$5 million business plan competition aims to spotlight region - The Buffalo News
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$5 million business plan competition aims to spotlight region

Jordan A. Levy and a venture capitalist who relocated here from Minnesota will oversee a $5 million business plan competition aimed at igniting startup and investor activity in Western New York.

Levy, a local native and venture capitalist, will serve as the competition’s steering committee chairman. Andrew J. Pulkrabek, from Minnesota, was named executive director for the competition. Pulkrabek also has a background in venture capital and has held leadership roles with biotechnology and medical companies in Minnesota.

The competition is part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative. Organizers of the competition – whose official name is yet to be announced – say it will be the largest annual business plan challenge in the nation based on award amount. It will award a total of $5 million in prizes, with a top prize of $1 million.

“It’s a huge magnet for what we ultimately will start to locate here in Buffalo,” Pulkrabek said.

Levy will provide strategic oversight on a volunteer basis. Pulkrabek will serve as the competition’s chief manager, coordinating duties like sponsorships, funding, marketing, incubator space supervision and additional venture capital opportunities for the award winners.

Specifics of the competition – such as the entry process, deadlines and other contest details – will be announced in the near future, Pulkrabek said. In a news release about the competition, organizers said they are hoping to attract investors and entrepreneurs from around the world to compete for prizes that will “turn ideas into funded, high-growth enterprises within the region.” Among the details to be disclosed is what kind of commitment the winner will have to make to being in Western New York.

Pulkrabek said he is hopeful the competition will attract widespread attention. “We certainly recognize it is a big deal, and we’re not going to shy away from that fact. We want to make sure that locally here, throughout the state, throughout the country, internationally, that this is seen as a very, very big push toward supporting entrepreneurs in the United States, in particular in Western New York and Buffalo.”

Last May, the New York Power Authority approved $5.4 million in funding for the competition. The funds were generated from the sale of unused hydropower and committed to the nonprofit Launch New York for management and distribution. The business plan competition makes decisions independently from Launch New York but receives administrative support from that organization.

Launch New York is in the midst of a leadership transition. John J. Seman was named its first chief executive in October 2012, but his contract was not renewed, and he left the job last month. The organization’s board of directors will probably name an interim CEO in the next couple of weeks, said David Colligan, who serves as a director. A longer-term process is planned for choosing a permanent CEO.

Colligan said the Launch New York CEO job has drawn strong interest from around the country: “Buffalo, N.Y., has suddenly become almost a poster child for Rust Belt rehabilitation and change.”

email: mglynn@buffnews.com

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