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Next generation of entrepreneurs arriving, thanks to 43North

Now it’s time to see what grows out of the 43North business plan contest.

The 11 winners in the $5 million competition are settling into their new offices in the Thomas R. Beecher Jr. Innovation Center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus at 640 Ellicott St.

The winners, which emerged from a pool of nearly 7,000 entries, were identified by a panel of judges as the most promising entrepreneurs in the contest. Now the task is to turn those ideas into businesses that can successfully turn their ideas into viable commercial products that will create jobs in the Buffalo Niagara region and infuse it with an invigorated sense of entrepreneurial spirit.

“This is a perfect example of how we are reinventing ourselves and creating new energy and entrepreneurship,” said Howard Zemsky, the co-chairman of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council.

Beyond the cash and rent-free space in the incubator, the winners also will be getting support from mentors and other advisers.

“They’re going to have support in helping them develop their ideas,” said Andrew Pulkrabek, 43North’s former executive director, who left his job earlier this year to return to Minnesota. “The symbolism of this is that these innovators and entrepreneurs can look at this and say, ‘we can do this in Buffalo.’ ”

The contest’s winners are required to stay in Buffalo for one year. After that, they’re free to go anywhere they want.

“That’s a risk, but we knew that going in,” Zemsky said.

Here’s a look at the new companies:

ASi

The Town of Tonawanda company won 43North’s $1 million prize with its system to form parts using a high-impact process that briefly turns metal into a gel-like state that can be pressed into a mold. The system can rapidly make parts that are stronger than those made by conventional means, said Glenn Thomas, ASi’s founder.

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 a machine at its Cooper Avenue facility and plans to add another within three years, Thomas said.

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

Asana Medical

The Miami Lakes, Fla., company is developing a new way to treat ulcerative colitis by using collagens and other proteins to help patients grow healthy new tissue. An early study on six dogs showed that the treatment spawned the growth of new tissue, though company officials aren’t sure if the treatment is a cure or will have to be repeated over time, said Mark Ramer, Asana’s CEO.

The $250,000 prize it won in the contest will help move the company toward the $4.25 million it needs to raise during the next year to fund its next animal studies and to show that the treatment, in concept, could work on humans.

“We know that Asana is on to something special,” Ramer said.

EcoBreeze

The Taiwanese company won $500,000 to help it develop a fan-less cooling system that uses vibrating carbon fiber panels, rather than rotating blades.

The company, which includes two Rice University students, believes its cooling system uses a fraction of the energy and also avoids the problems caused by dust collection in conventional fans. They said their system also costs half to two-thirds less than other alternative cooling systems now on the market and can last up to five times longer. It’s also quieter, said Oscar Zhu, one of two EcoBreeze partners who is relocating to Buffalo.

The company, which finished third in a business plan competition sponsored by Rice earlier last year, believes its fans could extend the battery life of laptop computers and other electronic devices, and also have widespread use in the LED lighting market. The company’s initial focus is likely to be on the microprojector market.

Energy Intelligence

The suburban Boston company 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.

“We’re tapping into a new source of energy that’s going to waste all around us,” said Daniel Shani, the company’s founder.

Shani, who came up with the idea while he was stuck in traffic, said the system could be used in parking garages, container terminals and border crossings – all places where cars and trucks are slowing and stopping in large numbers. The company, which won $500,000 and is developing its third prototype, is working with parking facility operator LAZ Parking for its first pilot project.

“The technology is based on the momentum of the vehicle and the weight of the vehicle,” Shani said. A system that is run over by 10,000 vehicles could generate enough electricity to power the lights at Ralph Wilson Stadium for 1.5 hours, he said.

Genetesis LLC

The Mason, Ohio, company was founded by Ohio State University sophomore Peeyush Shrivastava, who plans to take a leave of absence from his studies to move to Buffalo with his family after winning $250,000 in the contest.

Genetesis has developed a way to measure how responsive the drugs used to treat heart rhythm disorders are, even before they’re administered. Genetesis’ system measures certain body chemicals through the skin and analyzes that data to determine what drugs might work best.

The 43North prize will help toward the $1.2 million the company needs to raise to fund the development of its medical device and other operating expenses.

HemoGenyx

The New York City company 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.

The treatment can increase the success rate of bone marrow transplants by as much as 50 percent, said Deena Malkina, the company’s co-founder and chief executive officer. It also can reduce the risk of rejection because the cells come from the donor.

“These cells are completely clear and mutation-free,” she said. “By using these cells, you’re setting a clean slate.”

The company, which won $250,000, plans to set up laboratory facilities in the Buffalo Niagara region and is interested in establishing relationships with Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the new Children’s Hospital that is being built on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Malkina estimated that the company, which hopes to complete its preclinical trial by the end of next year, would need about $17.6 million in investments to fund its operations and the development of its treatment through 2019.

KeepUp

The KeepUp app, designed by entrepreneurs from Raleigh, N.C., and Atlanta, would help users filter out non-essential posts from their social media feeds and allow them to view posts on as many as a dozen milestone-type events, from birthdays and births to anniversaries and marriage, in a single feed.

“There’s a lot of information, and we can be overwhelmed,” said Angel Davis, a KeepUp co-founder from Atlanta who calls the app a “personal assistant for your social media life.”

The company, which was awarded $250,000, has completed a preliminary version of the app that it was on the verge of launching at the Apple Store, but pulled back after learning that it was a 43North finalist. The company now plans to make further enhancements to the app before launching it.

Medical Conservation Devices

The Batavia company is developing an anesthesia machine that would allow physicians to use inhaled anesthetics on patients in intensive care units who now are sedated by intravenous anesthetics that can require ever-increasing doses and can cause side effects such as delirium or pneumonia within a matter of days.

Brian Bell, the company’s founder, said the company’s Clarity anesthesia machine can avoid those side effects and is much cheaper. The unit attaches to ventilators and costs about $15,000, about a tenth of the cost of conventional equipment. Inhaled anesthesia is much cheaper, costing about $20 a day and wearing off much faster than IV-based drugs.

The company, which won $500,000, is seeking approval from the FDA that its device meets international standards and could be cleared to start selling units by the end of this year, Bell said. Approval of the anesthesia drugs that the unit would use is expected to take until 2019 because that requires more thorough FDA scrutiny.

Medical Conservation Devices has raised $3 million in funding so far, including $2 million from investors, including Bell, along with $1 million in grant funding from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Army. Bringing the device to market could cost $20 million, Bell estimated.

Programmable Equipment Co.

The Amherst company was a late addition to the 11 43North winners, earning a $250,000 prize after the contest’s runner-up, Scottish-based Eulysis UK, declined its $500,000 prize.

Programmable Equipment has developed software that can be used to increase production and quality for companies that are involved in high-value, but low-volume industrial markets. The company’s software can simultaneously feed instruction steps to the worker, control equipment, and store data.

Raland Therapeutics

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

“With chemotherapy today, dosing is based on height, weight and other factors,” said William Rader, the company’s chief executive officer.

By tracking the way those drugs are working, doctors will be able to adjust doses more precisely than they currently can, potentially reducing unpleasant side effects and increasing the effectiveness of the treatments.

The company, which was awarded $500,000, hopes to begin clinical testing in 2017 and is targeting full commercial use by 2021.

TriMirror

The Markham, Ont., company has developed a virtual fitting room that clothing retailers can use to help consumers determine how a particular garment might fit on them and allow them to see how it would wear while they are moving.

TriMirror, which already has raised $3 million in funding, is negotiating to provide its system to a 36-store retailer in Dubai and also is working on a deal to license its technology to an online retailer, fancybetch.com, said Jenny Tcharnaia, the company’s co-founder.

With 35 percent of the clothes purchased online being returned, Tcharnaia said a system to help consumers figure out how clothing will look on them could yield major savings for retailers. Users are able to provide detailed measurements to create an accurate avatar that they use to see how garments will fit. Users also can be measured in stores that use the TriMirror system and save those measurements online so they can be used at other stores.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com