The positive change that Western New York (WNY)’s startup community has experienced over the last year is incredible. We entered 2019 having raised over $200 million in venture capital. We set the stage for Buffalo’s first unicorn, ACV Auctions, which raised $150 million at a valuation of $1.5 billion. That’s a first for a Buffalo startup and places it among community pillars like Moog, Life Storage and National Fuel.

We saw our startup ecosystem continue to develop at a grassroots level as well. Techstars launched its community-building initiative and the University at Buffalo launched its $32 million iHUB program. Blackstone Launchpad continued to engage thousands of students, while Startup Week attracted hundreds of participants and highlighted many of Buffalo’s best and brightest entrepreneurs. Organizations like Launch NY and 43North continued to grow and expand access to capital, while newcomers like Founders Institute, TReC, and Endeavor WNY promise to further accelerate the startup scene.

Objectively, there is a lot to be optimistic about with our startup ecosystem. We’ve come so far, with so many people contributing. There’s a lot to be proud of and a lot to reflect on as we plan for the future. Colligan Law has been proud to be part of this and looks forward to continuing to help fuel this momentum. Our firm is built on a spirit of entrepreneurship; it embodies who we are.

Much of our success, however, has been overshadowed recently by the undeniable impact of COVID-19 — including its impact on the startup community. In the past, we’ve been right to focus on the hope and optimism of our startup ecosystem. We’ve embraced the promise it brings to our region for sustainable growth and the regeneration of an economy that struggled for decades. There will again be a time for economic optimism, but this moment calls for something else. It calls for sincerity and candor. It calls for empathy, resilience and grit. It calls for innovation and determination. It calls for generosity and giving. Fortunately, all of this was galvanized within Western New York’s startup community during the last year.

COVID-19 presents an existential challenge for us all – a public health and economic crisis with countless unknowns. Millions of our colleagues worldwide have suddenly become unemployed. Each day we are seeing heartbreaking business developments: a local business shutting down; our favorite coffee shop forced to close; a promising young startup having to lay off staff to keep the lights on; a founder’s dream straining under unthinkable pressure; and the anxieties of this world of good-health roulette.  It’s a paradox of persistence, faith and reality. None of us believed we would face this a year ago, yet here we are, taking it one day at a time.

Even within this challenge we find stories to inspire us. Startups are pivoting their business models to create 3D printed masks for nurses. Seamstresses are working from home to make personal protective equipment (PPE) instead of pennants. Local companies are creating innovative disinfectants. Distilleries and wineries are producing hand sanitizer.

People are giving — giving first — and using their entrepreneurial instincts as their guide.

We’re also reminding ourselves of the definition — and importance — of humanity. A community that was once so reliant on events has taken to digital platforms like Slack and Zoom to engage and help each other navigate this challenge. We are meeting new people, sharing our experiences and growing together.

There will be more heartbreak, undoubtedly, before this is over, but the character that Western New York has shown is evidence of its resiliency, empathy and ingenuity. Colligan Law is proud to walk alongside our neighbors as we learn a new normal — and discover, together, how to make it the best it can be.