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The Key to Spurring Development in This Mega-Region

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43North.org, the world's largest business ideas competition, will steal the show in Toronto this week to open Wednesday's Startup Grind fireside chat with Age of Context co-author and legendary tech evangelist Robert Scoble.

Is this the only substantial strategy in play to develop the Tor-Buff-Chester mega-region that our celebrity recruit urban theorist, Richard Florida credits himself with identifying as long ago as 2002?

When Florida introduced Tor-Buff-Chester as the 17th largest mega-region in the world and the fifth largest in North-America (ranking ahead of San Francisco-Silicon Valley), he recommended supporting regional economic development strategies like easy working permits across borders, high speed rail links between all of the cities and partnerships between all levels of government leadership on both sides of the border.

I would love to hear more about any initiatives that you are aware of that are aimed at the emergence of Tor-Buff-Chester. Is such a concept too lofty for us to explore with minority Provincial government, legal pot on our minds in Ottawa and Toronto in the grip of Ford Nation?

With municipal, provincial and federal elections all coming down the pike is it fantastic to expect this kind of question to be part of the debate?

Jordan Levy, a Buffalo native and NYC venture capitalist with Softbank Capital is the head of the steering committee and the driving force behind 43North. He is also behind an incubator (Z80 Labs) in Buffalo, where 43North is operating out of. His focus is on changing the entrepreneurial mantra in the region. Governor Andrew Cuomo is the other key player, as this is a spin-off of his "Buffalo Billion" commitment to spur economic development and new approaches to innovation in Western New York.

The 43North concept is two-fold:

1.) To make Buffalo more attractive to entrepreneurs and startups by offering serious seed money and support services (mentorship, connections, etc.), and,

2.) Use the competition as a wider marketing tool for the entire region regarding the opportunities and offerings that are available in Buffalo (bi national connectivity and ability to access two markets, high standards of living, low housing prices and cost-of-living, available workforce, tax incentives, etc.)

The Competition is a $25 million ($5-million a year for 5 years) economic development strategy and is being funded through power proceeds from the New York Power Authority (i.e. Niagara Falls hydro-power revenues).

It is focused on ideas in all stages (back of napkin, startup, growth phase), with emphasis on med-tech, high-tech, life sciences, and manufacturing innovation to lineup with regional strengths (Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, industrial history and facilities, etc.).

Organizers are aiming to attract 1,000 applicants, which will be shortened to a final 200 list. Of those, several will be selected to attend a finals weekend in Buffalo in October, where they will present their ideas before a panel in various scenarios. So far 43North has already received 200 applicants into the system.

It is an interesting prospect for startups to consider. While selected enterprises are obligated to set up shop in Buffalo for a year if they win, they get free office space for that entire time. With Canada's ongoing uncertainties about venture capital potentially getting worse and New York's venture capital investment on the rise, rather than ship out for Boston or Silicon Valley, maybe Buffalo is a gateway that keeps Ontario's startups close to home (Toronto, Kitchen-Waterloo, Hamilton). Just this morning Governor Cuomo and IBM announced a $55-million new push to deliver 500 IBM jobs and a new downtown Buffalo technology center, complete with $30-million of state owned hardware and software infrastructure.

My company, Cdling Capital Services Inc., is presenting a Startup Grind Fireside Chat featuring Robert Scoble on Wednesday and I had never heard of 43North until a couple of weeks ago when they approached me about sponsoring the event to help get their message out to startups.