Lockhart Wants ‘Baby Unicorns’

Propel CEO Kathryn Lockhart

Propel CEO Kathryn Lockhart

Kathryn Lockhart has a vision for Atlantic Canada: A farm of baby unicorns.

Lockhart is almost through her second month as Chief Executive of the regional tech accelerator Propel, and she’s good with its long-term goal of producing an Atlantic Canadian tech unicorn. (A unicorn is a company with a $1billion valuation.)

But in the medium-term, she’d like the region to aim to produce several mega-potential companies that are on their way to unicorn-ship.

“Everyone in this space is talking about the next unicorn,” said Lockhart in an interview. “I’d love to have a shared goal of producing baby unicorns. Really, if we could say over the next 24 months, we will all get together and make a baby unicorn farm, I wonder what can happen. Unicorns can still be the long-term goal.”

Propel announced in July that Lockhart would take over from Barry Bisson to lead the organization. Bisson had come out of retirement to take the position and is now retiring again. With an MBA from the Harvard Business School, Lockhart previously launched a technology division for a now-global human capital management firm in Toronto, and held senior positions at two startups in Germany.

Bisson was a reformer as CEO, ending the in-person cohorts in favour of virtual curriculum, offered in partnership with highly regarded providers in the U.S. Then he instituted a continual intake, so founders didn’t have to wait for a cohort to begin. Bisson is now staying on for a month or two to help Lockhart learn the ropes.

“He did a lot of fantastic work in taking the accelerator virtual and implementing outstanding world-class programming,” said Lockhart. “He did the heavy lifting. I’m finding that I’m coming in at a time when I can do the fun work.”

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In her view, the “fun work” involves seizing on the new paradigm created by the pandemic and improving the collaboration between the accelerators and incubators across the region. With all startup support now being offered remotely to some extent, Propel is in an excellent position to work with local innovation hubs because it is not restricted by provincial barriers and can work with other support organizations. During the pandemic, it has been offering its curriculum to these groups.

What’s more, the Atlantic Bubble has created an environment that is being noticed outside the region, Lockhart said. Propel is receiving calls each week from people across Canada and outside the country asking about what’s going on in the all-but-COVID-free region and how it’s affecting the development of startups.

While Lockhart wants to help increase collaboration across the region, she has two priorities within Propel itself.

The first is the accelerator’s team of entrepreneurs-in-residence, who hold weekly meetings with founders in the program, offering advice and holding them accountable. They are Richard Jones in Saint John, Derek Latham and Charlotte Murray in Halifax and Julien Robichaud in Shediac, NB. Lockhart wants to develop the coaching further so Atlantic Canada becomes “a centre of excellence for some of the best coaches in the world”.

The second mission is to further develop Propel’s sales and market-development programming. She perceives Propel’s sales training as “more of a degree, more like a long-term play, than a two-day workshop.” Propel works with companies on identifying the profile of their ideal customer and implementing a strategy to land those customers, and Lockhart wants to enhance that side of the accelerator further.

And of course, she wants to work with others in the ecosystem to develop baby unicorns. “Good question,” she said with a laugh when asked for a definition of baby unicorns. Admitting it would take some time to work that out, she said they could be companies with, say, $100 million to $300 million in revenue and domination in their market so their revenues are rising quickly.

“I’d love to see 100 baby unicorns in two years,” she said. “Is that a crazy, audacious goal? Yes. But companies are cutting sales time and increasing sales while reducing costs, so more and more companies are poised for investment and ready to scale.”

Fundmetric Signs Texas Tech

The company's platform uses machine learning to increase donations to universities and other non-profits.

Mark Hobbs

Mark Hobbs

Halifax-based Fundmetric, which helps non-profits raise more money from philanthropists, has signed up Texas Tech University, one of its largest clients to date.

Fundmetric started seven years ago with a goal of helping charities enhance their engagement with donors. U.S. colleges and universities have become its main market, and the multi-year contract with Texas Tech adds to its list of major universities.

“We always pride ourselves on going with clients that are pushing the boundaries in fund-raising, and Texas Tech is no exception to that,” said Fundmetric Co-Founder and CEO Mark Hobbs in an interview.

As the company has grown, FundMetric has increased the sophistication of the product so it uses machine learning to maximize the results of fundraising campaigns. While identifying donors who are most likely to give to the charity, it also tells these donors how their money has been used and the impact it has had. This encourages donors to repeat and/or increase their donations.

The company’s clients already included Oregon State University, Kent State University and Texas Lutheran University. In April, Fundmetric opened up its Giving Page to charities across Canada to help them raise money during the pandemic.

The giving page is the online page that Fundmetric provides for charities so there’s a place where donors can go to make contributions, and it customizes messaging to resonate with the best donors. It can carry out back-office functions for the charities and is compliant with the Canada Revenue Agency.

The company now has 13 employees and had doubled its revenues this year, said Hobbs. He added that the company has a “strong pipeline” as it is recognized as a leader in generating data on donors and donations, and that recognition has created a lot of interest.

MESH/Diversity Closes $750K Round

The round was led by NBIF and Concrete Ventures, with East Valley Ventures participating.

Mike Wright

Mike Wright

MESH/Diversity, which helps clients use data to support diversity initiatives, has closed a $750,000 equity funding round led by the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and Concrete Ventures.

The Saint John-based company said in a statement that East Valley Ventures, an investment group also headquartered in Saint John, also invested in this round. East Valley and NBIF had invested in the company’s $950,000 round announced in September 2019, while Halifax-based Concrete is a first-time investor.

MESH/Diversity’s software helps organizations build a more diverse and inclusive workforce.  Using predictive algorithms, its Diversity Intelligence platform measures an organization’s inclusiveness, and helps to implement improvements. The goal is to develop an inclusive culture in which the best people will want to work, stay and thrive.

“MESH/Diversity’s leadership is bringing the principles of behavioural science to bear on one of the top cultural challenges facing businesses around the world,” said NBIF Director of Investments Ray Fitzpatrick in a statement. “This scientific approach establishes baseline measures and guides organizations through the steps needed to create more diverse and inclusive workplaces. We are proud that this scientific approach to diversity is coming from a New Brunswick company.”

The company’s approach and philosophy follow the teachings of Chief Diversity Officer Leeno Karumanchery, who has more than 20 years of experience and expertise in the field. In an interview in June, Karumanchery said the mounting concern with racial issues throughout society this year had created increasing interest in MESH/Diversity’s work, and made it easier to get its message across.

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“We have witnessed an increase in demand in our products and services as more and more organizations see the benefits and advantages of a metrics-based diversity and inclusion program,” said company CEO Mike Wright in an email. He added that the company, which now employs 13 people, has witnessed a 254% increase in revenues so far this year.

MESH/Diversity works with clients throughout North America, including Silicon Valley Bank, Intelisys, Southern New Hampshire University and OSL Retail Services.

The new funding will support product development, sales and marketing and customer success initiatives.

The company’s Software-as-a-Service platform helps companies to use employee data to develop actionable insights that ensure they are living up to their diversity ideals. This systematized approach to diversity and inclusion is necessary to address the unconscious system of attitudes and behaviours that shapes the culture in any organization, said the statement.

“Not only is MESH/Diversity tackling an important social issue, but they are also tackling a large business issue,” said Patrick Hankinson, General Partner with Concrete Ventures. “Workplaces that are diverse and inclusive can create a long-lasting competitive advantage by reducing employee turnover, sparking ideation to enter new markets and increasing overall productivity. Today's great leaders understand this and are investing in solutions like MESH/Diversity."

16 Startups To Present at AVF

The virtual event will be held Oct. 28 and 29.

Sixteen Atlantic Canadian companies will present at the Atlantic Venture Forum next week – a virtual event due to the pandemic.

Calgary-based Critical Path Group, which stages the forum for startups and investors, had considered waiting until next spring to hold its next in-person event. But given the uncertainty about how long the pandemic will last, the company has decided to proceed with a virtual event on Oct. 28 and 29 this year. 

The AVF, which already has 300 registrants, will feature a range of speakers as well as presentations from 16 companies. The full program and registration forms are available here.

Here are the companies that will present:

3D Planeta, Fredericton

This company provides three-dimensional maps to search and rescue crews, emergency responders, mining companies and other groups that require precise knowledge of an area’s terrain. More recently, it has launched a SaaS product to help stores and restaurants manage social distancing during COVID-19.

Anessa, Fredericton

Anessa is a software company whose products improve the efficiency of organizations converting waste to energy. Its software supports decisions on complex project design and operating conditions for anaerobic digestion facilities.

Axem Neurotechnology, Halifax

Axem is developing wearable devices that can track brainwaves and help people recover from such neurological conditions as strokes.  Its first product, the Axem Home, is being developed to support neurological rehabilitation at home.

Beauceron Securities, Fredericton

Beauceron has developed a cloud-based risk-management platform that monitors the human elements in cyber-risk.  In other words, it helps companies and organizations make sure their staff are doing the right things to ensure they are protected against cyber-attacks.

Clever Fruit Products, Halifax

Clever Fruit Products has developed a new berry-based food ingredient that can reduce cholesterol by as much as 40 percent. It has devised a two-phase fermentation process that results in a powder that could be added to foods to reduce bad cholesterol.

Food Byte, Halifax

The company sells regulatory compliance-tracking software for food producers, which must adhere to increasingly stringent World Health Organization guidelines. Its software allows employees to track food safety activities (like the cleaning of equipment) via smartphones, tablets and desktop computers. 

Kraken Sense, Nova Scotia
An Ontario company that is moving east, Kraken Sense is bringing real-time testing, with results in two minutes, to automated food and water systems, from farms to kitchens. It is making an in-line autonomous device with refillable, single-use cartridges that can measure the concentration of pathogens, not just their presence. The company is in the current cohort of the IndieBio accelerator.  

Leadsift Halifax

LeadSift uses data analytics to help small and medium-sized technology firms in the business-to-business market find sales prospects. In August, the company launched a new software feature that it believes will increase the value of its annual contracts by about a quarter.

Parados Cerebral Solutions, Fredericton

Parados is developing a mouth guard with sensors that will allow athletes to know whether they have sustained a head injury that is likely to lead to a concussion. Later, the company plans to release a spine-mounted device using similar technology.

Peer Ledger, Halifax

This company uses blockchain – the technology that underpins cryptocurrencies – for various industrial purposes. Its MIMOSI product tracks gold shipments as a means of battling conflict metals, or precious metals that are mined to finance wars, often using slave labour.

Picomole, Moncton

Picomole is developing a device that will be capable of diagnosing cancer via a breath test. Patients will provide a breath sample, which will then be sent to a lab for analysis by an AI system trained to identify specific “volatile organic compounds” that indicate cancer.

Reazent, Halifax

This company, which is moving from India to Halifax, is developing fertilizers and pesticides using natural ingredients, with the goal of selling them in Canada and the U.S. The company has also been accepted into the IndieBio accelerator.  

Seddi, Halifax

Seddi is a software company that creates accurate “digital twin” simulations of textiles, clothing and bodies. These digital simulations, which show how textiles or clothes will look once they are manufactured, help the industry go digital and become more efficient while improving customer engagement.

Simptek Technologies, Fredericton

SimpTek is dedicated to helping a range of electricity purchasers measure their consumption, analyze how it might be reduced and help them make the changes that reduce consumption. The company is working not only with the consumers of energy but also with vendors who sell products that can help lower energy use.

Talem Health Analytics, Sydney

Talem has developed software that can help auto insurers understand the time and costs of an individual recovering from a car accident. Drawing on data from physiotherapy clinics, the software uses machine learning and data analysis to predict how someone who has been in an accident will recover.

The Rounds, Halifax

The Rounds is a closed social network for Canadian doctors, a place where they can discuss medical issues among themselves to improve the treatment of patients. A few years ago, the team launched QID, a similar network for pharmacists, which has a global following.

Cvent Aims to Hire 20-30 in Region

Since taking on five OneLobby personnel in 2014, Cvent has grown to 150 people in Atlantic Canada.

Brian Dunphy, General Manager of Cvent Canada

Brian Dunphy, General Manager of Cvent Canada

After increasing its Atlantic Canadian staff 30-fold in the past six years, Cvent is hiring again, hoping to add 20 to 30 people in the region.

The maker of software for the event and hospitality industries has been a growth story in the region since it bought Fredericton-based OneLobby in 2014. It was seen at the time as a fire sale of a troubled company, but it ended up being one of the more successful exits in the region in terms of employment.

Five OneLobby members joined Cvent at the time, and soon word was spreading that the local head Brian Dunphy (one of the six co-founders of Radian6) was building up a big team. Today, Cvent has 150 employees in Atlantic Canada, including 110 at the 15,000-square-foot Fredericton office. By headcount, it’s the second largest Cvent office in North America, exceeded only by the headquarters in the Washington, D.C., suburb of McLean, Va.  

“We had a really great reputation here from the beginning,” Dunphy, the General Manager of Cvent Canada, said in an interview. “When we started hiring here, we hand-picked some of the best people we had seen and then the word got out. And I think there is a lot of loyalty here.”

The surprising thing about Cvent’s recent hiring binge is the company’s clients are concentrated in a sector that’s been whacked by the pandemic – the events and conference industry.

Dunphy said Cvent has responded to the downturn by launching its all-in-one virtual events solution, the Cvent Virtual Attendee Hub. The new product facilitates online events and includes comprehensive built-in features for instant feedback, agenda planning and the like – with more features being rolled out nearly every few weeks. Cvent recently showed the efficacy of the product by virtually hosting 42,000 people at Cvent CONNECT in August.

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Once the pandemic passes and in-person conferences return, the market will probably demand a hybrid solution that includes the functionality of the Virtual Attendee Hub, said Dunphy.

Dunphy’s staff in Atlantic Canada now covers a range of positions. Cvent has a development team in the region, but the disciplines also include such areas as finance and customer success. As well as the main office in Fredericton, there are clusters of remote employees in Saint John, Moncton and Halifax, complemented by workers in other locations.

The company has received support from Opportunities New Brunswick, which in 2018 announced a $385,000 payroll support program to help the company grow in the province over three years.

“I’ve been working within the company as a champion for Atlantic Canada,” said Dunphy. “People think of it as a small market but I think we’ve barely scratched the surface in terms of the talent pool here.”

Dunphy said he’s been impressed with the quality of talent he’s hired each year from University of New Brunswick. The company brings in about 15 interns from the university each term and expects to hire about 20 of them this year alone.

The pandemic has only served to highlight the strength of Atlantic Canada, said Dunphy, because the success of the Atlantic Bubble is making people believe the region is returning to normal more quickly than other places.

“The message is that we’ll hire people wherever we can find them and we really like Atlantic Canada,” said Dunphy. “I have no doubt that we’ll be near 200 people in the region in the next few years.”

Looking Back at Q1 Labs, Radian6

Gordon Pitts' Unicorn in the Woods brings the story of two great companies to life.

I was astonished – and, to be frank, a little embarrassed – by how much I learned reading Gordon Pitts’ superb new book, Unicorn in the Woods: How East Coast Geeks and Dreamers Are Changing the Game.

Any regular reader of Entrevestor should be familiar with the story of Q1 Labs and Radian6, the two New Brunswick companies that sold out for a combined price of about $1 billion in 2012-13. Taken together, these companies changed forever the way Atlantic Canadian tech entrepreneurs are viewed within and outside the region.

Pitts brings a fresh perspective to this story, breathing life into the techies, salesmen and investors who made it all happen. 

A former Globe and Mail business reporter, Pitts is best known in these parts as the author of Codfathers: Lessons from the Atlantic Business Elite, a 2005 book about the network of successful business people in and from the East Coast. Now he has told the story of the two greatest startups (so far) built on the East Coast, and he’s told it very well indeed.


Unicorn in the Woods: How East Coast Geeks and Dreamers Are Changing the Game

By Gordon Pitts

Goose Lane Editions

264 pages

$29.95


The tale starts in 2000 when Chris Newton, a tech-savvy student-slash-employee at University of New Brunswick, teamed up with serial entrepreneur Brian Flood to tackle the university’s budding cybersecurity problems. UNB’s network was frequently disrupted by denial -of-service attacks, in which cyber-criminals assault an organization with hundreds of millions of messages simultaneously, causing the system to fail.

Newton devised a system that tracks the data flows rather than focusing on single data units, then developed a front-end feature that allowed the user to visualize these data flows. Flood saw the potential of the new system and what it could mean, not just for Newton and himself, but for their home province. “Newton now understood that Brian was not just about getting rich,” writes Pitts. “He was about turning New Brunswick around, and if he made some money in the process, that was fine too.”

Thus was Q1 Labs born. The team soon grew, and attracted young brainiacs like Sandy Bird (a computer engineer able to talk to investors on their own terms) and financial backers like former NB Tel President Gerry Pond.

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They brought on board venture capital investment, first from Toronto, then from the U.S., which resulted in the headquarters being moved to the Boston Area. Management was taken over by more hard-nosed executives, and Newton and Flood eventually moved away from the company. The development team remained in Fredericton, headed by Bird.

Before this, Pond had backed another venture, an NB Tel spinoff called iMagic, headed by Marcel LeBrun, a strong, silent leader who inspired great loyalty among all around him. A pioneer in internet-protocol software for video, iMagic was a high-flyer in the dotcom boom, then listed its shares amid the crash in late 2000. After selling out to Paris-based Alcatel in 2003 at 7 percent of the IPO price, LeBrun was looking for his next venture so Pond introduced him to Newton.

They held a brainstorming session and settled mid-decade on a product that would monitor a new-fangled phenomenon known as social media. With six co-founders, they called the new venture Radian6 and quickly began to gain customers. It was a SaaS product, so the sales cycle was rapid, as was growth.

The two companies found buyers at about the same time, with Radian6 selling out to Salesforce for $326 million in the spring of 2012, and Q1 Labs going to IBM for a reported $600 million a few months later.

That’s the skeleton of Pitts’ story, but what makes this book special is the way the author develops these characters, both with anecdote and description.

Take, for example, his portrayal of Newton: “Newton speaks in bursts of gee-whiz enthusiasm – more Richie from Happy Days than the nerdy guys from The Big Bang Theory. Everyone is ‘super-busy’ or ‘super-smart,’ or to sum things up it was ‘all that jazz’ – all interspersed with the occasional mild profanity.”

Or this timeless take on Gerry Pond: “Think of Pond as your loveable old uncle who could be a bit grouchy at times but always remembered you at Christmas.”

Pitts is a reporter as well as a writer, and brings out things I didn’t know about this group, such as Newton’s battles with cancer, or Radian6 Co-Founder Brian Dunphy’s financial straits at the time of the exit. I didn’t know IBM has named 200 IBM Fellows since its inception, and one of them is Sandy Bird.

Unicorn in the Woods loses a bit of steam after the two big exits – about a third of the book deals with the evolution of the startup community since 2012. Part of the problem is that there are more good companies today, but few (St. John’s-based Verafin being the obvious exception) are as stellar as Q1 Labs or Radian6. The number of players makes it harder to tell a linear story.

The book’s greatest flaw is that it all but ignores what’s happening in Halifax, which is the most active part of the East Coast startup community. Pitts mentions some companies like Manifold and TruLeaf but ignores CarbonCure Technologies, ABK Biomedical, Appili Therapeutics, Metamaterial,  IMV, DashHudson, Proposify, SimplyCast, to name a few.  

But as a story of the New Brunswick startup cluster and the people who built it, the book just can’t be beaten.

Natural Breast Prosthesis in Development

Cormier's company will make breast prostheses from natural fibres.

Simonne Cormier

Simonne Cormier

Simonne Cormier, Founder of a company that will make breast prostheses from natural fibres, is celebrating making it into Emergence, the national Bioscience Business Incubator run by PEI BIoAlliance.

It’s a big step for the Montague-based breast cancer survivor and former government administrator who has recently formed her venture Au Naturel Solutions and is beginning trials of her device prototype. It's also important timing as October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, drawing attention to Canada's most common cancer that results in more than 26,000 diagnoses each year. 

Cormier’s entrepreneurial journey began after she had a lumpectomy and her surgeon advised her to find an all-natural prosthesis to wear next to her treatment-sensitive skin.

She found that an ideal product did not exist. Polyester and silicone prostheses were uncomfortable and prone to slipping, so she returned to the sewing skills she learned as a girl and set about creating her own prosthesis, made from animal and plant fibres, and with a reliable attachment system.

“I’m not nervous as I know my purpose and the values I want to bring to this company and the element of giving back,” she said of the new career she is starting shortly after retiring from her government job. “I don’t know everything I need to know, but I’m trusting others to come and walk the path with me to make this concrete and get this out as soon as we can.”

The “others” she mentions are her mentors at the BioAlliance and other businesspeople who are helping her build her venture. So far, she is her company’s only employee, but she hopes the device will be in production, preferably on PEI, in 2021.

Last year, Cormier secured a $25,000 grant from Innovation PEI’s Ignition Fund. She will be seeking future funding although she’s not sure how that will look yet. Existing devices can cost upwards of $300 per breast, she said, and her prosthesis will be competitive on price.

Early interest in her company suggests growth is likely to be fast. As word has got out locally, she has already had between 40 and 50 potential clients contact her.  

Her device will be of use to women who have had a lumpectomy or have lost a full breast. The device expands, and its size and shape depend on how much filling the user packs it with – rather like a pillow, she said.

Her protype will be tested for use in all situations, including at the gym and under lingerie. She is confident it will be comfortable and stay in place under different circumstances.

It is important to Cormier that all materials used be ethically sourced and she aims to gain B-Corp (Benefit Corporation status), which is a globally recognized way of proving that a business’s ethics are sound in everything from sourcing to marketing. 

“If and when this starts rendering profit, I want to give back to the cancer community,” she said. “I don’t know what that would mean yet, it could be a donation to cancer treatment centres.”

Ignite Wins Social Innovation Award

The group received the Canie Award days after opening the new Ignite facility in New Glasgow.

Ignite Labs CEO Doug Jones at the opening of the new facility in Pictou County.

Ignite Labs CEO Doug Jones at the opening of the new facility in Pictou County.

Ignite Labs has been recognized with a national Canie Award just days after the organization opened a new facility in Pictou County, N.S.

Yarmouth, N.S-based Ignite, headed by Founder and CEO Doug Jones, is dedicated to providing incubation space and support for rural innovators. It began in Yarmouth three years ago, and opened an outpost in northern Nova Scotia last year. Late last week, it opening its new facility for the northern N.S. operations, at 352 East River Road in New Glasgow.

“Ignite is passionate about supporting new opportunities in the region to broadcast the contributions of local entrepreneurs and innovators to the wider ecosystem in Atlantic Canada,” said Jones in a statement announcing the new facility. “With the new and upcoming collaborative projects and programs, Ignite is setting the bar for Atlantic Canada of what an innovation hub can do.”

The new space hosts over a dozen startups, several student entrepreneurs, and has a dedicated area for community use, co-working, and a living lab. The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency provided a $300,000 grant over two years to help Ignite establish the incubator.

On Tuesday night, Ignite received the 2020 Canie Social Innovation Award at a reception in Ottawa, which was broadcast nationally over Facebook and Twitter.

Presented by the Innovators and Entrepreneurs Foundation, the Canies are the successors to the Startup Canada Awards, and recognize entrepreneurs and support organizations from across the country for their contributions to the innovation economy. Jones was one of 13 people to receive national Canie awards this year.

“More than ever, it is important to recognize excellence in Canadian entrepreneurship and underscore the crucial role that this ecosystem plays in the country’s economy,” said Kayla Isabelle, Chair of the Innovators and Entrepreneurs Foundation and Executive Director of Startup Canada. “We are proud to support individuals and organizations that are creating positive disruption and contributing to the nation’s well being and prosperity.”

Said Jones after accepting the award: “Ignite has strived to make a difference throughout Nova Scotia by connecting organizations and expertise where these resources did not exist.  Our work with startups, youth, community and industry continue to drive our passion to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem in smaller communities throughout the province."

Volta Launches New AI Program

The new accelerator is for companies that bring AI to supply chains.

Volta has teamed up with Scale AI, the Montreal-based artificial intelligence supercluster, to offer a new program called Volta AI, which supports companies bringing AI to supply chains.

Volta, the Halifax-based innovation hub, said five Canadian companies will be accepted into the one-year program and each will receive $14,000 to buy services or materials.

Applications will be accepted until Nov. 23, and Zoom-based sessions will begin in early January. You can apply here.

“We are very excited to launch this new program in collaboration with Scale AI, to continue to expand our ecosystem, diversify our programming and provide connections and networking opportunities for our regional startup community,” said Volta CEO Martha Casey in a statement. “Volta AI will do this by providing participants with access to experts and investors in the AI space, and providing companies funding to help them grow their venture.”

Combining new programming with existing resources, Volta AI aims to attract AI startups that solve supply chain problems in the Atlantic Canadian ecosystem and help them grow. The Volta team will oversee the program and ensure companies remain accountable.

To qualify for this program, companies must be based in Canada and be focused on applied AI and intelligent supply chains. They must also show that customers are interested in or paying for their product or service.

One of five Canadian superclusters, Scale AI is dedicated to making Montreal an international centre of excellence for artificial intelligence. and supporting AI across Canada. It has received $230 million from the federal government and $53 million from the Quebec government.

“Fostering the emergence of an industrial sector and building a new ecosystem require interventions at every stage of the value-creation chain,” said Scale AI Chief Executive Julien Billot. “We are committed to help the entire network of incubators and accelerators, creating and developing links between AI startups and the business community in order to fully realize our mission of economic leverage.”

Haight Books On Sale in NS

As many of our readers know, I have a side hustle writing crime novels. A few of you have asked how or where to order the new editions of my books THE HAIGHT or A HITMAN ON HAIGHT STREET, which come out in paperback and digital formats on Nov. 10.

I’m arranging to hand deliver signed paperback copies to friends in Nova Scotia. If you’d like either or both, let me know the title and number, and I will order them through Bookmark, Halifax’s leading independent book store. I’ll sign the copies and arrange to get them to you -- possibly before the launch date.

For people in northern NS or Cape Breton, I will need to receive your order by Thursday, Oct 22, to get your copies to you.

The two books are:

THE HAIGHT – Book 1

As SFPD Detective Jimmy Spracklin tracks a killer in Haight-Ashbury in 1968, his greatest worry is the fate of his teenage daughter, who ran away to the hippie enclave.

A HITMAN ON HAIGHT STREET – Book 2

As Spracklin hunts a serial killer at a 1968 music festival in Haight-Ashbury, he has to protect his daughter Marie from both the killer and the police.

I checked with Bookmark and the cost of the book is $25+HST for a total of $26.25. You can pay me when I deliver the book by cash, check or email. I’m afraid I just don’t have enough spare time to do postal orders.

If you’re interested in a digital format on Kindle, you can pre-order it here (where you can also find reader reviews). If you're interested, just email me at peter@entrevestor.com and I'll make sure you get a signed copy. 

Thanks to all. Peter.

Bounce Health Launches Next Phase

The NL medtech group now has a full-time director and three years of funding.

Chandra Kavanagh: 'We’ve been able to adopt best practice from the others.'

Chandra Kavanagh: 'We’ve been able to adopt best practice from the others.'

Bounce Health Innovation, the organization supporting medtech companies in Newfoundland and Labrador, is enhancing its operations with a new full-time director and three years of funding.

The organization unveiled “Bounce 2.0” last week, in which Chandra Kavanagh, an expert in medical ethics, has been named the organization’s first director. She has created a schedule of events and programs while selecting an initial 14 companies for the organization to work with.

She is also devising a plan to make the organization self-sustaining once the three-year financing package expires in 2023.

“We are a creative and innovative accelerator,” said Kavanagh in an interview Monday. “We have similar programs to what incubators and accelerators offer throughout the country, though we do them in a different way.  . . . Because we’re the new kid on the block, we’ve been able to adopt best practice from the others.”

Bounce began in 2018 when several groups – including the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology and Innovation, or NATI, the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship, Genesis, and Eastern Health Authority – came together to develop life sciences companies. What stood out about Bounce from the get-go was the participation of Eastern Health, as it meant the medical community had a direct role in developing new products.

Now the partners are embarking on Bounce 2.0 with a director who can guide the programming and organize events. The initiative has received $799,872 in funding from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and $454,476 from the provincial government.

The initial 14 companies range from idea-stage teams to some that are already gaining traction. Bounce will soon hire an entrepreneur-in-residence to work with them.

NATI Hosts Innovation Week in NL

Kavanagh said the three pillars of Bounce 2.0 are: events around the province (including this week’s Health Innovation Summit); partnerships; and programs.  

She listed four programs the group is launching:

  • The Job-Shadowing Programs – These link entrepreneur and members of the medical community. They allow budding entrepreneurs, for example, to spend time with doctors or other medical professionals to understand their problems. These programs also let doctors or nurses visit the offices of startups to learn entrepreneurial methods.
  • The Intern Program – This program provides entrepreneurial students with a stipend so they can focus on a medtech business instead of going through a work term.
  • The Bounce Embryro Grant Program – This program provides idea-stage entrepreneurs with $5,000 to $15,000 so they can get their companies off the ground.
  • The Certificate Program – Bounce will hold a series of regular workshops on the basics of such tasks as pitching or meeting investors. Participants who complete a certain number of workshops will receive a certificate.

Bounce is a collaborative organization, and Kavanagh noted that NATI’s involvement from its inception has ensured that both the medical and tech communities are involved in the development of the companies.

She also said the team is now examining ways the organization could be self-sustaining in three years. There is already some private funding for the initiative, she said, which shows the broader community understands the economic benefit of this initiative. Its events are already proving popular, and organizers are exploring ways to monetize them. And finally, Kavanagh said Bounce could bundle together a portfolio of its companies for investment, and find a way for those investments to help support its operations.  

“I would love to imagine that we would have an investible portfolio of companies,” she said. “The more successful we can make our companies the more they would want to give back to Bounce.”

Spark Awards $375K to 11 Teams

Organizers noted the diversity of the winners, including Indigenous and female entrepreneurs.

Eleven teams of entrepreneurs have been awarded a total of $375,000 in the Spark Nova Scotia program, which aims to develop startups in Nova Scotia outside of metro Halifax.

The cash prizes – ranging between $15,000 and $50,000 – were distributed during a virtual awards ceremony Monday evening.

The Spark competition is divided into three zones – South West, North, and Cape Breton – to cover all parts of the province outside the capital. The goal is to find and nurture budding entrepreneurs in the rural locations, medium-sized towns, and the Sydney area by offering them mentorship and funding.

A total of $125,000 in cash was awarded in each zone, to be allotted at the discretion of the judges with no company receiving more than $50,000. That means at least three winners in each zone.

Organizers noted the diversity of the winners. Maskwiomin, a winner in Cape Breton, is a First Nation enterprise, while three of the companies are led by women.

“We were delighted to see so many high-quality start-ups from communities across Nova Scotia,” said Erinn Smith, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Association of Community Business Development Corporations. “We were thrilled with the training results, all delivered via Zoom this year, and we know the judges had a tough time selecting finalists and winners.”

The winners were:

 

Cape Breton

Rest Assured Health

Kelsey Muller, Michaela Moore

$45,000

Rest Assured is developing a web app that it hopes will automate parts of the communication process in long-term care facilities between nurses and patients’ families. Earlier this year, Rest Assured won the national Startup Weekend competition called “Unite to Fight COVID-19”. In the subsequent international competitions, the team was named one of the top 5 in the world, receiving $10,000 in funding from Differential Ventures.

Maskwiomin

Matthias Bierenstiel, Tuma Young

$40,000

This company is dedicated to the ethical commercialization of soap made from birchbark oil, which can help to treat skin conditions.  The product is based on a traditional Mi'kmaq formula.

COR-Qual

Matthew Oakley, Douglas MacLennan

$25,000

The company is producing a system that helps construction companies ensure that they are complying with safety regulations.

Novimedical

Shaun Linden

$15,000

The goal of this company is to help prevent repetitive strain injury or help speed its cure using an innovative stretch device, called the ProStretch.  

 

Nova Scotia North

Plasma Agrisol

Lord Abbey, G.L. Rao

$35,000

This company uses plasma technology to reduce seed failure by 50 percent.

Authentic Business Initiatives

Sue Stanfield

$35,000

This company is developing an app that allows shoppers to book customized trips to their favourite retailers based on their preferences. It will be launching beta tests in the next few weeks.

Food For Thought Software Solutions

Melissa MacMaster, Shandra MacMaster

$30,000

These sisters are developing software for schools to enable healthy food for all students. Their online platform assists in ordering and providing meals and connecting schools, government and parents.

Drastic Scholastic Thermoplastic

Maxwell Gauthier, Adam Starr

$25,000

Gauthier and Starr are devising a better way to recycle plastics through community-based recycling. It will begin its initiative at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., then the founders want to expand to other institutions.

 

Nova Scotia Southwest

Remote Energy Systems

Ian Dexter

$50,000

This team of Dalhousie University mechanical engineering grads is developing a new method of fixing solar cells to flexible material to provide power on sailing vessels. The founders are now prototyping the product.

Formula Consulting

Mitchell Kane

$50,000

The company uses software to simplify the calculations needed in complex construction projects. It hopes to hire two employees soon.

Auto Bait Bagger

Gary LeBlanc, Vince Stuart

$25,000

The company is developing a device that automatically bags bait, preventing wastage and improving workplace safety in the fishing industry. It is already gaining traction.

Navigate Creates Software Studio

Junior developers are now working on ideas at the ATOM Software Studio.

Navigate Startup House Team

Navigate Startup House Team

Sydney-based Navigate Startup House has teamed up with the Nova Scotia Department of Labour & Advanced Education to create work experience for a team of junior software developers in Cape Breton.

The team is developing innovative business ideas at the ATOM Software Studio. The pilot program currently employs four young programmers, supervised by professional developers, in a hybrid software development and training environment.

“The scarcity of application developers locally limits the growth potential of many local technology entrepreneurs. Having this resource opens up many opportunities for local businesses that need programming services,” said Todd Graham, Operations Manager of Navigate Startup House, in a statement.

For more information, you can contact Graham at tgraham@navigatestartup.com.

3D BioFibR Raises $550K Round

The company aims to produce commercial quantities of nature’s “strongest, lightest and toughest” materials.

3D BioFibrR CEO Kevin Sullivan

3D BioFibrR CEO Kevin Sullivan

Halifax-based 3D BioFibR Inc., only formed in July, has closed a $550,000 funding round that will launch its mission to produce commercial quantities of nature’s “strongest, lightest and toughest” materials.

The equity round – believed to be the first by an Atlantic Canadian company founded since the pandemic started – includes $150,000 from Concrete Ventures and $100,000 from Innovacorp.

The company is already distinguished by its co-founders. CEO Kevin Sullivan is a veteran of several life sciences companies and most recently founded Appili Therapeutics, leading it through its listing on the TSX Venture exchange. Chief Scientific Officer John Frampton, whose research laid the foundation for the company, is the Canada Research Chair in Biomaterials at Dalhousie University.

“Completing this seed round of investment provides us with a solid financial base from which we can accelerate our growth,” said Sullivan in a statement. “I am proud of the team we have built to date. With the addition of talented scientists and our R&D capacity, we are ramping up our ability to provide real solutions that address the growing need for advanced bio-composite materials that can fundamentally improve the world in which we live.”

Through his research at Dal, Frampton has improved methods of producing biofibres – which are fibres that exist in nature and are used by humans. They include spider silk (the threads spiders make for their webs), collagen (the main structural protein found in skin), and chitosan (a multi-purpose substance found in shellfish shells).

These materials already have a range of commercial applications in such markets as medicine, green textiles, aerospace and defense. Frampton’s methods allow them to be produced in industrial quantities at lower prices than what’s available now.  

“Nature has evolved some of the most exquisite and advanced materials ever described,” said Frampton. “The physical, mechanical and chemical properties of these naturally occurring fibers could help solve many of the engineering challenges we face, but no one has been able to make these biofibers on an industrial scale using existing techniques such as electrospinning and wet spinning.  Our 3D BioFibR team has solved the problem of making high quality biofibers using a proprietary, scalable process which is already at least 600 [times] more efficient than current technologies.”

3D BioFibR scientists have already demonstrated they can make collagen fibres, called CollaFibR, that are stronger than natural tendons, and spider silk that is tougher and 20 times more flexible than steel, said the statement. 

In an email, Sullivan said the company’s first products will be in the biomedical space. It hopes to have its first products in the market in six to 12 months as they don’t require regulatory approval.

“The first is 3D tissue culture scaffolds made of fibrous collagen for the research industry,” he said, adding that 3D tissue culture is a $1.6 billion industry that is growing 15 to 20 percent annually. “Prototypes . . . have been shipped to collaborators and funding is focused on finalizing product development over the coming four to six months.”

The company, which is also working on an artificial tendon made of fibrous collagen, now employs six full-time employees and plans to hire more over the coming months.

In teaming up with Sullivan, Frampton has joined up with one of the leading life sciences executives in the region, who has raised tens of millions of dollars in capital for companies in Nova Scotia and Ontario. Sullivan was the guiding force behind Appili, an anti-infectious drug company, before leaving the company last December when Armand Balboni became its CEO. Appili, whose shares have risen 219 percent in the last year, now has a market value of $90 million and has moved to the main board of the Toronto Stock Exchange.  

“3D BioFibR has an experienced team with scientific, industry, and business leadership,” said Lidija Marušić, life sciences investment manager at Innovacorp. “We have been following the progress of Dr. Frampton’s work for a few years now. With the recent technology advances his team has made, combined with their ability to attract seasoned executives to the opportunity, we are excited to help take their innovation to the global market.”

Innovacorp Accelerates Deals in Last 6 Months

The agency invested $6M in April-Sept., while its portfolio companies raised $71M.

Innovacorp Investment VP Andrew Ray: 'We still have a pretty strong pipeline.'

Innovacorp Investment VP Andrew Ray: 'We still have a pretty strong pipeline.'

Taking issue with the notion that Atlantic Canadian startups face a major funding problem, Andrew Ray says the companies in the Innovacorp portfolio have raised $71 million in the last six months alone.

Innovacorp, the Nova Scotia government’s early-stage venture capital agency, did not participate in all those funding rounds, but it did invest more in the first six months of the 2010-21 fiscal year than it did in all the previous 12 months.

Ray is Vice-President of Investment at Innovacorp and he has a glass-half-full view of the current state of funding in Nova Scotia, possibly the region overall. He was speaking in an interview after Entrevestor reported that angel funding and early-stage investment fell in calendar 2019.

“When COVID struck, it was all about going through our portfolio and making sure they [the portfolio companies] had enough runway to get through about 18 months,” said Ray. Referring to the startup community in general, he added: “By and large, we haven’t had many companies shut down. COVID hasn’t hit our companies hard.”

He admits 2019 was a down year for Innovacorp but added that funding by the Innovacorp portfolio companies amounted to $71 million from April 1 to Sept 30. That figure includes the $16.9 million private placement of shares by Halifax-based Appili Therapeutics in June on the TSX Venture Exchange, but not the company’s earlier $10 million placement, which took place last winter.

It also includes a round by CarbonCure Technologies, which raised money from Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, Breakthrough, Microsoft, and other blue chip investors in September. CarbonCure didn’t release the size of the round, and Ray wouldn’t comment on it, but his $71 million total suggests it was a huge round.

See Also: Innovacorp Funding Dipped in 2019-20 as Big Deals Delayed.  

In the interview, Ray chronicled Innovacorp’s recent investment history without naming the companies that received the funding.

Innovacorp, whose fiscal year ends March 31, did seven investments between New Year and the end of March, said Ray, all of them worth $100,000 or less.

Then in the new fiscal year, it accelerated its funding. From April 1 to Sept. 30, Innovacorp made 15 investments worth a total of $3 million. As of today, it has six more deals approved worth $3 million, and Ray expects these to close this quarter.  

That means that Innovacorp so far this fiscal year has signed off on 21 investments worth $6 million, which is already more than the $2.5 million it invested in the 2019-20 fiscal year. 

“We still have a pretty strong pipeline,” said Ray. “We have another $3 million to $3.5 million that we will probably close in the next year.”

He added all these investments, especially the smaller ones, usually involve particpation by other investors, including angels.

“If we do [an investment of] $100,000 or less, usually the company is raising about $250,000,” said Ray. “We’re rarely going in those deals by ourselves.”

Ray also revealed, for the first time, data that showed the Innovacorp investment portfolio has improved in the past few years, and that the valuation of the portfolio has not been adversely affected by the pandemic.

For example, Innovacorp tracks the value of the paid-in capital on investments it made on the fund opened in 2010, and it is now worth 1.19 times the original investment.

For the fund opened in 2015, which Ray refers to as “Vintage 2015”, the multiple had improved to 1.52, better than the North American median of 1.42.

“[A multiple of] 1.19 is not good,” said Ray. “Historically, the bar for Innovacorp has not been as high as it should be, and the goal was that we could be an evergreen fund. With the Vintage 2015 fund, the idea was to be a top-tier venture fund. . . . [The current multiple] is not where we want to get to but it’s better than it was. It’s above average for Canada but it’s not the end goal yet.”

 

Editor's note: By coincidence, Innovacorp released its annual Accountability Report near the same date on which we had arranged an interview with its Investment VP Andrew Ray. The two subjects complement one another, but are two separate stories, so we decided to run them side by side. Innovacorp is a client of Entrevestor.

Innovacorp 2019-20 Funding Down 60%

The VC agency says three large deals were delayed until 2020-21.

Innovacorp, the Nova Scotia government’s early-stage venture capital agency, invested a total $2.5 million in 19 companies in 2019-20, a drop in dollar terms of 60 percent from the previous fiscal year.

The provincial Crown corporation, whose fiscal year ends March 31, released its annual Accountability Report recently outlining its activity, which was impacted by three deals being delayed until 2020-21. Previous Accountability reports showed Innovacorp’s investments totaled $6.3 million in 16 companies in 2018-19 and $7.9 million in 16 companies in 2017-18.

It should be noted that Innovacorp is a limited partner in Concrete Ventures, an early-stage fund run by Patrick Hankinson, which ramped up its funding in 2019-20, and backs the Volta Cohort program.

Atlantic Canada experienced an overall drop in early-stage funding in calendar 2019, then the pandemic created concerns about companies suffering a cash crunch. Innovacorp and other organizations have stepped up their investments since the pandemic struck. (See accompanying article.)

“While Innovacorp made a higher number of investments than anticipated, the total dollar invested was less than the $6.5 million expected (in 2019-20),” said the Accountability Report. “The variance is mainly a result of three large expected deals being delayed until the next fiscal year.”

See Also: Innovacorp Accelerates Deals in Last 6 Months. 

The Accountability Report is an important document because it always shows some investments that were never disclosed publicly.

The following are the investments made through the Nova Scotia First Fund, Innovacorp’s main investment vehicle:

New Portfolio Companies  
Nxtgen Care $1 million
Audioptics Medical  $100,000
NovaResp Technologies     $100,000
Novalte  $100,000
Talem Health Analytics $100,000
Follow-on Investments  
Global Spatial Technology Solutions $500,000
Securicy Data Solutions  $250,000
Swarmio   $180,000

In the last few years, Innovacorp has made smaller investments in partnership with the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation (backing leading graduates of Propel’s Incite program) and Venture Grade, the Saint Mary’s University student-run VC fund. In 2019-20, those programs amounted to $260,000 being invested in these 11 companies:

Ashored  Innovation $15,000
Aurea Technologies    $15,000
FoodByte $25,000
ReelData        $25,000
Room Service  $25,000
Safa                                                                                        $25,000
Side Door Access   $40,000
Simbi $25,000
SnapAP $25,000
TotalIQ $25,000
Trip Ninja    $15,000

 

The Accountability Report notes that the companies that make up its portfolio collectively raised $71 million, which includes ABK Biomedical’s C$40 million deal. “Given the larger-than-expected amount of funding raised by Innovacorp’s later-stage portfolio companies, there was less of a need to participate in those funding rounds,” said the report.

It added that the portfolio companies in 2019-20 employed 816 people, had a payroll of about $61 million, and generated revenues of $47.3 million, all representing increases over the previous year.

Although Innovacorp had hoped 30 percent of its seed-stage companies would complete a Series A financing in 2019-20, it admitted none has so far. (The report does not define “seed stage” or “Series A”.) It predicts this goal will eventually be met, but it will take longer than expected – especially given that the pandemic is impacting private funding.

The Accountability Report also reveals most funding totals for Innovacorp’s non-dilutive programs. Adding up the totals listed in the report (and additional information from the Innovacorp press office) indicates Innovacorp distributed more than $1.9 million, mainly through the following programs:

Early Stage Commercialization Fund  $407,000
Sprint $325,000
Accelerate Program  $550,000
Blue-Green Challenge $140,000
Start-Up Yard $112,500
Venture Services $385,000

 

Editor's note: By coincidence, Innovacorp released its annual Accountability Report near the same date on which we had arranged an interview with its Investment VP Andrew Ray. The two subjects complement one another, but are two separate stories, so we decided to run them side by side. Innovacorp is a client of Entrevestor.

Sonrai Closes US$20M VC Round

The cloud security company will expand R&D and sales of its Sonrai Dig product.

Sonrai CEO Brendan Hannigan, left, and CTO Sandy Bird

Sonrai CEO Brendan Hannigan, left, and CTO Sandy Bird

Cloud security company Sonrai Security has closed a US$20 million (C$26.4 million) venture capital round led by Menlo Ventures of Silicon Valley, the largest fully disclosed VC deal in Atlantic Canada this year.

The round also drew the backing of returning investors Polaris Partners and Ten Eleven Ventures.

Based in New York and Fredericton, Sonrai burst on the scene in late 2018 when its first public announcement ever was that it had closed a US$18.5 million funding round. (The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation invested in the first round but not in the second.) Now Sonrai has raised more than C$50 million and will use the new capital to accelerate R&D, marketing and sales for its flagship product, Sonrai Dig.

The solution helps corporations move their data on to the cloud by tying together identity and search solutions so they can organize and protect their cloud-based data. As well as offering comprehensive data security, Sonrai enhances the quality of an organization’s compliance.

“The shift to the cloud is inevitable. And with that shift, cloud identity and data governance become primary concerns,” said Menlo Ventures Partner Venky Ganesan in a statement. “As enterprises move first to one cloud, and later to multiple clouds, the problems around access/privilege management, configuration drift, and sensitive data loss become increasingly complex. Drawing on a proven team with strong domain expertise, Sonrai built an incredible solution that wins over sophisticated cloud and security buyers. We’ve bet on this team before and are proud to back them a second time.”

The Series B raise by Sonrai is welcome news for the Atlantic Canadian startup community, as the pandemic has reduced the number and size of VC deals in the region this year. The only funding round that may be in the same ballpark as Sonrai's is CarbonCure Technologies' investment from such bluechip investors as Amazon and Breakthrough Energy Ventures. The value of that deal wasn't released, but the quality of investors suggests it was a whopper. 

The Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association said that Atlantic Canadian startups raised 19 VC rounds worth $41 million in the first six months of 2020, compared with 26 deals worth $64 million in the first half of 2019.

Sonrai has its origins in Q1 Labs, a cybersecurity company that sold out to IBM for a reported US$600 million eight years ago. Sonrai CEO Brendan Hannigan and CTO Sandy Bird held similar roles with the previous company, and their experience with IBM after the Q1 sale gave them invaluable insights into corporate cybersecurity.  

They found that global enterprises generate hundreds of cloud accounts and thousands of data stores, many of which are improperly configured, creating an ever-growing data risk.

Sonrai Dig automatically uncovers and eliminates identity, data and cloud platform risks and continuously monitors the system to ensure new risks and unusual activity are quickly identified. It builds a comprehensive graph detailing every relationship between identities (people and non-people) and data that exist within cloud platforms. Sonrai said a growing number of clients, including Fortune 100 companies and major banks, are using the product. 

Sonrai currently employs about 45 to 47 people, and the Atlantic Canadian-based development team, mainly in Fredericton, represent roughly 60 percent of the staff, said company spokesman Manny Ataebi in an interview. He added that the company expects to double or triple its staffing in the next few years, though the exact growth rate will depend on revenue growth.

New York-based Ataebi said the Fredericton team will grow “probably by the same multiples, and we will continue to invest in research and development up there. We have a tremendous engineering team that creates products faster than any company I’ve ever been part of.”

The company first launched its product early in 2019 and continued to develop it. About three months ago, it launched its "governance and automation" functionality, which automatically organizes and monitors the cloud-based data. 

“The increasing frequency of cloud breaches caused by identity and data access complexity has driven significant traction for our Sonrai Dig platform among large enterprises, who see it as the basis of their cloud security model,” said Hannigan in the statement. “We are extremely pleased to partner with Menlo Ventures, whose long experience in this space will help us rapidly accelerate our expansion.”

 

Editor's note: this is an updated version of our earlier story on Sonrai's funding. 

Innovation Week Coming to NL

The theme of this year's event will be resiliency and adaptability in the tech sector.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology and Innovation will hold its annual Innovation Week starting Monday, with a special focus on resiliency and adaptability.

NATI and its partners usually stage Innovation Week each spring with a series of in-person events around the province. But this year, the pandemic got in the way. So the event was postponed to the fall, made virtual and is now focusing on what companies can do and are doing to thrive in the current environment. You can find more information and buy tickets here.

“It’s about opportunities and resilience, hope in the face of crisis,” said NATI Chief Executive Paul Preston in an interview. “How you embrace change and embrace opportunity – that’s the theme of the week.”

NATI will host an event each day over four days:

Monday, 9:30 am NST

Innovation Week Launch and Keynote

NATI will unveil its Innovation Strategy for the coming years, followed by a keynote address by Bethany Downer, the first scientist-astronaut candidate from Atlantic Canada. Downer plans to complete her first commercial suborbital spaceflight within the next five to 10 years.

Tuesday, 11 am NST

Advocating for the Technology Sector

This is a panel discussion with Seamus O’Regan, Federal Minister of Natural Resources, and Andrew Parsons, Provincial Minister of Industry, Energy and Technology.

Wednesday 9:30 am NST

Profoundly Pivoting: Resiliency in the Tech Sector

This discussion examines how many local tech companies have pivoted to respond to the economic challenges posed by the pandemic.

Thursday 9:30 am NST

Tech Sector Mash Up - Connecting Students with Tech Companies

This virtual networking event is designed to connect post-secondary students and local technology companies. Students will visit “virtual booths” to meet with local company representatives.

Other parties are planning events, such as the Bounce Innovation health hackathon and another hackathon in Grand Falls-Windsor.

Preston said the overall message for Innovation Week is that the tech sector has shown resilience and flexibility through the pandemic, and its companies have persevered. A recent survey of NATI members showed that three-quarters have not had to lay off staff or reduce hours. Even the finding that 62 percent had experienced a drop in revenue could be seen in a positive light, because in a March survey 84 percent had lost revenue or were expecting to do so.

The tech sector will be needed to ensure growth during the coming recovery, said Preston. NATI hopes to drive home to ministers at the round table next week that the province needs to change the education system to ensure Newfoundland and Labrador has the right talent to accommodate that growth.

“The biggest thing that we’re advocating for is we need to transform our educational platform – not just post-secondary but K-12 as well,” said Preston. “We need to get kids to understand that they don’t have to leave Atlantic Canada to succeed.”

Headway is being made on producing more tech talent, he said.  The private Keyin College has introduced a 16-month development course and signed up 27 students to the first cohort. The College of the North Atlantic launched a three-year software program, and it immediately filled its 25 spaces and had a waiting list of 100 students. NATI is working with the college to try to increase the first cohort to 50 students. It is also working with Memorial University of Newfoundland on finding ways to increase enrollment in its Computer Science faculty.

Innovacorp Names 9 Sprint Winners

The winners, chosen from a field of 60 applicants, will receive $25,000 each.

The Symbi Team:  Cameron Sehl, Devin McArthur and Max Jennings.

The Symbi Team: Cameron Sehl, Devin McArthur and Max Jennings.

Innovacorp has named nine winners for its fall Sprint competition, each of whom will receive $25,000 in prize money and mentoring.

The Nova Scotia government’s venture capital agency said Wednesday it selected the nine startups after receiving and reviewing 60 applicants for the semi-annual competition.

The agency said the goal of Sprint is to find and support high-potential, early-stage startups and encourage entrepreneurial activity in the province.

The nine winners are:

Design by Science – Aaron Outhwaite

Sustainable materials and machines for the 3D printing of large objects and structures

Electric Owl – Margaret Dron  

Software to help grow food in urban environments and on small-scale farms

Marecomms – Ulaş Güntürkün 

Underwater communications system to deliver information from data collected in the ocean

myFlock – James Walsh 

Technology to reduce risk and operating inefficiencies in the poultry supply chain

Plasma Agricultural Solutions – Lord Abbey, GL Rao, NN Misra 

Treatment to improve seed health and quality

Prosaris Solutions – Colin Sewell

Technology to detect and quantify gas leaks

Symbi Medical – Cameron Sehl, Max Jennings, Devin McArthur, Dr. Sameer Berry 

Remote patient monitoring tool for predicting and reducing medical procedure no-shows

Tracker Inventory Systems – Gavin Andrews 

Automated inventory management for seafood and aquaculture producers

VMOpro – Matt Gillis 

Remote physiotherapy solution that enables patients to self-manage injuries at home

 

 

Disclosure: Innovacorp is a client of Entrevestor. 

Welcome to our Redesigned Website

Today, we're also launching our 2020 Ecosystem Roadmap, featuring links to almost 80 organizations.

Welcome to the new-and-improved Entrevestor.com.

We hope this redesign is more than just a new look for our site. It actually is intended to reflect how our business has evolved by emphasizing the range of information on our site. That’s why our redesign emphasizes our Ecosystem Roadmap – which has been updated for 2020 – and our Atlantic Canada Startup Data reports.

For years, Entrevestor was a website where people went for news on Atlantic Canadian startups – and it still is. Our commitment to news has not diminished.

But we would like people to think of Entrevestor as more than that. We want it to be seen as the online space where people go for all information about startups in the region. Therefore, our new website features our other digital products.

Our audience is more familiar with our data report than the Ecosystem Roadmap, but the Roadmap is a unique resource where you can find a lot of information quickly. It is the only single place where virtually all the startup programs and organizations in the region can be found. We have information on almost 80 organizations, spanning all provinces and sectors, all organized so you can find information quickly.

Our 2020 Ecosystem Roadmap includes a dozen new programs or groups that have been launched in the past year – an impressive number given that most were launched during the pandemic.

These new programs or organizations are:

Bridge Residency Program

Margaret Palmeter

The Emera ideaHUB’s flagship residency program provides space and guidance for early-stage hardware companies. It provides companies with staff of one to four people with co-working space and access to equipment and mentors so they can proceed through the early stages of growth.

Design2Build

Offered by Emera ideaHUB and Volta

Design2Build helps hardware companies to design, build, prototype and prepare for scaled production faster. In addition to workshops and one-on-one support, companies have the opportunity to apply for up to $10,000 in funding to purchase materials.

Digital Boost

Cathy Simpson

TechImpact, the regional information technology group based in Fredericton, has launched this new $1.2 million program to help established New Brunswick companies improve their digital capabilities. The Digital Boost program provides 75 percent of the cost of each digital project, the maximum value of which is $50,000.

Health Challenge Pitch Event

Organized by the Nova Scotia Health Authority, Volta and others.

The Health Challenge is a series of five pitch events focusing on specific health care priorities, with the winner of each event receiving $100,000. In addition to the cash prize, the Nova Scotia Health Authority considers adopting the winner’s technology for use in the provincial medical system.

Lab2Market

Michael Carew in Halifax and Youji Cheng in St. John's

Lab2Market works with PhD candidates and post-doctoral researchers to determine whether their scientific discoveries can be developed into startups. Ryerson, Dalhousie and Memorial universities have agreed to oversee two pilot cohorts each over the next two years.

MarketSwell Solutions

David Alston

Aiming to produce 25 grads in the next five years, MarketSwell is an accelerator for Chief Marketing Officers, teaching them how to lead marketing efforts within their companies. The program includes one-on-one instruction with Alston and group sessions with other participants.

Nova Scotia Innovation Hub

Rod Badcock

The Innovation Hub’s mission is to encourage the growth of low-carbon industries -- which it refers to as the bioeconomy -- in Nova Scotia, especially in rural areas. It works with enterprises ranging from startups to large corporations.

Ocean Startup Project

Donald Grant

The Ocean Startup Project, overseen by Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, aims to identify and develop oceantech startups. Its Ocean Startup Challenge provides $25,000 plus in-kind services to startups, rewarding 14 teams in its first event. These companies may then move up to a follow-on competition, which offers prizes of $100,000.

Ready2Launch

Spencer Giffin

Ready2Launch is Dalhousie University's summer startup accelerator for students, recent grads and researchers at Atlantic Canadian universities. The two-month program, which is affiliated with Lab2Market, provides teams with up to $10,000 each in funding.

SEATAC

Marie MacCormick

Funded by NSERC and offered through the Nova Scotia Community College, SEATAC is part of a network of Technology Access Centers across Canada. It provides R&D services to small and medium-sized companies in the ocean technology sector.

Set to Scale

Doug Robertson

Offered by Venn Innovations and based on Verne Harnish’s Scaling Up Methodology, Set to Scale introduces participants to processes that help them focus on the program’s four pillars of scaling: people; strategy; execution and cash. They will work one-on-one with certified Scaling Up coaches from across Canada over the course of the program.

Startup Management Accelerator

Adam Peabody

Hosted by Planet Hatch, the Startup Management Accelerator helps entrepreneurs as they transition from the startup phase to fully established and growing businesses. Participants will graduate from the program with a forward-looking business strategy and the essential skills and knowledge to transition from startup to developing business.

There are a couple of other new programs that impact the ecosystem, though they don’t fit cleanly into a slot for startup founders seeking to help their companies. They are:

Future of Work Program

Adam Peabody

As of today, Planet Hatch was preparing to launch this new program to prepare post-secondary students for the coming wave of employment opportunities. The program will aim to develop a mindset within students that encompasses entrepreneurship and innovation, and will help them adapt to the rapidly changing environment as automation becomes more prominent.

Young Innovators

Margaret Palmeter

The Young Innovators Program supports entrepreneurial youth interested in making new products. It allows them to access co-working space at the Emera ideaHUB and benefit from the guidance of the HUB team.

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We would like to thank all the organizations that supported our data report and Ecosystem Roadmap. Special thanks to Mike Cyr and Mike Hayes at Charcoal Marketing, who worked closely with us on these projects, and Peter Eastwood of Eastwood Design, for the great job on the website.

The organizations that supported these initiatives are: Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Innovacorp, Build Ventures, Global Affairs Canada, Halifax Innovation District, Ignite Fredericton, Island Capital Partners, Memorial University of Newfoundland, New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, ONSIDE, Propel, and Springboard Atlantic.

Corps, Non-Profits Invited to Connect

Venture 2 Impact is running the program with Google, Salesforce, and other organizations.

Fazi Al Qassar, Executive Director of Venture 2 Impact

Fazi Al Qassar, Executive Director of Venture 2 Impact

A digital event focusing on creating impactful partnerships between corporations and non-profit organizations is being offered by Venture 2 Impact, a Halifax-based group that facilitates skill-based volunteering for global tech companies.

The event is being run with Google, Salesforce, Workday and Aryaka, among other partners.  The interactive event will allow organizations virtual facetime with partners through small group discussions in breakout rooms. 

“This is an opportunity for NGOs and CSR professionals to meet, talk to, and learn from folks at Google, Workday, Salesforce and other companies," said Fadi Al Qassar, Venture 2 Impact’s Co-founder and Executive Director. "This event is basically the equivalent of a ticket to Silicon Valley for any organization curious about cross-sectoral partnerships and how to create them

He said the partners wanted to run the event to help NGOs secure partnerships and  help CSR professionals get inspiration on supporting social organizations.

Jordan-born Al Qassar is known in Halifax for his earlier work as managing director of Uganda Venture, a group set up to assist Ugandan entrepreneurs.

The event will be held online on Oct. 28 between 2:00 and 4:00 PM ADT and is free of charge.

You can register here.

Marketswell Accepts 10 Members

The accelerator for CMOs has doubled its intake due to strong demand.

David Alston

David Alston

Marketswell Solutions has accepted twice as many companies as expected into its first CMO Accelerator Program due to strong demand.

The program launched by David Alston, one of the most experienced marketing execs in the region, had expected to accept about five people into its accelerator for chief marketing officers. However, the demand was strong enough that it has accepted 10 CMOs.

Marketswell Solutions aims to produce more than 25 grads in the next five years, all of whom will have the confidence and know-how to fill key leadership roles in high-growth companies. Alston said he is initiating the program because of a dearth of talent in digital marketing in the region and the difficulty in finding CMOs anywhere.

“The idea surfaced a few months ago for the CMO Accelerator after getting back-to-back calls from startups trying to figure out where they were going to find their CMO,” said Alston in a statement. “Atlantic Canada simply doesn’t have enough on the bench ready to go and we hope this program will help to tackle this issue.”

The CMO Accelerator hopes each cohort will include a non-profit that is connected to economic, community or startup ecosystem growth. This year, for example, the cohort includes Alex LeBlanc, CMO for the New Brunswick Multicultural Council, which works with a range of partners to promote diversity and inclusion in the province.

As well as LeBlanc, the members of the cohort are:

Island Capital Eyes Fund 2

The P.E.I. early-stage investment fund hopes to close in the second or third quarter of next year.

Alex MacBeath

Alex MacBeath

With 10 portfolio companies backed by its $4.25 million first fund, Island Capital Partners is preparing to raise a larger second fund next year.

The Charlottetown-based group was formed in 2017 by a group of Islanders with deep backgrounds in international business and entrepreneurship to provide early-stage financing and mentorship. It intended at that time to build up a portfolio of 12 to 13 companies based on P.E.I. or having operations on the Island.

Now that they have almost met that goal, the principals are beginning to talk to potential limited partners for the second fund, worth more than $4.25 million, which they hope to close in the second or third quarter of 2021.

“We’re laying the groundwork for Fund 2 and now doing the hard slugging,” said Managing Partner Alex MacBeath in an interview, adding that the timing has been delayed by the pandemic.

He and Director of Operations Stefanie Corbett said that hard slugging includes meeting with potential investors, showing what Fund 1 has achieved, and making the business case for the fund. Their first fund had about 25 limited partners, or LPs. Fund 2 will once again receive investment from the provincial government as well as private investors.

MacBeath and Corbett said Island Capital still plans to invest in two or three more new companies from the first fund, and will still have some money to allow follow-on funding. They declined to discuss specific metrics with the 10 companies they’re now backing, but did say they are pleased with the data they track privately.

The portfolio ranges from IT companies like Forestry.io (the first Canadian company ever to raise capital through an AngelList syndicate) and OnSet Communication, to such life sciences companies as PhotoDynamic and Coloursmith Labs.

The Island Capital team – which also includes principals Ron Keefe, Steve Nicolle, and Paul Lypaczewski – has worked more closely than expected with its portfolio companies to make sure founding teams round out their range of skills. Most of these companies are tapping international markets, and the Island Capital partners are working with them to make sure they have the tools to make international sales.  

“We had a lot to learn,” said Corbett, reflecting on the first few years. “Learning how much work goes into these companies when you’re investing at the early stage has been one of the big things. These companies need a lot of work, and a lot of the founders are specialists, not generalists. The gaps in founding teams’ skill levels were larger than anticipated.”

The Island Capital team has also worked to develop the ecosystem on P.E.I. For example, the fund works with companies based elsewhere if they can carry out some operations on the Island or collaborate with such bodies as the University of PEI or the PEI BioAlliance.

Overall, the investment team believes its first fund has been a success and its members are eager to continue the work.

“Three years later, all five of us are still getting along well,” said MacBeath. “We’ve always described ourselves as active investors. The effort that has had to go into them [the companies] has been perhaps more than we anticipated but collectively I think we’ve added value.”

Tranquility Studies Caregiver Mental Health

Joel Muise, CEO of Tranquility Online

Joel Muise, CEO of Tranquility Online

Halifax-based Tranquility Online, a web-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (iCBT) program, has partnered with Maritime researchers and government to investigate how the pandemic is impacting the mental health of caregivers.

The research will look at the implementation and evaluation of e-mental health care for parents and caregivers struggling with anxiety and depression arising from the pandemic.

Joel Muise, Co-founder and CEO of Tranquility Online, which helps adults with mild-to-moderate anxiety and depression, said the research will allow independent research to be completed. 

He said this should “help generate evidence that Tranquility is effective at a large scale, working with a very important key audience – parents and caregivers.”

Parents, particularly women, are experiencing heightened anxiety and depression during the pandemic, the partners said in a statement.

It is unclear which specific stressors faced by parents are overwhelming their coping resources. What is clear is that treatment is needed and e-mental healthcare has become a necessity, the statement said.

The study of at least 200 caregivers will examine participants’ coaching preferences and the impact online coaching has on their mental health.

The partners have been awarded a major federal research grant from the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR).

The funding will help bring Tranquility’s platform to parents across the Maritimes. The project will include translating the entire program into French, which will also broaden use and grow the partner network. 

Primary investigators are Janine Olthuis, Assistant Professor, University of New Brunswick and Dr. Alissa Pencer, Senior Instructor, Dalhousie University and Co-founder & Senior Scientific Director of Tranquility Online.

Superclusters Lagging, Says PBO

A Parliamentary Budget Office report shows the Ocean Supercluster had launched the fewest projects as of March.

Canada’s innovation superclusters are lagging behind their intended goals, and the poorest results so far have been produced by Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

The PBO this week filed a report on the five superclusters, saying that as of March they had funded fewer projects than expected when the program was announced. The government had projected $104 million in federal spending in the 2019-20 fiscal year, but the actual spending was $30 million, of which $18 million was devoted to administration and operations.

Though the report did not highlight the Ocean Supercluster, which is based in Atlantic Canada, it did produce a chart showing the oceantech group had the poorest results in terms of spending, projects launched, and jobs created. The Ocean Supercluster responded by saying the PBO report is based on outdated information and it has accelerated approvals lately. 

“Based on a review of the literature and the experience of other jurisdictions, PBO finds it unlikely that the objective of increasing GDP by $50 billion over 10 years will be met,” the report said, referring to the overall supercluster initiative.

Shortly after coming to office, the Liberal government announced it would create five innovation “superclusters” across the country, which would bring together government, innovation and academia to create international centres of excellence in specific technologies. In announcing the five winners in 2018, the federal government committed to spend $918 million through the superclusters over five years, and other partners (mainly private companies) would match that with $1.09 billion in spending.  

One winner was Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, an initiative spanning the four Atlantic Provinces dedicated to making the region an international hub for ocean-based innovation. The PBO report shows that as of March, the Ocean Supercluster had only only spent $26 million and launched two projects, accounting for less than 10 percent of the national total. The report estimates that the Ocean Supercluster created 88 jobs (2 percent of the national total) and said it had trained no workers. 

Committed spending and expected job creation per Superculster, as of March
Supercluster Spending

Admin

Costs

Projects Jobs

Workers 

trained

Digital $69M $5M 22 938 --
Protein $68M $5M 4 757 --
Manufacturing $31M $8M 6 1,163 352
AI $83M $2M 11 970 2,757
Ocean $26M $2M 2 88 -- 
Total $277 $23M 45 3,916 3,109

Source: Parliamentary Budget Office

However, Ocean Supercluster spokesperson Nancy Andrews said the Ocean Supercluster as of today has $80 million in project commitments , and a total project value of more than $180 million. That means that at the halfway mark of its five-year mandate, the Atlantic Canadian supercluster is more than halfway to its goal of funding about $350 million in projects.

“At the halfway mark of our mandate, Canada’s Ocean Supercluster is on track to create 3,000 new jobs in ocean sectors, and increase the economic value of Canadian ocean sectors by $14 billion by 2030,” said Andrews in an email.

Andrews said the organization has approved 32 projects. Five have been announced so far and 125 jobs are expected from these jobs. And 27 projects are in the contracting phase, she said.

In the past few months, the Ocean Supercluster has ramped up its activity. CEO Kendra MacDonald said in July her organization has so far committed to helping fund over $100 million worth of R&D, adding that about 20 projects were in the works. Since then, its has seeded 14 startups through the Ocean Challenge, launched a training program for Indigenous workers and announced funding for the OceanDNA System project.

Overall, the PBO said the five superclusters as of March were behind schedule in rolling out R&D projects, and cast doubt on their ability to reach their long-term goals. Rather than producing a $50 billion contribution to GDP as intended, a more likely result is $18 billion, though that may also prove optimistic, said the report.

Outcast Foods and Partners Reduce Waste

Three companies in the pet industry have signed up to reduce the environmental impact of feeding pets by partnering with Outcast Foods.

Shameless Pets, Earth Animal and Cannabiscuit Canada will be using Outcast Foods' dehydrated fruit and vegetable ingredients in their products 

Dartmouth-based Outcast uses misfit, unsellable or cast-off produce and turns it into sustainable, nutrient-dense food for wholesale, retail and consumer use. Their direct to consumer products are plant-based, gluten-free protein powders, vitamins and super greens.

The technology cuts food waste and lessens environmental impact -- feeding pets, for example, is said to create over 70 million tons of carbon dioxide a year.

​“It takes commitment from the whole team to make changes to the supply chain, working with Outcast Foods was a no brainer,” CEO Stewart Shanley of Connecticut-based Earth Animal said in a statement.

“The more we upcycle, the more positive of an impact we make on the environment. Outcast Foods makes it easy for us to do our part,” Alex Waite, Co-founder of Chicago-based Shameless Pets said.

Nextcheck Preps for Early Adopters

The MVP of its digital aircraft maintenance log should be ready this year.

Kenny Harris

Kenny Harris

Nextcheck, which is developing maintenance software for aircraft, has won the 2020 Pitch & Pick competition at Genesis and been accepted into the St. John’s  innovation hub’s Enterprise program.

The company’s three co-founders are building a digital solution to replace paper-based aircraft maintenance logs, which are often missing critical information for a host of reasons. Not only does this affect safety, but it can increase costs because insurers demand up-to-date maintenance logs on the aircraft they cover.   

“It’s absolutely astonishing that something like this doesn’t already exist in an all-encompassing format,” said CEO Kenny Harris in an interview. He added that the team hopes to complete the minimum viable product by the end of the year, and has lined up about 30 early adopters.

Harris and Co-Founders CTO Marty Whelan and COO Eoin Seviour began the company in March and joined Genesis’ Evolution program, taking part in what the centre described as “one of Evolution's strongest cohorts yet”. Pitch & Pick is Evolution’s demo day, and in winning the event Nextcheck bags a $1,000 first prize and gains entry into the Enterprise program for scaling companies.

The three life-long friends got the idea for the company because Seviour works as a flight instructor and has seen first-hand the problems with maintenance logs. Aircraft are complex systems and their logs need input from owners, pilots, mechanics and others. But the process is complicated because many aircraft are shared, and sometimes a problem is discovered when the plane is thousands of miles from the flight log, and maintenance doesn’t get reported. Some handwriting is unreadable.

Seviour and Harris had been working on a previous startup, an aircraft rental marketplace called PayperPlane Aviation. When Whelan graduated with a computer science degree from Memorial University, they decided Nextcheck was a better opportunity and went all-in on the new venture in March of this year.  

What the Nextcheck product does is automate a lot of the processes currently entered into logs manually, and make it easier for personnel to record and share essential data. For example, the pilot’s cell phone can detect when a plane begins to move, and when it takes off, lands and stops – critical information that Nextcheck records automatically. Mechanics can enter information regardless of where they are, and the system notifies the owners of when maintenance is needed for each component of the craft. Insurers or safety inspectors can view the log in real-time.

Nextcheck so far has received $4,500 in funding from the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship, and $21,000 from Genesis ($1,000 from Pitch & Pick, and $20,000 from the Genesis Micro-fund).

The company is hoping to raise its first equity funding round in 2021.

Harris said Nextcheck will initially target four groups of customers: flight schools; aerial work operations, like aerial photographers or firefighters; air taxis, which carry no more than nine passengers; and commuter operations, which carry 10-19 passengers. The company is planning an enterprise product for commercial airlines, but that will come later.

The early adopters will mainly be private aircraft owners, said Harris. He added of the beta-testers: “ Very likely, it will be paid because there is significant interest and it will be saving them a lot of money in liability insurance.”

Chambers’ Research into Kids’ Pain Leads to SKIP

The Dalhousie professor conducts leading research into treating pain in children.

Christine Chambers: 'Sometimes it’s just hard to get pain to the top of the priority list.'

Christine Chambers: 'Sometimes it’s just hard to get pain to the top of the priority list.'

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Dalhousie University psychologist and researcher Dr. Christine Chambers has spent more than 20 years studying pain management in children. But it was the birth of her own kids that spurred her to create her non-profit: Solutions for Kids in Pain.

Chambers is a professor in Dalhousie’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, as well as its Department of Pediatrics.

She is a faculty member at the university’s Centre for Pediatric Pain Research and in 2018 she co-created Solutions for Kids in Pain, or SKIP, as a partnership with Children’s Healthcare Canada – an industry group that aims to use community-building to improve patient care.

“I realized that all this great science that I had spent my career contributing to wasn’t actually improving care on the front lines,” she said in an interview. “Children’s pain still wasn’t being managed as well as it should be.”

Chambers’ specialization began partly by chance. She had known since she was in her early teens that she wanted to become a child psychologist, but her awareness of the field was limited to practitioners who themselves treated patients.

When the Nova Scotia native arrived at Dalhousie for her bachelor’s degree, her academic advisor told her that becoming involved in the research component of child psychology would be useful when it came time to apply to graduate programs.

The only Dalhousie professor conducting child psychology research at the time was studying pain, so Chambers joined his laboratory. There, she realized it was research – not clinical work – that she wanted to devote her career to.

“At first, I had never heard of this area. I had a very stereotypical view around what psychology was focused on – things like anxiety disorders and ADHD,” she said. “But I quickly became hooked on [pain research] and the need for knowledge that the field was just developing.”

Aims To Assess Children's Pain

Her undergraduate degree from Dalhousie led to a Master’s and PhD in clinical psychology from the University of British Columbia, and a fellowship at Brown University in Rhode Island.

After two years teaching at UBC, she returned to Dalhousie, where she joined the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research in 2003.

Based out of the Children’s Building at the IWK, a few blocks from Dalhousie, Chambers’ lab conducts experiments and research aimed at more accurately assessing children’s pain levels and ultimately reducing their discomfort

Her team relies on a range of experimental methods, but one technique that she described as particularly useful is the cold pressure test.

In it, a child is asked to submerge their hand in cold water – about ten degrees Celsius – to induce discomfort. Chambers’ team can then experiment with various pain management techniques.

For example, one of the first experiments that Chambers oversaw at the centre used cold pressure tests to show that parents who attempted to reassure their children actually caused their kids to experience the pain more acutely.

Children and their parents were divided into three groups: one in which the parents played the role of “pain promoters”, becoming visibly concerned for their kids; one in which the parents modelled calm, confident behavior; and a control group in which the parents were given no instructions. The children of parents who modelled calm behavior experienced less pain.

Assesing Facial Expressions

Chambers said researchers can estimate how much pain children experience by asking them questions, as well as using analysis of facial expressions. Certain movements, such as a person squeezing their eyelids together, are known to be reliable indicators of distress.

In the past, research assistants trained to identify the telltale facial movements would analyze patients’ expressions with the aid of their own judgement. Now, computer software that Chambers’ team paid for with the help of a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation automates the assessment process.

A second early project from Chambers’ team was a systematic review that collated the existing body of research around chronic childhood pain. The publication has since gone on to become her most cited work.

With the help of librarians, Chambers and her staff gathered all of the available literature that had been published on the topic. Then, using a battery of data analysis techniques, they condensed the current state of the research into a single, easily-referenced article.

“It’s very useful because practitioners can employ it as a quick reference, with all the literature in one place,” she said

The systematic review determined that headaches were the most common type of chronic pain in children, followed by stomach aches and back aches. About one in five kids at the time was suffering from some sort of recurring pain.

For the 10th anniversary of the publication, Chambers is working on a follow-up paper that will incorporate the last decade of scientific advancement.

Her team is still compiling a body of published research before beginning the analysis, making it too early to draw conclusions. Chambers said one issue of particular interest is whether levels of chronic pain in children have increased; many clinicians believe that they have risen.

Read More About Dal Researchers:

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Despite the success of projects like the 2011 literature review, Chambers said she became frustrated by how little of the research on childhood pain was being applied in the real world.

“It wasn’t just knowledge that was holding people back,” she said. “We have a lot of the knowledge, but people aren’t necessarily aware of the science.”

As recently as the 1980s, the orthodoxy around childhood pain had been that it was largely a non-issue, particularly in very young children. Babies often underwent surgery without the benefit of anesthetic because doctors believed that their neurological systems were not developed enough to feel pain.

As the science advanced, many clinicians did not apply the new information, either because they were constrained by a lack of time and resources or because they did not consider pain management a top priority.

“Some of it is awareness. If you think of busy clinicians, the amount of growing scientific literature they need to keep up to date on, it’s just not feasible,” said Chambers. “But there are other barriers as well... sometimes it’s attitude, sometimes it’s willingness, sometimes it’s just hard to get pain to the top of the priority list.”

The slow adoption rates for pain research reflect a larger pattern in medicine: clinicians are often slow to adopt the latest science, instead holding fast to convention. A now-infamous 2001 study from the National Academy of Medicine in the United States estimated that advances in scientific knowledge take an average of 17 years to be reflected in clinical practices.

Inspired by the births of her children, Chambers teamed up with Children’s Healthcare Canada in 2018 to create Solutions for Kids in Pain. It aims to promote the application of the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research’s work, including in doctors' offices and hospitals – a process that she describes as “knowledge mobilization activity.”

Working with "Knowledge Brokers"

SKIP works with “knowledge brokers” in key cities, such as Edmonton, Ottawa and Toronto, to educate physicians and other medical professionals about how to minimize their patients’ discomfort. At its Halifax headquarters, the organization employs four to six staff who run the rest of the national network.

Children’s Healthcare Canada, which represents the country’s children’s hospitals, has rolled out SKIP methodology in all 48 of its member institutions nationally.

“SKIP really represents partnerships layered on top of partnerships layered on top of partnerships,” said Chambers. “We engage a large network of researchers and clinicians. It’s about a coordinating approach convening all kinds of different groups.”

The work of the knowledge brokers is augmented with periodic social media campaigns that build on research done by Chambers and the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research prior to SKIP’s creation, along with other research being conducted in Canada and around the world.

A foundational project was a 2013 YouTube video titled, “It Doesn’t Have to Hurt,” in which a verbose toddler suggests that parents and doctors distract children with games, songs, topical anesthetics and deep-breathing techniques during unpleasant medical procedures.

Online surveys, published in the medical journal JMIR Pediatrics and Parenting, showed that parents and medical professionals who viewed the video found it useful and planned to apply some of the suggested techniques with their own kids or patients.

SKIP does not conduct experiments, but Chambers said its activities often present opportunities for her research centre and other institutions to study knowledge mobilization techniques, allowing the two institutions to enjoy a synergistic relationship.

The result is that Chambers and her team are fast becoming a key resource for medical professionals.

“People reach out to us from all kinds of other areas, asking for advice and guidance,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘I’m in this other area of children’s health or adult pain, and we’d like to learn from what SKIP is doing so that we can make a difference in our research area.’ We’re really pioneering ways of getting research to people who need it.”

Sponsored by Dal Innovates

Dal Innovates provides opportunities for students and faculty at Dalhousie University to explore and experience innovation and entrepreneurship and develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to translate new ideas into innovations.  We empower our students & faculty to be the best innovators, creators and entrepreneurs and make an impact on local and global challenges. 

Rimot.io’s COVID Screening Device

Volta and Halifax Partnership have become early adopters of the new product.

Mike Himmelman and Trevor Hinnegan with the RimotHealth device at Volta

Mike Himmelman and Trevor Hinnegan with the RimotHealth device at Volta

Halifax-based Rimot.io has developed a new device to screen people entering workplaces for COVID-19, and Halifax Partnership and Volta have signed up as early adopters.

Rimot’s core business is a monitoring technology that helps organizations ensure their critical infrastructure in remote locations is working. When the pandemic broke out, the company saw an opportunity to make workplaces safer by screening people for COVID-19 using a touchless thermal camera and automated questionnaires.

The company is now deploying the product called RimotHealth and said in a statement it is working on sales across North America and Europe.

“Our existing customers and partners triggered us to create a sustainable way to screen workers to keep workplaces safe through COVID-19 and beyond,” said Rimot CEO Andrew Boswell. “We fast-tracked RimotHealth to provide contactless screening along with the real-time data and analytics for these business and government organizations to safely and cost-effectively manage in the new normal.”

To support the company, the economic development agency Halifax Partnership and innovation hub Volta are testing a new release of RimotHealth within their workplaces. It’s now being used in the main lobby of Volta, and in the Partnership’s office in the Nova Centre.

The organizations said in a statement that this is the first pilot project of the Halifax Innovation Outpost’s City as a Living Lab initiative, which aims to help startups beta test their products.

“Rimot Technologies has taken the lead in creating a much-needed, innovative solution that will help organizations of all sizes navigate re-opening during this pandemic and establish best practice for allowing external visitors on-site,” said Volta CEO Martha Casey.

Co-Founded by Boswell and CTO James Craig, Rimot addresses the problems that various companies or organizations have in monitoring their private wireless communications systems in remote locations. These systems are susceptible to outages, and repairing them is often costly because they are so far from corporate or government offices.

The company, which raised $1.2 million in equity financing last year, revealed in March it is developing a nautical product called RimotShip, which uses data produced by a ship and artificial intelligence to improve a vessel’s onboard operations. It can be used for a single ship or a fleet.

Five Chosen for Energia Ventures

Energia Ventures has selected five companies for the 2020 cohort of its accelerator, which supports startups involved in energy, cleantech, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

The three-month program, which began Sept. 30, is part of University of New Brunswick’s J. Herbert Smith Centre for Technology Management & Entrepreneurship, commonly known as TME.  This is the fourth year the university has held the accelerator, which accepts companies from around the world.

“Although this year will be a bigger challenge for delivering the program, we are offering a virtual model and are very excited about the potential of the companies we have selected as part of the cohort,” said Joe Allen, Managing Director of Accelerator Programs at TME.

The companies participating in the 2020 cohort are:

  • Paragon Motors, of Montreal and Moncton, which works with high-performance electric vehicles.
  • SolarSteam, of Calgary, which uses solar collectors to concentrate sunlight to heat water and generate steam.
  • envoPAP,  of London, England, which is developing sustainable packaging and paper from renewable sources like sugarcane waste instead of wood.
  • TROES, of Toronto, which is developing energy storage technologies to help middle-market power distributors and consumers.
  • And Solavio Labs, of Coimbatore, India, whose engineering solutions improve the performance of solar power plants.

The Energia Ventures program will conclude in mid-December with a virtual demo day for investors, stakeholders, and community leaders.

“Selection this year was very tough,” said TME Chair Dhirendra Shukla. “Not only did we receive a record number of applicants, but the quality of the applicants this year was amazing.  We expect great growth from the companies participating this year.”

Techstars Montreal Accepts TrojAI

The Saint John cybersecurity company hopes to close a pre-seed round of about $950,000 soon.

TrojAI, a Saint John company that provides cybersecurity for artificial intelligence, has been accepted into Montreal Techstars, the national program specializing in AI products.

The company's co-founders previously worked on EhEye, a Saint John startup that developed video-recognition software for public security. EhEye was acquired by Patriot One Technologies of Toronto for more than $3.2 million in stock two years ago.

Now TrojAI has developed its first product, and expects to sign three to five early adopters within the next eight to 12 weeks. Its team has also been raising capital and hopes to close a round of more than $900,000 in the near future. Techstars on Monday announced that TrojAI was one of 10 companies admitted into its Techstars Montréal AI 2020 cohort.

“People think of cybersecurity in very traditional ways,” Stephen Goddard, TrojAI’s Chief Operating Officer, said in an interview. He added that the computer vision model developed for AI and the data it uses “hang outside of the traditional way to protect an AI model.  . . . We want to protect that data from poisoning attacks or invasion attacks.”

Goddard, a long-time entrepreneur and former New York investment banker, served as Chair of the board of EhEye, whose AI-based technology can monitor security video to detect threats to public safety. The experience the team gained with EhEye showed them just how vulnerable AI solutions are to cyber-attack, and spurred them to form TrojAI to develop a solution.

TrojAI aims to protect artificial intelligence platforms from attacks on training data and AI models, such as poisoning or embedded Trojan and evasion attacks. AI relies on data fed into a platform, such as a huge number of images of an object that help the software recognize an image so it can react to what the object is doing.

ReelData, Another Techstars Montreal Company, Announces Major Sale

Goddard said cyber-attackers can poison the data that is “training” the AI platform. What TrojAI’s secure software-as-a-service product does is help to protect the data and in some cases improve the accuracy and performance of the model, he said.

TrojAI has been raising capital to finance product development and the growth of its team, which will soon add its seventh member.

“TrojAI has been very fortunate in attracting a pre-seed round that is closing in on $750,000 and could be as high as $950,000,” Goddard said.

Techstars, which invests US$20,000 in member companies and grants US$100,000 in convertible debt, provided the venture with a degree of validation with investors, Goddard said. Some TrojAI investors  -- including the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation – previously invested in EhEye, and doubled their money in just a year or two.

Goddard also said the team has now been in the Techstars cohort for three weeks and has had a great experience in early interviews, in which they met potential mentors. The organization has an ethos of all participants helping one another and it’s already helping with the sales strategy, he said.

“The reason we were so attracted to Techstars is this product is being designed for global customers, and it’s not a network we have easy access to,” said Goddard. “We asked Tech for assistance so they can help us design the market entry strategy.”

Indigena Skincare Adapts with Online Sales

Despite the pandemic, the NL company's revenues are up 22% over 2019.

Lisa Walsh Collects Kelp for Indigena Skincare Products

Lisa Walsh Collects Kelp for Indigena Skincare Products

Last year, Lisa Walsh, founder of Newfoundland’s Indigena Skincare, was selling her products to top establishments and planning a rebrand, a product expansion and a spa. This year’s pandemic and terrible snowstorm slowed her plans and necessitated a pivot to online retailing. Now, Walsh finds herself having to be as resilient as the wild botanicals used in her skincare.

Walsh founded Indigena in 2009 to create natural, safe, affordable skincare from botanical ingredients native to Newfoundland and Labrador. She has a production facility, a lab and an educational showroom based in Conception Bay South, near St. John’s. 

She numbers the spectacular Fogo Island Inn among her clients but with tourism halted, selling online is the primary revenue stream.

“We are now 75 percent direct-to-consumer,” she said in an interview. “We've delivered hundreds of packages by hand. Sometimes friends and family helped me do this so I could still manufacture solo in the early days of the pandemic.”

Pandemic-induced innovations include a skin-friendly Botanical Hand Sanitizer that she is supplying to local businesses. Indigena is also launching new products online this quarter.

Walsh is trying to get Indigena’s top products like the hand sanitizer into federal and provincial departments. But she’s finding it hard to break into large supply chains.

“Local procurement should be the No.1 thing our governments should be focusing on to boost our economy, reduce small business bankruptcies and create more jobs,” said Walsh.

“The No.1 thing businesses can do is help each other by promoting buy local, collaborate online and at a grass roots level.”

Indigena has succeeded in boosting its presence in Atlantic Canada and Walsh says she appreciates the support.

Recently, St.John’s citizens voted Indigena ‘Best Cosmetics and Perfumes, Platinum Winner for 2020’ on the Community Votes Readers’ Choice platform. The company was also a 2020 Startup Canada regional semi-finalist.

Indigena is focusing on exports and has benefitted from business programming available from groups such as the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the Centre for Women in Business, Food & Beverage Atlantic and the provincial Export 2020 program. 

Two virtual trade shows put Indigena in touch with buyers and extended the company’s reach internationally.

“When you start meeting buyers you are nervous, buyers have short attention spans,” she said. “Everyone is after them, they are hard to get in touch with, but we are currently working on several opportunities for export with several buyers.”

Despite the challenging year, company revenues are currently 22 percent above those of 2019.

The rebrand has been postponed and some team members are still part-time.

“I’m trying to keep Indigena as lean as possible until we rebound a little more before staff return to full-time positions,” she said.

Even before the pandemic, it was not easy building a business in coastal Newfoundland.

Early funding was hard to find, although Walsh did secure angel funding in 2013, and invested a lot in R&D, working with the National Research Council and Memorial University in St. John’s. 

She had planned on moving the company's headquarters to a bigger centre but is postponing the move until the pandemic is under control.

“It is just going to take a little longer,” she said. “Manufacturing will remain in Newfoundland.”

Product ingredients include antioxidant-rich botanicals extracted from ingredients like partridge berry, wild red clover, sea buckthorn, cloudberry, blueberry, and Labrador tea.

“The plants that grow on the Avalon Peninsula are tough, they have adapted to survive, that is exactly what everyone has to do now, on a personal and professional level.”

Walsh said the pandemic has made her more competitive, efficient and organized. She’s also come to appreciate her downtime.

“I focus every day on doing something that makes me feel good. I’m doing more yoga, exercise, seeing family more…things that give back the energy this whole thing has depleted.”

ReelData Sells to Atlantic Sapphire

The Halifax company's customers now include the world's biggest land-based fish farm.

Matt Zimola, right, with Innovacorp CEO Malcolm Fraser at a pitching competition last year.

Matt Zimola, right, with Innovacorp CEO Malcolm Fraser at a pitching competition last year.

Halifax-based ReelData AI, which uses artificial intelligence to improve production in fish farms, has added Denmark’s Atlantic Sapphire to its growing customer list.

The deal means that ReelData’s technology will be used at Atlantic Sapphire’s farms in Denmark and the U.S., including its new Bluehouse plant in Florida, the world’s largest land-based fish farm.

Founded by Dalhousie University computer science grads Matt Zimola and Hossein Salimian, ReelData has developed software that analyzes video from inside aquaculture tanks to determine the biomass and health of the fish stock, and ensure the fish are getting just the right amount of food. The company also learned this week that it made the shortlist of the 20 top companies in the prestigious MassChallenge accelerator in Boston. 

“ReelData's technology is going to help scale the global aquaculture industry,” Thue Holm, Atlantic Sapphire CTO and Co-Founder, said in a statement. “By having a system like ReelData's in place, we can further optimize fish welfare and growth, which are key to maximize the volume of delicious Bluehouse salmon we can supply to the market, and our company’s profitability.”

Zimola and Salimian founded ReelData in 2018 to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to help fish farms improve operations and reduce costs, and is now focusing more on land-based operations.

“The land-based industry has really taken off,” said Zimola in an interview Friday. “It’s set to grow really rapidly so we’re mainly looking at partners with land-based fish farms.”

ReelData’s software analyzes underwater images collected through small cameras installed in each tank and tying into key processes. It identifies key objects and behavior to gauge the metrics that matter most to fish farmers.

14 Winners in First Ocean Challenge Event 

The company offers non-intrusive measurements from inside tanks to help fish farms estimate biomass distribution and optimize feeding systems. The founders are working towards providing early detection of population health problems such as stress. These technologies will enable land-based fish farms to maximize profits and minimize risk while keeping fish happy and healthy.

Atlantic Sapphire is a leader in the trend of land-based fish farms, which are considered more sustainable because the fish are not exposed to sea lice and their waste does not pollute coastal waters.

After developing operations in Denmark, the company this year is opening its Bluehouse project near Miami, to produce salmon close to U.S. customers and reduce greenhouse gases produced by transportation. 

ReelData, which has nine employees, now has clients in Denmark, the U.S., and Iceland, and has a sales meeting lined up with a potential client in Norway.  Zimola expects to raise a round of funding in 2021.

The company was accepted into Mass Challenge this summer, a leading accelerator that generally accepts 100 participants each year from thousands of global applicants.

For the second year in a row, an oceantech company from Halifax has done better than any other Canadian startup in the program. Last year, Ashored Innovations was the only Canadian company in the program, and finished in the top three. This year, ReelData is the only Canadian company to make the short-list of top companies in MassChallenge.

Zimola said the company has been helped by the other accelerators it attended, like Techstars Montreal and Propel, both of which he described as "absolutely amazing".

Said Zimola: "Our team is excited to have launched our system with Atlantic Sapphire and look forward to expanding our artificial intelligence expertise within the land-based industry, creating solutions for optimizing fish health, water quality, and feeding."

WeUsThem Wins Health Challenge

The second pitching event awarded $100,000 and a chance to work with NS Health

Ashwin Kutty, President and CEO of WeUsThem, presents during the Health Challenge

Ashwin Kutty, President and CEO of WeUsThem, presents during the Health Challenge

WeUsThem Inc. has won the second Health Challenge Pitch Event, which focused on mental health. The Halifax-based advertising agency has developed imTeen, a technology that empowers youth to track and take care of their health by self-monitoring signs of common mental and physical illnesses.

WeUsThem is headed by Ashwin Kutty and Fatem Alshazly. As well as winning $100,000, the company also won the chance to have its technology adopted by the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

The health care system's needs are changing, as are the technologies that improve the accuracy medical practitioners require to make concise, life-saving diagnoses and treatments for patients, host organization Volta said in a statement.

“The submissions that were received are incredibly impressive and the fact that these are medtech companies from our Atlantic Provinces proves that we have the knowledge, expertise and resources to develop world-class healthcare solutions right here, for our patient population,” said Dr. Gail Tomblin Murphy, Vice-President of Research, Innovation and Discovery at Nova Scotia Health.

During the virtual presentations, Nova Scotia Health said the department has greatly increased its virtual provision of mental health services during the pandemic. The department’s crisis line has seen a 35 percent increase in demand compared to last year. The boost to online care has enabled NS Health to continue providing the bulk of its services during the pandemic. A new website has also been launched providing new self-management tools to those suffering with mild to moderate conditions.

The three other presenting companies included:

Dispension Industries (Dartmouth)

Founded by President Corey Yantha and brothers Matthew and Brad Michaelis, Dispension’s MySafe kiosks allow authorities to distribute opioids to registered users in a controlled manner, with the aim of preventing overdoses.

Real Time Medical Inc. (Dartmouth)

RTM has developed its own proprietary radiology workflow management and quality-assurance software platform called AICloudSuite. The company was formed by radiologists Greg Butler, David Koff, and Nadine Koff.

Tranquility Online Inc. (Halifax)

Founded by CEO Joel Muise in 2017, Tranquility’s website and app offer an automated, digital version of cognitive behavioral therapy; a form of psychotherapy designed to cultivate self-awareness and short-circuit harmful patterns of thought.

In June, Halifax-based Adaptiiv Medical Technologies won the first Health Challenge pitch event, which was dedicated to products that could help cancer patients.

Along with Volta and Nova Scotia Health, the organizing partnership includes BioNovaQEII Foundation, and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

The program will award $300,000 in three upcoming health challenges. The subject of challenge No. 3 will be announced by Nova Scotia Health soon.

Health and life sciences companies interested in applying must be based in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador.

Check Out Growing Pains Podcast

I was featured this week on the Growing Pains podcast, the second week in a row the Atlantic Canadian startup community has featured on the show. 

Hosted by Matt George and economist David Campbell, Growing Pains focuses on economic development issues in Atlantic Canada. It's a great source of insights on the forces shaping our region. 

I appeared this week after the release of our 2019 Atlantic Canada Startup Data report, and it was an opportunity to dive into the numbers. Campbell is one of the most insightful economists in the region (I'm a devoted reader of his It's The Economy, Stupid blog) and I really enjoyed going back-and-forth with him and George. 

As well as the 2019 data, we discussed the development of the ecosystem, the impact of Covid and the massive Verafin funding deal. 

Last week, George and Campbell interviewed Gordon Pitts, author of Unicorn in the Woods, the recently published book on the growth, sale and legacy of Q1 Labs and Radian6. The former Globe and Mail reporter has done a fine job of bringing the players in the New Brunswick tech community to life. 

You can listen to the podcast here

Universities Offer Virtual Events

Seven institutions are collaborating to produce programming for entrepreneurs.

Rest Assured is a company that emerged from Cape Breton University earlier this year.

Rest Assured is a company that emerged from Cape Breton University earlier this year.

Seven universities in Atlantic Canada are co-ordinating efforts to support student entrepreneurs  by hosting virtual workshops.

Five virtual workshops for all entrepreneurs and three virtual fireside chats are being hosted by participating institutions. Students across all campuses can attend for free.

The fireside chats, called Women Leading Startups, are in partnership with the Canadian Ecosystem Gathering and aim to provide support and inspiration.

The chats will introduce students to women who have founded high-growth startups and allow them to network in a safe and dedicated virtual space.

In a statement, Florian Villaumé, director of the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship at Memorial University in St. John’s, said the pandemic has provided an opportunity to reach more students through virtual events and by co-ordinating efforts between universities.

“With the support of Propel and Canadian Ecosystem Gathering, we are collectively investing in the future of student-led startups,” he said. “This collaboration will create a strong connection between entrepreneurial students across the region, thus making the foundation of the Atlantic Canada startup ecosystem stronger.”

Two of the workshops, How do I entrepreneur? and Stayin’ Lean, are supported by Propel, an online accelerator for technology startups.

The post-secondary institutions participating include:

Cape Breton University
Dalhousie University
Memorial University of Newfoundland
Mount Saint Vincent University
Saint Mary’s University
University of New Brunswick
University of Prince Edward Island

Jeff Larsen, executive director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Dalhousie, said: “By working collaboratively, we are able to expand our networks and reach to allow students, academics and community members exposure to the markets, opportunities and experiences that exist outside their home institution.”

The next event is called Stayin' Lean and will occur at 12.30 pm AST on Oct. 8. You can find details here.

Accelerate Names 5 Winners

Innovacorp will award each company $50,000 in development capital.

Dartmouth Ocean Tech's phosphate sensor battery reagent.

Dartmouth Ocean Tech's phosphate sensor battery reagent.

Innovacorp has named five Nova Scotian companies to its six-month Accelerate Program, each of them receiving $50,000 in development capital and access to mentors and incubation facilities.

The Nova Scotia government’s early-stage venture capital agency on Wednesday released the names of the winners, who between them will divide more than $250,000 in funding.

The goal of the program, which received 49 submissions, is to help participating startups hit key technical and business milestones and prepare them to seek equity investment.

“When we launched a call for submissions for several of our programs last month, we braced ourselves a little, wondering what the impact of COVID-19 would be on our start-ups,” said Innovacorp President and CEO Malcolm Fraser in a statement. “Nova Scotia companies once again demonstrated their resilience and quality.”

The five companies are:

Copsys Industries – Farzad Hashemi, Mike Maguire – Halifax 

The company is developing corrosion-management technology to protect vessels and structures and reduce maintenance.

Dartmouth Ocean Technologies – Arnold Furlong, Vince Sieben – Dartmouth

The company has produced lab-on-chip sensors to reduce labour and environmental burden of ocean health monitoring.

Dr. Gordon’s Bum Cream – Dr. A.K. Gordon, Johanna Mercer – Port Williams

Gordon is commercializing a skin cream she’s developed to treat moisture-associated skin damage.

Greenlight Analytical – James Wylde, Simon Benwell – Dartmouth

Greenlight is working on a portable analyzer to measure cannabis safety and quality.

Korr AI Technologies – Rahul Anand, Jeff Burke – Halifax 

Korr AI produced artificial intelligence software for precision mapping in the natural resources and environmental sectors.

Innovacorp has surveyed members of previous cohorts and learned more than 70 per cent of them have already secured early-stage equity investment.

14 Winners in Ocean Challenge

Increasing the group of winners by 40 percent, the competition will award a total of $350,000.

The first Ocean Startup Challenge has awarded $25,000 each to 14 companies – 40 percent more winners than it had originally planned.

Organizers had intended to announce 10 winners but said the judges decided to extend the group of winners to 14 due to the calibre of the startups. As well as all four Atlantic Provinces, the winners are based in British Columbia, Ontario and Washington, D.C.

The competition was launched in June by the Ocean Startup Project, part of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, to encourage the development of more early-stage companies developing oceans-related technology. Thirty shortlisted companies – chosen from 158 applications – attended bootcamps followed by pitching sessions.

“The winners of the Ocean Startup Challenge showed strong potential to build globally competitive, market-focused solutions,” Melody Pardoe, Chief Engagement Officer of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, said in a statement.

“Through the judging process it became clear that more and more innovators are identifying and pursuing opportunities in ocean sectors, and we're very excited to see these teams advance their business through the Ocean Startup Project and contribute to Canada's economic growth.”

Half of the winning companies have women founders or co-founders, and two have founders or co-founders with Indigenous roots, said the statement.

The following is the list of winners:

  • 3F Waste Recovery (Main Brook, NL) is a life sciences manufacturer focused on converting fisheries and natural resource waste into natural food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical ingredients.
  • Blue Lion Labs (Waterloo, Ont.) provides fish farmers with early warnings about sea lice by using an underwater camera system powered by artificial intelligence.
  • Glas Ocean Electric (Halifax) converts existing and new boats to electric propulsion and is developing dual-purpose boat batteries so they can store dynamic energy. 
  • Grand River Robotics (Waterloo, Ont.) is developing robotic inspection platforms with connected web-based data back-ends. Its underwater IOT device aims to ensure fishing crews lose fewer fish by imaging fish nets so holes can be repaired quickly.
  • In Nature Robotics (Hanwell, NB) makes autonomous, solar-powered airboats to survey inland and coastal waters. Its boats are designed to be simple, easy to use, and able to add equipment.
  • Kavacha.ca (Canoe Cove, PE) makes direct-to-metal coatings from fish waste that can protect marine vessels and structures in harsh environments. Its solution saves users more than 30 percent on material and labour, while increasing or maintaining asset lifetime and reducing toxin exposure.
  • Marecomms Inc. (Halifax) makes robust broadband wireless communication solutions for maritime environments. Its RObust Acoustic Modem product has been tested several times in challenging ocean environments and shown to offer nearly 200 times faster connection speeds than existing solutions with enhanced reliability.
  • qualiTEAS (St. John’s) is developing an AI-integrated image analysis software for near-real-time detection of corrosion and cracks on subsea vessels and structures.
  • SeaChange Biochemistry Inc. (Clark’s Harbour, NS) creates chemicals for industry from sustainably harvested seaweed through an innovative biorefinery process.
  • SeaHawk Robotics (Vancouver) has developed multi-domain UAV-based ocean observation systems that improve access, increase safety, and reduce costs of data collection.
  • Subait Inc. (Dartmouth) uses seafood co-products to develop a sustainable lobster bait substitute, replacing environmentally challenging fish species.
  • Tracker Inventory Systems (Sydney) provides aquaculture and seafood-processing facilities automated inventory systems to reduce operating costs and provide production visibility for management and sales. Its solution uses computer vision technology to automate data entry, which eliminates manual and error-prone processes.
  • Virgil Group LLC (Washington, D.C.) is developing legal fisheries analysis software that improves traceability and other issues in responsible seafood.
  • WeavAir (Toronto) provides hardware and software to monitor emissions from engines, including those in marine vessels. Its predictive algorithms promote regulation compliance and lower operation costs for ship owners, ship managers and port operation teams. 

Recapping Our Funding Concerns

We dive into metrics that show fewer early stage startups raised small rounds in 2019.

One part of our Atlantic Canada Startup Data report that merits closer examination is our claim that the region has a problem with early-stage funding.

This sort of funding declined in 2019 for the first time in three years, and the pandemic will likely result in a further drop in 2020. And that is important because funding rounds of less than $500,000 are needed to bring young companies to the position at which they can scale.

The recent good news in the startup community has come from established companies like Kinduct, CarbonCure and Metamaterial Inc. But younger companies need to get that initial funding round under their belts in order to grow into the larger, more successful corporations. And a smaller proportion of young companies are raising funding rounds than in previous years.

To recap: Atlantic Canadian funding in 2019 was record-setting because of the record $515 million debt-and-equity round recorded by St. John’s based-fintech company Verafin. But if we strip out the Verafin deal, the region’s startups raised less capital last year than the year before.

That suggested there was a problem in funding for early-stage companies, so we dug into our databank to look at two metrics that could shed light on the subject.

First, we looked at angel funding – that is, equity investments from wealthy individuals.

Though Entrevestor previously disputed the view that angel funding was declining in the region, the 2019 data (and the subsequent recession) should sound alarm bells.

Atlantic Canada recorded $21.9 million in angel investment in 2019 – a drop of more than 25 percent from 2018 and the weakest figure in three years. What’s most concerning is that angel funding levels may fall again in 2020, at a time when many startups need funding to weather the recession.

But angel funding isn’t the same as “early-stage” financing. We’ve seen plenty of bona fide Series A funding rounds that have come entirely from angels, because a wealthy individual can have as much investment capacity as a VC fund.

So we looked at a second metric from the past two years: funding rounds of $20,000 to $500,000, or the type typically raised by early-stage companies.

Funding Rounds of $20K-$500K 2018 2019
Number of Companies Raising $20K-$500K  64 56
Percentage of Startup Community 12% 8%
Total Raise $11.8M $9.5M

Once again, we see that there was a decline in absolute terms. Only 56 companies raised this sort of round in 2019, for a total of $9.5 million, compared with 64 companies for $11.8 million the previous year.

As Senator Colin Deacon pointed out in an interview, the overall community grew in that time, so the amount of early-stage funding should also have risen. (The number of startups in the community rose 23 percent to 697 companies in 2019.)

That means that 12 percent of the total Atlantic Canadian community raised an early-stage round in 2018, but a year later that portion had fallen to 8 percent.

That’s a worrying trend. Companies need capital now to see them through the coming Winter of Discontent and into the recovery that is expected late next year.

Job of the Week: Dash Hudson

The Halifax social media monitoring company is looking for a Product Marketing Manager.

Our Job of the Week column features an opening for a Product Marketing Manager at Dash Hudson in Halifax.

Dash Hudson is a visual marketing Software-as-a-Service company that helps its clients increase engagement on their social media. Its software, called Vision, is a one-stop spot for clients to manage, source and engage with the traffic of their photos and videos.

The Job of the Week column features openings posted on the Entrevestor Job Board, which focuses on jobs in technology, innovation and startups in Atlantic Canada. The Entrevestor Job Board helps match job openings and candidates in the tech and startup communities and is operated by Entrevestor and Alongside.

Here are excerpts from this week’s posting:

Halifax

Dash Hudson

Product Marketing Manager

Dash Hudson works with the world's most important companies to share photos and videos that people care about. Our marketing platform provides brands with a one-stop solution to get deep insights on their performance, create and discover content, predict performance, distribute to owned, influencer, and paid channels, measure and monetize.

As the Product Marketing Manager, you will work closely with our incredible development, sales, and marketing teams as well as our customers, to successfully launch, position and differentiate our existing and new solutions.

Responsibilities

Product Positioning

Assist with establishment of the positioning for each product. Create, develop and refine benefit statements, proof points and differentiation for individual products and product packages.

Work with the product marketing, executive team, product, and sales management teams to analyze current product strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and create plans for improvement.

Competitive Analysis

Maintain research on new and existing competitors for internal competitive assessment.

Contribute to the analysis and the education of Dash Hudson internal teams on the competitive landscape.

Team Support

Gather and record churn data. Assist with the creation of sales and customer success tools: decks, web content, case studies, feature documentation, team training, and others. Help execute the Product Marketing strategy.

Product Launches

Successfully manage the formal internal and external launch of new products and upgrades to existing products/applications.

Thought Leadership

Article writing and blogging to establish Dash Hudson's position as a leader on key industry topics.

Qualifications

Experience in digital marketing, product development, and market research.

Excellent written communication with attention to consistency and detail.

Ability to understand and operate in a fluid environment with ever-changing market dynamics and a fast-moving product roadmap.

Ability to independently manage a multi-layered project from start to finish.

Ability to manage competing priorities and work against tight timelines.

Ability to communicate clearly and build relationships with internal teams.

Proven experience supporting diverse teams.

3-5 years experience in a relevant marketing or sales role.

Knowledge of enterprise marketing software market.

Additional Information

We believe in building great products that solve real problems for marketers, and being unabashed about our unique ability to be the best at what we do.

We believe that mutual support among the team, and a willingness by all to figure out the seemingly impossible are what propels us forward. . . .

Read the full job posting here.

Hatch’s New Future of Work Program

The Fredericton innovation hub wants to prepare students for the automated economy.

Planet Hatch is preparing to launch a new program that prepares post-secondary students for the coming wave of employment opportunities, and it hopes to extend the program beyond New Brunswick.

The Fredericton-based innovation hub is working with the University of New Brunswick on the pilot of the Future of Work Skills-Development program, which it hopes to launch in the next few months.

Overseen by Ignite Fredericton, Planet Hatch is developing a suite of programs that aim to develop entrepreneurs and employees who can compete globally and be able to participate fully in coming economic trends. It aims to identify future economic trends and create strength in the industries that will grow in coming years.

“Our focus is on establishing channel partners and collaborating with educational institutions,” said Planet Hatch Director Adam Peabody in an interview. “It’s raising our sights in Atlantic Canada, knowing we can compete in any other jurisdiction. We’re focusing on talent and we’re focusing on export-oriented companies."

Now in its seventh year, Planet Hatch is a multi-sectoral entrepreneurship hub, meaning that its client companies come from a range of sectors. IT companies comprise about a quarter of its residents, while the others work in such fields as personal services, food production, beauty products and fashion, to name a few.

The organization in the past few years has developed several accelerators, including its Sales Accelerator and its Export Accelerator, both of which offer not only instruction but also development capital. The seven companies that have gone through the Sales Accelerator this year have seen their monthly recurring revenue increase 290 percent.

The Export Accelerator, said Peabody, works with such groups as the Canadian Trade Commissioner service and Export Development Canada to help companies understand their competitive position in foreign markets and position themselves to succeed in them.

Read about Planet Hatch's Startup Management Accelerator.

With the Future of Work program, Planet Hatch is attempting to help entrepreneurs and employees of tomorrow’s companies understand where the opportunities lie in coming years, and to prepare for them. The global consultancy McKinsey has predicted 14 percent of the global workforce, or a total of 375 million workers, will have to be retrained by 2030 to accommodate the changes in technology and work culture.

“We’re becoming aware of what skills will be replaced, so what skills will be more in demand?” asked Peabody. 

The program will aim to develop a mindset within students that encompasses entrepreneurship and innovation, and will help them adapt to the rapidly changing environment as automation becomes more prominent. It will also focus on the jobs that will thrive – rather than be jeopardized – in an automated economy.

This fall, the program will work with an expected 120 students through partnerships with the University of New Brunswick and New Brunswick’s Anglophone School District-West. In the future, it hopes to expand program access to more students, and has begun partnership discussions with such organizations as Ignite Labs in rural Nova Scotia and Startup Zone in Charlottetown to offer the program to other students.

Most of the Planet Hatch accelerators provide companies with the resources to hire a university student during their time in the program, helping the companies and providing experience in growing companies for the students.

Larry Shaw, the CEO of Ignite Fredericton, said his organization wants to work with other organizations in the region and develop programs that complement one another and benefit all Atlantic Canadians.

“I don’t want to build two of anything,” said Shaw. “The more we can remove duplication of anything, the better it is for everyone.”

OSC Backs OceanDNA System

EDNAtec will lead the $4.9 million project that will use genomics to monitor marine life,

Canada's Ocean Supercluster said last week it is helping to fund the OceanDNA System, a project designed to change the way scientists monitor the ocean.

With a total project value of $4.9 million, the Supercluster has provided $2.2 million in funding to the project with the balance of funding coming from project partners.

The OceanDNA project is being led by eDNAtec Inc., a St. John’s company dedicated to applying genomics to the study of marine life. The other partners are Petroleum Research Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut Fisheries Association, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“Canada’s Ocean Supercluster is excited to announce its newest Technology Leadership Project called the OceanDNA System Project," Mehrdad Hajibabaei, Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of eDNAtec, said in a statement. "With activity led out of St. John’s, this project brings together partners from different ocean sectors across the country to not only revolutionize the assessment, monitoring, and characterization of the ocean, but also build capabilities, create jobs and economic opportunities through commercialization.”

The Supercluster statement said the project will create 17 jobs to support the research and development activity ].

The OceanDNA System has applications across ocean sectors and could be used to help inform sustainable ocean management and activity, said the statement. By reading DNA from environmental samples, such as sediment or sea water, a comprehensive range of organisms can be identified, from bacteria to marine mammals, yielding a complete picture of an ecosystem. 

EDNAtec’s technology achieves proven cost reductions, strengthens environmental stewardship, enhances safety and supports regulatory compliance, the statement said.

Four Startups in Health Challenge

The second pitching event, to be held Friday, will give $100,000 to the winner.

Tranquility Online's Joel Muise and Alissa Pencer.

Tranquility Online's Joel Muise and Alissa Pencer.

The Health Challenge Pitch Event has named four companies to participate in its second pitching competition, which will be held Friday and award $100,000 to the winner.

Several Nova Scotian organizations this summer launched the program, which aims to provide grants totalling $500,000 to Atlantic Canadian health and life sciences companies, and arrange for them to work with the Nova Scotia Health Authority.  

Volta will host the second pitching event, which focuses on startups addressing mental health, and will be held Friday at noon. You can click here to register to view the competition.

“The submissions that were received are incredibly impressive and the fact that these are medtech companies from our Atlantic Provinces proves that we have the knowledge, expertise and resources to develop world-class healthcare solutions right here, for our patient population,” said Dr. Gail Tomblin Murphy, Vice-President of Research, Innovation and Discovery at Nova Scotia Health in a statement.

The four competing companies are:

Dispension Industries (Dartmouth)

Founded by President Corey Yantha and brothers Matthew and Brad Michaelis, Dispension’s MySafe kiosks allow authorities to distribute opioids to registered users in a controlled manner, with the aim of preventing overdoses.

Real Time Medical Inc. (Dartmouth)

RTM has developed its own proprietary radiology workflow management and quality-assurance software platform called AICloudSuite. The company was formed by radiologists Greg Butler, David Koff, and Nadine Koff.

Tranquility Online Inc. (Halifax)

Founded by CEO Joel Muise in 2017, Tranquility’s website and app offer an automated, digital version of cognitive behavioral therapy—a form of psychotherapy designed to cultivate self-awareness and short-circuit harmful patterns of thought.

imTEEN by WeUsThem Inc. (Halifax)

imTEEN allows youth to track and take care of their health on a daily basis by supporting self-monitoring of signs of common mental and physical illnesses. The product was developed by WeUsThem, a tech company headed by Ashwin Kutty and Fatem Alshazly.

In June, Halifax-based Adaptiiv Medical Technologies won the first Health Challenge pitch event, which was dedicated to products that could help cancer patients.

Scale-Up Hub Seeks Applicants

The program will be virtual but still aims to increase companies' sales in New England.

The Scale-Up Hub: Cambridge project has extended the deadline for applications for its next cohort – which will be a virtual program – until Friday.

The program, which helps scaling companies find clients in the New England market, is looking for about a half-dozen Atlantic Canadian companies to participate. You can find application forms here.

The program usually offers companies a base in Cambridge, Mass. for a year, but it will now be held online due to the pandemic.

“It’s a challenging time and not easy to make crucial connections to customers because of travel restrictions,” said Lisa Dobson, Nova Scotia Business Inc.'s Sector Lead for ITC. “Scale-Up Hub: Cambridge has pivoted and we are exploring unique ways to connect our companies to customers in the New England market.”

NSBI launched the program in 2018 as a vehicle to help scaling companies establish a base in Cambridge, MA., and generate sales. The project aims to give growing tech companies long-term exposure to a major market, allowing them to develop a customer base that will hopefully continue to grow after their term with the program ends. It is now funded by the federal government and all four Atlantic Provinces to ensure companies across the region can benefit.

The companies that participated in the program last year were:

UNB TME Launches I-STEM Cohort

Based on I-Corps in the US, I-STEM teaches lean startup methodology to researchers and scientists.

The UNB TME group on Monday is launching its second cohort of I-STEM, a program that helps post-secondary researchers develop companies by using lean startup methodology.

Developed in partnership with George Washington University and based on the I-Corps methodology created by the National Science Foundation in the U.S., the program teaches researchers how to commercialize deep technology and develop an entrepreneurial mindset.

The I-STEM program is now looking for researchers to join the cohort. Researchers with ideas that they want to commercialize can apply here

George Washington University is a core member of the United States National Science Foundation’s Innovation Network and I-Corps program, which has pioneered research-based entrepreneurship. The NSF launched I-Corps in 2011 and it has quickly become one of the world’s largest and most successful technology startup accelerators.

UNB’s J. Herbert Smith Centre for Technology, Management and Entrepreneurship is launching the program at a time when several groups are working to increase the entrepreneurial education available to researchers and scientists.

Springboard Atlantic, which acts as a bridge between post-secondary institutions and industry, has launched a series of round-tables between researchers and private industry. And Dalhousie University and Memorial University of Newfoundland are participating in the Lab2Market program, which aspires to be a pan-Canadian version of I-Corps.

The I-STEM program launches Monday to Wednesday this week with three days of online training, followed by weekly meetings each Wednesday afternoon with UNB I-STEM and the teaching team from George Washington University. The final presentations will be held Nov. 9 and 10.

Summer Institute Demo Day

Eight teams presented at the UNB Summer Institute's Demo Day on Wednesday, wrapping up a cohort that was conducted virtually because of the pandemic. 

The University of New Brunswick’s TME group – whose formal name is the J Herbert Smith Centre for Technology Management and Entrepreneurship – holds its Summer Institute each year, placing less emphasis on innovation than other similar programs.

Though modern accelerators usually court companies founded on new technology, the Summer Institute has made a name for itself helping small businesses with a range of business models. It has had strong success in helping companies with a consumer product or service, emphasizing the design and human components of bringing products to market. 

The 12-week program, for example, has more designers-in-residence than entrepreneurs-in-residence as it helps the companies nail down their branding and the design of their products. 

"Have there been ups and downs? Absolutely," said Joe Allen, Managing Director of the Accelerator Programs at UNB, at the conclusion of the program. "But the best thing I can say about them is they persevered. Like all entrepreneurs, they can take a licking and keep on ticking."

The ventures pitching on Wednesday were:

Snak, Fredericton

Hannah Watson and Alex Mollegard

This company produces vegan, gluten-free and all-natural snacks, aiming to provide affordable food from sustainable sources. Watson said consumers are baffled by labeling and ingredients of mass market snacks and her company offers an alternative with simple, readable ingredient lists. Its core products are powerbars and peanut butter cups and it will add a third product soon. It has doubled sales since the beginning ot the Summer Institute.  

Cocktail Hero, Bouctouche, NB

Jossilyn Flewelling and Melanie Doucet

This company has produced a one-step elixir mixer for a healthy, refreshing beverage. Its first product is a premium cocktail mixer called Baktu, which combines real fruit and fresh herbs with raw organic apple cider vinegar. It is now available in three flavours: strawberry basil, blueberry lavender and respberry mint.  

Recoup, Halifax

Purushothaman Cannane

Formerly known as Foodona, Recoup makes paper bags and bin-liners from recycled paper waste without pulping or bleaching it. The company is developing an automatic technology to swiftly grade, cut and form paper into paper bags. Its high-speed automatic process and machines will swiftly grade, cut the papers and make 5,000 paper bags per hour. The goal is to reuse paper to reduce the cutting of new trees, create local jobs, and community involvement.

Radicle Root Herbs, Knowlesville, NB

Munna Cleland

Radicle produces herbal subscription boxes to help young families and individuals solve their independent wellness needs. Cleland, a clinical herbalist, believes that herbs are nature's gift to all living creatures. "They nourish, heal, and protect us," she says on her Facebook page. The company ships out boxes with a range of herbal products monthly or quarterly to subscribers.

Blooming Wild Organics, Bellelville, NB

Charlotte and Ryan Walker

Blooming Wild make healthy and natural skincare products using unique Canadian ingredients. The Walkers are husband and wife homesteaders with a passion for natural living, and Blooming Wild reflects their appreciation of the natural world.

Castofly, Vancouver

Iman Moaz

A finalist in the New Ventures BC competition, Castofly is a software platform that helps teachers to quickly create and collaborate on educational videos using automation and a streamlined solution. Driven by artificial intelligence and advanced video processing techniques, Castofly delegates labor-intensive tasks such as video editing, audio enhancement, and audio-to-video synchronization to the software. The founders said the edtech market is booming due to the pandemic, adding that they have generated traction just in the past few months. 

The Football Academy, Fredericton

Marcus Lees

The Football Academy is a student-athlete preparatory soccer institution for Grades 6 to 12.  The company is devoted to soccer development in the Maritimes, and provides training services and online coaching to help develop players outside of soccer club practices.

Satisfied Fox Estates, Fredericton

Lucinda Hughey and David Burns

Satisfied Fox is producing novel non-alcoholic beverages with the flavour of alcohol, such as gin and vermouth. The company will retail its four products at $35 a bottle, and hopes to grow to have a manufacturing facility that is a destination for tourists. It has begun to market the product in Fredericton restaurants and hotels and got a good response.  

The Summer Institute program was led by TME’s new accelerator team consisting of Joe Allen, Program Manager Inball Lev and Operations Coordinator Tanvir Kohli. Dhirendra Shukla continued in his guiding role as Chair of the TME Centre.

The cohort began on July 7.

Hatch’s Startup Management Accelerator

Fredericton-based Planet Hatch launches a program to help startups grow into companies.

Fredericton-based entrepreneurship centre Planet Hatch has announced the launch of its new Startup Management Accelerator.

The accelerator will help entrepreneurs as they transition from the startup phase to fully established and growing businesses.

Participants will graduate from the program with a forward-looking business strategy and the essential skills and knowledge to transition from startup to developing business.

“As a startup grows, new and complex challenges arise that can be an impediment to their long-term sustainability,” said Planet Hatch Director Adam Peabody in a statement.

“Making key hires beyond the founding team, managing cash flow versus investment and funding, complying with tax and other regulations. These are all issues entrepreneurs face later in the startup life-cycle, and that’s what this program will address directly.”

Selected participants will form a cohort and receive comprehensive training and tailored business counselling over nine weeks on topics such as: hiring and human resources; cash flow management; risk management; strategic alignment, key performance indicators and metrics.

In addition to training, program participants are eligible to access up to $25,000 in low-interest loans through the Impact Atlantic Fund.

The program will be delivered virtually and will accept applications from any company in the Atlantic region. The company must have seen year-over-year revenue growth, have a defined ownership structure, and be planning for significant growth over the coming years.

Planet Hatch will accept applications from eligible companies until Oct. 14.

For more information on the Startup Management Accelerator and to apply, click here.

Total Mom Pitch Seeks Entrepreneurs

Toronto's contest for mom entrepreneurs goes national.

Toronto-based Total Mom Pitch is offering entrepreneurs who are mothers a chance to win prize money and support from established female mentors.

This is the second time the Total Mom Pitch has been held, and this year it is expanding from Toronto to all of Canada.

The aim is to help advance women-owned and women-led businesses through three ways: access to capital, mentorship and education.

“It’s helping ambitious moms across Canada by networking with powerful women, asking for recommendations, and getting valuable support when we need it most,” Anna Sinclair, CEO and Founder of the organizing group the Total Mom Show, said in a statement.

The top five strongest applicants will be accepted into a three-month accelerator that will offer mentorship with some of Canada's hottest incubators, the statement said. Winners will receive programming from organizations such as Google, DMZ, EDC, Rebel Office, Henry Business Law, Buckley & Associates, Sinclair Creative Agency Inc, and Shopify.  

The finale will be hosted on March 15, 2021 where the top five will compete for a Grand Prize of $10,000 in non-repayable cash and $20,000 in business services. The five will receive a membership with The Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the Women’s Executive Network.

The contest is open to anyone who identifies as a woman and parent, regardless of profession, race, family status, age, sexual orientation, disability, and language. The entrant can be single, a legal stepmother, or have adopted a child. The competition is open to any woman with children who owns a Canadian business that is at least a year old.

Applications are open Sept. 23 to Nov. 12.

Public voting runs from Nov. 20 to Dec. 2.

The top five will be announced Dec.11.

Apply to pitch here.

Introhive Wins Martech Breakthrough Award

It was one of 12 Featured Winners in the competition with 2,750 entries.

Introhive, a leading maker of B2B sales intelligence software, has won the CRM Software Innovation Award at the third annual MarTech Breakthrough Awards program.

The MarTech Breakthrough Awards are a global competition that recognizes the top companies, technologies and products in the global marketing, sales and advertising technology industry. Organized by the marketing intelligence firm Tech Breakthough, the program this year announced 12 Featured Winners, including Introhive, after receiving more than 2,750 nominations from more than 15 countries.

Based in Fredericton and Washington, DC, Introhive uses artificial intelligence to identify data stored in companies’ tech systems, and help them to use it to increase revenue and improve productivity.  

“Introhive is delivering a breakthrough in the sales intelligence space, helping automate mundane CRM tasks to boost productivity and collaboration, and virtually eliminating administrative busywork for sales teams,” said James Johnson, Managing Director at MarTech Breakthrough. “The components that come with Introhive’s platform are game-changing and we are thrilled to recognize them with our CRM Software Innovation Award in the 2020 MarTech Breakthrough Awards program.”

Last year, Introhive placed No. 10 in the Deloitte Technology Fast50, the first Atlantic Canadian company to break the top 10 in the prestigious pan-Canadian competition. Deloitte said Introhive had posted revenue growth of 1,700 percent over four years.

“In order to maintain a competitive advantage in today’s digital economy, organizations can’t ignore their data strategies any longer,” said Introhive Co-Founder and CEO Jody Glidden. “Because behind every data point in your business is a relationship, a customer, and a future customer. We are proud to work with global brands, big and small, to harness the full value of their business relationships and underutilized data to accelerate growth strategies.”

Glidden and his co-founder Stewart Walchli have been involved in a few companies, and sold two to Research in Motion (now BlackBerry) early in the century. In 2012, they launched Introhive to help corporate sales teams increase their connections by understanding who their colleagues knew. From there, Introhive grew into a company that helped sales teams use customer relationship management tools more effectively.

Data Report Reveals Funding Concerns Despite Strong Growth

Our 2019 Atlantic Canada Startup Data Report is now available for download.

The Atlantic Canadian startup community set records for new companies, employment, and funding in 2019, but also experienced a worrying downturn in smaller financing deals.

Those are the highlights of our 2019 Atlantic Canada Startup Data report, which we’re releasing today. Click here to see the highlights and receive a full copy.

Though high-growth companies in the region raised a record $651.5 million in funding (more than three times any previous year), almost 80 percent of the total came from St.-John’s-based Verafin’s record $515 million equity-and-debt funding round. If the Verafin deal is stripped out, funding amounted to $136.5 million, a decline of 18 percent from the previous year.

The report notes that angel funding in Atlantic Canada declined by about 25 percent to $21.9 million. Experts in startup development say such early-stage financing is essential to ensuring young, high-potential companies have enough capital to generate meaningful revenue. The decline in angel funding in 2019 was especially troublesome given that angel funding will likely decline further in 2020 due to the global pandemic.

“On the surface, the data in Entrevestor’s Atlantic Canadian Startup Community report suggests that 2019 was a fabulous year,” said Senator Colin Deacon, who read the report last week. “However, when you exclude the incredible Verafin deal, you quickly realize that investment dropped in 2019. This is troubling.

“A crucial measure of a healthy ecosystem is the quality and breadth of the highly informed investment it attracts. We need to examine all of our efforts to attract investment, and trim those that have marginal effect and redouble our efforts where there is strong evidence of effectiveness.”

Here are the 59-page report’s main findings:

We tracked 697 companies in the Atlantic Canadian startup community – up 27 percent from 2018 and up 175 percent from 2013, when we began collecting startup data.

Atlantic Canadian startups employed about 6,500 people, 1,000 more than a year earlier. Overall, companies grew their staffs by about 23 percent.

Companies sharing revenue data with Entrevestor reported revenue growth of about 70 percent – the third year in a row of 70 percent growth or higher.

Atlantic Canada launched 164 new startups – the first time the figure exceeded 115. It was 43 percent higher than any other year that we've been collecting startup data. 

The life sciences sector continued to grow, attracting $80.3 million in funding – more than four times the 2018 figure. The greatest change in the sector in the past few years has been the improvement in C-level talent. 

Some 14 percent of the companies are led by female CEOs or Co-CEOs, and these companies raised 12.5 percent of the funding in 2019 (excluding the Verafin deal). When we previously looked into the proportion of companies led by women in 2014, we found they made up 8 percent of the community at the time and received 7.5 percent of the funding.

Though best-known for its daily news on East Coast innovators, Entrevestor each year produces its Atlantic Canadian Startup Data Report – the most thorough assessment of the performance and growth of a regional startup community in Canada. This is Entrevestor’s seventh annual report on high-growth, innovation-driven companies in the region. The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Innovacorp led a group of supporters that allowed the study to be conducted and made public.

Clean Catch Wins AquaHacking

The Clean Catch Team: Katherine vanZutphen (left), Guillermo Villarreal De Lara and Robel Berhane.

The Clean Catch Team: Katherine vanZutphen (left), Guillermo Villarreal De Lara and Robel Berhane.

Halifax-based Clean Catch Baits, which plans to have its environmentally friendly fishing lures on the market next spring, has won $23,000 in the first AquaHacking Challenge held in Atlantic Canada.

The company, which formed at Saint Mary’s University last year, was one of 26 teams from across Atlantic Canada to enter the competition. It was awarded $2,000 in June when it was named one of five finalists. It then captured the $1,000 Viewers’ Choice Award (selected by people watching the live-streamed competition) and received $20,000 as the first prize.

 “This is a great prize and it will give us a lot of opportunity to move forward, especially because we’re getting close to finalizing our packaging and our branding,” said Co-Founder Guillermo Villarreal De Lara in an interview.

Clean Catch is developing biodegradable, PVC-free soft bait fishing lures for the sport fishing market, aiming to replace plastic lures that can leach harmful micro-plastics into lakes, rivers and oceans. The lures are fully biodegradable, completely dissolving within six months of being lost.

AquaHacking Challenges are nine-month programs held across Canada in which competitors work to solve water-related problems. The Atlantic version was organized by SMU’s Atlantic Water Network.

The competitions are the result of a 2012 challenge by the elder members of Quebec’s noted de Gaspé Beaubien business family, who asked their grandchildren to identify an area of philanthropy that they would like to become more involved in. The younger generation chose “water” as their focus, and the foundation developed a mission-brief that focuses on leveraging technology-related entrepreneurship and mentorship for environmental impact.

Ocean Supercluster Launches Indigenous Career Program

As well as the cash prizes, the winner also receives a spot in a local incubator, and Clean Catch has been awarded a spot at the Start-Up Yard in the COVE facility in Dartmouth.

The inspiration for Clean Catch dates back years to when Villarreal developed a love of angling while fishing for largemouth bass with his father in Northern Mexico. He continued fishing when he attended SMU as a business student, targeting smallmouth bass and striped bass around Halifax and in Colchester County.

He soon began to research natural substances that could be used to make lures to reduce the effects of fishing on the environment. In his senior year, he proposed making these lures as a project in one course, and soon he and some classmates formed the company.

The Clean Catch team now comprises Villareal, Robel Berhane, and Katherine vanZutphen. As well as winning money through Aquahacking, Clean Catch won $5,000 through Innovacorp’s Blue-Green Challenge earlier this year.

Clean Catch hopes to launch the product to the full market next year. So far, it has lined up 14 retail stores across Canada that are interested in selling the lures, and it is setting up its own ecommerce site.

The team is now carrying out its second product test with a group of anglers, and is gathering feedback from the beta-users.

“We have had a very good response so far,” said Villareal. “A lot of them have been looking for something to help the environment. And people are just excited about the idea because they are conscious of the use of plastics in fishing.”

Prospre Wins Summer Showdown

The St. John's company beat out 44 other teams in the event launched by Propel.

Prospre Co-Founders Colin Hunt, left, and Jonathan Young.

Prospre Co-Founders Colin Hunt, left, and Jonathan Young.

St. John’s-based Prospre, whose app helps people plan nutritious meals, has won Propel’s Startup Summer Showdown, claiming the grand prize of $10,000 and in-kind services.

The company, which received the $15,000 second prize in Memorial University’s Woodward Cup competition earlier this year, has released an app that helps health-conscious people plan nutritious meals and snacks.

In winning the Summer Showdown, Co-Founders Colin Hunt and Jonathan Young beat out 44 other teams that entered the competition.  Propel, the region’s main startup accelerator, organized the Summer Showdown to encourage entrepreneurs to develop new businesses during the pandemic.

‘’The Summer Showdown was a great prize in tough times,” said Hunt and Young in a press release issued by Propel. “Just being a part of the competition forced us to raise awareness about Prospre like we never have before.”

Hunt and Young started the company last year to simplify meal-planning. They were both frustrated by the difficulty of planning meals for a macronutrient-based diet – a diet that has a set ratio of carbs, fats and protein. They recently launched their app, which helps users to plan meals (and snacks) so they can reach their nutrition goals. The app also includes simple recipes.

Propel announced the Summer Showdown earlier this year, and received 45 applications. Eight teams were selected for the semi-finals, and members of the public voted throughout August until the field was narrowed down to two teams, Prospre and Halifax-based Sustainably Stocked.

Read our recent article on Sustainably Stocked.

Prospre won the finals, and will receive cash prizes of $5,000 each from Innovacorp and New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, as well as in-kind services.

“The contest provides a new startup venture with all of the services and some cash to start working on their idea and hopefully create the beginning of the next global company based in Atlantic Canada,” said Propel CEO Barry Bisson, who will retire at the end of this month. “What’s even more special is that the public was tasked with helping to determine which company they felt was best positioned to succeed through their votes.”

Kinduct Acquired by mCube

The Halifax sportstech company's exit is said to be the biggest ever by a locally controlled Nova Scotian IT company.

Travis McDonough: 'What’s really exciting is what comes next.'

Travis McDonough: 'What’s really exciting is what comes next.'

Halifax-based sportstech company Kinduct has exited.

The company announced today it has been sold to mCube, a Silicon Valley company that produces the world’s smallest sensors, for an undisclosed price. Kinduct, whose platform provides customized health data to athletes and sports teams, will retain its headquarters in Halifax and is planning further growth with a greater focus on healthcare.

“For us, it’s a very happy day,” said Kinduct CEO Travis McDonough in an interview. “I do believe it will be the biggest exit by a majority-owned, Nova Scotia-backboned tech company and the biggest sports-tech exit in Canada. . . . What’s really exciting is what comes next.”

McDonough said that the sale price is higher than the reported $70 million-plus that founders of GoInstant received from Salesforce in 2012. Though STI Technologies’ sale in 2017 was bigger (reportedly more than $200 million), McDonough noted that company was majority-owned by a Toronto-based private equity firm.

Founded in 2010, Kinduct has developed a platform that provides the world’s largest collection of sports-related health data to athletes, coaches, trainers and sports medicine professionals. Its product is used by some of the world’s most successful teams and athletes, including 12 world champions.  The company is controlled by its founders and Nova Scotian investors such as John Risley. Kinduct’s largest institutional investor is Intel Capital, which led its US$9 million funding round in 2016.

Now Kinduct is a subsidiary of mCube, which is a leading provider of sensor solutions, and has labeled its market as “The Internet of Moving Things.” mCube, which has raised a total of US$37 million since it was launched in 2009, integrates hardware and software to capture and analyze motion data for a variety of applications.

“What mCube does is special . . . [because] they specialize in providing data on moving things and one of those moving things is humans,” said McDonough.

Read About the Region's Other Exit in 2020: St. John's-based InspectAR.  

The marriage of mCube and Kinduct will allow the data on human motion captured by the parent company’s sensors to be fed into the Kinduct platform. Using Kinduct’s software and data analysis, it can be analyzed, customized and presented in a visual format.

While retaining its strong sports business, Kinduct for the past year has been targeting the larger healthcare market, and last December signed a deal with the Nova Scotia Health Authority. On Monday, McDonough said the marriage of the mCube and Kinduct technologies will accelerate its international growth and the move into the healthcare market.

“Joining mCube, an established Silicon Valley technology leader, is a great opportunity for the Kinduct team to expand globally,” said McDonough. “mCube’s broadly adopted sensor fusion solutions will integrate seamlessly with our cloud-based Athlete Management System to provide deep insights to help optimize athletic performance for professionals as well as consumers.”

He added that Kinduct was impressed with the way mCube integrated its last major acquisition, the purchase of Xsens, a provider of 3D motion tracking technology. After becoming a subsidiary of mCube two years ago, Xsens has increased its revenues and headcount, doing so in its home base of Enschede, The Netherlands.

"We are confident that the combination of mCube, Kinduct, and Xsens brings together a powerful mix of hardware and software for the IoMT market," said mCube CEO Ben Lee. “The addition of Kinduct to mCube’s group of companies will accelerate our SaaS offering with exciting tools to help sports and health users to improve and maintain their wellbeing.”

McDonough said the Kinduct board realized the company, which now has 70 employees, needed to do something to continue its growth, whether it was a new funding round or a sale to a larger company. It reviewed several options and concluded the best route was being acquired by mCube.

“We have a big global ambition and as a CEO of a company you need to be self aware,” said McDonough. “We want to make sure we’re able to scale. We know we needed a bigger international presence.”

Meta Gains Nasdaq Listing in Merger

The metamaterials company will receive US$10M and a Nasdaq listing by merging with Torchlight Energy.

Metamaterial Inc. has agreed to merge with an American company that will provide it with a listing on the Nasdaq stock exchange and at least US$10 million (C$13.3 million) in new financing.

The Dartmouth company, which makes products from manmade substances that alter light, said Monday it has signed a letter of intent to merge with Plano, Texas-based oil and gas producer Torchlight Energy Resources. The merged company will retain the Metamaterial name, management, business model, and will be headquartered in Dartmouth. As part of the deal, Torchlight will sell off its oil and gas assets, and use the proceeds to pay a special dividend to its existing shareholders.  

“I’m excited that an oil and gas company will divest its existing assets and look to a business like ours,” George Palikaras, who will retain his titles of Metamaterial President and CEO, said in an interview. “There is a shift happening right now in the marketplace and companies like Meta that are focusing on sustainable technologies are coming in at the right time.”

Metamaterial is a specialist in producing metamaterials – materials comprising compounds not found in nature – that alter light, either by magnifying, repelling or filtering it. The company is best known for its metaAIR venture with Airbus, which is producing a transparent covering for airplane cockpit windows that can filter out laser attacks.

The company listed on the alternate Canadian Stock Exchange in March, and Palikaras said it will have a dual listing following the merger on both the Nasdaq and the CSE. He would not rule out a listing at some point on the TSX.

Metamaterial, known as Meta, now has a market capitalization (the value of all its shares) of C$26.3 million, and the merged company at Monday’s share prices would have a market cap of about C$60 million. According to the letter of intent, Metamaterial shareholders will end up owning 75 percent of the combined company.

Torchlight will provide Metamaterial with at least US$10 million in new financing as part of the deal. Palikaras also said his company, which only has 500 shareholders, will now have access to Torchlight’s thousands of shareholders.  

Appili Therapeutics Moves on to the TSX Main Board. 

Palikaras said the downturn in energy markets created a rare opportunity for his company to list on a major international stock market, and his board seized the chance.

“There is a significant value in a company like ours to having a national listing in the United States,” he said. “It allows us to take our company to a global scale and capture new talent that was not available to us previously.”

Similarly, the senior team at Torchlight saw an opportunity in Meta to pivot away from the declining hydrocarbon market and into a growing technology.

“In order to unlock value potential from our national listing and access to the capital markets, we shifted some attention from the divestiture of our oil and gas assets to an acquisition strategy targeting proven disruptive technology companies with strong environmental, social and governance (ESG) priorities,” said Torchlight CEO John Brda. “This Proposed Transaction is the first step in that effort, providing our shareholders with access to the multi-billion-dollar target market and new applications that are being revolutionized with sustainable technologies.”

One thing Palikaras emphasized in the interview was that Meta would continue to be headquartered in Nova Scotia. The company recently signed a lease for a larger, 53,000-square-foot headquarters in Dartmouth and is preparing to install millions of dollars of equipment for its manufacturing efforts.

Meta and Torchlight expect to sign a definitive agreement on the merger in 30 to 45 days, and then, following shareholder and regulatory approval, probably close the transaction in the new year.

OSC’s Indigenous Career Project

The Supercluster announces a $740,000 project to create work placements for 10 mid-career Indigenous workers.

Ralph Eldridge, Indigenous Engagement Lead at Canada's Ocean Supercluster

Ralph Eldridge, Indigenous Engagement Lead at Canada's Ocean Supercluster

Canada’s Ocean Supercluster and several First Nations community partners have launched a new program to help Indigenous workers find job placements in the ocean economy.

The Supercluster on Monday announced the launch of the Indigenous Career Pivot Project, an initiative that will cost more than $740,000, of which $550,000 is funded by the Ocean Supercluster.

The pilot project will allow about 10 mid-career Indigenous workers with skills or trades in other sectors a 12-month placement with small to medium-sized businesses in the ocean sector.

They will be supported by training curriculum and other supports developed by the New Brunswick-based Indigenous economy development group Joint Economic Development Initiative, or JEDI, and the St. John’s-based College of the North Atlantic.

“The [Indigenous Engagement] Working Group has refined an engagement strategy to meet key objectives, for instance, ensuring Indigenous companies find opportunities in technology leadership and in innovation ecosystem projects,” said Ralph Eldridge, the Supercluster’s Indigenous Engagement Lead.  

“Today’s announcement focuses on another key engagement priority: facilitating career paths for indigenous people in the ocean economy.”

Based in Atlantic Canada, the Ocean Supercluster is one of the federal government’s national research superclusters, which are public-private partnerships targeting specific types of innovation. It is expected to spend about $350 million to fund oceantech R&D over five years.

Supercluster CEO Kendra MacDonald said in a YouTube press conference that the Supercluster has been moving forward during the pandemic. Since March, she said, the organization has doubled its membership to about 300 businesses and organizations and approved more than 25 projects, many of which will be announced in the fall.

Led by Ulnooweg Development Group, JEDI, and the College of the North Atlantic, the Indigenous career project aims to help Indigenous people who wish to explore career options in the ocean economy. The goal is for participants to learn to apply their existing skillsets to nautical pursuits while gaining new knowledge of the ocean industries.

Kenneth Paul, a member of the Maliseet First Nation at Tobique, NB, said Indigenous people are currently under-employed in the ocean sector, because they are active in the commercial fishery but not other segments. He said one problem is that young people don’t understand the range of opportunity because of a lack of role models in the ocean space. So the Indigenous Engagement Working Group is hoping maritime companies hire more native workers.

Said John Paul, Executive Director of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs Secretariat: “This is a great opportunity for Indigenous workers to have access to a very unique potential career path in Supercluster Member companies.”

GoodLeaf’s Guelph Farm Fully Operational

The company that began as Truleaf in Halifax is now producing safe microgreens all year round.

The Indoor Vertical Farm in Bible Hill

The Indoor Vertical Farm in Bible Hill

A 4,000-square-metre indoor vertical farm operated by Nova Scotia and Ontario-based GoodLeaf Farms is now fully operational in Guelph, Ontario.

The farm is fully automated and equipped to grow microgreens and baby greens 365 days a year without the use of pesticides, herbicides or fungicides and with reduced water consumption, the company said in a statement. 

“Our growing system mimics the spring sun without the use of chemicals, releasing farming from the restrictions of the changing seasons,” Jacquie Needham, Accounts Manager for GoodLeaf Farms, said in the statement.

“We can grow local, fresh, nutritious and healthy leafy greens for the Ontario produce market all year long — we do it safely.”

The company said its system allows a safer, more nutrient dense and sustainably grown food source, providing a domestic alternative to imports from the southern United States or Mexico.

Vertical farming is a process that grows plants with hydroponics under specialized LED lights that concentrate the waves from the light spectrum that plants need to maximize photosynthesis.

This method of farming is cost-effective, suited to the Canadian climate and scalable, the company said. Crops are tested for contaminants before being shipped, ensuring food is safe for consumers.

The GoodLeaf process uses 95 percent less water than a traditional farm, and has no run-off issues or potential contamination of nearby water sources. The fact the food is grown locally means thousands of kilometers of transportation are removed from supply chains and more food can be grown per acre, reducing land-use pressures.

GoodLeaf currently has four microgreens and two baby greens available in Ontario, including pea shoots, a micro Asian blend, micro arugula, baby kale and baby arugula.

“The pandemic has underscored how important it is to have access to local food sources – food that we know is safe, grown responsibly and immune to border closures,” said Needham.

“Compared to a green that was grown thousands of miles away, packed on to a hot truck and shipped across the continent, our process is far superior. Local food is simply better — better for you, better for the environment and better for our economy.”

GoodLeaf was founded as TruLeaf Sustainable Agriculture in Halifax in 2011 by Gregg Curwin who was looking for a way to boost the health of Canadians. He was inspired by the indoor hydroponic farming underway in Japan and set about bringing the idea to this country.

In 2015, GoodLeaf constructed a pilot farm near Truro, NS, to test commercial production and research new varieties and growing techniques. 

In summer 2019, GoodLeaf's first full-scale commercial farm in Guelph, Ontario, began supplying microgreens and baby greens to retail locations and restaurants in Ontario. 

The production volume of the Guelph Farm is about 10 times that of the Truro farm, whch is now an R&D facility. The company has ongoing R&D Programs with the University of Guelph, Dalhousie University and Acadia University.

Curwin stepped down as company CEO in 2018, paving the way for McCain Foods to steward the growing company.

GoodLeaf is not currently providing food to Atlantic Canada but is looking to expand back into the region and into Western Canada with new facilities. 

REDspace Celebrates 20 Years

The pandemic has offered the Bedford, NS, tech company a chance to reach new customers.

Mike Johnston: 'I think we’re set up for exponential growth.'

Mike Johnston: 'I think we’re set up for exponential growth.'

Though the pandemic has made REDspace’s 20th year a strange time, CEO Mike Johnston believes his company is well positioned to thrive as the economy improves.

The Bedford, NS, software development company, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last week, builds flexible platforms for global enterprises, with special strength in video platforms. In the past few years, it’s experienced strong growth with the advent of streaming services like Netflix and Disney+.

Like most companies during the pandemic, REDspace had to send its staff home and was concerned about the effects of COVID-19 on its business. But as the world adjusted to the pandemic, something unexpected happened: new clients began to contact the company.

The entertainment industry had been forced to pause during the lockdown, and executives were using it as an opportunity to review and upgrade their IT platforms, said Johnston. Many in the industry had heard about REDspace and were reaching out.

“We had a lot of interest from a diverse group of new customers,” said Johnston in a phone interview last week. “So we’ve been hustling to bring in some of these new customers.”

Johnston and a partner started the company in 2000, just as the dotcom bubble was bursting, initially concentrating on building corporate eLearning systems for IBM. Soon the focus was on the entertainment industry and the company was building a growing stable of blue-chip clients.

Today, REDspace says its three main verticals are entertainment, learning and defence, and its website’s list of clients includes such household names as NBC, MTV, and WarnerMedia.  It has grown strongly in recent years as streaming services have boomed.

In 2019 alone, revenue increased 45 percent and REDspace added 86 employees, bringing its current total to 224, many of them recruited to Halifax from other parts of Canada and the world. “It’s a workforce we’re really proud of and want to hang on to through the pandemic,” said Johnston.

During the discussion, Johnston referred to the entertainment industry as being in “this weird dark zone” categorized by great strengths and great weaknesses. On the plus side, demand for streamed content has skyrocketed. “The entire world is stuck at home,” said Johnston. “Everyone [in the entertainment industry] is trying to carry out their strategic plans, so there’s a lot of demand to get apps on their networks.”

But the advertising that underlies the entertainment sector has taken a hit as airlines and other industries have suffered and cut ads. Johnston said his clients are in the unusual situation of viewership soaring while ad revenue has declined.

REDspace has continued to work on some existing accounts, and begun working on a few new ones. It has seen less explosive growth this year than last year, which Johnston said has actually helped its research and development efforts. The company usually spends $2 million to $5 million annually on R&D and this year there were more hands available to work on new projects.

The company has reopened its 23,000-square-foot headquarters and is adding 14,000 square feet of space, which Johnston said will “give us just a hair over an acre.” He’s looking forward to the staff returning to the offices and continuing to grow the client base in coming years.

“We’ve seen more interest from new customers this year, and hopefully we’ll get some of these projects going and grow that organically over time,” said Johnston. “I think we’re set up for exponential growth. I remain pretty bullish that the next couple of years are going to be growth years.”

Join Our Data Presentation Thursday

We'll dive into the key 2019 metrics for the Atlantic Canada startup community.

We'll dive into the key 2019 metrics for the Atlantic Canada startup community.

There are just a few days left to sign up for the virtual presentation of our 2019 Atlantic Canada Startup Data report, which will take place at noon on Thursday.

We've teamed up with Volta for this presentation. We had been planning to do an in-person event at Volta and have it live-streamed, but now we've opted to just go for a virtual event. It's free, and you can register here.

Entrevestor’s data has become the benchmark for the Atlantic Canadian startup community in recent years. Each year, we tally up the total number of startups and assess their employees, funding and revenue, providing a vivid picture of how the community has evolved.  

The highlights of the East Coast startup community in 2019 were spectacular and included: Verafin's record $515-million funding round; strong hiring and revenue growth; and more new companies than ever. But there was also an unsettling development in funding that has carried on into 2020. We'll detail all the trends in our latest startup data presentation.

Many thanks to Volta -- especially Amy Conrad, Martha Casey and Meghann Coleman -- for working with us on this presentation. Also, we'd like to thank Mike Hayes and Mike Cyr of Charcoal Marketing for their great work on producing the printed and digital reports. 

ESCF Open for Fall Submissions

The Early Stage Commercialization Fund provides up to $50K per project to researchers.

Researchers engaged in IT, life sciences, cleantech, oceantech, and other technologies are invited to apply to Innovacorp’s Early Stage Commercialization Fund, which provides up to $50,000 per project for post-secondary researchers to move their research to market.

Eligible applicants include Nova Scotia university and college faculty members, as well as staff and clinicians in university-affiliated hospitals. Applications from graduate students and post-docs will be considered, provided a faculty member is a co-applicant.

Funds can be used to assess market potential, develop go-to-market strategies, perform strategic planning, create/update business plans, assist with intellectual property protection strategies, finish proof-of-concept development, build prototypes and leverage other funds.

For details and information on how to apply, visit the ESCF webpage.

The submission deadline is Oct.13.

 

 

Disclosure: Innovacorp is a client of Entrevestor. 
 

Amazon, Breakthrough Lead CarbonCure Round

The Dartmouth cleantech company has drawn investment from a "dream team" of tech companies and property developers.

CarbonCure CEO Robert Niven: 'We wanted the very best investors, and this is the best we could ever dream of.'

CarbonCure CEO Robert Niven: 'We wanted the very best investors, and this is the best we could ever dream of.'

Dartmouth-based CarbonCure Technologies has raised a fresh round of funding led by Amazon and Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and CEO Robert Niven believes it’s the biggest cleantech financing round in Canada this year.

The announcement of the major funding round came the day after Ottawa-based eCommerce giant Shopify said its $5 billion Sustainability Fund would purchase carbon offsets from CarbonCure to encourage green industrial practices.

Amazon said Thursday morning that CarbonCure and four other companies would be the first cleantech companies to receive investments from its US$2 billion green venture capital fund. It previously announced the fund as part of its Climate Pledge, the 2019 promise to become carbon-neutral by 2040.

CarbonCure did not reveal how much it had raised, but said the investment came from a syndicate that comprised Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, Breakthrough, Microsoft, BDC Capital, 2150, Thistledown Capital, Taronga Ventures, and GreenSoil Investments. Breakthrough, an impact fund backed by such multibillionaires as Michael Bloomberg and Bill Gates, first invested in CarbonCure in September 2018.

“Our round was three to five times over-subscribed so we just picked the dream-team investors, mainly tech firms and large property developers,” said Niven in an interview. “We wanted the very best investors, and this is the best we could ever dream of.”

Concrete is the second most abundant man-made material in the world, and cement, its key ingredient, is responsible for an estimated 7 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. CarbonCure cures concrete by injecting CO2 into it, which produces a stronger concrete while reducing carbon emissions. Its goal is to prevent 500 megatonnes of CO₂ emissions from entering the atmosphere every year by 2030.

In the interview, Niven said tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft and Shopify are becoming increasingly important to companies like CarbonCure that are dedicated to the growing field of carbon removal. These tech companies, each with a multi-billion-dollar balance sheet, have pledged to become carbon neutral by 2040. 

Amazon, for example, is becoming one of CarbonCure’s premiere customers, using the Nova Scotian company’s technology to ensure its building program adheres to green construction guidelines. The ecommerce giant will open 100 new buildings this month alone. “Amazon is already our largest customer in terms of purchasing concrete,” said Niven. “Amazon is a prolific builder.”

“Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund invests in the most promising technologies and services that reduce carbon emissions and help preserve the natural world,” said Julia Raish, Senior Project Manager of Sustainable Buildings at Amazon. “Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies are a critical component of meeting Amazon’s Climate Pledge. CarbonCure is a perfect example of a commercially attractive CDR solution that is already widely used by Amazon and other Climate Pledge partners.”

The prolific growth of carbon offsets by tech giants can be used to encourage industrial companies to change their processes, said Niven. This is especially beneficial in emerging economies, where many companies haven’t had a lot of exposure to the latest building technology.

CarbonCure is already used by nearly 300 concrete producers to supply its green concrete to construction projects around the world. That’s up from 126 in January 2019. The company now employs about 60 people, up from 25 about two years ago.

“This round of investment is going to drive that same rate of growth,” said Niven. “It’s jet fuel for our continuing expansion and the development of new products.”

DMF’s Anesthesia Membrane Approved

The device ends the use of chemical reactions in the anesthesia process.

Halifax-based DMF Medical has received a Class II medical device license from Health Canada to sell its memsorb carbon dioxide filtration device.

Memsorb is a next generation CO2 removal system for general anesthesia. The product is designed to improve the process of removing carbon dioxide from the system that puts patients to sleep during operations by using membrane technology rather than a chemical reaction.

“We are thrilled to have been able to develop this first-of-its-kind technology in Nova Scotia, and are eager to share it with our colleagues across Canada and around the world,” Michael Schmidt, Founder and Chief Medical Officer, said in the statement.

In an earlier interview with Entrevestor, Co-Founder and Director of R&D Florentin Wilfart said that in the traditional process, a patient inhales a vaporized anesthetic mixed with oxygen, and exhales a combination of oxygen, anesthetic, carbon dioxide and toxins. It passes through a chemical filter to strip out the toxins and CO2, and then feeds it back into the stream of gases being delivered to the patient. Because anesthetics are expensive, the filtered exhalation is used again to get maximum use out of the anesthetic.

There are problems with this “anesthetic loop” because the chemical reaction used to remove CO2 can produce compounds that can be harmful to the patient.

The process also releases CO2 and chemicals into the air, so the impact worldwide on the atmosphere is equivalent to the production of 4.4 million tons of CO2 a year. And the residue chemicals produce 115,000 cubic metres of solid waste a year that is expensive to dispose of. In most operating rooms, the chemical canisters must be replaced daily.

Memsorb’s membrane filters out CO2 and toxins, creating no chemical reaction. The product lasts for several months and is recyclable. The only thing it needs is a stream of oxygen, which is available in any operating room.

In its statement, the company thanked the funding partners who have supported it during Memsorb’s long development and testing process.  (In 2011, DMF competed in the first BioInnovation Challenge, the region’s main life sciences pitching competition.)

Venn Launches Set to Scale

The program is designed to help innovation-driven companies accelerate revenue growth.

Venn President and CEO Doug Robertson

Venn President and CEO Doug Robertson

Venn Innovation is seeking applications for its new Set to Scale program, which aims to help innovation-driven companies in New Brunswick accelerate their revenue growth.

The program, which lasts six to 12 months, is based on Verne Harnish’s Scaling Up Methodology, which has been adopted by thousands of companies across the world.

It will introduce the participants to processes that help them to focus on the program’s four pillars of scaling: people, strategy, execution and cash. They will work one-on-one with certified Scaling Up coaches from across Canada over the course of the program.

“New Brunswick companies create amazing technology and products that provide high value to their clients and can compete on a global scale in their industries,” said Venn Innovation President and CEO Doug Robertson in a statement. “Providing these companies with the processes and knowledge to execute on their growth objectives will lead to stronger companies in our province.”

Venn, the New Brunswick innovation hub, has posted information and application forms on its website. Applications are open until Sept. 30.  

The program offers each participant at least six months of curriculum, which includes a two-day workshop, initial quarterly planning session, follow up coaching sessions and ad hoc phone calls, as well as resource material. The cost for this six-month program is usually $25,000, but Venn is offering the course for $5,500 plus HST. It is able to offer the lower rate after receiving a $297,010 grant from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Companies that wish to do so can extend the program beyond six months. Venn will provide funding to cover half the cost of the extension, giving each company choosing to extend up to $13,000.

Set to Scale is open to New Brunswick-based for-profit companies that are commercializing their own technology and have intellectual property. They must have at least $2 million in revenue, and believe they could achieve $3 million to $5 million within 12 to 18 months.

Venn now has openings for five companies but can allow more if there is sufficient demand.

"I have seen time and time again how the Scaling Up process has enabled companies to not only navigate through challenging times, but also gave them the tools to capitalize on opportunities,” said Andy Buyting, a Certified Scaling Up Business Coach. “It's an operating system for business success that has been proven by thousands of companies, in all parts of the world, including right here in Atlantic Canada."

Conference for Health and Seniors

Innovate Care, a virtual conference on Oct. 5-6, is seeking applicants for its pitch competition.

A virtual conference, Innovate Care, is inviting Canadian startups focused on health and senior care to pitch their products and services.

In a statement, the Halifax-based Jameson Consulting Group said the participants can be in the development stage or they can have been in the market for less than 24 months.

The interactive virtual conference, which is hosted by Jameson and Aging 2.0-Halifax, will be held Oct. 5 and 6. The deadline to apply to pitch for exposure to an influential panel and a prize of $1,000 is Sept.22 at noon.

As well as the pitch contest, the two-day event will feature regional and international speakers covering topics, which include:

  • Keynotes on why major technology companies such as Google, Amazon, Best Buy and Telus are investing billions in innovative care solutions and products;
  • An inside look at care facilities deploying the latest innovative technologies and developing best practices;
  • Why programs like Johns Hopkins Hospital @ Home are gaining international momentum and addressing changing needs and technology;
  • And an introduction to Nova Scotia Living Lab Innovation Hub, which will create an intergenerational innovation testing and proving ground for health and senior-related products and services.

Speakers include Bianca Stern, Executive Director at the Toronto-based Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation (CABHI). Stern’s current work includes overseeing the innovation team at CABHI including the Design Lab, Seniors Advisory Panel, Innovation Office and project pipeline.

Other speakers include well-known Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs such as Mark Hobbs of Fundmetric, Chris Cowper-Smith of Spring Loaded Technology and David Burke of NxtGenCare.  

Partners include The Nova Scotia Department of Seniors and Innovacorp. The aim is to showcase Nova Scotia as an innovation hub for innovative home and health care, aging, senior, mobility and independent care solutions.

You can apply to pitch here, or register for the conference here

Al-Otumi Takes Global Enactus Award

The global student venture initiative recognizes the serial entrepreneur and educator.

Halifax-based entrepreneur and educator Akram Al-Otumi has been named Global Enactus Alumni of the Year.  

Well-known in Halifax as the CEO and Founder of Spritely Technologies Inc., Al-Otumi is also Director of Shiftkey Labs, a software innovation hub and a lecturer in technology, innovation and entrepreneurship at Dalhousie University.

Enactus is a global group that helps students form social ventures – businesses that help society or the environment. The organization exists in 37 countries, 1,730 universities and has over 75,000 members.

Al-Otumi said it means a lot to be recognized at an international level by an organization that has played a significant role in shaping his outlook as an emerging professional. 

“I understand firsthand the challenges that new grads face in securing employment, and I also know the skills and traits that Enactus alumni bring into the workforce,” he said. “This is why I have employed three Enactus alumni to date in my own businesses.

“I credit Enactus with playing a big role in helping to sharpen my public speaking, leadership and business skills, and showing me that impact and empathy in business are as important as profit.”

Al-Otumi came to Halifax in 2007 having grown up in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen.

“I came to Nova Scotia when I was 19,” he told Entrevestor in an earlier interview. “I worked. I was very social. I did my best to integrate, to understand the culture. It wasn’t easy, but after a few years I felt at home.”

He founded the Enactus Dalhousie chapter while studying at the university in 2012 and served as president. He also founded the Nova Scotia alumni chapter and has remained active since graduating in the roles of judge, league coordinator, and speaker.

He said Enactus has a lot to offer in this time of turmoil.

“It’s the perfect combination of skills, mindset and experiences to help today’s students blend business skills with tangible impact on social issues. Enactus’ approach provides a win-win for communities and participants and unites members from around the globe...”

Previously, Al-Otumi received the 2015 Enactus Alumni of the Year Award for Canada and was named an Enactus John Dobson Fellow in recognition of his contributions as a faculty advisor.

“I want to give the credit of this recognition to all of my Enactus network from entrepreneurs, to students to professors and alumni,” he said of his latest win.

“Also special thanks to Enactus Canada for their incredible support to their members and for their outstanding work through entrepreneurship which aims to improve Canada’s standard of living and quality of life for Canadians. Thanks to you all from my heart.”

Volta Presents 6 Ecosystem Awards

The Halifax innovation hub hold the awards to recognize contributors to the region's startup community.

Matthew Martel accepted the Community Leader Award on behalf of the Black Business Initiative.

Matthew Martel accepted the Community Leader Award on behalf of the Black Business Initiative.

Volta has recognized six organizations and individuals for their contributions to the Atlantic Canadian startup community with its second annual Ecosystem Impact Awards.

The Halifax-based innovation hub last year launched the awards to recognize the contribution a range of individuals and organizations make to the region’s innovation ecosystem. The awards presentation Wednesday was held virtually due to social distancing rules.

There were more than 30 nominations, and the recipients were selected by a panel of judges, comprising regional business leaders.

“This has been a challenging year for businesses of all sizes, so we are pleased to come together to celebrate the collaborative efforts that all organizations are taking to enhance the startup community,” said Volta CEO Martha Casey in a statement. “These organizations continue to put Atlantic Canada on the map, and prove that we are a destination for innovation, prosperity and continued development.”

The following is the list of winners:

The Disruptor Award, which recognizes a business in Atlantic Canada that has experienced significant entrepreneurial success over the past year.

Winner: Appili Therapeutics Inc.

The Halifax-based company is working on bringing a portfolio of anti-infectious drugs to the market. On Monday, it announced its shares would begin trading on the main board of the Toronto Stock Exchange this week.

The other nominees were Unbound Chemicals and Side Door.

The Catalyst Award, which recognizes an organization that has helped create cohesion and growth in the ecosystem.

The winner: Saint Mary’s University Entrepreneurship Centre.

Founded almost two decades ago, the SMU Entrepreneurship Centre helps students learn about entrepreneurship and start their own businesses. It has a strong emphasis on the development of social enterprises.

The other nominees were the Ocean Startup Project and Entrevestor.

The Community Leader Award, which recognizes a company or organization that has directly impacted the growth and development of the entrepreneurial landscape in Atlantic Canada.

Winner: Black Business Initiative.

The BBI is committed to growing a Black presence in a range of business sectors, including technology, manufacturing, tourism and the cultural sector. It is dedicated to the startup community, and gives back through the donation of time, mentorship and serving as a resource in a peer to peer environment.

The other nominees were Black Boys Code and LaBarge Weinstein.

The Positive Impact Awards, which are awarded to an individual or organization that has implemented solutions for social, cultural and/or environmental issues.

Winner of the Award for Individuals: Jim Hanlon, Former CEO at the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship.

Hanlon was the driving force behind Dartmouth-based COVE, serving as its first Chief Executive and making it a hub of ocean technology in the region. He was also instrumental in the establishment of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster in Atlantic Canada.

The other nominees were Sebastian Green, Regional Director at Ignite, and Chantal Brine, CEO at EnPoint.

The winner of the Award for Organizations: Peer Ledger

The Halifax company uses blockchain to help its clients monitor their supply chain to ensure ethical business practices. Its MIMOSI tool is used to track gold shipments as a means of battling conflict metals, or precious metals that are mined to finance wars, often using slave labour.

The other nominee was eOceans.

The Corporate Supporter Award, which recognizes a corporate partner who has been a gracious supporter of the tech startup community in Atlantic Canada.

Winner:  Halifax Partnership/Halifax Innovation District

The Partnership, which promotes economic development in Greater Halifax, established the Halifax Innovation District to enhance the community of innovators stretching from the city’s two main university campuses to COVE in Dartmouth. It boosts the development of the technology sector by donating resources, mentorship, and training.

The other nominees were Grant Thornton and McInnes Cooper.

Greenlight Borrows $374K from ACOA

The company expects 5 early adopters will be using its cannabis-testing device in 3-6 months.

Greenlight President and CEO James Wylde

Greenlight President and CEO James Wylde

Halifax-based Greenlight Analytical Inc. has received a $374,250 loan from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, which will help launch its device for measuring the chemicals in cannabis and food.

The company said in a statement that the ACOA loan, which it received under the Regional Economic Growth through Innovation program, will help to fund a $500,000 project that encompasses the commercialization of the device.

“It certainly accelerates getting a product to the market and it does significantly derisk the value proposition we can get to investors,” said Greenlight CEO James Wylde in an interview, referring to the loan. “We can do some long-term planning around it.”

Greenlight, which moved to Halifax from the Ottawa area last year, is developing a modified mass spectrometer – a machine that analyzes the chemical composition of substances and lists their contents – paired with an artificial intelligence system that will translate the spectrometer’s output into an easily understandable format.

The company said in a statement that producers have no quick and reliable way to test cannabis crops during growth and flowering, which means their quality and safety is unknown until after the harvest. With over 70 jurisdictions around the world legalizing or decriminalizing cannabis, consumers are quickly developing strain, taste, and experience preferences.

Greenlight has lined up five early adopters, selected from different portions of the cannabis market, and expects to have a device in their hands within three to six months. The company will initially target the cannabis industry, and Wylde said it eventually plans to diversify into the agrifood market.

“While the worldwide pandemic has slowed economic development across most sectors, sales of legal recreational and medical cannabis have remained strong,” said Wylde in the statement. “With the increasing international acceptance of cannabis, there is a growing need for producers to provide their customers with the quality, consistent and safe products they demand.”

The company now has four full-time employees and three contractors and is currently raising capital, with a target for the current round of $750,000. Wylde said the fund-raising process was delayed by the pandemic as investors wanted more clarity about the state of the economy in March to July. But he added things are improving.

“Now we’re getting more meetings, and we’re getting the second and third meetings more readily than we would have before.”

 

Disclosure: ACOA is a client of Entrevestor.

Milton in Business is Jammin’ Webinar

Halifax-based social entrepreneur Charles Milton, founder of Bursity.org, is offering a virtual webinar event with Business is Jammin’ for entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Aimed primarily at Black and racially visible entrepreneurs but open to all, the 60-minute webinar will allow Milton to share his knowledge of the issues and problems first-time founders encounter, from ideation and validation to execution.

The webinar will take place on Sept. 23 at noon.

Milton is a graduate of Nova Scotia Community College (in data analytics and information technology) and the recipient of the NSCC 2019 Business Innovation and Alumni Rising Star awards.

His early entrepreneurial endeavours ranged from meal prep home delivery for fitness enthusiasts to data-driven retail hardware for the grocery industry.  He’s a graduate of the former Vancouver-based Wavefront Accelerator for ICT, Propel Incite Accelerator (Phase 1),  YC Startup School, and is currently among the Founder Institute Toronto 2020 virtual cohort.

Business is Jammin' is a province-wide charitable initiative of the Black Business Initiative. In the last decade, the group has helped thousands of program participants stay in school, start their own ventures, and bring professionalism to workplaces.

The group says that in the past two years, its program participation levels have grown by more than 60 percent, a number that will increase as they respond to the Now or Never One Nova Scotia report, which made boosting opportunities for African and First Nation Nova Scotians a priority.

The group works with children as young as eight to adults up to the age of 35. Its range of programs helps address the needs of three segmented age groups: 8-15, 16-20 and 21-35.

The organization says it aims to be the premier partner in mentoring and guiding Black youth to be in-demand members of the business world.

Register online at www.BusinessIsJammin.ca. 

Hadhad Wins RBC Entrepreneur Award

The Founder and CEO of Peace by Chocolate is one of RBC's Top Immigrants.

Tareq Hadhad

Tareq Hadhad

Tareq Hadhad, Founder and CEO of Peace by Chocolate, has been named the fifth annual recipient of the RBC Entrepreneur Award and one of RBC’s Top 25 Canadian immigrants, awards that celebrate newcomers who have had a positive impact on their communities.

Based in Antigonish, NS, Syrian-born Hadhad is also the Founder of the Peace on Earth Society, a charity which is funded by a percentage of the company’s chocolate sales.

Presented by Canadian Immigrant magazine and sponsored by the Royal Bank of Canada, this is the 12th anniversary of the national awards program.  Winners were chosen by judges and readers who cast a record 72,000 votes.

“RBC is proud to celebrate and support newcomers across Canada as they establish themselves and strengthen the fabric of our communities,” Amit Brahme, the Senior Director of the Newcomer Segment, said in a statement.

In an earlier interview with Entrevestor, Hadhad said that his father Assam had been a chocolatier, running his own thriving export business in Damascus for 20 years. Assam shipped chocolates to countries such as Yemen, Jordan and Lebanon.

The war made the family refugees. They arrived in Nova Scotia and formed Peace by Chocolate in a small barn in Antigonish in August 2016.

Their chocolate was soon being sold in Sobeys. Success was immediate and accelerated when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised the chocolate in a speech he gave to the United Nations.

“Our chocolate caters to Canadian and Syrian tastes. It includes traditional Syrian ingredients such as pistachio, cashews, almonds, hazelnut, coconut, orange, cherry and strawberry,” Hadhad told Entrevestor.

Since those early days, the company has expanded and is now available around the country.

“Canada has provided our family with other deep meanings for chocolate, life and success,” Hadhad said.

RBC has also donated $50,000 to Windmill Microlending, a charity that helps internationally trained newcomers pay for the Canadian credentials they need. The donation will support re-accreditation of 50 internationally trained immigrants in the healthcare profession who are helping in the fight against COVID-19.

NACO Eyes Federal Tax Credit

The national angel group hopes an investment tax credit will be mentioned in next week's Throne Speech.

Senator Colin Deacon, left, chats with NACO Chief Executive Claudio Rojas during an event in Halifax last year.

Senator Colin Deacon, left, chats with NACO Chief Executive Claudio Rojas during an event in Halifax last year.

The National Angel Capital Organization is leading a campaign for a federal investment tax credit, and its executives hope the Throne Speech next week reveals signs of progress.

NACO, which represents organized angel networks across the country, has been pushing the government to institute a tax credit similar to those in most provinces, which incentivize wealthy individuals to invest in high-growth companies.

Canada desperately needs such businesses to recover from the pandemic, say the tax credit's proponents, who hope the tax incentive would draw new investors into angel networks, leading to a wave of new investment. In particular, NACO wants angel networks to grow in the parts of the country where they are now absent or underdeveloped, including Atlantic Canada.

“Angel investors are local investors – they’re individuals that care about their local communities,” said NACO Chief Executive Claudio Rojas in an interview. “There are other, safer asset classes [than angel investment] to consider when you have discretionary capital to invest. Angel investors lead with their hearts first and then  . . . need to have a business case to make the local investment. We need an incentive.”

Most provinces – including all four Atlantic Provinces – offer tax credits to investors to encourage them to invest in local companies.  For example, New Brunswick has the most generous program in the country, offering investors a 50 percent tax credit on investments of up to $250,000. But these credits are only available when investor and target company are both based in the same province, and there are no credits in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario or Quebec.

NACO wants the federal government to bring in a tax credit of 30 to 50 percent for investments in Canadian corporations or investment funds. (Though the tax credits have different names in each province, Rojas refers to the proposed federal credit as an “entrepreneurs' tax credit”, as he argues the main beneficiaries would be entrepreneurs.)

Rojas hopes Governor General Julie Payette will mention an entrepreneur tax credit Sept. 23 when she delivers the Throne Speech, which outlines the government’s plans for the coming session of Parliament.

Volta Cohort Seeks Applicants for Next Pitch Competition

NACO has been working with various parties to get across the message to parliamentarians that a federal tax credit is needed to develop the next generation of Canadian businesses. It has hosted virtual round tables in the past few months that have included Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and Economic Development Minister Mélanie Joly.

The ministers have heard NACO’s message that there are 500,000 potential accredited investors (people earning $200,000 and/or family wealth of at least $5 million) in Canada, but only 4,200 of them belong to angel networks. In theory, the country would unleash a wave of capital if more of these people joined networks and invested just 1.5 percent of their capital in startups.

Senator Colin Deacon, himself a serial entrepreneur, said high-growth companies are more important than ever because they are needed to help Canada recover economically from the pandemic. And, he said, the ecosystem needs early-stage investment from angels as much as it needs larger venture capital investment.

NACO believes an effective, nationwide tax credit could help to establish angel networks in areas where there are now none. Given that angels tend to invest close to home, startups across the country will get the support they need only when all regions have strong angel networks.

“We’ve all heard the term, ‘It’s who you know,’ and we have to move away from that to, ‘It’s what you know,'” said Amanda Filipe, NACO’s Director of National Initiatives for Women Entrepreneurs. “I see that as being the primary role of NACO.”

Rojas added that the organization has been concerned for several years that there is no pan-regional angel network in Atlantic Canada and plans to work with local partners to develop such a group. It’s been talking to local investors and other parties and together they plan to move from discussion to action.

NB-based Sankara Expands into Halifax

The multicultural online marketplace helps people enjoy authentic ethnic cuisine at home.

Sankara Co-Founders Chinweotito Atansi and Lily Lynch

Sankara Co-Founders Chinweotito Atansi and Lily Lynch

Sankara survived the pandemic by pivoting from catering and in-person events to delivering meal boxes of pre-cooked ethnic food to homes. Now the online multicultural marketplace is expanding into Halifax and seeking new partners.

Saint John-based Sankara is a social enterprise that allows immigrant and refugee chefs, grocers and artisans to sell their products free of charge. Customers pay a commission fee which is included in the cost of the goods.

Many of the vendors, who come from more than 20 countries, have been in Canada less than five years, and Sankara helps them start a business or support themselves while they resume their original careers.

“We used to do catering and in-person events and a lunch program we delivered to offices. It was all cancelled,” Co-Founder Lily Lynch said in an interview.  “We reached out to vendors at the end of March and asked them what they were comfortable doing.”

The chefs’ solution was the meal box program that delivers five precooked dishes in microwavable containers along with a biography of the chef. The boxes are delivered to clients’ doorsteps on Sunday afternoons and cost between $60 and $69 per week, depending on whether they are vegan, vegetarian or meat. All meals are prepared in a licensed kitchen.  

The food is currently delivered in the cities of Saint John, Fredericton, and Moncton. Moncton was onboarded in May when a samosa wholesaler who’d lost his markets began making Indian curries and stews. Soon, Moncton will onboard a Filipina chef. Saint John and Fredericton are also bringing in new chefs.

Lynch said the company is being assisted by the pandemic-induced growth in people buying online, and the boxes provide clients with food diversity, which is welcome as the pandemic has forced people into their kitchens. About 95 percent of customers are native Canadians.

“New vendors always ask what Canadians want to eat,” she said. “We tell them to create an authentic experience of their cuisine.”

The move into Halifax will begin this fall and the company is looking for vendors in the city.   Lynch said Sankara has already partnered with a jewellery maker at NSCAD University.

She said part of the value of the venture lies in helping users express and explore new cultures and create connections. Her own heritage is mixed Black, White and Mi’kmaq. She co-founded Sankara in 2017 with Chinweotito Atansi, a native Nigerian, who taught himself to code in order to build the platform.

So far, they have bootstrapped the venture themselves and still work other day jobs -- she is a paralegal and Atansi is an electrical engineer. Government support has enabled them to employ a team of students that includes two software developers who are building an app as well as business development and marketing students.

They are looking for mentorship --- they’d love to find a mentor who has scaled a virtual marketplace – and investment. They have prepared a pitch deck for prospective investors and may tap into the federal government’s new funding program for black entrepreneurs.

Lynch points to the success of other online marketplaces, such as Etsy, a U.S.-based e-commerce site that allows independent artisans to sell their goods.

“In the food space, there is no one doing what we are doing right now, so we are a good opportunity for investors,” she said. “We have our data and figures to back it up.” 

Lynch said company revenues are stable, but marketing the meal boxes through social media is proving expensive.  Email marketing is allowing them to create excitement around new menus. They are thinking about putting more interviews with vendor chefs online and may develop podcasts linked to individual boxes and cuisines.

“Having meal boxes and hearing from the chef is an exciting part of the routine,” Lynch said.

“We used to run pop-up restaurants, where people could hear music, see the chef, and gain a multi-sensory experience -- that’s something you can’t recreate.”

After Halifax, their next expansion is planned for Ontario, ideally early next year.

There are other platforms that allow clients to order pre-cooked meals. Lynch said Sankara differs because it is a marketplace for diverse cultural items, and because its food boxes are “hyperlocal”, allowing clients to support chefs in their area and experience another part of the world through food.

“Essentially, we're driven by the mission of building more culturally empathetic communities,” she said.  

Appili Moves to TSX Main Board

After 15 months on TSX Venture, Appili's market cap has grown to $65.9 million.

Appili CFO Kimberly Stephens

Appili CFO Kimberly Stephens

Appili Therapeutics Inc.’s common shares will begin trading on the main board of the Toronto Stock Exchange on Wednesday, after spending 15 months on the TSX Venture exchange.

The Halifax-based company, which is working on bringing a portfolio of anti-infectious drugs to market, issued a statement Monday saying the change would take place at the start of trading Wednesday. By trading on the main TSX board, the company will have exposure to a broader group of investors, which should make it easier to raise capital.

Appili began trading on the TSX Venture exchange in June 2019, and has this year issued stock twice to raise a total of $27 million. On Monday, its shares closed at $1.05, giving them a one-year return of 133 percent and producing a market capitalization of $65.9 million.

 “Graduating to the premier exchange for Canadian equities is a validation of our efforts to expand awareness of Appili in the capital markets and the value of our pipeline portfolio,” said Appili CFO Kimberly Stephens in a statement. “This milestone enables access to another echelon of North American investors, and we look forward to continuing to drive value to our shareholders in our mission to develop therapies to help patients address serious unmet needs in infectious disease.”

On Friday, Appili said it is applying to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, to conduct a Phase 3 clinical study evaluating its drug candidate Favipiravir to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19 infections. The company expects to begin the trial process this autumn.

Favipiravir is a broad-spectrum antiviral that is already approved for use in Japan under the name Avigan. In 2014, Japanese health authorities told Fujifilm Toyama – Appili’s partner in the project – to stockpile it in case of a pandemic.

Region's Manufacturers Continue with PPE Projects

Chinese research dating back to February has also shown that Favipiravir has “antiviral properties against SARS-CoV-2,” the virus that causes COVID-19, in unborn babies. And in March, The Guardian reported that small-scale trials suggested the drug could decrease patients’ median recovery time from 11 days to four days.

“As the global incidence of COVID-19 cases continues to rise at alarming rates, and we learn more about the virus and patient demographics, it is clear that we will need multiple approaches to effectively quell this pandemic,” said Appili CEO Armand Balboni in Friday’s statement. “Appili has focused on the outpatient setting with the first orally available antiviral for the potential treatment of COVID-19 in adults with mild to moderate disease.”

Appili is part of a group of Nova Scotian life sciences companies increasing their presence in leading stock markets. Halifax-based Sona Nanotech, which trades on the alternative Canadian Securities Exchange, said in July it would apply for a listing on the NASDAQ stock exchange in New York.

Sona’s stock has had a wild year. Starting 2020 at 12 cents, the company announced in March it would apply its nano-technology to develop rapid diagnostic kits for diseases that include COVID-19. Its shares soared as high as $16.05 before settling, closing at $8.00 on Monday. Its current market capitalization is $440 million.

Sustainably Stocked Reduces Packaging

After starting in Halifax, the Co-Founders hope to expand to other cities.

Dessie Maliaka

Dessie Maliaka

Green e-commerce startup Sustainably Stocked is using its home city of Halifax to dial in its marketing and logistics strategies with the goal of later expanding to other Canadian cities.

Co-founders Dessie Maliaka and Adam Olsen sell kitchen staples like almonds, salt and sugar in reusable glass or compostable paper containers to reduce plastic waste.

Maliaka said in an interview that, growing up in South Africa, she saw firsthand the harmful effects of plastic pollution. Olsen, meanwhile, was shocked by the amount of plastic garbage he saw on beaches during a trip to East Asia. When the two began debating what type of business to start, their experiences inspired them to focus on plastic waste as a key area of concern.

“One of the things we noticed very early on in our discussions was how pervasive problems can be in first-world countries like Canada, where those issues aren’t really obvious to us... like plastic pollution,” Maliaka said. “We’re in a very beautiful part of the world, and we don’t get all the huge issues that come with the way we consume as a society... but it’s still a very big problem.”

The Stocked online store allows visitors to place food orders and have the products delivered to their doors. Eventually, the founders hope to merge the online ordering features of retailers like Amazon with the crowd-sourced delivery-driver model of Uber Eats and its competitors.

The food can be delivered either in reusable glass jars or in paper bags, depending on whether the customer already has storage containers.

“We’re really trying to enable people to lean into the ‘use and reuse’ model, rather than the ‘use and throw away’ model,” said Maliaka.

She added that she and Olsen are working on a strategy for protecting the paper bags in inclement weather, which may include drop-boxes on customers' properties.

But she said that delivery routes are carefully planned to avoid fuel wastage, and a side effect is that customers know when their orders will be delivered with a greater degree of precision than is the case with most e-commerce platforms. The result is that buyers can often take paper bags inside before they get wet or suffer other damage.

Maliaka said that because Stocked is in the early stages of growth, they don’t yet employ contractors to complete deliveries. But they recently hired their first employee, an experienced marketer who has also invested in the business.

As the company eventually expands into other cities, Maliaka and Olsen plan to hire site managers to adapt their business model for each new market, such as by developing local supply chains in each region.

“People are interested in pumping money back into their local communities,” said Maliaka. “We’re going to do the best we can to make sure that we’re keeping a consistent range of products as we start growing across Canada... and to our ability, source those locally from people in the provinces.”

Stocked previously competed in the finals of the 2020 Volta Cohort startup competition, but was not among the five startups that won $25,000 each.

Maliaka and Olsen are now eyeing participation in Toronto’s Next 36 virtual accelerator, which is targeted at students and recent graduates. Maliaka holds a 2018 MBA from the University of Toronto, and Olsen graduated from Saint Mary’s University with an undergraduate degree in commerce and marketing in 2016.

“The mindset that we’re trying to get everyone to believe is that they do have an effect,” said Maliaka. “And while you might not see the effects of how we live and how you consume on the earth, they are definitely there, so they’re definitely not something that we should be ignoring until it's almost too late to reverse the consequences.”

MacDonald Wins Mitacs Award

The President of Sedna Technologies is one of five winners of the Mitacs Entrepreneur Award.

Sheamus MacDonald

Sheamus MacDonald

Sheamus MacDonald’s work in protecting fish product supply chains and enhancing the sustainability of fish stocks has been recognized with a Mitacs Entrepreneur Award.

MacDonald, President and Co-Founder of Dartmouth-based Sedna Technologies, has been named Global Impact Entrepreneur by Mitacs, a non-profit that supports Canadian growth and innovation. MacDonald is one of five researchers-turned-entrepreneurs to be celebrated. 

Sedna’s technology focuses on lessening seafood waste, increasing revenue, and boosting sustainability by tracking and tracing the real-time condition of harvested fish as they move through supply chains.

MacDonald is the son of a Cape Breton fisherman, a background which fostered his commitment to sustainability.

“If you harvest a resource, the main thing is to make use of it. Cutting waste in supply chains is one way to do that,” said MacDonald in an interview.

Sedna started in 2017 when MacDonald and his technical Co-Founder Aleksandr Stabenow began focusing on the export of live lobster, a market that was growing exponentially. Since then, the focus has broadened to include other types of live seafood. 

In recent years, this has been an increasingly profitable sector. Seafood exports to China in particular have grown rapidly. Nova Scotia has been the top Canadian fish and seafood exporter to that country, with exports of $525 million in 2018, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, although the trade that has been decimated by the pandemic.

MacDonald said the pandemic's many impacts mean his team has adapted to training and supporting clients remotely. Nonetheless, Sedna's 2020 revenue is expected to be 50 to 100 percent higher than last year's, and the team of seven will soon be joined by a new software developer.

The company is expanding into new markets. Its main market is North America and it is seeking to expand in Australia and New Zealand, where it already operates, and in Europe, where it does not.

MacDonald said Sedna has various competitors but Sedna offers technology that is easy to use and allows clients to quickly identify where in a supply chain spoilage is occurring.

In February, the company received a $111,000 loan from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to help develop a water quality sensor.  Sedna has also received money from Innovacorp. In 2018, it was one of 15 ventures that split $590,000 in grants in Innovacorp’s Spark innovation Challenge. It also received $50,000 from Innovacorp’s Accelerate Program.

Recently, Sedna has been shortlisted by the Ocean Startup Project in its Ocean Startup Challenge, a contest that will provide 10 oceantech companies with $25,000 each as well as in-kind services.

The finalists will be named Sept. 28. The Ocean Startup Project is part of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster. one of five innovation superclusters supported by the Canadian government.

Volta Cohort Seeks Applicants

The pitching competition will award $25,000 each to as many as five tech startups.

The winners from the May 2020 Volta Cohort event.

The winners from the May 2020 Volta Cohort event.

Volta has opened applications for its next Volta Cohort program, a pitching competition in which Atlantic Canadian tech startups vie for prizes of $25,000 each.

The Halifax-based innovation hub holds the competition every six months, usually dividing $125,000 in prize money among five early-stage startups. The program – which is open to startups from across the region -- was designed to address the difficulty startups face in securing their initial round of financing.

“To continue developing a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem in Atlantic Canada, it is imperative that we increase opportunities for early stage, innovation-driven startups that have potential to scale,” said Volta CEO Martha Casey in a statement. “Volta Cohort supports these companies by streamlining their growth, so they can develop products that reach global markets, generate jobs that attract and retain talent and establish the region as an international destination for innovation.”

As many as five startups will receive $25,000 investments at the event on Nov. 25. The winners will also receive workspace in Volta or another innovation hub, as well as access to other resources. The investments are financed by Volta, Innovacorp, BDC Capital, and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Since launching in 2017, Volta Cohort has invested $600,000 into 24 companies.

The deadline for applying is Oct. 14 and you can find the application details here.

PSG Takes Control of Wagepoint

The payroll software provider announced a recapitalization worth more than $10 million.

The Wagepoint leadership team: Chief Architect Ryan Dineen, Chief Product Officer Leena Thampan, and CEO Shrad Rao.

The Wagepoint leadership team: Chief Architect Ryan Dineen, Chief Product Officer Leena Thampan, and CEO Shrad Rao.

Wagepoint, a payroll software company that traces its roots to Nova Scotia, is now majority-owned by funds affiliated with Providence Equity Partners following a recapitalization of more than $10 million.

Wagepoint issued a statement late Wednesday that funds advised by Boston-based Providence Strategic Growth, or PSG, the growth equity affiliate of Providence Equity Partners, have invested more than $10 million. The money will be used to fund the company’s next phase of growth. Betakit reported that the funding involved a majority recapitalization in which PSG bought out a number of Wagepoint investors, including one of its three co-founders, Bill Murphy.

The company began in 2012 with personnel in both Halifax and Amherst, N.S. CEO Shrad Rao is based in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor and before long the company became known for remote working as its whole staff worked from home or wherever they chose.  

“From the company's early days in Halifax to later being a graduate of Kitchener-Waterloo's Communitech Hyperdrive program, Wagepoint has roots throughout Canada and the United States and has operated as a fully remote company since its inception,” said the statement.

Now the company is controlled by the high-growth arm of Providence Equity Partners, one of the largest American private equity funds, with about US$49 billion under management.

Wagepoint provides payroll software to more than 12,000 small businesses in the U.S. and Canada. It aims to make it easier for small businesses to automate payroll, which is often one of the most cumbersome and intimidating back-office functions for SMEs.

"Small and medium-sized businesses continue to adopt cloud payroll technology at a rapid pace, and Wagepoint has developed a powerful, market-leading platform to serve this growing demand,” said PSG Managing Director Rick Essex in the statement. “Shrad and his team have done an exceptional job, focusing heavily on the user experience and developing a robust product that is extremely intuitive, affordable and easy-to-use.”

Added Rao: "We see this partnership with PSG as a big vote of confidence for Wagepoint and an incredible win for our customers — who we can now support and help thrive even more with the substantial growth capital investment from PSG.”

Betakit said Wagepoint’s two other co-founders, Rao and Chief Architect Ryan Dineen, retained their shares and will continue to lead the company.

Genesis Microfund Reaches Halfway Point

The 20-month-old fund has invested $360,000 in 18 startups, which have created 84 jobs.

St. John’s-based Genesis said this week that it has invested about half of the $775,000 microfund it established last year for members of its Enterprise program.

The Newfoundland and Labrador innovation hub launched the microfund in January, 2019, to provide a boost to startups entering the Enterprise program, which is for companies that are beginning to scale.

The microfund has now provided grants of $20,000 to each of 18 companies. These companies have created 84 jobs, secured $4.5 million in private investment and generated $5.1 million in revenues, said Genesis in a statement.

“The microfund has been a huge success,” said Genesis President and CEO Michelle Simms. “Our goal was to provide financial support to our clients who already demonstrate massive potential, but these results have far exceeded our expectations. They’ve proven that with a small infusion of capital early on, the potential for growth expands rapidly.”

The statement said one recipient was Granville Biomedical, which develops women’s health anatomical models to enhance healthcare training, advance patient education and innovate device demonstration.

“The Genesis Centre’s microfund has played a pivotal role in the growth of our company,” said Granville Co-Founder and CEO Biomedical Christine Goudie. “It afforded us opportunities to expand research endeavours, hire key talent and go to market sooner. We’re incredibly grateful for the early infusion of capital, along with the mentorship and support that the Genesis team provides.”

The fund has now distributed $360,000, or almost half of its funds.

“The remaining money will continue to be invested into new Enterprise clients until the entire fund has been expended,” said Genesis Marketing Communications Coordinator Annagray Campbell in an email. “The success of this three-year fund will determine its continuation. The results so far are incredibly promising.”

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, contributed $300,000 toward the initiative while the government of Newfoundland and Labrador put forward $125,000.

New Fund for Black Entrepreneurs

The federal government's announcement includes funding of nearly $221 million.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

A new national program that will provide loans, mentorship and other services to Black entrepreneurs has been launched by the federal government.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced funding of nearly $221 million. The federal government will provide almost $93 million over the next four years, and the rest of the funds will come fom eight Canadian financial institutions. 

“The pandemic has shone a light on the inequalities that disproportionately hurt Black Canadians, and has underscored the need to restart our economy in a way that allows all Canadians an equal chance to succeed,” said the Prime Minister in a statement.  

"That is why today – thanks in part to the leadership, advocacy, and expertise of Black business owners and Black-led organizations – we are announcing Canada’s first-ever Black Entrepreneurship Program," he said. "As we move forward, this program will help support Black entrepreneurs and create new opportunities for Black-owned businesses, so they are well-positioned for our economic recovery.”

The statement said the program will include:

  • Up to $53 million to develop and implement a new National Ecosystem Fund to support Black-led business organizations across the country. It will help Black business owners and entrepreneurs access funding and capital, mentorship, financial planning services, and business training.
  • Up to $33.3 million in support through the new Black Entrepreneurship Loan Fund that will provide loans of between $25,000 and $250,000 for Black business owners and entrepreneurs. The partnering financial institutions include RBC, BMO Financial Group, Scotiabank, CIBC, National Bank, TD, Vancity, and Alterna Savings.
  • Up to $6.5 million to create and sustain a new Black Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub that will collect data on the state of Black entrepreneurship in Canada and help identify Black entrepreneurs’ barriers to success as well as opportunities for growth. The Hub will be run by Black-led community and business organizations, in partnership with educational institutions.

ACOA Backs Nexus with $550K

The funding will help the company bring its weed-picking robot to market next year.

The Nexus execs with their robot.

The Nexus execs with their robot.

Halifax-based Nexus Robotics has received $550,000 in funding from the federal government to help it bring its weed-picking robot to the market next year.

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency announced the funding on Wednesday, saying it has helped the company hire an experienced CEO and carry out ongoing field tests.

“The Nexus Robotics team is very appreciative to receive funding from ACOA to support our second field trial as well as hire a CEO with decades of business experience,” said Chief Operating Officer Teric Greenan in a statement. “This funding will accelerate growth of the company and allow farmers to see the benefits of this technology sooner.”

Founded in May 2017, Nexus Robotics set out to address a problem common to all vegetable farmers – the difficulty in removing weeds without damaging crops. In total, weeding costs North American farmers about $1.5 billion each year, said ACOA.

Traditionally, this task has been carried out by farm labour, but the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the challenges of bringing field personnel to farms during crises.

The Nexus product – which is called R2-Weed2 – uses artificial intelligence to distinguish between weeds and crops and remove the offending weeds efficiently.

The company has developed an autonomous robot capable of weeding farmers’ fields 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It eliminates the need to use harmful pesticides or migrant labour to get rid of unwanted plants. This helps to improve efficiency, saves money and decreases the farm's environmental footprint.

In an interview, Greenan said developing a working robot “has taken a long time because it’s a complex problem. It’s taken a while to get to the point where it’s actually functional and can remove the weeds without damaging the crops.”

The company about two years ago raised an initial round of funding that included a $75,000 investment from Montreal-based EcoFuel, and about $100,000 from Innovacorp. As the team worked on a second round, EcoFuel encouraged it to bring on a CEO with more experience in running companies.

In February, Nexus hired as its new Chief Executive Luc Labbé, who has held the top executive position in several companies in the agri-food space. ACOA is providing a grant of $50,000 to help with the hiring of Labbé.

The main $500,000 portion of the financing is a loan to help finance field tests. Next week, Nexus will begin field tests with Sherrington, Quebec-based VegPro International, the largest vegetable producer in Canada.

Next week, the team (which now amounts to 10 employees) will hold a demonstration for Nova Scotian farmers as it hopes to bring on customers in its home province.

Greenan – who declined to provide specifics of the coming funding round – said Nexus is working with Inertia Engineering of Toronto to manufacture the robots.

“They’re designing hardware for the robot that is really robust, more robust than what we have now, and that will allow us to focus on the software, which is the core of what we do.”

 

Disclosure: ACOA is a client of Entrevestor.

Continuing with PPE Supply Chains

Five months after COVID-19 hit, the regional partnership is still collaborating.

Enginuity's Alastair Trower displays the team's latest design for a reusable medical gown.

Enginuity's Alastair Trower displays the team's latest design for a reusable medical gown.

Five months after COVID-19 sparked a medical manufacturing collaboration between companies, government and academia, Enginuity’s Alastair Trower sees an opportunity for Canada to permanently strengthen its medical supply chains.

In March, as governments began struggling to source face masks, medical gowns and other supplies, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency organized a phone call with local industry leaders, during which it urged the creation of a coalition to manufacture badly needed medical supplies.

Halifax engineering firm Enginuity went on to become a pillar of the effort, helping to coordinate between members of what business development head Trower calls the “skunkworks team” – a reference to Lockheed Martin’s storied fighter jet division. Early in the pandemic, the team was meeting daily; now, it meets once a week.

“There is still very active interest in making sure we learn from the mistakes of the pre-pandemic supply chains,” said Trower in an interview. “Are there ways of shortening supply chains? Are there ways of guaranteeing supply? What are the local manufacturing options for PPE and is there a desire to step that up?”

A bevvy of medical products are still being manufactured by the skunkworks companies, including masks, face shields and hand sanitizer. But Trower said their future depends on how Canada chooses to rebuild its supply chains in a post-COVID world.

At the onset of the pandemic, medical supply chains were heavily globalized and relied on a just-in-time production model that often treated stockpiles as logistical headaches and sources of economic inefficiency.

BioNova Names BIC Semi-Finalists

The global spike in demand for personal protective equipment in the spring, along with coronavirus-related manufacturing disruptions, meant that primary supply chains could not deliver goods in the quantities that Canada needed. “Tier 2” backup supply chains likewise started to buckle under the pressure of COVID-19.

“I think everybody got pretty shocked when things started to choke,” said Trower. “When a Tier 1 supply chain can’t produce, and you start going to Tier 2 suppliers and they’re struggling, and then you start seeing raw materials drying up ... everybody got a little bit concerned.”

The skunkworks group was Atlantic Canada’s solution. Trower said the shorter supply chains offered by local manufacturers offer a path to building lasting resilience against future disruptions.

He added that he foresees the group continuing its activities for as long as there is demand for their products.

“I think if the buying behavior stays the same as it was pre-pandemic, most of it will probably fizzle out,” he said. “Where there is an opportunity to change behavior, is for example, can we use this as an opportunity to move away from disposable to reusable? Can we make that reusable product domestically at a competitive price? If the answers to both those questions are yes, I think we’ll see permanent behavior change and in-country manufacturing.”

One of the skunkworks members is currently preparing to launch a reusable medical gown good for about 75 uses, compared to conventional, disposable gowns that can cost as much as seven or eight dollars apiece. The new gown’s high-tech fabric is designed and manufactured at a mill in Moncton.

Regulatory hurdles have delayed the approval process, but Trower said the unnamed manufacturer hopes to bring the gowns to market by the end of September.

“The learning for this, from my perspective, has been the incredible amount of collaboration that’s gone on,” he said. “The amount of work that’s gone on behind the scenes to make sure that, particularly the Nova Scotia Health Authority, have gotten the support they need from industry -- that’s been very inspiring.”

Tell Us About New Programs in 2020

We're drawing up a list of new programs for innovation-driven enterprises.

As part of our 2020 Ecosystem Roadmap, we’re drawing up a list of new programs in the Atlantic Canadian Ecosystem, and would love to learn about any we've missed.

These could be accelerators, funding programs or other initiatives to support startups or scaleups in the region. They must be designed for innovation-driven enterprises that are targeting a global market.

This is an odd year because of the pandemic, and many organizations implemented short-term measures to help companies survive the closing of the economy. We’re NOT interested in those programs. We’re interested in listing the long-term programs that are designed to carry on into the new year, and possibly beyond.

In essence, we’re trying to assess how the ecosystem has continued to evolve in the past year.

We will add new programs to our online Ecosystem Roadmap – the only one-stop resource that lists all the supports available to entrepreneurs across the region. And we will produce an article on Entrevestor.com listing the new programs available to founders.

These are the new programs and organizations we’re aware of so far:

  • Health Challenge Pitch Event
  • Lab2Market
  • MarketSwell Solutions
  • Nova Scotia Innovation Hub
  • Ocean Startup Project
  • Ready2Launch

I’m sure we’ve missed some. If your organization has a new program, or if your organization has launched in the last year, please let us know. Please email us at peter@entrevestor.com with the words “New Program” in the subject line.

We can't guarantee we'll list every program, but we want to make sure we have all the major initiatives that help entrepreneurs launch and grow their companies. 

Our Data Report is Out Sept. 24

The presentation will be live at Volta or live-streamed via Zoom

Entrevestor will launch its 2019 Atlantic Canada Startup Data report on Sept. 24 with a lunch-and-learn session at Volta, which will also be available through Zoom.

Entrevestor’s data has become the benchmark for the Atlantic Canadian startup community in recent years. Each year, we tally up the total number of startups, and assess their employees, funding and revenue, providing a vivid picture of how the community has evolved.  

The highlights of the East Coast startup community in 2019 were spectacular and included: Verafin's record $515-million funding round; strong hiring and revenue growth; and more new companies than ever. But there was also an unsettling development in funding that has carried on into 2020. We'll detail all the trends in our latest startup data presentation.

We’re delighted to be working with Volta on the launch, which will begin at noon. A limited number of seats are available to attend the event at Volta, in the Maritime Centre in downtown Halifax.

Those attending in person are required to complete a Covid-19 screening form prior to arrival. This will be sent out at 10:00am on the day of the event.

People attending the event in person or virtually via Zoom can register here.

Ocean Sonics Opens Pacific Office

The new venture will facilitate sub-ocean listening and monitoring on the West Coast.

Ocean Sonics Equipment in Use

Ocean Sonics Equipment in Use

Truro-based Ocean Sonics, a maker of equipment that listens to and monitors the oceans, has launched a west coast operation called Ocean Sonics Pacific.

In a statement, the company said the new venture will facilitate real-time listening on Canada’s West Coast. The work will be headed by Ken Brough, a veteran of Vancouver’s tech sector.

The company makes the icListen Smart Hydrophone. which it describes as the world’s first completely digital, real-time underwater listening device.

In 2011, the first of its hydrophones were installed on Ocean Networks Canada’s VENUS Observatory. VENUS stands for Victoria Experimental Network Under the Sea and is a cabled sea floor observatory.

Ocean Sonics now works with clients working in diverse sectors, including marine mammal and environmental research, regulatory compliance and vessel noise mitigation.

“We want to be present to support existing and new users of icListen products,” Ocean Sonics CEO and President Mark Wood said in the statement. “Together with our users, we are advancing the interests of ocean science, stewardship and ethical ocean industry.  

“Our goal is to make sound data more accessible,” he added. “We do that by building excellent tools and supporting those exploring and preserving our oceans through acoustics.”

Last year, the company moved to a new custom-made headquarters in Truro Heights.   

At the time, the company was looking to expand beyond its main markets of Asia, Europe and North America into South America and Australia.

The monitoring and measuring of underwater sounds is a new and growing market with an increasing range of applications, the company said in 2019.

The company said it is one of the providers for a Department of Fisheries and Oceans network of hydrophones established in the Vancouver Harbour area to gauge the reaction of marine mammals to loud noises, such as construction noise and sounds made by shipping traffic.

The company is a certified B Corp (a for-profit company pledged to provide positive impacts for its employees, communities and the planet).

Milk Moovement in Techstars

The agtech company has joined Farm to Fork, the third U.S. accelerator it's joined this year.

Milk Moovement CEO Robert Forsythe, left, and COO Jon King

Milk Moovement CEO Robert Forsythe, left, and COO Jon King

Milk Moovement, which helps the dairy industry track milk shipments, is one of 11 companies (and the only Canadian startup) in the 2020 cohort of Techstars' main food tech accelerator.

The international accelerator group announced Tuesday that Milk Moovement has been accepted into the Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator, which will run until its Demo Day in December.

“Looks like the cow is out of the bag!” said Milk Moovement in a LinkedIn post on Tuesday. “We are so excited to be the latest members of the Techstars family.”

With its base in St. John’s and Halifax, Milk Moovement recently opened a U.S. office in Minneapolis to capitalize on the lucrative Midwestern dairy industry.

The company’s technology allows participants in the milk supply chain to track and assess raw milk. Its cloud-based reporting system gives farmers, dairy boards, cooperatives and other industry players real-time production data, logistics tracking services and an automated invoice generation feature.

Techstars is the third American accelerator that Milk Moovement has attended this year. In March, it was accepted into the Food-X program in New York City, having already joined the Thrive accelerator in Silicon Valley.

Curv, Eyeread Join Google for Startups

“When it comes to venture capital and accelerators, Techstars is as good as it gets,” said CEO Robert Forsythe in an email. “We realized about a year ago that the Farm to Fork program and its team [were] perfectly aligned with Milk Moovement's mission and values.”

Farm to Fork said in a press release that its organizers were prepared to travel to Tokyo, Tel Aviv, Boston, and Chicago early in the year to meet founders, then the pandemic shut down all travel. They had to change those plans, but none the less produced a cohort with members from six countries.

The shutdown also identified shortfalls in the food supply chain, which has heightened the need for new innovations.

“The food system has changed more in the last six months than it has over the entirety of the five years I have been investing in the space,” said Farm to Fork Managing Director Brett Brohl in the statement. “Alongside our partners at Cargill and Ecolab, we are excited about the opportunities in front of this year’s class.”

The Spoon, a food technology publication, said that all Techstars Food to Fork participants receive US$20,000 in funding on joining the program, and have access to the organization’s resources for life.

“Over 80 percent of Techstars startups have either been acquired or are still in business today,” said Forsythe. “This is due to the incredible global network of entrepreneurs and corporate partners they've built.”

Ocean Startup Challenge Shortlist

After receiving 156 entries, the Ocean Startup Project narrows its list to 31 companies.

The Ocean Startup Challenge, which aims to provide 10 oceantech companies with $25,000 each plus in-kind services, has produced a shortlist of 31 companies from across Canada and the U.S.

The competition was launched by the Ocean Startup Project, part of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, in June to encourage the development of more early-stage companies developing nautical technology. The shortlisted companies -- chosen from 158 applications -- will now attend bootcamps, to be followed by pitching sessions in two weeks. The finalists will be named Sept. 28.

The Ocean Supercluster – one of five innovation superclusters supported by the Canadian government – initiated the challenge with the goal of developing more oceantech startups, especially in Atlantic Canada. Several proponents of the region’s ocean sector have said their community faces “pipeline challenges”, meaning not enough new oceantech companies are launching.

“Applicants accepted our challenge by proposing creative solutions to solve industry hurdles, with more than a third of the shortlisted companies having ocean technologies in the earliest stages of development,” said Ocean Startup Project Executive Director Don Grant in a statement. “Another 19 shortlisted companies applied with working prototypes.”

Two-thirds of the shortlisted companies are from Atlantic Canada, while six are from other parts of Canada and three are from the U.S.

The companies’ applications range from environmental monitoring, to reducing marine mammal entanglement in fishing gear, to reducing corrosion and biofouling. Most of the companies aim to provide solutions for fisheries and aquaculture.

“We were pleased by the breadth of applications, and the overall response from coast to coast to coast within Canada, and from around the world,” said Grant. “The quality and influx of applications reinforce the momentum and opportunities in this country’s ocean sector.”

The following is a list of the shortlisted companies (which are described in more detail here):

Health Challenge II: Mental Health

Martha Casey, CEO of Volta

Martha Casey, CEO of Volta

Regional health and life sciences companies are invited to present their solutions for improving the mental health and wellness of Nova Scotians during the second Health Challenge Pitch Event.

Participants will compete for a $100,000 prize and an opportunity to launch their product in collaboration with Nova Scotia Health.

This is the second Health Challenge Pitch Event and is presented by innovation hub Volta, with support from Nova Scotia Health, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, QEII Foundation and BioNova.

“A collective focus on mental health is incredibly important. This is particularly relevant today given the many challenges associated with the ongoing pandemic,” Martha Casey, CEO of Volta, said in a statement. 

This is the second of five pitch events in the Health Challenge series that aims to enhance the healthcare system in the province. Each event focuses on a different health care priority, as identified by Nova Scotia Health.

Health and life sciences companies interested in applying must be based in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador.

The winner of each pitch competition will receive $100,000 and their innovative medical technology will be launched as a proof of concept within Nova Scotia Health and consideration given for scaled deployment.

This Health Challenge Pitch event will take place virtually via video conference on Oct. 2 starting at 12 p.m., with up to five short-listed companies presenting their medical technologies.

Participants will have 10 minutes to present their solutions and the judging panel, composed of industry experts and leaders, will have five minutes to ask questions.

Applications will be accepted via email until Sept. 15. Details about the application process can be found here.

Members of the public are invited to attend the virtual Pitch Competition on October 2, and can register for the event here.


 

Jobs: 3 Openings In Halifax Area

Our first Jobs of the Week column of the autumn showcases openings at three Halifax-area companies: a Senior Program Manager at Innovasea, a Product Marketing Associate at Dash Hudson and a Senior Software Engineer at Adaptiiv Medical Technologies.

Dash Hudson is a visual marketing Software-as-a-Service company that helps its clients increase engagement on their social media. Its software, called Vision, is a one-stop spot for clients to manage, source and engage with the traffic of their photos and videos.

Adaptiiv, which raised $3.4 million in equity financing earlier this year, has developed a system that 3D prints a bolus – a piece of plastic that is placed over the cancerous area in a patient undergoing radiation therapy. The radiation hits the bolus, builds up and is transferred into the tumour.

Innovasea designs technologically advanced aquatic solutions for fish tracking and fish farming, and builds them to withstand the toughest conditions. The company is initiating a major project aimed at developing and marketing the company’s next generation fish-tracking technology.

The Jobs of the Week column features openings posted on the Entrevestor Job Board, which focuses on jobs in technology, innovation and startups in Atlantic Canada. The Entrevestor Job Board helps match job openings and candidates in the tech and startup communities and is operated by Entrevestor and Alongside.

Here are excerpts from this week’s postings:

Halifax

Dash Hudson

Product Marketing Associate

Dash Hudson works with the world's most important companies to share photos and videos that people care about. Our marketing platform provides brands with a one-stop solution to get deep insights on their performance, create and discover content, predict performance, distribute to owned, influencer, and paid channels, measure and monetize.

Your Role

As the Product Marketing Associate, you will report to the Product Marketing Manager and work closely with our incredible development, sales, customer success, and marketing teams to assist with the successful launch, positioning, and differentiation of our existing and new solutions.

Responsibilities

Product Launches

Assist with the creation and development of internal documentation for the training and execution of all new products and new upgrades to existing products/applications. Track product goals, customer replies, and assemble customer feedback via Gong and Slack.

Competitive Analysis

Maintain research on new and existing competitors for internal competitive assessment. Working with the Product Marketing Manager, contribute to the analysis and the education of Dash Hudson internal teams on the competitive landscape.

Team Support

Gather and record quarterly churn data. Assist with the creation of sales and customer success tools: decks, web content, case studies, feature documentation, team training, and others.

Thought Leadership

Article writing and blogging too establish Dash Hudson's position as a leader on key industry topics.

Qualifications

Experience in digital marketing, product development, and market research.

Excellent written communication with attention to consistency and detail.

Ability to understand and operate in a fluid environment with ever-changing market dynamics and a fast-moving product roadmap.

Ability to manage competing priorities and work against tight timelines.

Ability to communicate clearly and build relationships with internal teams..

Proven experience supporting diverse teams.

1-3 years experience in a relevant marketing, business development, or sales role.

Knowledge of the marketing software market. . . .

Read the full job posting here.

Adaptiiv Medical Technologies

Senior Software Engineer

An Adaptiiv senior software engineer will be expected to function autonomously with a minimum amount of management. You will be expected to give constant, unfiltered feedback on software design and architecture to the team. You will be expected to manage your own tasks and workload while working closely with the Lead Software Engineer to ensure delivery dates and obligations are met.

Responsibilities

A desirable candidate should be able to:

Demonstrate excellent communication skills, and in a timely manner.

Compose reusable, efficient and programmer-friendly code which conforms to the previously mentioned standards.

Complete assigned engineering tasks (planning, spiking, implementation, etc.) in an efficient and timely manner.

Grow and develop aptitudes with multiple languages including Python, C++, MeVisLab, web-based technologies, etc.

Demonstrate an ability to meet deadlines and exceed expectations of quality with respect to robust implementation of code.

Have the desire to expand your knowledge and understanding across disciplines including quality management, front-end and back-end development.

Demonstrate close attention to detail and have strong powers of observation.

Work effectively either closely with a team or by yourself, managed or unmanaged to accomplish a common goal.

Qualifications

Required Experience

Experience with C++, Python, and Javascript.

An understanding of 3D object rendering and manipulation, in both polygon and voxel representations.

A firm grasp of linear algebra

The ability to work efficiently within a command-line or terminal environment.

An understanding of software development standards, architecture, and best-practices.

Educational Requirements

Minimum 4-year Computer Science or Engineering undergraduate degree, or demonstration of equivalent experience. . . .

Read the full job posting here.

Bedford, NS

Innovasea

Senior Program Manager

Reporting to the CEO, the Senior Program Manager will help successfully bring this important project through the finish line. Drawing on expertise from Innovasea’s elite team of engineers, computer scientists, biologists, technologists and product managers, the successful candidate will plan and manage the project work, manage risk, report status and progress to Innovasea’s executive team, and manage communications with key project stakeholders including various government bodies as well as Innovasea’s scientific and industry partners.

Qualifications

As the ideal candidate, you are a season leader and possess a minimum of 10 years of experience managing multi-million-dollar multi-partner programs in a high-tech industry (preferably in the ocean technology industry). The successful candidate must be driven to make a difference by playing a key role in the development of technology and products that make a positive impact on the world’s oceans. Strong stakeholder management skills and experience, along with exceptional interpersonal and organizational skills will be key to success in this role. Ability to inspire and lead a team of highly qualified people by influence and by example is essential. An effective communicator, you possess strong business acumen and are highly analytical by nature. PMP certification or equivalent is required. An engineering degree or equivalent experience working in a technical environment will be considered an asset. Knowledge of fish tracking technology, fish biology, marine environmental science and/or ocean technology will be preferred. . . .

Read the full job posting here.

ONSIDE Brings NS Global Network

The REAP Team: Bill Aulet, Fiona Murray, Scott Stern, Shari Loessberg, Phill Budden

The REAP Team: Bill Aulet, Fiona Murray, Scott Stern, Shari Loessberg, Phill Budden

Sponsored Content

One of the unheralded benefits of Nova Scotia participating in the Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program was the vast international network it provided. And ONSIDE, the organization that grew out of the REAP experience, continues to capitalize on that web of international relationships. 

The network allows ONSIDE to interact with support organizations around the world, and improve the connectivity of Atlantic Canada’s innovation community. It also helps Nova Scotian leaders to understand the gaps in the Atlantic Canadian ecosystem because they can compare it with what’s going on in other parts of the world. That highlights what Atlantic Canada does well and what gaps exist here, and such assessments are part of an ongoing process. 

“You become part of a broader community and now you have a huge network and can use their experiences to look at your own ecosystem,” said ONSIDE Chair Chère Chapman in an interview.

The ONSIDE story began in 2016, when a team comprising all components of the Nova Scotia startup community attended the fourth cohort of REAP, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s program for regional ecosystems. The Nova Scotia team entered a cohort that included Dubai, Iceland, Lima, Lagos and Madrid.

After the conclusion of the cohort in 2018, the participants decided to form ONSIDE – which stands for Organization for Nova Scotia Innovation-Driven Entrepreneurship – to carry on the work of the REAP team. One component of that mission is to perpetuate relationships with similar groups around the world.

“As we grew, we were wondering how to leverage the relationship we developed with MIT,” said ONSIDE Executive Director Alexandra McCann in an interview. “It gives us access to a global network of other regions and teams who are also doing the same thing as we were. And we wanted to capitalize on [these relationships.]”

There are several facets to the international relations, and it makes sense to start by looking at ONSIDE’s dealings with MIT itself. McCann said Nova Scotia’s REAP team took advantage of its time in the program to understand the ecosystem in the greater Boston area and how it could benefit Nova Scotia. That meant working closely with several organizations in Cambridge, Mass., where MIT is based. These included the Canadian Entrepreneurs of New England, or CENE, a group of Canadian expats who help Canadian startups hoping to target customers in the area. 

(The facility that the team worked out of was near the offices of Scale Up Hub: Cambridge, the program developed by Nova Scotia Business Inc. to help scaling companies gain a customer base in the New England market.) 

Some of the MIT REAP faculty have visited Nova Scotia to learn more about the ecosystem in this region and offer advice. Bill Aulet, Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, has worked with a cohort of the Creative Destruction Lab-Atlantic during his visit to Halifax. And Phil Budden, Senior Lecturer in Technological Innovation, has twice addressed senior government officials on innovation. As we all think about recovery post-COVID-19, ONSIDE continues to engage MIT for insight into best practices that could help the province.

The exposure to thought leadership that came with the REAP experience has helped shape ONSIDE’s mission. For example, the team was subjected to studies by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Brookings Institution, that emphasized the importance of “place-making and connectedness”. McCann said this encouraged ONSIDE to work closely with Nova Scotia’s innovation districts, including the Rural Innovation District, because research has shown that it is important for rural communities to have access to innovation hubs as a means of supporting growth through entrepreneurship.  

Then there are connections with the other ecosystems that have gone through the REAP program. With only a population of 960,000 people, Nova Scotia is one of the smaller jurisdictions to have attended REAP. But the province has a strong innovation capacity because of its rich trove of academic institutions. ONSIDE has been able to engage with other REAP participants from around the world. The group has also nurtured relationships with many ecosystems, including Oslo, Israel, Guangzhou, and Melbourne and Queensland in Australia 

ONSIDE has been learning from the experiences of other jurisdictions. For example, one group has been doing well at developing innovation-driven companies, but the growth of the ecosystem has been held back because the institutions are not communicating with one another. It illustrated the importance of communication and connectivity.  

The ONSIDE team hopes that leaders from other ecosystems have also learned by examining what has been happening in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada, and by following the success of our startup community. 

Said McCann: “MIT has sort of put Nova Scotia on the map and now all these jurisdictions around the world are contacting us to find out what we’re doing.”

 

Editor's Note: This is the final article in a series on the origin, philosophy and work of ONSIDE. You can find the first two articles here:

ONSIDE Formed To Carry On the Work of MIT REAP

How Collective Impact Shapes ONSIDE's Mission

About ONSIDE

ONSIDE is a newly established backbone not-for-profit organization that is focused on working collaboratively with stakeholders and partners to galvanize a prosperous Nova Scotia through inclusive Innovation-Driven Entrepreneurship (IDE). It was born out of a two-year engagement, championed by Dalhousie University, with MIT REAP (Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program).

Our Annual Summer Holiday

We just want to let everyone know we're taking our annual late-summer holiday this week.

Usually we take off the last week of August, but with Labour Day coming so late this year we delayed it by a few days. We'll be back with fresh news on Atlantic Canadian startups on Sept. 8.

We'll also be releasing our annual data report in September, so there is lots to look forward to.

Meanwhile, we'll be at the beach with a good book. Happy Labour Day, everyone. 

BioNova Names BIC Semifinalists

Life sciences industry association BioNova has announced the semifinalists for its 10th annual BioInnovation Challenge pitch competition.

On Nov. 3, the eight companies will deliver virtual pitches as part of the BioPort 2020 virtual biotech  conference. The winner will receive a $25,000 grant and $30,000 worth of in-kind services.

The semi-finalists will also receive business training and pitch coaching from New England biotech startup coach Linda Plano, who is a former member of the board of directors for the MIT Enterprise Forum.

BioNova Executive Director Scott Moffitt said in an interview that there has been a gradual increase in the quality of BioInnovation competitors over the past decade.

“If you take two companies that are at the exact same stage 10 years ago versus today, today’s company is a little more sophisticated,” he said. “And I think that’s a clear sign that the overall capabilities and business acumen are increasing.”

About 50 companies have participated in the BioInnovation Challenge since its inception. The 2011 winner ABK BioMedical raised a US$30 million funding round last year.

The eight semifinalists are:

3D BioFibR

Nova Scotia

This company is developing technology to make collagen-based “scaffoldings” for tissue cultures. Because the material can be imbued with antimicrobial chemicals, it can be used in bandages to help wounds heal faster.

AffinityImmuno

Charlottetown

AffinityImmuno has developed a SARS-CoV-2 antibody test that can be used to measure patients’ responses to possible vaccines, track the spread of the virus in the population and monitor how long immunity lasts in recovered patients. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19.

Clever Fruit Products

Halifax

Clever Fruit is working on a fermentation process to make fruit nutrients more easily absorbed by the human body. It hopes to use the technology to create a blueberry product that will lower consumers’ cholesterol.

eNable Analytics

New Brunswick

Enable is using machine learning to adapt mobility aids such as canes and walkers into devices for monitoring users’ movements. An artificial intelligence system will use the tracking data to garner insights about patients’ health.

Greenlight Analytical

Halifax

Greenlight is developing a modified mass spectrometer -- a machine that analyzes the chemical composition of substances and lists their contents -- that will measure the quality of cannabis crops without the need for slow and costly lab testing. Unlike conventional mass spectrometers, Greenlight’s device is meant to be operated by users without specialized scientific training.

Parados Cerebral Solutions

Fredericton

Parados is developing a mouth guard with sensors that will allow athletes to know whether they have sustained a head injury that is likely to lead to a concussion. Eventually, an artificial intelligence system will be able to offer insights into the cumulative effects athletes face when they suffer repeated brain injuries.

Swiftsure Innovations

Pasadena, Newfoundland and Labrador

Swiftsure is developing a device to facilitate the moisturization and cleaning of ventilator patients’ mouths and noses by flushing them with fluid. The process is meant to limit the creation of aerosols, which can sometimes spread disease.

Symbi Medical

Halifax

Symbi’s software allows medical professionals to monitor and communicate with patients remotely and automate some types of follow-up care. The platform is targeted primarily at patients suffering from digestive problems.

Deadlines Nearing for 4 NS Competitions

Deadlines are approaching for four startup programs for Nova Scotian entrepreneurs, all of which offer access to five-figure grants: GreenShoots, Sprint,the Accelerate Program and Spark Nova Scotia.

GreenShoots is the product of a collaboration between Innovacorp, the Nova Scotia government's early-stage venture capital agency, andh Ontario-based Bioenterprise Corporation.  It will allow agriculture, biotech and cleantech companies to compete for up to $40,000 apiece.

Applicants to GreenShoots must submit a written pitch by Sept. 1. Shortlisted entrepreneurs will then pitch to a panel of judges via Zoom on Sept. 22. The event will be closed to the public.

The Sprint competition, also offered by Innovacorp, will award $25,000 grants to four or five startups, with the goal of helping winners reach technological or business milestones on a short time horizon.

The program includes two streams: Phase 1 for companies that have not received Sprint funding before and Phase 2 for companies that have been awarded prior Sprint grants. Companies can win Sprint funding up to three times. The application deadline is Sept. 8.

Accelerate, a third Innovacorp program, will award eight startups $50,000 grants and access to a six-month business training program featuring expert coaching, monthly workshops, office space and market intelligence services.

Like Sprint, the deadline to apply is Sept. 8. Shortlisted companies will pitch to judges on Sept. 24 and 25 and winners will be notified on Sept. 28.

Spark is a competition for Nova Scotian entrepreneurs based outside metro Halifax, and it's organized by Nava Develop with the backing of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. 

The Spark competition is divided into three zones – South West, North, and Cape Breton – to cover all parts of the province outside the capital. A total of $125,000 in cash will be awarded in each zone, with no company receiving more than $50,000. That means there will be at least three winners in each zone. The deadline to enter is Sept. 8. 

Anyone interested in these programs can find more information and application details at the links above. 

Hatch, UNB Offer Accelerator

Fredericton entrepreneurship hub Planet Hatch has announced a partnership with the University of New Brunswick’s Faculty of Management to increase the resources available to participants in its Startup Accelerator.

First launched in 2019, the Startup Accelerator has graduated seven companies from two cohorts. The program lasts 11 weeks and its curriculum includes market research, branding, financial modelling and other topics.

Planet Hatch said in a statement that COVID-19 has made startups’ need for support more pressing. The Startup Accelerator is meant to address that demand.

“Great change often opens up great opportunities,” said Planet Hatch Director Adam Peabody in a statement.

Cohort companies will be able to access up to $25,000 of funding for commercialization and business development activities. Planet Hatch’s statement did not specify whether that money is from its Impact Loan program, Seed Grant Fund or another source.

Each participating company will also have access to advice from one of UNB’s MBA candidates, as well as classes taught by Faculty of Management Assistant Professor David Foord.

The deadline to apply for the next Startup Accelerator cohort is August 28. Companies must have a minimal viable product and a clearly defined team and ownership model. Apply here.

Region’s VC Down in 1H20, Says CVCA

The main monitor of venture capital investment in Canada is showing a decline in VC deals in Atlantic Canada in the first half of 2020, though there are signs the news on funding is not all bad.

The Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association, or CVCA, on Wednesday released its first-half data report, which said Atlantic Canadian companies closed 19 VC rounds worth $41 million in the first six months. Those numbers mark a decline from 26 deals worth $64 million in the first half of 2019.

However, there may be some under-the-radar deals that went unreported to the CVCA. Also, the association’s focus on venture capital and private equity omits stock market transactions, meaning its data set doesn’t include the publicly listed life sciences companies that have raised $52 million this year. Dartmouth-based immunotechnology company IMV raised $25 million in May and Appili Therapeutics, which develops cures for infectious diseases, has twice raised capital this year for a total of $27 million.

The CVCA data for the first two quarters breaks down as follows:

Province Q1   Q2   1H  
  Deals Value Deals Value Deals Value
NS 4 2 2 25 6 27
NB 6 2 1 3 7 5
NL 4 2 1 1 5 3
PEI 0 0 1 6 1 6
Total 14 6 5 35 19 41

 

It appears that the biggest VC deal in the region so far this year was Halifax-based Proposify’s round in June, which its founders described as “substantial”, though they declined to reveal the value. The round was led by new investor Canadian Business Growth Fund of Toronto, while returning investor Innovacorp of Halifax also participated.

Innovacorp Managing Director Andrew Ray said Wednesday some funding rounds by its portfolio companies may have gone unreported. In the second quarter alone, it was involved in four funding rounds of more than $100,000 each and seven deals of no more than $100,000 each. In the first quarter, Innovacorp closed seven deals, each worth $100,000 or less.

The most notable deal in New Brunswick so far this year was the $2.5 million raised by Fredericton-based Potential Motors, from Build Ventures and New Brunswick Innovation Foundation. 

There may still be smaller deals to be reported, and for some reason most of the big VC deals seem to close later in the year. So Atlantic Canadian innovation-driven companies, including those listed on stock exchanges, should be able to break the $100 million mark in funding this year.

In 2019, the region’s innovators raised more than $680 million in funding (including stock market transactions), led by the record $515 million equity and debt deal by St. John’s-based Verafin.

The CVCA said in its statement Wednesday that Canadian startups raised $1.7 billion in 145 deals in the second quarter, which is 23 percent higher than the same quarter in 2019 and more than double the funding for the first three months of 2020. About 70 percent of the money raised in the second quarter came from deals worth $20 million or more.

“VC investment activity in Q2 was driven by government stimulus coupled with a slight adjustment in valuation,” said CVCA Chief Executive Kim Furlong.​“We saw fewer deals, larger injections in portfolio holdings and VCs reviewing and re-evaluating deal flow that they may have passed on last year. The key is that VCs are continuing to invest.”

CyberNB in Youth Job Program

New Brunswick’s cybersecurity hub, CyberNB, has been named the Digital Skills for Youth (DS4Y) Delivery Organization for the province in a program that connects eligible youth with industry partners to provide 50 internships.

The federal program connects underemployed or unemployed university and college graduates aged under 30 with small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and non-profits.  Organizations that hire an intern will receive up to $30,000 in funding from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.

“There has never been a more exciting time to begin a career in cybersecurity or the wider digital economy,” CyberNB CEO Tyson Johnson said in a statement.  “We know that completing your education is only the first step and that for many New Brunswick youth finding and securing job opportunities can be difficult.”

The internships are meant to prepare youth for tomorrow’s workplace, including in emerging areas where jobs may not yet exist, such as those related to cybersecurity, the automation of knowledge tasks, big data and artificial intelligence.

“This year has exposed entirely new barriers to finding employment,” said Jenn Peck, CyberNB’s Digital Workforce Strategist and DS4Y Program Lead. “The knowledge-based sector is in need of talent and DS4Y can certainly help fill that gap.”

The DS4Y initiative stems from the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy (YESS), which aims to provide more flexible employment services and enhanced support to young Canadians.

A non-profit, CyberNB works to boost the country’s cybersecurity sector. It recently launched a membership program, CIPnet, which it describes as Canada’s most extensive network of cybersecurity stakeholders for critical infrastructure protection.

Avalon Releases Holographic Prototype

Avalon Holographics' 29-inch prototype display.

Avalon Holographics' 29-inch prototype display.

St. John’s-based Avalon Holographics has released its first-generation prototype display – a 29-inch development system that represents a significant milestone for the five-year-old company.

Avalon’s long-term goal is to use hologaphics – three-dimensional images produced by disruptions in light beams – to revolutionize the way people use visual displays like computer screens, TV monitors and even cellphones. When Co-Founder and President Wally Haas lists its possibilities in the $150 billion market, he ends by adding, “and others not yet imagined.”

Haas and his team envisage a world in which we view things not on a two-dimensional screen but with three-dimensional images beamed from holographic display surfaces. People could use the technology without wearing a headset, like in virtual reality.

“Despite the challenges COVID-19 has presented, it’s an exciting time for our company,” said Haas in a statement. “Our prototype serves as proof of concept and we’re excited to show the world how natural 3D light field displays will change the way we produce, view, and understand visual content.”

He added: “Our goal is to fundamentally disrupt the $150 billion global display industry, and our prototype launch signals that we’re well on the way.”

The launch of its first prototype caps off a busy six months for Avalon Holographics, which included:

  • The company was named to the C100’s 48 Hours in the Valley 2020 cohort, a prestigious program introducing Canada’s most promising startups to investors and industry executives in Silicon Valley;
  • It was selected by the U.S. Air Force to attend AFWERX Fusion, where the company pitched its display solutions for the Base of the Future;
  • And Avalon was selected by Global Affairs Canada and the Trade Commissioner Service for the 2020 Canadian Technology Accelerator in Silicon Valley, culminating with the company’s first appearance at the prestigious TechCrunch Disrupt conference.

"After seeing Avalon’s prototype, I was eager to share their vision with the radiology community and invited them to our advanced technology showcase at the Radiological Society of North America conference,” said Colin Holmes, Senior Director of Additive and Mixed Reality at GE Healthcare. “Beyond the ability to look ‘around’ the complex anatomical models generated by GE Healthcare's Advantage Workstation, there was enough space for several people to experience the 3D visualization simultaneously.”

Avalon Holographics’ prototype was designed in collaboration with partners in defense, medical imaging, and industrial design, where the company remains engaged in active projects. While these represent early target markets, the company says there are wide-scale future applications for the technology.

Avalon has participated in three Canadian federal government Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security projects, one of which has moved to a second stage. Since 2017, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency has contributed more than $5 million to Avalon Holographics to support several projects.

“Our early adopters are on the forefront of their respective industries,” said Co-Founder and Vice-President of Business Development Russ Baker. “But the long-term potential and applications for our technology are tremendous – from both an enterprise and consumer perspective. We’re building light field displays that will eventually replace many of the screens that we use today.”

MICC’s Rotational Saving App

The MICC Team: James Muhato, left, Jonah Chininga, Sergio Fernandez and Daniel Ohaegbu

The MICC Team: James Muhato, left, Jonah Chininga, Sergio Fernandez and Daniel Ohaegbu

When Jonah Chininga moved to Canada in 2014, he was surprised by how difficult it was to find his financial footing. But this challenge would eventually lead to the creation of a new fintech company MICC Financial.

Arriving from Zimbabwe to study accounting and business management at the University of Prince Edward Island, Chininga struggled to afford Canada’s high cost of living. The problem was compounded by his limited credit history, which interfered with his ability to tap into affordable debt instruments.

Inspired by a process called rotational savings – popular in developing regions, such as Africa and the Middle East – Chininga and fellow UPEI alumni Daniel Ohaegbu, Sergio Fernandez and James Muhato saw an opportunity to help economically marginalized people access financial services.

“As an immigrant, I could see the challenges that are there in terms of integrating yourself into the financial system,” said Chininga in an interview. “We asked ourselves, ‘Okay, how can we improve access to credit for immigrants or college students, international students?’”

The concept of rotational savings refers to a group of people pooling their money and taking turns to borrow from the collective fund without paying interest.

In the wake of a 2019 trip to the Youth Assembly leadership conference in New York, Chininga and his business partners decided to create a financial services platform that would bring rotational savings to the Canadian market in a digitized form.

The result was Charlottetown-based MICC Financial – an IOS, Android and web app meant to be used by groups of friends as an alternative to predatory lenders like payday loan companies.

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Chininga said that borrowing via the app counts towards users’ credit histories, potentially increasing their ability to eventually access more mainstream forms of debt.

The system is based on the premise that people with pre-existing social ties will usually behave responsibly towards each other, which reduces or eliminates the need for collateral.

“We are trying to use social equity as collateral to reduce credit risk,” said Muhato. “Because if I know my friends, I won’t default on my friends. ... We allow people to be accountable to one another.”

MICC began testing its software in May and launched an open beta in June. Twenty-four users have signed on, each of whom is engaging in an average of $100 worth of transactions every two weeks for a cumulative total of $4,800 so far.

A full-scale launch is slated for Sept. 8 and Chininga’s team has generated a waitlist of about 76 people via its nascent email marketing campaign.

Chininga, Ohaegbu and Muhato have inked a partnership deal with the UPEI student union and launched a financial literacy podcast to help promote MICC.

And to help with software development, they have hired their first employee. Chininga said that more hires on both the sales and development sides of the business will come later this year if the team meets its growth targets.

Because MICC is not involved in securities trading, federal regulator FINTRAC considers it a financial services company, rather than a bank, said Chininga. He added financial service providers face a less complex regulatory environment than banks.

Chininga and his partners have participated in accelerators Venn Innovation, the New Brunswick technology hub, and the Startup Zone in P.E.I.

“That was very helpful to us,” said Muhato of the accelerators. “It was useful in establishing… our communication and messaging in terms of how to position ourselves in the market.”

MICC has received a $25,000 startup grant from Toronto’s MaRS startup support centre and is eyeing a loan from Impact Atlantic.

In August, the team also announced that it had integrated Vancouver-based payment processing 

Milk Moovement Opens US Office

Milk Moovement co-founders: Robert Forsythe (left) and Jon King

Milk Moovement co-founders: Robert Forsythe (left) and Jon King

St. John’s supply chain management startup Milk Moovement is opening an office in Minneapolis to capitalize on the lucrative Midwestern dairy industry.

CEO Robert Forsythe said in an interview that Milk Moovement signed its first American client in Wisconsin about two months ago. As part of that deal, the company’s software is now in use at over 200 dairy farms.

Milk Moovement’s technology allows participants in the milk supply chain to track and assess raw milk. Its cloud-based reporting system gives farmers, dairy boards, cooperatives and other industry players real-time production data, logistics tracking services and an automated invoice generation feature.

“We’ve identified for a while that we had to place a big focus on the United States market,” said Forsythe. “Revenue potential is astronomical in comparison to Canada. But also, openness to innovation and change is quite a bit higher down there.”

Instead of selling to individual farmers, Milk Moovement focuses its business development efforts on dairy farming co-ops and other large industry organizations. Its software is now used on every dairy farm in both Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, thanks to deals with provincial farming collectives.

Minneapolis is within driving distance of five key American dairy states, where the largest industry associations and dairy processors are located, as well as major food companies like Cargill.

But Forsythe said selling to large American organizations via remote communications or short business trips is difficult because the dairy industry places a high degree of emphasis on personal relationships.

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To facilitate that relationship-building, Forsythe and co-founder Jon King will move to Minneapolis in September to launch their company’s first foreign branch, complementing their existing Newfoundland and Halifax offices.

They also plan to roll out a marketing campaign focused heavily on informational content derived from Milk Moovement’s internal data about the dairy industry.

“We have some pretty radical ideas about the dairy industry and where it needs to go,” said Forsythe. “However, there’s still a large group in the population that I don’t think is even aware what needs to change or even aware of what the possibilities can be.”

The content will be published first on social media and Milk Moovement’s website, with vlogs and webinars possibly coming in six months to a year.

The company has previously completed the Thrive accelerator in California and the Food-X accelerator in New York, both of which led to American media coverage that helped raise its profile with potential buyers.

The result is that Milk Moovement has reached about $500,000 in annual recurring revenue and is targeting $1 million by the end of 2020.

The annual values of its contracts are reliably well into the six figures and customers usually sign on for several years at a time, suggesting the team will only need to close a small number of deals to reach the $1 million threshold.

To help with the American expansion, Forsythe and King plan to hire a salesperson to work out of the Midwest office with them.

The salesperson will be one of five or six new staff members that they hope to hire in the next several months, who will join the existing team of eight employees spread between the three offices.

The tight-knit nature of the dairy industry, though, means that the Minneapolis salesperson will need to have existing relationships with producers in the area.

“We want that person to be someone who’s worked in the Midwest,” said Forsythe. “It’s really someone who’s been entrenched in the Midwest dairy industry, who knows the people, knows who to call and is a welcome person to show up.”

Milk Moovement is in the process of raising a US$750,000 seed round, about half of which is committed so far.

Forsythe said that despite COVID-19, venture capitalists seem keen to do deals. But he suspects that the pandemic is leading some investors to begin talks that they ultimately might not follow through on.

The unusual funding conditions have not dampened his outlook for Milk Moovement: “I think we’re very fortunate to be in an industry that’s growing right now, and we feel very fortunate to be having success. And we’re looking for the best and the brightest talent to help us along the way.”

Curv, Eyeread Make Google for Startups

Julia Rivard

Julia Rivard

Two Atlantic Canadian companies have been accepted into the inaugural Canadian cohort of Google for Startups Canada -- a three-month virtual accelerator targeting businesses in the seed and series A funding stages.

Halifax-based Eyeread and Curv Health, which has offices in Halifax and Toronto, will be among nine companies to complete the program. The accelerator was originally meant to be held in person, but COVID-19 has forced it to go virtual.

Eyeread is the corporate name for Squiggle Park and Dreamscape, which are gaming platforms designed to teach children to read. Curv uses machine learning to analyze videos of people in motion, then uses that information to develop fitness routines to prevent or treat injuries.

Eyeread CEO Julia Rivard Dexter said in an interview that she sees the accelerator as an opportunity to capitalize on Google’s product-development expertise: “I feel like we’re already [a market leader] in terms of our competitive advantage, but this is an opportunity to go further,” she said.

Last week, Eyeread received word that Google had accepted it as an official partner, meaning that the company has integrated its products with Google’s platform and has at least one million users.

As an example of the type of integration that Eyeread’s new partner status entails, Rivard Dexter cited Google’s “single sign-in” protocol. The technology allows users to log into a battery of Google-affiliated services with a single account.

She added that she hopes participating in the accelerator will help Eyeread deepen its working relationship with Google: “Given that our focus is scaling our user base, one of the most exciting pieces is to work closely with Google teams to develop growth strategies and growth channels.”

Curv Health CEO Shea Balish said his main goal for the accelerator is to upgrade the Curv team’s healthcare expertise and improve its machine learning technology -- two fields in which Google is a world leader.

“If you’re working in machine learning and you’re working in healthcare, Google is one of the companies that makes the most sense [to partner with],” he said. “In particular the [Canadian] Google headquarters in Waterloo has a specific interest in healthcare... that makes it a no-brainer.”

Balish said he is specifically hoping to find ways to make Curv’s AI more cost effective, citing the potential cost savings created by machine learning as a sometimes-overlooked feature of the technology.

He said that COVID-19 has helped create new opportunities for Curv to market itself; many physiotherapy patients who would have previously visited clinics or hospitals for treatment can no longer safely do so, making Curv’s AI-generated workout plans a potentially appealing substitute.

“Many therapies can be facilitated with asynchronous digital tools, so COVID has created this physical separation and it’s really a perfect time for digital therapies to take off,” said Balish.

Eyeread has benefited from a similar phenomenon. With many parents in Canada and the United States keeping their children home from school because of the pandemic and some American school boards still relying on distance learning, Rivard Dexter said COVID-19 has been a boon to educational software.

And because teachers do not have to pay for Squiggle Park and Dreamscape, but parents do, converting users into revenue has become easier.

“For education technology generally speaking, COVID was exceptionally helpful,” she said. “But for us in particular, it’s been even more beneficial for our company. That sounds wrong when you’re talking about a pandemic, but in terms of the growth, it’s been hugely important.”

ProcedureFlow Named Pandemic Tech Winner

ProcedureFlow CEO Daniella Degrace

ProcedureFlow CEO Daniella Degrace

Saint John-based ProcedureFlow, a knowledge management product, has been named a 2020 Pandemic Tech Innovation Award winner by U.S.-based Technology Marketing Corporation, or TMC, a business-to-business and integrated marketing media company.

ProcedureFlow, whose corporate name is Gemba Software Solutions, is a visual guide that supports employees as they navigate company processes, the company said in a statement.

During the pandemic, organizations around the world have relied on this technology to help transition employees to work from home, update and share information, and ensure employees could continue to provide good customer experience, the statement said.

“We are honored to be a recipient of the 2020 Pandemic Tech Innovation Awards,” said CEO Daniella Degrace. “ProcedureFlow has become an essential tool for organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic and we are so grateful to be making this difficult time a little bit easier for their employees and customers.”

The Pandemic Tech Innovation Awards recognize hardware, software, devices/peripherals, applications and services that help society and businesses function in the face of challenges caused by pandemics.

“ProcedureFlow has displayed its commitment to quality and innovation in the development of their tech solutions contributing to managing and overcoming pandemic outbreaks,” said Rich Tehrani, CEO of TMC.

“I look forward to more innovation from ProcedureFlow and their continued effort toward improving the future of the current challenges faced by the most recent pandemic.”

Early this year, ProcedureFlow partnered with Deloitte to penetrate new markets in North America and elsewhere. The partnership sees Deloitte playing a critical role in the implementation of ProcedureFlow as well as providing ongoing services and support for ProcedureFlow customers. 

Black Innovation Fellowship Assists Founders

Isaac Olowolafe Jr. (second from left) with partners at the launch event

Isaac Olowolafe Jr. (second from left) with partners at the launch event

As entrepreneurs from minority groups continue to be under-represented in the Atlantic Canadian startup community, Ryerson University’s DMZ accelerator is ramping up a new program aimed at supporting Black founders in Ontario.

The Black Innovation Fellowship, or BIF, launched in May and gives participants mentorship and other support as they work their way through the DMZ’s more generalized program offerings. Its strategy may offer an example of how a similar initiative could be implemented in Atlantic Canada.

BIF’s original goal was to support 10 black entrepreneurs a year for five years, but in response to unexpected levels of demand, the DMZ has secured additional financial backing and quintupled that number to 50 founders annually.

“We recognize that Black founders encounter a lot of challenges when it comes to starting and growing their businesses, from accessing seed capital to having fewer publicly recognized Black entrepreneurs and advisors to turn to,” said Vanessa Shiu, the DMZ’s manager of diversity and inclusion. “So we really wanted to create a space for Black entrepreneurs and founders to be able to thrive.”

BIF’s creation dates back to 2018. Isaac Olowolafe, founder of diversity-oriented venture capital firm Dream Maker Ventures, was distressed by the lack of support that he saw for Black entrepreneurs.

“He noticed that there was a lack of representation of Black founders, especially in tech and even at the DMZ,” said Shiu.

Olowolafe arranged for the DMZ to introduce a support program with backers that include Shopify, BMO and the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

Dream Maker is also the former employer of Danielle Graham, who now heads the Atlantic Women’s Venture Fund’s Sandpiper Ventures.

The DMZ’s main program offerings are an accelerator that helps companies with at least $20,000 in monthly recurring revenue scale up their sales and marketing activities, and an incubator for companies not yet far enough into the commercialization process to qualify for the accelerator.

BIF is intended to help counteract the hurdles that impede minority entrepreneurs from accessing funding and organizational backing, and make it more achievable for them to succeed in the DMZ’s main programs.

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Several Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs from minority groups have written in Entrevestor that the local community needs to do more to support diverse founders.

According to Shiu, it has become clear that many of the Black entrepreneurs seeking help with growing their businesses have not yet progressed past the very early stages of starting a company and do not qualify for the DMZ’s incubator.

To help those founders prepare for full DMZ participation, BIF has rolled out a bootcamp that offers basic entrepreneurship training. Twenty-one companies have so far been accepted into the two-week program.

Shiu said that a key part of BIF, as well as the DMZ’s programming more generally, is matching entrepreneurs and funders with relevant knowledge or connections. For BIF participants, the DMZ also aims to match them with financial backers who are actively looking to partner with diverse founders.

She said that a potential renewal of BIF at the end of its current, five-year roadmap will depend on its success in the interim, as well as whether it continues to address an ongoing need in the innovation community.

“We recognize that we’re one program, but at the same time, we’re hoping that we’ll effect some changes and make an impact,” said Shiu. “If it’s something that is necessary for us to continue ... then definitely, we will continue.”

In the short term, she said that the feedback she has heard from the startup community is that COVID-19 may have exacerbated pre-existing issues with Black entrepreneurs struggling to find investors. But the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States and elsewhere have helped highlight the issues faced by the community.

“We just really encourage that VCs and funders looking at Black-owned businesses be intentional with their efforts and actions, and see how they can support those entrepreneurs,” said Shiu.

She added that the DMZ’s experiences with the program so far indicate that it is likely to be scalable to other regions, including Atlantic Canada, but warned that the details of each ecosystem make the specifics of such an expansion difficult to predict.

Alston Launches CMO Accelerator

David Alston:

David Alston: "It is a situation just as critical as the lack of needed tech sales talent." (Photo by LP Chiasson Photography)

David Alston, one of the leading lights at Radian6 a decade ago, is launching a new accelerator for chief marketing officers at Atlantic Canadian startups, hoping to improve the marketing leadership in the region.

Marketswell Solutions will launch next month with the goal of producing 25 grads in the next five years, all of whom will have the confidence and know-how to fill key leadership roles in high-growth companies. Alston said he is initiating the program because of a dearth of talent in digital marketing in the region and the difficulty in finding CMOs anywhere.

“The idea came to me less than a month ago after getting back-to-back calls from startups trying to figure out where they were going to find their CMO,” Alston said in an email. “I’ve gotten many similar calls over the past 10 years, which generally has me listing three to four of the same people – all who generally are happy in the roles they already have.  Atlantic Canada simply doesn’t have enough on the bench ready to go.”

Alston, one of the most experienced marketing brains in the region, wants to change that. He was the CMO at Fredericton-based social media analytics company Radian6 when it was bought by Salesforce.com for $326 million in 2011. After that, he spent a couple of years with Salesforce, and his roles since then have included Entrepreneur-in-Residence for the province of New Brunswick.

He was a driving force behind Brilliant Labs, which educates young Atlantic Canadians in technology, and now wants to help develop leading marketing talent for the region’s startups. The goal is to develop a pool of top flight marketing professionals who can help to grow companies across the region.

“I would say it is a situation just as critical as the lack of needed tech sales talent that [East Valley Ventures Chair] Gerry [Pond] has pointed out so well in recent years,” said Alston. “Honestly, this lack of senior marketing talent is also a Canadian and, I’d venture to say, a North American issue as well.”

In the Marketswell program, Alston will pair up with a “designated star” at the selected startups, working with that person for a set amount of time each week. They will work through issues, brainstorm and Alston will push them in the areas in which they need growth.

The accelerator also offers a cohort, with the participants working together as a group at times. There will be a Slack channel and monthly Zoom calls for peer-to-peer support and education.

“The goal is to create a network of marketing professionals that will be there for them after the program as they continue to grow,” said Alston, who said he will charge the participants as several startups have indicated they can recover the cost from government programs that fund training. 

The deadline for applications is Sept. 14, and you can apply via the contact form at the bottom of the company website.

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