July 14--The pool of more than 6,000 entrants in the state's $5 million business plan competition already have been cut in half. On Tuesday, the number of entrepreneurs still in the running for the $1 million top prize will be narrowed to about 100 semifinalists.
The cut down is one of the biggest steps in the contest, trimming the field of candidates to a more manageable field that will be put under much more detailed scrutiny by the competition's judges.
The business plan contest, a small but potentially powerful part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Buffalo Billion economic development initiative, is aimed at making Buffalo Niagara a move vibrant region for fledgling businesses, addressing a major shortcoming that local development officials identified in the local economy: a lack of entrepreneurs and new business start-ups.
So the contest is dangling $5 million in prizes, ranging from a grand prize of $1 million to 10 runner-up prizes totaling $4 million, to try to lure some high-potential ideas for new businesses to the Buffalo Niagara region.
By offering prizes -- and a wide range of lucrative side benefits -- that were bigger than those offered by any other similar contest, the idea was to create a lot of buzz around the competition that it would attract entrepreneurs who otherwise never would have considered Buffalo Niagara as a potential site for their business.
The contest's winners also will be offered a range of additional incentives, including free space in a local incubator site for a year, as well as support from mentors and the ability to qualify for the lucrative tax incentives available under the state's Start-Up NY program. The winners will be obligated to set up and operate their business in the Buffalo Niagara region for at least one year.
Contest officials were thrilled when the initial phase of the competition, which ended in late May, drew applications from more than 6,900 entrepreneurs. That field was immediately winnowed down to 2,603 qualified entries by eliminating potential entrants who were part of ineligible industries or failed to submit their entries properly.
Tuesday's cutdown will reduce the field to "a hair over 100 semifinalists," said Peter Burakowski, the senior marketing manager for the 43North contest.
Each of the qualified entries were assessed by three members of the contest's pool of 269 volunteer judges.
"It's a big lift to go through that many applications and have every one judged three times," Burakowski said. "We've been really lucky to have such a great team of judges who came to the table to help us."
The semifinalists who survive Tuesday's cutdown will come under much closer scrutiny from the contest's judges. The semifinalists will be asked to submit a much more detailed business plan and financial information. Once that's done, organizers will evaluated more intensely during a five-day session from Sept. 15 to 20 that will include 10-minute online presentations available for viewing by the public.
After those presentations, the pool will be narrowed to a field of 11 finalists who will be guaranteed of receiving a prize, although the size of the award won't be determined until the final stage of the competition, which will take place from Oct. 27 to 31.
For that event, the 11 finalists will travel to Buffalo to make 10-minute presentations about their businesses to a panel of judges, followed by 10 minutes of questions from the judges.
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