43North companies that stayed are making an impact here

Stephen T. Watson | The Buffalo News

The 43North business plan competition was launched in 2014 as a small but important piece of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic-development initiative.

Financed largely through the New York Power Authority, the contest awards $5 million in prizes annually to promising startups.

The companies receive funding, mentor support and free rent. In exchange, they must move to Buffalo for a year and turn over a 5 percent ownership stake in their firms to 43North.

The point of the program is to help support a startup ecosystem in Buffalo and to publicize that community to entrepreneurs and investors across the country and internationally, organizers said.

“I don’t think anybody would question 43North has put Buffalo on the map,” said William J. Maggio Jr., the investor and entrepreneur who took over as chair of 43North’s board in January. “We still have a lot of work to do. There’s still key opinion drivers out there in the startup world that still need to know more about Buffalo, but we’re making progress.”

A key hope for the region, of course, is that many of the companies stay in the area after their one-year commitment ends.

Of the first 11 winners from the 2014 contest, six stayed in Buffalo after they were no longer required to do so. The 2015 winners soon will make that decision. John T. Gavigan, 43North’s executive director, said he would like to see half the winners from each year’s class remain in Buffalo after their commitments are up.

But 43North “can’t go it alone” in the effort to retain the companies, he said.

“It is incumbent upon the entire community to be engaged,” Gavigan said.

How has the region benefited from the 43North program so far?

Twenty-one companies remain part of 43North from its first two years, and they’ve raised $15 million in funding in the 22 months they’ve been active in the program.

“By any standard, that’s an amazing amount,” Gavigan said.

Further, he said, the value of the 21 companies’ portfolios has increased by 300 percent since they applied to join 43North.

The 16 companies that remain in Buffalo — six from 2014 and the 10 from the 2015 contest — have created 84 jobs between them. Gavigan said that represents progress, and there’s more to come.

“In context, our long-term goals are to create jobs and grow wealth in this community,” he said.

Gavigan, Maggio and Peter Burakowski, 43North’s director of marketing, all said the changes in the competition format should bring more promising startups into the contest pipeline.

“We’ve got to get better every year,” Maggio said.

His goal, he added, is “to increase the probability that we’re going to bring the next Dell to Buffalo.”