By all accounts, organizers of the 43North business plan competition are getting exactly what they wanted when they decided to make some key changes in the process. It should bode well for the contest, now in its third year, and, by extension, the region.
The competition has been whittled down to 142 semifinalists from the initial 542 entrants. Tougher entrance requirements and a nominal entrance fee mean this year’s crop is likely higher quality than in years past. Certainly, there were fewer non-serious entries this year.
43North organizers decided to focus on raising the quality of applicants, as opposed to quantity. They scored in that category, receiving a fraction of the number of applicants in years past.
Another change is in the number of winners, down from 11 to eight. Along with that, however, the prizes grew, with all eight winners receiving at least $500,000. The runner-up gets $600,000 and the grand prize winner still walks away with $1 million. Gone are the $250,000 prizes that had been awarded in the past to four of the 11 winners. Still, as an incentive, the contest will carry another $400,000 in prize money over to 2017 to reward winning companies “that show particular promise.”
Over the next few months the field will be narrowed to 10 finalists. On Oct. 27, all 10 will face off, and the judges will select the eight prize winners and two alternates.
43North takes a 5 percent ownership stake in each of the winners, which will receive mentoring support and free rent for a year. Winners also must move to Buffalo for a year. It is encouraging, as has been reported in The News, that of the first 11 winners, six remained in Buffalo even after their one-year commitment ended.
The semifinalists show a high level of geographic, ethnic and gender diversity. Twenty-three percent have founders who are women; 37 percent have founders self-identifying as being African-American, Hispanic or another non-white ethnic group. Tech entrepreneurs Angel Davis and Lauren Washington, who were among the winners in 2014 with their KeepUp social media management mobile app, serve as inspiration for nontraditional owners of startups. Their story made headlines locally and nationally.
Many of the entrants are from within a few hundred miles of Buffalo, no surprise considering the winners will have to move here for at least a year. Of the semifinalists, 25 are from Erie and Niagara counties, or about 17 percent. Canada has strong representation, with 26 semifinalists. Other blocs of semifinalists are from California, Massachusetts and Texas.
The contest has always drawn from different parts of the world, and that continues. This year’s semifinalists include three from Israel along with entries from Serbia, Finland, Bulgaria, Sweden, Vietnam and South Korea.
This contest is one of the smallest pieces of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion, and gets considerable funding help from the New York Power Authority. But the message, backed by 43North’s global reach, is important: Buffalo Niagara is in the business of helping entrepreneurs gain a foothold in the marketplace.