Home Venture Capital Launch NY grows local economies across the state by investing in startups

Launch NY grows local economies across the state by investing in startups


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Marnie LaVigne saw first-hand the effort it took to attract venture capital when she was working to launch startup companies in the region in the 1990s.


“For a lot of investors, taking a risk on a start-up isn’t their first choice,” she said.

So LaVigne has spent the past decade working to help get such business ventures to a place where they are attractive investments as the co-founder, president and CEO of Launch NY.

The Buffalo-based nonprofit venture development organization provides mentorship programs and seed funding to startups across New York.

As the most active seed fund in the state, Launch NY hit significant milestones in 2023, including making its first investment from its new for-profit fund and onboarding its 300th investor in its investor network.

Launch NY’s InvestLocal financing programs injected nearly $1.98 million into 36 different deals in 2023, supporting startups in western and central New York, the Southern Tier and the Rochester/Finger Lakes region.

LaVigne expects the momentum to continue in 2024.

“We are seeing more venture capital coming into the region,” she said.

Companies in the Rochester/Finger Lakes region who received seed capital from Launch NY in 2023 included:

  • CYRISMA – A SaaS platform for cyber risk management.
  • Iryss, Inc. – A personal finance platform that can help families affected by a chronic medical condition reduce financial stress.
  • Re-Nuble – A business that converts food waste into hydroponic nutrients.
  • Layer Metrics Inc. – A business that provides a way to integrate in-line quality assurance so customers can react to defects, flaws and deficiencies in real time rather than scrap their finished product, and
  • TheirStory – A remote interviewing platform that helps communities collect, preserve and engage with the audiovisual stories of their members.

Oliver Downward, CEO of Rochester-based CYRISMA, believes his business may not be where it is today without the help of Launch NY.


“The invaluable mentorship extended by Launch NY has been instrumental in propelling our business toward success,’’ he said.

The support Launch NY provided was two-fold, Downward added.

“With the guidance of our dedicated entrepreneur in residence, we gained priceless insights into the art of building a thriving venture,” he said. “Furthermore, the strategic injection of seed capital from Launch NY not only empowered us to expand our team but also, in synergy with their mentorship, enabled us to fine-tune and elevate our business model.”

LaVigne said the organization is working to create a new generation of high impact companies led by diverse entrepreneurs who provide jobs, wealth and opportunity in the state.

“We want to get more people thinking big,” she said.

Oftentimes, lack of funding and direction leads entrepreneurs with a business idea to abandon their plans or leave the area to pursue them elsewhere.

Launch NY, LaVigne said, is focused on growing the local economy.

In Rochester, Launch NY collaborates with organizations, including Excel Capital Partners and NextCorps, to meet that focus.

LaVigne has her own connection to Rochester, holding a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and a doctorate in clinical psychology, both from the University of Rochester.

An outcome she envisioned when creating Launch NY was to replace the jobs the region was losing as large companies – such as Eastman Kodak Co., Bausch + Lomb and Xerox – downsized and moved operations out of the area.

What she has found is that companies who are less than five years old and scalable are the ones creating the jobs.

A hurdle, however, is helping these companies get their ideas into the marketplace.

Launch NY – through its mentoring and seed funding – can help meet that goal, which makes them more attractive to other investors, she explained.

Oftentimes, Launch NY is a startup’s first institutional investor, LaVigne noted.

An example is Casana, a Rochester-based in-home health monitoring company.

The company, which created a smart toilet seat that measures one’s heart rate and blood oxygenation, received initial seed funding from Launch NY and to-date has raised more than $46 million in capital to help bring its product to market.

Startups must first undergo three months of mentoring before applying for any funding from Launch NY, Lavigne said on the process. There are several entrepreneurs in residence who provide support, including a number in Rochester.

Several factors are considered before companies are accepted by Launch NY, LaVigne said. That includes market opportunities for the startup’s product, as well as the team assembled to move the business forward.

The goal is to fund companies that will be able to generate $10 million in annual revenues within five to seven years.

LaVigne sees opportunities for start-ups in the Rochester region, noting the amount of research and development resources located here.

Re-Nuble – which is located in the Eastman Business Park – is an example of a startup that was able to draw from Rochester’s strengths.


Tinia Pina, founder and CEO of Re-Nuble, said Launch NY has helped the firm by being an investor in multiple funding rounds, helping recruit for local talent and working with local entrepreneurs in residences that have manufacturing and physical product expertise that is critical to an upstart manufacturing business.

“They are incredibly responsive and a facilitator of connections in every way,” Pina said.

Zack Ellis, founder and CEO of Rochester-based TheirStory, said Launch NY has helped his business grow by building the firm’s human capital investment, mentorships and connections.

“When we first started raising our pre-seed round at TheirStory, fundraising was crucial for hiring core team members and contractors across sales, marketing and product development,” Ellis said. “Not only did Launch NY’s investment contribute to these key hires, but the credibility that Launch NY holds with Western New York investors helped us to bring in additional investment as well, further building our capacity for sales, marketing and product development.”

Building its human capital has been a continuous process with the organization, as well, he noted. Most recently, Launch NY introduced Ellis and his team to Evin Schwartz, CEO of Belouga, who served as an entrepreneur-in-residence.

Schwartz, whose business offers a social learning platform, worked closely with the TheirStory team on hiring, sales and marketing, investor communication and pitch preparation.


Launch NY also connected Ellis with other startup founders who are at a similar stage in their startup journeys and who have previously navigated their startups to become successful businesses.

“Being a founder and CEO can be a lonely road, and, especially as a first-time founder, these connections are invaluable both for staying the course and continuing to build my and our team’s own network,” Ellis noted. “In the end, it all comes down to great people executing on a shared vision and Launch NY has been an invaluable guide in this direction – helping me to grow as a founder, to build my and our team’s network aligned to our business needs and as a source of financial capital allowing us to bring on key team members in order to grow the business.”

Go to https://launchny.org/ for more information on the organization.

[email protected] / (585) 653-4021 



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