Every year in Buffalo, 43North holds an event where high-growth startups battle for a cut of five million dollars and a spot in 43North’s coveted accelerator program here in Buffalo. 

Hopeful founders from across the country pitch their business models and then go through a meticulous vetting process which culminates in an epic battle on the stage at Sheas Performing Arts Center. 

There can only be five winners and these winners each receive a one million dollar investment in exchange for 5% equity in their business. Over the following months the winners pack up their lives and their families to relocate to Nickel City. 

When they arrive they set up shop in their free incubator office space at Seneca One Towers and have invaluable mentorship and access to a network of opportunities with the aim to accelerate their businesses. 

Earlier this year, Buffalo Rising caught up with the 2023 winners who are currently going through 43North’s year-long accelerator program, to learn what it is they do and what plans they have for the future. 


Origin: Cambridge, MA.
Co-founders: MBA MIT graduate – Jane Chen. Master electrician – Ethan Brewer. Mechanical engineer – Austin Hunt. 

Living in the City of Lights, every Buffaloneon is well aware that many of our electrical boxes date back to the original Pan Am Expo of 1927. So it was only fitting that 43North would hedge their bets behind the company Stepwise.

Stepwise is a company that creates smart devices with the aim of helping homeowners electrify effortlessly. “We’re starting with electric vehicles,” said CEO and co-founder, Jane Chen. “With our first product, called the EVTAP. … Because your electronic vehicle charger is usually the biggest load in the house.”

As more and more people are investing in electric cars they are realizing that their 1927 electrical boxes might not be up to the task of charging them. That’s where Stepwise comes in. In simple terms, Stepwise created a device that allows you to smart switch your individual appliances, so that you can balance energy usage in your home.

I think the best way to think about it, is when you’re thinking about electricity, there’s demand and there’s supply.” Jane said. “But the trouble is that on the supply side there are infrastructure constraints.

Using the EVTAP, that attaches to your current electrical framework, power can be drawn from other unused devices to charge your vehicle. With the redirection of power, no fuses are blown, making it an easy way to charge without having to go through the costly endeavor of upgrading your panel. The affordable EVTAP not only benefits homeowners, but also enables electricians to offer easy, budget-friendly solutions to their customers.

While at the moment the focus is on cars, Stepwise is constantly looking to evolve their product to solve a range of electric-related problems that will inevitably arise as technology progresses.


Consumer Products
Origin: Redwood City, CA.
Founder: Whitman Kwok

Whether it be cyclocross, road-riding, slow rolls or mountain biking, Buffalo has one of the most dynamic and diverse cycling communities. So when Whitman Kwok, founder of Kav Helmets, pitched his custom 3D printed helmet to 43North, there was no question that Buffalo was a great place for Kav’s east coast manufacturing facility.

We make custom 3D printed helmets in eight billion sizes,” smiled Whitman. “One for every man, woman and child on the planet. And we do it because we have a mission to protect people and save lives.

Kav Helmets was created with the vision to literally reshape the future of helmet technology. They have what is called the “Hex Honeycomb Structure” that is 3D printed to fit any cyclist’s head. The structure provides safety measures that supersede the traditional MIPS design as well adding extra comfort to the helmet.

“3D printing empowers us to construct a crumple zone within the helmet. Designed to compress significantly during an impact, this zone outperforms traditional helmets by nearly three times in absorbing impact, thereby reducing potential harm,” said Whitman. 

Kav Helmets has a very unique process that is simple to use. You just go to their website and order a helmet. At checkout, you get a QR code that directs you to download an app. On the app, you take three quick photos and with these they create a virtual rendering of your head and literally build a helmet around those measurements. 

Once you’re done, you get sent what is called a “fit cap” which allows you to try the helmet on before the final helmet is 3D printed. It’s similar to how a tailor would make a suit, you get sent the pattern and you get to make adjustments. Once you return the fit cap, two weeks later a custom made helmet is delivered to your door. Entirely manufactured within the United States.

As the wife of a competitive cyclocross rider, and parent of two mini-cyclocross riders, I can attest to the fact that good cycling helmets are imperative, but can be costly. Not to mention – if you have a crash, you have to toss it in the garbage. So I was delighted when I learned that Kav Helmets offers a crash return policy (currently). You can return your beaten up helmet and they will issue a replacement. Using your damaged helmet for research purposes and ensuring you are kept safe.

“Our belief in our helmets extends beyond words to action,” said Whitman. “With our custom guarantee, we’re inviting you to experience a revolution in personal safety, merging advanced protection, comfort, and a perfect fit.”

Whitman, a rider himself, has already been welcomed into the Buffalo cycling community, and has plans to build a manufacturing plant and retail store here, bringing more jobs to Buffalo.


Origin: Topsfield, MA
Founder: David Lord 

David Lord, founder and CEO of Guidesly, is a lifelong fisherman who spent much of his life listening to tour guides talk about the unfairness of commissions in the tourism industry.

“After I sold my last company, I decided that I’m going to do something that I really love. I’m going to do something in fly fishing,” said David.

This is my last [company], this is the one I really care about and I’m going to leave something behind.

Guidesly is the first mobile platform connecting the world’s fishermen. With the aim to find, review & book guides for guided fishing trips. It also helps guides find work without having to pay costly commissions.

“If you’re looking to book a fishing trip, go to, and if you’re a guide and you need help running your business – we take care of everything,” David smiled. 

”… Everything, except for the fishing.”

Guidesly is the solution for the most common issues when booking a fishing trip. The app not only allows you to view, book and connect with fellow fishing guides, but also to share conquests with fellow anglers, track your success by location, fish type and more. 

David’s passion for fishing is palpable, and he has a great team working alongside him. His long time friend Charlie Seider, and his daughter Taylor Lord.

Guidesly currently has well over 2000 guides on their marketplace, and they are planning to bring the very first fishing convention right here to Buffalo. Right now their focus is on fishing, but they have already begun to move into hunting, water sports and ATVing.

Kredit Academy

Origin: Miami, FL.
Founders: Evan Leaphart and Mike Gross

Kredit Academy founders, Evan Leaphart and Mike Gross, have been the best of friends since middle school. Kredit Academy began because Evan made some really bad financial choices in his youth. 

“I created this [company] because I had horrible credit,” chuckled Evan.

Basically what happened to me, I didn’t want to have happened to anybody else. So I looked at a lot of the solutions, to learn about credit. I realized it’s typically reactive – never proactive. So I wanted to be the vitamin and not the pain pill.

Kredit Academy is all about unlocking financial wellness. It is not only an educational platform, but a movement. With the aim to empower people to make good financial choices. On the site it has interactive learning modules, real-time credit simulation, and expert guidance. Mike and Evan are dedicated to nurturing the financial acumen of the next generation.

“Our dynamic, engaging tools are designed for both young adults and children,” said Mike Gross. “This ensures that financial wisdom becomes a cornerstone of their growth journey.” 

Kredit Academy also offers an app just for kids. This is called Kiddie Credit, which is a chore-tracking app that helps parents teach kids under the age of 12 about credit through chores. On the app you can add activities and give rewards. 

A testament to never giving up, this was Kredit Academy’s second time applying for 43North and they ended up winning the Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield People’s Choice award. Voted on by the attendees to the finals, they were gifted an extra $25,000.

When I asked them about their relocation to Buffalo the two best friends were both really excited to be living in the same city again. Mike talked about finding out they had won and then having to tell his wife and young daughter they were heading to Buffalo and purchasing some warmer clothes. “43North has been amazing,” he said, “they made everything easy. They have helped with daycare, housing … We couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Store Cash

Origin: San Jose, CA.
Founder: Daricus Releford

The founder of StoreCash, Daricus Releford, began his entrepreneurial career as a teenager, with a hog dog stand. One day his nephew called and asked for some money, as they do. When Daricus went to transfer funds, he realized it was impossible to send money to someone who was under 18 and didn’t have a bank account. 

This led Daricus to create StoreCash, an app that gives teenagers and those that may not have the ability to open a bank account, a way to participate in the digital banking world. 

Although it’s not just for teenagers, StoreCash simply put is a payment solution for users of all ages. It is basically an alternative payment method that allows you to pay easily via QR codes in qualifying stores and in turn you earn cash back. 

You can earn up to 15% instant and unlimited cash back at 100’s of stores, retailers and restaurants across the United States. The cash back you earn using StoreCash instantly gets credited to your StoreCash account and is available for you to use towards your next or future purchases. 

It’s not a points based system either – it’s actual cash!

“You just go into one of the 400 stores or over 200,000 locations and [the app] will notify you when you get into the store. Then we’ll tell you how much cashback you get,” said Daricus. “You launch the app and you’re at the checkout counter. Tell us your total. We’ll give you either a QR code or a barcode and you scan it and you’re out the door.”

StoreCash takes the form of a free-to-use app that teens can activate by linking their account with that of an adult, usually their parent or guardian. After this they gain immediate access to a virtual card that can be used with Apple or Google Pay. The app offers a huge amount of flexibility, allowing for instantaneous money transfers and account top ups via direct deposit, paycheck, or a weekly allowance – all with zero fees. 

Each user’s cashback balance can be used towards gift cards at popular retailers across the country, including Sephora, Domino’s Pizza, Old Navy, Nike, Taco Bell, and GameStop. And the app is built with security in mind, featuring encryption, privacy protection, fraud monitoring, and FDIC insurance up to $250,000.

A lot of people here in America can’t get credit cards,” said Daricus, “So this really serves a purpose of not only being able to get credit card points whenever you’re spending, but also being able to get cashback even with a debit card. So it’s been really helpful for our underserved community and that’s where we focus most of our attention.

Save the Date: 43North Finals will be on 10/10/24, where the 10th cohort will be selected! 

The 2024 applications for 43North are now closed and the selection process is underway. The top five companies will be selected at 43North Finals on Thursday, October 10, 2024. The event is FREE and open to the public. Stay tuned for more information on how to get your free tickets. 

The post 43NORTH AND THE BATTLE TO WIN $5 MILLION appeared first on Buffalo Rising.

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