There is a new energy in Western New York – a confidence in our community and our future. There are construction cranes and development projects throughout the city bringing significant investment and hope to a once forgotten downtown. There is an exciting emphasis on technology – from new research initiatives at the area’s leading colleges and universities to cutting edge public and private sector initiatives at organizations like the Jacobs Institute, the Advanced Manufacturing Institute, Roswell Park Research Institute, Hauptmann Woodward, and many others. And there is a recognition of the critical importance that entrepreneurism plays in economic vitality and which is being supported through the efforts of the Regional Economic Development Council, the HotSpot Incubator program, LaunchNY, StartUp NY, Z80 Labs, and 43North – the world’s most aggressive business plan competition.
The Buffalo business community is abuzz with excitement about the 43North business plan competition. Semifinalists have just been announced and the remaining 113 contestants, out of nearly 7,000 plans submitted, are gearing up for round two which involves a power pitch to the judges. The grand prize is $1M with an additional $4M in other significant monetary prizes. In return for the money, winners agree to give the competition a 5% stake in their company and pledge to run their operations from Buffalo for at least one year. Companies from as far as Israel and Switzerland as well as start-ups right here in Western New York are among those with their eyes on the prize.
The InVentures Group, led by CEO and serial entrepreneur Keith Blakely, was pleased to learn that all three of his portfolio companies that entered the competition- Adiabatic Solutions LLC, CrowdBouncer Inc and OnCore Golf Technologies Inc- have advanced to the semifinalist round. He attributes their strong business plans, solidified products and marketing, and sound financial planning to their appeal in a competition like this. As judges consider the overall strength of the team and their knowledge of the market, working with a group like InVentures is a real benefit. Portfolio companies get unrestricted access to their network and expertise among industry giants, not to mention guidance with business and financial planning. Behind Blakely stands an impressive team with solid experience in all of the various components that are required of a successful company looking to make a name for themselves. After all, it does take a village.
One of the areas that companies tend to need the most support with is raising capital and maneuvering through complicated business and legal issues such as term sheet negotiations, patent and licensing activities, and commercial agreement. The InVentures Group (IVG) can help identify and introduce funding sources, set up a financial and management infrastructure, provide operational, engineering, and technical assistance, along with marketing, branding, and sales programs. Helping organizations anticipate those hurdles and preparing entrepreneurs to meet those challenges head-on so that the growth process doesn’t lose its momentum is IVG’s primary objective.
The IVG team has participated in several young entrepreneur events and competitions including the Panasci competition, the UB Elevator Pitch competition, Buffalo Startup Weekend, and now 43North. They are also active members of the WNY Venture Association and Buffalo Angels. They are well-qualified to coach entrepreneurs and start-ups through the application process and know what it takes to catch the judges’ eyes. Blakely himself brings over 30 years of entrepreneurial experience to the company having started his first company, Advanced Refractory Technologies at the age of 24. Since then, he has started, or led as CEO, nine additional companies including NanoDynamics, First Wave Technologies and The InVentures Group.
“The breadth and diversity of IVG’s clients alone are exactly the type of initiatives Buffalo needs to get behind and support. Eventually the investments we’re making will hit an inflection point, and the region will experience a renaissance like never before. To ensure this happens, IVG will continue to service keystone companies that can have the multiplicative effect our region desperately needs.” says Blakely. And this forward thinking is shared by the top movers and shakers in our area.
Of the 43North competition, Mayor Byron Brown said, “We are counting on these exceptional semifinalists in the 43North competition to keep the economic momentum going in Buffalo. Governor Cuomo’s support for developing the business idea competition has resulted in some of the best and brightest entrepreneurs and startups from around the globe being interested in relocating to Buffalo. With low residential and commercial property tax rates and a skilled and dedicated workforce, Buffalo is a great place to buy property, live, work and invest. I look forward to seeing the 43North winners turn their ideas into high growth enterprises that will provide more good paying jobs for the people of Buffalo.”
The InVentures Group couldn’t agree more. Over the past ten years, IVG has played an important role in the local ecosystem, assisting over two dozen companies – mostly headquartered in WNY – and providing critically needed management, advisory services, engineering assistance, along with capital and financing to many of these. This combination of experience and capital differentiates IVG from traditional business consulting or venture capital firms. And luckily for Western New York, Blakely has no plans to retire just yet.