Norma Nowak, PhD, executive director of the University at Buffalo’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences
Dr. Norma Nowak didn’t plan to become an entrepreneur. This renowned researcher, passionate about science since high school, didn’t think she had the necessary business chops. But when her 38- year-old husband succumbed to a cancer that typically responds well to treatment, she was inspired and motivated to improve patient outcomes.
In 2006, Empire Genomics, a molecular diagnostics firm focused on enabling personalized medicine, was born. At the time, formalized support systems for entrepreneurs were limited, with few resources to help catalyze ideas into businesses. But Dr. Nowak still found doors that opened to opportunity.
Relationships Lead to Support
Around the same time Nowak was launching Empire Genomics, the New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics (CBLS) was being developed on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the University at Buffalo’s first foray downtown. Dr. Marnie LaVigne, currently president and CEO of Launch New York, was leading those efforts at the CBLS and Nowak credits her for the inspirational encouragement and support she provided in the early stages of Empire Genomics’ development. LaVigne helped Nowak identify funding through UB Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technology (UB CAT) programs and advising investor pitches and providing matchmaking to potential CEO’s. It was through that matchmaking process that Nowak met Anthony Johnson who became Empire Genomics CEO, guiding strategic vision and managing day-to-day operations for the last seven years.
A Statewide Network to Build Businesses
Nowak was recently named executive director of the CBLS, where she will use her experience building Empire Genomics to support other entrepreneurs. CBLS is a concierge to the University at Buffalo, a leading AAU research university with strengths in life science sectors such as molecular diagnostics, medical device, and health care informatics. By listening to businesses and understanding their products and processes, the CBLS provides access to all SUNY institutions in non-traditional engagement and support, supply chain sourcing, access to patient populations, recruiting and more.
Opening More Doors
Nowak expresses tremendous gratitude to the people who helped her get where she is today. From the Canisius College professor that provided encouragement and opportunity as an undergrad to the countless UB colleagues, community partners and investors that provided capital support to Empire Genomics. Now she intends to be the one to open the doors of opportunity to entrepreneurs and businesses as well as to students in the Buffalo Public schools through STEM programs.
Today there are many more resources available for entrepreneurs, such as Governor Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion and initiatives like 43North. Buffalo is building an environment that nurtures, enables and grows small companies and promotes what it takes to establish business here. There’s not one institution, program or initiative that can be credited for the development of the community’s entrepreneurial resources. Rather it is a collective of talented and passionate people like Norma Nowak, willing to open doors and motivated to see others and ultimately our community, become successful.
by Jenna Kavanaugh, Marketing Director