The Buffalo Niagara region is the place to be. Overwhelming response to the 43North business plan competition to attract startups is one example why.
Word spread through social media and in events that organizers held across the United States and Southern Ontario, and even India and Israel. As a result, the competition drew applications from more than 6,900 entrepreneurs. Interest came from 96 countries and all 50 states. The applicant pool has been whittled down to 2,603 qualified entries, hoping to make it through the next stages.
They would all love to be one of 11 winners selected after their “Shark Tank” style grilling from a panel of judges in late October. If they get that far, they will get a piece of the $5 million in prizes. But it’s the top winner who gets the grand prize of $1 million.
For those not already addicted, “Shark Tank” is the popular television reality competition series in which budding entrepreneurs sometimes warily present their business ideas in front of sharp, skeptical judges who promise to finance new ventures. Not everybody can get on TV, although some of Buffalo’s competition will be shown online.
The spotlight is on this area, thanks to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic-development initiative. The state’s business plan competition is far and away more attractive than most because of the size of the cash prizes, which are bigger than any other similar contest.
Here’s the catch and it’s a doozy: Winners are required to start and operate their businesses in the region for at least a year. They will soon find out what other “temporary” transplants discovered. Buffalo is a place to plant roots.
There is a lot to recommend here in a good quality-of-life, low traffic and affordable homes. And, of course, there is the burgeoning waterfront, medical campus and renewed signs of vibrancy being fueled by the “Buffalo Billion.”
Besides the money prizes of varying sizes for all 11 winners (which also require the recipients to hand over a 5 percent stake in the business), organizers have offered free space in a local incubator site for a year, support from mentors and the ability to qualify for the lucrative tax incentives available under the state’s Start-Up NY program, which is its own lure as a tax-free zone.
Under Start-Up NY, businesses won’t be subject to most state taxes. It shouldn’t be hard to recruit employees, since they will not have to pay state income taxes for 10 years. The winning firms also will be provided access to other resources and mentoring services.
Organizers have the right idea in thinking the Start-Up NY benefits alone will be a powerful incentive to persuade the winning entrepreneurs to stay in Buffalo after their one-year commitment ends.
43North organizers expected to get entrants – maybe a thousand, but not nearly seven times that many. Buffalo is the place to be.