Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

Armory Square Ventures: Optimistic About Innovation and Investment in Upstate

When Somak Chattopadhyay and Pia Sawhney decided to open a Skaneateles office for their venture capital firm, colleagues in New York City thought they were joking. Fortunately, the last laugh has been on the skeptics. Armory Square Ventures (ASV) has thrived with a host of investments including Geneva-based RealEats.

Armory Square Ventures

“Opening this office has been a complete game changer for our fund,” says Somak, the managing partner of the firm that also has offices in NYC and Syracuse. “It helps bring people to us because they want a reason to get out of the city and see something beautiful like the Finger Lakes.”

Pia, Somak’s wife and business partner who directs operations, media initiatives and serves on the Investment Committee, couldn’t agree more. “[The new Finger Lakes office] has been a welcome development in so many ways. Come to the lake. Come to the office. Check us out. It has stimulated a lot more startup activity and has been an attraction.”

Armory Square VenturesAs the only institutional venture fund based in central New York and the Finger Lakes, the fund’s impact to date includes 15 startups funded; four investment exits including one unicorn; more than 1,650 jobs created; over $53M under management; and more than $1B in follow-on investments. Armory Square Ventures’s focus is on seed stage and Series A with a target investment of $500M to $2M.

ASV differentiates itself with a concentrated approach that helps its portfolio companies scale. A returns-oriented fund, the organization plays a significant role in the life cycle of its portfolio companies. It is involved in all aspects of their growth from recruiting senior talent, customers, and co-investors to providing general management support at every stage.

The new Skaneateles office serves as an important team-building resource for the companies ASV invests in, particularly as more companies have moved to a hybrid environment. “Sometimes, people forget what it’s like to actually spend time in person with their team members. We found this venue and the whole region very conducive to granting people the chance to channel their positive energy,” explains Pia.

Armory Square Ventures MeetingOne of ASV’s larger events with entrepreneurs and investors that was held in Skaneateles in the Fall of 2021.

Choosing the Finger Lakes

Armory Square Ventures started in 2013 when the couple was contacted by a group of universities, institutional investors, and families with ties to Upstate New York. The group had looked at the success of startup ecosystems in places like Boulder and Austin and realized that Silicon Valley did not have a monopoly on innovation. They concluded that what was missing in this region was a venture fund that could not only lead rounds and write substantial checks, but also attract additional capital and talent to help companies become market leaders in their industries. 

Somak and Pia had not spent time in the Finger Lakes. “We lived in NYC and had traveled extensively all over the world. The idea of going to a new place and starting a new firm was exciting,” says Pia. When an investor suggested they stay at the Sherwood Inn in Skaneateles, they knew they had found a very special place. 

Her positive feelings about the region have grown stronger over time. “I love that there’s so much to discover. Each lake has its own character and distinctive qualities. There’s always something new to find whether it’s a restaurant, hotel, or startup. I think that element of discovery and enrichment adds so much to the experience of living here.”

For both partners, the community support and interconnectivity has guidedthe firm’s success. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without the Finger Lakes community,” says Somak. “They have enriched us, and we’re very grateful to so many leaders, innovators, and imaginers who work here, as well as the healthy and rich small businesses. I think we all draw and gain from it.”

Success in Food Tech

While the firm invests in a range of industries, one focus area that is particularly relevant to the Finger Lakes is its knowledge and interest in food tech. “There’s real opportunity for software technology to help improve efficiencies and generate more revenue for players in the entire food supply chain. We realized early on that there is a treasure trove of talent here in [agriculture across] New York State,” says Somak, who was involved in several highly successful companies in food tech before he started his firm.

Armory Square Ventures was an early investor in Good Uncle, which launched an app-based, on-demand, delivery-only restaurant service in 2016 at Syracuse University and was acquired two years later by multi-billion dollar foodservice supplier, Aramark. In 2019, ASV invested in RealEats, a meal plan service that uses innovative packaging to quickly deliver restaurant-quality food directly to consumers.

Read more about this investment deal in the LOCATE Finger Lakes Business Journal article: Fresh Meal Delivery Service Moves into 80,000 Square-Foot Production Facility in the Town of Geneva

When RealEats was expanding, Somak connected founder and CEO Dan Wise with Michelin chef Erik Battes who had been co-CEO of Good Uncle. Since Erik joined as president in June 2020, RealEats has grown more than 200%, increased its staff headcount from 47 to 150, and received over $16.3 million Series A funding through Armory Square Ventures and another firm with an active investment strategy in NY state, Hamilton Lane.

“We were initially really impressed with the RealEats idea and market potential,” says Somak. “Then, Eric came on board to innovate the product based on his extensive experience and reputation as a chef, along with his understanding of the complex logistics of running a food service operation. RealEats has such a stellar team, and it has been a privilege to work alongside them.”

Built on Collaboration

Somak and Pia say their firm’s team collaborates closely and shares a love of finance, entrepreneurship, community, and particularly the success of their portfolio companies. “Our culture is marked by a few key values: integrity, collaboration, creativity, and independence. We have created a company where your interests are going to be attended to, where your views matter, and where your perspective is relevant. That’s how we are attracting talent,” Pia told us in an interview.

She would like creativity to remain at the heart and soul of everything they do. Both she and her husband were both artists before they entered finance: she was a film producer, and he was a classical musician in his teens. Somakis especially fond of a quote by Scott Johnson, an early-stage technology venture capital investor: I think of growing a business as a creative pursuit, like creating a building or a great musical composition. The entrepreneur is an artist, and our role as investors is to provide the medium [capital] and mentorship that leads to a masterpiece.”

Somak also believes their investors share their values. “We are grateful to have sophisticated investors and business leaders who  look at the fund as a collective, unifying effort. When they talk about Armory Square, they don’t say ‘How is your fund doing?’ They say ‘How is our fund doing? How are our companies doing?’ There’s a camaraderie here that is harder to find in places like New York City and Silicon Valley. It’s something we do not want to lose.” 

Somak is positive about the future of the firm and he says he is “100% more optimistic now that we have witnessed the potential of the region.” He wants the Armory Square team to create and generate more startup success stories and prime more entrepreneurs to build companies in the region  and attract other funding sources and talent . “People are beginning to understand the potential of the Finger Lakes. They also see that our commitments have yielded multibillion dollar outcomes. The region already boasts  an enviable quality of life.”


LOCATE Finger Lakes is a Finger Lakes economic development initiative designed to assist and foster collaboration among the established Finger Lakes economic development efforts with targeted, proactive, marketing communications and networking. LOCATE Finger Lakes is focused on directing local, national, and international business leaders to Finger Lakes information, and inspire them to look closely at the region’s assets enabling their businesses, their families, and their employees’ families to thrive.

Maureen Ballatori is a LOCATE Finger Lakes Business Journal contributing writer and a member of the organization’s board of directors. She is founder and CEO of 29 Design Studio, a creative agency for food, beverage, and agriculture brands.

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