CloudKettle Announces New Hire

Halifax tech consultancy CloudKettle has announced the addition of a new executive, Eliot Harper.

Harper is a noted expert on Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud platform, having written several books on the topic and worked directly with Salesforce.

Marketing Cloud offers automation and analytics services for advertisers. CloudKettle provides consulting services to large SaaS companies, many of which have revenues in the billions of dollars.

“If you’d asked me a year ago if someone of Eliot’s calibre and cache would be joining CloudKettle, I would have been astounded,” said senior partner John McGinley. “But that being said, we’d always planned to grow our marketing cloud practice. We just didn’t think we’d get one of the world’s foremost experts.”

Harper’s previous positions include working for the British military as a telecommunications specialist, acting as Chief Innovation Officer at SEO house Digital Logic Marketing Solution and with Australian adtech consultancy Blended Digital as a non-executive partner.

His work with CloudKettle began on a contract basis about a year and a half ago, after he met the team at Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.

Rather than relocating to Halifax, he will continue telecommuting from Australia. But with  Harper having substantial experience working with clients in California and elsewhere on the West Coast, McGinley said he is confident that the geographic distance will not pose a problem.

He added that the hire is part of a larger strategy to grow CloudKettle by attracting industry leaders as employees and partners, with the core of the firm’s value proposition being the quality of its experts.

“Anyone who does any significant amount of work in the Salesforce Marketing Cloud ecosystem would be aware of Eliot, simply because he has such good name recognition and he has worked so closely with Salesforce in the past,” said McGinley. He previously told Entrevestor that the company’s business model is to grow in a manner similar to law or accounting firms, with a gradually expanding group of equity-owning partners.

Harper is himself joining, not as a partner, but as the Senior Marketing Technology Architect. He will be CloudKettle’s 19th non-partner employee. The three current partners are McGinley, founder Greg Poirier and Dan Stratton.

According to McGinley, the firm’s strategy is to attract industry leaders by making CloudKettle’s work more interesting than that offered by larger consultancies.

“We don’t want to do work for people we don’t enjoy, and we don’t want to do what we consider uninteresting or ineffective work, and that tends to be a bit of a different approach than some larger professional services firms,” said McGinley.

“I’m really impressed with (CloudKettle’s) team, processes and experience,” added Harper in a video post on the company’s blog. “CloudKettle really understands how to effectively leverage marketing technology to drive customer engagement and revenue.”

Abriel, Gosine Join Meta’s Team

Dartmouth-based Metamaterial Inc. has named Keith Abriel as Interim Chief Financial Officer and Mark Gosine as Corporate Secretary.

With more than 25 years of experience, Abriel has served as CFO for several publicly traded, private equity-backed, and venture-backed technology companies. He was previously the CFO of WildBrain (formerly DHX Media Ltd.), which was listed on the NASDAQ and TSX exchange. Abriel has helped to raise more than $1 billion of capital.

Gosine has served as general counsel and corporate secretary with an extensive background in corporate strategy, commercial transactions, corporate finance and M&A. He also played a key role in WildBrain's growth, leading M&A transactions totaling $1.2 billion and heading WildBrain's legal and business affairs globally. He is a governor of Saint Mary's University and a director of Symphony Nova Scotia and the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia.

"Having worked in rapid growth environments Keith and Mark bring tremendous experience to our executive leadership team," said Meta President and CEO George Palikaras in a statement.

Meta is a specialist in producing metamaterials – materials comprising compounds not found in nature – that alter light, either by enhancing, absorbing or blocking it. The company is best known for co-developing metaAIR with Airbus. The partnership is producing a transparent covering for airplane cockpit windows and eyewear that can filter out laser attacks.

The company also said it has issued the new officers with options to buy 200,000 shares at a price of 62 cents each up to June 1, 2030. Meta listed at 75 cents a share on the Canadian Securities Exchange earlier this year. The shares on Tuesday rose 23 percent to close at 38 cents.

Invisible Agents Aims To Raise $500K

Stuart Boyd

Stuart Boyd

Halifax artificial intelligence startup Invisible Agents is trying to raise a $500,000 funding round to help increase its staff from three to as many as seven people.

Founder Stuart Boyd started the company in Austin, Texas, in 2018, before relocating to Halifax with Innovacorp as its sponsor in the federal government’s Startup Visa program. The other two employees are based out of the United States, with Boyd expecting to recruit additional staff in Halifax.

Invisible Agents helps non-profits and churches raise funds by offering machine learning-based suggestions about how to customize and target fundraising efforts.

“There’s a broader acceptance in the for-profit space of the inherent value of having more data analytics, but the non-profits don’t often have that luxury, because they need a tangible, monetary ROI (return on investment),” said Boyd in an interview. “So we’re trying to help them take the action to capture that in the form of gifts from their supporters.”

The software makes its recommendations based on what Boyd and his team categorize as “inside” and “outside” metrics.

Inside metrics are data from a non-profit’s internal records, such as whether someone has volunteered with the organization or signs any of its petitions. Outside metrics include analysis based on prevailing economic conditions, as well as “wealth screening” to identify which potential donors are most likely to be able to afford to donate.

The two new hires are a product strategy expert from Texas, who Boyd knew before moving to Canada, and a sales specialist from New York State.

All three people would have been working remotely even without COVID-19, which Boyd said has made it easier to adapt to the new environment.

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Of greater concern, he added, is whether the pandemic and its economic effects will impede Invisible Agents’ ability to scale up its sales. With growth prospects uncertain, Boyd has decided to use the potentially slow period as an opportunity to continue implementing his product development plans.

“It feels like a good time to maybe try to focus on product because the market is unstable, but we can make process on building up the technology,” he said.

To that end, three of the people he plans to hire will be software developers. The fourth, who will come later, will be a fundraising consultant to help fine-tune the advice given by the AI.

Boyd also has plans to start a research project with a Dalhousie University professor and as many as four graduate students, facilitated by MITACS – a national organization that helps link researchers with corporations for R&D.

The current funding round will mark Invisible Agents’ first major capital raise, with Boyd having previously obtained non-dilutive funding from Innovacorp’s Sprint competition.

He added that the availability of funding and resources for young companies in Atlantic Canada helped spur him to relocate to the region – particularly the input he received from both Innovacorp and Nova Scotia Business Inc.’s senior foreign investment attraction executive Chandra Pottle before and during the move.

“Starting a business, cash is key, especially with bootstrapping,” he said. “And with the wide array of programs, it felt like Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada had a hierarchy of offerings that I didn’t find elsewhere in Canada.”

After Pivot, Bloxo Wins MIT Event

The Bloxo team at the Apex competition in New Brunswick in January.

The Bloxo team at the Apex competition in New Brunswick in January.

As Halifax’s Bloxo Inc. pivots in response to COVID-19, the online fitness startup has won the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s 2020 Startup Spotlight pitch competition.

Five companies competed in the event for votes from an audience of 60 to 70 spectators. Normally held in person at the university’s Enterprise Forum innovation hub, the event went virtual because of the pandemic.

Bloxo’s latest iteration will allow users to register for and participate in online fitness activities, such as yoga and Pilates. The current model is a slight restructuring of the previous version, which focused on in-person classes and public recreation venues.

“The concept that we started with is still going to come back,” said CEO Mubdu Alali in an interview Monday. “When it’s going to come back, we don’t know. But we’ll be ready.”

For now, the old platform has been shelved while Alali and his team focus on beta-testing Bloxo Virtual, despite the original having only launched on March 4.

Like the in-person offering, fitness instructors can advertise classes, for which they may charge an entry fee. The details of the revenue model are still being decided, but Alali said Bloxo may take a cut of the fees charged by the event leaders. For now, the app is free.

The MIT competition, meanwhile, offered the chance for the company to present its product offering to industry peers and luminaries, according to Alali.

“For us it’s about the exposure, and that people attend and listen to your pitch and learn about Bloxo,” he said. “For us, that’s what matters.”

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Chief Financial Officer Jennifer MacHattie said that in addition to the live viewers, events from previous years have usually been watched about 400 or 500 times on the MIT website, suggesting that similar numbers are likely for 2020.

Startup Spotlight was to be the second in a series of public events that Bloxo was slated to participate in this year. The first was the SaaStr conference in California – the largest conference in the world for companies that sell software-as-a-service products – but COVID-19 forced organizers to cancel the gathering.

Toronto’s Collision Conference, however, will go ahead as an online event, now billed as Collision From Home. And Alali will be one of the presenters. The company previously placed in the winners' circle at the Apex Business Plan Competition in Fredericton and the Volta Cohort pitching event in Halifax. 

Bloxo’s founders also continue to eye a funding round, although the timeline has been pushed back. They initially had expected to begin the raise this summer, but as the economic crisis continues to unfold, they now believe a fall timeline is more realistic.

“It depends on the success of Virtual,” said MacHattie. “Once we get past some of these upcoming steps, we can reevaluate things like burn rate, as well.”

Bloxo so-far employees eight people, some of whom work part-time and some full-time. Another new hire may be on the horizon in the coming weeks, but MacHattie cautioned that the final decision has not yet been made.

“Kind of what you say is, ‘You’re not hiring until you’re hiring everything,’” she said, referring to the need to time hiring to coincide with an overall scaling up of the business.

Sandbox Ignition Seeks NS Students

The Nova Scotian sandboxes – entrepreneurial groups at the province’s post-secondary institutions – are looking for applicants for the Sandbox Ignition program.

The program, which will offer online curriculum this year, is an accelerator for college, university or high school students with an idea for a business or community project.  

The program will run from this month to August 28 and offers participants a combination of education and financial support, as well as access to industry mentors.

The deadline to register is June 8 and you can apply here.

The Sandbox Ignition program is presented by the Spark Zone, a sandbox hosted by Saint Mary's University, NSCAD University, Mount Saint Vincent University and the Nova Scotia Community College.

Decade Impact Coming East

Vancouver-based responsible business consultancy Decade Impact Strategy & Activation is rolling out its Getting to 80 corporate training program in Atlantic Canada.

The course’s new East Coast iteration is recruiting applicants and will hold its first session on June 24. Like the West Coast version, it will help participants prepare to apply for the internationally noted B Corporation ethical company certification from Pennsylvania non-profit B Lab.

Decade is the new name of a division of insurance firm Cove Continuity Advisors, which was purchased and relaunched by former employees Kristy O’Leary and Brianna Brown in January.

“We’re radical generalists,” said O’Leary in an interview, explaining that she and Brown personally serve as instructors for Getting to 80. “We really understand the landscape of impact business.”

By impact business, O’Leary means companies that consider people and the environment just as important as profit.  .

O’Leary, who previously worked with impact businesses in Halifax, said she and Brown have a strong history of helping customers secure B Corp status.

“We have a proven track record of getting companies over the line,” she said. “We have a very high ratio of companies that work with us in the program and actually complete the certification -- and that’s very rare.”

Getting to 80 emphasises tracking participant companies’ impact via concrete metrics, O’Leary said.

“Ours is very, very heavy on how we actually quantify operation impact in a company. When our companies say they’re a good company, they have the numbers to back it up.”

Decade also partners with specialists who work in areas such as carbon-offsetting, and diversity and inclusion to deliver certain aspects of its programming.

Getting to 80 includes six full-day sessions, held every two weeks. The name refers to B Lab’s requirement that B Corp applicants achieve a score of at least 80 on its assessment process, which is designed to measure companies’ environmental impacts and levels of social responsibility.

In addition to preparing executives to apply for B Corp certification, Getting to 80 includes content focused on helping executives work toward the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals as well as American non-profit Project Drawdown’s goal of creating a carbon-negative society.

In April, Getting to 80 moved online because of COVID-19, but sessions continue to be centred on real-time instruction, delivered via Zoom and whiteboarding software Miro, rather than pre-packaged content.

Decade originally planned to launch its programming in central Canada before the Atlantic provinces, but O’Leary said Nova Scotia’s recent social challenges inspired her to focus efforts here.

“Nova Scotia does feel like my home, and so I really wanted to give back,” she said. “Just based on everything that’s happened in Nova Scotia in the last few months, I wanted to work with Nova Scotia companies.”

Eventually, O’Leary and Brown aim to grow Decade into a global business. In the meantime, the Atlantic cohort will be held separately from the B.C. offering to allow for region-specific content.

O’Leary said she considers community-building between participants to be a central aspect of Getting to 80’s value proposition, with that goal being best achieved among companies that are geographically close to each other.

With COVID-19 forcing many firms to reassess their previous growth strategies, she said she believes the coming economic recovery presents an opportunity to shift social norms around for-profit business in a more sustainable and community-minded direction.

“We knew the economy wasn’t working. We knew climate change was coming,” she said. “We needed this global pause to position us to rebuild the economy. And that objection that everybody in a changemaking space – like myself, for over a decade – has heard over and over again is that we can’t change. But in four weeks, the whole world changed.”

You can apply for Getting to 80 here

VIRUS UPDATE: Who’s Reopening?

Doug Robertson, President and CEO of Venn Innovation in Moncton

Doug Robertson, President and CEO of Venn Innovation in Moncton

Startup support organizations in Atlantic Canada are beginning to open their doors again, within the parameters laid out by provincial governments. 

These include Venn Innovation, which has reopened the Venn Centre and begun to bring companies back into its Garage program.

"It's good to be back-ish," said Doug Robertson, President and CEO of Venn Innovation. 

As we look at how support organizations are emerging from the lockdown, we have updates this week on several organizations, including  The Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship, BioNova, Saint Mary’s University Entrepreneurship Centre, and Venn Innovation. 

If you're scheduling a webinar or online event for June 8 or later, please let us know by Friday, June 5, and we will include it in our update next week. You can reach us at peter@entrevestor.com. It also makes sense for entrepreneurs to check on support organizations themselves as things are changing so rapidly.

Here is the full list of organizations that we’ve heard from:

Pan-Regional

Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

ACOA is distributing $110 million of federal funding to small and medium-sized companies that do not qualify for other forms of emergency assistance. ACOA said the Regional Recovery and Relief Fund is aimed at the manufacturing, technology and tourism sectors, among others. The economic development agency is asking applicants to first speak to an ACOA program officer and then fill out an online application form, found here.

Propel

Propel's current Phase 2 cohort is continuing to be offered virtually, with Propel’s e-Learning management system, its virtual fireside chats and online meetings with Entrepreneurs-in-Residence. The organization is allowing all accelerators and incubators in the region to offer their participating companies free access to Propel’s online curriculum for assessing product-market fit. The organization has announced its Incite accelerator will now have continuous intake, so founders who qualify can start it at any time. 

Creative Destruction Lab

CDL is launching CDL Recovery, a national rapid response program to help companies or individuals working on innovations that will help with economic or medical recovery in the coming six to 18 months. The program will run from this month until August, and applications are open here.

Springboard Atlantic

The Springboard network has established a COVID-19 Rapid Response Table, comprising members from colleges and universities, as well as ACOA. The Table will support Springboard's 19 member institutions in their work with health authorities and businesses responding to the COVID-19 crisis. The Springboard team has also assembled a list of additional resources, which can be viewed here.

Canada’s Ocean Supercluster

The East Coast supercluster is seeking applications from across Canada for short-term, innovative projects. Under the Accelerated Ocean Solutions Program, the federally backed supercluster will spend up to $35 million to back small-scale projects that can be brought to market in less than two years. 

EmerGence BioIncubator

EmerGence has never been a "bricks and mortar" incubator, so it continues to work with its clients in Atlantic Canada and across Canada through virtual channels. It's also encouraging any member company that has a question about coping with the current situation to contact staff via email. It's asking members to consult the PEI BioAlliance "Covid-19 News and Resources" page.  

FundingTalks

The new FundingTalks webinar series is being offered by the Jameson Group and its partners. These webinars will discuss issues of concern for founders, funders and stakeholders, and are being offered free for a limited time. 

Lab2Market

Modeled on successful programs in the U.S. and U.K., Lab2Market works with PhD candidates and post-doctoral researchers to determine whether their scientific discoveries can be developed into startups. It is now accepting applications here for two cohorts -- its Oceans cohort until June 12 and its Halifax cohort until June 30. 

Newfoundland and Labrador

Genesis 

Genesis is continuing to operate virtually. Applications remain open for Enterprise, Evolution, Women in Tech and Startup Visa. You can find more information on its COVID-19 Resources Page. 

Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology and Innovation

NATI has been accepting last-minute applications for the Atlantic Canadian mission for the Collision at Home program, though the deadline has now passed. 

The Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship

MCE will hold its Woodward Cup student pitching event on June 16 at 2:30 pm. It will award a total of $40,000 to the top two pitches. You can register to view the event here. The MCE has also announced it is offering virtual childcare for the participants of its workshops this summer in an effort to increase diversity. A complete list of its services during the pandemic can be found here.

Prince Edward Island

Startup Zone

Startup Zone members can access the facility, as long as they are not showing COVID-19 symptoms nor exposed to high-risk groups. The staff is also compiling a list of resources (which can be found here), including how to take advantage of PEI's support fund.  

PEI BioAlliance

The BioAlliance has set up a triage system to support companies as issues emerge around logistics, HR, cash flow, supply chain, inventory, etc. The group has also set up a "Covid-19 News and Resources" page.

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Business Inc.

NSBI has been hosting a series of webinars during the crisis to help entrepreneurs navigate the current business climate. The organization has also posted a resource page on its website.  

Innovacorp

Innovacorp's Sydney team has scheduled a series of marketing webinars with global leaders in communications. The remaining webinars in the current series feature Alastair Campbell, former press aide to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on June 5, and Paralympian Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson on June 19. (Click on the links to register.) Innovacorp has also been working with some companies, such as Leadsift and Securicy to use tech developed in Nova Scotia to help entrepreneurs. You can find Innovacorp's COVID-19 resource page here

Volta

Volta will offer a free, six-week course in June and July to help entrepreneurs make plans to navigate the COVID-19 crisis. Volta Academy: Recovery will include instruction from industry experts and cover topics such as financial planning, legal concerns and marketing. Applications are open here. Volta has also posted a page of tips for working from home.  

Ignite

Ignite's Yarmouth facilities have 24-hour access for tenant companies but have put distancing and cleaning procedures in place. The Pictou County location has cancelled all events and staff is working from home. 

Saint Mary’s University Entrepreneurship Centre

SMUEC is offering free strategy sessions to any businesses struggling to help plan around the current crisis. The Centre is also calling for applicants for its Sparkzone Ignition Program, which is a summer accelerator for students across Nova Scotia. Applications close June 8. 

Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development

CEED's workshops are being held in an online format. The Centre has posted a Covid-19 resource page, which includes information on Nova Scotia's supports for small businesses. 

Mashup Lab

Mashup Lab offers virtual programming so its two current Dream Business cohorts will experience no interruption. The group is organizing a virtual round-table discussion with past participants and alumni to discuss how this situation is impacting them and their businesses. WorkEvolved (the group’s network of co-working spaces) will remain open for the time being with some strict cleaning protocols. A video explaining the situation can be found here.

The Centre for Women in Business

The CWB at Mount St. Vincent University is increasing the frequency with which it offers online programs such as its newly launched Coffee Talk.

Navigate Startup House

All tenants and staff in the Sydney innovation hub are now working from home, and staff continues to interview applicants for its major software studio pilot program called the "Navigate Atom". Navigate is working with local music cooperative CB Mic on a fundraising project for the music industry.

Halifax Partnership

Halifax Partnership has announced a collaboration with BoomersPlus to offer online consulting services to entrepreneurs struggling to navigate the pandemic. You can find more information and register here. The Partnership's Connector Program, in which experienced business people offer mentorship to young people entering the job market or starting businesses, has now gone virtual.

BioNova

The Nova Scotia life sciences organization has moved all necessary face-to-face meetings to electronic formats – Zoom, Skype etc. The organization will host its BOOST Information Session June 4th at 10 am to help startups understand provincial and federal programs to support businesses through COVID-19. Register by emailing info@bionova.ca. 

Emera IdeaHUB

The ideaHUB is supporting companies virtually. The team is publishing a biweekly blog to share information about the facility and the Dalhousie Faculty of Engineering.   

New Brunswick

Venn Innovation

The Venn Centre in Moncton has reopened in line with New Brunswick's health and safety guidelines. The organization has also welcomed back many of the incubator teams participating in its Garage program. 

University of New Brunswick TME Group

The Technology, Management and Entrepreneurship crew is working remotely. You can find the UNB coronavirus policy here. The university's Energia Ventures accelerator is also hosting Virtual Lunches. 

Planet Hatch

Ignite Fredericton

Planet Hatch, the entrepreneurship hub operated by Ignite Fredericton, has closed access to its facilities to all non-members. On Tuesday at 10 am, Ignite Fredericton and the Information and Communications Technology Council will present a webinar on the Work Integrated Learning Program, which offers financial incentives for employers to hire students. You can register here

New Brunswick Innovation Foundation

NBIF hus begun to reopen its office, with half of its staff working at the office and the other half from home. NBIF has posted an open letter from CEO Jeff White, which outlines the organization's plans going forward. 

3+ Economic Development Corp.

The Moncton-area economic development body is working virtually and has set up a Covid-19 Resources page. 

Economic Development Greater Saint John 

The EDGSJ team is working from home and is reaching out to members, clients and community to make sure everyone is supported.

National Organizations

Council of Canadian Innovators

The organization has been advocating on behalf of high-growth innovation companies in the country since the downturn began. The group has set up a slack channel where high-growth entrepreneurs can discuss the challenges they are facing. 

 

Entrevestor updates this list and reposts it once a week to keep the community up to date on what’s happening at the various support organizations.

eDNAtec Wins NL Cleantech Award

eDNAtec CEO Steve Barrett

eDNAtec CEO Steve Barrett

St. John’s-based DNA sequencing startup eDNAtec has won an award from the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Industry Association recognizing its contribution to protecting the marine environment.

The Cleantech Innovation Award, announced Thursday, was created to recognize a company that has the potential to “mitigate effects to, protect, or enhance the environment.”

EDNAtec’s product uses DNA sequencing to identify the organisms present in marine environments. CEO Steve Barrett said in an interview that the technology is particularly useful for government agencies, as well as for energy companies conducting environmental impact assessments.

“The award is quite timely for Atlantic Canada because it really helps us to position ourselves as unique in the world, in terms of the ocean economy,” he said. “And part of going forward as an ocean economy region is really understanding environmental stewardship.”

Marine organisms leave traces of DNA behind when they pass through water, which remain for 24 to 48 hours. Barrett’s company uses water samples collected from boats or shorelines to sequence the DNA and identify which organisms are present in a given region.

The technique works on organisms ranging in size from bacteria to whales. The range of the samples -- that is, how close an organism needs to have been to a sample location in order to be detected – is not yet clear. But Barrett said eDNAtec is currently conducting experiments to find out. The strength and direction of currents may be factors.

The company was founded in 2015. In 2017, it established its Centre for Environmental Genomics Applications, which is the lab that it uses for its DNA testing.

Barrett said he believes the centre to be the only dedicated “environmental genomics” laboratory in the world. “We think we’re putting Atlantic Canada on the map as a centre of excellence and expertise in the field.”

The company was funded partly with money from Texas oil giant ExxonMobil, as well as Newfoundland’s Hibernia oil platform -- a joint project between Exxon, Chevron and several other companies.

Exxon is also an eDNAtec customer, as is the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. And multiple aquaculture companies have reached out to Barrett’s team to explore the possibility of deploying the technology around fish farms.

The company currently has 17 staff, and Barrett foresees adding as many as five to 10 more employees within the next year, if his plans for the business stay on track. Despite aggressive expansion plans, he does not expect to seek venture capital financing in the foreseeable future.

Though COVID-19 is forcing many staff to work from home, Barrett said eDNAtec’s business is proving resilient.

The announcement from the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Industry Association also included three other awards:

  • The Environmental Industry Business Excellence Award – This award “recognizes a significant initiative, project, or achievement of a business engaged in Newfoundland and Labrador’s green economy.” This year’s winner was smart thermostat manufacturer Mysa, which aims to improve buildings’ energy efficiency.
  • The Cleantech International Business Award – This award “recognizes a significant initiative or achievement of Newfoundland and Labrador business engaged in international business activities relating to cleantech or environmental services.” This year, it was won by Compusult, which sells software related to geospacial awareness.
  • The Environmental Industry Champion Award -- This award “recognizes the contribution of an individual to the growth of Newfoundland and Labrador’s environmental industry.” It was awarded to Glenn Sharp, a professional engineer and the owner of Sharp Management Inc., which provides consulting services to oil and gas companies, such as the Hibernia oil rig. He was the first person in Newfoundland to sell carbon offset credits, which were based on using wetlands to treat municipal wastewater.

Graham To Lead Sandpiper Ventures

Danielle Graham

Danielle Graham

The Atlantic Women’s Venture Fund is launching its first fund, Sandpiper Ventures. Danielle Graham, a well-known proponent of diversity in entrepreneurship, has been named the fund's Investment Principal.

Graham will oversee the distribution of a planned $20 million fund to female-led businesses across Canada, with investments tentatively slated to begin in three to six months.

A group of Atlantic Canadian businesswomen, including Rhiannon Davies and Sarah Young of Halifax and Cathy Bennett of St. John’s, have been working for more than a year to establish the women's venture fund. They want to address the shortage of capital for Atlantic Canadian startups in general, and female founders in particular.

Graham said in an interview that she believes venture capital is a key to advancing women in business because supporting new companies can have ripple effects beyond the startup community.

“When it comes to the amount of impact a venture capital fund can have by investing in top tier, talented individuals at the earliest stages… you end up with something that’s disruptive and feeds into a whole host of new markets and new perspectives,” she said. “And that’s the value-add that women, as leaders of these early-stage technology companies, can offer.”

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Graham is a former principal at Dream Maker Ventures, a Toronto VC firm founded exclusively by women and visible minorities. She also created the Fierce Founders accelerator for female entrepreneurs at Kitchener, Ont.-based Communitech.

She will join Sandpiper as a co-founder and play a role similar to that of a chief investment officer, with the possibility of eventually becoming a full partner of the Atlantic Women’s Venture Fund.

The firm’s other partners and advisors include Skinfix CEO Amy Risley and Sidewalk Labs Director of Investments and Partnerships Nicole LeBlanc.

Sandpiper will invest only in female founders – a group that the fund's slide decks notes receives only about 3 percent of venture capital dollars.

The Boston Consulting Group estimates that startups founded by women produce an average of US$730,000 of revenue over five years, compared to US$662,000 for companies with male founders. They also produce an average 77 percent return on investment, compared to 31 percent from men, according to the Sandpiper slides.

Graham said that COVID-19 also makes Sandpiper’s mission more urgent, with companies potentially needing cash infusions more badly than usual.

“We know that money is more important now than ever, to support these early-stage companies, so that they don’t go out of business and (lose out on) the amount of disruption and innovation that the ecosystem has been building up for many, many years,” she said.

She also expects the fund’s investments to be influenced by the changing economic landscape, with the industries most buoyed by the pandemic, such as those that facilitate remote work, being of particular interest.

“I’ve met so many women entrepreneurs who are now succeeding and gaining more contracts and revenue at this current period, in the last three months, because they were forward-thinking,” she said. “They were perceiving a future, and now the future is here – faster, in many ways.”

Deloitte Fast 50 Seeks Entries

Deloitte has opened applications for its 2020 Technology Fast 50 program, which recognizes the fastest-growing IT companies in the country based on four years of revenue data.

Now in its 23rd year, the Fast 50 is a benchmark for success in high-growth tech companies. Though Atlantic Canadian companies have frequently failed to make the list of the 50 fastest-growing tech companies in the country, the region had its best showing ever in 2019 when Fredericton- and Washington, DC-based Introhive placed 10th.

Co-Founders Jody Glidden and Stewart Walchli launched Introhive in 2012 to help corporate sales teams increase their connections by understanding who their colleagues knew. From there, Introhive became a company that helps sales teams use customer relationship management tools more effectively.

Last year, they decided to enter the Fast 50 competition, and the company’s revenue growth of 1,700 percent over four years was exceeded by only nine other IT companies in the country.

Also last year, Fredericton-based augmented reality company Kognitiv Spark was named to the Companies-to-Watch list. 

In an email on Thursday, Deloitte Market Development Director for Technology, Media and Telecommunications Daryl Johnston said the program can help winning companies stand out from competitors and attract potential employees and clients.

“All Fast 50 applicants automatically become part of our Fast 50 Community, which affords companies with a number of benefits such as invites to valuable learning and networking events, COVID-19 virtual events, webinars and insights, a Summit and Gala (when we can once again congregate to celebrate),” he said.

Applications for the program are available here until July 31 in the following categories:

  • Enterprise Fast 15, for companies with a minimum revenue of $10 million in 2016 and $25 million in 2019;
  • Technology Fast 50, for companies over four years old with a minimum of $5 million in revenue,
  • And Companies-to-Watch, for companies with less than $5 million in revenue, or those with more than $5 million in revenue but still under four years old.

The program this year will feature virtual events due to the COVID-19 crisis, until it is declared safe to have in-person meetings.

Bioscience Now No. 2 Export Sector on PEI

A study sponsored by the PEI BioAlliance has found that the bioscience sector was the province’s second-largest export industry in 2018, but CEO Rory Francis said in an interview that infrastructure and labour constraints represent obstacles to future growth.

Bioscience accounted for $214 million of GDP, or about 4.4 percent of the provincial economy, and $405 million of direct economic output, said the study by Jupia Consultants of Moncton. Workers made an average of just over $60,000 per year – about a 44 per cent improvement over the provincial mean.

Francis said the BioAlliance is preparing to announce several initiatives that it hopes will address the problems companies have been facing in accessing laboratory space and skilled workers.

“Growth does have consequences, and the consequence of what has been essentially a doubling of size of the sector over the 2012-2018 period has been that we’re out of space for early-stage companies to scale up manufacturing,” he said. “But the good news is that there are initiatives on the horizon.”

The life sciences segment now employs about 1,900 people in a province of just over 150,000, and Francis said the size of the industry is the result of an organized effort over 15 years from both the public and private sectors.

“You need the longer runway and you need the team to be all rowing together,” he said. “That’s the single most important aspect of what’s been going on here.”

Charlottetown-based Somru Adapts Platform for Infectious Diseases

A press release from the BioAlliance said that key players include the University of Prince Edward Island, Holland College and support organization BioFoodTech.

Francis also highlighted the role played by large corporations, such as drug manufacturer BioVectra and Charlottetown cannabis company Dosecann, which inject resources into the ecosystem by dint of their own activities.

To address shortages of laboratory and manufacturing space, he said that a new industrial park will eventually need to be built, complementing a now-full facility from 2012.

To alleviate a looming labour shortage, BioAlliance plans to help recruit skilled immigrants to P.E.I. and collaborate with local school systems and universities. The economic impact study said the bioscience sector is also attracting a high proportion of newcomers, with 43 percent of the companies surveyed having at least one founder who was not born in Canada.

Francis added that bioscience has proven relatively pandemic-proof, with sales at most companies remaining strong and about 1,800 workers continuing with their jobs.

“Certainly, there were lots of things that had to be done to make it all possible, but the markets for companies and their products did not seem to take a big hit,” he said. “It’s a resilient sector.”

Jupia’s study also revealed that the bioscience cluster contributed $63.8 million in tax revenue to governments in 2018. Bioscience companies are bringing national and international capital to P.E.I., it said, with $37 million in investment attraction in 2018.

 

Disclosure: The PEI BioAlliance and its EmerGence incubator are clients of Entrevestor. 

Outcast, Greenhouse to Make New Food Products

Outcast Co-Founders TJ Galiardi, left, and Darren Burke.

Outcast Co-Founders TJ Galiardi, left, and Darren Burke.

Halifax-based Outcast Foods has teamed up with Toronto's Greenhouse to reduce food waste by creating new products. Outcast will upcycle pulp byproduct from Greenhouse’s juice processing operation to produce dried fruit and vegetable powders.

Outcast Foods turns surplus fruits and vegetables into whole plant powders. This reduces food waste, decreases greenhouse gases and makes nutrients in food last longer. They work with farms, food brokers and grocers to convert misfit produce into natural health products, pet food and cosmetics.

Greenhouse is a well-known organic beverage company that distributes its products to hundreds of grocery and foodservice locations nationally.

“The process of cold-pressed juicing creates nutrient dense, high-value juice but results in a large amount of leftover pulp,” Outcast Foods CEO Darren Burke said in a statement. "Typically, this pulp ends up in landfills with a small percentage used in agricultural feed. However, our unique sustainable food technology can be used to recover high value nutrients, polyphenols and fiber remaining in the pulp and make it a valuable raw material for innovative and sustainable food products.” 

Greenhouse has been working towards a zero-waste model since its inception in 2014, the statement said. When co-founder Anthony Green heard about Outcast Foods, he thought the company might offer a perfect solution for the company's pulp.

“We produce hundreds of thousands of pounds of organic pulp byproduct every day,” he said. “Previously we were sending most of it back to farms to be used as compost; now that we are working with Outcast, we can get creative and upcycle this valuable fruit and vegetable matter into exciting new products.”

Outcast Foods uses a three-step process to dry fruits and vegetables, locking in the nutrients and extending shelf life to three years. The company mission is to create sustainable nutrition for health and the planet by improving our food system.

“With more uncertainty in our food supply chain now than ever, it’s critical to find ways to reduce food waste; upcycling Greenhouse’s pulp will provide high quality North American fruit and vegetable powders that will end up in delicious and sustainable new products,” said TJ Galiardi, Outcast Foods' Co-Founder. 

The Farmers’ Truck Relieves Food Deserts

Fredéric Laforge

Fredéric Laforge

A 2019 pivot has allowed Moncton-based social enterprise The Farmers’ Truck to become cash-flow positive and expand outside of Canada.

CEO Fredéric Laforge and co-founder Mathieu Reyjal originally conceived of the company as a mobile produce store, which they planned to franchise. Now, they sell specially customized trucks to non-profits. The charities then use the trucks to distribute healthy groceries to food-insecure households and alleviate food deserts -- areas where healthy food is not readily available.

“For us, our mission is fresh, accessible food in our community,” said Laforge in an interview. “The truck is only a tool.”

Laforge and Reyjal founded The Farmers’ Truck in 2015 with a $25,000 loan from the Community Business Development Corporation and launched an online store in 2017 to complement the eponymous truck.

Funding, however, proved problematic. As a social enterprise, Laforge and Reyjal could not offer venture capitalists the same returns that were available from classically profit-driven startups.

“As a social enterprise, it’s very difficult,” said Laforge in an interview. “You’re between a rock and a hard place. VCs aren’t necessarily interested because you don’t have that 10x growth.”

The geographic limitations of the business were also an obstacle. Even with franchising, each produce truck’s individual reach remained, as Laforge described it, “hyperlocal.”

The online store showed more potential for scalability. The Farmers’ Truck was short on money, though, and lacked the runway needed to execute its plans.

By 2018, according to Laforge, “Basically we were trying to figure out how to shut down the business because we weren’t able to secure funding.”

But the dissolution process revealed a new path forward. A Pennsylvania food bank purchased one of the company’s two trucks and told Laforge that the design was better suited to their needs than anything they had found in the United States.

“That piqued my curiosity,” said Laforge. “I figured, Maybe we do still have something here.”

The transaction inspired the Farmers’ Truck team to explore commercializing their truck design. In March of 2019, they were invited to present at the University of Buffalo as part of the first annual Mobile Market Summit -- an industry gathering for the operators of retail trucks -- and by August, they had made their first sale.

As of now, they have received a total of eight orders, with an eye towards delivering the first by June or July.

Laforge added that COVID-19 has increased interest in The Farmers’ Truck by highlighting many people's precarious access to food.

“It’s horrible because it is a tragedy with the pandemic, but really what it did was it bubbled up a lot of social problems and it put the light on these food insecure households,” he said.

The trucks are built on Ford Transit cargo van chassis by Dynamic Truck Bodies in Edmundston, New Brunswick, using a design by Laforge’s team.

Unlike the company’s previous business model, selling the trucks has the virtue of not requiring outside financing.

“We’re in a very special position where we don’t need funding because we get the deposits for each truck,” said Laforge. “So, we’re cash flow positive in our model.”

Because the truck buyers are non-profits, the sales cycle often involves grant applications and can be drawn out. To help, The Farmers’ Truck has compiled a list of relevant grants on its website and offers to help charities prepare their applications.

Laforge said his four-person team has relied on organic growth so far, but expects to hire a marketing specialist for a July sales blitz.

He does not anticipate seeking outside investment, except in the case of a highly strategic partnership, such as a grocery store chain.

He said he hopes that a local non-profit will resume The Farmers’ Truck’s original mission of helping vulnerable people in New Brunswick access fresh vegetables, since the province suffers from some of the highest rates of food insecurity in Canada.

Somru Adapts Platform for COVID-19

Mohammed Moin

Mohammed Moin

Charlottetown-based Somru BioScience Inc. is adapting its antibody platform to assist in developing therapeutic and diagnostic solutions for COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

The company has been developing a range of products centred around antibody technology for research, diagnostic and clinical applications. The products have been mainly used so far in research, with clients in 27 countries.

The company’s technology provides researchers with tools that in the short-term help mitigate risks during the pandemic. It's also aiming to do more in future outbreaks of infectious diseases with the long-term goal of developing diagnostic solutions. Somru's plans include shortening the development time of diagnostic kits for future infectious diseases by 50 percent.

“These are antibody-based tests and we’re exploring options with regulatory bodies for this to be used as a diagnostic kit in the future,” said Co-Founder Mohammed Moin in an interview.

Somru BioScience was founded in 2012 by two couples: Moin, his wife Dihan Ahsan; and husband and wife Rafiq and Clarinda Islam. The company’s specialty is producing research kits that use antibodies for accelerating drug development. Using its technology for diagnosis is far more ambitious than using it for research, and will require a greater level of regulatory scrutiny – a process Moin welcomes.

Health Canada Clears Appili for COVID-19 Trials

“We don’t know how long it will take,” he said, adding he hopes to have a time estimate by the end of May. “We’ve seen in the last month that regulatory bodies have done tests quickly and it has backfired. . . .  We are thinking there will be more rigorous assessment of these trials.”

He added that the pandemic has created opportunities for the company because it could allow Somru to export to more countries, including some in South East Asia.

The company has a staff of 25 and recently brought on three new researchers.

Moin said the company will continue to hire, and next year may outgrow its current space in the BioCommons Research Park on the edge of Charlottetown. It plans to expand its current facility by building 12,000 square feet of laboratory and office space.

As well as private investment, the company received support in the summer of 2018 from federal and provincial governments.

The lion’s share of the funding was a $3 million provisional loan issued through the Atlantic Innovation Fund, a fund for major R&D projects operated by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. The company also received a grant of as much as $257,752 from the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program, or IRAP.

The P.E.I. government lent the company $975,000 and provided a grant of $172,000 for marketing. Moin said at the time the total dilutive and non-dilutive funding round was worth about $7 million.

Reazent Accepted Into IndieBio

Reazent Founder and CEO Sumit Verma

Reazent Founder and CEO Sumit Verma

Reazent, an agtech company that has moved to Nova Scotia under the Startup Visa program, has been accepted into the IndieBio accelerator in Silicon Valley.

Startups in the prestigious accelerator receive a US$250,000 (C$350,000) equity investment, which will provide initial development capital for its bio-stimulants – organic fertilizers and pesticides that protect plants against disease and increase plant yield per acre. 

It plans to use the money to conduct trials for the prototype at the Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment at Cape Breton University later this year. The goal is to position the products for larger-scale trials.

“We have done what you would call proof-of-concept work and we have demonstrated the technology in the lab, as well as demonstrating it in actual greenhouse farms,” said Founder and CEO Sumit Verma in a phone interview from Mumbai.

“We are testing the efficacy of our product … and we want to develop our technology for the future. At CBU we are doing exactly that.”

Verma has spent his career in the chemical industry and has worked around the world – mainly in his native India but also in the U.S. and  Africa. His recent work included marketing and innovation in a large company, so he spent a lot of time meeting the chemical company’s clients, and talking to them about their problems.

“One of the themes that kept coming up was the need for an organic replacement of synthetic chemicals, and it was across the market, in agriculture and cosmetics,” he said. “In all those markets, sustainability was the big unmet need. I found there are very few good solutions for that need.”

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Verma began working with scientists to develop fertilizers and pesticides using natural ingredients, with the goal of selling them in Canada and the U.S. Working with two academic advisers at U.S. universities, he began to consider where to base the company and settled on Halifax.

Innovacorp, the Nova Scotia government’s early-stage venture capital agency, became a sponsor for Reazent in the federal government’s Startup Visa program. It allows foreign entrepreneurs to move to Canada in the hope that they will develop their businesses in the same province as their sponsor. 

Innovacorp has been working with Verma, introducing him to the Verschuren Centre and helping him to plot a path to market.

“Reazent’s technology is very attractive as it improves growth, yield, and stress resistance in plants for a wide range of fungal diseases such as bacterial soft rot, phytophthora blight, [and] anthracnose in leafy fruits and vegetables,” said Paul Richards, Innovacorp's AgTech Sector Lead.

At present, Verma is stuck in India, which is preventing outbound travel due to the COVID-19 lockdown. He has begun to attend the IndieBio program through online curriculum, and said he’s already benefitting from the program and the other entrepreneurs going through the accelerator. (Reazent is actually the second Atlantic Canadian company to attend IndieBio, as Fredericton-based Chinova Bioworks went through the program in 2016.)

Once he returns to Halifax, Verma wants to begin the trials at CBU and work toward gaining regulatory approval. The products will have to be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. and the Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency. He hopes to have a product on the market within 18 months.

As the interview wrapped up, Verma wanted to stress how important the support from Innovacorp was for his company.

“Things changed for our startup when we connected with Innovacorp because they understand early-stage startups,” said Verma. “When we met them, we just had a dream. . . . “Once you have some support from this sort of organization, things start falling into place. I think our selection into Innovacorp was one big milestone for us, and the other was the acceptance into IndieBio.”

 

Disclosure: Innovacorp is a client of Entrevestor. 

T4G Acquired by National Firm MNP

T4G Co-Founder and President Geoff Flood

T4G Co-Founder and President Geoff Flood

T4G has been purchased for an undisclosed price by national accounting and consulting firm MNP, which wants access to the target company’s expertise in data analytics and machine learning.

Though headquartered in Toronto, T4G is one of the pillars of the Atlantic Canadian tech community with offices in Halifax and Saint John. It was the driving force behind the Big Data Congress, which was a major event in the startup calendar for several years.

Based in Calgary, MNP is one of Canada’s largest national accounting, tax and business consulting firms. It said Monday it is retaining virtually all of T4G’s 100 employees and plans to grow the business, including the teams in Atlantic Canada.

“We’ve been talking to this company for a while,” said T4G Co-Founder and President Geoff Flood in an interview. “We’ve had a lot of suitors over the years and it never felt quite right until about now.”

Flood said the companies have been discussing the merger for about six months. Then the COVID-19 crisis erupted, which Flood said made the outcome of the talks all the more certain, because a larger firm would have more firepower and a bigger client list to cope with the economic uncertainty.  MNP has more than 85 locations and a staff of 5,500.

Flood said there is little overlap in terms of offices and technological expertise, so the companies fit well with one another. And he said the culture of the two firms is also complementary.

“Maybe it’s because they’re westerners,” said Flood, a native of Saint John who divides his time between Toronto and the Maritimes. “Someone – I think he was from Saskatchewan – was saying to me just the other day [his province] is just like Atlantic Canada but without the ocean. We get along very well.”

Datolite's Sales Grow in Wake of T4G Deal 

MNP said it was attracted to T4G because the target company could help clients succeed through digital transformation and by unlocking the value stored in their enterprise data.

T4G helps businesses to collect, organize, and use their data to gain competitive advantage and increase market share. It focuses on four key areas: data analytics, artificial intelligence, data engineering, and developing intelligent applications and AI tools.

“In this dynamic environment, the needs of Canadian organizations are quickly evolving, so we are constantly working with our clients to better understand how we can best support them,” said Tanya Knight, Executive Vice-President for MNP’s Clients and Services. “The strategic acquisition of T4G reflects our commitment to always look for new ways – and at how new technologies can help – to help our clients reach their full potential.”

MNP’s statement also highlighted that it has been growing in Atlantic Canada with its purchase of Dartmouth-based WBLI in 2017 and further acquisitions in Sydney and St. John’s this year.

“Atlantic Canada is already recognized across Canada as a technology hub and we believe that our acquisition of the T4G business will help us find more opportunities to work with the rich sources of talent that exist in this field, right across the region,” said Jeremy Cole, MNP’s Executive Vice President for Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. “That, in turn, underpins our ability to continue to develop new and innovative ways of helping our clients achieve their objectives.”

Datolite’s Sales Grow Despite COVID-19

Datolite Co-Founder Campbell Barrett, left, poses with first employee Jordan Moore and Director Partick Langlais.

Datolite Co-Founder Campbell Barrett, left, poses with first employee Jordan Moore and Director Partick Langlais.

In the wake of acquiring a division of a data analytics consultancy, New Brunswick legal software firm Datolite Solutions continues to see strong sales despite COVID-19.

Datolite, which used a distributed work model even before the pandemic, has seen increased demand for its products as paper processes become increasingly unworkable.

Director Patrick Langlais said in an interview that the company creates customized add-on software for digital billing platforms, and that he expects the growth necessitated by social distancing to persist after the coronavirus subsides.

“It’s an easier sell because everyone realizes the need, and going forward, it’s going to be more ‘top of the mind’ for law firms,” he said. “Once we’re into a firm, often the work doesn’t end once you’re done the project. They continually are evolving and needing new pieces of work.”

Langlais and Co-Founder Campbell Barrett started Datolite in 2014, after selling their previous business, which was then called Datalenz, to Thomson Reuters in 2011.

Datalenz allowed lawyers to generate and customize digital bills, improving on more rudimentary software that Langlais said “looked like something from a typewriter.” Now renamed 3E Templates, it is the product for which the majority of Datolite’s add-ons are created.

Langlais and Barrett’s team also works on services for 3E Paperless Proforma software, which is an internal billable-hours-tracking tool for lawyers, and on similar products from Thomson competitor Aderant. The latter represents a smaller slice of the legal billing software industry, but nonetheless offers growth opportunities.

“We’re focusing on the high-end, really complex solutions,” Langlais said. “They focus more on the bread and butter, what’s more easily billable.”

Among the world’s 100 largest law firms, Thomson and Aderant enjoy a near duopoly, meaning that by focusing on their platforms, Datolite can access almost the entire market.

An example of the type of add-ons the company creates is a feature that allows lawyers to easily refer to clients’ past billing information as they write new bills.

And with its acquisition of the paperless proforma business from data analysis specialist T4G earlier this year, Datolite can now allow lawyers to send invoices in a file format that is not immediately readable by humans, but which can contain a compressed, comprehensive accounting of the bill.

Thomson Reuters offers its own add-ons to 3E Templates clients, but they tend to be less complex and targeted at customers that need simple, plug-and-play solutions. Datolite’s main clients, in contrast, are large firms that need complex, highly customizable services, Langlais said

Of the 20 largest law firms in the world by revenue, nine are Datolite clients. In the United States, where the company does about 80 percent of its business, its customers include 10 of the 30 top revenue-generating firms.

Langlais and Barrett have set their sights on the United Kingdom, which currently accounts for slightly more than one-tenth of their business, as a key market for expansion. They are also aiming for more Canadian clients, after previously focusing most of their efforts on the United States.

The process of signing on new law firms has been hastened substantially by the pandemic, which Langlais said has highlighted the extent to which some firms have been relying on legacy, paper-based bookkeeping techniques that are not compatible with remote work.

Counting the four employees who came with the T4G acquisition, Langlais and Barrett now have 14 full-time staff and several contractors.

Although many of those employees live in Moncton, none works out of an office. Langlais is based in Saint John, Barrett works out of Toronto and other staff live as far away as Texas.

In addition to making it easier to adapt to crises like COVID-19, Langlais said that the distributed work model allows Datolite to spend the money it saves on rent to cultivate a desirable corporate culture, as well as on marketing initiatives.

For example, the company usually holds its annual strategy meetings in tropical destinations, such as Mexico or the Caribbean, and it often hosts cocktail parties and other events for potential clients, which Langlais said are an effective driver of organic customer growth.

“We invite all our clients and then we invite prospects. And then we don’t have to talk shop at all,” he said. “Our clients sell the prospects, and by the end of it, we have all these firms coming up to us and saying, ‘Hey, I just talked to a firm from New York. We’re having the exact issue you just solved for them. Can you talk next week?’”

Dal, Squiggle Park Join Research Project

Dalhousie University and Dartmouth-based educational software startup Squiggle Park are key players in a seven-year, $2.5 million project funded by the federal government to study literacy in a digital society.

The initiative is aimed at “ensuring full literacy in a multicultural and digital world,” and was announced on May 15 by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council -- Canada’s main funding body for practical science. It was part of a $75 million funding announcement by the SSHRC.

Led by the University of British Columbia’s Janet Werker, the researchers will run multiple studies to determine how culture and technology affect reading and writing ability. The results will be used by the study’s corporate and non-profit partners to help boost literacy levels in the general population.

“The results are actually going to be implemented,” said Aaron Newman, chair of Dalhousie’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. “They’re not just going to be in scientific journals, they’re actually going to be used in reading programs, materials that are provided to kids, and the design of commercial apps and educational games.”

Scientists participating in the study will meet annually to discuss how their individual projects relate to the overarching goals that come with the grant, as well as sharing information throughout the year.

Some of the research projects will also draw on data gathered by the private sector, including by Squiggle Park, which is headed by CEO Julia Rivard Dexter.

The Dartmouth company’s online games are designed to teach children to read. The company has produced a database that contains information from interactions with tens of thousands of users. This will offer researchers a larger data set than could be created in traditional laboratory studies.

Squiggle Park Teams Up With Halifax Wanderers Football Club

Topics that the grant recipients will be studying include the effects of multimedia content on childhood literacy, and how multilingualism can impact learning.

For example, one team of scientists will examine whether contextual clues, including animations and audio content, can act as crutches for children when they are reading digitally, such as when playing video games.

Another group will examine how speaking different languages at home and at school can affect children’s learning, since they may think in one language, but be required to read in another.

Newman will collaborate with Western University’s Marc Joanisse to design experiments that use neuro-imaging technology to learn more about the functioning of children’s brains during reading.

The scale of the grant will also allow Newman and his colleagues to work with specialists in neural nets -- computer systems that function on principles similar to those that govern organic brains -- to model reading-related brain function.

“There’s huge opportunity here for us to really advance our understanding beyond looking at the brain and going, ‘Oh, that area lights up. It must do X,’” said Newman. “We want to have a much deeper and richer understanding, and an explanatory model of how language is interpreted and represented.”

A 2011 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that over 40 percent of Canadians lacked the “the reading comprehension, digital literacy, and oral and written language skills to be able to fully contribute to today’s workforce.”

Statistics Canada has estimated that a one percent increase in the national average literacy rate compared to the international mean would produce a three percent increase in annual GDP.

Based on data from February -- the most recent available -- three percent equates to more than $58 billion.

Nonte Links With World’s Top Health Complex

Nonte, a new health tech startup spun off from Fredericton’s Populus Global Solutions, has a single early adopter for its medical research platform, and it’s the largest medical complex in the world.

Nonte has been beta-testing its platform, which allows researchers to collaborate across several disciplines, at the Texas Medical Centre in Houston, a complex of 60 medical institutions that employ 106,000 people. The parties were preparing to sign a full commercial relationship, but that process was delayed when the COVID-19 crisis broke out.

Populus CEO Tristan Rutter said in an interview that within 60 days Nonte should sign the deal and soon begin to work as well with other institutions it is meeting through its relationship with the Texas Medical Centre.

“What we provide is a better mousetrap,” said Rutter in a Zoom interview. “It’s not that people weren’t doing this before...but the bottom line is there was a bottleneck [in] merging human, clinical and benchtop science.” He added that the Nonte platform clears that bottleneck “in a way that is scalable, safe and secure for data-based science.”

For the past decade, Rutter has been heading Populus Global, whose health information system has sold well in the Caribbean, Latin America and New Brunswick. Populus works in population health, which is a segment of the healthcare industry that aims to benefit the health of an entire population.

Two years ago, the global research consultancy Gartner published a paper on the benefits of population health, which prominently featured Populus Global Solutions. That increased the Fredericton company’s profile in the U.S. and ultimately led to discussions with Prof. Kevin Garey, Chair at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, a Tier 1 research university.

Out of this relationship, Populus developed a purpose-built digital platform that researchers could use to organize and share all the disparate data involved in medical research.

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Rutter and his team have been working with Barrington Edge, the Halifax-based tech consultancy, to develop its market. In the interview, Barrington Edge Managing Director Dennis Young emphasized that the platform is “purpose-built” for the research community.

Collaboration in medical research is endlessly complicated because there are so many factors to consider. Patient confidentiality and intellectual property have to be protected. Misplaced or misdirected data could cost lives. The volume of data is huge, given that there are 300,000 researchers in the U.S. alone.

Rutter has now incorporated Nonte in the U.S., as that will be its prime market, and plans to develop its own sales staff, starting in Houston. Populus Global is still operating with a staff of about 20 people, and the management team will have to decide which executives move over to Nonte.

The team is eyeing a funding round of about $2 million to $3 million for Nonte. (Populus Global Solutions has already raised capital from such investors as New Brunswick Innovation Foundation.) Rutter and Young had discussions with potential investors before pausing due to the COVID-19 crisis. Young said that it plans to return to the funding campaign as the economy begins to recover, and he’s optimistic about the outcome.

“You’ve got a startup that is accelerating because it is purpose-built and we’re already in one of the largest research facilities in the world,” he said. “It’s revenue positive, and it’s going to be accelerating very quickly.”

Volta Seeks Applicants for Recovery

Halifax innovation hub Volta will offer a free, six-week course in June and July to help entrepreneurs make plans to navigate COVID-19 and the associated economic crisis.

The program, titled Volta Academy: Recovery, will include instruction from industry experts and cover topics such as financial planning, legal concerns and marketing during a crisis.

“COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for companies of all sizes, and with this new program, we want to help entrepreneurs create well-rounded strategies to effectively position themselves for success following this pandemic,” said COO and interim CEO Martha Casey in a statement.

Virtual group sessions will be held every Tuesday morning from 9:30 to noon, with optional one-on-one feedback available on other days.

Enrollment is free, but Volta is asking participants to make a donation to “an organization that is working to support vulnerable groups in our community” if possible.

A limited number of spaces are available and the deadline to apply is June 5. Entrepreneurs who are accepted into the program will find out on June 8, and the first class will be on June 16.

The online application form can be found here.

Health Canada Clears Appili COVID Trial

Halifax-based biopharmaceutical company Appili Therapeutics has announced that Health Canada has approved its Phase 2 clinical trial evaluating Favipiravir as a prophylactic agent against COVID-19 outbreaks.

This will be the first clinical study to examine the use of Favipiravir for outbreak control, the company said in a statement.

Researchers will enroll about 760 subjects, both residents and staff, at 16 long-term care homes in Ontario. The National Institute on Ageing has estimated that as of May 6, some 82 percent of deaths related to COVID-19 in Canada were associated with long-term care facilities, the statement said.

“Given the severity of COVID-19 amongst the elderly, and the evidence of ongoing transmission with severe outcomes in LTCHs (care homes), it is critical to develop interventions that minimize the spread of disease in this setting. As vaccines and treatment for COVID-19 remain unavailable, we must explore all possible solutions,” said Dr. Allison McGeer, senior clinician scientist at Sinai Health’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute in Toronto, and the study’s primary investigator.

Favipiravir is a broad-spectrum antiviral approved in Japan under the brand name Avigan. Recent studies suggest it may be useful in the treatment of COVID-19. With drug donated by FUJIFILM Toyama Chemical, Appili will conduct the trial with infectious disease specialists at Sinai Health in Toronto, the University of Toronto, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, and Unity Health Toronto.

“Industry and academia are coming together in unprecedented ways to mitigate this crisis, and Appili is proud to be part of this unique collaboration,” said Yoav Golan, the company’s Chief Medical Officer.

In February, Appili Therapeutics raised $10.25 million by selling shares and warrants to investors on the TSX Venture exchange.

HP, BoomersPlus Offer Consulting

The Halifax Partnership economic development organization has announced a collaboration with BoomersPlus to offer online consulting services to entrepreneurs struggling to navigate the pandemic.

BoomersPlus matches retired professionals who are at least 50 years old with companies that want to hire “boomers” for consulting or leadership roles.

The Virtual Advisor Program will allow founders to seek advice from experienced business people via a virtual platform. Participants will communicate according to a mutually agreed-upon schedule and set of parameters.

It is being rolled out under the umbrella of the Halifax Partnership’s existing SmartBusiness networking and advice initiative, which allows companies to seek advice on topics such as technology commercialization, and research and development.

The Halifax Partnership is also expanding its Connector program—which matches recent post-secondary graduates and skilled immigrants with business leaders for mentorship—to address labour shortages in the agriculture, fish processing and logistics sectors.

“Halifax Partnership has connected with over 750 businesses impacted by COVID-19, and we are helping companies navigate and access the many government programs and private sector resources available to help them with cashflow, staff reductions and other major challenges,” said president and CEO Wendy Luther in a statement.

Virtual Advisor and Connector participants are pre-screened by the Partnership. Prospective virtual advisor participants can apply here, and job-seekers and employers can enrol in the Connector program here.

How Collective Impact Shapes ONSIDE’s Mission

The official ONSIDE launch at Innovate Atlantic last year.

The official ONSIDE launch at Innovate Atlantic last year.

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ONSIDE, a new not-for-profit organization supporting innovation-based companies in Nova Scotia, knew from the outside that it was not working with a blank slate as it plotted ways to work collaboratively to improve the innovation ecosystem in Nova Scotia.

The organization grew out of the province’s participation in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (MIT REAP), which is an international accelerator for ecosystems. The mission is to put into practice the lessons learned in the program between 2016 and 2018.

In doing so, the ONSIDE team is on a mission to work in partnership with other organizations that have already built up a dynamic ecosystem in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada. It has adopted the philosophy of “collective impact” in executing on its mission, and strives to increase diversity and inclusion in the region’s innovation community.

“The special sauce is understanding the stakeholder model and what you’re trying to do is improve the operational trust between the partners,” said ONSIDE Executive Director Alexandra McCann in an interview. “We aim to increase the trust and improve the ability of people to work together beyond just their transactional obligations.”

The experience at REAP showed that Nova Scotia has a strong innovation capacity, but needs to work on its entrepreneurship capacity. So, ONSIDE aims to work with existing support organizations to improve the volume and calibre of innovation-driven entrepreneurship in the region. McCann hopes ONSIDE can help through the three Cs that comprise its operating mantra: “Convene, Connect and Catalyze.”

“Before we even start, we have to assess what we’ve got and go from there,” said Chère Chapman, Chair of the ONSIDE Board. “Nova Scotia’s strength is its innovation, and there are a lot of great organizations that are really making strides, like CDL Atlantic.”

This strength has been apparent in the past two months as startups have pivoted quickly to respond to COVID-19 and its impact on communities. For example, Dartmouth-based SimplyCast delivered technology to help municipalities, health-care clinics, and others improve communications and manage resources during the pandemic. Outcast Foods, also of Dartmouth, is working on solutions to lessen food waste, and Halifax’s Sona Nanotech is producing a COVID-19 rapid-response antigen test.

Global data indicating that startups will play a major role in economic recovery is starting to emerge, and ONSIDE believes startups can aid economic recovery here in Nova Scotia.

The guiding philosophy of ONSIDE is “collective impact”, a formula for problem solving first articulated in 2011 in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. First applied to education, the theory states that modern problems are so complex that no single player in the system can come up with a lasting solution on its own. Modern problem-solving requires the participation at the planning stage of a range of organizations, including governments, academia, labour, community groups and representatives of minority groups. All these groups have to work together to achieve a clearly defined goal.

McCann said collective impact is a method of mobilizing a broad range of people to tackle large, systemic challenges, such as poverty, environmental problems, or educational short-comings. 

ONSIDE perceives its role to be a “backbone organization”, that is, a body that brings together all the disparate groups in the ecosystem so they can solve problems together using collective impact. The MIT REAP model it has adopted examines the system, the stakeholders and the strategy and works with groups to improve the ecosystem. It is working closely with Nova Scotia’s three innovation districts and hubs – the Rural Mainland Hubs, Cape Breton Innovation District, and the Halifax Innovation District. It also supports the work of the Atlantic Women’s Venture Fund, a pan-regional group that aims to address the shortfall in funding for female-led ventures.

ONSIDE is assessing the whole ecosystem and looking for gaps in support organizations. It is focusing, for example, on supporting rural innovation through its interaction with hubs and innovation districts outside of Metro Halifax.

In keeping with the theme of collective impact, ONSIDE aims to promote greater inclusion in the startup community. There is a need to generate more participation from African-Nova Scotian and Aboriginal communities, said McCann and Chapman.

The team says it has been reaching out to under-represented segments of the community to ensure that their voices are heard as the ecosystem evolves. For example, it has been holding meetings with groups like the Black Business Initiative.

“It’s not enough just to grow the economy or the ecosystem, but we also need to focus on social progress,” said Chapman. “We’re working on looking at the ecosystem through the diversification lens to make sure that every opinion counts.”

Editor's Note: This is the second of three articles on the origin, philosophy and work of ONSIDE. You can find the first article here

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).

Survey Shows Optimism, Runway Concern

Patrick Hankinson

Patrick Hankinson

A new survey of Atlantic Canadian startups shows that CEOs remain optimistic about their prospects for 2020, but also reveals that most have less than nine months of runway.

Halifax-based venture capital firm Concrete Ventures conducted the survey between April 20 and 27. Like other surveys, including one by Entrevestor, it found that the COVID-19 crisis is having a negative effect on some startups while others are thriving in the current climate.

For example, nearly 16 percent of the 103 respondents reported laying off staff since the beginning of the pandemic, and roughly half said COVID-19 had a negative effect on their businesses. Overall, the survey reveals considerable optimism with almost two-thirds of early-stage startups (those with $1 to $500,000 of annual revenue) expecting to add staff this year.

The survey also highlights a subject gaining more attention in startup circles these days – runway. This refers to how much time a company has until it runs out of cash, assuming it maintains its current spending and revenue levels. Unless a company is cash-flow positive, it can only extend its runway by cutting costs, increasing sales or raising more capital.

The Concrete survey found that 74 percent of pre-revenue startups had less than nine months of runway as of late April. Some 53 percent of early-stage startups and half of established startups (those with more than $500,000 of annual sales) also indicated they were on track to run out of money by January.

Concrete Ventures Backs 8 Startups in First Year

“When you analyze the quantitative side of the survey, it seems like the data paints an optimistic and bullish future, but we all know that forward-looking statements shouldn’t be read as guarantees of future performance,” said Concrete Partner Patrick Hankinson in an email.

“When you start analyzing the qualitative part of the survey, you start to see some fear setting in. Respondents are pulling back their marketing/sales spend and struggling to generate top of the funnel leads, which will most likely translate into lower sales. Additionally, respondents are taking on more debt and with potentially lower sales, it will be harder to service that debt.”

The survey segmented the respondents into three categories: pre-revenue, early stage and established startups. COVID-19 is creating opportunities, with 46 percent of early-stage and 33 percent of established startups finding a business upside in the current situation.

The Concrete report said many respondents are trying to raise equity investment or take on debt. Even 37 percent of the pre-revenue companies are borrowing money to finance their operations in the current situation.

“Startups who take on new debt will soon have the pressure of servicing that debt . . . increasing the importance of increasing revenue substantially,” said the report.

Startups at every stage reported concerns about the impacts COVID-19 has had on sales and lead generation. In fact, 73 percent of early-stage and 93 percent of established companies have cut sales and marketing expenses. This is expected to impact growth over time, said Concrete.

Despite the host of federal government programs aimed at businesses to help them through this crisis, nearly 17 percent of startups indicated their business is not eligible for any programs and many pre-revenue companies feel left behind.

“COVID-19 is an unprecedented crisis for startups in Atlantic Canada, as it is for many startups around the world,” said Hankinson. “For some, this has created new opportunities but others are facing difficult challenges. Yet the East Coast startup community remains resilient. I am confident that we will get through this crisis.”

Feds Loosen CEBA Eligibility

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

The federal government has expanded eligibility for its small-business loan program, allowing more SMEs to borrow money to help them through the COVID-19 emergency.

At his daily briefing on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said more businesses can now access the the Canada Emergency Business Account, or CEBA, program. It provides up to $40,000 in interest-free loans to small and medium-sized enterprises and not-for-profit groups through private banks and credit unions.

  • Eligible businesses now include:
  • Sole owners or operators;
  • Companies that rely on contractors;
  • And family-owned businesses that pay employees through dividends.

“Businesses like yours are the backbone of our economy and the backbones of our communities,” Trudeau said, promising more details soon.

IMV Extends Runway with $25M Raise

Frederic Ors

Frederic Ors

Dartmouth-based drug discovery company IMV Inc. has enough cash to finance its operations until mid-2021 now that it has closed a $25.1 million private placement of shares and warrants.

The company, whose shares are listed on the TSX in Toronto and the Nasdaq exchange in New York, earlier this month announced the placement co-led by existing investor Fonds de Solidarité FTQ of Montreal and newcomer Lumira Ventures of Toronto. It was the company's first fundraising effort since it raised $29.5 million in March 2019. 

IMV on Friday issued its financial statement for the quarter ending March 31, which showed the company already had $7.4 million of cash at the end of the period. Adding the proceeds of the private placement allow it to carry on operations well into 2021, it said.

“Our recent financing fortifies our corporate position, with cash to fund operations for more than 12 months and several milestones anticipated across our portfolio in the interim,” said CEO Frederic Ors in the statement.

IMV carried out its raise at a share price lower than its highs of the past year. Under the private placement, investors paid $2.86 per unit, with each unit comprising one common share and 0.35 of one warrant. Each warrant gives the holder the right to buy another share for $3.72 until May 7, 2022.

IMV shares on Friday closed down 7.4 percent at $3.22. In February, the shares closed as high as $6.35.

IMV is one of a handful of publicly listed life sciences companies in the region that are drawing notice from investors this year. Halifax-based Appili Therapeutics in February raised $10.25 million through a share sale, meaning that Appili and IMV together have raised about $35.4 million on stock markets this year. Meanwhile, Halifax-based Sona Nanotech’s share price has gained 412 percent in the past year, though it has fallen from its historic highs in April.

Appili To Test COVID-19 Drug

The money being raised is going into private sector R&D in Atlantic Canada. For example, IMV’s most recent financial statement showed that its first quarter research and development spend rose to $6.8 million, up 70 percent from the same period last year. The company’s net loss for the quarter also increased to $9.7 million from $5.9 million.

IMV is currently assessing its lead drug candidate DPX-Survivac in the treatment of advanced ovarian cancer, as well as in several clinical studies in combination with Keytruda, a drug sold by the global pharmaceutical company Merck. In February, IMV announced “breakthrough” results of its Phase 2 clinical trials of the drug.

Growing out of research at Dalhousie University, DPX-Survivac uses the body’s immune system to battle diseases by delivering doses of medication over a prolonged period. Survivac locates Survivin, a substance found in the outer layer of cancer tumors, then attacks the tumors repeatedly.

In March, IMV said it is also working on a possible vaccine against COVID-19 that would use its DPX delivery platform.

“More than ever, it is important to proactively support our portfolio companies like IMV that give hope to patients in particular and society in general, whether it be for the fight against cancer or COVID-19,” said Didier Leconte, Vice-President for Investments, Life Sciences and Funds of Funds, at the Fonds de Solidarité.

Sydney Duo Wins Startup Weekend

Michaela Moore, left, and Kelsey Muller won the national competition in late April.

Michaela Moore, left, and Kelsey Muller won the national competition in late April.

Two Cape Breton University nursing students have placed first in the Canadian division of the Techstars Startup Weekend.

Held via video-conference on April 24 and dubbed “Unite to Fight COVID-19,” the competition saw aspiring entrepreneurs divide into teams to cultivate their business ideas over 52 hours.

Michaela Moore and Kelsey Muller worked with five other participants on their plans for Rest Assured—a web app that they hope will automate parts of the communication process between nurses and families.

“We know how hard nurses work to make sure there is communication put in place, because that’s such an important part of their job,” said Muller in an interview. “But sometimes that gets difficult, and that can be a pain point.”

Moore and Muller were encouraged to attend the Startup Weekend—which Colorado-based accelerator Techstars purchased in 2015—by University of Cape Breton faculty members Darren MacDonald and Corrine McIsaac. McIsaac teaches an entrepreneurship course for upper-year nursing students and MacDonald volunteers as a mentor for Startup Weekend entrepreneurs.

“I said ‘Why don’t you go and explore? Because you’re going to have a hard time finding designers and developers right now, with the (COVID-19) crisis,’” said MacDonald. “‘Go there with the intent to learn as much as you can about the process and network, and maybe you’ll be able to build a team out of it.’ And sure enough, they have.”

The event began with competitors who already had business ideas, including Moore and Muller, pitching their concepts to the rest of the attendees. They ultimately collaborated with five other people, including two software developers, to solidify their idea and prepare a video presentation that earned them a place in the final, live round of pitches.

Five Winners Split $125K at Volta Cohort Pitching Event

Their first-place finish secured them a spot on the roster for the Global Startup Weekend, which was held this past weekend. Five winners from that event were to attend the three-day Techstars Innovation Bootcamp.

Moore and Muller said they have not incorporated the business yet because doing so would disqualify them from participating in the global competition, but their Canadian win earned them free incorporation assistance that they plan to use soon.

Their intention is for Rest Assured to connect with hospitals and long-term care facilities’ existing, digital records-keeping infrastructure. Family members of patients and residents will then be able to log into the web portal to see details from their loved ones’ medical charts.

The system will connect to facilities’ databases using an API, or application programming interface, but Moore and Muller declined to elaborate further, citing a need to protect their market positioning.

They plan to commercialize Rest Assured by offering it to privately owned long-term care facilities, and are currently in talks for a pilot project.

Facilities will likely pay by the bed, but Moore and Muller hope to make access to the web app free for family members.

“We would really like it to be something that the health authority or the facility pays for,” said Muller. “We really don’t want to charge family members or users for access to the system.”

The decisions about what medical information to share will be up to the individual healthcare facilities, but a comprehensive privacy and security policy is in the works.

“It’s realistically up to the private care companies whether they want to share information or not,” said Muller. “There will definitely be hurdles, but we’re working on it.”

Innovacorp Offers Story Arc Series

The Cape Breton office of Innovacorp is offering a series of virtual meetings featuring leaders in communications and strategy free of charge in order to help entrepreneurs understand the importance of story-telling.  

The series, which is open to anyone, is designed to help entrepreneurs with their marketing skills, and features an array of international experts who are leaders in their fields. The speakers are friends of Cape Breton Entrepreneur-in-Residence Permjot Valia, who organized the sessions in collaboration with Innovacorp personnel Bob Pelley and Holly Chisholm.

"When this [pandemic] is all over, we're going to need a group of good, strong companies that can drive growth," said Valia in an interview. "These speakers are the best in their fields and they can help companies develop messaging to help them during the recovery."

The meetings are held every two weeks and are a mix of presentations, workshops and interviews that aim to boost attendees’ story-telling skills. The first session, The Art of Evangelism by Theo Priestly has already occurred, but there are three remaining sessions:

Activating Your Audience with Richard Mulholland
Mulholland will discuss how to find the best channels to reach your company’s audience. Mulholland started South Africa’s largest presentation firm, Missing Link, and co-founded 21 Tanks, South Africa’s first perspective lab.
When: Friday, May 22 between 3:00 pm and 4:00 pm via Zoom.
To register for Activating Your Audience, click here.

Winning in a Crisis with Alastair Campbell
Alastair Campbell’s experience as U.K. Prime MinisterTony Blair’s chief spokesperson and strategist during 9/11 and the war in Iraq has made him an expert in communicating and leading during a crisis. In his bestseller, Winners and How They Succeed, Campbell examines winning tactics and other insights. 
When: Friday, June 5 between 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm via Zoom
To register for Winning in a Crisis, click here.

Delivering Under Pressure with Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson
Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson is one of the U.K.’s most successful athletes. She has spent her career working under pressure, whether competing as a professional athlete or working in politics. She is the most decorated Paralympian in the world and one of the subjects in Alastair Campbell’s book, Winners and How They Succeed. In this interview, she will share how she managed to cope with the stress of expectations and become a global ambassador for disability sport.
When: Friday, June 19 between 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm via Zoom
To register for Delivering Under Pressure, click here.

Valia said he is planning another session, at a time yet to be determined, that will feature Jamie Constable, CEO of London-based RCapital, one of Britain's leading recovery funds. The theme of the talk will be how to turn around a troubled business, which Valia said could be especially relevant as we emerge from the recession.   

Volta Cohort Backs 5 Startups

Volta Cohort winners Arman Izadi, top left, Darren Steeves, Rahul Anand, Matthew Gillis and Selena Mehrani.

Volta Cohort winners Arman Izadi, top left, Darren Steeves, Rahul Anand, Matthew Gillis and Selena Mehrani.

Five startups each won $25,000 worth of investment in a remote version of the Volta Cohort pitching competition on Wednesday night.

The winners were chosen from a field of about 30 initial applicants, 15 of whom were selected to give three-minute presentations to a panel of judges from the public and private sectors. In addition to the money, the final five will receive access to mentorship and office space.

Halifax-based Startup hub Volta holds a Cohort competition once every six months. The investment dollars are from a fund co-founded by Volta, venture capital Crown corporation Innovacorp, federal funding agency BDC Capital and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

“Companies selected to participate in the Volta Cohort program continue to outperform when it comes to ​job creation, rapid growth, and raising venture capital investments,” said Volta COO and interim CEO Martha Casey in a press release. “Their impact and ambition – especially in uncertain times such as this – remind us of the importance of remaining agile in order to persevere.”

The five winning companies were:

SmartMed, Halifax

Arman Izadi – CEO

SmartMed is creating automated scheduling software for companies that employ shift workers. The program matches employees with shifts based on their location, availability, required equipment and other customizable metrics. It can also conform to strict regulatory regimes, such as those that govern airline pilots. Izadi said his product is more comprehensive and easier to use than competing services.

Habit Forming Technologies, Halifax

Darren Steeves – CEO

Habit Forming Technologies is building JackHabbit—an app that uses machine learning and gamification to “nudge” users into behaviors aimed at improving their physical and mental health. It will offer real-world rewards and in-app payoffs to encourage university students, among others, to cultivate beneficial habits, such as sleeping more and healthier eating. Steeves said the company will make money by partnering with larger organizations, which will then distribute JackHabbit.

Kute Lab, St. John’s

Selena Mehrani – Founder

Kute Lab is designing a smartphone app that allows shoppers to scan the barcode on a cosmetic product and receive feedback about the ingredients. Users can personalize the app by adding information about their preferences and skin health. Initial revenue will come from a freemium subscription model, and Mehrani plans to eventually sell user data to cosmetics companies. She said she will leverage the Volta money to secure additional investment, as well as completing the product development.

KorrAI, Halifax

Rahul Anand – Founder

KorrAI is creating artificial intelligence software to analyze drilling samples and other mining exploration data. The goal is to help mining companies make more consistent and faster decisions about where they are likely to find ore deposits. Most “geoscientific data” is currently analyzed by humans—a time-consuming and inconsistent process. Anand said KorrAI will be a cheaper and faster option. He plans to use the $25,000 to field test the technology.

VMOpro Inc., River Ryan, NS

Matthew Gillis – CEO

VMOpro combines “smart” physiotherapy balls and a smartphone app to help rehabilitation patients do their exercises at home. Physical therapists can also track users’ progress via a web portal. Gillis said that the system is ready to be tested by people waiting for hip and knee replacements. He plans to use the Volta investment to fund research and development.

 

Disclosure: Volta is a client of Entrevestor. 

ACOA Earmarks $110M for SMEs

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, or ACOA, will be distributing $110 million of federal funding to small and medium-sized companies that do not qualify for other forms of emergency bailouts.

ACOA said in a press release Wednesday that the Regional Recovery and Relief Fund, or RRRF, is aimed at the manufacturing, technology and tourism sectors, among others.

The Atlantic funding is part of a larger $962 million spending package that is being dispensed by regional economic development agencies across the country.

In order to be eligible for help from the RRRF, businesses must first apply for other COVID-19 assistance measures, such as the Canada Emergency Business Account benefit, the Wage Subsidy benefit and the Commercial Rent Assistance Program, according to the ACOA website.

Applicants can either have requested funding and been denied, or have received funding, but still be experiencing financial hardship.

The press release did not clarify whether business owners are required to apply to all of the other programs, or only some of them.

Companies will only be permitted to use the money for specific expenses, determined on a case-by-case basis. After a grace period ending in December of 2022, the funding must be repaid by 2025, but there will be no interest charged.

Applicants are being instructed to first speak to an ACOA program officer and then fill out an online application form, found here.

 

Disclosure: ACOA is a client of Entrevestor. 

SimplyCast Wins National Award

Saeed El-Darahali

Saeed El-Darahali

Dartmouth-based SimplyCast, a multi-channel marketing company, has been awarded the Canie Award for Global Entrepreneurship for the Atlantic Region by the Innovators & Entrepreneurs Foundation. a national charity dedicated to supporting entrepreneurship among business owners in marginalized communities.

The award recognizes organizations that have succeeded in selling into international markets. Over the last decade, SimplyCast has garnered clients in more than 175 countries and has translated its engagement platform into 11 languages.

“I’m very proud of the SimplyCast team and the growth we’ve been able to achieve,” said Saeed El-Darahali, President and CEO, who was raised in Kuwait.

“We have worked hard to grow and scale to be able to support international clients and it is an honor to have this prestigious organization recognize this hard work.”

Last year, SimplyCast marked its tenth anniversary by establishing a $100,000 fund to benefit young people.

El-Darahali said the Youth First Fund would award scholarships and bursaries to students, finance internships, and help graduates pay off student loans. It will be an evergreen fund, meaning it will always be maintained at or near the $100,000 level. He added that he had found it difficult as a young man to find work without experience, so he made it his own mission to help young Nova Scotians enter the workforce.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canie award ceremonies will be held online. The Atlantic ceremony will take place on June 18.

CDL Growth Includes Oceans Cohort

Despite COVID-19 necessitating logistical changes, 2020 is shaping up to be a landmark year for the Atlantic division of science and technology accelerator Creative Destruction Lab.

The cohort that finished the program on May 5 was the first to offer specialized training for ocean technology startups, which comprised about half of the 25 companies that were accepted to participate.

CDL-Atlantic site lead Jeff Larsen said in an interview that the accelerator plans to introduce a separate Oceans cohort this fall, complementing the generalist Prime cohort. Both will include 20 to 25 companies, meaning that overall enrolment in CDL Atlantic could as much as double.

“For this year they ran contemporaneously,” said Larsen in an interview, referring to the ocean startups having been part of the Prime group. “Next year, though, they’ll run more separately because of the scale. It will be a little bit less connected.”

CDL has divisions across Canada, as well as in Paris, France and Oxford, England. The Atlantic location, though, is the only one to offer oceans-specific training.

The regular accelerator programs last nine months. They include five full-day meetings, called sessions, that allow startup founders to receive feedback from experienced entrepreneurs and professionals from relevant industries.

At the end of each session, the business people in attendance are asked to volunteer at least four hours of their time to provide the participants with one-on-one coaching. If there are no volunteers willing to mentor a particular company, it is not invited back for future sessions.

Normally, CDL-Atlantic holds its events at Dalhousie University. In recognition of the enthusiasm shown by Newfoundland companies and mentors, the May 5 meeting was originally slated to take place in St. John’s.

The threat of COVID-19 infection, however, forced Larsen’s team to move the proceedings online.

“We had to make the call about seven days in advance,” he said. “We tried to hang on as long as we could, but then we realized that it wasn’t going to be possible.”

A “Super Session” that was scheduled for Juneand would have showcased companies from across CDL has also been cancelled.

CDL’s Recovery stream—an accelerated version of its usual program that will run this summer and is aimed at developing solutions to the dual public health and economic crisis—is slated to be held entirely online.

“We believe that science and technology needs to accelerate out of the lab and make an impact on public health and the economic recovery in a way that’s even more urgent than normal,” said Larsen, adding that an online accelerator was the only way to achieve this under current conditions.

The regular CDL programs are divided up by region. But the online model being used for the Recovery program will allow all of the participating companies, which could number as many as 160, to be enrolled in a single, global cohort.

CDL’s current plan is for its usual, geographically-based programming to resume by October. The first few sessions for each cohort will be held digitally, with a possible transition back to in-person meetings to follow.

Although companies usually enrol in programs that are geographically close to them, Larsen said that the emphasis on ocean tech in the Atlantic region’s most recent Prime group attracted startups from as far away as Norway, Greece and California.

He expects the trend to continue in the fall, citing Atlantic Canada’s growing reputation as a hotbed for ocean technology: “The more we position ourselves as a leading ecosystem for ocean companies, we’re getting more and more interest, and our reputation is starting to really develop.”

Canada51 To Back Women Founders

Rhiannon Davies

Rhiannon Davies

The Atlantic Women’s Venture Fund and its Alberta counterpart are forming a new organization that they hope will become a nationwide vehicle for supporting female-led businesses.

The new group Canada51 is now a partnership between the AWVF and the Calgary-based female investment group The51.  

In its initial stages, Canada51 will probably involve the two founding organizations and their members investing in and supporting each other’s portfolios.  

But they hope it will grow into a cross-country organization as more individuals and organizations get involved, and that it will support female entrepreneurs in all parts of Canada. The vision is to develop investment leads and to create programming together.

“We perceived in each other this common mandate and said ‘Isn’t this fascinating?’” said AWVF Co-Founding Partner Rhiannon Davies in an interview. “We both have an incredibly powerful investment proposition, and we can amplify it by working together. But won’t it become even more powerful if it becomes a movement?”

The Atlantic Women’s Venture Fund is still in its formative stages, and its steering committee hopes to announce its initial close in the third quarter of this year. Their goal is a fund worth at least $20 million, and it will be a free-standing body independent of Canada51.

Its principals – Davies and Sarah Young of Halifax and Cathy Bennett of St. John’s – want to address the shortage of capital for Atlantic Canadian startups in general, and female founders in particular.

They see this not just as a social mission but also as an attractive business model because it will channel capital into a vibrant and under-financed segment of the Canadian economy. Women founders currently account for 4 percent of the capital raised by Canadian startups, even though female founders have a unique perspective on entrepreneurial opportunities. For example, women make 80 percent of healthcare decisions and up to 85 percent of consumer purchasing decisions.

The fund will invest in companies with male CEOs as long as there is at least one woman in a senior, C-level position.

The AWVF aims to be non-competitive and collaborative as it is demonstrating with the creation of Canada51. The partnership’s website allows people (men and women) who are interested in backing female-led companies to sign up to join the development of the organization.

“We know we can transform Canada’s economy in this decade and beyond and our partnership with AWVF is pivotal to stitching this next economic wave together,” said The51 Co-Founder Shelley Kuipers in the statement.

Though the Atlantic Women’s Venture Fund itself is unlikely to make investments before late 2020, some of its members have already backed female-led companies on their own. They are serving as angel investors to such companies as life sciences venture Motryx (led by Francezska Broell) and Coloursmith Labs (led by Gabrielle Massone).

 “We know this isn’t going to happen overnight so have a signup for anyone who wants to get involved,” said Davies. “Canada51 is really about bringing collective capacity together and identifying organizations that are all pursuing the same goals.”

Propel CEO Bisson To Retire in Fall

Barry Bisson

Barry Bisson

Propel CEO Barry Bisson has announced he will retire in the fall of this year, so the Atlantic Canadian tech accelerator has begun its search for his replacement.

The pan-regional organization issued a statement Monday evening, saying its board of directors has formed a search committee to lead the effort in partnership with the executive search firm Chapman Group. 

Propel said it hopes to attract a diverse group of applicants, with the ideal candidate being someone who can lead growth, guide day-to-day operations and continue to build Propel’s capacity and reputation as the leading virtual accelerator in Canada.

“We have been exceptionally lucky to have Barry lead our team over the past three years,” said Propel Chair Jeff White in the statement. “His knowledge in scaling tech companies and managing our stakeholder relationships has helped Propel become a leading virtual accelerator for ICT ventures. We have a significant opportunity to grow our impact on the economy and much-needed economic recovery as we engage and support more companies than ever before.”

This will actually be Bisson’s second attempt at retirement. In 2016, he retired as the head of Shad, the national science and entrepreneurship program for gifted high school students. Before that, he was the head of the Technology, Management and Entrepreneurship program at University of New Brunswick.

After he joined Propel in 2017, he launched the Incite program, a virtual accelerator brought in to solve the problem of vast distances between the cities in the region. Incite comprises two phases – Phase I helps companies find their product-market fit, and Phase II teaches them how to scale. And he extended the period of time companies spent within the Propel programs.

“Our commitment to the founders that we work with is that we will walk beside them for about 12 months,” said Bisson at the organization’s virtual demo day last week.

Last month, Bisson announced Propel would abandon the traditional cohort model to offer continuous intake to the companies it supports.

Propel said Monday it hopes to announce Bisson’s successor this summer. Bisson will conclude his term by Oct. 31.

On Friday, Propel held its first virtual demo day, due to the COVID-19 lockdown, and nine companies presented at the event. It concluded with St. John's-based Oliver POS receiving the Gerry Pond Sales Award (another of Bisson’s initiatives), which features a $25,000 cash prize and the opportunity to receive $30,000 in investment from New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and Innovacorp.

Appili To Test COVID-19 Drug

Appili Therapeutics said Monday it will sponsor the first clinical trial in Canada evaluating Fujifilm Toyama Chemical’s drug Favipiravir for the prevention of COVID-19.

The Halifax company dedicated to fighting infectious diseases last November bought the rights to develop a new anti-fungal drug candidate from Fujifilm Toyama, and the announcement Monday shows the two companies are deepening their relationship.

Fujifilm Toyama will support the Phase 2 trials by providing supplies of Favipiravir, which is approved in Japan as the anti-influenza drug Avigan.

Appili has filed the clinical trial application with Health Canada and expects to initiate the trial at long-term care facilities in Ontario as soon as possible after receiving regulatory clearance.

“This program illustrates our commitment to leverage our relationships and expertise to do the right thing for patients and public health.” said Appili CEO Armand Balboni in a statement. 

Shares of Appili, which has listed on the TSX Venture Exchange and recently raised $10.25 million, rose 14 percent in late trading on Monday to a record high of $1.70.

In 2014, Japanese health authorities approved Favipiravir, a broad-spectrum antiviral developed by Fujifilm Toyama, as a treatment in a pandemic influenza outbreak.

Favipiravir was also used in a clinical trial to address the Ebola outbreak in Guinea.

Fujifilm Toyama is actively supporting several controlled clinical trials for Favipiravir to investigate its use against COVID-19.     

Researchers in Wuhan, China, reported in early February that Favipiravir demonstrated anti-viral activity against SARS-CoV-2. Small-scale trials conducted in China also indicated that Favipiravir may provide clinical benefit in patients with COVID-19.

“We have an ongoing relationship with Appili and are pleased to support the company in its efforts to assess Favipiravir for the potential benefit of Canadian patients,” said Fujifilm Toyama President Junji Okada. “We are well-aligned with Appili in our commitment to innovative R&D work that may address public health crises by mitigating the threat of deadly infections.”

Appili will take Favipiravir through what’s known as a “cluster randomized placebo-controlled trial”, in which patients will be recruited at several long-term care facilities throughout Ontario. The main goals are to assess the safety and effectiveness of Favipiravir in preventing further COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities. Secondary goals include assessing Favipiravir’s potential to inhibit the progress of the disease.

As of May 2020, the majority of deaths in Canada resulting from COVID-19 have occurred in long-term care facilities, making this population especially vulnerable.

Call for Short-Term Ocean Projects

Canada’s Ocean Supercluster is seeking applications from across Canada for short-term, innovative projects that will help stimulate economic activity.

Under the Accelerated Ocean Solutions Program, the federally backed supercluster—which partners with private industry to fund research and development— will spend up to $35 million to back small-scale projects that can be brought to market in less than two years.

Based in Atlantic Canada, the Ocean Supercluster is a private-public partnership formed with the support of the federal government’s supercluster program. It’s expected to spend about $350 million on research projects over five years.

Applications should fall within the themes of remote operations, environmental technologies, or computer technologies.

Projects must also support the innovation ecosystem; involve product or service development; be aimed at expanding or improving existing oceans infrastructure; or look to improve industrial processes.

The first step for entrepreneurs interested in participating is to fill out an expression of interest form, found here, which is due May 22 at 2 pm AST.

“Projects must have a compelling strategy to capitalize on emerging opportunities and overcome challenges in the context of the current market and operational conditions, and deliver a definitive outcome in an accelerated timeframe,” said the Supercluster in a press release.

The government announced in 2018 that Atlantic Canada’s Ocean Supercluster was one of five projects that would split $950 million over five years to develop innovation “superclusters” across the country. They aim to foster economic growth by building centres of excellence.

In February, the supercluster unveiled a $6.8 million program to support the creation of more and better oceantech startups in Atlantic Canada. The supercluster now has an active pipeline of large-scale projects, but the crisis is seen as an opportunity to stimulate activity with smaller-scale projects that can be completed in less than two years.

Dal Rated #85 in Impact Rankings

Dalhousie University has been recognized by Times Higher Education magazine for its work on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The publication’s University Impact Rankings rated Dalhousie 85th out of 767 universities that participated in its 2020 report.

Institutions were required to report their progress on at least six of the 17 UN goals. Dalhousie reported on seven and aims to increase that number for next year’s rankings.

“We heard really broadly from our research community that they feel like they’re tackling the world’s problems with their research, but how do we know? How do we measure that?” said vice-president research and innovation Alice Aiken. “The sustainable development goals are a great way to show that we’re working for a larger purpose.”

On its website, the UN describes the Sustainable Development Goals as “the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.” They include metrics such as eliminating poverty, achieving gender equality and cultivating global development partnerships.

Dalhousie drew heavily on the UN targets when it developed its Research and Innovation Strategic Plan in 2018, according to Aiken.

The Impact Rankings are part of Times Higher Education’s broader project to rate the overall quality of major post-secondary institutions. First place went to the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

To participate, schools were required to file extensive documentation about both their research activities and the steps they were taking within their own communities. Dalhousie began preparing nearly a year in advance and is now readying for the 2021 list.

Aiken said that an example of Dalhousie’s work on the UN goals is its participation in the Ocean Frontier Institute, which includes several Atlantic Canadian Universities, as well as European researchers, and is focused on using a combination of engineering and social sciences to improve ocean health.

All told, said Aiken, Times Higher Education rated Dalhousie on Metric No.  3, “good health and well-being”; Metric No.  6, “clean water and sanitation”; Metric No.  9, “industry, innovation, and infrastructure”; Metric No.  10, “reduced inequalities”; Metric No.  14, “life below water”; Metric No.  16, “peace, justice and strong institutions”; and Metric No.  17, “partnerships”.

“What the UN said was if we solve these problems by 2030, we will live in a better world. And Dalhousie is part of that,” added Aiken. “It’s very motivating for people to see themselves as part of the bigger picture.”

 

Disclosure: Dalhousie is a client of Entrevestor. 

CDL-Recovery Fights Covid-19

Science and technology accelerator Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) is launching a new program focused on bolstering efforts to fight COVID-19.

CDL Recovery will be a joint project with Montreal-based artificial intelligence hub Scale AI. It will aim to rapidly commercialize innovations that could help protect public health or accelerate the economic recovery.

The program will be open to businesses, informal groups, individuals, social ventures and non-profits.

Once applicants are selected, they will participate in a series of “objective-setting sessions” between now and August, before starting CDL’s virtual incubator. The program will be similar to CDL’s usual, nine-month offering, but will take only half the time in recognition of the urgency of the crisis.

CDL participants take part in a series of “sprints” towards pre-defined growth metrics, with the startups that make the most progress moving on to the next stage and those that lag too far behind being ejected from the program.

CDL’s Atlantic division is based out of the Rowe School of Business at Dalhousie University, and usually has two streams: the generalized, technology stream and an ocean-focused stream. Graduates include construction AI firm Harbr, and biotech specialists Motryx and Coloursmith Labs.

An application portal for Atlantic companies is available here.

Oliver POS Wins Gerry Pond Award

Mathias Nielsen

Mathias Nielsen

St. John’s-based retail software company Oliver POS has won Propel’s Gerry Pond Sales Award for 2020.

Created last year to honour the chairman of Saint John technology company Mariner Partners, the award grants one member of Propel’s Incite II accelerator cohort $25,000 cash and an optional $30,000 of investment from Innovacorp and the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation.

Pond, who also heads the East Valley Ventures investment group, is an enthusiastic evangelist for the value of reliable sales pipelines. He helped found Propel and continues to sit on its board of directors.

Oliver POS gives bricks-and-mortar retail workers access to information about customers’ online shopping and browsing activity to help them sell more effectively.

“What we will use the money for is to support our employees in continuing our growth, as well as investing in more software-as-a-service tools to help us onboard more customers,” said CEO Mathias Nielsen in an interview, referring to the cash prize.

The company’s business model is to identify shoppers using information such as their email address—which they may provide to staff during the checkout process—and display information about their social media activity, advertisements they’ve viewed and tech-support requests they’ve filed, among other metrics.

Read More about Propel's Demo Day on Friday

This information replicates what online retailers have access to, with the aim of allowing staff to suggest different or additional products that customers might want to buy.

“We’re bringing the online know-how into the physical point-of-sale,” said Nielsen.

More than 56 new merchants signed on last week alone, said Nielsen.

Oliver POS so far employs 22 people, and Nielsen hopes to increase that number to 42 by the end of this year. He’s also working on a substantial fundraising round that he aims to complete by August.

The company received the Pond award based on the recommendation of an independent committee comprised of local business people and startup specialists.

“This was not an easy decision,” EY Associate Director Chris Weir, one of the judges, said during the awards presentation.  “In my own personal scoring, the difference between first and second place came down to fractions of numbers.”

The main criterion for the award, which is funded primarily by donations from local companies, was that its recipient developed a “repeatable and scalable sales model” while enrolled in Propel, with clear evidence of sales growth.

“We really appreciate this,” said Nielsen during the ceremony. “We’ll take a virtual beer with the team, later.”

Propel Holds Virtual Demo Day

The Incite II Cohort in October.

The Incite II Cohort in October.

Propel, the Atlantic Canadian tech accelerator, held its annual Demo Day on Friday, during which nine founders from the latest Incite II cohort presented their companies.

As may be expected during the pandemic, it was an online event, with the founders delivering their pitches in a pre-recorded format, then answering live questions from their homes or offices.

Phase 2 of Incite runs for seven months and aims to help founders build a scalable and repeatable sales process using the GrowthX methodology for market development.  Silicon Valley-based GrowthX helps entrepreneurs commercialize innovation through an online platform that allows companies to access content as they need it.

Some 32 companies started the program in October, and five graduates recently received  $50,000 each in pre-seed funding from Innovacorp and the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation.

The highlight of Demo Day was Oliver POS winning the annual Gerry Pond Award for sales. Here is a glance at the other eight presenters:

CareCrew, Antigonish, NS

Abdel Moslih - CEO

CareCrew has created a software suite to help with communication and task-management in long-term care environments. It offers tools for staff to log their activities, report problems and monitor medication dispensing, among other uses. The senior-care software market is crowded, but other types of long-term care are underserved, so the team is starting by focusing on disability care.

FoodByte, Wolfville, NS

Sean Pindar – CEO

FoodByte has developed an online platform that allows food processors to quickly generate and manage food safety plans. The company’s mission is to provide accessible, reliable, and scalable food safety. It works with food processors and food safety experts across Canada on such issues as traceability, recall management, and regulation compliance. Pindar said the software can cut the cost of implementing food safety plans by as much as 75 percent. The company is working on a $500,000 funding round.

Invisible Agents, Halifax

Stuart Boyd - Founder

Invisible Agents has created an artificial intelligence system that helps non-profits analyze internal data, such as volunteerism stats and petition signings, and external data, such as economic activity and wealth-screening for potential donors. The software then uses machine learning to make recommendations about how to most effectively pursue donations. The company is in the process of raising a $500,000 round of equity financing, which it plans to use to finish Version 1 of its software and list it on the Salesforce AppExchange.

Milk Moovement, St. John’s

Robert Forsythe - CEO

Milk Moovement makes supply-chain management software that lets dairy producers, transporters and processers track their activities and communicate over a single platform. Its goal is to reduce supply chain waste by removing the transaction barriers that work against efficient markets. As of the week of May 4, monthly recurring revenue had reached about $40,000, and the supply problems caused by COVID-19 have prompted an increase in the number of potential customers reaching out to the company.

SepticSitter, Stratford, PEI

Kelly Galloway - Founder and CEO

SepticSitter is an early-warning solution for septic systems, allowing property owners to address problems before a messy, costly disaster occurs. Its patented, non-contact sensors easily install in septic tanks and drain fields, preventing hazardous system backups and overloads. The company sells hardware and service plan subscriptions to businesses, through full-service septic professionals, and is initially focusing on new commercial installations, which offer up to 12 times higher order value than retrofits.

Simbi, Vancouver

Aaron Friedland – CEO

This educational technology company records students as they read stories aloud, then allows other students to read along as they listen to the recording. By doing this, children can improve their reading skills, and the process motivates children to read, addressing a huge problem in modern education. The system also allows educators to assess the students’ progress. The technology is used by more than 45,000 children in 54 countries. The company, which has recently added French language features, is now raising a $500,000 round.

TotalIQ, St. John’s

Andrew Sinclair - Founder and CEO

TotalIQ has developed a platform that helps engineering companies understand the expertise of all employees and share that knowledge among the staff. The backend of the system contains a repository in which employees can stash different forms of information. These include documents and project lessons, even stories, which Sinclair considers a key part of the corporate knowledge base. The front end includes a recommendation algorithm function and a Q&A format so employees can find information easily. The company is now raising capital with a target of $700,000.

Jobs: Two at Ashored Innovations

Dartmouth-based oceantech company Ashored Innovations continues to grow and is hiring a Director of Engineering and a Software Engineer – two postings that headline our Jobs of the Week column.

Ashored has developed fishing equipment that reduces the dangers of animals such as whales becoming entangled in ropes as well as the hazards posed by lost equipment littering the ocean floor. Its first product, the Modular Ocean Based Instrument, or MOBI, is a lobster trap buoy that is positioned near the ocean floor and released only when the fishing boat approaches.

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 is an excerpt from the headline postings this week:

Dartmouth

Ashored Innovations

Director of Engineering

The primary responsibility of this position is leading an interdisciplinary team tasked with the development, implementation, and testing of systems within Ashored’s ropeless (or Rope-On Command) fishing solutions. This will involve working collaboratively with management, the development team, and Ashored’s development partners. As an emerging company, Ashored is seeking a leader to build our team’s electronics capabilities and design methodologies.

Responsibilities

Lead development of Ashored’s gear tracking and gear recovery solutions

Manage technology plans & product roadmaps, based on market/customer requirements

Build and develop Ashored’s technical core competencies

Participate in general management decision-making of the company

Work with funding agencies, scientific research tax credits, etc.

Conduct and support engineering duties including:

Design, implement, and test printed circuit boards

Design, implement, and test microcontroller firmware – both on custom-designed circuit boards and OEM products

Work closely with other design disciplines (mechanical, software, etc.) and play a leadership role in system integration and testing

Participate in selection of design tools, establishment of laboratory space, and the creation of design processes/practices

Create supporting documentation as needed

Work with management to maintain a clear picture of project status with respect to costs, schedules, etc.

Represent the company effectively while working directly with customers and early adopters

Qualifications

Experience and Knowledge

Experience with designing circuit boards from concept through to completion

Experience with writing embedded firmware

Experience leading a multi-disciplinary team in a product development environment

Experience managing product development projects, through to manufacturing

Experience working with contractors, business development, customers, and other parties

Experience with integrating and testing full systems (required), particularly for ocean use (helpful)

Experience with digital communication systems and signal processing (helpful)

Experience with low power systems (helpful)

Experience with underwater acoustics (helpful) . . . 

Read the full job posting here.

Software Engineer

The primary responsibility of this position is the development, implementation, and testing of mobile applications for Ashored’s gear recovery and gear tracking systems. This will involve working collaboratively with management, the development team, and Ashored’s development partners. As an emerging company, there will also be a need to help build our software capability and design methodologies.

Responsibilities

Design, implement and test cross-platform mobile applications for iOS & Android

Work closely with other members of the design team – electronics, mechanical, etc.

Participate in integration and full system test – including testing on the water

Participate in selection of design tools, creation of design processes and practices

Create supporting documentation as needed

Work with management to maintain a clear picture of project status with respect to costs, schedules, etc.

Represent the company effectively while working directly with customers and early adopters

Qualifications

Knowledge and Experience

Experience with mobile application development (required)

Experience with standard development platforms, such React Native, Angular or Flutter (required)

Experience working on an agile development team

Experience with standard interfaces, such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, would also be an asset

Experience with cloud computing platforms such as Amazon Web Services would also be an asset . . . 

Read the full job posting here.

Tranquility Aids Healthcare Workers

Joel Muise and Alissa Pencer

Joel Muise and Alissa Pencer

Mental health startup Tranquility Online is collaborating with a Halifax charity, Partners For Care, to provide free services to healthcare workers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Founded 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.

The alliance with Partners For Care, which raises money for patients at the QEII Health Sciences Centre, comes after Tranquility Online closed a $400,000 round of equity funding.

Under the alliance with Partners For Care, health professionals can log in through a special portal, which Tranquility CEO Joel Muise estimates has been used by at least 30 people so far.

“The pandemic comes with what we call normal anxiety. We’re all dealing with increased levels of stress and anxiety for all kinds of different reasons,” said co-founder and senior scientific director Dr. Alissa Pencer in an interview, adding that the coronavirus could also trigger clinical levels of anxiety or depression in some people.

The Tranquility platform is designed to improve the affordability and accessibility of mental healthcare in light of long wait times for publicly funded treatment. It does this by using software to provide some of the same interventions that patients would receive from their therapists.

“We’ve taken the gold standard in the industry, which is cognitive behavioral therapy, and found a way to put it inside an online platform, so that the treatment itself is actually the software,” said Muise.

Meanwhile, members of the public can also receive a 50 percent discount on their subscriptions during the crisis.

Psychologist McGrath Launches 90Second Health

Users can choose from two subscription tiers. The first is a digital-only subscription that is regularly priced at $59 per month. The second normally costs $99 and includes access to the online services, plus 30 minutes per week of video, phone or in-app communication with a specially trained program coach.

The platform so far features a treatment path tailored for anxiety, and Tranquility Online plans to release a depression-centered version mid-summer.

Muise noted that many of the core principles of cognitive behavioral therapy apply regardless of what mental health issue is being treated, so people suffering from depression may still benefit from the anxiety program.

He estimated that it is possible to work through the anxiety course in as little as 12 weeks, but a more thorough user could take three to five months.

Muise and Pencer have used the $400,000 from their recent funding round to hire four full-time and one part-time employee.

The company, which previously received $25,000 in funding from the Volta Cohort program, will soon graduate from the Propel Incite accelerator.

Muise said that if non-profits in other provinces are interested in organizing programs similar to the deal with Partners For Care, he would like to hear from them.

DOT’s Underwater Sensor Platforms

DOT team members Vince Sieben, left, Arnold Furlong, Lee Miller, and Roger Race

DOT team members Vince Sieben, left, Arnold Furlong, Lee Miller, and Roger Race

A Halifax-area company is aiming to build a ready-to-use underwater platform with a suite of “lab-on-a-chip” sensors for marine research.

Dartmouth Ocean Technologies, or DOT, is the creation of president Arnold Furlong and Director of Innovation Roger Race. Furlong is a serial entrepreneur specializing in marine technology, and Race is a biologist and engineer based out of Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

The towable platform on which the sensors will be mounted already exists in the form of DOT’s V-Wing depressor—a fiberglass wing that can be outfitted with sensors and towed behind a boat.

“The long-term goal is to build a sensor or buy other sensors, put them on our wings, including the winching and deployment systems, and sell it as a turn-key system package,” said Furlong in an interview.

Based out of the COVE oceantech hub in Dartmouth, NS, DOT also offers two of its own sensors—one that detects phosphates and another that can identify DNA in the marine environment. To help with the sensors’ design, Furlong and Race enlisted the help of Dalhousie University’s Vince Sieben.

The company was founded in April 2019, initially to carry out a large service contract for a piece of equipment that Furlong had previously sold to St. John’s-based underwater imaging specialist PanGeo Subsea.

Race used to work with Furlong at Brooke Ocean Technology, and was keen to collaborate again. He owned the intellectual property for the V-Wing, which Furlong said has been consistently generating revenue for about 30 years, so the two decided to partner up and use it as a base for a plug-and-play system.

Furlong said the V-Wing can be used for underwater survey work, as well as for monitoring water temperature, depth and other metrics relevant to marine industry and scientists, among other applications.

DOT has also since released a second sensor-platform, the D Profiler, which is capable of changing its buoyancy for the purpose of moving through the water vertically, rather than horizontally. It can transmit the data it gathers via radio and mobile phone.

Because Furlong and Race’s sensors are capable of measuring the presence of organic matter in water, they can be used for projects such as testing for fertilizer runoff, monitoring sewage pollution and tracking the effects of fish farms on water quality.

“If you have an algae growing in a bay, as an example, at an aquaculture site, that may be a harmful algae starting to grow,” said Furlong. “We need to know what we’re looking for, but we can detect the bad algaes as they start to emerge.”

He added that, despite a slight slowdown in orders because of COVID-19, DOT’s product development process is largely still on schedule and the company continues to field inquiries from prospective customers.

He and Race have no immediate plans for a venture capital fundraising round, but are expecting to soon be joined by other business partners who are experts on marine sensors.

They currently employ several subcontractors and hope to hire several mechanical technologists within the next few months—possibly graduates from Nova Scotia Community College.

ONSIDE Formed To Carry On the Work of MIT REAP

Alexandra McCann: 'Nova Scotia has a very high innovation capacity.'

Alexandra McCann: 'Nova Scotia has a very high innovation capacity.'

Sponsored Content

The origins of ONSIDE, one of the newest components of the Nova Scotia startup ecosystem, date back four years to when a group of business, government and academic leaders joined an ecosystem acceleration program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It was called the Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program, or REAP, which MIT initiated in 2012. Nova Scotia was one of six jurisdictions to participate in Cohort 4, which ran from 2016 to 2018.

Following the conclusion of the program, the participants decided to form ONSIDE – whose full name is the Organization for Nova Scotia Innovation-Driven Entrepreneurship – to carry out the work begun through MIT REAP. They aimed to foster a prosperous Nova Scotia through innovation-driven entrepreneurship, and to put into practice the lessons learned in the Boston area.

“A group went down and engaged in the program for two years,” ONSIDE Executive Director Alexandra McCann said in an interview. “What MIT REAP teaches you are frameworks to understand the nature of your innovation ecosystem, as well as identify the key stakeholders who can help it advance. In moving from theory to practice, the teams identify a ‘must-win-battle’ and use a collective impact approach to accomplish the acceleration goal.”

Added ONSIDE Chair Chére Chapman: “REAP teaches you to look at entrepreneurs, capital and innovation capacity and work with them to strengthen an entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

MIT REAP is an accelerator for ecosystems rather than businesses. It grew out of the notion that jurisdictions can improve their startup networks by assessing the strengths and gaps in their ecosystems, then bringing people together to amplify the good parts and improve the weaker points.

Jeff Larsen – who was then moving from a strategy position with the Nova Scotia government to becoming Executive Director of Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship at Dalhousie University – heard about the program and arranged for Nova Scotia to apply. The province made it into the fourth cohort, along with Dubai, Iceland, Lima, Lagos and Madrid.

REAP operates on the belief that there are five main components of an ecosystem – corporations, government, entrepreneurs, risk capital and post-secondary institutions. So the Nova Scotian team attending MIT REAP included representatives from each component:

  • Corporations Clearwater Seafoods Founder John Risley, Emera CEO Chris Huskilson, and Nova Scotia Power President and CEO Karen Hutt.
  • Government – Nova Scotia Deputy Ministers Bernie Miller and Murray Coolican; and John Knubley, Deputy Minister of Industry Canada.
  • Entrepreneurs – Jevon MacDonald, Co-Founder and CEO of Manifold; and Chére  Chapman, CEO of DGI Clinical.
  • Risk CapitalBuild Ventures Partner Patrick Keefe.
  • Post-Secondary Institutions – Dalhousie University President Richard Florizone, Chiefs of Staff Erin Stewart Reid and Martha Casey, and Jeff Larsen.

What they learned was that Nova Scotia performed really well in innovation. The province has a host of universities, and Dalhousie is one of the top 20 research institutions in Canada. There is a lot of technology that could be produced by research being carried out in the province.

“Nova Scotia has a very high innovation capacity,” said McCann. “We have strong policy governance, institutions, lots of research, and where we aren’t doing very well is on the entrepreneurial side. The risk-taking and the access to risk capital is where we need improvement.”

One of the benefits of attending REAP was that the Nova Scotia team was able to compare itself with its international peers. The team learned that Peru, by contrast, has a high entrepreneurship capacity, with a lot of risk-takers, but has a much lower innovation capacity.

During the two-year program, each jurisdiction is asked what its comparative advantage is and what can be done to amplify that advantage. The answer for Nova Scotia was that it had strong research and operational capacity in ocean-based industries, and the team dove into this opportunity.

The REAP curriculum stresses that each jurisdiction has one battle that it simply cannot afford to lose, and the teams have to figure out what that battle is and how to win it. The Nova Scotia team decided the must-win battle for Atlantic Canada was the federal government’s supercluster competition.

The federal government was due in 2018 to award a total of $950 million in R&D funding to five superclusters, or hubs of innovation in certain sectors, across the country. The hope was that these “superclusters” would become international hotbeds of innovation in specific areas. The four Atlantic Provinces put together a committee to oversee the supercluster bid, and they ended up capturing one of the five positions in February 2018.

Having completed the program and seen success in its “must-win battle”, the REAP team decided it needed a not-for-profit organization to put the theory it had learned into practice. It formed ONSIDE, with Chapman chairing its board.

As its Executive Director, it chose McCann, who had recently served as Chief Operations Officer at Dockside Investco. Her previous postings included investment attraction at Nova Scotia Business Inc., covering such sectors as cleantech, oceantech, life sciences, agrifood and seafood.

ONSIDE knows that it is looking to improve an ecosystem that already has a lot of pieces in place, and is benefiting from the splendid work of many organizations. The team also knows there is room for improvement, and it aims to make a difference – first in Nova Scotia then throughout Atlantic Canada.

“It’s still early days so we’re working on getting more done,” said Chapman. “We don’t have any preconceptions but we want to work in partnership and to work with people to figure out what the right questions are and how to find the right answers.”

 

Editor's Note: This is the first of three features we will run on ONSIDE in the coming month. We will publish one article every two weeks to coincide with the release of the group's podcasts. 

 

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).

Potential Motors Raises $2.5M

Fredericton-based Potential Motors, a software company that uses Artificial Intelligence to boost vehicle safety and performance, has closed a $2.5 million funding round, with which it plans to increase its staff.

The company issued a statement Wednesday saying that Build Ventures, the Atlantic Canadian seed-stage investor that had the initial close of its second fund last year, led the round. The other funders included Brightspark Ventures and the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation.

Build Ventures’ General Partner Patrick Keefe has joined the Potential Motors board.

“Potential Motors has not only picked a space that is ripe for massive disruption but they have also assembled a team with the know-how to build a world-class software platform,” said Keefe in the statement. “We look forward to seeing them achieve their bold vision.”

CEO Sam Poirier, CTO Isaac Barkhouse and COO Nick Dowling started the company two years ago when they were going through the Technology, Management and Entrepreneurship program at the University of New Brunswick’s Faculty of Engineering.

The company gained momentum last summer when Chris Newton and Marcel LeBrun, the two co-founders of Radian6, joined the team, bringing investment with them. Their network included the principals of Build and Brightspark, and that helped bring together the funding team.

Adaptiiv Unveils $3.4M Funding Round

Potential Motors is working on a software product called RallyAI that it says will change the driving experience. Driving currently relies on the driver controlling how the car moves or stops through mechanical systems, but Potential is working on software that would oversee the power, steering and braking in each wheel. That means that if one wheel hits a patch of ice in the winter for example, the others will react accordingly to stabilize the vehicle.

The COVID-19 crisis has hit the auto industry hard, but this automobile-focused startup was able to raise a substantial funding round because it is working on software that could impact the industry in years to come.  

According to BloombergNEF, electric vehicles will represent 57 percent of global passenger car sales by 2040 while electric buses will account for 81 percent of municipal bus sales by the same date.

“Build, Brightspark and NBIF are ready to get into a space that’s going through some of the biggest disruption ever,” Poirier said in an interview. “From internal combustion engines, the focus is shifting to electric [vehicles] so the value is moving away from the hardware where it once was and moving more and more toward software. That’s opening up an opportunity for companies like ours.”

The company currently has a staff of 12 people, and all but one are working on developing the software. Poirier, who declined to discuss when the company could have a product on the market, said it plans to hire four more people and has an immediate opening for a senior software developer.

Calling the recent wave of layoffs in the IT sector, "unfortunate”, he said there is talent available in the current market for growing companies like Potential Motors.  

Said Poirier: “With the automotive industry, it requires a long period of time to bring out a product, so we’re working on developing the product and showing the value we can bring to automakers.”

HomeEXCEPT Launching New Version

John Robertson

John Robertson

Halifax’s HomeEXCEPT, which sells remote-monitoring equipment to help with senior care, is launching a version of its product that can be installed without the help of a technician.

CEO John Robertson said in an interview that the new iteration was in the works before the COVID-19 crisis. But the timing of the launch will allow customers to purchase the equipment without the need to risk exposing vulnerable, elderly people to the virus.

“There are a lot of families out there that are incredibly worried about their parents in their homes. They don’t have the same level of access to them that they had before,” said Robertson. “So we made this simple enough that it’s what we would classify as a contactless install.”

Launched last September, the original HomeEXCEPT technology used heat sensors and machine learning to track the movements of an elderly person, with an automated text message notifying their caregiver if he or she fell or suffered some other mishap. The product’s key customers were residential care facilities, home care companies and other large organizations, which often made their purchases via medical distribution firms.

Robertson and his team discovered, though, that the complexity of the installation process would limit their ability to scale the company. The heat sensors consumed too much electricity to be run off batteries, so each of them had to be outfitted with a hardwired power supply.

The logistics of the installations proved unmanageable, particularly since HomeEXCEPT’s users were mostly organizations that cared for many people and needed many sensors.

The problem was compounded by the technology’s reliance on Wi-Fi to connect with a central monitoring hub. Weak signals and interference from other devices made the scheme unreliable.

By December, it was clear that something needed to change. Robertson had already been planning a Wi-Fi free, but fully wireless version, and he decided to speed up the development process: “I just said, ‘Look, we’ve got to accelerate that plan. We’ve got to find some partners that have been there and done that.’”

Tenera Poised To Aid Seniors' Homes

The partners he chose were Bluetooth sensor manufacturer Ruuvi and internet-of-things firm Wirepas, both based out of Finland.

HomeEXCEPT now relies on Ruuvi’s accelerometers and environmental sensors, which are capable of tracking temperature, humidity and air pressure.

The switch away from energy-intensive heat sensing means that the devices no longer need a hardwired electrical supply and can run off a single battery for as long as two years.

Wirepas’ technology, meanwhile, allows for the creation of a wireless network that communicates with a central gateway, which physically plugs into a home care facility’s internet router and bypasses Wi-Fi altogether.

With a more scalable product and a potential increase in demand tied to the coronavirus, Robertson is investing more effort in selling directly to consumers, rather than to organizations.

The sensors are now sold in packs of five and are meant to be deployed according to a list of available options, so that the machine learning system knows how to interpret the data it receives.

For example, if a customer wants to ensure that their elderly mother or father isn’t sitting down too much, a sensor can be attached to the parent’s chair and configured to send a text message if the chair is occupied for an excessive period of time. Or a sensor can be positioned to check whether the stove has been left on.

The hardware costs about $250, along with a monthly subscription of about $35 for access to the artificial intelligence technology.

Robertson said HomeEXCEPT already has a substantial customer base across Canada and is eyeing medical distributors in the United States as a key, larger market.

“The U.S. is the market that we really want to go for,” he said. “Obviously, the Canadian market’s important to us, but the U.S. market is very different, and for us to scale up, that’s going to be critical.”

Until recently, the company had 13 employees. COVID-19 has forced Robertson to lay off three of them, but he hopes to hire them back soon. He also plans to eventually recruit more data scientists to work on the machine learning system, and possibly additional customer-service staff.

He added that there are “shares in the treasury ready to go for the right investor,” but the recurring revenue from the subscription service makes him tempted to fund future expansion via loans, in order to retain ownership of more of the business.

DigitalNS Opens Diversity Awards

Digital Nova Scotia, the province’s technology industry association, is seeking nominees for its 2020 Digital Diversity Awards.

The awards honour people and companies that are “driving innovation through diversity,” with the ceremony tentatively scheduled for Oct. 22.

There are five award categories:

  • Next Generation Leadership – This award recognizes an emerging female leader who is focused on developing her own career or company, while also cultivating her leadership skills.
  • Fueling the Digital Economy – This award recognizes an established female leader in a senior role, who is actively championing diversity in her company or community.
  • Change Maker – This award recognizes someone who taken a proactive role in encouraging tech-sector diversity, such as through working with underrepresented groups.
  • Diversity and Inclusion Champion – This award recognizes a company or organization that is creating an inclusive workplace through internal initiatives and diverse hiring practices.
  • Shaping the Future – This award recognizes a company or organization that is proactively working to reshape Nova Scotia’s tech sector, such as by helping support and engage young people or new immigrants.

Nominations can be submitted here. The process requires a reference letter, a headshot and a short bio. The deadline is June 26.

Planet Hatch’s Sales Accelerator

Fredericton entrepreneurship hub Planet Hatch is moving its second annual Sales Accelerator Program online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the six-week program, participating startups will receive training from sales professionals, up to $25,000 of funding and an intern, whose salary will be paid by Planet Hatch and its partner organizations.

The goal of the accelerator is to give companies stable, recurring revenue streams to build on once they graduate.

The members of the cohort are:

  • Taylor Printing Group Inc. – Taylor provides printing services, particularly for marketing materials, such as flyers and trade show signs. The company also offers mail and email distribution services.
  • Scottage Cheeze – The company sells dairy-free and vegan dips, spreads and cheese substitutes.
  • Scantranx Technologies Inc. – Scantranx sells a software suite that integrates online and in-person shopping into a single platform. It provides retailers with data-analytics services and helps salespeople provide customer service via their mobile devices.
  • Naveco Power Inc. – The company builds and retrofits wind and solar energy infrastructure.
  • Upfront Cosmetics – Upfront manufactures soaps and conditioning bars that contain fewer harmful chemicals than products from many larger companies.
  • MDMS Managed Digital Media Services Inc. – The company provides social media management, search engine optimization and marketing services for business-to-business sales.
  • Colum Consultants Inc. – Colum provides scientific consulting to innovative companies that need help conducting research.

The members of last year’s cohort saw an average revenue increase of 190 percent and a 32 percent increase in customers.

Webinar Thursday on Sales Leads

Tukan Das

Tukan Das

LeadSift CEO Tukan Das is hosting a webinar Thursday for salespeople looking for ideas about how to continue generating business during the pandemic.

Das, whose company sells software to help identify and research business-to-business sales leads, often hosts online events featuring sales and marketing specialists.

Also in attendance will be Jeff Kostermans, who is senior director of demand generation and marketing operations at San Franciso’s Zignal Labs; Heather Davison, co-founder and chief marketing officer for Texas-based Demand Frontier; and Alp Mimaroglu, who is the marketing transformation leader at global professional services firm Accenture.

The panel will discuss the obstacles that sales teams are currently facing, strategies to adapt to those challenges, what issues teams should prioritize and how to ensure that multiple teams employ a coherent strategy.

The event will start at 3pm Atlantic time. Registration is open here.

McGrath Launches 90Second Health

Patrick McGrath

Patrick McGrath

As founders continue to grapple with the implications of COVID-19, a nascent Halifax psychology startup is changing its launch plans to help the public cope with the lockdown.

The startup 90Second Health is the brainchild of psychologist Dr. Patrick McGrath, who is a professor emeritus at Dalhousie University and a researcher at the IWK Health Centre. The company’s main business model is to distribute white-lable mental health newsletters on behalf of other organizations, but that strategy is temporarily on the backburner as McGrath pivots to focus on community wellness.

The COVID-19 Mental Health Letters will be a free email series offering research-backed advice about how to cope with issues such as sleep disruptions and anxiety.

“This wasn’t an ideal time to be launching a business,” said McGrath in an interview. “But we wanted to do something to help with COVID-19, and we didn’t feel that it was appropriate to charge for that, so we’re doing it as a public service.”

Once the rest of the business is up and running, McGrath’s plan is for companies, non-profits and institutions to pay a subscription fee for 90Second Health to distribute emails to their employees, members or customers. The newsletters will include advice on a variety of topics, and will be presented in a style concise and simple enough to be easily understood by readers without medical backgrounds.

COVID-19 Crisis Sparks Manufacturing Collaboration

McGrath said that every email will include three to five pieces of actionable advice.

“The whole idea is to convey some scientifically valid information in small bites, little morsels of information, and to do it in language that is easily accessible,” he said. “Most health information, in my view, suffers from a series of problems. One is that it’s often wrong. Secondly, it’s often written in language that you need a PhD to understand. And the third issue is that you go to a website and you get 600 pages of it.”

The newsletters will also include mental health surveys that users will be able to fill out and receive feedback on. The anonymous data gathered from those surveys will be provided to the organizations that hire 90Second Health, helping them identify and address psychological challenges in their populations.

Some of the letters will be written by McGrath, while others will be prepared by graduate students—several of whom are already employed by the company on a contract basis. The content will be reviewed by Dalhousie psychiatrist Dr. Sanjay Rao for accuracy.

McGrath, who has so far bootstrapped 90Second Health’s startup costs with his own money, also plans to make its database available free to graduate students for use in their research, saving them the trouble of gathering similar data themselves.

He added, though, that he plans to scrupulously protect the privacy of respondents. They will not, for example, be asked for their full names or exact locations—only the first three digits of their postal code.

“We want to guard people’s privacy very highly,” he said. “We don’t use cookies. We will never sell the info.”

Online Market for NS Crafters

Peter and Sarah Eastwood, local potters and creative entrepreneurs, have launched a new online marketplace to help Nova Scotian crafters and makers sell their creations amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The new site, novascotiamakersmarket.ca, gives local artisans the ability to create their own store to sell their products online in a virtual marketplace, without the initial upfront costs of designing their own website and online shop.

“I’ve been talking for years to many makers in the creative community about going online, but cost has always been a barrier,” said Peter Eastwood, owner of Eastwood Pottery

Eastwood is also a successful graphic designer and web developer at Eastwood Design, whose work includes the Entrevestor.com website.

“Most makers seem to be somewhat intimidated by technology and this is something we’ve been able to address in the solution,” said Eastwood. “We’ve built an easy-to-access platform with no sign up or monthly fees, and simplified the onboarding process for makers. [In late April], we added several vendors, and the initial feedback is more than encouraging.”

When the site is populated with more small businesses and their products, Eastwood plans to start marketing the platform, both in home and export markets.

Eastwood Pottery is a small batch ceramic pottery operation, in which Peter and Sarah Eastwood handcraft ceramic pottery at their studio in Halifax. Their pottery, mugs, miniature houses, platters and pitchers are always one of a kind. 

Eastwood said: “Many crafters have seen their livelihood virtually disappear with COVID-19 and the shutdown of traditional craft markets. This is normally a very busy time of year. This initiative will allow fellow makers in the creative community to get back to their passion in their studios, and allow us to expose some of our incredibly talented makers to new markets and new geographies.”

Avery Mullen Joins Us This Summer

Avery Mullen

Avery Mullen

We’d like to welcome Avery Mullen to the Entrevestor team for the next four months.

Our regular readers will recognize Avery’s byline as he’s been our intern for the past two years, and now he’s joined us as our full-time reporter for the summer.

Avery is going into his final year at the University of King’s College Journalism School, and has a keen interest in business journalism. When we first met him in 2018, the first thing that impressed us was his keen interest in covering business and his eagerness to learn more about that form of journalism. The second thing we noticed was his near-flawless copy – he’s an editor’s dream come true. He's a conscientious and precise reporter, and we're lucky to have him. 

Avery has been published in several publications, including the Globe and Mail, the Chronicle-Herald, Signal Halifax and Halifax Magazine. Over the summer, he will be reporting on startups and technology, the usual Entrevestor fare. We are also talking to him about a few special projects.

Peer Ledger, Allies Enhance Medical Supply Chains

Dawn Jutla

Dawn Jutla

Halifax-based blockchain company Peer Ledger has teamed up with two international partners to produce a platform that will hasten the delivery of medical supplies and needed goods during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company said Thursday it has partnered with the Washington, D.C.-based nongovernmental organization RESOLVE and Israeli artificial intelligence company Truvi to collaborate on the project.

The parties are using blockchain and artificial intelligence in a digital tool that will allow essential services like healthcare providers and food companies to rapidly source the gear they need to keep working during the pandemic. That may include personal protective equipment, or PPE, medical products, or food supplies.

Peer Ledger has developed a platform called MIMOSI Connect , which will enable targeted connections and matchmaking between the groups that need such equipment and those that supply it.

“MIMOSI Connect efficiently solves a number of their challenges in scaling up and managing the growing number of network transactions among suppliers, makers, and healthcare organizations,” said Peer Ledger Founder and Co-CEO Dawn Jutla in a statement. “RESOLVE’s experience and efforts in building valuable community partnerships are extraordinary and we look forward to empowering their amazing network partners.”

Peer Ledger originally developed MIMOSI as a tool 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 company has now adapted its original platform into MIMOSI Connect.

Atlantic Canadians Collaborate to Manufacture PPE During Crisis

MIMOSI uses blockchain – the technology that underpins cryptocurrencies – to identify metals as they pass through the supply chain, from the mines to the smelters to the end-users. It’s important work because the metals industry wants to ensure conflict metals don’t make their way to the global market.

Paul Robichaud, Peer Ledger’s Vice-President of Customer and Product, said the new platform is needed because there is no efficient way for Canadian and U.S. manufacturers to know who needs PPE or other gear or how to get it to them. As well as matching producers and buyers, MIMOSI Connect also helps to sort out how the product is shipped.

Peer Ledger is offering MIMOSI Connect free to groups that need it until the end of September as its contribution to the fight against the COVID-19 virus.

Truvi's AI technology will be used ensure each buyuer receives the equipment it needs for its specific situation. For example, the Truvi solution can determine whether an N95 mask or an N2 mask is is needed in a specific context.

RESOLVE is an NGO that specializes in bringing groups together to provide a rapid response to critical problems. In the past it has worked with others to address such issues as conflict minerals, food safety, and the Ebola outbreak. Its aim is that its short-term responses develop into scalable, long-term solutions.

Jutla, who is also a business and technolgoy professor at Saint Mary's University, said that RESOLVE’s reach is extensive enough to bring other groups into the partnership, including MakersRespond.org, Open Source Medical Supplies, Project Northern Lights, and RESOLVE Canada.

“The COVID-19 crisis will only be addressed if we act differently, make different decisions, and forge new partnerships,” said RESOLVE President and CEO Stephen D’Esposito. “RESOLVE and Peer Ledger are committed to bending markets and supply chains for good, and working with businesses and non-profits to keep healthcare workers, communities, and local businesses safe.”

Fredericton’s Buy Local Campaign

A group of Fredericton business and economic agencies have come together to let citizens know what local businesses are open and how to do business with them.

The #SupportFredLocal partnership wants to encourage residents to buy from local businesses. It has set up a dedicated webpage that directs residents to businesses that are open or offering alternative forms of purchasing, like online shopping, take-out, and delivery.

This partnership hopes to amplify the work these agencies have already done in creating “open-for-business” lists. During the coming weeks, there will also be a concerted effort to direct residents to the #SupportFredLocal webpage to encourage more sales for merchants.

“The heart of our community is often the strength that helps us meet challenges,” said Larry Shaw, CEO of Ignite Fredericton, one of the members of the partnership. “The COVID 19 pandemic has challenged every aspect of our lives. We may not see the end as of yet, but our response was predictable. Fredericton joined forces, engaged its citizens, businesses, stakeholders, and partners to find creative ways to keep moving forward.”

The members of the partnership are: the City of Fredericton (Tourism); Fredericton Chamber of Commerce; Downtown Fredericton Inc.; Business Fredericton North; and Ignite Fredericton.

The members said in a statement this economic development effort complements the City's coronavirus resource page, and other works in development, like 'People Helping People,' to help residents connect with local resources.

Crisis Sparks Manufacturing Collaboration

The Scotia Face Shield

The Scotia Face Shield

The news these days is full of stories of local manufacturers pivoting to produce medical supplies needed for the fight against COVID-19. The untold story in Atlantic Canada is the extent of the collaboration between companies, government and academia to produce these goods.

More than 40 businesses and organizations are working together in a coordinated effort to get personal protection equipment, or PPE, into the hands of medical personnel and other essential workers. And they’re succeeding – the gear is now being used in hospitals and elsewhere.

Many of these products must meet the regulatory standards of Health Canada, which makes the speed and efficiency of these groups all the more impressive.

“Many new products will be spawned in our region’s life sciences sector over the next year or two as a result of this turn of events,” said Alastair Trower, the head of business development at Enginuity, the Halifax engineering firm that has been a pillar of the effort. “The level of creativity, innovation, and collaboration between business, academia and government is inspiring.”

The coordinated effort began about a month ago when the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency initiated a phone call between a range of companies and organizations that could help to produce things needed in hospitals. That four-hour conversation led to several companies immediately pivoting to make things they never had before. The private sector members included manufacturers, biotech startups, designers and engineering firms, and they were aided by academics, support organizations and government.

The products they’ve pumped out in the last month include: facemasks and shields; ventilators; intubation shields (the part of a ventilator that reaches into the lungs); gowns; hand sanitizer; and inspection booths.

One example is the Scotia Shield, a reusable face shield produced by Dartmouth medical device manufacturers  Spring Loaded Technology and Ring Rescue.

The Scotia Shield is a reusable face shield designed to address immediate needs in healthcare and other essential services and is the result of Atlantic Canadian innovation and technology companies working together in a collaboration called SpringRescue.

“The Scotia Shield is being produced to help protect essential workers across a wide range of sectors and later, to provide businesses and consumers with accessible and sustainable PPE solutions that will help prevent a relapse of COVID-19 as the economy gradually re-opens.” said Chris Cowper-Smith, President and CEO of Spring Loaded Technology.

Trower said in an interview that, as the projects gathered steam, more and more groups reached out to get involved, and each product required the collaboration of several players.

For example, some face shields began with a design from a team at Dalhousie University, which 3D printed the initial prototype. Once it was approved by the Nova Scotia Health Authority, the group had to figure out how to do a large production run. That’s when Bouctouche Bay Industries of New Brunswick came in to do the injection moldings.

Scott Moffitt, the Executive Director of BioNova, the Nova Scotian life sciences association, has been instrumental in working with the various teams to ensure the products meet Health Canada regulatory requirements, said Trower.

The Enginuity business development head estimates he’s had calls in the past month with 100 groups he’s never worked with before, and that he ended up working with about 30 of them. This kind of interaction will help the region’s manufacturing sector after the crisis passes, he said.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what healthcare happens in the next couple of years,” said Trower. “Will it provide a boost for the local manufacturing sector? Is there a mandate to ensure a certain percentage of the supply chain in medical equipment is Atlantic Canadian? That may be the biggest takeaway from all this. “

-o0o-

Enginuity has been updating almost daily its list of the companies and organizations working on these projects. Here is the list as of Monday:

Face masks: NeoCon, Dalhousie University HERC Lab, Ignite Labs, Lisa Drader-Murphy, Lulujo, Halifax Biomedical, Cape Easy Consulting, ACE Machining.

Ventilators: Protocase, 45Drives, NovaResp.

Intubation shields: Dalhousie, Spring Loaded Technology, Ring Rescue.

Face shields: BBI Plastics, DayNite Signs, Spring Loaded Technology, Ring Rescue, Nautel, Dormie Workshop, ACE Machining.

Gowns: Heritage Textiles, Cirrus Garment, Stanfields, Wearwell Garments, Sevaen Workwear, Don Schelew Dry Cleaners.

Hand sanitizer: Authentic Seacoast, Xerox, Acadian Seaplants, Still Fired Distillery, Reito, Nova Scotia Spirit Company, Upstreet Brewing, Cape Breton Beverages, Solid State Pharma, BioVectra.

Inspection booths: Beaumont and Co., JD Composites.

Protection shields: Proax Technologies, Polymershapes.

Enguinity said additional help is being provided by the Nova Scotia Health Authority, IWK Health Centre, ACOA, Nova Scotia Business Inc., BioNova, NSCC, NSCAD, Acadia University, Memorial University, Springboard Atlantic, and the New Brunswick Business Council.

Securicy Moves into New Sectors

Securicy at Techstars: Laird Wilton, left, Darren Gallop, and Anthony McQuaid.

Securicy at Techstars: Laird Wilton, left, Darren Gallop, and Anthony McQuaid.

Sydney-based Securicy, which helps medium-sized enterprises meet the cybersecurity requirements of larger customers, is developing healthcare and disaster recovery solutions in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

The company, which went through the Boston cohort of the prestigious Techstars accelerator in 2018, had been planning on working on the products before the pandemic. The crisis has intensified demand so the team is now moving forward with them.

Securicy is also working with Innovacorp to offer its services to Nova Scotian companies and help them work more seamlessly with enterprise clients.

“In our strategic planning, we had put in a healthcare solution some time ago,” said Co-Founder and CEO Darren Gallop in a phone interview. “And before COVID-19 really landed on North American soil, we had half to three-quarters of it in development, so we really doubled down on what we’re doing in healthcare.”

Gallop and his co-founder Laird Wilton began Securicy when their former startup Marcato Digital, which provides admin software to music festivals and other events, learned it needed cybersecurity certification to work with major corporations like Walt Disney Co. So they launched a new startup that would help other companies understand what needed to be done in the cybersecurity field.

Leadsift Also Working with Innovacorp to Aid Startups 

Securicy launched its product in the first quarter of 2019, and its revenues grew 3.8 times by the end of March 2020, when it had a strong book of prospects. Then the pandemic hit and the company and its customers spent a few weeks assessing the situation.

“Things were looking really great and then they weren’t ,” said Gallop. “In March, a whole lot of our funnel was questionable.  . . . But by the end of March and early April, we started seeing other deals coming in and we started looking at other verticals.”

As a cybersecurity company, Securicy’s management team had given a lot of thought to recovering from disaster, whether it was a cyber-attack, a natural disaster or whatever. It had internal plans for recovering from an unforeseen work stoppage, and suddenly it was helping its customers form recovery plans to emerge from the pandemic.

Similarly, the company had planned to launch sector-specific products and the pandemic has accelerated those plans.  Healthcare was going to be a “pillar” of its growth in 2020 and one employee had even received special training in 2019 to help with the move into the sector.

“If you’re selling to regulated industries like healthcare, it doesn’t really matter if all your employees are at home; you still have to be regulatory compliant,” said Gallop. “That’s the thing we help people do.”

In working with other Nova Scotian companies, Gallop said Innovacorp has been progressive in ensuring that its own portfolio companies meet cybersecurity requirements, and is now extending that to other Nova Scotian companies. Securicy has worked with seven companies under the plan and intends to work with more.

With a fulltime staff of 17, Gallop had been planning to start raising capital this spring but is now waiting until the fourth quarter.  The company raised $1.2 million last summer from an investment group that included Innovacorp, Panache Ventures and Concrete Ventures.  Gallop said the company has enough money to last for a while, and the crisis has brought in new clients.

Said Gallop: “We’ve had companies come in where they wouldn’t be clients if it weren’t for COVID-19”

Free Webinar with Frances Frei

Frances Frei

Frances Frei

Halifax entrepreneur Ron Lovett is opening up free access to a webinar on relationships, trust, and team culture, featuring leadership guru and author Frances Frei. 

Frei is a Harvard professor, author, and former senior strategic adviser for Uber. Her best-known book, which she co-authored with Anne Morriss, is Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business. Their latest book, Unleashed: The Unapologetic Guide to Empowering Everyone around You, will be released in June.

On Thursday, Frei will appear in an e-summit on scaling relationships. She will discuss building trust and identifying your weak spots within a framework of trust-building. She will provide tips on strengthening relationships across distance, and building cohesion virtually within teams (or families).

Lovett, a serial entrepreneur who sold his company Source Security and Investigations in 2016, has made the session available to the Atlantic Canadian community. Specifically, he said the webinar is open to entrepreneurs but also any leaders of any organizations in Atlantic Canada.

Lovett added that providing the webinar is his way of thanking people, like frontline workers, who are continuing to work through the COVID-19 crisis. 

The webinar will take place at 1 pm AST on Thursday. You can register here, using the code “entrevestor100” to bypass the payment section.

Squiggle Park Teams Up With Wanderers

Julia Rivard

Julia Rivard

Halifax-area education technology company Squiggle Park has partnered with the Halifax Wanderers Football Club so content from the team’s players is now on the company’s Dreamscape platform.

The company and the Canadian Premier League soccer team issued a statement on Tuesday announcing the partnership, which builds on Squiggle Park’s recent success in growing its client base to 2.5 million users.

Squiggle Park had already been doing well when the COVID-19 Lockdown transformed the eLearning sector. The company sells online games that help children learn to read, and the closure of schools around the world accelerated the take-up of eLearning solutions.

“Our revenue grew 400 percent in March,” said Co-Founder and CEO Julia Rivard in an interview. “I don’t think anyone was prepared for this. . . . We had whole districts calling us and saying, ‘We’re not going back to school tomorrow and we need something to help.’”

The company began five years ago as Eyeread Inc., which is still its corporate name. It is best known as Squiggle Park, the name of its online game for primary to Grade 2 students. The company also offers Dreamscape, a follow-on game for children up to and beyond Grade 8. Both games help youngsters learn to read, testing them on the content and encouraging them to progress to more difficult levels.

Under the partnership with the Halifax Wanderers, the company has produced special content packs that feature stories about the team’s players, staff and club mascot Rover. Kids can read the stories and are tested to earn rewards or receive the resources they need to improve their learning. The Wanderers’ players wrote the stories, which were then edited by educational experts to align with the Nova Scotia curriculum.

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“With Dreamscape, we delivered a super fun video game where kids are motivated to drive their own reading mastery through play,” said Rivard. She added the partnership with the Wanderers "gives us an opportunity to present unique stories Nova Scotia kids can relate to, developed by inspiring high-performance players they look up to.”

Rivard said her company aims to use the Wanderers partnership as a model for other markets, so schools in other locations can incorporate the stories of local athletes, musicians, artists to spark kids’ enthusiasm for reading.

Squiggle Park had already been gaining momentum before everything accelerated in March, drawing investment in late 2019 from Halifax venture capital fund Concrete Ventures. Rivard had been working on a full funding round, but says the recent spike in revenues has brought in enough money to last until 2021.

She now envisages a larger round than she had been working on, raising enough money to propel the company to 6 million users. Once it reaches that level, Rivard wants the company’s platform to attract educational games from other gaming companies so the Squiggle Park/Dreamscape platform will be the go-to site for educators, parents and children looking for educational content.

Rivard, who has four children, said: “As a mother, I would love to think my kids have the ability to play popular games that they love and to learn while doing it.”

Volta Cohort Names 16 Finalists

The Volta Cohort Winners in the November 2019 event.

The Volta Cohort Winners in the November 2019 event.

Sixteen Atlantic Canadian early-stage startups will vie for $125,000 in total investment at the Volta Cohort virtual pitching event on May 13.

Volta Cohort is a pitching competition held every six months for early-stage innovation companies in Atlantic Canada. It usually awards $25,000 each to five companies. The event next month will be the sixth time it’s been held since 2017.

Until now, the Volta Cohort contestants have pitched to a live audience in Halifax, but the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a virtual event to be conducted through a video conference.  Though the crowds can’t come together, the organizers believe there is still a huge need to provide investment for pre-seed companies.

“Now, it’s more important than ever to provide meaningful support to early-stage startups through mentorship, resources and investment to ensure these innovative companies can flourish here in Atlantic Canada,” said Volta COO and Interim CEO Martha Casey in a statement. “The companies participating in our upcoming Cohort Pitch Event span various sectors and are building extremely impressive technologies.”

Members of the public are invited to watch the pitches free and can register here.

Here are the 16 finalists, which were selected by a panel of judges:

Clever Fruit (Dartmouth) manufactures a fermented nutraceutical ingredient to manage cholesterol naturally;

Current Field (Halifax) is innovating non-destructive inspection systems for detection of corrosion in steel;

Dart Frog Event Software (Halifax) gamifies events using augmented reality in seconds;

EndFirst Plans Inc. (Halifax) helps users create project plans that are simple, clear and accurate;

Energy Absorbing Breakwater (Halifax) provides emissions-free sustainable energy and fresh water to shore-side countries and islands;

GrowDoc (Moncton) is a cannabis-disease-recognition mobile application that automates identifying a plant’s deficiencies;

Health Pulse (Halifax) is creating a comprehensive telemedicine software solution that can deliver quality virtual care to patients while streamlining clinical workflows;

In Nature Robotics (Hanwell, NB) is developing lightweight, solar-powered, autonomous airboats that help monitor water in lakes, rivers, and coastal regions;

KorrAI (Halifax) is an AI platform that improves the operational efficiency of industrial systems;

Kute Lab (St. John’s) is creating a two-sided platform that simplifies cosmetics ingredients, and provides market assessment to beauty manufacturers;

myFlock (Wolfville, NS) is developing a solution that optimizes and automates processes for poultry farmers;

SmartMed (Halifax) has created SmartShift, a tool that automatically schedules 800 shift positions in one minute, saving time and money;

Stocked (Halifax) aims to reduce disposable packaging by delivering bulk dry goods to people's homes, where they can put the goods in their own containers;

Tracker Inventory Systems (Sydney) uses computer vision technology to reduce manual data entry in the management of agricultural and seafood products;

Behavioural Engineering Technologies (Halifax) is creating a growth management system using persuasive technology, sentiment analysis, and human interaction;

VMOpro Inc. (River Ryan, NS) is a remote physiotherapy solution that enables patients to self-manage their injuries and conditions at home.

Volta Cohort is a collaboration between Volta, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, BDC Capital, and Innovacorp. As well as funding, the winning companies receive space at Volta and access to a board of mentors. Companies based outside Halifax receive support from Volta’s partners around the region.

CVCA Data Shows Record Year in NL

Searching through our “Better Late Than Never” folder, we found the CVCA venture capital data for 2019, which shows a record year for Newfoundland and Labrador and an interesting development in Western Canada.

The Canadian Venture Capital & Private Equity Association, known by its former initials of CVCA, released its annual VC data in mid-March. I admit it: I missed the release amid the mounting crisis surrounding COVID-19. The pandemic will change the landscape for VC investment in Canada this year, but it’s worth taking a look at a few developments highlighted in the last CVCA report.

The headline message was that Canadian innovation-driven companies raised a record $6.2 billion in VC in 2019, driven by 28 mega deals of more than $50 million each. As usual, 85 percent of the capital was raised in three provinces – Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.

“Canadian entrepreneurs have continued to aggressively grow their companies and Canadian VCs are helping push Canadian innovation forward,” said CVCA Chief Executive Kim Furlong in the report.

It also noted that the largest deal by a long shot was the $515 million equity-and-debt funding round by St. John’s-based Verafin, which produces anti-fraud and anti-money-laundering software. The funding syndicate included Information Venture Partners, BDC Co-Investments, Northleaf Capital and Teralys Capital.

Because of that deal, Newfoundland and Labrador recorded $524 million in six deals last year, a level exceeded only by the three largest provinces. It’s also worth noting that even without the Verafin deal, The Rock recorded $9 million in VC funding, which was more than any of the previous three years.

VC Funding in Atlantic Canada, 2016-19
  NS NB NL PEI Total
2019 $67M $16M $524M $1M $608M
2018 $67M $78M $5M $8M $158M
2017 $77M $16M $6M $0 $99M
2016 $64M $32M $7M $0 $103M

Source: CVCA

Elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia booked $67 million in 23 VC deals, unchanged from a year earlier. New Brunswick, which reported a record $78 million in VC funding in 2018, fell to $16 million on 15 deals in 2019. And Prince Edward Island last year reported two VC deals worth $1 million.

P.E.I. did better in the private equity league tables, as Charlottetown-based MicroSintesis raised $16.4 million in PE funds, the only private equity deal in the region last year.

In total, Atlantic Canada raised $608 million in VC last year according to the CVCA, almost four times the 2018 level.

For the fourth year in a row, Atlantic Canada raised more VC investment than the three Prairie Provinces – an oddity given that the western trio have almost three times the population and four times the GDP (as of 2018) of Atlantic Canada. But the 2019 CVCA data shows the market for innovation and venture capital is improving in the resource-dominated prairies. Alberta, for example, raised $277 million – a tenfold increase from the previous year. That increase was dwarfed by a 14-fold increase next door in Saskatchewan, which booked $114 million in VC funds. Manitoba was a distant third on the Prairies, raising only $4 million in venture capital.

VC Funding in the Prairie Provinces, 2016-19
  Alberta Saskatchewan Manitoba Total
2019 $277M $114M $4M $395M
2018 $28M $8M $2M $38M
2017 $37M $14M $5M $56M
2016 $22M $11M $6M $39M

Source: CVCA

Here’s the difference between the Prairie and Atlantic Provinces last year: the easterners reported one record-setting deal, whereas there was broad-based improvement in the West. For the first time in years, Alberta and Saskatchewan raised more VC money than the three Maritime Provinces, and they did so by a fair margin. It's great for the country that there's more VC being generated in the Prairies, but it could be worrying if Atlantic Canada falls behind the rest of the country in the VC tables. 

For a few years, Atlantic Canada could claim it was “punching above its weight” in the startup space, and one clear indication was that it consistently raised more than the Prairies in the CVCA data tables. No one knows what will happen as we pass through the current downturn, but we'd best hope we continue to punch above our weight during the recovery.

Managing Stress & Funding

A free webinar offering practical tips to manage remote working as well as advice on financial supports will take place on April 30 at 10 ADT. Participants will also be offered a free premium account to the Tranquility virtual mental health platform.

Guest experts include Lisa Schnare, Director of Sales Development at Influitive; Corinne Pohlmann, Senior VP, National Affairs and Partnerships at CFIB; Ashley Kielbratowski Co-Founder & CGO at Harbr and Moderator and Organizer Bob Williamson, Founder of the Jameson Group.

Jameson  is also asking for suggestions on  what topics, questions, speakers, or organizations entrepreneurs would like to see featured in future webinars. Contact here. 

Sign up for the next event here.

3D Virtual Tours Animating Landmarks

Part of the Maud Lewis Exhibition

Part of the Maud Lewis Exhibition

With Nova Scotia's landmark buildings empty of people, Halifax startup Smarter Spaces has begun scanning and creating 3D virtual tours of heritage buildings, cultural sites and educational facilities.

The company is working to animate sites for house-bound audiences and to create tools that help organizations promote themselves online. The venture has already created a 3D tour of the Maud Lewis exhibit for the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and recently scanned Sacred Heart School to create a 3D online tour for prospective students.

“Now that people can’t physically tour buildings, cultural sites, or educational facilities, our technology can create a 3D virtual experience that’s the next best thing,” CEO Colin Gillis said in a statement.  “The goal is to bring people virtually, and eventually physically, to our doorstep.”

The company’s 3D scanning equipment allows architectural and cultural features to be captured in detail, including elements like posters or plaques that provide written history, or small details and textures in a painting or sculpture. The technology can also move between locations allowing viewers to tour a university campus or visit buildings, for example, at the Fortress of Louisbourg. 

Last August, Smarter Spaces received a $321,000 loan from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. At the time, Gillis said the funding would allow the company, founded in 2016, to add to its staff of eight and grow the business. The venture had recently scanned the World Trade and Convention Centre on Argyle Street to create fresh, up-to-date images.

EChart, Former Staff Settle Lawsuit

Fredericton-based eChart Healthcare has settled a lawsuit filed last week by three former employees.

CEO Amanda Betts said in an email on Saturday night that the parties had reached an agreement on the matter, and expect to complete the paperwork involved in the case this week.

Last week, the Fredericton Gleaner reported that three former employees, Bradley Logan, Lisa Kinney and Gilles Richard, had filed a lawsuit against the company and Betts in the Court of Queen’s Bench. The three former employees were claiming wrongful dismissal.

EChart Healthcare has developed technology that improves communication in long-term care facilities, including a digital patient-charting system that simplifies the way long-term care facilities track the health of their patients.

The company last year raised an $800,000 funding round that included investment from the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and East Valley Ventures. It was also accepted into Propel’s Incite II accelerator for scaling companies.

Commercial Rent Assistance for Small Businesses

On Friday, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau announced details of the federal rent assistance program for small businesses that was first unveiled last week.

In a statement, the federal government said it has reached an agreement in principle with all provinces and territories to implement the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) for small businesses impacted by COVID-19. The program will lower rent by 75 per cent for affected small businesses.

The government said:

The program will provide forgivable loans to qualifying commercial property owners to cover 50 per cent of three, monthly rent payments that are payable by eligible small business tenants who are experiencing financial hardship during April, May, and June. 

The loans will be forgiven if the mortgaged property owner agrees to reduce the eligible small business tenants’ rent by at least 75 percent for the three corresponding months under a rent forgiveness agreement, which will include a term not to evict the tenant while the agreement is in place. The small business tenant would cover the remainder, up to 25 percent of the rent.

Impacted small business tenants are businesses paying less than $50,000 per month in rent and who have temporarily ceased operations or have experienced at least a 70 per cent drop in pre-COVID-19 revenues. This support will also be available to non-profit and charitable organizations.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation will administer and deliver the CECRA. Provinces and territories have agreed to share total costs and facilitate implementation of the program. They will cost share up to 25 percent of costs, subject to terms of agreements with the federal government.

It’s expected that CECRA will be operational by mid-May, with commercial property owners lowering the rents of their small business tenants payable for the months of April and May, retroactively, and for June.

Further details on CECRA will be shared in the near future once final terms and conditions are available. The federal government and provincial and territorial governments urge property owners to provide flexibility to tenants facing hardship.

Propel Unveils Continuous Intake

Propel, the Atlantic Canadian tech accelerator, is abandoning the traditional cohort model to offer continuous intake to the companies it supports.

The regional organization, which moved to a virtual model in 2018, issued a statement Thursday saying that startups can now begin the program when they need it most instead of waiting for the next cohort to start.

The statement said Propel launched its virtual accelerator so it could serve entrepreneurs wherever they are located and provide access to rural areas where programming was not previously available. The online content allows companies to access curriculum, one-on-one coaching and mentoring from experts around the world. 

“While the ability to access content from anywhere was appealing for most startups, what we continued to hear was the need for real-time support associated with a founder's stage of business,” said Jeff White, Chair of Propel’s Board of Directors. “By moving to a continuous model, Propel can offer support to founders at the time they need it most . . . removing the obstacle of waiting six to 12 months for the next cohort to start.”

As companies are accepted into Propel’s accelerator, they will be announced on the organization's Facebook page. 

The statement also said the continuous intake will allow Propel to help startups through the COVID-19 pandemic by offering companies virtual coaching and content through its online learning system. This includes insights from Propel’s network of mentors through its virtual fireside chats, which it believes have helped founders maintain a sense of normalcy during the crisis.

“Over the next three months, Propel will onboard close to 30 new companies into our e-accelerator and that’s just the beginning,” said Propel CEO Barry Bisson. “We are ready to talk to founders who are looking to accelerate their path to growth and don’t want to wait.”

Swarmio Delays Listing, Taps Innovacorp

Vijai Karthigesu: 'Going public is not always the first option.'

Vijai Karthigesu: 'Going public is not always the first option.'

Swarmio, a decentralized eSports platform with an automated tournament management system, has put its plans to seek a stock market listing on hold due to the COVID-19 crisis but is finding the pandemic creating business opportunities in new and existing markets.

The company, which has bases in Halifax, Sydney and the Toronto area, announced earlier this year that it would seek a listing on the TSX Venture exchange – but that was before the recession cut share prices.

In an interview this week, Founder and CEO Vijai Karthigesu said those plans are now on hold, and are subject to review. However, the company has just closed a $350,000 venture capital round from Innovacorp and hopes to secure matching investment from BDC Capital.

“We had discussions [about the listing] with our advisers at Cannacord and other groups and said let’s wait,” said Karthigesu in the phone interview. “Let’s see how and when the market comes back. It’s giving me a good perspective. Going public is not always the first option. If the new verticals and COVID-19 demand for gaming bring in new revenue, we might not go public. We might stay private and still raise money.”

Swarmio aims to solve a huge problem for multi-player online games. When players in different parts of the world are playing one another, the system is much faster for the player closest to the gaming company’s server, giving that player an unfair advantage.

Swarmio’s solution is to develop a network of remote servers, so the players are always playing on a server based roughly equal distances apart. As of March, Swarmio's platform connected more than 170 data centers in more than 70 regions globally.

Innovacorp Plans To Accelerate Funding During Crisis

It is one of the startups in the region that has seen increased demand because of the pandemic. With so many people forced to stay home, a lot of people (especially the young) are spending more time gaming, so Swarmio is seeing an increase in business.

While acknowledging the tragedy of the pandemic, Karthigesu said gaming is serving a useful role because it allows young people to socialize with their friends without breaking social distancing rules. That helps to alleviate mental health issues during the lockdown, he said.

“It’s an unfortunate situation for the world, but for us it is an opportunity,” he said. “And going forward, things are going to be changing. Our technology optimizes latency and now we’re thinking of making the technology available for other verticals, like voice technology and video conferencing.”

Karthigesu said the company had been working on plans to attack new business sectors like video conferencing, to help ensure there is no delay in people conversing over great distances. The plans are now being accelerated.

The company’s core technology can be used in new ways, he said, and the team will have to design products that can be sold into the new market. Remote working will still be an essential part of working life after the crisis ends, he said, so there will likely be a strong market for it.

Swarmio first received funding from Innovacorp several years ago, and the Nova Scotia government’s venture capital agency has signaled that it plans to accelerate investment during the pandemic. BDC, the federal government’s business bank, has also indicated it will provide matching funds for any startup that raises venture capital during the crisis.

That means that Swarmio, whose 20-member team includes 15 people in Nova Scotia, could receive an equity capital injection of $700,000 in the near term. The company recently received a $338,369 grant from NRC IRAP to help an R&D project and a $250,000 loan from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Toronto’s OneEleven Shuts Down

OneEleven, the startup incubator located in downtown Toronto, has closed permanently due to the COVID-19 lockdown impacting its client companies and its own business model.

The national startup publication Betakit reported Wednesday that the 125,000-square-foot office space had closed for good. OneEleven received no government funding, so it suffered along with its clients when some startups had to lay employees off and face closure.

While Entrevestor generally focuses on happenings in the Atlantic Canadian startup community, we’re featuring this Betakit report as it demonstrates the brutal effects of the current recession on the Canadian startup community.

The report said OneEleven sent a statement to its community saying its business model demanded that it assume some of its clients’ risks. That included the “risk of graduations or closures or layoffs among our companies and what that would mean to our bottom line.”

Launched in 2013, OneEleven was home to more than 50 startups. Along with providing office space of varying sizes, OneEleven also offered programming for member and non-member companies.

As recently as last year, OneEleven had hoped to establish an international network of startup incubators. It opened facilities in Ottawa and London, England, though both were shut down last year.

One member of the East Coast community who knew OneEleven well is Startup Zone CEO Patrick Farrar, who previously worked at Venture for Canada in Toronto, and would frequently visit companies in the facility. 

"It was always an exciting time going to OneEleven," Farrar said Thursday. "I would often take visiting entrepreneurs or anyone who wasn't familiar with OneEleven to see what Toronto was stirring up in innovation. It was inspiring to see all the different founders and teams working together, developing the next generation of tech."

Farrar added he hopes some components of OneEleven will continue, such as the provision of affordable working spaces for founders. 

He said he'll be "curious to see what's next for community connections and programming within the space. Hopefully other ecosystem partners, both local and national (like us), can come together to support where needed."

 


 

Energia Seeks Entrants for Cohort 3

Fredericton-based accelerator Energia Ventures is seeking applications for its third cohort from companies in the smart-grid, energy, cleantech, and cybersecurity sectors.

The program will run from Sept. 14 to Dec. 9, culminating in the demo day in which participants will pitch their businesses and display their products. As well as mentoring, programming and business support, participants will receive funding to help develop their startups.

“Energia offers companies in their early-adopter stage mentorship, training, support and access to investors to accelerate their business,” Joe Allen, the Managing Director for Accelerators at the University of New Brunswick’s J. Herbert Smith Centre, said in a statement.

“We realize that COVID-19 has made a challenging new environment, but we anticipate that life will be back to a semblance of normal by September.  The end goal is to create stable, high-growth potential companies worthy of venture capital investments on a compressed timeline.”

The program, which grew out of UNB’s Technology Management and Entrepreneurship program, is provided at no cost. Successful applicants are instead provided seed funding in exchange for an equity position in their startups.

The program will operate in Fredericton, so participants need to be based in the city during that time. Energia can help locate accommodations, and assist with visas for any international applicants. The program in the past has accepted applicants from as far away as Israel and California. 

Anyone interested in applying can do so here by May 15.

Adaptiiv Closes $3.4M Round

Adaptiiv Medical Technologies, the Halifax company that uses 3D printing to improve radiation treatment for cancer patients, has closed a round of $3.4 million, more than twice its target.

The company issued a press release Wednesday saying it had initially set out to raise $1.5 million but the round was over-subscribed due to strong interest from investors.

Founded in 2016, Adaptiiv has now raised a total of $7 million, and has added to this by attracting grants and loans from government agencies.  The company plans to use the funds from the most recent round to grow its market share by taking advantage of several strategic opportunities.

"The support from our investors coupled with continued traction amongst leading cancer centers  . . . is a strong indicator of the momentum our team has built,” said Adaptiiv CEO Peter Hickey in the statement. “We are now poised to capitalize on strategic opportunities that will allow for our transformative technology to deliver meaningful and significant clinical treatment solutions to radiation therapy providers and their patients on a global scale.”

Innovacorp To Accelerate Investing in Face of Downturn

Adaptiiv 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 then is transferred into the tumour.

There can be no air pockets between the bolus and the skin, which complicates matters given that every body is unique. Hospitals using the Adaptiiv product buy a system that includes 3D printers with special filaments, so boluses customized to each patient can be printed within seconds. The boluses can be reused as the patient receives repeated radiation dosages. Or, if the patient’s body shape changes over the course of multiple treatments (not uncommon, as patents often lose weight through the process), the medical staff can print off another bolus.

Though only four years old, Adaptiiv has clients in 14 countries. It has signed collaboration agreements with such leading centers as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., Nova Scotia Health Authority, and Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal.

The company has obtained: 510(k) regulatory clearance from the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S.; CE Mark certification within the European Union; and ISO 13485 certification, the global standard for medical devices.

Adaptiiv says its proprietary technology offers a distinct competitive advantage in radiation oncology and has delivered a strong value proposition to customers all over the world.

Avalon Aims To Change Visualization

Wally Haas

Wally Haas

Avalon Holographics is one of those exciting startups that require a leap of imagination to fully grasp what its technology could do in the short-term, let alone years from now.

The St. John’s company wants 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 or even cellphones. It’s a market currently worth about $150 billion. When Founder and CEO Wally Haas lists the possibilities, 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.

“It’s a way to control light,” said Haas in a phone interview last week. “It’s a holographic display that allows us to perceive the data as if it were real,  . . . as if you were experiencing it in real life. It’s configurable to different situations.”

Haas is a seasoned tech entrepreneur, who sold his first business Avalon Microelectronics to San Jose, Calif.-based Altera Corp. (now part of Intel) in 2010. The price was never disclosed, but it was enough that Haas himself has funded the growth of Avalon Holographics to more than 50 employees, including 16 PhDs.

The inspiration for Haas’s second venture came one night when he was watching Ironman II. The hero Tony Stark was in his lab trying to conceive of a new element, and using holographic projections to visualize new chemicals. Haas seized on the idea that this would be the next wave of visualization technology, and he wanted to be part of it.

Five years along, Avalon Holographics has a product in the market, which allows professionals in various fields to see and manipulate images in three dimensions, and to work with a virtual object as if it existed in the physical world.

Since last year, the company has been selling its product to clients on a contract basis, though it has yet to sell a full hardware system. Haas won’t reveal names or numbers of customers, but said Avalon is targeting the defence and medical imaging industries as early adopters.

Haas said the product can help engineers and designers work on complicated machinery in a virtual way before trying to build it. It can also help surgeons and other medical professionals understand what’s inside a human body more fully than can be deduced from X-rays or CT scans.

Avalon’s YouTube channel displays a few applications, including a battle simulation resembling a game of Battleship. In this 3D simulation, the action is not restricted to surface ships. Users can work with jet fighters in the air and submarines beneath the water’s surface, maneuvering amid rocky  outcrops on the ocean floor.

Eventually, Haas would like the product to be able to beam images that can fill an entire room.

“If you were in a room and every surface was covered with a holographic screen, then images could appear anywhere,” said Haas. “You would have to have an incredible amount of light sources. That’s probably about 10 years away.”

Avalon Holographics is one of two Atlantic Canadian companies (along with Halifax-based Proof, which produces software to help government decision-makers)  that have just been accepted into 48 Hours in the Valley, that’s the weekend bootcamp for Canadian startups organized by C100, the group that helps Canadian entrepreneurs navigate Silicon Valley.

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the Silicon Valley sessions have been delayed until October, and Haas hopes to use the event to meet investors who may be interested in the company’s first funding round. He declined to say how much the company hopes to raise.

Appili Names Golan Chief Medical Officer

Appili Therapeutics Inc., the Halifax company dedicated to fighting infectious diseases, has named Yoav Golan, who’s been an advisor to Appili since the company’s inception, as its first Chief Medical Officer.

In a statement, Armand Balboni, company CEO, said that Golan brings over 25 years of infectious disease expertise to the role. He’s recently served as an attending physician in the Division of Geographic Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Tufts Medical Center in Boston and has also been an associate professor at Tufts University School of Medicine.

The company, which has listed on the TSX Venture Exchange and recently raised $10.25 million by selling shares and warrants to mainly institutional investors, has undergone a series of changes to senior executives and its board.

The latest announcement comes as Appili’s four pipeline products progress toward active clinical trials. The company’s focus is expanding to include antimicrobial programs, the statement said.

In his new role, Golan will be responsible for clinical development strategy and execution across Appili’s pipeline. He will be a leadership resource for applying medical ethics and scientific rigour to Appili’s clinical programs.

Golan has conducted extensive research, publishing several book chapters and over 50 peer-reviewed studies in journals such as The New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet Infectious Diseases, the statement said.

His recent research includes studies on C. difficile infections as well as invasive candidiasis. He’s been involved in the development of multiple anti-infectives, the statement said. He’s a member of numerous medical societies, including the Infectious Disease Society of America and the American Society for Microbiology. He’s a graduate of the Hadassah School of Medicine at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel.

Innovacorp To Accelerate Investment

Andrew Ray: 'We think investing through the crisis will provide a return to us.'

Andrew Ray: 'We think investing through the crisis will provide a return to us.'

Innovacorp is accelerating its investment plans in light of the COVID-19 virus, not just to boost the economy but because it sees an opportunity to make money, said Managing Director Andrew Ray.

In an interview, Ray said the venture capital agency, whose lone backer is the Nova Scotia government, believes investments made during economic downturns tend to produce strong returns in the long-run.

What’s more, he said the participation of governments in VC funding in Atlantic Canada means the stronger companies in the region will survive, while their competitors in other regions may fail. So Atlantic Canadian startups may emerge from the crisis stronger and with less competition.

“We think investing through the crisis will provide a return to us, but we also think it will be good for our companies,” said Ray, who took over the investment team in 2018. “They will be able to beat out the competition.”

Overall, Ray said 10 to 20 percent of Innovacorp’s 39-company portfolio is benefitting from the crisis, and the same proportion is suffering sharp pain. A band of about 70 percent in the middle look set to endure the pandemic and emerge into the recovery.

Innovacorp is working on emergency investment rounds for three of the 39 companies in its portfolio. These three companies were performing well before the crisis hit, and two were on the cusp of raising capital.

Concrete Ventures Backed Eight Startups in its First Year

The agency is focused on helping its existing companies, but it expects to make equity investments in new companies. Ray anticipated Innovacorp would make 12 to 15 investments this year, about half of them in new companies.

In most places around the world, venture capital firms are backed by limited partners, or LPs, from the private sector, mainly pension funds or wealthy individuals. Most of these private LPs are now suffering losses in stock market investments and other asset classes, so they’re telling their VC funds to show restraint and not make new investments, said Ray.

In most markets after March, total VC investment will fall by one-half and valuations will fall by 25 percent, said Ray. “Twenty-five percent fewer startups will get funded and some aren’t going to make it,” he said.

However, he added that Atlantic Canadian VC funds are backed by government. Even the private fund managers like Build Ventures, Concrete Ventures and Pelorus Venture Capital receive much of their funding from government. And governments want the VC funds to invest right now.

Atlantic Canadian startups tend to be “lean and scrappy”, he said, as there is usually less VC capital in the region than in other areas. With some support from the government-backed funds, they are well positioned to emerge from the crisis in a good position.

Innovacorp has the ability to make investments of as much as $2 million (though it rarely reaches that level). On top of that, BDC Capital is working on a program in which it will match VC investments,,as outlined by Betakit earlier this month. Ray said this all means many Atlantic Canadian companies will be able to tap equity capital to help them endure the downturn, or to grow if their business models benefit from the current situation.

“In Atlantic Canada, I think we’re much more resilient [than other jurisdictions] in the startup space,” said Ray. “If you make it through this crisis, you will be better off.”  

 

Disclosure: Innovacorp is a client of Entrevestor.

Dal Seeks Ready2Launch Candidates

Dalhousie University is looking for Atlantic Canadian students and researchers working on launching businesses to apply to Ready2Launch, its new virtual summer accelerator.

Affiliated with the Lab2Market program, Ready2Launch is a 12-week program that helps participants take their businesses from idea to launch.  It is open to undergraduate or graduate students, researchers, or recent grads from any Atlantic Canadian university.

The program will admit 10 teams, and each will receive $10,000 in non-repayable funding.

“Where Lab2Market focuses on customer discovery, this program builds on it,” said Spencer Giffin, Dal’s Assistant Director of Commercialization and Startups. He added the program aims to “support teams with business model validation as they get ready to launch.”

You can apply here until April 27.

The programing – which will be virtual – will be held June 1 to Aug 21, and the organizers are planning a demo day for Sept. 11.

Our Condolences

Like all Nova Scotians, we are shocked and saddened by the senseless killing of our fellow citizens this weekend. 

We have no deep insights or words of wisdom. We only want to join other members of the community in expressing our profound sadness, and to send our condolences to the families and friends of the victims.

Concrete Backs 8 Startups in Year 1

Patrick Hankinson

Patrick Hankinson

One year after launching Atlantic Canada’s newest venture capital fund, Patrick Hankinson has a portfolio of eight startups and is working toward his goal of having 20 to 30.

Hankinson heads Concrete Ventures, the $18 million early-stage investment fund that kicked off in early 2019 with the backing of the Nova Scotia government and several tech investors. On its first anniversary, Hankinson chatted to Entrevestor about his experiences in building up his portfolio of Atlantic Canadian IT companies.

“The startup scene is alive and well,” said Hankinson on the phone call. “We’ve seen over 250, maybe 300 companies in the last year that we’ve been tracking since we opened. And we’ve made eight investments in companies from most provinces in the region.”

Though barely into his thirties, Hankinson is an old hand at the tech game. He was a co-founder of Tether, a sensation in the Nova Scotia tech community about eight years ago. He then founded Compilr, which he sold to Lynda.com (now part of LinkedIn, which is part of Microsoft) for more than $20 million. He has also made 14 investments as an angel investor, focusing on IT as that’s the sector he knows best.

A few years ago, the Nova Scotia government wanted to establish a privately managed VC fund in Halifax to complement Innovacorp, the Crown corporation that makes VC investments. It selected Hankinson to manage the fund, seeding it with $15 million in capital, and private investors came forward with almost $3 million more.

Concrete began to make investments last April when it led a $325,000 round by Halifax-based SalesRight, which helps business-to-business Software-as-a-Service companies find the right pricing model for their products. Last month, Concrete joined SalesRight’s second round, a $600,000 deal, when the Halifax company became the first member of the Concrete portfolio to book a follow-on funding round.

Hankinson has announced investments in six other companies: Motryx, Proof, Talkatoo, and Squiggle Park, all of which are based in the Halifax area; Securicy of Sydney; and Rally, which is based in St. John’s. Concrete has invested in an eighth company, but the announcement hasn’t been made yet.

The portfolio of young companies has raised more than $6 million in total, said Hankinson, about one-third of which came from outside Atlantic Canada. At the end of 2019, the companies employed a total of 64 people. Hankinson said the CEOs are being cautious in the face of the pandemic and are largely optimistic with some seeing increased demand for their products despite the downturn.

As an investment strategy, Hankinson has always invested in a range of companies. He learned the value of diversification at a young age as most of his initial investments became zombie companies. He has also co-invested with most other VC groups in the region, which he said helps in building up networks not just for himself but also for the portfolio companies.

Concrete itself offers other benefits to its portfolio companies beyond the capital it brings, through mentorship and other resources.

“We’re just trying to add value across the portfolio in some ways,” said Hankinson. “We try to produce a talent data bank and we have partnerships that bring in about $250,000 in products and in-kind services for our founders. . . . I’m also starting to see our founders are using each other’s products as well, which is pretty cool.”

 

Patrick Hankinson collects data on Atlantic Canadian startups, and is asking founders in the region to complete his survey on how they are faring through the pandemic. You can find his survey here.

LeBrun, Alston Plot COVID-19 Exit Plan

Marcel LeBrun and David Alston have turned their considerable brainpower to examining one of the most pressing problems of the day: How can we exit the pandemic lockdown?

The two New Brunswick entrepreneurs have penned a two-part opinion piece on how New Brunswick can get back to work, and the articles are available on the business publication Huddle. New Brunswick has had a stellar record of containing the COVID-19 virus, but this piece could also be used as a framework for discussion in other jurisdictions.

The writers look at the steps that should be taken to re-open non-essential places of business, and they stress the importance of continued testing as society tries to restart the economy.

LeBrun and Alston are former executives of Radian6 and Salesforce.com. They are technology entrepreneurs, small business owners, and actively involved in community initiatives in New Brunswick.

Part 1 of their work discusses “The Hammer” or the efforts to flatten the curve, and Part 2 examines “The Dance” or the efforts to return to work.

These articles are well worth a read.

Virtual Startup Weekend Starts Friday

Techstars is organizing a series of global virtual startup weekends to devise solutions to problems created by the COVID-19 crisis, and the Canadian version will be held this weekend.

Titled “Unite to Fight COVID-19”, the event will take place from Friday April 24 to the following Sunday, and feature participants from across Canada.

Startup weekends are usually 54-hour events that take place in a single location, with participants coming together to spend a weekend developing a product. They always wrap up on a Sunday evening with pitches to a panel of judges.

Obviously, people can’t come together during the pandemic, so Techstars – the global accelerator network that bought the Startup Weekend parent company in 2015 – is organizing virtual events around the world.

“Whether you set out to solve a small-scale local issue or a national or global problem, the Techstars global community can support you,” said the Techstars Startup Weekend Canada Organizing Team in a statement. “We believe this Techstars Startup Weekend Covid-19 virtual edition is the perfect way to unite our country in an inclusive and safe way while creating impactful solutions.”

Several Atlantic Canadians are involved in organizing the event or serving as mentors. They include: Dominic Blakely, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Strategist at University of New Brunswick; Halifax-based entrepreneurship specialist Mary Kilfoil; Florian Villaumé, Director of the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship in St. John’s; Jade Yhap, CEO of Fredericton-based Reframe Games; and D. Darren MacDonald, Director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurial Centre at Cape Breton University.

During this live, online event, innovators, developers and inventors from every province and territory will come together to develop prototypes that could solve pandemic-related problems.

Canada is one of more than 60 countries around the world participating in the event. The top 20 teams globally will go on to participate in a Techstars Innovation Bootcamp.

Participants are invited to submit their ideas 48 hours before the event kicks off on Friday. You can buy tickets to join here.

Survey Indicates Startup Job Losses So Far Have been Limited

Infographic by Akira Arruda

Infographic by Akira Arruda

Sponsored Content

Fewer than one-third of Atlantic Canadian startups have reduced staff since the COVID-19 crisis began, according to a new survey into the impact of the pandemic on the regional technology sector.

The survey, carried out by Entrevestor and Pivotal Coaching, also indicated that only 16 percent of the region’s innovation-driven startups expect to reduce staff from current levels in the next three months.

Forty percent of respondents anticipated revenues will increase or remain the same in the second quarter of calendar 2020 compared to the first quarter, and 95 percent expect to be in business beyond 2020.

The survey paints a fairly optimistic picture for the startup community relative to other small business sectors facing more severe and in some cases catastrophic losses. For example, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business earlier this month produced a national survey saying only 20 percent of its businesses are fully open, and 32 percent of those that have closed are unsure if they will reopen.

“In times of crisis, startups need to be nimble, adaptable and resilient,” said Patrick Hankinson, CEO of Concrete Ventures.

 “The data shows there will be some casualties, but many of them are adapting to come out of this crisis stronger. I just hope this future-looking data proves to be accurate.”

The eight-question survey drew 57 anonymous responses from founders and leaders in Atlantic Canada’s tech startup and scaleup ecosystem. Entrevestor combined it with a similar survey conducted by Hankinson to draw 64 responses for most of the questions.

Given the small number of respondents compared to the actual number of startups in Atlantic Canada, the survey provides insights rather than statistically significant data, but it is the first snapshot.

Other insights include the following:

  • 19 companies told Entrevestor they had reduced staff since February, but 13 of those had only cut one position each. None of these companies cut more than three employees.
  • 45 percent of respondents predicted staff would increase over the next three months, while 40 percent predicted that staff levels would remain the same with 16 percent anticipating staff reductions.
  • Some startups have thrived so far in the current climate, as 16 percent have reported increased staffing since February.
  • 35 percent are predicting revenue declines in the second quarter compared with the first quarter.
  • 5 percent do not expect to remain in business beyond 2020.
  • Three-quarters of founders surveyed are confident they will be able to focus, manage and get through the pandemic.

The relative optimism of this survey is a reflection of the mindset held by startup entrepreneurs, said Pivotal Coaching Founder and CEO Lisa Haydon, a business coach who has worked with entrepreneurs.

She said entrepreneurial personalities are in some respects already primed for the COVID-19 crisis because they have a natural appetite for risk, optimism, high self-confidence and refusal to be discouraged by barriers and nay-sayers.

“This survey shows that a large majority of founders believe they can get through this crisis and that they have companies that will survive and thrive,” said Haydon.

Haydon, whose coaching practice is data driven and founded on psychology, said entrepreneurs start out as managers who are hands-on. But as they grow and scale up, they must become leaders in order to inspire their teams and companies to get things done because the founder no longer has time.

As they navigate through the COVID-19 crisis – which has no playbook – leadership and sales will be key for entrepreneurs.

The survey shows that founders will focus on leadership and sales in the near-term, but as time goes on, founders will be become more sales-focused. The survey found that 49 percent of respondents considered sales, not leadership, the sole or more important focus in the next six months. But that rises to 81 percent when asked to consider the importance of sales vs leadership in the next nine to 18 months.

The challenge is not to sacrifice leadership for sales, and vice-versa, Haydon said.

“Successful growth is about being strategic and determining the right situational balance between sales and leadership efforts.”

Haydon thinks that technology will lead the Canadian economy out of the COVID-19 crisis with new innovations that will benefit from the baptism-by-fire, widescale adoption of technologies for living and working.

This, she says, will open new doors and opportunities for entrepreneurs.

The survey, conducted the week of April 12 to 17 by Entrevestor in partnership with Pivotal Coaching, aims to create an immediate benchmark on how the pandemic is affecting startups, scaleups and other high-growth, innovation-driven businesses in Atlantic Canada. Thanks to Mike Cyr and Akira Arruda for the infographic.

About Pivotal Coaching

Pivotal Coaching is a professional services firm committed to building effective leaders and driving growth for large organizations and high growth companies. We pride ourselves on delivering the best leadership development and sales enablement solutions to our clients in professional services, financial services, and technology. Our proprietary diagnostic tool helps craft a customized coaching and training program for your team based on analysis of your individual and collective mindset, performance and communication styles as well as your habits and competencies. Pivotal Coaching specializes in strategic cohort programs for Leadership Development and Sales Effectiveness.

Feds Boost IRAP, ACOA Funding

Navdeep Bains: 'If we need to do more, we will do more.'

Navdeep Bains: 'If we need to do more, we will do more.'

The federal government announced a new wave of funding for businesses on Friday, including a $250 million funding increase for NRC IRAP and almost $1 billion for regional development authorities.

While most business groups have applauded the federal government’s economic response to the COVID-19 crisis, there have been complaints that some companies are ineligible for the programs. It’s been difficult to tailor programs to benefit a broad swath of startups because they often have irregular cash flow or are at varying stages of development.

The announcement on Friday of additional funding for small businesses and heritage groups is an attempt to ensure that federal support reaches some of the groups that have missed out so far.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the Canadian economy,” said Finance Minister Bill Morneau in a statement. “That is why we are taking unprecedented measures today to protect Canadian jobs. We are working in close consultation with all impacted businesses across the country to take action where it is required, and are prepared to take further targeted action as needed.”

NRC IRAP – short for the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program – provides grants to industries to support research and development projects. IRAP usually has an annual budget of about $310 million, so the extra funding announced Friday represents a boost of 80 percent.

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains told the Globe and Mail on Friday he hoped the additional IRAP funding would help 1,000 companies protect 10,000 jobs, adding: “If we need to do more, we will do more.”  

The funding announcements on Friday also included:

  • $675 million in additional funding for Canada’s regional development agencies, which includes the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency;
  • $287 million to support rural businesses and communities through the Community Futures Network;
  • And $20.1 million in support for Futurpreneur Canada to support young entrepreneurs across Canada.

ACOA supports a range of startups throughout the East Coast, mainly through the federal government’s Regional Economic Growth Initiative. One of REGI’s functions is to lend businesses money at attractive terms.

In response to the announcement Friday, the Council of Canadian Innovators tweeted: “Today’s announcement shows the government has listened to our calls to increase funding to existing programs so Flag of Canada technology entrepreneurs can stay afloat.”

MedMira Reveals COVID-19 Antibody Test

Halifax-based MedMira has announced it has finished developing a serological Point-of-Care (POC) testing solution for COVID-19

The test, REVEALCOVID19, delivers immediate results without the need for additional equipment. It can be used with whole blood, serum or plasma and is ideal for batch testing in laboratory settings, thus meeting the needs of users across a broad range of testing environments, the company said in a statement.

MedMira is a developer and manufacturer of vertical flow rapid diagnostics (tests that combine liquids with reactive molecules to give a result). The company’s tests provide hospitals, labs, clinics and individuals with instant diagnoses of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C, the statement said.

“Our existing business is the development and sales of antibody tests for HIV and hepatitis, and we have internal lab and manufacturing facilities that are FDA certified and staffs who have been engaged in similar R&D for over 20 years,” said Hermes Chan, Medmira CEO.

The new test must obtain regulatory approvals before it can be sold.

Last Day To Get Those Surveys In

It’s the last day to get those survey responses in. Founders and CEOs have until 5 pm Friday to complete our eight-question, anonymous questionnaire on how your business is doing during the pandemic.  

Entrevestor and Pivotal Coaching are partnering to conduct the survey, which will show how the Covid-19 crisis is affecting staffing and revenues, and reveal CEOs’ sentiments in coping with the effects of the crisis.

It’s 100 percent anonymous, and it only takes two minutes to complete its eight questions. We have a hard deadline of 5 pm, so please take just two minutes now to fill it in.

You can find the survey by clicking below:

Anyone who heads an Atlantic Canadian company that’s commercializing technology for the global marketplace should complete the survey. And we think business incubators and accelerators should encourage entrepreneurs to do so.

We will publish the results on Monday. That means everyone in the community will get an idea of how the Covid-19 crisis is impacting Atlantic Canadian startups. There have been a wide range of experiences, and each company should make sure its reality is reflected in our tallies.

About Pivotal Coaching

Pivotal Coaching is a professional services firm committed to building effective leaders and driving growth for large organizations and high growth companies. We pride ourselves on delivering the best leadership development and sales enablement solutions to our clients in professional services, financial services, and technology. Our proprietary diagnostic tool helps craft a customized coaching and training program for your team based on analysis of your individual and collective mindset, performance and communication styles as well as your habits and competencies. Pivotal Coaching specializes in strategic cohort programs for Leadership Development and Sales Effectiveness.

Millennia Tea Closes Funding Round

Rory and Tracy Bell visiting tea fields in Sri Lanka.

Rory and Tracy Bell visiting tea fields in Sri Lanka.

Saint John-based Millennia Tea has closed a seed round that bolsters its ability to meet the growing demand for its tea, which is prepared in a way that preserves nutritional properties.

The company, which declined to reveal the size of the round, said it had received investment from: Charlottetown-based Natural Products Canada; New York-based investment group SOSV, which operates the Food-X accelerator; and private investors. Millennia Tea received the SOSV investment because it attended the three-month Food-X program in New York in 2019.

Millennia Tea was founded in 2016 by CEO Tracey Bell and her husband Rory Bell, who developed a special process of washing and flash-freezing fresh-picked tea leaves, instead of cooking them. The result is tea that has five times as many antioxidants as normal green tea and none of the bitterness.

“Today’s health-conscious consumer has embraced ‘food as medicine’ and is looking for ways to optimize the nutritional value of their everyday pleasures like a simple cup of tea,” said Natural Products Canada CEO Shelley King in a statement. “Millennia Tea has a category-changing product that ticks all the boxes for today’s consumer.”

Though it has not raised capital before, Millennia Tea already has a storied history. It includes an appearance on the CBC’s Dragons’ Den (where the Bells received several offers) and winning the Best New Product (Innovation) award at the World Tea Awards in 2017.

St. John's-based Milk Moovement Joins Food-X Accelerator

Now that it has brought in capital, management plans to grow its team (which currently comprises five people) and increase marketing efforts to increase sales. The Bells also plan to shore up their supply chain as they work to grow their Canadian customer base and begin exporting to the U.S. this year.

“This marks an important milestone for us,” said Tracy Bell in an email, referring to the funding round. “We have bootstrapped it up until this point – getting our process in place to maximize antioxidants in tea, securing our intellectual property, searching the world over for the best possible partners, and proving there is a market for whole-food tea. Now, with the support of some incredible partners, we’re ready to really get out to market and do a lot of good by turning the conventional tea model on its head.”

The company has been selling its product, but of course the Covid-19 pandemic is forcing the management team to reassess its plans. Its focus for 2020 was going to be onboarding new health and specialty retailers. Early this year, Millennia Tea brought on its first West Coast distributor and retail chain, and had verbal commitments from retailers in Southern Ontario that would have added about 70 new locations.

“We also had our first interest from a health food chain in the Prairies,” said Bell. “Covid has put the breaks on those opportunities for the time being – although we are confident those sales will go through when this thing passes.”

During the lockdown, Millennia Tea continues to sell through independent health retailers, which are still finding demand for the product, and is improving its eCommerce capacity. The company has accelerated plans to enter mass grocery chains, and earlier this year began to sell through Sobeys locations in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, through its Support Local program.

Bell said she and her team “are seeing a really encouraging early response in that channel. And we’re excited to build out that channel.”

NBIF Recognizes Research Mentors

Laura Richard, NBIF Director of Research

Laura Richard, NBIF Director of Research

The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation has named the province’s top research mentors for 2020, supporting their work with almost $165,000 in prize money.

NBIF had planned to announce the awards as part of its Top 25 Star Mentors luncheon at the biennial R3 event, which was cancelled this month due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“New Brunswick is home to extraordinary researchers who are dedicating their time and energy to mentoring the next generation of research professionals,” said Laura Richard, Director of Research at NBIF. “They play a vital role in supporting the innovation agenda here in New Brunswick and are essential to developing and commercializing new technologies.”

Last fall, NBIF asked New Brunswick universities, colleges, and research institutions for nominations of researchers who have supported the development of students and trainees in research. Now it has announced the three winners of Mentor of the Year prizes, and their cash awards:

  • Star Mentor of the Year, University ($70,000) was awarded to Kenneth Kent, a professor in the Faculty of Computer Science at the University of New Brunswick.
  • Star Mentor of the Year, Institution ($50,000) was awarded to Benjamin de Jourdan, a research scientist at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in St. Andrews.
  • Star Mentor of the Year, Runner-Up ($40,000) was awarded to Stephen Westcott, a professor in chemistry and biochemistry at Mount Allison University.

Grants awarded to Star Mentors must be used to directly support the training and development of student researchers, including student stipends, salaries, research material costs, and travel expenses.

In addition to the Star Mentor awards, three Mitacs Honourable Mention prizes worth $1,500 were awarded to:

  • Rémy Rochette, Biological Sciences Professor, University of New Brunswick Saint John;
  • Michelle Robichaud, Instructor, New Brunswick Community College, Saint John;
  • And Mathieu Bélanger, Professor, Centre de formation medical du N.-B./Université de Sherbrooke.

“These researchers are dedicated to the pursuit of new knowledge and to providing meaningful support to their mentees,” said Richard. “At NBIF, we are pleased to acknowledge their contribution and to provide financial support to their students.”

 

Disclosure: NBIF is a client of Entrevestor.

Feds Unveil More Support for SMEs

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced new measures to support businesses during the pandemic. They include expanding the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) and initiating a plan to help businesses with rent payments.

In a statement, the federal government said it is expanding CEBA to businesses that paid between $20,000 and $1.5 million in total payroll in 2019.

This new range will replace the previous one of between $50,000 and $1 million, and will help address the challenges faced by small businesses to cover non-deferrable operating costs. Since the launch of the CEBA on April 9, more than 195,000 loans have been approved by financial institutions, extending more than $7.5 billion in credit to small businesses, the statement said.

The new measures came as the organization representing innovation hubs across the country wrote an open letter to federal ministers asking them to take measures to ensure startups are supported through the downturn. 

"While the federal and provincial governments have introduced important measures to backstop the broader economy amid the health crisis, many early-stage tech companies remain at risk of collapse in the coming months," said the letter, issued through the Canadian Digital Media Network, or CDMN, which represents 28 innovation hubs across the country. "Such a reversal would be truly unfortunate given the difficult work and substantial investments that have gone into building a robust pipeline of high-growth firms in this country over the past decade."

The letter, whose signatories included five Atantic Canadian groups, asked Ottawa as it refines its economic supports to:

  • Be flexible on the eligibility of such programs as CEBA, the Canada Emergency Wage Support and others;
  • Provide rent relief for startups;
  • Increase funding for NRC-IRAP and the Regional Development Agencies to support startups and their ecosystems; 
  • And leverage the CDMN and regional groups to offer support to startups. 

The federal government also intends to introduce the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) for small businesses. The program will seek to provide loans, including forgivable loans, to commercial property owners who lower or forgo the rent of small businesses for the months of April (retroactive), May, and June.

Implementation of the program will require a partnership between the federal government and provincial and territorial governments, which are responsible for property owner-tenant relationships. The government said it is working with the provinces and territories to increase rent support for businesses most impacted by the pandemic and will have more details soon.

The measures are part of the national COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, which has committed more than $107 billion in support to Canadians and businesses, the government statement said.

The government will monitor and respond to the impacts of COVID-19 and take action as needed.

COVE, Ignite Form Partnership

COVE

COVE

The Dartmouth-based Centre for Ocean Ventures & Entrepreneurship, or COVE, and rural technology incubator Ignite have signed a memorandum of understanding to assist entrepreneurs and businesses in the “fish tech” sector.

The partnership will deepen sector expertise of capture fisheries and aquaculture by sharing ideas for new technology creation and adoption and pairing, the partners said in a statement.

Based in Yarmouth and Pictou County, Ignite works to link the business community, startups and educational institutions. COVE serves pre-commercial startups, ocean technology firms of all sizes, traditional marine supply chain companies, and academic collaborations with industry.

“The relationship with COVE allows for greater communication and partnership between the ocean industry in Nova Scotia and COVE leading to greater commercial opportunities, technology integration and overall growth in the ocean economy,” Doug Jones, CEO of Ignite said in the statement.

On Thursday, May 21, COVE will feature Jones as host speaker.  He will speak remotely via Zoom Video Conferencing.

Two More Days to Complete Survey

Sponsored Content

We’re entering the home stretch of our survey that gauges how Atlantic Canadian startups are faring in the current downturn.

Entrevestor and Pivotal Coaching are partnering to conduct the survey, which will show how the Covid-19 crisis is affecting staffing and revenues, and reveal CEOs’ sentiments in coping with the effects of the crisis.

It’s 100 percent anonymous, and it only take two minutes to complete its eight questions. Our deadline is Friday at 5 pm, so please take just take a couple of minutes now to fill it in.

You can find the survey by clicking below:

Anyone who heads an Atlantic Canadian company that’s commercializing technology for the global marketplace should complete the survey. And we think business incubators and accelerators should encourage entrepreneurs to do so.

We will publish the results on Monday. That means everyone in the community will get an idea of how the Covid-19 crisis is impacting Atlantic Canadian startups. There have been a wide range of experiences, and each company should make sure its reality is reflected in our tallies.

About Pivotal Coaching

Pivotal Coaching is a professional services firm committed to building effective leaders and driving growth for large organizations and high growth companies. We pride ourselves on delivering the best leadership development and sales enablement solutions to our clients in professional services, financial services, and technology. Our proprietary diagnostic tool helps craft a customized coaching and training program for your team based on analysis of their individual and collective mindset, performance and communication styles as well as their habits and competencies. Pivotal Coaching specializes in strategic cohort programs for Leadership Development and Sales Effectiveness.

#Startupeast 1 Month into the Crisis

Paul Preston, CEO of he Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology and Innovation

Paul Preston, CEO of he Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology and Innovation

About a month into the lockdown, I’ve been trying to assess the mood and experiences of Atlantic Canadian startups, and it’s difficult to sum up in a few sentences.

Some companies have seen revenues vanish and are wondering if they’ll survive. Others have found sudden demand for their products. Cash-rich companies developing medical products are waiting to get into the lab again. And some IT startups are focusing on product development because there’s no point in trying to generate sales now.

Amid these tales of feast or famine, here are observations gleaned after talking to founders, investors and support organizations around the region. The thing that I find most surprising is how calm most people are – concerned for sure, but there’s no sense of apocalypse.

The biggest story last week was whether high-growth companies would be eligible for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which pays 75 percent of employees’ wages. The federal government loosened the eligibility late last week, so a few more companies can now claim it.

“The changes have helped somewhat,” Chris Moyer, Director of Pelorus Venture Capital, said this week. “Approximately half of the portfolio appear to meet the qualification criteria. The combination of the average of January and February for comparison and using cash accounting has worked, more by luck than anything else. The subsidy still doesn’t address pre-revenue companies or most SaaS companies unfortunately.”

One thing that is happening across the region is a temporary transfer of resources – usually human resources – among companies. In other words, if one company needs to shut down for a few months, it will let its staff work temporarily for another company that is thriving, or at least able to persevere.  Some support organizations are serving as brokers in these arrangements, making sure both companies agree to and understand the terms of the deals.

“One company we know has already done that and several more are interested,” said Paul Preston, the CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology and Innovation. He added that most of the interest in such an arrangement is coming from companies that want to bring on staff, rather than those willing to let employees go temporarily.

Sources say several startups – especially those targeting travel, hospitality and restaurants – have already laid off staff, and more layoffs are expected as the recession deepens.

At the other end of the spectrum, some companies are rocking. Publicly listed Sona Nanotech, which is working on a rapid response test for Covid-19, has seen its shares increase 16-fold since January. The company said Monday it has signed a memorandum of understanding with a manufacturer and has received pre-orders for 1.2 million units of the test.

The companies most concerned about access to capital are those that need to raise more than $2 million, and are unable to travel to larger cities to meet potential investors. Pelorus has placed plans to raise a second fund on hold, but Atlantic Canadian funders overall say funding deals will likely proceed this year. Metamaterial, which raised more than $8 million before its stock market listing this year, said early this month it raised $5 million through convertible debentures from Business Development Bank of Canada.

The discussion is starting to shift to the recovery, focusing on when it will happen and what it will look like.

Veteran investor Gerry Pond said he believes the recovery will come sooner and be stronger than some pessimistic forecasts indicate. He said the downturn has been “sectoral, not fundamental”, with some industries like ICT performing well throughout. He said a lot of blue chip companies have been growing strongly for years, will continue to do so afterward and will benefit the innovative small companies that are their suppliers.

Said Pond: “A lot of these trends were strong beforehand and the companies that are in these sectors are strong, and this [pandemic] isn’t going to knock them out.”

Innovators and Health System Fight COVID-19

The Scotia Face Shield

The Scotia Face Shield

Innovation companies and health partners based in Nova Scotia are collaborating on designing new products to address the needs being thrown up by COVID-19.

Spring Loaded Technology, Ring Rescue and engineering firm Enginuity are working with Dartmouth General Hospital Foundation and the Nova Scotia Health Authority Health Innovation and Discovery Hub to design solutions to emerging problems.

“Our industry teams are proven life-science sector innovators and we felt compelled to come together to assist our local communities in this way,” said Kevin Spencer, President of Ring Rescue. The company has created a solution for removing rings stuck on swollen fingers without ring cutting. Spencer is also an emergency department physician at the Dartmouth General Hospital.

The partnership has already brought forward innovations that will help ensure the health and well-being of medical staff, patients, and families, the group said in a statement.

So far, only a product called the Scotia Face Shield is available for commercial use. The partners said the purpose of the collaboration is to be prepared to make “a robust COVID-19 emergency response”.

Projects under development include:

  • An Intubation and Patient Transport Hood -- This will provide a barrier with negative pressure for infection control, which may be useful for airway, oropharynx and nasopharynx procedures, transport of patients, and in palliative care management.
  • The Scotia Face Shield -- Based on the Bauer face shield design, the Spring Loaded facility has begun producing 1,000 face shields for the DGHF. Due to growing needs across the country, daily production could rapidly scale to the tens of thousands if needed, so they could be supplied to every healthcare professional in the Atlantic Provinces.
  • A Cleanable P100 Respirator Filter Cover -- Elastomeric respirators with cartridge-style filters are a viable form of protection, particularly in response to N95 shortages. The partners have proposed a cleanable plastic housing that could enable these types of filters to be cleaned while remaining attached to the mask frame. This cover could ultimately reduce filter consumption.
  • The Halifax Gown -- An improved, locally designed protective gown with integrated hood and face shield; a separate hood-only version is available.

The partners stressed the need for collaboration.

“Our response to COVID-19 will be a defining moment for our generation and will require out-of-the-box thinking to support our healthcare system,” said Stephen Harding, President and CEO of the Dartmouth General Hospital Foundation.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted traditional supply chains and created a need for the production of traditional PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), as well as the rapid development of new devices that can help expand the capacity of our health care system,” said Chris Cowper-Smith, President and CEO of Spring Loaded Technology, which creates assistive devices that reduce pain and restore mobility.

 For further information, contact the Dartmouth General Hospital Foundation or visit www.springrescue.ca.

Welcoming The Era of eCommerce

A shipment of Big Spruce arrived during the writing of this article.

A shipment of Big Spruce arrived during the writing of this article.

When 98 percent of Queen of Cups Lingerie’s revenue vanished in the Covid-19 crisis, owner Abbey Pond knew she had to move to online sales.

For the past few years, Pond had grown business from her studio in St. Stephen, NB, where clients could visit and be fitted for a custom-made bra. But that business model didn’t work in the world of Covid-19 so she had to pull the trigger on a long-standing plan to sell online.

“Needless to say, we were stressed,” said Pond. “It was time for tough decisions. There were moments when it was tempting to just give up.”

Queen of Cups already had an online shop and booking system, but Pond had to train staff and get used to doing online fittings. Now Queen of Cups is part of the month-old global trend of companies accelerating eCommerce as a sales channel. It’s a way for traditional retailers to survive the current lock-down, and it may prove a way to accelerate the return to profitability for the survivors.

Experts in eCommerce – the purchase of goods on the internet – say two things have accelerated the growth of online selling. First, traditional retailers and producers of consumer products realized they couldn’t sell face-to-face in a world infused with coronavirus pathogens, so they had to develop online sales strategies. Second, the broad swath of society that had been slow to order things online were forced to grow comfortable with the process.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more of that,” said Jeff W. White, the Co-Founder of Halifax-based Kula Partners, a marketing agency serving business-to-business manufacturers across North America. “A lot of consumers are shifting in the short-term to an eCommerce model and … I think there’s a shift in what people are looking at in terms of fulfillment. How do you make staff safe? And customers safe? We’re all figuring that out and eCommerce is part of it.”

The Covid-19 pandemic is allowing those who specialize in eCommerce to do well. Businesses that are quick to adapt to eCommerce models can blunt the ill effects of the pandemic and position themselves for the recovery.

“In Manhattan, everything gets delivered but we were behind them,” said John Leahy, the CEO of Halifax-based web-development agency immediaC. “We’re not behind them anymore. People here are getting everything delivered, whether it’s beer or a sandwich or lawnmowers.”

SMEs Demand More Flexibility from Government

Leahy said that immediaC has recently been installing “online storefronts” that range from kitchen companies to office furniture to craft breweries. One client is Big Spruce Brewery of Baddeck, NS. It had been selling beer at its “Spruce-tique” (the name it’s given its retail outlet), but growing online sales have made it more reliant on the “Spruce Caboose”, the van that ships out product ordered online.

Allyson England, whose Nova Box allows people to go online to order boxes of Nova Scotian goods, said she has noticed a change in the market.

“Historically people have purchased boxes as a gift for their family and friends who live away,” said England. “Lately, I’ve actually noticed an increase in people buying the boxes for themselves. Since we are spending more time at home, I think people are craving items that are local, practical and comforting.”

One young Atlantic Canadian business that’s benefiting from the eCommerce boom is St. John’s-based Oliver POS, which has developed a plug-in point-of-sale solution for WooCommerce, which is eCommerce for websites that run off WordPress.

CEO Mathais K. Nielsen said the number of hosts he is working with has “exploded” in recent weeks. He added that many owners of eCommerce sites are being forced to get their systems going quickly and are fine tuning them as they prepare for the recovery.

“We’ve seen a lot of signups,” said Nielsen. “They have suddenly gained a major market online that they didn’t know they had. And now they want to position themselves to grow it after [the pandemic ends].”

Here’s Why You Should Fill In Our Anonymous Survey

We’ve been asked how our survey will help startups in Atlantic Canada. The answer is it will help policy-makers understand how the pandemic is impacting high-growth businesses in the region, which should result in better programs.

We launched our survey Monday, and are delighted with the dozens of responses we’ve received already. We’ve also received questions about why it’s important and how it will help startups.

This survey, which we're launching in partnership with Pivotal Coaching, is important because there are discussions taking place on what should be done to help startups weather the current storm. These discussions involve startups, their support organizations, and government bodies that formulate programs. Our understanding is that the more information these people have the better.

The Atlantic Canadian startup community has been an unqualified success story in terms of economic development in recent years. At the end of 2019, the community comprised almost 700 companies (twice the number of five years earlier) that directly employed about 6,500 people (twice the number of just three years earlier). Policy-makers are working to ensure companies survive and retain their employees because these enterprises will be needed during the economic recovery.

At Entrevestror, we know those numbers because we research the community and keep data on it, providing a benchmark for policymakers and others in the community. Our startup data reports are followed by people throughout the region, providing hard numbers on the dynamics of the innovation economy.

There’s never been a more important time to produce meaningful data on the startup community. If we get a broad range of founders completing this simple, two-minute survey, we’ll gain a better understanding of how the downturn is impacting staffing, revenues, and how many companies believe they will survive. We’ve kept the questions to a minimum as we want the most important metrics.

If you’re a founder or CEO, please click on this link and complete our survey.


About Pivotal Coaching:

Pivotal Coaching is a professional services firm committed to building effective leaders and driving growth for large organizations and high growth companies. We pride ourselves on delivering the best leadership development and sales enablement solutions to our clients in professional services, financial services, and technology. Our proprietary diagnostic tool helps craft a customized coaching and training program for teams based on analysis of their individual and collective mindset, performance and communication styles as well as their habits and competencies. Pivotal Coaching specializes in strategic cohort programs for Leadership Development and Sales Effectiveness.

UNB Fund Invests in 3D Planeta

The University of New Brunswick’s student venture capital fund has made its first investment.

The Fraser Student Venture Fund is worth about $400,000, according to Faculty of Management Dean Devashis Mitra, with the money having been donated by alumnus and wealth manager Charles Fraser. It has invested $25,000 in geo-mapping startup 3D Planeta.

The fund is managed by New Brunswick Innovation Foundation Director of Investments Raymond Fitzpatrick’s Venture Assessment class. Its creation was inspired by the success of a similar program, called the Student Investment Fund, which focused on publicly traded companies.

“Our faculty had been thinking about this for a pretty long time,” said Mitra in an interview. “We wanted to go to the other end of the spectrum and set up something similar for students, where they could act not as investment bankers, but as venture capitalists.”

Fredericton-based 3D Planeta provides three-dimensional maps to search and rescue crews, first responders and other groups that require precise knowledge of an area’s terrain.

Since 2015, UNB has offered a course called Venture Assessment, which teaches students the process of venture capital investment. It began as a one-term course, and for 2019 and 2020, it was expanded to last a full academic year and incorporate the Fraser Fund as part of the curriculum.

When he agreed to donate the money, Fraser asked that it be invested in companies with ties to the university. So, during the summer, the faculty began contacting startups with alumni on their management teams and invited them to apply.

“Any student or professor who has any sort of startup idea, we encourage them to come to class and pitch their idea,” said Fitzpatrick. “We give them feedback and tell them what we’re thinking, and then we either say, ‘You need to go do X, Y and Z,’ or we say, ‘This looks really cool. Let’s do our due diligence and maybe we’ll cut a check.’”

In September, Fitzpatrick’s students began reviewing the applications and conducting due diligence. By December, they pitched 3D Planeta to the fund’s investment committee, which comprises UNB faculty members, representatives from NBIF and members of the local venture capital community.

NBIF, Innovacorp Back Five Grads of Propel Incite

The approval process, which also required the sign-off of the university’s vice-president of administration and finance, was completed shortly after that.

“This is the thing that we noticed with startups: time is very valuable,” said Mitra. “The company needed some assurance about this, so it was a fairly speedy process from our side.”

Negotiating terms of the investment took until this spring, partly due to the financial instruments used in the startup world being different from what the school’s financiers typically handle, according to Mitra.

NBIF is also making a separate investment in 3D Planeta, as part of a plan to spend up to $100,000 on companies recommended by Fitzpatrick’s students. Unlike the Fraser fund, the NBIF money is not earmarked specifically for companies with an alumni connection to UNB.

Now, a second investment recommendation from this year’s class is under consideration. And Mitra said UNB expects to continue the program next year, even in the face of the broader economic uncertainty caused by Covid-19.

Fitzpatrick added that he remains confident in 3D Planeta’s future prospects, despite the current crisis.

“From the NBIF end, we’re definitely still confident in the company and we believe in the team,” he said. “And that’s from the Venture Assessment side of things, too.”

Support Groups: Please Help with our Survey

Sponsored Content

We have a favour to ask of all startup support organizations in Atlantic Canada: Can you please ask companies that you work with to complete our survey.

Entrevestor and Pivotal Coaching are partnering to conduct the survey, which will show how the Covid-19 crisis is affecting staffing and revenues, and reveal CEOs’ sentiments in coping with the effects of the crisis.

It’s 100 percent anonymous, and it only take two minutes to complete its eight questions.

You can find the survey by clicking here:

Anyone who heads an Atlantic Canadian company that’s commercializing technology for the global marketplace should complete the survey. And we think business incubators and accelerators should encourage them to do so.

Why?

Because we will publish the results on Monday, April 20. That means that in six days, everyone in the community will get an idea of how the Covid-19 crisis is impacting Atlantic Canadian startups. There have been a wide range of experiences, and each company should make sure its reality is reflected in our tallies.

Discussions are taking place on how governments and others should respond to the crisis, and the survey results will probably influence those discussions.  It will be best if we have a wide range of responses.

We’re running this survey in addition to our annual startup data survey from a few months ago to gain fresh insights into the fast-changing environment. So even if founders filled out our previous survey, it would be great if they could complete this one as well. We’ll run this survey until the evening of April 17.

About Pivotal Coaching

Pivotal Coaching is a professional services firm committed to building effective leaders and driving growth for large organizations and high growth companies. We pride ourselves on delivering the best leadership development and sales enablement solutions to our clients in professional services, financial services, and technology. Our proprietary diagnostic tool helps craft a customized coaching and training program for your team based on analysis of their individual and collective mindset, performance and communication styles as well as their habits and competencies. Pivotal Coaching specializes in strategic cohort programs for Leadership Development and Sales Effectiveness.

TotaliQ Allows Sharing of Health Info

TotaliQ, a St. John’s IT company that allows businesses to share the expertise of their workforces, has launched a knowledge-sharing product to help organizations keep their employees safe during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Named safetyiQ, the product is a free, light version of the company’s enterprise expertise management platform. It has been designed with the goal of building a global collection of health and safety expertise and making it available to all organizations for free.

“It is critical for the occupational health and safety community to collaborate on how to help employees work safely in this new environment,” TotaliQ CEO Andrew Sinclair said in a statement.

Knowledge of best health and safety practices is now necessary for all enterprises, whether they're continuing to operate in physical facilities during the pandemic, whether they are transitioning to a remote working model or whether they have never really had to think about health and safety before, the statement said.  

TotaliQ Among 5 Startups Landing Innovacorp, NBIF Funding

“Within this online community, each member’s areas of expertise will be generated and made visible so others can tap their experience for help,” Sinclair said.

“Whether you are a health and safety professional at a construction company, a supervisor in an industrial facility, the owner of a small business or an employee in an office, we are all concerned about our colleagues' physical and mental health.”

You can sign up free of charge here.

Innovacorp, NBIF Back 5 Propel Grads

Five graduates of the Propel Incite accelerator have received $50,000 each in pre-seed funding from Innovacorp and the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation.

The three organizations issued a statement last week saying Innovacorp and NBIF have sunk a total of $250,000 into the companies, two of which come from Newfoundland and Labrador.

Halifax-based Innovacorp and Fredericton-based NBIF said early in 2019 that they would team up to provide early-stage financing to the more promising graduates of Propel’s Incite II program, which teaches companies how to scale. Under the agreement, the two VC funds backed by provincial governments invest in high-potential companies regardless of where in Atlantic Canada they are based.

“This partnership and this investment are about seeing Atlantic Canada as a total system, rather than as separate regions,” said NBIF Investment Associate Thomas Bird in a statement. “This was a way of unifying the Atlantic region and building closer ties with our partners in Nova Scotia.”

These companies, which were among the 30 startups participating in the most recent Incite II cohort, were awarded $50,000 each:

FoodByte, Wolfville, NS, Matthew Winchester and Dougal Armour – FoodByte has developed an online platform that allows food processors to quickly generate and manage food safety plans. The company’s mission is to provide accessible, reliable, and scalable food safety. It works with food processors and food safety experts across Canada on such issues as traceability, recall management, and regulation compliance.

Simbi, Vancouver and Halifax, Alexander Gillis and Aaron Friedland – This educational technology company has developed online stories that allow students to read along with texts, and along with pre-recorded narrators. By doing this, children can improve their reading skills and educators can assess their progress. The technology is used by more than 40,000 children in 47 countries.

Safa, St. John’s, Jason Trask and Mandy Woodland – Safa uses artificial intelligence to help companies retain employees. It combines AI with industrial-organizational psychology in a single solution to help companies understand their employees’ sentiments so it can better retain them. The company last year was accepted into the Silicon Valley-based accelerator Plug and Play.

SnapAP, Moncton, J.D. Drapeau and Sionne Roberts – SnapAP has developed a solution that automates the accounts payable process – the process a company uses to pay the money it owes to customers and lenders. SnapAp helps businesses pay their bills electronically in a paperless manner. As of last month, it had more than 50,000 users and had processed more than $2 billion in payments.

TotaliQ, St. John’s, Andrew Sinclair – This company has developed a platform that lets companies tap and share the expertise of their staff members. It solves a problem common to many companies: they employ people with a vast range of expertise, but it’s difficult for all employees to access that knowledge. TotalIQ’s expertise management platform leverages collective project experience to increase proposal wins and profitability. It formed a partnership with Université de Moncton last year to develop artificial intelligence for the product.

"Our partnership with NBIF and Innovacorp plays a very important role in the support Propel provides to start-ups,” said Propel CEO Barry Bisson in the statement. “Not only do the startups benefit from much needed capital; they gain experience in the process of raising capital that will be valuable when they raise future rounds of investment."

 

Disclosure: Propel, Innovacorp and NBIF are clients of Entrevestor. 

Outcast Foods and Farms Lessen Waste

Dartmouth-based Outcast Foods is partnering with Nova Scotia farms to mitigate the massive food waste due to COVID-19’s decimation of the food service industry. Outcast will turn fresh produce into dried fruit and vegetables so it does not go to waste.

Farms are facing an unprecedented situation with millions of pounds of product remaining unsold because of the collapse of the food service industry, the company said in a statement. 

“Shortly after the rise of COVID-19 we started receiving calls from farmers that had no buyers for their fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Outcast Foods CEO Darren Burke.

He said they included “truckloads of beautiful sweet potatoes, carrots, blueberries, and kale to name a few… all of which would have been rotting on the fields or tilled back into the soil.” 

Outcast, which announced a $3 million round of funding in January, uses a three-step process to dry fruits and vegetables. The process locks in nutrients and extends shelf life to more than two years. 

"The amount of time and resources it takes to grow our products is substantial, which is why we are always looking for ways to reduce the amount ending up as waste or animal feed,” said Greg Gerrits, owner of Elmridge Farm in Centerville, Nova Scotia.

“Working with Outcast Foods provides us with opportunities to upcycle our surplus or waste products, thereby reducing our operational risks and improving our farm efficiencies.”

The company plans to build a processing facility to service the largest farms in the province. This plan is being expedited because of the growing need for shelf stable foods across the globe, the statement said.

Please Fill In our Covid-19 Survey

Sponsored Content

We are launching a one-week survey to quickly gain an understanding of how the Covid-19 pandemic is impacting Atlantic Canadian startups and scaleups.

We're asking founders and CEOs to take two minutes to complete eight questions. Responses are anonymous as respondents are not asked to identify themselves.

Entrevestor and Pivotal Coaching are partnering to conduct this work, which will gauge how the crisis is affecting staffing and revenues and assess CEOs’ thoughts about coping with the crisis.

We’re looking for companies that meet our three criteria for an Atlantic Canadian startup or scaleup:

  • Is your company based in Atlantic Canada?
  • Is it commercializing technology?
  • And is it developing a product for the global market?

If you head a company that meets all three criteria, please take two minutes to fill out our poll, regardless of whether the pandemic has harmed, helped or had no impact on your business.

This poll is in addition to our annual startup data survey. We hope to gain immediate insights into the fast-changing environment. So even if you filled out our previous survey, please take the time to complete this one.

You can find the questions by clicking here:

We'll run this survey until the evening of April 17. We will release the results on the week of April 20, giving policy-makers and the community information on how the crisis is affecting employment, revenues and resources in the startup segment.

It would be a huge help if you could complete it and encourage other CEOs to do likewise.

About Pivotal Coaching

Pivotal Coaching is a professional services firm committed to building effective leaders and driving growth for large organizations and high growth companies. We pride ourselves on delivering the best leadership development and sales enablement solutions to our clients in professional services, financial services, and technology. Our proprietary diagnostic tool helps craft a customized coaching and training programs for your team based on analysis of their individual and collective mindset, performance and communication styles as well as their habits and competencies. Pivotal Coaching specializes in strategic cohort programs for Leadership Development and Sales Effectiveness.

PM Amends Wage Subsidy Criteria

The federal government has relaxed the criteria for its Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, or CEWS, but not enough to satisfy the organization representing Canadian innovators.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday said the government wants to make it easier for fast-growing companies to take advantage of the program.

He had announced two weeks ago that the government would provide a 75 percent wage subsidy to Canadian businesses impacted by the pandemic. But he later added only companies whose monthly revenues had declined 30 percent or more year-on-year would qualify. That eligibility criterion effectively excluded many high growth companies, whose revenues are doubling each year.

“Our government understands that not all businesses operate the same way,” said Trudeau on Wednesday. “We will keep listening, but we really hope you will use this help from your country and from your fellow citizens to rehire and pay your workers.”

The Prime Minister said the government has amended the year-over-year revenue decline criterion from 30 percent to just 15 percent for the month of March. The 30 percent reduction is still necessary to receive the subsidy in April and May.

He added that companies have the option to compare their sales decline to January and February 2020 rather than a year-over-year decline.

Though it did not criticize the latest announcement, the Council of Canadian Innovators said it plans to hold further talks with Small Business Minister Mary Ng and Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry.

“While there has been movement on the wage subsidy, Canadian innovators still need more targeted measures from [the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development ] to help Canada’s tech sector weather the current storm and capitalize on the rebound thereafter,” the group said in a tweet.

The Council has become the main body speaking out on behalf of startups in the current crisis.

Fundmetric Aiding Canadian Charities

Mark Hobbs

Mark Hobbs

Fundmetric, the Halifax software company that helps charities increase engagement with donors, is offering its “giving page” free to small 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 said the only criterion is that each recipient must be a Canadian non-profit. Obviously, the tax receipt functionality is only available to registered charities. (Details are available here.) 

As a rule, Fundmetric’s clients are large charities like Amnesty International USA, Kent State University, and Oregon State University. The company is now aiming to help Canadian charities of all sizes respond to the pandemic by switching to digital fundraising so they can bring in money during the current crisis.

“With self-isolation and physical distancing being of paramount importance, many charities are faced with the prospect of having to adapt to digital fundraising extremely quickly,” said Fundmetric CEO Mark Hobbs in a new Covid-19 page on the company’s website. “Fundmetric will be making our giving pages available to charities free of charge to help them continue to fundraise.”

FundMetric started seven years ago with a goal of helping charities enhance their engagement with donors. As the company has grown, it has increased the sophistication of the product so it uses machine learning to maximize 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.

LeadSift, Innovacorp Aim To Help Nova Scotian IT Companies

In an interview Tuesday, Hobbs said data has shown that many people increase their charitable giving during economic downturns. Obviously, a lot of people are unable to make donations because they’ve lost their jobs, but those who weather the storm tend to open their pocketbooks more than usual.

With social distancing, some fundraising avenues such as events or even personal meetings are closed to charities, so it’s important for them to use digital campaigns to best effect. They still have employees and it’s an excellent time for them to increase their use of online tools.

"So few charities have integrated a digital transformation plan into their corporate strategy, even though studies have shown that the digital economy is expected to have a major impact on nonprofits and businesses alike in the next few years,” said Rachel Crosbie, the company’s Head of Account Management.

“Fundmetric hopes to help these organizations adapt their fundraising methods to a digital platform, enabling them to continue to raise funds now, while setting the stage for their future.”

Fundmetric, which brought on former Nova Scotia Opposition Leader Jamie Baillie as Executive Chair last year, has been performing well, said Hobbs. The company employs seven people and hopes to add a couple new employees in customer success. In fact, Hobbs wants to hire restaurant workers who have been laid off recently, in part because they understand customer service so well. He is hoping Fundmetric can help these laid off workers just as it hopes to help Canadian charities.  

Said Hobbs: “At the end of this, charities that would have never had the opportunity [to adopt these digital technologies] can raise more today and be set up for the future.”

Drummond Webinar and MaRS Program

Peter Drummond

Peter Drummond

Forced to Focus, a webinar featuring brand and business strategist Peter Drummond, will take place Thursday, April 9th at 3:00 ADT.

Hosted by Natural Products Canada, the webinar will help entrepreneurs use this time to dig into their business and discover their competitive advantage so they can emerge from the current crisis stronger than before. Drummond highlights five questions entrepreneurs should ask themselves.

For more details and to register, click here.   

P.E.I.-based Emergence, Canada's Bioscience Incubator, is offering its clients in the incubator program access to the MaRS Market Intelligence Service (MIS). The service is designed to provide access to critical marketing intelligence to bioscience and food companies to help move their businesses forward. Participants can access thousands of reports from global research firms. Normally, the reports would cost tens of thousands of dollars, but the group's partnership with MaRS allows clients to access them free. 

NL Tech Cos Donate to Closed Door, Open Heart

Responding to the pandemic, several tech companies in Newfoundland and Labrador have joined forces and raised more than $200,000 to launch the Closed Door, Open Heart initiative.

The campaign encourages companies and individuals who are in a position to help to give generously so that communities can survive to open their doors together after Covid-19. 

The campaign began with a tech sector task force, facilitated by NATI, the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology and Innovation. In a statement, the partners said that businesses whose employees can work remotely are uniquely positioned to provide support to community organizations and charities. 

“We consistently see that our local tech community is willing to work together for the greater good whether it is through monetary donations or in-kind support for the Covid-19 response,” NATI Chief Executive Paul Preston said in a statement.

Companies are asked to donate an amount (in cash and/or in-kind) equivalent to between one and three months of expenses that would otherwise have gone unspent because travel and entertainment are not currently possible. It asks companies to partner with employees to support local and/or global causes.

One of the charities identified for support by training software company Bluedrop Performance Learning is the Hungry Heart Café, a social enterprise initiative of the charity Stella’s Circle. The corporate donation will purchase nutritious meals to help vulnerable individuals and families.  A local taxi company will be engaged to deliver the meals.

“This support enables the Café to maintain supported employment and address food security concerns of Stella's Circle participants who are increasingly at risk as the pandemic continues,” said Rob McLennan, Director of Employment Services at Stella’s Circle.

Participating businesses and employees are encouraged to decorate their doors and post photos on social media with the hashtag #closeddooropenheart.

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