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Second year of 43North has 15% rise in applicants

The second 43North business plan competition is turning out to be more popular than the first.

The number of applicants who met all of the contest’s eligibility requirements for its second annual competition has jumped by 15 percent, 43North officials said Wednesday.

A total of 3,007 entrants met all of the contest’s eligibility requirements, up from 2,603 last year. The qualified applications now will be reviewed by a cadre of local judges who will narrow the field to about 100 semifinalists later this summer.

In the broadest sense, interest in this year’s contest was even higher, with the total number of applicants topping 11,350, a 64 percent increase from the more than 6,900 who applied during last year’s inaugural competition. The total number of applicants includes thousands of entries that were rejected immediately because they didn’t meet 43North’s eligibility requirements.

“This was another great year for 43North,” said Peter V. Burakowski, the contest’s marketing manager.

The contest, from the start, has relied heavily on social media, such as Twitter, to promote the competition and let entrepreneurs from around the globe know about its $5 million in available prize money. In keeping with that social media bent, Burakowski detailed the application totals during a video presentation on Twitter using its Periscope feature.

The social media campaign helped 43North reach an even wider pool of potential entrants this year, drawing applications from all 50 states and nine of the 10 Canadian provinces, except for Prince Edward Island. Overall, the contest has drawn entries from 117 countries, up from 96 last year.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in a statement, said that the broad geographic appeal of the 43North contest reflects well not just on appeal of the contest, but on the Buffalo Niagara region, as well.

“More and more people are finding out that Buffalo is a city on the move and want to be a part of this very exciting chapter in Western New York’s history,” he said.

With its $1 million grand prize, and 10 other prizes of either $500,000 or $250,000, 43North is the richest business plan competition in the country, aimed at making Buffalo Niagara a move vibrant region for fledgling businesses. It is part of Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic-development initiative and is funded primarily with money from the New York Power Authority.

The contest also offers winner a broad range of side benefits – from free office space to eligibility to be part of the state’s Start-Up NY tax-free program. The idea is to dangle a carrot lucrative enough to attract entrepreneurs who otherwise never would have considered Buffalo Niagara as a potential site for their business.

“The positive impact of 43North cannot be overstated,” said Howard A. Zemsky, the president and CEO of Empire State Development. “This competition has helped put Buffalo on the map for startups as a location to be taken seriously.”

The contest also was more successful in drawing entrants from minorities and women this year, which generally lag behind in gaining the funding they need to turn their ideas into businesses, said John T. Gavigan, 43North’s executive director.

The number of female and minority applicants doubled from last year, Burakowski said.

Among the more than 3,000 qualified entrants, 61 percent said they were of Asian, African-American, Hispanic or Native American descent. Thirty percent of the applicants said they were white.

One of every five applicants was a woman, which 43North officials said was a significant number, since just 7 percent of all venture capital funding in the United States goes to women, according to the Center for Venture Research.

Organizers said 45 percent of the contest’s responses came from the United States, with New York, California, Florida, Texas and Georgia accounting for the most entries. The top foreign countries for applicants were India, Canada, Brazil, Britain and Israel.

The 11 industries with the most entrants in the contest ranged from information technology, software development and Web and mobile technology to professional business services, media and entertainment and e-commerce. Rounding out the Top 11 were health care and biotechnology, green and clean technology, advanced manufacturing, agribusiness and consumer products.

The grand prize winner will get a $1 million prize, but six others will come away with $500,000 each, and an additional four entrepreneurs will get $250,000 apiece. At least one of the winners must be local.

In exchange for the money, the winners have to hand over a 5 percent stake in the business and agree to relocate a significant portion of their company to Buffalo.

The first phase of the competition, which ended late last month, required entrepreneurs to provide a relatively brief summary of their ideas that identifies potential markets and customers and offers their visions for the ventures.

A cadre of volunteer judges from a wide range of industry sectors now will spend the next few weeks pouring over the entries. By later this summer, organizers plan to whittle down the pool of applicants to around 100 semifinalists, who then will be asked to submit more detailed business plan and financial information. Once that’s done, the semifinalists will present their business idea to another panel of 43North judges during a videoconference.

The pool then will be narrowed to a field of 11 finalists who will be guaranteed of receiving a prize, although the size of the award won’t be determined until the event’s finals, styled after the “Shark Tank” television series, on Oct. 29.