2021 Annual Awards

The Upstate Capital community came together on December 8, 2021 in Rochester to celebrate the investment ecosystem over the past year. 

Jump to:
Climate Tech Award
Venture + Growth Awards
PE + M&A Awards
Dealmaker of the Year
Lifetime Achievement Award

Welcome to the Annual Awards

This event was made possible by the support of our annual and event sponsors. Organizations like Upstate Capital rely on financial support in many ways, including annual sponsorship, membership and events like these. The 2022 annual sponsors who will underwrite the organization through the next year include NY Ventures, Genius NY, KeyBank, SUNY Research Foundation and Grasshopper Bank. Supporters of the Annual Awards included ESL Federal Credit Union, Excell Partners, and the table sponsors: Schwartz Heslin Group, Armory Square Ventures and Summer Street Capital. 

Welcoming us to Rochester, Mayor-elect, Malik Evans spoke about the community he serves. Since 2014, Malik has focused on business growth and financial wellness at ESL Federal Credit Union, New York State’s largest credit union with over 800 employees and $8B under management. Malik has supported Upstate Capital for several years to help strengthen ties to the broader investment community and the businesses and people that he served. 

Our Supporters

The Upstate New York investment ecosystem is driven by investors who know that their successes come from excellent investment opportunities and to have those opportunities, we need excellent companies with talented entrepreneurs and CEOs founding, leading, growing and exiting them. Noa Simons, the President & CEO of Upstate Capital, was joined by Aaron Newman to start the program. Aaron is a serial entrepreneur who has founded several startups since the mid-1990s, all with successful exits including CloudCheckr, which was sold earlier this year. 

Ecosystem Highlights

At Upstate Capital, many of our members and sponsors have been involved with arguably the biggest deal this year, in terms of impact on our ecosystem. ACV Auctions is a prime example of starting, growing and exiting a company successfully in Upstate New York. The ACV exit is very meaningful to Upstate NY, partly because so many local and regional investors were involved including NY Ventures, Rand Capital, Armory Square Ventures, UpVentures, and 43North. The cascading impact of the returns to some of those organizations continues to expand access to capital in unprecedented ways.

Upstate Capital partners with Techstars

This year, the Techstars Foundation has embraced the NYBPC for its focus on accelerating equity and inclusion for entrepreneurs and is supporting the program by matching $1 for every $5 committed. Techstars will leverage its network to share this program nationally and internationally to gain more visibility and philanthropic support. Many thanks to Jeremy Shure, one of Upstate Capital’s board members, for his nomination!


Climate Tech

We celebrated advancements in climate tech companies across NY.  NYSERDA has been a major supporter of Upstate Capital for many years, and their mission is to decarbonize New York’s economy. These transactions are both directly and indirectly impacted by the huge investments NYSERDA has made in enabling green energy infrastructure in this state. There have been many significant deals over the past year from Climate Tech companies in New York, including:

  • Imperium 3 New York raised $85M in a combination of equity and debt funding to build their gigafactory in the Southern Tier.
  • Brightcore Energy, based in the Hudson Valley, has raised over $80M. Hamilton Lane participated in the investment.
  • CleanFiber raised nearly $12M over the past year, including investment from the Western NY Impact Investment Fund, bringing total funds raised to nearly $40M. 

The Climate Tech award went to Distributed Solar Development, DSD Renewables. DSD Renewables was launched as a startup within General Electric (GE) in 2012. In 2019, BlackRock acquired the majority of the business and completed the full acquisition late last year. 

Venture + Growth

The nominees for venture + growth awards this year include:

  • Ellicottville Greens raised $1 million from Varia Ventures to triple its production capabilities in Western NY.
  • Agape closed a $1.8M seed round led by Harlem Capital with participation from Upstate Capital member Launch NY, Jack Greco and several other investors.
  • MimiVax closed on a $5,000,000 raise to fund a Phase 2 clinical trial of a vaccine to treat brain cancer.
  • Council Rock, an RIT Venture Creations company back in 2016, raised $7M in a round led by Grand Oaks Capital
  • Blackbird AI, based in Rochester, has raised over $11M in venture financing, closed six fortune 100 clients, booked seven figures in ARR and grew from six to twenty-six employees in the past year
  • TCGplayer is a technology company based in Syracuse that raised $35M from Vista Credit partners.
  • Pharmasmart, based in Rochester, raised growth capital from Toronto-based firm CPS.

Angel Investment of the Year goes to United Aircraft Technologies. UAT’s President & CEO Eva Rhysing and Leon Greene, lead investor from Hudson Valley Startup Fund, accepted the award. This past year, UAT closed an oversubscribed $1.35 million financing round as well as an additional $350k of non-dilutive financing. Hudson Valley Startup Fund led the round. 

Seed Investment of the Year went to Agapé, led by Khadesha Okwoduli. Kadie is Agape’s Founder & CEO. She closed a big seed round led by Harlem Capital with participation from Upstate Capital members Launch NY, Jack Greco and several other investors. Agapé creates and sustains healthy relationships by sparking meaningful conversations with personalized daily questions.

Charlotte Hamilton and her company, Conamix, won this year’s Venture Capital Investment of the Year. Conamix develops ultra-high energy density lithium-sulfur batteries. In this past year, Conamix closed a venture round in excess of $4 million from multiple parties and secured a federal contract of $8.6 million from IARPA. Conamix also launched out of stealth and won a global award for Clean Energy Research at CleanEquity Monaco in July. Charlotte joined us at the Annual Awards Celebration to accept the Venture Investment of the Year Award! She was nominated by Jeremy Shure, Chief Revenue Officer at Grasshopper Bank. 

Growth Capital Investment of the Year went to RealEats. RealEats CEO, Dan Wise, Somak Chattopadhyay from Armory Square nominated the deal, and David Helgerson, lead investor from Hamilton Lane accepted the award. RealEats, a meal delivery service headquartered in Geneva, NY, raised over $16M in a Series A Round in October 2021. The round was led by Hamilton Lane and included global health and wellness brand GNC, Armory Square Ventures and Excell Partners.

PE + M&A

There has been lots of activity in private equity and M&A transactions this year.  We’re happy to recognize several significant private equity and M&A deals this year.  The nominees include:

  • Caitec is rolling up pet industry-related companies leveraging support from a Buffalo-based team of capital providers led by private equity investor Ryan Martin from Fairchild Capital Partners and supported by several Upstate Capital partners including KeyBank, Rand Capital and Freed Maxick. Phillips Lytle represented Fairchild Capital in the acquisition.
  • Death Wish Coffee was nominated by Schwartz Heslin Group, showcasing the strength of the Capital Region-based company to attract capital from TA Associates to fund its growth, and the depth of the SHG team in positioning the company and connecting founders to capital.
  • Hammer Packaging Corporation was acquired by Fort Dearborn. Upstate Capital members Jeff Lewis and Dave Dinolfo from the Bonadio Group helped to facilitate the transaction.

Private Equity Deal of the Year: Weco Manufacturing. Ryan Martin of Fairchild Capital Partners was the company’s lead investor and David Kocen of Bluehenge Capital nominated the company for this award and is an investor in Weco.   

Fortune 500 Deal of the Year Award: CloudCheckr. Aaron Newman and his team built an incredibly valuable company in Rochester over the past decade. CloudCheckr, a cloud optimization platform service company built in Rochester, was acquired by NetApp, a Fortune 500 company. A few years ago, CloudCheckr was recognized at the Annual Awards Celebration for raising growth capital, and this exit is a great success for Upstate New York.

Dealmaker of the Year

The Dealmaker of the Year award is given annually to a person in the Upstate NY ecosystem who has demonstrated commitment to the region, to Upstate Capital, while being very active in the investment community.  This year, we are pleased to announce that Tom Quinn, the CEO of the Western NY Impact Fund, is the Upstate Capital Dealmaker of the Year for 2021.

Tom has been very active in making investments in Western NY early-stage companies. Clean Fiber, one of Upstate Capital’s Climate Tech nominees, is one of the investments he has led. WNY Impact Fund was the first money in with junior debt in 2018 and then made an equity investment this September.  His fund is the biggest local investor and highlights the impressive scale of Clean Fiber’s social impact in addition to potential investment returns. 

Circuit Clinical is another important investment that has been recognized here tonight.  He made an equity investment in December 2020 and just invested again a month ago in the latest round.  Tom is the co-Chair of their Participant Engagement Council which is aiming to make clinical trials a care option for marginalized groups and communities.

Garwood Medical also received a third investment from the WNY Impact Fund a couple of months ago. Garwood is advancing implant infection control through their innovative biofilms.

There is a fourth investment in the process of completion, which Tom may or may not be able to share with us tonight. Tom is a board member at Upstate Capital.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Congratulations to Mike McQueeney on the decades of work he’s done in private equity in Upstate New York. We celebrated his accomplishments tonight with his friends and colleagues from across the state at the Annual Awards Celebration. Read more about his achievements here. Thank you to Upstate Capital Board President, Randy Bianchi of Lakelet Capital for nominating Mike.