Ten startup companies vying for a $1 million top prize in the 43North business plan competition did their best Thursday to impress contest judges at Shea's Performing Arts Center.
Here are 10 takeaways from each of their pitches.
Bouncing for a good angle: Francisco Aguilar said he connected with two local police departments on Tuesday to get officers’ feedback on his product. It’s a 360-degree camera, inside a ball, that first responders can throw into a building if they need a look inside. Bounce Imaging’s CEO quoted the lead technical officer for the Amherst Police Department as saying, “I can truly say the Bounce Imaging ball is one of the most technologically innovative products I have seen in law enforcement in 15 years.”
Still remembers his science lessons: A life sciences company has never won the $1 million prize in the first two 43North contests. Baltimore’s PathoVax, which is creating a vaccine for HPV-associated cancers, wants to change that. 43North judge Matthew Ryan, a Buffalo native who is global chief strategy officer for Starbucks, said he hasn’t tackled science for 35 years, since he was an intern at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, but he wanted to know if the protein PathoVax targets is subject to mutation. Before CEO Weijie Poh could answer, emcee Jordan Levy stepped in. “Hold on, c’mon. Did you hear that question?” Levy said, drawing laughter and applause from the crowd.
Knows the crowd: Angel Rich, CEO of The Wealth Factory, a financial literacy startup, played to the crowd in her opening. “Go Bills,” she said. The audience, including 1,800 high school students, cheered. Levy quipped, “Competition over.”
No maple aftertaste: Asarasi makes bottled sparkling water from the water left over from the maple sugaring process. The company founders handed out samples of their product to the judges. Tracy Valorie, senior vice president and general manager of the U.S. pharmaceutical business at Bausch + Lomb, said, “I was curious to see if there was going to be a tree taste to it, but there wasn’t.”
Made it to other side of the Falls: Seyed Nourbakhsh is CEO and founder of Formarum, which makes a high-tech, salt-based filtering system for residential swimming pools. The company is based in Toronto, and Nourbakhsh said he’s been to Niagara Falls many times, but he admitted this is his first visit to Buffalo. He said he hopes to be able to move his company here.
Amazon supply: The founders of UltraCell Insulation make insulation for homes from recycled corrugated cardboard. CEO Jon Strimling said the company doesn’t have to worry about its raw materials running out. “The supply is growing as more and more boxes ship every year from Amazon,” he said.
Glad to know you: Su Sanni, co-founder and CEO of WeDidIt, a site that helps nonprofits conduct donor research online, talked about how much data is publicly available. “With just an email address, we can find where someone lives, works, and even their social media presence, we can uncover who their employer is, and if their employer matches charitable contributions of employees,” Sanni said.
Out to beat cancer: The life sciences company Oncolinx worked with the National Cancer Institute to develop cancer immunotherapies. It promises treatment with no effect on healthy cells, and none of the nasty side effects of chemotherapy, said CEO Sourav Sinha. “This is the future of cancer therapy. This is personalized medicine,” he said.
From Buffalo nickel to a Buffalo million? Madelaine D’Angelo, CEO of Arthena, which tries to help make art an investment for a broader group of investors, used works of art from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery throughout her PowerPoint presentation. The Buffalo expat, now living in New York City, ended with a Buffalo nickel on her last slide.
Sweet idea: Several founders said they got the idea to start their companies because they were tackling a problem they confronted in their professional or personal lives. Rob Hunter, the CEO of HigherMe, started his company after running a small chain of ice cream stores and having trouble finding good employees. His app seeks to help retail and hourly employers quickly find the best workers.
43North’s third contest started with 542 applicants, who were cut down to 142 semi-finalists and then to 16 finalists.
Fifteen of them – one withdrew – made their opening statements to a different, larger group of judges Wednesday in the Atrium at Rich Products. Those judges sent five home and moved 10 companies on to Thursday’s money round.
Shortly after 6 p.m., organizers will reveal which three companies will get a chance to make 3-minute pitches, live in front of a packed Shea’s auditorium, “Shark Tank” style.
The winner gets $1 million, the runner-up gets $600,000 and the third-place finisher gets $500,000, as do five other companies in the competition. Two of the 10 companies find out Thursday night that they’re not getting any money.
The winning companies agree to move to Buffalo for one year, into free incubator space on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and give 43North an ownership stake in their companies.