UB MBA student collects first investment from new Launch NY fund

MBA student Will Zacher presents during the finals of UB's 2018 Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

Release Date: April 5, 2019 This content is archived.

“I wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without the support of the professors at the UB School of Management and resources on campus such as UB’s Blackstone LaunchPad. ”
Will Zacher, UB MBA Student and Founder

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Willow, a startup co-founded by University at Buffalo School of Management MBA student Will Zacher, was one of four companies to receive an investment from Launch New York through its new Limited Partner (LP) Fund, the venture development organization announced April 3.

Launch NY provides pro bono mentoring and capital access to high-growth startups across the state’s 27 westernmost counties. Its LP Fund is a returns-based investment opportunities platform for accredited investors looking to make a profit while positively impacting the Upstate New York entrepreneurial ecosystem and economy.

An online platform, Willow uses propriety algorithms to help match families with affordable senior living options in their area based on a variety of factors, including medical conditions, financial information and up-to-date facility ratings. Zacher found inspiration for the company in 2015, when his family started searching for senior placement for his grandmother.

“We didn’t know how to get started or where to look,” Zacher says. “I started thinking about how people are making this decision and how we can help.”

Being part of the Launch NY LP Fund’s inaugural investment will help make Willow’s platform more intuitive for families who are searching for assistance, as well as help attract additional funding dollars.

“Launch NY’s support has been instrumental to Willow’s success thus far,” Zacher says. “The biggest impact has been the mentorship and support they provide. Having established entrepreneurs help shape my startup has been invaluable. The direction they’ve given has helped us expedite our product’s path to the marketplace.”

Zacher’s team members from the UB School of Management include co-founder Avneesh Sharma, a master’s student in management information systems, as well as mentors like Larry Zielinski, executive in residence for health care administration, and others who helped bring his vision to life. Willow was also a 2018 finalist in UB’s Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition.

Meanwhile, Launch NY's team has several School of Management alumni, including Danielle Blount, MBA ’16, project management and program coordinator; Celine Keefe, MBA ’17, marketing director; and Alex Killian, BS/MBA ’16, investment associate; as well as entrepreneurs-in-residence Rich Delmerico and Deb O’Shea, who earned degrees from UB in engineering, and sociology and law, respectively.

“I wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without the support of the professors at the UB School of Management and resources on campus such as UB’s Blackstone LaunchPad,” Zacher says.

The for-profit LP Fund is designed to co-invest alongside Launch NY’s nonprofit Seed Fund and provide investment capital to companies who meet certain criteria, which includes working with Launch NY’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence program for at least three months. In addition to Willow, the other inaugural LP Fund investments are as follows:

  • Eagle Hawk One Inc., a drone-powered technology company, located in Buffalo, revolutionizing the way commercial roofs are inspected and maintained
  • ShrubBucket, an e-commerce business, headquartered in Ithaca, that makes gardening easy by providing home delivery for full-sized plants
  • Ecolectro, an Ithaca-based company that uses polymer technology to accelerate the world’s conversion to clean fuel and chemicals

“By introducing the new LP Fund we created a way to effectively double the capital we have available to local startups, and investors have an opportunity to earn a profit while doing good in a community they hold near and dear,” says Marnie LaVigne, president and CEO of Launch NY. “We are seeing the region transform economically and culturally through entrepreneurship, and people want to get involved.”

The mission of Launch New York, Inc. (Launch NY), the only U.S. Treasury-designated Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) directly funding businesses in New York State, is to identify, support and invest in high-growth, high-impact companies, and catalyze the entrepreneurial culture in the 27 counties comprising the western half of Upstate New York. Launch NY is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit venture development organization that promotes economic development through best practices, including business mentoring and access to seed capital, to create investment-ready companies that have the promise to create significant economic impact and jobs for our region. For more information about Launch NY, visit launchny.org.

The UB School of Management is recognized for its emphasis on real-world learning, community and economic impact, and the global perspective of its faculty, students and alumni. The school also has been ranked by Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes and U.S. News & World Report for the quality of its programs and the return on investment it provides its graduates. For more information about the UB School of Management, visit mgt.buffalo.edu.

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Matthew Biddle
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School of Management