I was lucky enough to be asked to judge the annual pitch competition in Buffalo that the crew at 43North run every year. This was the 5th installment and has been funded for another 3 years. I have to admit I sometimes wondered (from afar) what the impact that this event was having to the Buffalo ecosystem.
Over the last few months I have developed a deeper understanding of both the program and gotten to know the staff of 43 North as well as many of the local community leaders. [Full disclosure – Techstars has an engagement with the various state and regional constituents to help grow their startup community.]
The 43 North program is pretty simple; startups from around the world compete for the opportunity to get close to $5M divided into various investment sizes; $500k (7 companies) and $1M (1 company). The process first whittles the hundreds of applications down to 18 companies. During the day, those 18 pitch to a private panel of about 25 judges in this beautiful old downtown auditorium. In the afternoon, the judges select the 10 finalists who then pitch at a public event that night. Seven judges (including yours truly) then select the 1 big winner and the 7 other winners and 2 go home empty.
Their event had over 3,000 attendees that night. I was blown away.
But that is not the cool part. The cool part was that during the private pitch’s during the day, the organizers invited in 3-4 area high schools and their business clubs. I think there were at least 150-200 students across the various high schools.
Entrepreneurship is one-part exposure – I need to know it’s possible for me to see myself in it.
In between the pitches the MC – Alex Gress – came out to the audience to talk to the students. He cold-called on a few and asked them questions about what they were seeing and why they were interested in being there. (Yes a few said it was better than being in class.)
At one point, he asked if any of the student entrepreneurs wanted to get on stage and pitch an idea. And one of them did much to the vocal support of his classmates and the subsequent counter support from his rival schools.
I know one thing that I know to be true – those kids are leaving with an impression of what it is like to take an idea and share it with a group of critics. For that I am excited for both the Buffalo startup community and student entrepreneurs everywhere.
I believe the children are our future . . . . (insert Whitney Houston).