The Buffalo-based business competition 43North, which has awarded millions of dollars to startups for the past three years, has officially launched its fourth annual contest. To help kick off the event Friday, guests including elected leaders and representatives of past winners took turns praising the program.
Founded in 2014 as part of Governor Andrew Cuomo's Buffalo Billion and supported by the New York Power Authority, 43North has awarded $15 million to 29 winners over its first three competitions.
"Better yet, they have attracted an additional $40 million in investment in their companies," said 43North executive director John Gavigan.
This year's version will include a $1 million first prize followed by runner-up prizes ranging from $500,000 to $650,000. Additionally, one of the winners will be awarded $300,000 in a follow-up in 2018.
Guest speakers who celebrated the first three years of 43North included representatives of two previous winners. One of those companies is Asarasi, a bottled sparking water produced from sugar maple sap. The maple sugar is removed from the sap, leaving tree-filtered water that is the basis of the product.
Asarasi was a $500,000 finalist last year. The company recently signed a local distribution agreement with Try-It Distributing and is expected to appear on supermarket shelves in the near future.
"The mentorship has been incredible," said Adam Lazar, founder of Asarasi, about taking part in 43North. "Engaging with people you never thought you would have otherwise. I think this ecosystem is very supportive of startup businesses. It's been very impactful on mine."
Also represented on the panel was ACV Auctions, which hosts online automobile auctions. It was a million-dollar winner in the 2015 competition. George Chamoun, the company's CEO, says winning the 43North competition brought something more valuable to the company than money, instant credibility.
"The million dollars is important. But in my mind, the broad brand awareness, the credibility, the momentum that comes along with winning, is worth many more times than the actual investment that comes in," Chamoun said.
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown also appeared on the panel. The mayor praised startups as key components of the city's new economy.
"Entrepreneurism is playing a large role in the renaissance of Buffalo," Brown said. "43North is certainly a major part of that. It really has people believing that this is a place where they can start their businesses, where they can grow their businesses and where they can be successful in business."
Hochul credited the previous winners for launching ventures that she says will help grow other companies, and jobs.
"You're going to be helping maple farmers all over Western New York and elsewhere have a new market for their products," she said about Asarasi before turning her attention to ACV Auctions. "And if we talk about the success of the auction, you're going to be able to hire people, people that are really smart. Young people educated locally."
Interested candidates may apply for the 43North competition until May 24.