I was lucky enough to be asked to judge an annual pitch competition in Buffalo that an organization called 43North operate every year. The 43 North program is pretty simple; startups from around the world compete for the opportunity to win close to $5M divided into various investment sizes; $500k for 7 companies and $1M for 1 company. This is a hefty amount of money to raise for a startup of any level of maturity.
Their selection process first whittles the hundreds of applications down to 18 companies. During the day, they pitch to a panel of 25 judges in this restored downtown auditorium. After the judges deliberate, they select the 10 finalists who then pitch at a public event later that night. Seven judges then select the 1 big winner, the 7 lucky winners and 2 go home empty.
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.]
Their event had over 3,000 attendees that night. That is amazing for any sized startup community.
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 the 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, get it off the ground and then 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 . . . .