Stephen T. Watson | The Buffalo News

In the first two years of the 43North business plan competition, every company invited to attend the finals in Buffalo was guaranteed to win at least the minimum prize of $250,000.

This year, the organizers of the contest changed the rules to make things more interesting.

Of the 16 companies that are arriving in Buffalo to take part in the 2016 version of the competition, on Wednesday and Thursday, half will receive an award of at least $500,000.

The other eight companies will go home empty-handed.

“Unlike in previous years, not everyone is going to win,” said William J. Maggio Jr., 43North’s board chairman.

In another wrinkle, there will be two days of judging — first to whittle the finalists from 16 down to 10 and later from 10 down to the three companies whose founders will make pitches live on Thursday night for the chance to win the $1 million grand prize.

It’s meant to bring a little “Shark Tank” excitement to the competition’s third year.

The organizers decided to make a series of changes to 43North for this year, to boost the quality of the mix of companies that applied to the contest and to improve how the competition worked once the finalists got to Buffalo.

The 16 finalist companies chosen to come here will find a markedly different contest than in previous years of the 43North competition, organizers said.

A key change is three rounds of judging over two days. It starts with a group of venture capital and angel investors from across the country who will listen to pitches from all 16 firms on Wednesday at the atrium at Rich Products.

A benefit of bringing the VC investors to town is to expose them to Buffalo and its entrepreneurial scene and, perhaps, interest them in investing in a Buffalo-based company, Maggio said.

The first round of judging will cull the 16 finalists down to 10 companies, who will reconvene Thursday morning at Shea’s Performing Arts Center before a different group of distinguished judges.

Those judges will hear another round of company pitches. Afterward, they’ll settle on the eight winning companies, and they’ll name the three startups that will square off in the Finals $1 million Round on Thursday night, also on the Shea’s main stage.

In previous years, organizers simply announced the winner at night after all 10 companies made their pitches earlier in the day. This year, organizers wanted the drama of the live face-off among three last companies.

“It’s a huge shift,” said John T. Gavigan, 43North’s executive director.

After that, everyone will find out who won the $1 million top prize, the $600,000 runner-up prize and the six, $500,000 prizes — double the minimum prize from previous years.

In another change, there will be two companies on stage Thursday night that won’t win anything at all. Additionally, 43North set aside $400,000 that the winners can access in 2017.

For more information on the full range of 43North Week events, visit Most events are free and open to the public, but registration may be required.