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43North puts entrepreneurs in touch with investors

43North semifinalist Michael Haller came up from Ulster County, hoping to meet investors willing to fund the development of his app, which allows users to add voice captions to digital photographs.

Local angel investor Roger Hungerford came from Medina, with a list of 43North semifinalists that had piqued his interest. He was intent on meeting them briefly to see if their ventures were worth exploring further.

Bringing potential investors together with entrepreneurs that were deemed promising enough by the 43North business plan competition’s judges to be among the contest’s 113 semifinalists was the whole idea of Bright Buffalo Niagara’s meet-up event Wednesday afternoon, on the eve of the 43North finalist pitches and the $1 million awards ceremony today.

“We’re trying to build some momentum and meet investors,” said Haller, who co-founded Talking Pictures LLC with retired University at Buffalo professor Michael Frisch. “You have to get out there and network whenever you can. You have to get your idea out there whenever you can.”

Hungerford, who expects to invest $11 million this year in new ventures in the Cleveland, Washington, D.C., and Buffalo areas, came to the event having targeted about 10 of the semifinalists for further study.

“It’s a little bit of a meet-and-greet with a company – five or 10 minutes to get a sense of what they do,” Hungerford said.

For investors, that’s not nearly enough. But Hungerford left the event Wednesday satisfied enough with what he heard to invite each of his targeted companies to meet with him for a couple of hours apiece at a future date, probably over lunch or dinner. They had passed the first test.

Luis Moreno, the chief operating officer of GoRightIn, a semifinalist from Mississauga, Ont., that makes software to help medical offices manage their waiting lines, said the 43North contest had helped him build some investor contacts.

“I’ve been able to talk to a couple of investors because of that,” he said.

Brian Schultz, the founder of Dimien, which makes a film that can be applied to windows to block the sun’s heating rays during the summer but allow them to pass through in the winter, also was hoping to turn his 43North status into a pathway to new investors.

He said the showcase was the biggest exposure that the Amherst company had received from the 43North contest.

But investors at the event said they weren’t likely to make any hasty decisions. Rather than writing checks, they were more interested in simply learning a little about some of the ventures.

“It’s matchmaking, and it’s a dance,” said Daniel Penberthy, executive vice president of Rand Capital Corp. in Buffalo.

“You see them today. They send you their plan. You see them again,” he said. “Usually it takes two or three visits.”

Martin Babinec, a start-up investor from Little Falls, said he typically meets with hundreds of entrepreneurs during the course of a year. Out of that comes five to seven deals.

“It’s not about the money,” Babinec said. “The smart entrepreneurs are seeing how they can get connected to the people who can help them.”