Boston wins big in Buffalo biz contest

Oncolinx, a Boston startup that develops cancer immunotherapies known as antibody-drug conjugates, was the $1 million winner in this year’s running of the 43North business plan contest in Buffalo.

The contest, which calls itself the richest business plan contest in the world, also awarded $600,000 to a runner-up and $500,000 to six other finalists. One caveat: Winners have to agree to relocate to Buffalo for one year to claim their prize.

Oncolinx, which targets cancer cells without harming healthy cells and without the side effects of chemotherapy, was founded by Sourav Sinha and Riley Ennis. The startup is partnering with 14 pharmaceutical companies and believes its technology can be effective against as many as 30 kinds of cancers.

The Oncolinx founders hope to begin clinical trials next year for triple negative breast cancer. Their goal initially is to license the technology to Big Pharma and plow the revenue back into R&D and contract manufacturing work that would be done in Buffalo.

The company’s founders have worked with Dhaval Shah, an assistant professor in the University at Buffalo’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and hope to conduct clinical trials at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

HigherMe, the $600,000 second-place finisher, is a Boston company with software that helps retail and hourly employers hire better employees. The $500,000 winners are:

• Asarasi, a Greenwich company that makes bottled sparkling water from the liquid left over from maple sugar manufacturing.

• Bounce Imaging, also from Boston, which makes 360-degree, disposable cameras in balls that first responders can bounce into dangerous spaces before entering.

• Formarum, a Toronto company that developed a high-tech, salt-based filtering system for residential swimming pools.

• PathoVax, a Baltimore biotech spinout from Johns Hopkins University that is commercializing RGVax, a low-cost vaccine to prevent some cancers.

• UltraCell Insulation, a Boston company that recycles corrugated cardboard to make insulation for homes.

• WeDidIt, a Brooklyn software service that helps nonprofits with online donor research and fundraising.

Two additional companies were named alternates in case any of the winners decline the opportunity to move to Buffalo, as has happened in previous years. They are Arthena, a New York City startup that uses data to help more people invest in the art market, and The Wealth Factory, a Washington, D.C., startup with a mobile and web-based game that promotes financial literacy.

Although the alternates don’t receive prize money unless they move up to a winner’s spot, The Wealth Factory garnered $10,000 as the winner of the People’s Choice Award, bestowed by the audience via text messaging.

This year’s contest attracted 542 qualified applicants, who were whittled down to 142 semifinalists and 16 finalists. (One withdrew before final pitches began Wednesday.)

43North is part of the state’s Buffalo Billion initiative, with most of the funding coming from the New York Power Authority. In addition to the prize money, 43North set aside $400,000 for use by the winners next year and awarded $300,000 in follow-on funding to CleanSlate, a 2015 winner that disinfects mobile phones.

Cuomo has already promised $5 million for next year’s contest.