43North enters its third year with some new twists to the competition

43North will be a different business competition in its third year, as it debuted several significant changes at a launch event friday.

The final week in late October will have a markedly different feel as 43North will bring 20 tech startups to town to compete for eight cash prizes, including six $500,000 prizes. The last two companies standing will compete for the $1 million grand prize, with the runner-up getting $600,000.

Another difference this year is that 43North will hold back $400,000 for follow-on investments in promising prize winners.

In its first two years, 43North had brought 11 companies to town, all of which were guaranteed one of a $1 million grand prize, five $500,000 prizes and four $250,000 prizes.

All 43North prizes require a company to give up 5 percent of their company and operate for at least one year from Buffalo.

The other significant change will come during the application process. 43North marketing teams had previously spanned the globe trying to draw in as many applications as possible, garnering about 11,300 entrants last year.

43North will seek a much smaller number and more universally qualified group of applicants this year by instituting an application fee. Companies that apply by March 31 will be charged $50 while those who apply by the May 31 deadline will be charged $100.

Executive director John Gavigan said judges had spent thousands of hours in previous years on the many applications, many of which weren’t serious entries in the first place.

The 43North launch event was held at the Thomas R. Beecher Jr. Innovation Center, a space that includes the adjacent 43North and Z80 Labs incubators and the d!g co-working and event space. Speakers included New York Power Authority chairman John Koelmel, state Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, IMMCO Diagnostics president and CEO AND 43North board chair Bill Maggio and two winners from 2015, including ACe Callwood of Painless1099 and Caitlin MacGregor of Plum.

43North is a Buffalo Billion initiative that is supported mainly by the New York Power Authority, which allocated $7 million to support the competition in each of 2015 and 2016.

Both Maggio and Gavigan have spoken publicly of the need to transition 43North to an initiative that can sustain itself at the end of the state’s five-year commitment, either through sponsorships or the proceeds of exits from its portfolio companies.

But stakeholders also pointed out Friday that the competition has had a big impact in Western New York, where there is a concerted effort to stimulate an entrepreneurial economy as part of an overall communal revitalization. Gavigan called the initiative a “marketing powerhouse” that has generated more than 600 news articles and a big reason for separate visits last year by Katie Couric and Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest tour and Buffalo’s inclusion in the upcoming Collision conference.

Brown had similar words during his address to the audience.

“43 North is really remaking the business landscape of Buffalo,” he said. “It’s opening people’s eyes that Buffalo is a good place to start and grow a business.”

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