Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Silicon Snowbank: A New Incubator for Buffalo to Give Local Start-Ups a Different Set of Wings

Actually, if truth be told, Buffalo, N.Y., is one of the loveliest places to visit in the summer, especially if you’re lucky enough to be right next to majestic Lake Erie.

And that is where the Z80 Labs will have its grand opening today in the Queen City, home of chicken wings and lots and lots of snow, by launching its first start-up, called AppVue.

While visiting the Western New York city this past weekend, I paid a visit to the new facility, which is in a large airy room on the first floor of the Buffalo News.

What’s most heartening to see, of course, is the definitely more earnest and rawer kind of entrepreneurism on display, of a kind that is often lost in the slick, well-oiled machine of Silicon Valley.

That was the point by well-known venture capitalist Jordan Levy of SoftBank Capital, who has long split his time between New York City and his home in Buffalo. He founded the incubator with SoftBank’s Ron Schreiber.

“It’s easy for entrepreneurs in places like Palo Alto to get going,” the voluble Levy said to me on my visit. “We wanted to find a way to keep really great techies here to create an ecosystem that would be able to jump-start even more and help this city keep jobs.”

The longtime investor (pictured here) had already made scores of wins from fundings of companies such as OMGPOP (sold to Zynga) and Buddy Media (sold to Salesforce.com). But Levy appears particularly proud of Buffalo-based Synacor, where he serves as chairman. It’s a successful cloud platform service for companies that want to put video online.

As the big tech dog in Buffalo, Synacor is playing a big role in Z80 Labs, which will focus primarily on making investments in digital media and mobile Internet companies.

The tech incubator — which will provide office space, support and mentorship to its start-ups — is also getting an assist from a $4 million Innovate NY grant provided by the state.

Such a solid base is just what the founders of AppVue — which “specializes in mobile apps that make trusted recommendations among social media friends and networks” — told me they needed.

Essentially, it’s another new take on app discovery, which is a vexing issue for both app creators and users.

After AppVue won the University at Buffalo’s Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition, besting 19 other companies, its trio of founders — Matthew Epstein, CEO; Andrew Cassetti, EVP of product development; and Chief Architect Nathan Schiffer — told me that, until now, there have been no other options but to leave the area to make it in tech.

“We wanted to stay here, and now we can,” said Epstein. “And we are getting the kind of attention we need to try to make this a real company.”

Let’s hope so. It’s already looking impressive at its start — both Forbes CEO Mike Perlis and New York power VC Fred Wilson will make appearances today for Z80’s debut.

I’d suggest Frank & Teressa’s Anchor Bar on Main Street — where chicken wings were apparently invented, and an arena in which Silicon Valley will never have an upper hand.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work