One constant local lament centers on the exodus of young people to the more-vibrant cities in America. So it's worth pausing for a minute to focus on a welcome exception to the trend.
More than a decade ago, Eric Reich and three of his classmates in the University at Buffalo's MBA program started a business surveying college students for universities and corporate clients. The students had won $25,000 in seed money from the first Henry Panasci Entrepreneurial Awards, a competition begun after the cofounder of the Fay's Drugs chain donated $1 million to his alma mater to encourage entrepreneurship.
The principals of the new company, then called Student Voice, rented modest space in East Aurora and lost count of the number of hours they worked to bring their startup onto solid footing.
Flash forward to the present day. The company, now called Campus Labs, has about 90 employees at its main office on Ellicott Street and a smaller office in Atlanta. It records about $10 million in annual sales and boasts a client list of more than 650 campuses.
Campus Labs also became too tempting a target for a larger company to pass up. So Higher One Holdings, a Connecticut-based company that helps colleges and universities disburse financial aid and process student tuition payments, has acquired Campus Labs in a deal worth $40 million.
That's a fine reward for those earnest business students who invested their futures in Student Voice right here in Erie County, even while the national economy was weakening around the year 2000.
But here's the best part: Higher One intends to keep the current offices, in Buffalo and Atlanta, and to retain the current staff.
Further, company founders Eric Reich and Michael Weisman are being told to keep doing what they are doing with Campus Labs.
Reich and Weisman were under no pressure to sell. There were no venture capitalists with a stake in Campus Labs insistent that they all cash in. The founders simply decided they could do even more with the business by selling. "We were really going to do what we kept doing until we decided or determined that we could do even more with the right partner," Reich told David Robinson of The Buffalo News for his story about the sale.Campus Labs' founders deserve a round of applause for the risks they took, their belief in themselves and their contribution to the local economy. Buffalo has a gallows humor about its place in the world, but the folks at Campus Labs have provided a fine example of the fact that young workers can find economic opportunities here, or they can make their own.