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Gress embraces opportunity as 43North executive director

Alexander Gress built a long resume with jobs at large and regional banks, and even launched his own private investment and advisory company in Toronto.

Now he's channeling all those experiences into a new role: executive director of 43North, the business plan competition that aims to spur startup activity in the Buffalo Niagara region.

"I really don't just view it as a job," said Gress, who is 44. "This is truly an opportunity, a chance to contribute to the next stage of development for 43North, the next stage of development for our region."

Gress grew up in East Amherst and graduated from Canisius High School. He will join 43North from KeyBank, where he has served as chief market risk officer. Gress will start his new job in mid-March, filling the vacancy created by John Gavigan's resignation earlier this year.

43North hosts an annual $5 million business plan challenge, aimed at promoting entrepreneurship in the region. This will be the fifth year of the competition, which is a Buffalo Billion program.

Gress has served as chief market risk officer for Key. In his most recent role, he managed teams that oversaw the market and price risk that impact Key's income and the value of its balance sheet, including about $3 billion of customer trading positions and a $28 billion investment portfolio, according to 43North.

"We wish Alex the best in his new role and thank him for all he did for KeyBank," said Matt Pitts, a Key spokesman. "A search for his replacement is underway."

In 2013, Gress returned to the region when he was hired by First Niagara Bank as corporate treasurer. He joined Key when First Niagara was acquired by Key in 2016. Gress had spent 15 years of his career away from the region before joining First Niagara, with positions at banks in New York City and London. He is a graduate of Fordham University.

"With his wealth of experience and passion for Buffalo, I'm sure he will take 43North to new heights," said Bill Maggio, who chaired the search committee for the executive director position.

Gavigan was the second person to serve as 43North's executive director, taking over the position in early 2015. Gavigan announced he was leaving to return to the private sector.

Gress said he felt his experiences at private investment company J.E.N. Advisory, which he launched in Toronto, from 2008 to 2013 was a good complement to his banking background.

"I've really been in the shoes of the type of companies that 43North has the opportunity to identify, invest in and mentor," he said. "I've certainly been there and had a chance to do a little bit of that."

43North has become a high-profile effort to stimulate startup activity in Buffalo. The annual contest draws entries from the United States and other countries, culminating in pitches before a panel of judges who choose the prize winners.

The contest's rules require winners to relocate a substantial portion of their operations to Buffalo for a year, and 43North takes a 5 percent stake in the companies. As the competition has evolved, one of 43North's challenges has been to get more of the winners from out of town to remain in Buffalo beyond the one-year requirement, and to spur more local job growth from them.

As part of that effort, 43North officials have focused in the last two years on attracting a smaller number of applicants from more advanced startups.

ACV Auctions has become a prominent example of what a 43North top prize winner can do. The Buffalo online auction company was founded in 2014 and won $1 million in the 2015 edition of the competition. ACV Auctions now has more than 200 employees, and recently secured $31 million in funding to help expand the business to the West Coast. That was on top of $15 million in venture funding it secured last year.

43North said the competition has funded 37 companies since launching in 2014, which have gone on to raise more than $70 million since being named prize winners.

43North is based on Ellicott Street. With the addition of Gress, it will have a staff of nine people.

The state in early 2017 committed $25 million to fund 43North for an additional five years.

ACV Auctions raises $31 million in funding


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