9:00am

Mon January 2, 2012
Tech

Investor bias for Silicon Valley makes starting up tough in WNY

Western New York is home to a new social networking site. But it's not like Facebook or Twitter.

Tech startup Selling Hive tries to increase sales for businesses by linking them together online - and it's a model the company's founders say isn't being used anywhere else.

Business is about building relationships, says CEO Bob Richardson, and his company sees an opening to succeed by matching buyers and sellers through social networking. 

"Every small business, every medium-sized business has prospects they'd like to get into, but can't," Richardson says. "Shouldn't technology help this problem? It really doesn't. Technology, it turns out, is a much more effective barrier than it is an enabler."

Take caller ID, for instance. It's tough to get a meeting with someone you don't know, to pitch your new idea or product. Selling Hive envisions arranging that meeting for you, through a variety of channels - be it phone, social networking, or video chat.

The company's brain trust envisions entrepreneurs and companies large and small will pay them $50 a month to connect them with worthwhile business partners.

Selling WNY to investors

The company now calls Fredonia home, but the idea for the firm originated at Richardson's high school reunion.  

"Selling Hive is not just an innovation in social networking, it's an innovation in sales," Richardson contends.

So far, about 100 companies have signed up. The online nature of the firm allows Selling Hive to work with companies from nearly anywhere, but Richardson says there are still challenges that come along with setting up shop in western New York.

"There's a mindset that if you're building a social network and you're not in Silicon Valley, there must be something wrong with it," Richardson says. "So we've had to overcome that a lot, particularly with the investment community."

Despite that stumbling block, Richardson says the lack of competitors doing similar work gives Selling Hive a leg up on eventual competition. And the company resides in a tech incubator at SUNY Fredonia, which offers perks like young cheap talent, that Richardson recruits heavily from the college.

"It made a lot more sense for us to go to a place where people want to live, but can't find jobs," Richardson says.

The startup currently employs 10 people, but that could rise, if Selling Hive's recent marketing efforts in Pennsylvania and New York begin to pay off.