Homecoming Q&A: Jonathan Fentzke

Buffalo Business First staff report

Jonathan Fentzke, right, networks with Michael Norsen during the waterfront tour at Buffalo Homecoming 2019. (IMAGE: Joed Viera, Buffalo Business First)
Jonathan Fentzke, right, networks with Michael Norsen during the waterfront tour at Buffalo Homecoming 2019. (IMAGE: Joed Viera, Buffalo Business First)

Jonathan Fentzke’s career has taken him to real estate and startups, both as an adviser and investor. The Hamburg native now resides in Camuy, a seaside town in northern Puerto Rico, and he made the trek home for the first annual Buffalo Homecoming event in 2019.

Fentzke focuses on asset management, advisory and management consulting for lower mid-market companies. His entrepreneurial investing targets early-stage venture and seed funding opportunities.

Before establishing FKM Group in Puerto Rico, Jonathan formed Hamburg-based FKM Union in 2013 to deliver boutique investment opportunities. He helps develop deals that bring together non-traditional sources with access to early stage to mid-market companies.

What do you remember most fondly about your youth in Buffalo?

I’m an 80s kid, but my youth in Buffalo was defined by the 90s Bills - Each Sunday I was either at a home game or watching with eyes glued to the screen.

When the Bills were not playing I spent my youth fishing on Lake Erie with my grandfather in the summers and hunting in the fall.

On a few lucky occasions I remember going to Shea’s and the Tralf to enjoy live performances.

How did your career path take you away from Western New York?

I think the concept of a career is rather odd. But, Buffalo has been a company town traditionally. National Fuel, Blue Cross (Blue Shield of Western New York), Bethlehem Steel, Ford, Rich Products, Delaware North (with) labor unions and other ‘one and done’ places – as in the only company you will ever work for.

I was after experiences and I was deciding between a doctorate at the University at Buffalo or the University of Colorado Boulder. UB never called me back so it was an easy choice to move out west.

From there I’ve lived and worked all over the world (on six continents and countless countries). But, my heart never really left Western New York and I’ve always identified with Buffalo.

What do you do today (for work)?

To me, work or a job is something you do to pay the bills. I’ve been lucky that my curiosity and passion has always allowed me to be paid for simple pleasures. Entrepreneurship, mentorship and investing in other people’s success have been my primary interest for a while now.

Recently, I got the chance to become the managing director for a (startup in) Techstars’ Accelerator (program) focused on space technologies – so I guess that’s what I’m doing for work, but it’s really all fun.

As it relates to Buffalo, I focus on investing and mentoring in the local startup ecosystem as well as real estate and some other side projects.

What did you enjoy most about the first annual Buffalo Homecoming?

Wow, what a great event. I was blown away by the storytelling and development of public and private sector support for new things. I really like the hands-on tours and opportunities to learn about how to contribute to the Buffalo renaissance.

What I enjoyed most – the people. Buffalo has the most passionate, genuine and friendly people in the world. 

What was your favorite part of the tour you took part in?

I got to enjoy a historical perspective on Buffalo while out on the water cruising down the river and through the canal.

Learning about environmental revitalization, the industrial history along the river and the people, events and importance of the Erie Canal and Lake Erie was a special treat.

Scenes from the Buffalo Homecoming waterfront tour

Images by Buffalo Business First

What were you most surprised to see is happening since you left? Is there an industry or business sector you are pleased to see has emerged in Western New York?

I’ve been out of touch with Buffalo for about 15 years. I’m super excited about the startup ecosystem that’s developing and growing since I left. I hope everyone takes the time to tell a friend or family member each week about the value new ideas and new businesses have on our community. Techstars and 43North are really catalyzing the ecosystem and I hope it attracts more excitement and investment from our community.

I think it’s also important to recognize our growing immigrant/refugee community and their positive impact on the city. West Side Bazaar and the growing number of nonprofits provide Buffalo with a unique opportunity to show off the City of Good Neighbors. 

Did you notice opportunity to invest in companies, nonprofits or educational institutions during your visit? Could you see yourself making such a commitment in the years to come?

For sure. I’ve invested in property, businesses and people in and around Buffalo based on what I’ve observed. I’m a firm believer in the power of startups to solve problems and I would encourage the traditional business interests in Buffalo to adopt a partnership approach that extends mentorship and resources to entrepreneurs – to me, this is more profitable and sustainable than just donating money to a 501c3 as part of a community engagement corporate strategy.