43North promises a "Shark Tank-like" atmosphere when its finalists compete onstage Wednesday for millions of dollars in prize money at Shea's Performing Arts Center.
Eighteen companies, out of 485 initial applicants, earned spots as finalists. They will make pitches on Wednesday morning, after which the field will be cut to 10 contenders who will compete at Shea's, before a different set of judges. One team will walk away with the $1 million grand prize, while seven others will receive prizes of $500,000 each.
The 18 finalists hail from eight states and Canada. 43North hopes the winners will find Buffalo a good fit and keep their operations here beyond the one-year minimum mandated by the contest. The 2015 winner, ACV Auctions, remains here and has raised $53 million in capital since its founding in 2014. Last year's champion, SomaDetect, an agricultural data company, has won $230,000 in two other competitions this year.
43North, launched as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Buffalo Billion program, will make available $500,000 in follow-on funding for this year's winners, at the end of 2019. Here's a look at the contenders.
CEO: Trung Pham
Description: Axis makes Gear, a device that motorizes and automates existing window shades. The shades can be controlled by a smartphone or programmed to be raised and lowered at scheduled times. Gear was named the 2017 Motorized Product of the Year by the Consumer Technology Association. The company reported raising $1.7 million in four rounds of funding, starting in 2014, according to Crunchbase.
Hometown: Stony Brook
CEO: Yevgen Borodin
Description: Founded in 2010, the contest entry was also known by the name Charmtech Labs. The company's main product, Capti Voice, is a personalized reading support tool. The company raised $300,000 earlier this year in a seed funding round from eight Stony Brook University graduates and faculty members, according to Newsday.
President: Brian J. Schultz
Description: The chemical manufacturer doesn't need to be sold on the region: It's already based here. Dimien won the 2013 edition of the Panasci Entrepreneurship Competition presented by the University at Buffalo's School of Management, and was a 43North semifinalist in 2014. The "cleantech" company makes ceramics and inorganics used as additives in laminates, inks, coatings and plastics.
Hometown: Boston, Mass.
CEO: Jacob Anderson
Description: The company designs all-weather boots and sneakers "for travel and adventure." Its name is built on the first names of the two friends who founded Forsake: Sam Barstow and Jake Anderson. A 2014 Boston Globe story on the pair noted they launched Forsake in 2010 "to sell waterproof sneakers that are as durable as boots." Crunchbase said the company raised $465,000 in a 2017 funding round.
Hometown: San Francisco
CEO: Elizabeth Tsai
Description: The company, founded in 2016, describes itself as a "virtual assistant," providing "customer service as a service" to its clients. Clients pay HiOperator based on their volume of service. Tsai was named to CX Network's 30 Under 30 list. CX Network said the company reached profitability in its first year and has opened a New York City office after an investment by Hearst Lab.
Hometown: Gainesville, Fla.
CEO: Lindsey Tropf
Description: Immersed has created a video game aimed at students' science and engineering skills. Tropf has researched Buffalo since entering the competition, and said the city's "walkability" would appeal to her company's millennial workforce. Crunchbase said the company had raised more than $475,600.
Hometown: Dover, Mass.
CEO: Johnny Cator
Description: The company, founded in 2016, is developing "smart" custom orthotics, aimed at preventing diabetic foot ulcers. Cator, a co-founder, is an entrepreneur who has founded several different tech companies in the past 20 years in Massachusetts. The company's leadership team consists of people from the technology, footwear and health care sectors.
Hometown: Boulder, Colo.
CEO: Sean De Clercq
Description: The company is a crowdfunding site that raises money for businesses to manufacture their inventory. After the inventory gets sold, the investors are paid a percentage. “The goal is to give everyone access to the retail markets in some small way,” De Clercq told MarketWatch in a 2015 interview. Kickfurther raised $2.1 million through four funding rounds, according to Crunchbase.
CEO: Emily Lutyens
Description: Legworks has already earned some local recognition, winning the $10,000 grand prize in the Bright Buffalo Niagara Entrepreneurial Expo held in May at Hotel Henry. The prosthetics company moved its base of operations here from San Francisco, Calif., and says it would use 43North prize winnings to scale up its operations and expand its selection of products.
Hometown: Waterloo, Ont.
President: Nadia Hamilton
Description: Magnusmode's mobile technology focuses on helping people with autism and cognitive special needs live with greater inclusion and independence. Its flagship product, called MagnusCards, helps people learn life skills like cooking, traveling and personal care. Hamilton said she was inspired by her autistic brother, who is a brand ambassador for the company.
Hometown: Baltimore, Md.
CEO: Paul LaPorte
Description: MF Fire makes an app-driven wood stove that the company promotes as an efficient, clean energy source. The cheaper of the two stoves it markets is listed at $2,495. Technical.ly Baltimore put MF Fire on its list of the 20 best startups in Baltimore for 2018. The company late last year secured $1.2 million in funding, according to the Baltimore Sun.
CEO: Muhga Eltigani
Description: The company sells organic hair products made from products such as avocado, pulp, bananas and coconut crème. Eltigani was named to the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 List for Retail and e-commerce success. Forbes said she invested $18,000 in personal savings in NaturAll Club, and the company sources ingredients from Ghana and Malaysia. She also made Inc.'s 30 Under 30 this year, telling the publication: "I don't see why I can't be the next L'Oreal."
Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.
President: Mike Allan
Description: Routeique, founded in 2016, provides cloud-based logistics and delivery management. Drivers can stay in touch with their company's headquarters via a mobile app. Routeique over the summer acquired SDMG, a strategic software development agency. On the company's website, Allan identifies his favorite saying as "shuffle off to Buffalo."
Hometown: St. Louis, Mo.
CEO: Jessica Gordon
Description: Rozzy sells digital education materials with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math. Its materials cover students from kindergarten through eighth grade. Earlier this year, Rozzy won a business competition in St. Louis that was sponsored by MasterCard. Crunchbase said the company has raised $100,000.
Hometown: Mississauga, Ont.
CEO: Harjeet Bajaj
Description: Savormetrics makes artificial intelligence-driven portable sensing devices that provide businesses in the food sector with safety and quality metrics. The technology helps food processors, grocery chains and grain elevators track the shelf life of products to avoid spoilage. Among the customers Savormetrics has secured contracts with is McCain Foods, a Canadian company.
CEO: Joshua Aviv
Description: SparkCharge says it wants to end "range anxiety." The company makes portable charging stations for electric vehicles that can be stored in the trunk of a car, allowing drivers to recharge whenever they want. Aviv hatched the idea as a student at Syracuse University, and the company's research and development operations are based at the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems. SparkCharge won the grand prize in the 2017 New York State Business Plan Competition.
Hometown: Campbell, Calif.
CEO: Helen Thomas
Description: The company's technology turns flat surfaces and flat-screen TVs into touchscreens. Touchjet said it sees Buffalo as a "strategic location" for East Coast business development, sales and service. The company has a partnership with Stampede Presentation Products, a distributor of professional audio-visual technology. Touchjet said it was invited to apply for 43North after winning the Innovation Showcase at the Angel Capital Association Summits in 2017 and 2018. The company raised $799,000 in two funding rounds, according to Crunchbase.
Hometown: Beverly, Mass.
CEO: Daniel Sterling
Description: Water Hero knows this competition: it was one of 16 finalists in last year's 43North contest. The company makes a device aimed at protecting customers from major pipe bursts and costly leaks, with the use of a smartphone. If a pipe in the customer's residence breaks, the device automatically shuts off the water and sends the customer a text.