Takes top 43North prize with app for selling cars

Joe Nieman has had quite a week.

His daughter, Alyvia, was born a week ago, and Thursday, the young company that Nieman runs in Buffalo, ACV Auctions, won the $1 million grand prize in the 43North business plan competition.

ACV Auctions, which is based in the Z-80 Labs incubator on Ellicott Street, was launched just 14 months ago, with a plan to shake up the way car dealers sell their unwanted vehicles by creating a smartphone app that allows those vehicles to be sold in 20-minute online auctions rather than through conventional auctions that are typically held weekly.

“It’s faster. It’s cheaper and it’s way more efficient,” Nieman said after ACV beat out 10 other finalists to claim the top prize. “It’s a perfect blend of an antiquated system and new technology.”

What’s more, ACV impressed two of the 43North judges – hedge fund manager Daniel Lewis and Buddy Media founder Michael Lazerow – enough that they agreed to invest separately in ACV and mentor them. How much they plan to invest and the terms of their additional investment hasn’t been determined, Nieman said.

ACV, which already has raised $1 million from investors, plans to use its 43North money to roll out its auctions in 10 new markets, while adding to the 10-person staff that it already has in Buffalo, hiring software designers and engineers as well as sales and marketing staff, said Dan Magnuszewski, the company’s chief technology officer.

“Our goal is to build out our base and have our headquarters here,” Magnuszewski said.

The company started running auctions four months ago and has sold 650 vehicles since. The company earns a $330 fee for each vehicle sold.

It was the second straight year that a local company won the top prize in a competition that attracted more than 3,000 qualified entries and drew applicants from 117 countries and all 50 states. Another local company, biotechnology firm Cytocybernetics, won $500,000, while Buffalo-based sports training data tracker CoachMePlus won $250,000.

ACV’s prize capped an awards ceremony at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, following a daylong series of presentations by each of the finalists to a panel of six judges from the venture capital and business world. Each of the finalists took to the Shea’s stage to make a 10-minute pitch about why their venture deserved the $1 million grand prize, followed by 10 minutes of questions from the judges.

With $5 million in funding, the contest is a small, but potentially powerful, part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic-development plan. By helping to nurture fledgling businesses, organizers are hoping that the winners will be able to turn their ideas into viable commercial products and create profitable businesses that will create jobs in the Buffalo Niagara region.

Each of the 11 finalists, in addition to their cash prize, will receive rent-free space in the 43North incubator on Ellicott, as well as help from mentors and eligibility for the tax-free benefits available under the state’s Start-Up NY program. In return, the contest gets a 5 percent ownership stake in each business.

The six companies that received $500,000 prizes are:

• CleanSlate, a Toronto company that is developing a device that uses ultraviolet light to clean and sanitize the surfaces of objects, from smartphones to thermometers, in medical settings to reduce the risk of infection.

• Cytocybernetics, a North Tonawanda company created by a pair of University at Buffalo professors, is developing biotechnology it believes can cut the time and money needed to bring new drugs to the market. The company’s test can determine whether a drug causes cardiac arrhythmia.

• Disease Diagnostic Group, a Boston company developing a battery-powered device that uses magnets and lasers to detect malaria in a patient’s blood. DDG says its 2-pound portable device can test blood in about a minute and costs about 75 percent less than other tests now in use.

• Painless1099, a Richmond, Va., company that helps independent contractors, such as freelance designers or real estate agents, save for tax season. Painless1099 helps users avoid unexpected tax bills at the end of the year by automatically withholding income and Social Security taxes that are put into a separate account at an Iowa-based bank and then depositing the rest into the consumer’s checking account.

• UmaBioseed, an Ithaca company founded by four Cornell University MBA students, is developing enzyme-based seed coatings that can help fight viral, fungal and bacterial pathogens, including during the seed’s germination phase.

• Voiceitt, an Israeli company that is developing voice translation technology for the disabled. The company’s translation app, Talkitt, is designed to help people with disabilities communicate better with others. The app can be programmed to recognize a user’s unintelligible speech and translate it into words that can be broadly understood.

The four companies winning $250,000 prizes are:

• CoachMePlus, a Buffalo company that has developed a software system that helps coaches, trainers and other athletic officials track and manage data on how athletes are training.

• GetGems, an Israeli company offering a social messaging app that also pays users of its free instant messaging services for watching ads and inviting new users to the service. The app also allows users to send money, as bitcoin, to other users for free.

• Plum, a Waterloo, Ont., company that makes employment assessment software that combines behavioral science with predictive analytics to help screen job applicants and help determine how well they fit a position.

• Qoints, a Toronto company aggregates digital marketing data to help brands evaluate how well their digital campaigns are doing by comparing their results with industry benchmarks – something that only about a quarter of all companies do.

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