Today could be a big day for East Aurora inventor Robert “Bud” Duthie.
Duthie has been working for more than two decades on an emergency water purification system that he believes could be a great help to first responders when water supplies are contaminated by severe storms or chemical spills.
But he needs money to further develop his HellCat system and bring it to market. And he’s hoping he’ll be one step closer toward his fundraising goal today, after the more than 2,600 remaining applicants in the state’s $5 million business plan competition are narrowed to a little more than 100 semifinalists.
“We’re hoping it comes to fruition,” Duthie said Monday. “It’s been quite a journey. We’ve been working on this for almost 30 years.”
The cutdown is one of the biggest steps in the 43North contest, trimming the field of candidates to a more manageable number that will be put under much more detailed scrutiny by the competition’s judges.
The business plan contest, a small but potentially powerful part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic development initiative, is aimed at making Buffalo Niagara a more vibrant region for fledgling businesses, addressing a major shortcoming that local development officials identified in the local economy: a lack of entrepreneurs and new business start-ups.
So the contest is dangling $5 million in prizes, ranging from a grand prize of $1 million to 10 runner-up prizes totaling $4 million, to try to lure some high-potential ideas for new businesses to the Buffalo Niagara region.
By offering prizes – and a wide range of lucrative side benefits – that were bigger than those offered by any other similar contest, the idea was to create a lot of buzz around the competition that it would attract entrepreneurs who otherwise never would have considered Buffalo Niagara as a potential site for their business.
The contest’s winners also will be offered a range of additional incentives, including free space in a local incubator site for a year, as well as support from mentors and the ability to qualify for the lucrative tax incentives available under the state’s Start-Up NY program. The winners will be obligated to set up and operate their business in the Buffalo Niagara region for at least one year.
If Duthie makes it to the semifinals – and he survives the next cut in September to become a finalist – the East Aurora entrepreneur will be in line for one of 11 prizes, ranging from $250,000 to $1 million, plus an array of lucrative side benefits that would give his venture the financial jump-start he’s been unable to find on his own.
If he wins, Duthie said, he will hire engineers to complete research and development work on the HellCat system, which he believes could have a huge market treating the contaminated water produced by the hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells.
But the contest’s sheer numbers means the odds are against Duthie and all of his fellow applicants. The contest drew more than 6,900 applications from 96 countries and all 50 states, with more than 90 percent coming from outside Western New York.
Contest officials immediately winnowed down to 2,603 qualified entries by eliminating potential entrants who were part of ineligible industries or failed to submit their entries properly.
Each of the qualified entries was assessed by three members of the contest’s pool of 269 volunteer judges.
“It’s a big lift to go through that many applications and have every one judged three times,” said Peter Burakowski, the senior marketing manager for the 43North contest. “We’ve been really lucky to have such a great team of judges who came to the table to help us.”
The semifinalists who survive today’s cuts will come under much closer scrutiny from the contest’s judges. The semifinalists will be asked to submit a much more detailed business plan and financial information. Judges will then evaluate them more intensely during a five-day session from Sept. 15 to 20 that will include 10-minute online presentations available for viewing by the public.
After those presentations, the pool will be narrowed to a field of 11 finalists who will be guaranteed of receiving a prize, although the size of the award won’t be determined until the final stage of the competition, which will take place from Oct. 27 to 31.
For that event, the 11 finalists will travel to Buffalo to make 10-minute presentations to a panel of judges, followed by 10 minutes of questions from the judges.