When Megan McNally first leased space for her woodworking business on Northampton Street on Buffalo’s East Side, she had planned on sharing the space with other like-minded craftsmen to fill the 25,000 square foot former warehouse in what is known today as The Foundry. The idea of building a community (and sharing the rent!) of creative businesses was the plan.
What has evolved has become much more and today is a bustling makerspace that provides space, support and mentoring for 30 creative businesses, and a destination for over 235 young people annually to both uncover their interests and find pathways to jobs. Six years later, the Foundry has become a place where entrepreneurship meets education and is now attracting attention, funding, and awards.
The small and still relatively young organization was recently selected as one of 12 organizations across the country to be awarded $100,000 by the Small Business Administration to support its work with WNY YouthBuild, a workforce development program run by The Service Collaborative of WNY that offers individuals ages 16-24 training and practical experience for in-demand industry careers. In addition, McNally, an Oishei Leader, was recently nominated by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo as a Centennial Award “Up and Comer” finalist, acknowledging her as a change-maker in our community.
According to McNally, the nonprofit organization has grown organically based on partnerships and relationships and the opportunities that they have presented. The business incubator that includes a metal shop, a textile lab, woodshop, and a tech lab for its creative businesses in addition to its afterschool programs, adult education, and a resource for young people to discover talents and possible career paths.
The journey has not been without its struggles as McNally acknowledges that the old warehouse where they are located is both the reason the organization exists as it has and the source of many challenges. She recounts the lack of heat, limited electrical infrastructure and the need for a new sprinkler system as
daunting and expensive challenges.
“In typical Buffalo fashion, however, we worked our networks and relationships to uncover creative and less expensive ways to do things,” McNally laughs. “We were lucky to find companies that offer apprenticeship programs who saw this building as a great place for training and we got great deals for installing both our sprinkler system and a concrete patio that way.”
McNally adds that a successful online fundraising campaign helped raise $30,000 allowing the organization to purchase the building, citing their many community supporters who believe in The Foundry and its mission.
The Foundry has recently completed the renovation of its second floor to make more space available for businesses and adding to their revenue stream. The space will house WNY YouthBuild within its facility to give students more exposure and time with the businesses that call The Foundry home. McNally says the intersection of entrepreneurship and education has really grown with the partnership of WNY YouthBuild and with the addition of a fulltime education director, funded for two years by The John R. Oishei Foundation to build and guide the Foundry’s education programs.
While organic growth and building through partnerships with other community groups, local schools, and area businesses, will always be core values, McNally and her team are now working towards the future in more formalized ways. They are working on a plan for capacity building, leading to a more formal strategic plan so that the systems are in place for a sustainable future for the organization and the businesses and students it serves.