43North has named the 18 finalists who will contend for millions of dollars in prize money next month.
The companies come from eight states and Canada. Ten of them will advance to make pitches to seven judges the night of Oct. 3 at Shea's Performing Arts Center, in a "Shark Tank"-like format.
"We've got a very passionate and world-class group of entrepreneurs," said Alexander Gress, 43North's president.
One company will walk away with the $1 million grand prize, and seven others will win $500,000 each. Another $500,000 in follow-on funding will be available at the end of next year.
43North hopes the winners will stay beyond their one-year obligation and hire more people as they grow. The competition, in its fifth year, is a program of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Buffalo Billion initiative.
This year's finalists emerged from a pool of 485 applicants. "To get just to here, there's multiple layers in that judging process," Gress said. Two of the 18 finalists are based in the Buffalo area. Seven of the companies have female CEOs.
The companies that reached the finals have high-growth potential, but they also see value in operating in Buffalo and taking advantage of resources to support them here, Gress said.
LegWorks, a Buffalo-based prosthetics company, is one of the 18 finalists. The business has found the local environment supportive for entrepreneurs since moving its base of operations here from San Francisco, said Brandon Burke, director of partnership development. The company recently won $10,000 in a pitch competition presented by Bright Buffalo Niagara.
If LegWorks is one of the eight 43North winners, the company will use the prize money to scale up its operations and expand its product offerings, Burke said.
Immersed Games, based in Gainesville, Fla., is another 43North finalist. The company has created a video game that helps students build their science and engineering skills.
Immersed Games was invited to apply for 43North and followed through, said Lindsey Tropf, the founder and CEO. Tropf has researched education in Buffalo and learned about the city school system's work to educate refugees. That type of innovation intrigued her.
"If we move to a place, we want to be able to work with local schools and test new products that we're developing," Tropf said. "If the schools aren't innovative and open to trying to new things, then it's not going to be a good fit."
The company's workforce is made up of millennials. Tropf said Buffalo would be a bigger, more "walkable" city for its employees than Gainesville, which is home to the University of Florida.
The other 16 finalists are:
• AXIS: Developed a device, called Gear, that motorizes and automates window shades. Based in Toronto.
• Charmtech Labs: Makes Capti Voice, a reading assistant that personalizes learning for students of all abilities. Based in Stony Brook, N.Y.
• Dimien. Makes chemicals that are incorporated into other products, including high-performance glass and architectural materials. Based in Amherst.
• Forsake: Designs all-weather boots and sneakers for travel and adventure. Based in Boston.
• HiOperator: Customer support provider. Based in San Francisco.
• Innovative Wellness Systems: A biomechanical footwear, technology and data analytics company whose aim is to prevent foot ulcers. Based in Dover, Mass.
• Kickfurther: An inventory crowdfunding platform. Based in Boulder, Colo.
• Magnusmode: Uses mobile technology to help people with autism and cognitive special needs live with greater inclusion and independence. Based in Waterloo, Ont.
• MF Fire: Maker of an app-driven wood stove promoted as an efficient, clean-energy source. Based in Baltimore.
• NaturAll Club: Uses food technology to offer hair products made from ingredients such as avocado pulp, bananas and coconut crème. Based in Philadelphia.
• Routeique: A logistics platform for supply chains. Based in Vancouver.
• Rozzy Learning Co.: A developer of educational software. Based in St. Louis.
• Savormetrics: Maker of artificial intelligence-driven portable sensing devices that provide food safety and quality metrics to food sector businesses. Based in Mississauga, Ont.
• SparkCharge: Makes a portable charging unit for use by electric vehicle owners. Based in Syracuse.
• Touchjet: Makes a device that converts a flat surface into a touchscreen. Based in Campbell, Calif.
• Water Hero: Makes a device that allows you to control water in your home through a smartphone. Water Hero, based in Beverly, Mass., was a semifinalist last year.