Katie Alexander | WIVB

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The big winners of North America’s biggest start up competition will be announced Thursday night, but first, ten finalists are facing a panel of judges on stage at Shea’s Theater, trying to remain in the running for the million dollar top prize.

Hundreds of entrepreneurs entered this year’s 43North competition, which offers $5 million in prizes to start ups, as well as mentorship, space in a business incubator in Buffalo, and tax incentives for up to ten years.

Over several rounds of competition, the field has now been narrowed down to ten finalists, vying for 8 prizes. The grand prize winner will receive a million dollars, a runner up will get $600,000, and there will be six $500,000 prizes awarded. The competition is made possible by the Buffalo Billion initiative.

A panel of seven executives and venture capitalists spent Thursday morning listening to the finalists’ pitches. They will pick the top three to make presentations in front of thousands of people at Shea’s Thursday night, ahead of the announcement about the winners.

Each of the winners must agree to base their company in Buffalo for at least one year. The winners also work with young people in the community to help develop their entrepreneurial dreams.

Thursday morning, about 1,500 students from around Western New York were in the audience at Shea’s to watch the finalists’ pitches. Organizers hope this will be a life-changing experience for them. “We’re looking to build an entrepreneurial movement in Western New York. These are going to hopefully be the next generation of great entrepreneurs,” said Peter Burakowski, Director of Marketing for 43North.

Tickets are still available for the final round Thursday evening, which is free and open to the public. Ticket information is online at 43North.org.