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43North picks new executive director

43North is preparing to name a new executive director: Alexander Gress, who will join the organization from KeyBank, according to sources familiar with the decision.

Gress will fill the vacancy created by the departure of John Gavigan. 43North hosts an annual $5 million business plan challenge, aimed at spurring entrepreneurship in the Buffalo Niagara region. This will be the fifth year of the competition, which is a Buffalo Billion program.

43North, which is headquartered on Ellicott Street, declined to comment on the impending appointment.

Gress has served as chief market risk officer for Key. He joined Key from First Niagara Bank in 2016, following Key's acquisition of First Niagara.

First Niagara in 2013 hired Gress as senior vice president and treasurer. In that role, he was responsible for leading teams managing interest rate risk, capital and liquidity, product pricing and the investment portfolio at the bank.

Prior to First Niagara, Gress was president of J.E.N. Advisory in Toronto, and before that had banking roles in London and New York City. He is a graduate of Fordham University.

Alex Gress will be named executive director of 43North.

Gavigan was the second person to serve as 43North's executive director, taking over the position in early 2015. Gavigan announced he was leaving to return to the private sector.

43North has become a high-profile effort to stimulate startup activity in Buffalo. The annual contest draws entries from the United States and other countries, culminating in pitches before a panel of judges who choose the prize winners.

The contest's rules require winners to relocate a substantial portion of their operations to Buffalo for a year, and 43North takes a 5 percent stake in the companies. As the competition has evolved, one of 43North's challenges has been to get more of the winners from out of town to remain in Buffalo beyond the one-year requirement, and to spur more local job growth from them.

As part of that effort, 43North officials have focused in the last two years on attracting a smaller number of applicants from more advanced startups.

ACV Auctions has become a prominent example of what a 43North top prize winner can do. The Buffalo online auction company was founded in 2014 and won $1 million in the 2015 edition of the competition. ACV Auctions now has more than 200 employees, and recently secured $31 million in funding to help expand the business to the West Coast. That was on top of $15 million in venture funding it secured last year.

The state in early 2017 committed $25 million to fund 43North for an additional five years.

ACV Auctions raises $31 million in funding

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