How This $5 Million Business Competition Highlights The Best Of Entrepreneurship

Bill Rader | Forbes

Last week was typical mid-fall in this rising rust-belt city, but the energy and excitement was at a higher level than usual.

It was 43North week in the Queen City!

43North Team

43North Team (photo: Nancy J. Parisi)

Over the last two years, 43North events have shown that the area’s investment of 5 million dollars a year in start-ups (the largest prize purse in the world) is producing a return for the region. This and other investment is helping the city come back to life in what is being described by many as a true renaissance.

43North: the experiment is working

The Executive Director of 43North, John Gavigan, announced that the last 24 months have shown a portfolio value increase of some 300% for past winning companies – an incredible return!

The entire 43North team, a small but energized group of Buffalo boosters, have conceptualized and executed a world-class production. They have crafted what has become the world’s biggest entrepreneurial event: a creation that rivals anything produced in Hollywood, but doesn’t stop with the credits at the end of the show. It only starts there.

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43North’s real achievement was being able to attract the best start-ups to this community. Teams from around the world were invited to compete for a piece of the largest purse in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The Contestants

The week was filled with both triumph and disappointment, as fifteen teams competed for a piece of the 5 million dollar purse while only 8 left with an investment.

But, those investments were large. The smallest prize was a half million dollars, with a $600k second prize and a one million dollar top prize investment which went to a start-up working on treatments to help people with cancer – a small Boston start-up, Oncolinx.

Oncolinx - Grand Prize investment winner of one million dollars.

Oncolinx – Grand Prize investment winner of one million dollars.(photo: Nancy J. Parisi)

There were two days of pitches with the final top three companies on stage presenting “Shark Tank style” to a panel of successful entrepreneurs and business executives in front of an audience of nearly 3,000 at the historic Sheas Performing Art Center in Buffalo’s theater district.

Boston's HigherMe took home second prize and $600K investment. (Photo: Nancy J. Parisi)

Boston’s HigherMe took home second prize and $600K investment. (photo: Nancy J. Parisi)

Baltimore’s PathoVax, a company working on a low-cost vaccine to prevent HPV-associated cancers, was a runner-up in the 2015 contest, but took home a cool half-million to continue their efforts this year.  The two were more than excited to find that their 2-year effort to make it into the Buffalo start-up community was successful.

“It’s amazing, but our mission is not yet complete.”

                                           – Joshua Wang, PhD, CSO PathoVax

PathoVax, a Baltimore start-up will relocate to Buffalo to continue efforts. (Photo: Nancy J. Parisi)

PathoVax, a Baltimore start-up, will relocate to Buffalo to continue efforts. (photo: Nancy J. Parisi)

A mature team of business veterans from Boston, UltraCell Insulation, was another half-million dollar winner.  Their company makes high performance building insulation.  When asked how he felt about his win, Jon Strimling, CEO of UltraCell said:

 

“I feel like a million bucks!”

                                      – Jon Strimling

Well, from my view,  if Jon dives into it like I did after my 2014 second-place win, he will easily make that million dollar feeling a reality.

UltraCell Insulation.

UltraCell Insulation team after winning $500K.(photo: Nancy J. Parisi)

Other winners included:

Third place winner, Asarasi, a company that has developed a new source of water which is harvested from trees; Bounce Imaging, a Boston company with a 360-degree throwable camera that gives first responders critical intelligence as they enter dangerous spaces; Canadian company Formarum, who make a self-contained, self-powered device that can be used to harvest power from flowing water; and WeDidIt from Brooklyn, NY, a company that has created a way to help nonprofits raise more money and reach new donors.

From my view, this group of start-ups will bring a lot to the Buffalo entrepreneurial ecosystem.  Many are already revenue generating, and all have experienced professionals at the helm.

This year’s winners bring the total number of 43North companies to 29.

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Former NBC Luke Russert was the emcee for the evening.(photo: Nancy J. Parisi)

The Competition

Fifteen teams started the process on Wednesday, all pitching to an audience of thirty experts, including venture capital, institutional and angel investors.

Each team gave a 5 minute pitch and answered judges’ questions. At the end of the day, 10 teams advanced to the finals.

During finals day, each team provided an extended ten minute pitch, answered questions from the 7 all-star judges, including the current CSO of Starbucks, Matthew Ryan, and serial entrepreneur Ambarish Mitra, CEO of Blippar.

 

I have been impressed with the overall quality I have seen.  I didn’t expect this caliber of contestants, and I see some really big, winning ideas here.”

                                                                       – Matthew Ryan, CSO Starbucks

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Ambarish Mitra, CEO of Blippar judging the contestants. (photo: Nancy J. Parisi)

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