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ASi of Tonawanda takes home $1 million prize in 43North contest

ASi, the hometown contestant in a global competition, took home the $1 million grand prize in the 43North business plan contest.

The Town of Tonawanda metal forming company, which has been in development for seven years, beat out 10 other finalists for the contest’s top prize Thursday. The runners-up each received prizes of either $500,000 or $250,000 and will be required to move to Buffalo for at least one year.

“We’ve been working on this for about seven years,” said Glenn Thomas, the chief executive officer of Adiabatic Solutions. “This is an unbelievable end to quite a wild ride.”

ASi developed a system to form parts using a high-impact process that briefly turns the metal into a gel-like state that can be pressed into a mold. The system can rapidly make parts that are stronger and lighter than those made by conventional means, said Thomas, a former engineering director for Greatbatch Inc.’s implantable power source division.

The company recently won its first order, undercutting a Chinese competitor’s price by 25 percent. ASi, which has four employees and two consulting engineers, has one machine at its Cooper Avenue facility and plans to add another within three years, although the $1 million prize could accelerate those plans, Thomas said.

If the business grows as Thomas thinks it can, the company could have as many as 40 employees within five years.

“We believe it’s truly a transformative technology,” he said.

Finding transformative companies was the whole idea behind the 43North business plan competition.

With $5 million in funding, the contest was a tiny part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic development plan for the region, but the competition has the potential to yield significant economic rewards if some of the winning start-ups are able to develop their products and turn into profitable businesses.

The contest, which was marketed globally and attracted more than 6,900 entries from 96 countries and all 50 states, also was aimed at invigorating an entrepreneurial climate in the Buffalo Niagara region that had become murky in recent years, with the area lagging in new business creation.

“This is more than the prize money,” said Jordan A. Levy, the chairman of 43North’s steering committee. “This is an investment in these promising companies and in our future.”

The winners were announced Thursday night in an awards ceremony at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, following a daylong series of presentations by each of the finalists to a panel of six judges from the venture capital and business world. Each of the finalists took to the Shea’s stage to make a 10-minute pitch about why their venture deserved the $1 million grand prize, followed by 10 minutes of questions from the judges.

Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy described it as “our own version of Shark Tank,” the television series where celebrity investors offer money to entrepreneurs in exchange for a piece of their business.

In the 43North case, each of the 11 finalists, in addition to their cash prize, will receive rent-free space in a local incubator, as well as help from mentors and eligibility for the tax-free benefits available under the state’s Start-Up NY program. In return, the state gets a 5 percent ownership stake in each business.

“There are no losers in this,” Duffy said.

The six companies that received a $500,000 prize included:

• EcoBreeze, a Taiwan company that has developed fan-less cooling system for electronics that uses vibrating carbon fiber panels, rather than rotating blades. The company touts its system as being much cheaper, quieter and more energy efficient than conventional systems.

• triMirror,a Markham, Ont., company that has developed a virtual fitting room that clothing retailers can use to help consumers determine how a particular garment might fit on them.

• Raland Therapeutics, a Fairport company that is developing an implantable biosensor, based on technology developed at the University of Rochester, that uses live cells within a tiny device to help physicians measure how effective chemotherapy drugs are on an individual patient.

• Energy Intelligence, a suburban Boston company that has developed a system to capture the kinetic energy produced by slowing vehicles and turn it into electricity that can power lights, signs and other on-site equipment.

• Eulysis UK Ltd., a Scottish company that has developed a system that allows drugs to be stored and shipped in a single vial that separates the freeze-dried drug ingredient from the liquid component.

• Medical Conservation Devices, a Batavia company that is developing an anesthesia machine that would allow physicians to use inhaled anesthetics on patients in intensive care units, rather than intravenous anesthetics.

The four companies winning $250,000 prizes included:

• KeepUp, a New York City company developing an app to help users filter out non-essential posts from six major social media feeds and limit it to as many as a dozen milestone-type events, from birthdays and births to anniversaries and marriage.

• Asana Medical, a Miami Lakes, Fla., company that is developing a new way to treat ulcerative colitis, a debilitating digestive disease, by using collagens and other proteins to help patients grow healthy new tissue.

• Genetesis, a Mason, Ohio, company led by an Ohio State University sophomore that has developed a way to measure how responsive a patient will be to drugs used to treat heart rhythm disorders, even before they’re administered.

• HemoGenyx, a New York City company that is developing a new type of treatment for leukemia, lymphoma and other blood disorders using a special class of cells harvested from a patient’s liver that make bone marrow transplants more effective.

$500,000 winners

• EcoBreeze of Taiwan; fan-less cooling system for electronics

• triMirror of Ontario; virtual fitting room so customers can see how clothes fit

• Raland Therapeutics of Fairport; implantable sensors to measure chemotherapy effectiveness

• Energy Intelligence of Massachusetts; system to capture kinetic energy and convert it to electricity

• Eulysis UK Ltd. of Scotland; specialized shipping containers for drugs

• Medical Conservation Devices of Batavia; developed machine for use of inhaled anesthetics