BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — $5 million was on the line Thursday in Buffalo’s annual contest for innovative startups — the 43North competition.

The event returned to Shea’s Performing Arts Center Thursday night for its 9th year as one of the fastest-growing startup cities, with many often citing the success of 43North.

“We are really excited just to become members of this community. That’s important for us, as much as we can add, they can add to us. We have our own expertise but it’s not about coming and changing; it’s about coming and improving, adding and enhancing to what’s already here,” said Mike Gross, co-founder/COO of Kredit Academy.

The Guidesly company, which specializes in outdoor recreation websites, also found Buffalo a perfect fit for western New York activities. 

“We look at being in this location as a pinnacle moment for us as we just start our launch in Canada, but there is so much going on here in just general outdoor recreation space, fishing, hunting, and moving into the snow sports. This could be a critical move for us,” added Taylor Lord, Guidesly head of product.

Seven of the remaining eight companies that spoke Thursday were all tech-based. However, Afterlife is working to build the world’s largest network of circular mushroom farms to decompose food waste and decarbonize the planet.

“Honestly, I can also learn a lot from other farmers in this region. There are so many out there and to be able to go to market with all of them would be a dream come true, as well, and really situate Buffalo as that mushroom capital of the world, along with farming agriculture of the world,” claimed Winson Wong, Afterlife Cofounder/CEO.

Five companies came away with a $1 million investment, Guidesly — Store Cash, which works on mobile payment solutions; Stepwise Home Electrification — KAV, dealing in custom helmets design; and the people’s choice award fund of $25,000 plus the last million going to Kredit Academy.

“This is a really special group of founders, so there was no shame if we lost but I’m so excited that we won. You have nerves anytime you’re up against this amount of great people,” concluded Whitman Kwok, CEO of KAV.

Along with cash prizes, 43North winners also received a free incubator space in Buffalo for a year, guidance from mentors and access to business incentive programs like START-UP NY.

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Dillon Morello is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has been part of the News 4 team since September of 2023. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.