© 2023 Innovation Trail

Business incubator offers first year freebies, with a catch

Daniel Robison
Standing in the lobby of the iconic Electric Tower in downtown Buffalo, nxtARROW President John Howell introduces the three companies he's already attracted to the city.


Buffalo has a new business incubator downtown. nxtARROW officially opened its doors this week, with a business model meant to convince out-of-town clients to move to Buffalo.

Already, three have jumped on board. They’ll receive one free year of rent, legal services, marketing help and other support from established Buffalo businesses.

But there’s a catch.

Free now, but pay later
Companies in the incubator must pay market rates for those services later. Depending on the length of a binding contact businesses must sign, that commitment could last up to five years.

nxtARROW is a non-profit, but company president John Howell has arranged for local businesses to profit from the deals that he strikes with the small start-ups. 

“Most the businesses in Buffalo are for-profit. We’re here to help the for-profit community to make a profit. We’re bringing business here to help them increase their client base. That’s obviously one of the main goals of what we’re trying to do,” Howell says.

But the majority of start-up companies fail shortly after they begin. And most are not self-sustaining after only one year.

“Everybody who starts a business realizes they’re an endangered species. What we’re trying to do is create a shelter that makes them a lot less endangered and give them a lot of additional impetus to reduce the risks, to increase the likelihood they’ll succeed." 

Part of that sheltering even includes being flexible about the year that companies get under nxtARROW's wing, according to Howell. 

"Not all plans work out, he says. "So if companies are struggling, we can always work with them to try to save the company if they're not ready at the end of the year."

Most of Buffalo’s existing incubators focus on medical and biotech companies. Howell says his broader focus, on out-of-towners, means his new venture has no real competition at the moment.

Seeing potential in Buffalo
After visiting Buffalo the first time, Michelle Maria Nicholas wasn’t sure if she wanted to move her small consulting firm, WorkSmart eBusiness Solutions, to the city from Boston.

“I was very skeptical,” Nicholas says.

But after learning about the low-cost of living and a dearth of companies like hers locally, she decided to take a chance on Buffalo.

“What I see is a city that has a lot of potential, Nichols says. “I just wish that people would really invest in it.”

nxtARROW hopes to attract 20 companies to move to Buffalo this year.

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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