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State names 11 finalists in 43North contest

For now, anyway, they can all imagine themselves as millionaires.

State officials Thursday identified the 11 life sciences and technology companies that will compete for $5 million in prize money in the daylong 43North business plan competition next Thursday before a live audience in Shea’s Performing Arts Center.

The 11 finalists are guaranteed at least $250,000 no matter where they finish in the judging, but the lure of the competition’s top prize of $1 million drew more than 11,000 applications from around the globe.

The founders of the 11 companies, which include three from Western New York and three from Southern Ontario, have just six more days to prepare their pitches for the panel of judges who will decide their fate.

“They have a lot to do next week,” John T. Gavigan, 43North’s executive director, said Thursday.

The 43North business plan competition is meant to help make the area more welcoming to startup companies. The contest, now in its second year, is part of the Buffalo Billion economic-development initiative and receives most of its funding through New York Power Authority proceeds.

The $5 million in prize money makes it the most lucrative business plan competition in the world, according to organizers. The prizes are split up with $1 million for the top company, $500,000 each for six others and $250,000 each for the other four. The 2014 grand prize winner was ASi, a Town of Tonawanda material-shaping business.

The 11 finalists also receive free incubator space in Buffalo for a year, advice from mentors in related fields and access to other incentive programs such as the Start-Up NY program of tax-free zones. The finalist companies must stay in Buffalo for the year to receive the money, with organizers hoping that some will stay here after the year is up. All of the finalists from the 2014 competition have space in the Innovation Center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

The 2015 competition was larger than the one in 2014. Organizers received 11,350 applications, a 64 percent increase from the more than 6,900 applications they received for 2014. After rejecting applications that didn’t meet the contest’s eligibility requirements, the 3,007 entrants represented a jump of 15 percent over the 2,603 eligible entrants from 2014. Officials whittled the entrants down to 110 semifinalists in July before naming the 11 medical tech and technology finalists.

For the 2015 competition, Gavigan and his team tried to attract more qualified applicants from either side of the border. In 2014, two were from Western New York and one was from Canada. This year, three are from this region and three are from Ontario.

“We did a ton of outreach just within the community,” Gavigan said.

The local companies include ACV Auctions, a mobile auction app for automotive dealers that launched in June. The company, based in Buffalo, has a sales rep in Albany and will use whatever money it wins to expand into more markets, said Dan Magnuszewski, the company’s chief technology officer.

“It allows us to ramp up quicker,” he said.

Outside the region, one company is from Ithaca, one from Boston and one from Richmond, Va. The last two finalists come from Israel: Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

In addition to ACV Auctions, the finalists are:

• CoachMePlus, Buffalo, a sports performance data tracker.

• Cytocybernetics, North Tonawanda, which developed a way to screen new drugs to make sure they don’t cause irregular heartbeats.

• Uma Bioseed, Ithaca, which came up with an organic method for treating seeds to protect them from pathogens during germination.

• CleanSlate, Toronto, maker of an ultraviolet system for swift sanitizing of smartphones and other devices.

• Disease Diagnostic Group, Boston, which provides low-cost, early stage screening, tracking and diagnosis of infectious diseases.

• GetGems, Tel Aviv, Israel, a digital currency startup that links mobile payments with a social networking platform.

• Painless1099, Richmond, Va., which provides “smart bank accounts” for freelance professionals to automate withholding, setting money aside for, and paying state and federal taxes.

•, Waterloo, Ont., a turnkey cloud software analytics program for job applicants.

• Qoints, Toronto, an aggregator of digital marketing data.

• Voiceitt, Jerusalem, maker of the communication tool Talkitt, which assists people with speech disabilities.

Next Thursday caps off a week of activities to showcase Buffalo’s entrepreneurial community. It begins with Buffalo Startup Weekend, from 6 p.m. Friday to 8:30 p.m. Sunday in the dig co-working space, 640 Ellicott St.

At 5:30 p.m. Monday there’s an interactive event and reception called Think Big with 43North at the Buffalo Marriott HarborCenter, 95 Main St. At 6 p.m. Tuesday, during the Ping Pong Diplomacy event, visitors can meet more of the 2014 43North winners, tour the Z80 Labs incubator space at 640 Ellicott St. and play in a table-tennis tournament.

Finally, the invitation-only University at Buffalo’s Bright Buffalo Niagara Entrepreneur Expo starts at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in Statler City. It features a keynote address from Daymond John, founder and CEO of the FUBU clothing line and a star of “Shark Tank,” the ABC business reality show.

To register for events, visit