In christening the Buffalo Tech Hub at Seneca One, M&T Bank officials see not just a new center for innovation, but also a catalyst to further spur the technology ecosystem between their home city and Rochester.
“Regions like ours have a real shot at creating something that’s way more appealing than Silicon Valley or Northern California or some of these other tech centers,” Mike Wisler, M&T’s chief information officer, said during Wednesday’s unveiling.
“I think our region has the opportunity to create the kind of start-up ecosystems that you see starting to germinate in Buffalo and Rochester. There’s way more collaboration between these two cities than I think we give ourselves credit for, or that we’re not doing a good enough job of amplifying.”
M&T Bank invested $58 million to transform the space at Seneca One into the Tech Hub and will occupy 13 of the 38 floors in the tower for around 1,500 employees. Independent firms such as Belgium-based software firm Odoo, Lighthouse Technologies and participants in the 43North accelerator also will have homes at Seneca One.
The bank believes the investment in the Tech Hub concept and in the region will send a message across the nation.
“It’s a signal to the rest of the country that Western New York is a place where great talent can join a great team with great values and a great mission and do great work and, oh, by the way, not have a four-hour commute and not have a $5,000, 1,200-square foot apartment to live in,” Wisler said.
Creating more synergy between Rochester and Buffalo will only help, officials say. The addition of a tech-centric center in Buffalo doesn’t compete with, but instead enhances, NextCorps and other technology-based missions in Rochester.
“Building a really good tech ecosystem requires really good connections,” said James Senall, president of NextCorps. “The bigger that pool is, the better, as long as everyone’s connected. When Datto hired hundreds of people that were technologists, other firms weren’t saying, ‘Oh, you’re taking away from our talent pool.’ It was really additive and the M&T hub will be the same thing.”
Right now, far too many students learn skills necessary to make contributions in the tech field at schools in Rochester and Buffalo, then bolt to technology centers elsewhere, according to business leaders in both cities.
“We have universities that are producing talent that’s leaving because they don’t feel they have the opportunity,” Wisler said.
The Tech Hub, along with a project in downtown Rochester spearheaded by Gallina Development, may provide many more of those opportunities. In transforming the Xerox Tower into Innovation Square, Gallina and partnering colleges and universities believe graduating students will stay in Rochester and that tech startups at the NextCorps accelerator will find the talent necessary to thrive.
Wisler said there certainly is enough homegrown talent in the region with schools such as Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Rochester and University of Buffalo.
“Our partnership with companies like Wegmans and Paychex in Rochester, that crosses marketing, customer experience, management experiences, technology,” he said. “We’re all back and forth, trying to make sure the UB’s of the world and the U of R’s of the world and RIT’s of the world are great places where those students can learn the things that we in the real world need to them to be learning.”
While work-from-home may remain the norm for many in the workforce, the technologists hired by M&T need to be together at the Tech Hub.
“The kinds of work we have to do, the problems we have to solve, they’re too fluid, they’re too influenced by having to observe in real life what consumers are doing,” Wisler said. “The problems are too complicated not to have some proximity for a team mostly relying upon creativity on top of harder skills.
“We also bring our customers here, we bring our partners here, because we want them to be a part of us choosing the right thing to solve. I think way too many companies suffer from two fatal challenges: They don’t recognize yet that they’re technology companies — and that goes for every single company — and companies think they know best what customers want when in fact the opposite is true.”
Wisler said all firms also must realize their duty to the region.
“The larger institutions in our area like the M&Ts, like the Paychex, like the Wegmans, we have a part to play but it’s only a part,” he said. “There is a role to play for absolutely everybody in making sure that our region is prosperous. Whether you are a small company, whether you are a want-to-be or soon-to-be founder, whether you are a local politician, when we talk about policy and infrastructure there is something for all of us to do and it has to be a very collaborative environment.
“The more that we can talk about the Tech Hub as an asset to the community and not some shiny new thing for M&T, the better off that we’re going to be.”
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