"It is so fun," she said. "We are so lucky to be in this position that we have to think about what we're going to do."