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Showtime for startups: 43North finalists prepared to pitch for prizes

Fifteen companies are in the hunt for $4.5 million in prize money that will be awarded by 43North on Wednesday.

But just like in the world of startups, nothing is guaranteed.

Only 10 of them will advance beyond a qualifying round on Tuesday, to compete onstage on Wednesday at Shea's Performing Arts Center. Of those 10 contenders, one will win the $1 million grand prize. Seven others will win prizes of $500,000 each. Two others won't win any money. When it's all over, only 1.5% of the 528 entrants in this year's competition will claim prize money.

43North hopes the winners of the sixth edition of the business plan competition will choose to stay in Buffalo beyond their one-year requirement, while investing in their operations and adding jobs. Before the judges render their verdict, here is a look at the 16 companies that are pitching for prize money:

BridgeCare

Hometown: Seattle

Founder: Jamee Herbert

Description: The company is a workplace benefit administrator aimed at making daycare affordable for parents, through monthly payments made to BridgeCare. The company pitches its financing system as a way for parents to keep working and maximize their earning power, while keeping daycare costs within their financial means. Herbert, in a piece on LinkedIn, described her decision to leave her corporate-world job and start BridgeCare: "I saw a big problem with a simple solution: Get more capital to parents for the relatively short period of time they need it."

Charmtech Labs

Hometown: Long Island

Founder: Yevgen Borodin

Description: Charmtech Labs was a 43North finalist last year and didn't win any prize money. But that didn't stop the company from moving its home base here from Long Island in September, citing "favorable business conditions and access to talent in Buffalo." Charmtech makes a product called Capti, a literacy support tool that helps teachers provide a personalized learning approach for students. Capti is also designed to limit the number of apps schools need to manage. The company has hired two local people and has announced partnerships with Schoology and Google.

Circuit Clinical

Hometown: Buffalo

Founder: Irfan Khan

Description: The homegrown company's patient platform, called TrialScout, enables patients to choose clinical research as a care option. The idea is that patients will be more likely to enroll and stay in studies if they go through their primary physicians. Khan, a Toronto native, founded the company in 2014, after working for many years as a cardiologist at Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo. Circuit Clinical is based on Delaware Avenue and was a 43North semifinalist in 2016, under the name Empirican PRN.

Curiato

Hometown: Kitchener, Ont.

Co-founders: Moazam Khan and Zied Etleb

Description: The clinical stage data science company says its technology can help prevent bedsores. Its Ceylon Systems includes a "smart" mattress that detects pressure, temperature and humidity. The information is used to automatically relieve pressure in high-risk areas, and the data is stored for analysis. The company was launched in 2015 by University of Waterloo graduates.

Exit 7C

Hometown: Milwaukee

Founder: Blessing Egbon

Description: Exit 7C arranges onsite services, including oil changes, tire replacement and car washes, to fleets of vehicles through a mobile app. Among its services are bulk fleet fueling through loaner above-ground tanks or fuel delivery to equipment and vehicles. The company, founded in 2016, says it serviced 350,000 vehicles in 34 markets last year, generating $47 million in revenue. Exit 7C serves upstate markets including Buffalo.

Glaze Prosthetics

Hometown: Krakow, Poland

Founder: Piotr Sajdak

Description: Glaze will travel more than 4,000 miles from home to compete. The company allows amputees, including children, to choose the model, color and type of finish of their prosthetic arms. Glaze uses 3D printing technology, and Sajdak was the first user of Glaze's system. “Glaze Prosthetics is doing incredible work in the healthcare industry to enable people with missing upper limbs to express their creativity and personality through their prostheses,” said Ramon Pastor, vice president and general manager of HP’s 3D printing business, in a Plastics Technology story about Glaze.

GroupRaise

Hometown: Houston

Founder: Devin Baptiste

Description: An online system that allows restaurants to book dinners for big groups at participating restaurants, which in turn donate a share of the profits to a designated nonprofit. In an interview with Mixergy earlier this year, Baptiste said his company was generating $1 million in revenue per month. He also said the system had built a network of 10,000 restaurants, and his goal was to reach 150,000 globally. Sean Park, head of marketing, described the concept to the Daily Vidette in Illinois this way: "Restaurants have these time blocks where they don't have that many customers and they can now utilize these time blocks to invite a group of people."

HotelsByDay

Hometown: New York City

Founder: Yannis Moati

Description: The booking site allows customers to book hotel rooms for just a few daytime hours to work or rest, generally between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., without paying for an overnight stay. The startup appeared on the TV show "Shark Tank" in early 2017, seeking $750,000 in investment in exchange for a 10% stake in the business. The celebrity investors passed on the offer, but HotelsByDay reported that just appearing on the show boosted its traffic and sales. "The credibility of being on the show alone, is worth it," Moati said in a company statement about the experience. "We could never pay for the amount of visibility we received."

Peanut Butter

Hometown: Chicago

Founder: David Aronson

Description: Peanut Butter helps client companies offer student loan assistance as a benefit, as a way to attract and retain employees in a tight job market. A participating company contributes a certain amount of money per month toward paying off an employee's student loan debts. The Des Moines Register reported this year that Clinton County, Iowa, was contracting with Peanut Butter to help new residents pay down their student loan debt. In interviews, Aronson has said the company's unusual name comes from "benefits employees will stick around for."

PocketSuite

Hometown: San Francisco

Founder: Chinwe Onyeagoro

Description: PocketSuite provides mobile-based booking, payment and client management tools for "solopreneurs," or entrepreneurs who work alone. The objective is to ensure multitasking entrepreneurs stay organized and get paid on time. PocketSuite says it has more than 4,200 users and $80 million in annualized payment volume, and says it does for solopreneurs what Shopify does for ecommerce. Onyeagoro is also an adviser to the CEO of Great Place to Work, an organization that promotes better workplace culture.

Rally

Hometown: New York City

Founder: Numaan Akram

Description: Rally allows people who are traveling to a common destination – a sporting event, a concert or festival – to book rides on luxury motorcoaches. Riders can choose from trips that are already set up, or they can set up their own trips. Rally said it has transported hundreds of thousands of people to events and destinations across North America since its launch. Last year, the company announced a partnership with Pegula Sports and Entertainment for trips to Buffalo Bills home games.

RankScience

Hometown: San Francisco

Founder: Ryan Bednar

Description: In technical terms, RankScience calls itself a search engine optimization automation platform. In plain terms, the company says it aims to help businesses and organizations grow their online presence and website traffic. RankScience says its software uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing to help marketers gain an advantage. A year ago, RankScience closed a round of $1.8 million in seed funding.

Robodub

Hometown: Seattle

Founder: Parminder Devsi

Description: Robodub builds multi-rotor drones, whose rotor position can be changed autonomously to adapt to challenging circumstances. If one of the drone's rotors fails due to harsh weather or in hostile flying conditions, the remaining three arms move into position to maintain flight. Its technology is also capable of delivering multiple packages in a single flight. The company identifies the Army, Navy and Air Force as among its customers.

Strayos

Hometown: St. Louis

Founder: Ravi Sahu

Description: Strayos serves the mining and infrastructure industry. The company uses drones to collect imagery data about what's below the surface and creates computer models to help customers make decisions at job sites. The company says its technology and data promote safety and efficiency for drilling and excavation. In a story that Sahu wrote for Entrepreneur last year, he described how he encourages heavy-industry business leaders to embrace technology: "I gain the respect of the mining engineers and executives I meet with by talking about how my software ties into their industry; I strive to be seen as someone who might actually be able to solve their problem."

Whose Your Landlord

Hometown: New York City

Founder: Ofo Ezeugwu

Description: Whose Your Landlord focuses on the rental housing market. Renters can read landlord reviews, and landlords can track reviews – and the reputation they are developing for their properties online. Ezeugwu got the idea for the business while he was a student at Temple University, according to an interview published on the university's website. The company says it chose the possessive "whose" for its name, to emphasize it gives renters ownership of their situation.

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