Applications Open for 2nd UIT Cohort

UIT, a startup immersion program at Cape Breton University, is accepting applications for 20 spots in the second year of the program, which runs from September to June.

Applications, which can be found here, are due this Friday.

UIT began last September and the 12 students in the first cohort learned simple coding and business methodologies through self-directed learning and conversations with mentors. All the curriculum materials are available free on the Internet.

UIT founder and lead mentor Gavin Uhma wanted to see students learn coding and business in a hands-on way rather than focusing on theory.

He knows how difficult launching a startup is because he co-founded GoInstant, which was acquired by Salesforce in 2012.

Uhma implemented the mentorship aspect to the program, and has brought in successful business owners and executives to help students solve technological and business problems.

“We want them to feel like they’re at a school, but also that they work at a startup,” UIT executive director Mike Targett said in an interview.

Every week, UIT students receive a list of open-source materials to learn a new skill, such as the Week 1 lesson of how to create a website. Each lesson builds on the previous ones. For example, in Week 3, they learn to build a chat application for the website.

Each time they learn a new skill, they receive feedback from their mentors and ask Twitter users what they think of the new application.

“The goal was even if you’ve never written a line of code in your life, you could learn enough about the technology to communicate with, for example, a chief technology officer,” Targett said.

Four new companies came out of the first UIT cohort. This year, UIT will offer a co-op program so students can bring their skills to Cape Breton technology companies or startups.

Targett said Cape Breton is ideal for beginning a startup because of its affordable housing and fast Internet connections.

UIT also wants to contribute to the Cape Breton startup and tech ecosystem. Uhma, who had to move to Halifax to scale his company, wants to create a better ecosystem in Cape Breton so founders needn’t leave the island to scale their companies.

“I really want UIT to be a community project so that the community feels like it partially owns UIT,” Targett said.

The students in UIT are a varied bunch — divided evenly between men and women and coming from all backgrounds. The ages range from seasoned executives and some recent finished high school graduates.

“We’re going to have a gender parity in our program that is reflective of the human population,” Targett said, “because the technology sector is not exactly representative of that demographic split right now.”

UIT, which gets funding from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Cape Breton University and private donors, offers several bursaries, including ones for women and promising students.

Targett and Uhma have no current expansion plans, but UIT can easily expand elsewhere because of the open-source learning model. The difficulty is finding mentors.

“You need to be able to have the time of humans who have been there, done that,” Targett said.

“That’s the part that’s hardest to scale — but it’s the most valuable.”


Local Women Support SheEO Fund

Eight women banded together in Halifax Thursday night and brought the dream of a funding platform for female entrepreneurs a little closer to reality.

Halifax businesswomen Allyson England, Stefanie MacDonald and six others committed a total of $2,000 to the Act of Radical Generosity, a national program that aims to raise $1 million to help finance women-owned businesses. They had shown up at an information session about the program and ended up becoming the latest funders.

An Act of Radical Generosity is a grassroots campaign launched by SheEO Founder Vicki Saunders that aims to create a new mindset and funding model to help more women launch and grow businesses. Saunders, who has started and exited five businesses, said Canadian women startup about two-thirds of the businesses in Canada but receive only 4 percent of the country’s venture capital investments.

“We’re dramatically under-funded, under-supported and under-celebrated,” Saunders told a crowd of 50 women (and one rather self-conscious man) Thursday night at the Volta startup house.

“If we were financed to the same degree as men, we would create 6 million jobs in North America alone.”

So Saunders is leading the charge to create a financing vehicle of the women, by the women and for the women. She and her organization want to break away from the VC model that puts so much emphasis on the scalability of businesses.

She is asking for 1,000 individuals or small groups to put up $1,000 each so that a $1 million fund can help 10 female-owned businesses. The contributions are zero-interest loans lasting five years. The 1,000 donors will select the 10 businesses from across Canada that will receive the money. Saunders said there’s no agreement on what the criteria will be for winning the funding, whether it is the prospect of growth, social impact or some combination.

And in an interesting twist, the funders will not be the ones deciding how the million bucks is divvied up. The entrepreneurs themselves will get together and agree who gets how much.

“I feel we live in a cultural climate where it is go big or stay at home,” said Saunders. “Meanwhile, we live in an economy where 98 percent of the jobs are created by small business.”

Saunders believes this is only the beginning for the Act of Radical Generosity program. She hopes that the $1 million raised this year will be followed by exponentially larger sums in coming years and that it will reach well beyond Canada.

The meeting Thursday night marked the launch of the Atlantic Canadian chapter of SheEO, which is a national organization that supports female entrepreneurs. Anyone interested in participating in the organization can contact Melody Pardoe or Chantal Brine at

The Atlantic Canada group is already making waves. England and MacDonald told the meeting they couldn’t make a $1,000 pledge on their own but would be happy to chip in with others to make pledges. Within minutes, they had come up with a $2,000 in pledges from a small group of women.

Said England: “I wanted to help and I know that if you put the ask out, there will always be people to step up.”



Ryan Tapping Into Medication Records

Patti Ryan: Making it easier for patients to stick to their prescriptions.

Patti Ryan: Making it easier for patients to stick to their prescriptions.

Growing up with a father and an aunt who both had Type 1 diabetes taught Halifax health entrepreneur Patti Ryan the importance of managing chronic conditions and medications.

Ryan is the co-founder and CEO of Health QR, the company behind an app that allows pharmacy clients to manage their health information and medications.

Legally, medication records belong to individuals, but the information is often hard to access and understand.

“We are mainly targeting the estimated 29 million people in North America between 50 and 64 who have a chronic illness and a smartphone,” Ryan said from her office at Volta, Halifax’s startup house.

“We aim to make it easier for patients to understand and adhere to their medication prescriptions.”

The Health QR app works by connecting clients to their pharmacist. Through the connection, clients can access their prescription information 24/7. Information is automatically updated every time clients change or renew medications.

The app also reminds clients when medication needs to be taken, and it allows another party, such as a parent or adult child, to access the information and co-manage prescriptions.

Non-adherence to instructions is a big problem. Half of all patients are said to not complete their prescriptions. It costs the United States health system an estimated $188 billion each year, according to a 2012 consultants’ report.

Ryan said part of the issue with non-adherence is that sufferers of chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol often have no symptoms, so they forget to take medications.

Others don’t understand their condition, so the app explains why medications are important.

“I think we all tend to take our health for granted until we get a scare,” Ryan said.

“I had my own health scare and was frustrated by the experience of trying to access my information.”

The Health QR app is available for Google and Android devices and can be downloaded for free. Users’ pharmacies must also be connected to the software.

The Compass pharmacy chain in the Halifax region is connected, and pharmacists and clients are helping assess the product. In further testing, Pfizer, one of the world’s largest drug companies, has agreed to sponsor an evaluation of the app’s effectiveness.

Testing will be done in collaboration with Dalhousie University and, later on, Mount Saint Vincent University.

The tests will be conducted with the help of three non-profits that deal with three different chronic conditions and methods of treatment.

The Arthritis Society will be one. Its focus will be on young adults who are transitioning away from their parents and beginning self-management of their illness.

Ryan said she got the idea for the app while working for a health authority in Nova Scotia after she moved here in 1998.

Previously, after studying public relations at Humber College in Toronto, she worked for the Kidney Foundation of Canada, Muscular Dystrophy Canada and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Peel.

In Halifax, she decided she could have more impact on public health if she worked for policy makers.

She studied for a master’s in public administration at Dalhousie, then worked in health-related roles with the provincial government.

“I heard officials saying that they had been talking about the problems around diet, exercise and medication adherence for the past 10 years but nothing had changed,” she said.

“I wondered if technology could empower consumers to play a more active role in their own health care.”

Ryan said there are other apps that compete with Health QR’s, some developed by large pharmacy chains, but she said she doesn’t know of any others that track medication adherence.

The mother of four young adult children who also plan to work in health, Ryan said she loves life as an entrepreneur.

“I enjoyed my earlier careers, but this is my new baby. Now I have experience and enough time left that I still have the energy and enthusiasm to make a difference.”

Last Chance to Vote for Creator Program

You have a little more than a day to vote in the Great Big Gigabot Giveaway, so we’re asking one last time to vote for the Atlantic Canadian entry, The Creator Program.

Our daughter Cat Adalay has initiated this program for young teens in the Halifax area, starting in St. Margaret’s Bay. The program is teaching coding, the design and assembly of electronic circuits, and 3D design and 3D printing.

There are now three main projects in the running for the Gigabot Giveaway – an international competition for projects with social goals using 3D printers. The winner will receive a large format 3D printer to help develop their project. The deadline is Saturday night.

Cat cracked the 200-vote mark today, but she still needs your help. 3D Nigeria, which aims to develop a maker community in the country, is in the lead. The Creator Program is second and From 2D to 3D, an educational program in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, is third.

The Creator Program needs all our help because the judging is based in part on public voting. You can vote by clicking here.

Cat, who runs Adalay3D, came up with the curriculum because she believes these skills can provide the basic knowledge students need to create their own hardware prototypes.

In creating the program, Cat was inspired by the maker, open-source and entrepreneurial movements, which she sees as fulfilling vital roles in our rapidly changing society. She intends to enhance the program so it becomes a commercial venture.



No Entrevestor Next Week

There will be no Entrevestor posts next week.

Unless something truly earth-shattering is announced, we will be taking our annual late summer break. You’ll just have to get on with your lives without us.

Entrevestor will return on Monday August 31.

Startup Empire Set for Sept. 24 in Halifax

Howard Lindzon, CEO of Stocktwits

Howard Lindzon, CEO of Stocktwits

Volta Labs, the Halifax startup house, has announced that it will hold its second annual Startup Empire event next month, featuring a range of speakers who have developed leading startups.

Held at the Park Lane Cineplex Theatre on Spring Garden Road on Sept. 24, Startup Empire is a one-day conference that will feature talks by entrepreneurs whose companies have been valued at hundreds of millions of dollars or more. And it will feature company showcases by the founders of up-and-coming Atlantic Canadian startups.

Startup Empire was first held last September, and was a sell-out event. Volta, which recently moved from its original location on Spring Garden Road to the Maritime Centre, now hopes to repeat the success with the second conference.

“This conference will draw Atlantic Canadian startups together, providing access to world-class industry speakers and allowing attendees to learn from the best about how to scale their companies and drive early stage growth with sales,” said Volta Executive Director Melody Pardoe in a statement.

The main speakers for the event will include:

·         Howard Lindzon, co-founder and CEO of San Diego-based Stocktwits, a leading communications platform for the financial and investing community;

·         Marcel LeBrun, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Salesforce Radian6, the Fredericton-based social media-marketing division of CRM giant Salesforce;

·         Leila Boujnane, co-founder and CEO of Idée and Tineye, Toronto companies whose technology allows users to search for images;

·         and Michael Donovan, Chairman of the Board of Directors and CEO of DHX Media of Halifax and Toronto, specialists in video programming for families and children.  

The organizers said there would be many other high-calibre speakers as well.

“After the success of last year's conference, we wanted to continue to bring speakers to Atlantic Canada who can help local startups grow,” said Jevon MacDonald, a co-founder and board member of Volta. “The conference also gives us the chance to bring in entrepreneurs from other regions and show them what amazing things are happening here in Halifax.”

Startup Empire also allows promising Atlantic Canadian Startups to showcase their companies and products on-stage to give the visiting speakers and local attendees an idea of the products being developed in the area. The local presenters last year included such Halifax companies as Dash Hudson, which allows people to buy clothes they see in Instagram posts, and Vendeve, which operates a networking site for self-employed women. The local entrepreneurs speaking this year’s even have not been named yet.

Startup Empire will be just part of a busy autumn for startup-related conferences in Halifax. The Atlantic Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Conference will be held at St. Mary’s University on Sept. 17 and 18. Invest Atlantic will take place on Sept. 29 and 30.  The Big Data for Productivity Congress – the latest iteration of the Big Data Congress held in Saint John the last two years – will be held Oct. 19 to 21. And the life sciences conference BioPort Atlantic will take place Oct. 28 and 29. 

Discussion of My Latest Book Sept. 1

The Jew Who Defeated Hitler details the biggest economic program in human history.

The Jew Who Defeated Hitler details the biggest economic program in human history.

I’d like to invite everyone who’s around Halifax on Sept. 1 to come out to my talk at the Central Library on my latest book.

The Jew Who Defeated Hitler: Henry Morgenthau Jr., FDR, and How We Won the War was published in the U.S. late last year, and this is my first public discussion of the book in Halifax.

There’s a large body of historians who believe the Second World War was the greatest event in human history, and this book examines a rarely discussed but all-important aspect of the conflict: how was it financed?

My answer is that it was largely paid for by the dogged persistence of Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. This is the first book to focus on the wartime achievements of this unlikely hero—a dyslexic college dropout who turned himself into a forceful and efficient administrator.

Based on extensive research at the FDR Library in Hyde Park, N.Y., The Jew Who Defeated Hitler describes Morgenthau’s breathtaking accomplishments: he led the greatest financial program the world has ever seen, raising $310 billion (over $4.8 trillion in today’s dollars) to finance the war effort. This was largely done without the help of Wall Street by appealing to the patriotism of the average citizen through the sale of war bonds.

In addition, he championed aid to Britain before America entered the war; initiated and oversaw the War Refugee Board, spearheading the rescue of 200,000 Jews from the Nazis; and became the architect of the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference, which produced the modern economic paradigm. 

The book also chronicles Morgenthau’s many challenges, ranging from anti-Semitism to the postwar “Morgenthau Plan” that was his undoing.

My talk will discuss the story behind the book, starting with my research into Ernest Hemingway’s trip to China in 1941. (Yes, there is a connection.)

It all starts at 7 pm on Sept. 1 in room 310 of the new library, at the corner of Spring Garden Road and Queen Street. Hope to see you there. 

Eye on KW: Kik Raises US$50M

Waterloo-based Kik Interactive has raised a US$50 million (C$65.3 million) strategic investment from Chinese tech giant Tencent, valuing the maker of the popular North American chat network at US$1 billion.

Kik said in a press release on Tuesday that the Series D financing will be used to double the size of the company. Tencent is creator of the chat app Weixin, or WeChat, which is extremely popular with young people in China.

The deal is significant because the capital and connections should be able to help Kik increase its penetration and to develop a “chat-based ecosystem” for young Americans. For Kitchener-Waterloo, it is another step toward the community’s goal of building a cluster of major tech companies. And the deal creates another Canadian unicorn, or a company with a $1 billion valuation.

“Last year, Kik founder and CEO Ted Livingston stated his intention to make Kik the ‘WeChat of the West,’ pointing to the power of Weixin to facilitate connections and enable an ecosystem built around messaging,” said the press release. “This investment allows Kik to further pursue that goal with the support of Tencent.”

Founded in 2009, Kik has about 240 registered users, with 70 percent of them aged between 13 and 24 years. The company says that 40 percent of U.S. teens use the product. The teens now use Kik mainly for its chat function, but Livingston aspires to add functionality so his clients – who will grow in spending power as they grow older – will use Kik for a range of tasks.

This is what Weixin has already achieved with its product in China. Its customers use the product to facilitate numerous other transactions, including booking taxis, shopping, ordering food, paying utility bills, playing games, and other functions.

"We think chat will be the simplest way to connect with the world around you," said Livingston in the statement. "Consumers and developers alike are suffering from app overload, and we are increasingly seeing the potential for services to be delivered in better, lighter-weight ways through chat, especially with bots. Companies like Slack, Telegram, and Facebook are also starting to realize this."

Kik plans to use the funding to grow its team in Waterloo and invest in compelling chat-based services. The company also has offices in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

According to Crunchbase, Kik has now received a total of $120 million in funding, mainly from a host of U.S.  venture capital funds.

Kik is now the latest member of the club of Canadian unicorns. The other members include Vancouver-based Avigilon, Ottawa’s Shopify, Vancouver-based Hootsuite and Slack, based in Vancouver and San Francisco. 

Press Release: BioInnovation Challenge

BioNova, the association of life sciences companies in Nova Scotia, has issued the following press release:

Semi-Finalists Chosen for BioInnovation Challenge

Halifax, NS – August 17, 2015 -- The semi-finalists have been chosen for the 2015 edition of The BioInnovation Challenge (BIC).

Scott Moffitt, Managing Director of BioNova, the host of BIC, announced today that a selection committee has chosen the semi-finalists who will take part in the program. The semi-finalists will receive professional pitch training between now and the semi-final run off, which will be held in Halifax on October 27.

This year will mark the second time a New Brunswick company and one from Prince Edward Island will be taking part in the competition. BioNova has partnered with BioNB and the PEI BioAlliance, its sister organizations in NB and PEI, to allow up and coming life sciences companies from all three Maritime Provinces to compete in the challenge.

“We’re very impressed with the diversity and quality of this year’s participants,” said Moffitt. “We have representation of semi-finalists from across the Maritime provinces which shows that we have excellent pipeline development for the region.”

The semi-finalists are:

-  Help Method Inc., Nova Scotia

-  ChimieCell Inc. (intended name), Nova Scotia

-  Amorphous Biomaterials, Nova Scotia

-  Heterogeneous Nanosystems, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island

-  8RUA, New Brunswick

-  Cliff Worden-Rogers Consultant Ltd., Nova Scotia

-  RetiCAD, Nova Scotia

-  IOBio Digital Equipment, Nova Scotia

The winner of the BioInnovation Challenge will receive a $15,000 seed investment and a package of support services and mentoring valued at more than $30,000. The 2015 BIC is presented by BioNova in partnership with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, BioNB, Cox & Palmer, Dalhousie Office of Industry Liaison and Innovation, Jennifer Cameron PR, Jardine Lloyd Thompson Canada, PEI BioAlliance, PwC Canada and Sandler Training.

BIC will take place over two days in October. The 8 semi-finalists will present to a panel of judges on October 27 at the Life Sciences Research Institute. The top three presenters will then pitch to the judges and the conference audience at BioPort Atlantic, BioNova’s annual conference, the following morning.  The winner will be announced at the close of BioPort Atlantic on the afternoon of October 28.

BioPort Atlantic will take place at the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront Hotel on October 27 and 28. Built around the theme “BOLD IDEAS for BIG OPPORTUNITIES”, BioPort  provides a forum to educate, inform and inspire the life sciences community to develop their ideas, commercialize their technologies and build links within the region and with guests brought in from the US and from around the world.

About BioNova:

BioNova is Nova Scotia’s life sciences organization, representing companies working in drug & vaccine development, medical technologies, natural health products & nutraceuticals, digital health and bio-products, as well as research organizations, service providers and other supporters.

Eye on KW: Bridgit & The Condo Boom

Brodie and Hasegawa: 'We're just getting started'.

Brodie and Hasegawa: 'We're just getting started'.

Mallorie Brodie and Lauren Hasegawa certainly had perfect timing when they decided to launch an app that improves efficiency in the construction industry.

The co-founders of Kitchener-based Bridgit decided to launch the product they call Closeout in Toronto in March 2014 amid one of the most explosive construction booms in the city’s history. And it didn’t hurt that their thorough research had identified a key point of pain for the industry.

The result: the company, which is going through Communitech’s Rev accelerator, is now operating in seven cities, and revenues are growing 30 percent per month.

“Lauren has a background in civil engineering and we both come from construction families -- we both grew up in the industry,” said Brodie in an interview on Friday. “When we started, we took a very research-based approach and we went out and interviewed more than 500 stakeholders in the industry. … We found out what really annoyed them.”

What really annoys site managers – and what Closeout addresses – is something called deficiency management.

A deficiency is a problem in a construction project --- say, a door that won’t close, or wiring that was installed improperly. When site managers learn of these deficiencies, they have to assign a subcontractor to fix them. In a highrise condo project, there are probably about 50 subcontractors. So assigning and checking up on all these odd jobs is a pain for someone overseeing a multi-million-dollar project. It’s usually managed on a wall chart in the site manager’s office with post-its stuck all over it.

Closeout is a cloud-based mobile app that lets the site manager take a smart-phone picture of the deficiency and assign the task of fixing it to a subcontractor. They can write a description, the location and deadline. Once the job is done, the subcontractor can report back to the site manager, even send a photo of the completed job.

A graduate of the Next 36 program, Bridgit ran a beta-test at 10 projects in the spring of 2014, after which it raised an undisclosed round of financing from angels. The company has since added functionality to the product, such as task assignment to subcontractors and an installation checklist.

The app is now being used in 10 high-rise projects in seven cities in the U.S. and Canada, including two in Seattle.

The GTA is still its main market, and Bridgit – which now employs seven full-time staff and two coop students—plans to target one U.S. city for growth in 2016. In terms of features, Brodie and Hasegawa are considering enhancing the app so developers will be able to stay in touch with condo-owners after the project is completed.

Though they’re aware that the Toronto condo boom could end, overall they’re optimistic about their prospects because of the broad global market for the product. If Toronto slows, another market will pick up. And if there’s a broader economic downturn, governments will likely address it by infrastructure and public works spending.

“We’re just getting started,” said Brodie. “We focus first of all on a very specific geographic area and a specific type of project, say residential highrise, but there’s still a massive opportunity to expand.” 


Eye on KW is a regular feature that showcases startups in Kitchener-Waterloo. Prepares for Journey Launch

Andrew Russell: 'Athletes are looking for a longer-term connection with their supporters.'

Andrew Russell: 'Athletes are looking for a longer-term connection with their supporters.', the platform that helps elite athletes crowdfund sponsorship, will launch the next version of its technology in late October, allowing users to interact with supporters for longer periods of time.

The Halifax organization is planning to unveil Journey, the new version of its platform that will feature enhanced marketing and continuous fundraising tools.

“The biggest thing we’ve found is athletes are looking for longer-term connection with their supporters,” said CEO Andrew Russell, a paddler who competed in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

“So we’re looking to extend the timeline of the crowdfunding experience.” is a not-for-profit launched in 2012 by Halifax technology entrepreneurs Julia Rivard, also a former Olympic canoeist, and Leah Skerry to help elite athletes raise money for training through crowdfunding. Rivard and Skerry are best known as principals of the web-design company Norex, and Skerry is now the CEO of the educational technology startup Eyeread.

The idea behind is that Olympic-level athletes have a tough time raising money to cover the costs of preparing for international competitions, and there is only so much government money or corporate sponsorship to go around. lets them post videos of themselves and co-ordinate crowdfunding campaigns so they can draw funding more easily from the general public. In the last three years, the company has raised more than $500,000 for a range of athletes.

Last November, USA launched and is working with about 10 American athletes.

Russell said has already assembled a pool of athletes to beta-test the new version of the platform. That will start in mid-October, with a view to having a full launch late that month.

There are crowdfunding sites, including some for artists, that allow longer-term engagement, and is examining those. Many users of have training cycles that extend through the Olympic calendar, so it may be advantageous to allow a four-year engagement, said Russell. Journey will also allow athletes to connect with supporters and fans in new ways, possibly by offering training sessions to more generous backers, posting tips for the sport or updating results more often.

“The term ‘give back’ is what we use,” said Russell.

“We just want to give the athletes more tools. And as we experiment, I would imagine that what we have in terms of the give-backs will change over time.”

The company will celebrate the launch of Journey by hosting a five-kilometre run in partnership with Saint Mary’s University on Sept. 26. It will serve as a fundraiser that will support not only the development of Journey but also Canadian national team runner Dan Gorman. The run will be followed by a varsity football game at SMU.

Invest Atlantic Focuses on Funding

Tickets are now available for the sixth annual Invest Atlantic conference, which will focus on how to attract investment to Atlantic Canadian startups from beyond the region.

The conference, which will take place September 29 and 30 at the World Trade and Convention Centre in Halifax, will feature some of the region’s leading business people, and investors from inside and outside Atlantic Canada.

“[We’re focusing on] new ideas for sourcing angel-type funds”, said Invest Atlantic founder Bob Williamson in an interview. “We’re bringing new angels to the region to talk and also discovering what many of our startups have to showcase.”

Williamson began Invest Atlantic in 2010 as a forum for investors and entrepreneurs from across the region to meet, network and discuss ways to improve the ecosystem. In recent years, the event has included a pitching competition on the first day of the conference. It offers entrepreneurs some coaching and a chance to deliver a 60-second pitch to a panel of judges in front of an audience that includes potential angel investors.

The contestants receive valuable feedback while drawing attention to the region from external investors.

The chair for the 2015 conference is Nancy Mathis, the founding Executive Director of the Wallace McCain Institute at the University of New Brunswick. She hopes to expand upon Invest Atlantic’s traditional focus on early stage startups in the pitching competition and include more developed businesses as well.

“In accepting to chair, I wanted to tweak the design to move beyond start-ups,” said Mathis. “This year there are three streams.”

The first stream is for startups seeking money, the second for growth-stage companies looking for partners and the third for late-stage companies looking for successors or acquisition.

Mathis hopes that the interaction between different streams of entrepreneurs will add more depth to the event. For example, a Stream 3 entrepreneur might invest in a Stream 1 startup.

Williamson said the main conference will focus on ideas that will help to channel money into the Atlantic Canadian startup community from outside the region.

The speakers include Catherine Mott, past Chair of the Angel Capital Association and the founder and CEO of BlueTree Allied Angels, located in Wexford, PA. Williamson plans to soon announce more investors from outside the region who will also speak.

Francis McGuire, the CEO of Moncton-based Major Drilling Group International, will also speak at the conference. And Clearwater Seafoods Chairman John Risley and East Valley Ventures Chairman Gerry Pond will sit down for a lunchtime discussion on how to draw more investment to the region.

Applications for opportunities to pitch are open until Aug. 31. More details can be found at the Invest Atlantic website

Deadline Extended in Gigabot Voting

The deadline for voting in the Great Big Gigabot Giveaway has been extended to next Saturday, so we’re re-issuing our call to vote for the Atlantic Canadian entry, The Creator Program.

Our daughter Cat Adalay has initiated this program for young teens in the Halifax area, starting in St. Margaret’s Bay. The program is teaching coding, the design and assembly of electronic circuits, and 3D design and 3D printing.

There are now three main projects in the running for the Gigabot Giveaway – an international competition for projects with social goals using 3D printers. The winner will receive a large format 3D printer to help develop their project.

The three competitors see-sawed back and forth in the standings over the weekend, but as of this morning 3D Nigeria, which aims to develop a maker community in the country, was in the lead. The Creator Program was second and From 2D to 3D, an educational program in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, was third.

The Creator Program needs all our help because the judging is based in part on public voting. You can vote by clicking here.

Cat, who runs Adalay3D, came up with the curriculum because she believes these skills can provide the basic knowledge students need to create their own hardware prototypes.

In creating the program, Cat was inspired by the maker, open-source and entrepreneurial movements, which she sees as fulfilling vital roles in our rapidly changing society. She intends to enhance the program so it becomes a commercial venture. 

Press Release: SheEO In Halifax

The Volta startup house in Halifax has issued the following press release.

SheEO Comes to Atlantic Canada

Launch Event to be Held at Volta Labs

HALIFAX – Vicki Saunders is coming to Halifax to launch the Atlantic Canadian women entrepreneurs’ movement through SheEO. Volta Labs is hosting the launch event on Thursday August 20th at 6:00pm at their new location on Barrington Street.

Female entrepreneurs may have started two-thirds of the businesses in Canada last year but they are chronically under-financed, supported and celebrated. An Act of Radical Generosity is a grassroots campaign launched by SheEO that aims to change this by creating a new mindset and funding model aimed to transform how female entrepreneurs are supported.

The Radical Generosity campaign will bring together a network of 1,000 women activators who will each contribute $1,000 to create a pool of $1,000,000. The radically generous women will select 10 female-led ventures who will then collectively decide how to divide the million dollars. There are only two parameters: they can’t give all the money to one venture and they cannot divide it equally. The loan is zero percent interest for a five year term for each venture.

“Traditional funding models don’t work well for female entrepreneurs,” says Vicki Saunders, founder of SheEO. “Only four per cent of venture capital goes to women. We need to transform how we fund and support female entrepreneurs if we want to build a thriving economy.”

According to a study by Babson College, if women were financed to the same degree as male-led companies, there would be six million jobs created in North America over the next five years.

Radical Generosity has already attracted corporate supporters including BMO Financial Group and FreshBooks. The corporate partners are helping to cover administration costs so that 100 percent of contributions go directly to the ventures SheEO supports. 

“Supporting small and medium businesses is important for the Canadian economy and Radical Generosity allows us to provide support at a grassroots level,” says Julie Barker-Merz, President BMO InvestorLine. “Female-led companies are a large driver of the economy so helping them succeed has a positive impact across the country.”

Radical Generosity is not a charitable donation or a loan. The women activators are committing their money and time to help 10 women-led businesses so that they can succeed. Businesses chosen as part of the program will have access to world-class coaching, retreats and workshops during their year of funding courtesy of the women activators. The goal is to help foster the culture of women helping women.

“As a company that has exclusively focused on serving small business owners, we’ve witnessed the significant and positive impact having a strong support network can have on an entrepreneur’s business and life,” says Ritva Nosov, Senior Manager, Talent Development at FreshBooks. “Partnering on Radical Generosity is yet another way to help female entrepreneurs find that network, and for that, we couldn’t be more excited to take part.”

“Women get to profitability quickly with their businesses but don’t often grow them because of challenges accessing capital and networks,” explains Saunders. “Radical Generosity means female entrepreneurs can get support on their own terms which will build a stronger economy and stronger leaders.”

To register for the August 20th event:

Go to

To get involved with SheEO Atlantic:

Contact Melody Pardoe or Chantal Brine at,

About SheEO:

SheEO supports, finances and celebrates creators, makers and entrepreneurs on their own terms. For more information or to see who is already supporting as an activator, please visit



Oleg Yefymov: Born To Be a Founder

Oleg Yefymov: Ukraine to Israel to Halifax

Oleg Yefymov: Ukraine to Israel to Halifax

Oleg Yefymov has always been entrepreneurial — by necessity and inclination.

As a child in Ukraine, the founder and CEO of Yomes, a site for landlords and tenants, had to help feed his family. Later, he learned about entrepreneurship Israeli-style.

He’s also started the Halifax chapter of Startup Grind, the Google-backed group that links and educates entrepreneurs in 70 countries.

As a boy, between the ages of seven and 10, Yefymov collected bottles in Moscow and Kharkiv, the Ukraine town where he was born.

“We didn’t even have the money for bread. I dreamed of being able to have a Kinder Surprise egg or taste Coke.”

Yefymov, his mother and grandmother emigrated from Ukraine to Israel in 1999 because of the poverty and the anti-Semitism they faced at home.

At boarding school in Israel, 13-year-old Yefymov started his own venture.

“I’d bought a toaster and cheese, and sold sandwiches at night with the bread that was daily available in the dining room, but they told me it was illegal and closed it down.”

Still, Yefymov liked the people at the school, where he lived for five years.

He met his wife, Pauline Bartik, there. He began to understand the Israeli enthusiasm for entrepreneurship.

Israel is often called Startup Nation, after the 2009 book of that name that examined the fast economic growth of the fledgling country with a small population.

Yefymov recognized what Israel could teach him, but he struggled to adapt to the new lifestyle and ways of thinking. And it hurt that he couldn’t see his father who, as a non-Jew, could not immigrate to Israel.

“I was a Soviet Union kid. I was born in 1987 and was exposed to communist culture when I was young.”

But he found Israel’s entrepreneurial energy increasingly inspiring.

“In Israel, startup life is boiling. Part of that is due to immigration, including the many Soviet Jews who brought their knowledge of technology.

“Soviet knowledge combines with Israeli chutzpah. Israelis take risks with business. They see how something works out and take it from there.”

In Tel Aviv, Yefymov built a successful digital agency that partnered with firms to create websites and mobile apps. His company worked with the Israeli prime minister’s office and brands like Samsung and Coca-Cola.

Yefymov was a sponsor of StarTau, Tel Aviv University’s entrepreneurship centre.

Life was good, but he and his wife decided to emigrate because they wanted their future children to be native English speakers.

 “We looked at different countries and chose Canada. When we looked at different parts of the country, we liked Halifax — the people, the scenery and lifestyle. We applied to the Nova Scotia Nominee Program.

 “When we got here, I looked for work with a big company or a venture capital fund. There weren’t too many opportunities, but we didn’t want to leave so I started Yomes.”

Doing business in Halifax is different compared with Israel, he said.

“The pace of business here is slow. In Israel, people will take a chance on doing business with someone they don’t know well, but here people want the relationship to be more developed.”

His family, which has recently grown with the birth of a daughter, Jade Alba, is still being supported by his Israeli business, but he’s hopeful Yomes will soon be profitable.

Yefymov said he is analyzing rental accommodations around Halifax universities and winning the confidence of student tenants.

He is also busy with Startup Grind.

 “Startup Grind is a way for me to give back to the Halifax community. We plan to stay.”


Please Vote for The Creator Program

Cat Adalay: Her Creator Program needs your votes.

Cat Adalay: Her Creator Program needs your votes.

Here’s a chance to help out The Creator Program, an Atlantic Canadian initiative that could benefit the ecosystem in the region.

Our daughter Cat Adalay has initiated this program for young teens in the Halifax area, starting in St. Margaret’s Bay. The program is teaching coding, the design and assembly of electronic circuits, and 3D design and 3D printing.

Cat has entered The Creator Program in the Great Big Gigabot Giveaway competition, an international contest that is assessing ventures that are using 3D printers for a social good. She needs all our help because the judging is based in part on public voting. You can vote by clicking here.

Cat, who runs Adalay3D, came up with the curriculum because she believes these skills can provide the basic knowledge students need to create their own hardware prototypes.

In creating the program, Cat was inspired by the maker, open-source and entrepreneurial movements, which she sees as fulfilling vital roles in our rapidly changing society.

She sees the Creator Program as providing much-needed technological education. She hopes the program’s students will be empowered to create their own startups and join what she calls the Creator Movement.  

“The philosophy that the Creator Movement embodies is important for everyone in this region, not just the entrepreneurial and maker communities,” Cat said. “We are not prepared for the incoming technological upheaval.

Humans Need Not Apply states that 45 per cent of human jobs may be lost to automated systems and Deloitte Canada claims only 13 per cent of the country’s largest companies are well prepared for this change.”

Cat is working with several partners to expand the Creator Program, which is currently 12 weeks old. While the program will continue to educate teens in technology, she plans to enhance the curriculum and teach a professional version of the same subject matter to young adults.

In the last 12 weeks, Cat has had many conversations with regional groups and educational institutions about working together to deliver a commercial version of the Creator Program.   

This video clearly shows the impact The Creator Program is having on these 11-to 14-year-old students.

Please check out the video and vote by clicking the thumbs up sign at the top right (once you’ve already clicked on the Creator Program entry). The deadline for voting is Saturday night – Yes, TOMORROW – so please vote immediately.

Even if you dismiss this as the bluster of two proud parents, you have to agree that Cat is doing great work with these kids. And winning the Great Big Gigabot Giveaway would be a real shot in the arm for the maker/creator/entrepreneurial community in the region. 

Press Release: Pilot Targets Grads

Venor Search Group, OneNS and Equals6 have issued the following press release:

Pilot Aimed to Keep Graduates in Nova Scotia Launched by Venor Search Group

Venor Search Group (Venor) is pleased to announce the launch of an initiative to connect recent graduates, including international students, to meaningful work experiences in Nova Scotia.

The OneNS Desk pilot program aims to help reduce Nova Scotia’s youth unemployment rate through inviting private sector employers to demonstrate commitment to building Nova Scotia’s economy through our people—specifically youth.  

"We have amazing talent in Nova Scotia and world-class companies. So we’re inviting employers to help keep our talent here by creating an opportunity that gives a recent graduate a place to hone his/her skills and develop experience outside the classroom.  We’re asking employers to make room and do what they can to retain our talent.” says Project Lead, Chantal Brine.

During the program pilot, Venor anticipates between 20 to 30 placements, which could range between short-term placements to full-time depending on the opportunity.  Upon completion of the pilot, the objective is to refine the program so that it can continue to be a platform used to place recents graduates with companies across the province. Full details about the pilot can be found on Venor’s website here.

Venor is partnering with Equals6 and to build a technology platform to support the program.  "Nova Scotia’s graduates need every advantage to get ahead. By working with Venor and we are creating a partnership and platform designed to help young job seekers find meaningful employment with great Nova Scotian companies,” said Andy Osburn, CEO of Equals6.

The Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy’s (Ivany) report released last year stressed the need for ‘significant private sector growth and expanded trade’ as well as reducing the youth unemployment rate. OneNS Coalition member, Saeed El-Darahali, helped develop the concept for the OneNS Desk pilot program.

“Venor is a forward thinking organization that is invested in seeing our province and youth succeed,” said Mr. El-Darahali, “I thank and applaud them for spearheading this new employment approach to help address several important OneNS goals."

The pilot is currently open for applications.

For further inquires:

Please direct any inquiries to Chantal Brine at

Pilot Program

To apply for the pilot (employer or recent graduate), e-mail:


About Venor

Venor was started by two partners with more than 20 years of experience in the recruitment industry who shared a vision for how to build a different kind of executive search company and the entrepreneurial passion to start something fresh.  We hold integrity and  relationships as our highest values, followed closely by results, and innovation.  Venor offers professional and executive search services in Atlantic Canada and beyond, including the US.   We work closely with clients, get to know their businesses and understand their needs thoroughly. The quality of our client relationships along with our vast networks, allows Venor to consistently deliver the right talent solutions. The same holds true for candidates who choose Venor.  We help people advance their careers and make the right moves by getting to know them and their aspirations.



Clarifying the Murky Crowdfunding Rules

The rules governing equity crowdfunding in Canada are evolving and will likely get more confusing before they get clearer.

This isn’t just a Canadian thing. They might be even more complex in the United States, where 22 states and the District of Columbia have individualized rules.But the framework of regulation outlined by some provinces this year is only the beginning. There will likely be a series of announcements and rulings in several of them as regulators and the market acclimatize to this new type of funding.

Equity crowdfunding is the process of raising money online from a broad range of people. It’s similar to existing forms of crowdfunding for charities or early sales of a product, except it is selling stock and/or debt in a company.

It’s important because young Canadian companies, especially Atlantic Canadian companies, have a hard time raising the capital they need to grow. Crowdfunding, in theory, offers a solution to the lack of capital.

 “I think the securities commissions are a pendulum that has swung too far; they’re too restrictive,” Sean Sears, founder of equity crowdfunding portal IcrowdX, said at a seminar Monday in Halifax.

“In Canada, we’ve had 10 years of steep declines in (venture capital funding) and if we don’t reverse it, we will not have a startup community.”

For that reason, regulators in six provinces, including Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, recently approved the practice for companies raising capital. No company can raise more than $250,000 in a single campaign, and investors are limited to maximum investments of $1,500 per company.

The legal term for the rule allowing this is the startup exemption. It’s an exemption to the rule requiring companies to issue a full prospectus when they raise capital.

But there is another form of crowdfunding that will soon let Canadian companies raise capital. Ontario, which is not one of the provinces mentioned, has proposed what it calls a crowdfunding exemption. This would allow companies to raise a maximum of $1.5 million each year, with a $2,500 ceiling for individual investors per deal, to a maximum of $10,000 a year. Ontario would place tighter restrictions on the fundraising portal than the other plan.

At the seminar, Abel Lazarus, senior securities analyst at the Nova Scotia Securities Commission, made it clear that Nova Scotia regulators are monitoring what is happening in Ontario, which is expected to announce its exemption before long.

If the two-track rules aren’t confusing enough, there will have to be clarification on what a company can say to promote its equity crowdfunding campaign. The strict letter of the law states that founders during a campaign can only refer potential investors to information on the fundraising portal.

But a crowdfunding campaign is just that — a campaign. It should be something festive so the company draws as much attention as possible to itself and its product. It has yet to be seen how the nature of a crowdfunding campaign squares with the rules laid down by 13 different regulators across the country.

The point is that equity crowdfunding will proceed, and it should benefit a lot of companies and, hopefully, a lot of investors. But no one should be under the impression that an established or simple regulatory framework is already in place.

In Praise of NB’s Biotech Community

Meaghan Seagrave: 'The Biotech sector is starting to creep up a little bit more.'

Meaghan Seagrave: 'The Biotech sector is starting to creep up a little bit more.'

When Mycodev founder Brennan Sisk appeared with New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant to announce the company’s $500,000 funding in March, he knew it was a celebration for more than his company.

The funding announcement by the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation was the latest in a string of events that showed something interesting happening in the province: life sciences companies are stepping into the spotlight.

In the startup world in the past few years, a sentence with the words “New” and “Brunswick” usually included the letters I and T. IT was front and centre, and with good reason. Celebrated exits like Radian6, Q1 Labs and User Events have been great events for the province. But lately there have been companies like Fredericton-based Mycodev to talk about.

“One of the things that Mycodev is offering, for lack of a better word, is an opportunity for bricks and mortar, right here in New Brunswick, to diversify what’s happening here,” said Sisk in an interview.

He’s proud that his company, which is producing medical grade chitosan from fermented fungus, will manufacture locally. The company is working with three medical partners on developing medical products, including bandages that use the properties within chitosan to stanch bleeding.

Of course this is not the only recent win in life sciences in the past few months. NB Biomatrix is a Saint John company using nano-technology to develop a biodegradable, anti-bacterial liquid that can remove heavy metals and other pollutants from waste water. It first got noticed when it won the $15,000 BioInnovation Challenge, a pan-Maritimes bio-sciences competition, last autumn. Then the company bagged $222,250 by placing third in the NBIF Breakthru competition in March.

“The reason we’re seeing more startups on the bio side is we’re seeing more startups in general,” said Meaghan Seagrave, the Executive Director of BioNB, the umbrella organization that supports biosciences in the province. “When you have that push within a culture, innovation is going to happen across the board. The biotech sector is starting to creep up a little bit more now because it takes it longer to get to market.”

Seagrave’s analysis of the segment is broad in both time and space. She notes that 70 percent of New Brunswick land-base is covered with biomass in the form of forest or farmland. And the province has two distinct coastlines offering a range of sea-life.

As a result, the province’s traditional industries have been fishing, farming and forestry. But what Seagraves highlights is that New Brunswick’s research facilities have grown up around these industries. The province boasts 13 research facilities – and that tally doesn’t even include its academic institutions. Most of them support research in these traditional sectors, including how to extract materials from organic material. The result is often a commercial product.

For example, she said, Biomolecules for Life is a Moncton company that grew out of someone wondering whether there were any marketable chemicals in sea urchin guts. (They were thought to be a waste product left over when sea urchins were processed for export markets.) It turns out sea urchin innards are rich in Fucoxanthin, a chemical that helps with appetite suppression and weight reduction. The company is now marketing Ocean Slim, a natural health product containing Fucoxanthin.

As it earns revenue from Ocean Slim, it is working on a higher-value drug that will require the full regulatory process.

Seagrave also cited the example of Sackville-based Soricimed Biopharma, which is commercializing a synthesized compound originally found in shrew venom that can stop growth in cervical, bone and lung cancer cells. It is now moving into Phase II clinical trials, which aim to prove the drug is medically effective.

“I think we are a kind of a hidden gem because we have all the required assets we need in this province,” said Seagrave. “We have an abundance of biomass and we have significant research and development capacity. We also have the human capital. It’s like the biotech sector has kind of like been bubbling below the surface.”

It’s the sort of activity that convinces Sisk the biotech segment in New Brunswick deserves more notice.

“The Bioscience community in New Brunswick is pretty busy, though it doesn’t get a lot of attention,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is bring attention to it. We’re just one of the companies here trying to put bricks and mortar here and create some good high-paying jobs.”


This article originally appeared in our latest Entrevestor Intelligence report. 

Mason on Teaching Entrepreneurship

One of Scotland’s leading educators in entrepreneurship has developed a special affinity for New Scotland.

Colin Mason, a professor at the Adam Smith School of Business at the University of Glasgow, has already been in Halifax and Sydney this year, one of many visits over the years. He returns next month on a trip that includes the Atlantic Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Conference at Saint Mary’s University on Sept. 17 and 18.

As an academic who teaches entrepreneurship, Mason carries a messianic enthusiasm for his subject. Entrepreneurship professors believe it is essential for 21st-century students to understand how they can start their own businesses.

For Mason, the necessity of learning entrepreneurship comes from the realities of the global market.

The reality is harsh. Most industries are not offering long-term, full-time positions. Even if they do, the evolution of technology could jeopardize the position in a decade or two. The modern worker has to constantly bid for project work, or start a business that revolutionizes a task.

 “You’ve got to be entrepreneurial to work in an environment where you’re constantly selling yourself to a project manager,” Mason said over lunch in a Halifax restaurant last month.

All industry is changing, in the same way the movie industry evolved a few generations ago, Mason said. Actors, directors, cinematographers and everyone else in the business was under contract with a single studio. Then in the 1960s, all the players began to work on a project-by-project basis. No star or director is identified exclusively with a studio now.

The world of business overall is moving that way, especially so in creative industries. More work is being done on a contract basis, with companies bringing in specialists for specific projects. To thrive in such a market, young people need an entrepreneurial mindset so they can adjust to the demands of each contract.

While some decry entrepreneurship as a risky way to make a living, Mason makes the point that there are huge risks in planning a conventional career with a single employer. Large businesses are constantly restructuring and changing their workforces. The successful worker of the future will be one who can adjust, meaning he or she will have to think like an entrepreneur.

Mason is a firm believer in experiential learning and is impressed with the recent surge in courses at universities in Atlantic Canada that encourage students to start their own businesses.

His experience working with students shows that many had entrepreneurial talents they didn’t know they possessed. They realize they could lead a team or sell a product, and that it’s really not that hard to start a business.

Mason said students are better prepared for the modern economy if they learn entrepreneurship.

“I’d like to think a CV that included running your own business would allow the student to stand out.”

Eye on KW: PiinPoint’sHomecoming

PiinPoint: Instant analysis of property locations.

PiinPoint: Instant analysis of property locations.

Having already completed the vaunted Y Combinator accelerator in Silicon Valley, you’d think a startup would have little to gain from a Canadian accelerator.

But as demonstrated by PiinPoint, a Kitchener-based real estate analysis company, you’d be wrong.

Less than two-years old, PiinPoint has developed a platform that allows property owners – from REITs to retailers – to assess the commercial viability of a location in seconds. With its ease of use, constantly updated database and analytic capabilities, PiinPoint has already secured such blue chip clients as Tim Horton’s, the real estate agency Collier’s International, and Riocan REIT, Canada’s largest real estate investment trust.

CEO Jim Robeson and his Co-Founder Adam Saunders could have developed the company in California, but they chose instead to return the Kitchener-Waterloo region, where they had attended the University of Waterloo. And now they’re taking the company through Communitech’s Rev program, which teaches growth-stage companies to scale.

“We made the decision to come to Waterloo,” said Robeson in an interview. “The calibre of talent both within Waterloo and Canada is great, and I believe the ecosystem that exists here is thriving and people want to work here.”

He added that being in KW, he’s been able to hire “some of the most talented people in the world in development” and that the Rev program is helping the company accelerate its growth.

Robeson and Saunders previously took PiinPoint through the university’s Velocity accelerator.  They have closed one round of funding from such investors as Michael Litt, CEO of Vidyard, though Robeson declined to say how much money they raised.

PiinPoint addresses pain felt by a range of companies that need to make investments in strategic locations. The platform analyzes a location in terms of its vehicular and pedestrian traffic, the nearby businesses and facilities, the number of people who live nearby. The data is in many case historic but the technology provide a predictive analysis of a location’s growth potential.

The platform means any property specialist visiting a site can instantly assess the prospects of a site, receive a full report on his or her tablet, even print it out and share it with colleagues.

Robeson said too many companies today still use analytics systems that were developed in the 1990s. They may require a technical background to use, or they offer fragmented data that has to be stitched together. It’s a big problem, given that a company like Starbucks opens two locations a day, and makes a substantial investment in each.

PiinPoint now covers office, retail and greenfield sites across Canada and the U.S. In the near term, Robeson said the focus will remain on the North American market, though he and Sanders have an eye on overseas markets for the long term.

In terms of developing the product, they want to improve the analytics in commercial estate and in new buildings, and include such information as zoning restrictions in the databank.

One big event on the horizon is the completion of Rev in late September. It’s the type of event that makes Robeson glad he came back to the Kitchener-Waterloo region.

“We’re getting a tremendous amount of mentorship from individual who have built company and with sales expertise especially,” he said.


Murphy To Attend Women’s Bootcamp

Sarah Murphy of Sentinel Alert

Sarah Murphy of Sentinel Alert

Sarah Murphy, the CEO and Co-Founder of St. John’s-based Sentinel Alert, has been selected for the  Women Entrepreneurs Bootcamp at Communitech in Kitchener-Waterloo, which aims to help women-run businesses to scale.

The second-annual bootcamp aims to help 25 female founders grow their businesses through six days of intense mentorship. Most of the attendees will be from Ontario, though the participants include women from Vancouver, Montreal, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Alexandria V.A.

Sentinel Alert, co-founded by a Murphy and Jason Janes, is developing software that works with wearable technology to help companies reduce worker accidents. The personal safety device relies on a mix of sensors to identify when a worker in the field or in the shop is at-risk of having an accident. The solution provides timely insights to workers and companies so they can make adjustments quickly and prevent accidents.

Sentinel  last year went through the Propel ICT Launch program.

The Women Entrepreneurs Bootcamp program comprises two three-day sessions, in late August and late September. It will be facilitated by Lisa Dakin Bartels, Manager of Learning and Development at D2L (formerly Desire2Learn), and will draw on the mentors, entrepreneurs-in-residence and advisers from Communitech and across the Waterloo Region.

The program wraps up Oct. 1 with a pitch competition, at which $100,000 in seed funding will be awarded.

The participants in the program are:

From Waterloo:

Bonnie Cheung, Ourotech

Renishaki Kamal, Fidget

Caroline Lukowicz, Tables

Elva Yang, ConNextor

Anastasia Martynovitch

Sandra Loop, FinTech

Parisa Hamilton, Elite

From Toronto:

Olivia Simmons, ConferenceCloud

Lisa Gervis, ShopCloset

Yasaman Soudagar, Neurescence Inc.

Natalia Mykhaylova, Cleanopy

Julie (Hyunjoo) Lee, PinkWallet

Emily Smith, no campfire required

Christine Zakrajsek, Sangha

Pearl Chen

From elsewhere:

Vanessa Cherenfant, Elysia, Montreal, QC

Emily Dimytosh, Splashingly, Georgetown, ON

Alexandra Jeffries, AggCloud, Ilderton, ON

Caitlin Billingsley, FoodSafe, London, ON

Alexa Roeper, Penta Textiles, Kitchener, ON

Nicola Carteret, What’s Life Inc., Bayfield, ON

Niki Sadeghi, Instuzz, Vancouver, BC

Sheena Franklin, Well-Kept Beauty, Alexandria, VA

Pilar Harris, Digital Empowerment Project, Brooklyn, NY


Robertson Developing Talent Pipeline

Doug Robertson: 'We're taking the long view.'

Doug Robertson: 'We're taking the long view.'

It’s well known that North America suffers from a shortage of tech talent and skills. It’s a problem that Doug Robertson, president and CEO of Moncton’s Venn Centre, is addressing through targeted programming and partnerships.

Venn’s own programs are aimed at young entrepreneurs and those building a company gaining traction. Initiatives include InspireNB, an online platform that connects youth and career seekers with employers and coaches.

Robertson said he expects InspireNB, started late last year, to be used across New Brunswick.

“We’re taking the long view to address talent challenges,” said Robertson, who is the founding CEO of Venn, established in 2010 as Tech South East.

The group was renamed Venn Innovation to better reflect the fact its focus is provincewide and not just the Moncton area.

“InspireNB will help us turn around the perception among kids and adults that you’ve got to leave New Brunswick to find opportunity,” Robertson said.

Another new program is the Vennture Garage, designed to help entrepreneurs develop and validate business ideas.

Based in Moncton’s VennCentre, it offers working space and guidance to entrepreneurs. In June, a second Vennture Garage opened in Saint John.

Robertson said Vennture Garage exists to strengthen the supply of companies eligible for programs run by regional accelerator PropelICT, as well as universities and pre-accelerator programs.

“We’re aiming for a seamless pipeline of talent across the ecosystem. To date, Vennture Garage has attracted an age range that runs from high school students to people of 35 or 40 who are coming back to start a business.”

Venn also supports PropelICT by hosting its Build cohort, the program that focuses on more developed startups.

“Our primary focus is growth-stage small to medium-sized companies and those getting ready to (grow),” Robertson said. “We help them develop export market focus.”

In his development work, Robertson often draws ideas from a range of groups and locales. When he was initially seeking to boost Moncton’s innovation sector, Robertson gained inspiration and advice from the IC2 Institute, a think-tank in Austin, Texas.

In 2007, while seeking to implement the recommendations of IC2, he looked to Oulu in northern Finland, a community with many similarities to Moncton. Those included a reliance on resource industries, bilingualism and a remote location. Interestingly, Oulu had managed to generate 800 tech companies in the previous 15 years.

“Admittedly, they had … Nokia as a research base and that acted as a catalyst for their ecosystem, but we felt we could learn a lot from them and a group of us went over.”

The visiting Canadians found that the heart of Oulu’s ecosystem — the Oulu Innovation Alliance — was a non-profit funded by government, universities and industry. That all-inclusiveness is something that Robertson has prioritized since beginning work on Moncton’s innovation sector.

He also attends meetings of the Technology Councils of North America, which he describes as “a great big peer group.”

“We compare notes on best practices. It’s not competitive. We share strategies and ideas.”

Robertson was raised in Moncton. He studied commerce at Halifax’s Dalhousie University and gained an MBA from Saint Mary’s University. He later spent 10 years in Ottawa working for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

He returned to Moncton with ACOA in 1996 to work on innovation policy.

From 2001 to 2008, he was a member of Moncton’s city council, where he was the inaugural chairman of the economic affairs committee.

Robertson said co-operation is driving Atlantic Canada’s innovation sector forward.

“Over the last few years, there’s been a movement toward a more collaborative approach. It’s making a huge difference. We’re building relationships with each other and across the region.”

Crowdfunding Event at Summer St.

PropelICT’s information session on equity crowdfunding and related issues on Monday is now taking place at the Innovacorp Enterprise Centre at 1344 Summer Street.

The organization had planned another venue but had to make the change yesterday. An early post by Entrevestor on Thursday contained the previous address. 

Crowdfunding is the process of raising money online from a broad range of people. Although it has been used for charitable fundraising and early sales of products, regulators in six provinces (including Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) recently approved the practice for companies raising capital. No company can raise more than $250,000 in a single campaign, and investors are limited to maximum investments of $1,500 per company.

The discussion on Monday night will discuss capital-raising options, though the focus will be on crowdfunding, equity crowdfunding and securities law.

The speakers at the event will be: Abel Lazarus, Senior Securities Analyst at the Nova Scotia Securities Commission; Andy Osburn, CEO of Equals6 and an authority on crowdfunding; Sean Sears, CEO of the  equity crowdfunding platform iCrowdx; and Gavin Stuttard, Canadian Bar Association Securities Section and a partner at the law firm Stewart McKelvey.

Last month, New Brunswick’s Financial and Consumer Services Commission held similar events in Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John to inform the community about the changes in regulation.

Bitness Lands First Customers

Alex Gillis, left, and Aristides Milios: Helping businesses track their customers.

Alex Gillis, left, and Aristides Milios: Helping businesses track their customers.

A 15-year-old who creates a device that can track customer traffic is impressive, but it’s nothing compared with a 16-year-old who turns that device into a bona fide business.

Alex Gillis, the 16-year-old founder of Bitness, did just that. After a year of work, his customer traffic device found its first client, the Fickle Frog, a Halifax pub. This week, Be Your Own Bartender, a provider of kiosks that suggest drink recipes at liquor stores, will install Bitness into its four P.E.I. locations.

Bitness uses devices called beacons to track where, when and how long customers are in a store. This allows the store owner to understand the store’s peak hours, allowing for better staffing decisions. Bitness also times how long a customer is at a certain place, such as the cash register, suggesting a sale has taken place.

Store owners can place a beacon outside the store to see the times and locations of peak traffic. Alex said the Fickle Frog discovered there are many people outside the pub on Thursday nights, despite there being little traffic inside. Now the pub knows to put promotional materials on the street and hopefully bring in more business.

“We’re trying to help individual communities figure out how their individual economies can become so much more,” he said.

Alex and his partner, Aristides Milios, are developing Bitness even further in Propel ICT, the Atlantic Canadian accelerator. Last year, they went through Propel’s former accelerator, Launch36.

Alex and Aristides worked on Bitness many nights during Grade 11 at Sacred Heart School in Halifax. For Grade 12, the two convinced their principal they deserved credit for their work on Bitness. They’ve developed a program with the school to allow others to gain credits for hands-on learning.

“We talked about how the school can help us and we can help the school better understand entrepreneurship,” Alex said.

With his enthusiasm for entrepreneurship, Alex is starting a program called Hoist to encourage students. There have been two meetings, with about 20 people attending each. He’s reviving Hoist in September and hoping for a bigger attendance by promoting it through schools. He envisions in-school champions who will be called Hoisters.

Alex is also encouraging post-secondary students to become involved in entrepreneurship rather than working for someone else. Bitness took on Calvin Carr, a Nova Scotia Community College student, to do his work term with the company. He acts as the chief revenue officer at Bitness.

“He’s taken Bitness from being a simple, work-term summer job to his own project that he’s taken under his wing that he’s able to bring to the NSCC classroom,” Alex said. “His other classmates are doing work-term projects in junior roles at the firms.”

This has been helpful for Bitness because Alex and Aristides have little capital. However, Bitness has won several pitch competitions, allowing them to get an extra thousand dollars here and there.

Alex said he hopes to work with Halifax Regional Municipality, placing beacons downtown and by the waterfront to track tourism. He eventually wants to expand across the Maritimes and into metropolises like Toronto.

“Our motivational motto for Bitness is Halifax, then the world.”

Correction: Crowdfunding Event Monday

[Note: We have received new information from the organizers and the venue has been changed to the Innovacorp Enterprise Centre.]


PropelICT has organized an information session on equity crowdfunding and related issues in Halifax on Monday.

Entrepreneur-in-Residence Ying Tam said the meeting, which is open to anyone who wants to attend, takes place at the Innovacorp Enterprise Centre at 1344 Summer Street starting at 5 pm.

“I initially targeted this for the PropelICT cohort in Halifax, but realized this has broad interest across the entrepreneur community,” said Tam in an email. 

Crowdfunding is the process of raising money online from a broad range of people. Although it has been used for charitable fundraising and early sales of products, regulators in six provinces (including Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) recently approved the practice for companies raising capital. No company can raise more than $250,000 in a single campaign, and investors are limited to maximum investments of $1,500 per company.

The discussion on Monday night will discuss capital-raising options, though the focus will be on crowdfunding, equity crowdfunding and securities law.

The speakers at the event will be: Abel Lazarus, Senior Securities Analyst at the Nova Scotia Securities Commission; Andy Osburn, CEO of Equals6 and an authority on crowdfunding; Sean Sears, CEO of the  equity crowdfunding platform iCrowdx; and Gavin Stuttard, Canadian Bar Association Securities Section and a partner at the law firm Stewart McKelvey.

 Last month, New Brunswick’s Financial and Consumer Services Commission held similar events in Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John to inform the community about the changes in regulation. 

BYOB To Launch in 4 PEI Liquor Stores

The BYOB Kyosk

The BYOB Kyosk

Four Prince Edward Island liquor stores will soon contain a Be Your Own Bartender (BYOB) kiosk, a touch screen with more 6000 cocktail recipes to help customers learn about cocktails.

BYOB is the brainchild of company President Matt Sullivan, and it allows liquor store customers to browse for cocktail recipes by name, ingredient or type of drink. Once the customer selects the recipe, the kiosk will print it.

The first BYOB kiosk appeared in Oak Tree, the busiest Charlottetown liquor store, and the three others are in Charlottetown and Summerside. Sullivan said the Oak Tree staff love the kiosk because they can find the perfect drink recipe for their customers without knowing all the ingredients off the top of their heads.

“It’s something intriguing for the liquor stores to have,” Sullivan said. “Typically, a cocktail consists of two or three bottles of alcohol, so there’s some up-selling involved.”

The BYOB kiosk is easy to use, so it helps both young and old customers. Sullivan said that the interface developers aren’t heavy drinkers themselves, so they made the interface simple and clear for a cocktail neophyte or connoisseur.

A few weeks ago, Sullivan helped a 70-year-old woman find cocktail recipes. She loved the kiosk so much that she said she’s going to use it every weekend to make a new drink.

“This is a great opportunity to both enhance the customer experience and educate them on how to make unique cocktails,” Jamie MacLeod, Director of Corporate Services for the PEI Liquor Control Commission, said in a BYOB press release.

Despite the BYOB kiosks’ success in liquor stores, Sullivan chose to monetize the product through advertising rather than asking the stores to pay for them. A kiosk costs about $5000 to manufacture.

Sullivan sells ads to pay for the kiosk expenses. It’s $100 for a business to advertise on a carousel on the main screen; $200 to be on the carousel, as well as feature a business coupon for the kiosk users; and $750 to be on the carousel, feature a coupon and place a poster on the kiosk itself.

BYOB partners with Timeless Technologies, a P.E.I. software firm, to decrease the software creation and maintenance costs for the kiosks.

Sullivan said he may eventually start charging the stores for kiosks, but currently they’re there to ensure that the kiosks are in high-traffic stores and convenient locations within the stores. BYOB launched only a few weeks ago, so with no profits expected for a while, Sullivan wants to get the company’s name out to the public.

He hopes that BYOB will get popular enough in the next few months that he can expand into Nova Scotia.

“We wanted to do it in our backyard first, and work out the bugs and figure out the model,” the Montague, P.E.I., business owner said. “That’s the good thing about P.E.I. – because it’s small we can work out the pains without it ruining us.”


Biopolynet Wins Statoil, GE Award

Fredericton’s BioPolynet, whose nanotechnology helps to bind or stabilize solids, has won a technology competition with a prize worth as much as US$400,000 from Statoil and GE Oil & Gas.

Last week, the Norwegian state oil company and the oil and gas unit of the conglomerate General Electric Co. announced BioPolynet was one of five winners of the Open Innovation Challenge.

The competition asked entrants — and there were about 100 from more than 30 countries — to submit technologies that can improve the use of sand in the hydraulic fracturing process. Each of the five winners received US$25,000 and could win an additional US$375,000 if they reach certain milestones.

It was a shot in the arm for BioPolynet founder and CEO Mostafa Aghaei. He said in an interview that BioPolynet is now working on a few projects and entering a critical two-month period that will decide what project or projects to proceed with and how.

“We are excited and honoured to win such a large global challenge,” Aghaei said on the Innovation Challenge website. “This prize will make a big difference to our company.”

A biophysicist by profession, Aghaei immigrated to New Brunswick from the Middle East a few years ago to take a position at the University of New Brunswick. He developed an environmentally friendly Nanocoil product that has a range of applications.

Developed from natural polymers, the microscopic particles are shaped like corkscrews, so they bind together. That means if they are mixed with water, the liquid becomes more viscous, or thicker. If that solution is mixed with a solid like sand or wood particles, the material will hold together once the liquid dries.

In Iran, he used the substance to stabilize sand dunes, massive structures that can jeopardize whole towns if they shift. The other applications include using it to bind together iron ore pellets or wood pellets for efficient transportation. And the technology can be used to improve the use of sand in hydraulic fracking.

Sand plays a critical role in shale development and fracking. It’s mixed with water and injected into a geological formation to prop open tiny fractures during the fracking process. This requires hundreds of truck trips to transport materials, so Statoil and GE held the competition to seek innovations that could reduce the amount of sand, thus mitigating the environmental impact of the procedure.

What BioPolynet has done is to use its product to make the fluid more viscous, meaning it sticks more readily to the walls of the structure. That means the mixture is more effective in propping open the fracture so less sand and water are needed.

Between now and October, Aghaei will be conducting a series of tests that should determine the direction of the company. He is considering a few options. There is interest in Dubai in using his technology to stabilize sand dunes. Or it could possibly be used in the manufacture of black pellets, a wood product that burns more efficiently and transported more easily than the conventional white pellets.

And then there is the project with Statoil and GE, for which he was just recognized.

Campbell: Medtech Mentor & Founder

Barbara Campbell: 'Working with clinicians and engineers inspires me.'

Barbara Campbell: 'Working with clinicians and engineers inspires me.'

Barbara Campbell finds it interesting that when she worked in Vancouver, she was often flown to Halifax to talk about commercializing medical technology. Now that she lives in Halifax, she is rarely asked to speak.

The medical technologies entrepreneur is CEO of Hammock Facilitation and co-founder of two medical device startups, OrthoMX, of which she is CEO, and EnginuityMed, of which she’s president.

Before moving to Halifax in 2008, Campbell was a frequent speaker in the city and the region.

“I was in Vancouver for 14 years, and almost every year I was flown back to the Maritimes to speak on commercialization and teach technology transfer,” she said.

“I was from away. Now I have even more experience, but I’m no longer from away and I’m rarely asked to speak locally, although I am in Ottawa twice a year to act as a reviewer for federal commercialization competitions.”

Campbell said Maritimers need to recognize local talent and tap it.

“I’m not saying we don’t need external talent. I use my U.S. and West Coast network all the time … but you don’t have to go away for everything.”

Through her various roles, Campbell works to advance commercialization of the region’s medical technology sector, the excellence of which she believes sometimes goes unappreciated.

At Hammock, she helps clients bring their ideas to market, assisting with everything from proof of concept to negotiating multinational partnerships.

As a founder and president at EnginuityMED, she is working on commercializing FIVA, a device that helps medical staff manage intravenous fluid levels by signalling when a gravity-fed fluid bag needs to be changed.

OrthoMX is developing prognostic and diagnostic tools for improved pre- and post-operative orthopedic patient care.

Campbell’s busy patchwork of a life is not what she expected when she graduated from Mount Allison University in her hometown of Sackville, N.B., with degrees in biochemistry and French.

After completing her master’s in biochemistry and immunology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, she went straight into biotechnology. She had intended to do a PhD in biochemistry and become a professor but got sidetracked.

“It was a wonderful time for biotech in Vancouver. There was the opportunity to marry business and science. I got straight into industry in 1997.”

She worked with small companies before joining the university industry liaison office at UBC, tasked with clearing the backlog of technology evaluations. She stayed for eight years, kept busy by the quantity of innovation being generated.

While at UBC in 2007, she was the architect of the Global Access Initiative. It meant that UBC technologies that were licensed to multi-nationals were also made available at cost to developing nations.

“That was a proud moment,” she said. “UBC was one of the first universities in the world to do it.”

In 2008, Campbell and her husband, Jason Hicks, who is also from Sackville, returned to the Maritimes. Hicks works for the Atlantic Path, a cancer research study project.

Campbell joined Dalhousie University’s industry liaison office, where she stayed for three years. Then she realized the technologies she’d been fostering at Dalhousie were ready to become companies.

“I didn’t want to let them go so I started Hammock in June 2012. Within six months, I was working seven days a week. I’ve co-founded three companies in the last three years.”

The Atlantic medtech sector is less developed than Vancouver’s. Still, companies are maturing. Many of Campbell’s clients are working on obtaining ISO 13485, the international compliance standard for medical devices.

“Working with clinicians and engineers inspires me. The clinicians articulate the medical need, and the engineers say what can and can’t be done.

“I provide the overlay of commercialization. I didn’t do the same variety of work in Vancouver. My horizons have broadened in Halifax.”

Javorek Prepares for PetKonekt Launch

The PetKonekt team: Julia Bulfon,  Justin Javorek (centre), and Shawn MacBurnie. (Photo by Danny Abriel)

The PetKonekt team: Julia Bulfon, Justin Javorek (centre), and Shawn MacBurnie. (Photo by Danny Abriel)

Three years after injuries ended his sports career, athlete-turned-entrepreneur Justin Javorek is preparing for a fourth-quarter launch of PetKonekt, an app that links pet owners and pet-care professionals. 

PetKonekt is a customer relationship management tool that benefits both the pet owners and the people who help them care for animals. The owners can find veterinarians and other service providers in their area, and the professionals can keep in touch with their customers year-round.

The PetKonekt team – Javorek, CTO Shawn MacBurnie, and veterinary candidate out of Ontario Veterinary College Julia Bulfon – interviewed 250 pet owners to research their business model. Some 48 percent admitted they did not bring their pets to the vet every year, saying they would only come in when something was wrong. PetKonekt aims to fix this problem by allowing veterinary clinics to remind pet owners that it is time for a checkup.  This improves customer retention for clinics’ and allows vets to focus on preventative care as opposed to corrective treatment.

The launch planned for later this year will be one more milestone in the journey from athlete to entrepreneur for Javorek, the Co-Founder and CEO of the company.

A world junior hockey player from Bratislava, Slovakia, Javorek came to Nova Scotia five years ago on a Dalhousie University athletics scholarship to play hockey.  After sustaining several injuries in his first two seasons, he was cut, losing his scholarship in the process.

The cut was devastating for Javorek, as sports had been his life from Day 1. He was even named after his grandfather, the coach and former goalkeeper of the Czechoslovakia national football team. “Some part of you dies,” said Javorek speaking about the cut. “This is what I live for and to have someone just come in and take it away was devastating.”

After the cut, Javorek met Gordon Dickie, a Dalhousie hockey alum who had founded his own company, GoalLine, which develops websites for sports leagues. “I really got inspired,” said Javorek of his impressions of Dickey and GoalLine. “I saw he got started in his garage, that he just went for it and that you can do it.”

Javorek began working for GoalLine doing customer support, graphic design and courtesy calls. While working at GoalLine, Javorek was further inspired by the entrepreneurial success of his roommate Shea Kewin, co-founder of Spring Loaded Technology, and his friend Daniel Bartek, co-founder of Sage Mixology. So in partnership with med student Cameron Sieffert, he began to work on Salubrian Health, which developed an app for doctors’ waiting rooms.

After extensive consultation and consideration, Javorek began working with a new team on PetKonekt.

Now with 18 months of entrepreneurial experience under his belt, Javorek and the PetKonekt team recently finished their time in Dalhousie’s Launchpad accelerator. [Disclosure: Dlhousie is a client of Entrevestor.]

Launchpad, run by Mary Kilfoil and Ed Leach, provides participants with mentorship, practice in essential entrepreneurial skills and $10,000 in seed capital.

“We really need to give love to Dr. Kilfoil and Dr. Leach,” said Javorek. “What they have accomplished by putting this program together is a really unique experience and has provided us with the skills and the capital to move to the next level.” 

Recognizing Persistence and Creativity

Costa Zafiris: 'What I have to do is keep pushing the projects forward.'

Costa Zafiris: 'What I have to do is keep pushing the projects forward.'

A well-deserved award caught up with Costa Zafiris last week, validation for his dogged pursuit of the entrepreneurial dream.

Zafiris, 24, graduated from Dalhousie University in May with a commerce degree and a major in entrepreneurship.

During his time at Dal, he was a common sight at the various startup initiatives and he is a founder of three budding startups — Date Caddie, Unify and PlayPeanut.

Last week, he learned that when he graduated he’d won the Commerce Alumni Association Award in Entrepreneurship for the highest academic standing in his major. For some reason, it was overlooked at the commencement ceremony. Zafiris received the news with surprise and customary modesty.

“My grades are good but I don’t think they’re over the top,” he said in an interview this week.

Without knowing the grades of Zafiris or his classmates, I can say it’s great to see recognition for one of the foot soldiers of the startup movement in universities. He’s making a living by working as an education facilitator at the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development in Halifax.

On evenings and weekends, he works on these three projects in the hopes one will make money.

“I still don’t consider myself an entrepreneur,” he said, saying his ventures would need to be making money for him to feel he had made the grade.

“What I have to do is to keep pushing the projects forward. If one would take off and I could do it full time, that would be the goal. I’m not there yet.”

I first met Zafiris and his collaborator Callum Mayer when they took their company PlayPeanut through the Starting Lean program at Dal. (Disclosure: Dalhousie is a client of Entrevestor.) PlayPeanut is a social gaming platform for sports fanatics, and it allows them to bet — not for money but for the fun of it — on sports events.

They’re still developing the product and looking for creative ways to fund the project.

They proved really good at learning about their clients’ needs and tailoring their business to meet them. Their hard work was always balanced with a cheerful enthusiasm, never taking themselves too seriously. The corporate name for PlayPeanut is Fun Intended Inc.

They started to work on other ideas like Unify, which tells university alumni about innovations taking place at their alma mater. The idea is that once graduates know about the innovation, they’ll want to support the teams of young innovators.

Mayer and Zafiris just took Unify through the Launchpad accelerator at Dal and are now looking for about three universities to adopt the platform for the coming school year.

The project that has attracted the most attention in the media is Date Caddie, an online app that helps people plan imaginative dates.

It’s growing in popularity and Zafiris and co-founder Chris Johnson are now pondering how to generate revenue from it.

Zafiris and his partners are pushing these projects forward and he hopes one will take off. Or maybe another project will work out and he can finally call himself an entrepreneur.

“You might try nine projects before one is a success,” he said. “So I’m just trying to get a lot of experience under my belt while I’m still young.”

Wear Your Label’s Sudden Success

Kyle MacNevin and Kayley Reed: Two people managing a multinational business. (Photo by Gracen Johnson)

Kyle MacNevin and Kayley Reed: Two people managing a multinational business. (Photo by Gracen Johnson)

Faced with the burden of sudden success, the Fredericton mental-health-focused clothing company Wear Your Label is hoping to hire a chief operating officer by December.

Wear Your Label designs and sells T-shirts, tank tops, leggings and sweaters that have sayings and designs on them that can create conversation around mental health. The wording is subtle and designed to create discussion rather than scream a message. They include such messages as “Sad but rad” and “It’s okay not to be okay.”

Though the company only started selling its clothing on its own ecommerce site in August 2014, Wear Your Label founders Kyle MacNevin and Kayley Reed have recently been featured in publications around the world, including The National Post and the websites of The Today Show and People Magazine.

The explosion of publicity led to a boom in sales, with 80 percent of the orders coming from export markets like the U.S., Australia and the Netherlands.

 “We went from being a two-person company with 50 orders a week to still [being] a two-person company, but trying to manage a multinational business,” MacNevin said in an interview.

MacNevin said that both he and Reed call their mentors within the business and fashion world almost every day to ask for advice about their business procedures and creative processes.

To stop these constant calls, they want a COO to help manage things like production, distribution and legal issues. The COO needs to have more than 15 years’ experience in the fashion industry and a connection to mental health. The COO won’t need to relocate to Fredericton. With a bit of funding, Wear Your Label can offer the COO a competitive salary.

 “We have a lot of hair-pulling moments, like, what are we doing?” MacNevin said. “Because we’re still two kids who started a clothing line.”

Wear Your Label, which went through the University of New Brunswick’s  Summer Institute in 2014, will release a new collection in the fall. The collection will still contain the mental health messages that are on every piece of Wear Your Label clothing, but the messages will be subtler and the clothes will be edgier. This collection is aimed at people who want to wear Wear Your Label in more formal settings, like in the workplace or meeting the in-laws.

MacNevin and Reed plan to apply to the Joe Fresh Centre for Fashion Innovation, an 18-month accelerator that partners with Ryerson University’s Fashion Zone. Participants work on their business model and seek seed funding.

Wear Your Label already partners with the Canadian Association for Mental Health and the Jed Foundation, an American mental health not-for-profit that supports college students. Wear Your Label has plans to release new mental health campaigns and initiatives in September.

 “Young people are becoming more demanding for having multifunctional purposes for the things that they buy,” MacNevin said. “My shirt can’t just be stylish anymore, it also has to do something for someone else.”

Mashup Lab Launches Virtual Incubator

Andrew Button: 'inclusivity and accessibility'

Andrew Button: 'inclusivity and accessibility'

Mashup Lab, the Nova Scotia organization dedicated to nurturing startups in rural areas, is about to launch an online incubator to any Atlantic Canadian entrepreneur, regardless of where he or she lives.

The group headed by former regional development exec Andrew Button will launch the Mashup Lab Virtual Incubation Program on Sept. 8. It’s presenting the program in collaboration with Spring, a group based in Vancouver that provides mentorship to startups via online seminars.

“The thing I really love about the program Spring is offering is its inclusivity and accessibility,” Button said in an interview. “It is entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. They pitch the program as being for everything from high-growth tech companies to bricks and mortar, for-profit and not-for-profit. I thought that was a really important component.”

Button started Mashup Lab last year in the hopes of providing to rural entrepreneurs the type of support that is available to their urban equivalents. He was experimenting with various mentoring formats when he was contacted out of the blue by Spring, which describes itself as a “purpose-driven activator.” It works with groups, whether for-profit corporations or not-for-profit organizations, that have some purpose beyond simply making money.

Spring has already produced a series of webinars that it has used to mentor entrepreneurs in the Yukon, and these will be the basis of the new program in Atlantic Canada.

“The process is geared toward helping people understand who specifically will buy their product or use their service and how they will make money,” said Keith Ippel, co-founder of Spring.

This year, the virtual incubator will offer two programs.

Starting Sept. 8, the six-week Spark program will take about 20 entrepreneurs with ideas and help them validate or reject the ideas. The goal is to take them from a concept to a validated business model.

Then, on Oct. 20, the Ignite program will help 10 entrepreneurs with these validated models develop their ideas into products or services. Button said the Ignite cohort will likely include some Spark members, but completing the first program is not a prerequisite to entering the second.

All the programs feature two three-hour online seminars per week for six weeks. If there is sufficient demand, there will be a third program, Fuel, in 2016. It would continue the process, taking companies with minimum-viability products and helping them to achieve scale.

Button said the Spark participants will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, regardless of where they are based in the region.

“We’re going to be geographically neutral, and I will let the market dictate who the best are,” he said. “But based on my customer discovery, I suspect this is something that will resonate with entrepreneurs sitting in small towns and feel that can’t get the kind of support they’re looking for.”

He added the program will select coaches for the teams based on the types of companies that sign up. The coaches in the Spark program will simply have to shepherd the entrepreneurs through the program and help them decide whether there’s a market for their proposal. Button will try to find coaches close to the entrepreneurs with the hope they can meet weekly face to face.

There will be a greater emphasis on mentorship for the Ignite coaches, and they could come from outside the region.

“We may find the best thing is tapping into Spring’s mentorship networks in Vancouver,” he said.

Gillian McCrae Joins Propel as VP

Gillian McCrae: 'My mandate is to help these early startup companies grow.'

Gillian McCrae: 'My mandate is to help these early startup companies grow.'

Regional tech accelerator Propel ICT has rounded out its management team by hiring Gillian McCrae, former CEO of Charlottetown-based GetGifted, as a vice-president.

Now based mainly in Halifax, McCrae will work with President Gary Dinn and the accelerator’s entrepreneurs-in-resident to develop new curriculum. She will also be responsible for business development, which includes increasing sponsorship, finding community partners and planning community events.

Having begun 12 years ago as a tech association in Saint John, Propel has grown to span the region. It is now conducting programs in Moncton, Fredericton, Halifax and St. John’s and plans to launch 420 companies in five years. The hiring of McCrae adds experience to a management team that faces the challenge of meeting these goals and overcoming the geographic distances involved in Propel’s footprint.

She also will focus on developing mentors in the Propel network, and on getting the Propel alumni more involved in the accelerator’s programs.

For McCrae herself, the new job is a bit of a homecoming, as she took GetGifted through the Launch36 program (the forerunner of the current Propel ICT Build program) in 2013.

“It feels like the perfect fit for me,” said McCrae in an interview. “My mandate is to help these early startup companies grow, just like I received support when I went through Launch36. I couldn’t be more pleased with the position.”

McCrea started GetGifted in 2012 to help local merchants in Charlottetown to get customers in their door. The company sent out email blasts each Tuesday offering gifts from merchants, as long as the customers went in to the outlet within two weeks to collect the prize. Though there was strong take-up in the Maritimes, the model proved problematic in big cities so the company shut down earlier this year.

McCrae has remained active in startup circles, headlining a Startup Grind event in Halifax and joining a panel discussion at St. John’s recent startup week.

She began holding discussions with Propel recently and Trevor MacAusland, the former executive director, put in a recommendation for her.

“Gillian is a talented, passionate entrepreneur who brings a real sense of energy and enthusiasm to Propel ICT,” said Dinn in a statement. “We are growing in the scope of our operations and programming and it is important to add people of Gillian’s quality to our team.”

As well as Dinn, McCrae will be working closely with entrepreneurs in residence Ying Tam in Halifax and Al Sturgeon in Fredericton. 

Eye on KW: CAIP Funding Scale-Ups

Iain Klugman speaking at the CAIP funding announcement last week.

Iain Klugman speaking at the CAIP funding announcement last week.

The announcement last week of up to $9.7 million in funding for Kitchener-Waterloo accelerator programs could have profound implications for the region’s economy, and on how startups are developed in Canada.

If successful, the programs will help to produce several more high-growth tech companies with annual revenues of more than $100 million each. What’s more, the programs could provide a model for accelerators across Canada (and elsewhere in the world) working with later stage companies.

The Canadian government last week announced the Canadian Accelerator and Incubator Program, or CAIP, would provide as much as $9.7 million over five years to a group of accelerators in the region to support growth-stage companies. The government is making the contribution to Communitech, which is working with University of Waterloo’s Velocity program, the Wilfrid Laurier University LaunchPad and the Waterloo Accelerator Centre.

“It really is a unique program on a global scale because its focus is on scale-ups,” Steve Currie, Communitech’s Vice-President of Strategy, said in an interview. “We’re looking at companies growing 20 percent over a three-year period. The goal is to grow them into the $100 million revenue stage.”

Operated by the National Research Council, CAIP funds accelerators across the country, but virtually all of them (like almost all accelerators around the world) focus on the launch of early-stage companies. Led by CEO Iain Klugman, Communitech has been trying lately to aid later-stage companies, with its REV program – an accelerator for companies with some traction.

Currie said the new program targets at least 30 tech companies that have the potential to grow into $100 million-a-year outfits. They could include graduates of REV or maybe some of the companies in KW that recently received multi-million-dollar venture capital funding.

He said the curriculum will focus on five areas that are usually challenges for scaling companies:

  1. Growing revenue faster;
  2. Extending their reach internationally;
  3. Finding, keeping and developing talent;
  4. Accessing growth capital;
  5. And improving operational efficiency.

The organizers have been working to identify the gaps in these skill sets, and are now working on specific programs to fill those gaps. For example, it is bringing in a growth coach, who has overseen a company with more than $1 billion to help teach revenue growth. On the capital front, the organizers want to show entrepreneurs how to seek capital from sources other than VC, such as debt, private equity or a public listing.

There are now two or three tech companies in Kitchener-Waterloo with revenues of $100 million or more, and Currie said the long-term goal is to have many more.

“What we’re shooting for is to have a 10x multiplier in this so we can have some effect on the economy,” he said. “But realistically what we’re looking at is to have five in the first five years, and 10 more in the next 10 years.”

It doesn’t sound like many, but Currie said research from the Kauffman Institute in the U.S. shows that 600,000 startups are launched in the U.S. each year, but only 200 (or 0.03 percent) achieve $100 million in sales in six years. The fact is it’s really difficult to build a $100 million company.

But further research shows that if you get a couple of these successful ventures in a community, the effects are astonishing. Staff breaks away and form other startups, and smaller companies are incentivized to follow the lead of the big player and grow more quickly.

Currie and his collaborators hope it will be a model that is repeated across the country.

“It certainly has the potential to capture what we’re doing and transfer it to other regions,” he said. “There are now very few regions that are focusing on the scale-up phase of the company lifecycle.”


Eye on KW is a regular feature on the Kitchener-Waterloo startup community.


McDonough Finds Entrepreneurial Fire

McDonough: 'We're just taking our first step.'

McDonough: 'We're just taking our first step.'

With the signing of the Toronto Blue Jays as a client, Travis McDonough’s decision to build Kinduct Technologies in Halifax has received further validation.

The major league baseball team joins other high-profile users of the Kinduct software.

These include the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers, and three world champion teams.

It’s all good news for Kinduct as it attempts to put distance between itself and competitors.

McDonough, Kinduct’s founder and CEO, said he resolved to keep the company in Halifax when he set up in 2009.

“We’ve had opportunities to move to Los Angeles or New York, but we want to contribute to the economic development of this region,” McDonough said as he sat in the company’s busy Bayers Road offices.

“It was tough at first, having to meet payroll with insufficient revenues. But that hardens your resolve, as an individual and a company.”

Kinduct’s technology platform allows a two-way information exchange, and has both sporting and health and wellness applications.

In sports, the system can collect information from an athlete, including training, sleep schedules, maximum acceleration, deceleration and heart rate.

“The data allows the user to understand how to keep the machine — the athlete — working optimally,” McDonough said.

The data also allows the development of algorithms that predict performance and injury.

In health care, the platform’s applications include monitoring a patient’s blood-sugar levels and relaying the information to his doctor.

A native Haligonian, McDonough became an entrepreneur in 1998 after moving to Ennis in County Clare, Ireland, courtesy of the passport obtained via his father, Halifax lawyer Peter McDonough.

In Ireland, McDonough’s achievements included playing tennis for Ireland’s national team.

He ran a chain of 14 health clinics and developed a group of fitness centres.

“I found I had an entrepreneurial fire in me I didn’t know was there,” McDonough said. “It started when I landed in Ireland.”

He also created Kinduct’s forerunner, 3DRX Developments. He began compiling a library of medical animations, which he describes as the largest in the world, to explain health procedures to patients.

“I wanted to encourage individuals to take responsibility for their health care. They needed to understand their injuries and adhere to treatment plans,” he said.

McDonough had become interested in healing after suffering a neck injury while boxing.

“I was knocked out live on CBC, in the national finals,” he said. “I thought the injury would end my sports career. I was devastated — sport is who I am.

“But therapist Brian Seaman came up with a non-surgical solution and got me back on my feet.”

Ten years after arriving in Ireland, McDonough returned home with his Nova Scotian wife Margaret Taylor and their three children.

“I’d learned a lot about business,” McDonough said. “But … I didn’t delegate properly. I couldn’t find the right people and I didn’t have the right leadership skills.”

He had learned the importance of team.

“Without the right team, it’s hard to have a sustainable business. When we moved home, we began Kinduct in my brother’s back room. Our team fell into place.”

Kinduct now has 35 employees and they all have a stake in the company.

McDonough, whose accolades include being named a top regional CEO and a CBC Innovator, still plays competitive tennis.

Last year, he played for Ireland in the world championships. He plays doubles with his colleague Phil Anderson — they are aiming for their sixth provincial title. He also mentors other athletes.

Growing up, he learned from his mother, former federal NDP leader Alexa McDonough.

“Mom taught me to think big. I watched her in her early days as a politician speaking in a church gym to maybe five people, to then trying to run for PM.”

McDonough is proud that all Kinduct’s investment has come from Nova Scotia, but 98 per cent of Kinduct business originates elsewhere.

“We’re just taking our first step,” he said. “We’ve been focused on research and development. Now we must stress growth.”

Venture NL Invests $300K in Sequence

The new Venture Newfoundland and Labrador fund has announced its first investment is in St. John’s-based Sequence Bioinformatics, which analyzes genetic data to help prevent diseases.

Venture NL said Tuesday it has invested $300,000 in Sequence as part of a seed round worth $500,000 in equity funding. The other $200,000 came from an angel investor based in Ontario.

The announcement marks the beginning of the portfolio for Venture NL, which has received funding from the Newfoundland and Labrador government, BDC Capital and private investors. It is being managed by Pelorus Venture Capital, a subsidiary of Halifax-based GrowthWorks Atlantic.

Founded in 2013, Sequence works with partners to analyze vast sets of data from gene pools to get a deeper understanding of which people are at the greatest risk of contracting a disease. It recently signed an agreement with Memorial University to use the university’s genetic databank to study colon cancer.

“I like data plays,” said Pelorus director Chris Moyer when asked why the fund chose Sequence as its first investment. “Though some see it as a bio startup, I see it as a data play. They are creating a data library on top of which you can build a precision medicine (application.)”

Sequence Bio was founded by entrepreneurs Tyler Wish and Chris Gardner in 2013 to capitalize on Newfoundland’s genetic gold mine. The island has a rare — possibly unique — genetic grouping of families that have lived on the island for generations and who have distinct genetic markers.

Memorial has a genetic databank with more than one billion points of data. Sequence Bio has access to the members of the databank who have had colon cancer and consented to be part of the study.

“We use a combination of available technology to analyze genetic data,” Gardner said in an interview. “The people we partner with have an expertise that is the best in the world. It’s not just about the technology; it’s also about the people and their expertise.”

Sequence plans to work on the colon cancer project with a California company whose technology can analyze genetic data. The study is just the beginning of what Sequence and Venture NL are planning in the coming years.

Moyer said Venture NL, which is expected to have $15 million to $20 million, is working on other investments and expects its next announcement in September. The fund also has the capacity to do follow-on funding in portfolio companies like Sequence, assuming they meet their milestones. The follow-on funding could amount to five times the original investment, said Moyer.

Sequence is now taking part in the Canadian Technology Accelerator in Boston, a program organized by the Canadian Consulate in the Massachusetts capital that capitalizes on the city’s biotech ecosystem.

“We wouldn’t be able to pursue this without this funding,” said Gardner, adding that the launch of Venture NL has greatly improved funding opportunities in his area.

“There’s been a limited ability to raise capital within Newfoundland, especially in the biosciences,” he said.

“To get investment here at home, it’s great.”

Xiplinx in Partnership with RV Evans

Saint John-based Xiplinx Technologies Ltd. has partnered with U.S. distributor R.V. Evans Co. to help increase sales of its flagship product Siteflo.

It is the fourth distribution partnership for Xiplinx, whose technology helps manufacturing plant managers monitor data from around their factories. The company already had partnerships with Shurtape Technologies, Blue Water Automation, and BNAP. It expects to add a fifth, a Michigan-based company, within a few weeks.

Founded in 1937, R.V. Evans is a full-service distributor of industrial packaging and fastening systems based in Decatur, Illinois, right in the industrial heartland of the U.S., which is a key market for Xiplinx.

“Working with them will be pretty impactful for us,” Xiplinx CEO Brent MacDonald said in an email Wednesday. “They represent some pretty massive packaging brands . . . and they’re a really experienced group of performance specialists located in the packaging mecca of North America -- our target market.”

MacDonald said in an interview in June the company had 500 percent user growth in the previous 12 months, and he expected June to be its best month ever in terms of client acquisition. Xiplinx’s client base is largely in Canada and the U.S., though it is moving more into Mexico.

Xiplinx’s product, Siteflo, allows workers around a plant to input data using mobile devices. Siteflo aggregates the data and presents it on an easy-to-read dashboard that plan managers can view in real-time. When it went through Launch36 in 2012, Xiplinx had its greatest traction with beverage makers, but the company is now having success in the consumer packaging market.

MacDonald – who is now going through the PropelICT accelerator – attended Evans’ national sales meeting last week and has worked in two packaging plants in Illinois with the company.

R.V. Evans said in a statement the partnership will allow it to meet customer demands to rapidly identify performance improvement opportunities in manufacturing facilities, and to implement a discrete software monitoring tool to track progress on improvement objectives in real-time.

“It’s just more evidence of our partner based growth strategy working,” said MacDonald.

Press Release: LifeRaft Launch

Social Navigator, a Halifax startup that warns authorities of threats on social media, has issued the following press release:

Social Navigator launches LifeRaft™ cyberbullying and threat detection solution for schools and law enforcement

Intelligent social media monitoring gives schools and law enforcement tools and insight to prevent potential tragedies

HALIFAX, July 15, 2014 /CNW/ - Social Navigator delivers the first release of LifeRaft, an intelligent big data platform that enables schools and law enforcement agencies to understand what is being said on social media channels, the context of the conversation, and zero in on the locations of the people posting, all in real time.

Leveraging the popularity of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and other channels, LifeRaft delivers insightful and predictive modeling and analytics from social media feeds to create profiles and alert schools and law enforcement to potential risks leading to tragedies like the recent events in Isla Vista, California and Moncton, New Brunswick.  LifeRaft monitors all major social media channels for indicators of potential threats to public safety, provides precise location of individual posts, and sends automated alerts to mobile devices of school administrators and law enforcement professionals.

Social Navigator is currently running a LifeRaft beta trial with users across the U.S. and Canada, including the University of Southern California, Saint Mary's University, and several major public and private agencies covering local, state, and federal law enforcement in the U.S.

Since the Sandy Hook school shootings in 2012 there have been 74 school shootings reported and countless other cyberbullying, bullying, suicides, and high threat situations across the U.S. and Canada.  LifeRaft provides early warning threat detection where telltale indicators exist publically in social media and can be monitored and interpreted by professionals in order to prevent tragic situations.

"Development of LifeRaft began in 2013 as we saw the need for this type of intelligent monitoring tool continue to grow with the dominance of social media and the opportunity to assist in perhaps preventing some of the tragic situations we are witnessing," said Brian Perry, Co-Founder and COO, Social Navigator.  "We assembled a world class team of software engineers and specialists in the field and the initial response from all levels of our target markets has been exceptional. Currently, we are focused on North America but we are looking at reseller and licensing arrangements in other countries that will see LifeRaft used as a solution to what we all know is a global problem."

About Social Navigator Inc.

Social Navigator Inc. is a social media monitoring technology application developer.  The Company's flagship product LifeRaft is a social media monitoring platform designed for schools, law enforcement and other industries. Social Navigator is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


Soricimed To Select Partner in 2016

Assuming all goes well with its Phase 1 trials this year, Sackville, N.B.-based Soricimed Biopharma Inc. expects to select a major drug-maker as a partner with which it can take its flagship product Soricidin through Phase 2 trials.

SOR-C13 is a peptide, or a naturally occurring biological molecule, that binds to TRPV6, a calcium channel found in a cancer cell and deprives the cell of calcium, thereby killing the tumour. Soricimed hopes to establish that it is an effective means of treating cancer with minimal suffering for the patient.

The company is now conducting trials with about 20 patients in Hamilton and London, Ont., and Houston, Texas. The company expects three more patients will enroll in the trials, which are due to finish this summer. The goal is to gain Phase 1 approval from both Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Phase 1 trials are designed to establish that a drug is safe for use in humans. The next step to bringing the product to the market will be Phase 2 trials, which are far more costly and aim to prove the drug’s efficacy.

“Our goal from the beginning was to partner with someone after Phase 1 and that is still the goal,” said CEO Paull Gunn in a recent interview. “They would be in on the finishing of Phase 2 and Phase 3 and getting the product to market.”

Soricimed began earlier in the century when Mount Allison University professor Jack Stewart – now the Chairman and Chief Scientific Officer – discovered interesting medical properties in the saliva of the northern short-tailed shrew. After further research, Stewart’s team isolated the key compound in the saliva and learned that among other things it could be used to treat cancer.

They have also discovered that the drug binds to TRPV6 in tumours in such a way that it can become a delivery system for other drugs. What that means is that Soricidin will be able to take drugs inside cancer cells and release them in direct contact with the cancer. It’s a more targeted approach to fighting cancer. It could treat the disease by targeting low doses of an anticancer agent directly to a tumour, thus reducing harmful side effects of other remedies.

It could also mean a relatively quick path to market. If Soricimed establishes that its drug is safe in humans, it could carry any approved drug, meaning this partnership with another drug could be used before SOR-C13 goes through all three phases of drug trials.

The company so far has raised $16 million dollars (about half of it equity investments from angel investors) to get to the Phase 1 trials. Phase II trials are known to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, so the company has been in touch with about 20 major pharma companies, some of whom have signed non-disclosure agreements. “The last piece [of data] they want is the Phase 1 result,” said Gunn.

Meanwhile, Soricimed will continue to raise money as it must fund the operations until it finally signs a deal with its partner.

Verafin’s $6M Non-Repayable Loan

Verafin, the St. John’s startup whose software fights financial crimes, has received a $6 million non-repayable loan from the government of Newfoundland and Labrador to help increase its workforce.

The government said Tuesday the loan would help to create about 90 jobs with the company, which employed 200 people as of the summer of 2014. Verafin and Spectrum Equity, a private equity fund based in Boston and Silicon Valley, will invest $4.8 million in the expansion project.

The money from the provincial government will not have to be repaid as long as Verafin creates the 90 jobs over a five-year period.

“Continuous improvement is key to keeping a step ahead of financial crime, so we strive to find the very best and brightest developers and engineers to further advance our solution,” Raymond Pretty, Verafin’s Vice-President of Development, said in the statement.

Founded in 2003, Verafin develops software that helps financial institutions detect and prevent money laundering and fraud. The company has more than 1200 enterprise clients and experienced 45 percent revenue growth last year. Also last year, the company attracted $60 million of investment from Spectrum, which took a significant minority in the company.

It is a graduate of Memorial University’s Genesis Centre, a facility which provides incubation services for new technology-based startups. 

The government’s most recent budget includes about $44.4 million to support start-up businesses, emerging growth sectors, and regional development activities. This includes $13.5 million for initiatives to attract business to Newfoundland and Labrador. 

BioInnovation Entry Deadline Aug. 7

The deadline is fast approaching for young life sciences companies in the Maritimes to apply for the BioInnovation Challenge.

To enter the $30,000 pitching competition, companies from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island must submit their application by Aug. 7. To apply, contact BioNova Program Manager Kerri Mannette at

“In addition to the grand prize, all semi-finalists will receive valuable advice on how to tell your story to engage and persuade,” said a statement from BioNova, which is organizing the event. “Gaining experience and accepting advice from experts is an opportunity not to be missed.”

Now in its fifth year, the BioInnovation Challenge is a chance for companies with a concept or early development pitch their idea to a team of judges at BioPort Atlantic in Halifax in October. To reach the semifinals, a team will have had to have done significant work on the project and display a “clear intention to commercialize”.

The three finalists will pitch their ideas to the entire BioPort conference on Oct. 28.

The winner will receive $30,000, comprising a $15,000 cash prize and an equal amount in mentoring in such fields as communications, branding, legal, financial planning, risk and insurance assessment, sales and management.

The previous winners of the competition were:

·         2014, NB-Biomatrix, Saint John;

·         2013, Spring Loaded Technology, Halifax;

·         2012, Performance Genomics, Truro;

·         2011, ABK BioMedical, Halifax. 

Together, these companies have raised more than $3 million in equity funding since winning the BioInnovation Challenge. 

Origins Xtractions Plans PEI Plant

Bolstered by a local partnership agreement, Charlottetown-based Origins Xtractions Ltd. is planning to raise money to finance a new commercial facility in the P.E.I. capital for extracting compounds from natural materials.

The three-year-old company specializes in a process called supercritical extraction, which uses pressurized carbon dioxide in a closed system to draw high-value natural extracts from agricultural and marine resources. It is mainly using the process to offer services to clients, but it is working toward having its own commercial production facility. It recently signed a deal with another P.E.I. biotech research contractor, BioFoodTech, to do joint analysis for clients.

Assuming the financing falls into place, the commercial facility should be built in the next 18 months in Charlottetown’s BioCommons Research Park.

The facility will use different types of material, but its first project may be extracting omega-3 from blue mussels in high enough volumes to meet commercial demand. Omega-3 is a fatty acid found in fish oil and is known to help prevent heart disease.

“We’re working with an extraction partner from Germany and the National Research Council and we’ve already done the extraction,” Origins Xtractions chief operating officer David Campbell said in an interview. “The National Research Council is now doing the analysis. So far, the results are very good.”

He added: “The nice thing about the blue mussel is it’s a sustainable supply. There are about 50 million pounds grown on P.E.I. each year.”

Campbell said the company now has the capacity to do pilot programs in extracting omega-3 from the shellfish, but it needs to build a facility in order to produce commercial amounts. He declined to say how much funding would be required to complete the commercial facility.

Campbell and his team envision a facility that can extract compounds from a range of marine and agricultural feedstocks. It has identified 20 crops that can produce bioactive compounds and can be grown in Atlantic Canada.

For example, it is currently testing the extraction process on a plant called angelica, which is native to Europe and grows well in places like P.E.I. and Cape Breton.

“We’re planting field trials this summer,” said Campbell. “It’s actually a weed, but the root has been used for hundreds of years for medicinal purposes.”

Origins Xtractions has its own test and pilot facilities in Boston, and it is now working with BioFoodTech, which has similar facilities in Charlottetown. Campbell said the collaboration will allow both companies to expand their client base throughout North America.

“We offer our extraction services to clients who are interested in going after the bioactive compounds, and this collaborative agreement with BioFoodTech will now allow us to offer extraction services in Canada,” he said.

Origins Xtractions is now developing its business within Emergence, the new biosciences accelerator that the P.E.I. BioAlliance has opened.

As PropelICT is doing for information technology companies, Emergence aims to work with life sciences companies to develop robust business models and increase revenues.

Dal Concludes Summer Programs

Dalhousie University’s Launchpad accelerator graduated 10 teams of entrepreneurs in a ceremony last week. During the ceremony, Professors Mary Kilfoil and Ed Leach outlined a series of new initiatives that together will be known as Launch Dal.

The Dal Launchpad ended up with 10 teams who divided $100,000 to fund the development of their lean business model. Most were IT companies and several had been in the university’s Starting Lean program.

The highlight of the ceremony was the announcement that the university would enhance the program that up to now has been known as the Starting Lean Initiative.

“The demand for more entrepreneurial opportunities from university students is growing and it is such a privilege to be able to rise to that challenge and help student entrepreneurs build the skills they need to launch their businesses” said Kilfoil, academic lead for Dal’s Starting Lean Initiative and the LaunchPad accelerator.

She said the Launch Dal program will do more for students interested in entrepreneurship. First off, the university has renamed the large multi-purpose room in the Killam Library where the Starting Lean classes met. From here on, the space will be known as the Collider and it will be the hub of the entrepreneurship programing at the university.

The university announced it will work in the future with a range of partners to support its entrepreneurial teams. Futurpreneur, a group that supports young entrepreneurs, is now recognizing  Dal’s LaunchPad as an accredited Canadian accelerator. Dal also said the Volta startup house in Halifax will give space to teams coming out of the accelerator that have traction. The university will also work with Fusion Halifax to jointly hold more events together. 

Press Release: Startup Canada Awards

Startup Canada has issued the following press release:


Celebrating the best in Canadian entrepreneurship

OTTAWA – July 13, 2015 – Startup Canada opened nominations today for the second annual Startup Canada Awards, which recognizes the movers and shakers of Canada’s entrepreneurship movement.

“A culture in Canada that celebrates entrepreneurship, innovation, and offers end-to-end support for entrepreneurs will position Canada as a beacon of entrepreneurship globally,”  said Victoria Lennox, CEO of Startup Canada. “The Awards give national recognition to those working to make Canada one of the best countries in the world to pursue and invest in world-leading enterprises.”

Individuals, businesses, and organizations can submit nominations for awards in the following categories until August 15, 2015:

Entrepreneur-Led Businesses Demonstrating Excellence

•Startup Canada Award for Innovation

•Startup Canada Award for International Trade

•Startup Canada Award for Sustainable Development

Entrepreneurs Who Embody the Spirit of Entrepreneurship

•Startup Canada Entrepreneur of the Year Award

•Startup Canada Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award

•Startup Canada Senior Entrepreneur of the Year Award

•Adam Chowaniec Lifetime Achievement Award

Outstanding Achievement in Advancing the Environment and Culture for Entrepreneurship in Canada

•Startup Canada Award for Entrepreneur Promotion

•Startup Canada Award for Entrepreneurship Support

The Startup Canada Awards are adjudicated by some of Canada’s leading entrepreneurship and industry experts including Marissa McTasney, CEO of Moxie Trades, Frank O’Dea, co-founder of Second Cup, Angela Tran Kingyens, investor at Version One Ventures, Sarah Prevette, founder and CEO of Future Design School, and Andy Nulman, President of Just for Laughs.

Full award descriptions and criteria are available at Regio.nal award winners will be announced at red carpet events across Canada this fall, with the grand finale taking place atop the CN Tower in December.


About the Startup Canada Awards

The Startup Canada Awards are the hallmark event celebrating and distinguishing the Canadian entrepreneurship community. The 2015 Startup Canada Awards are proudly presented in partnership with Intuit Canada and TruShield Insurance, and with the support of major industry partners including TELUS, UPS, Scotiabank and FluidReview. Confirmed award sponsors are as follows:

•The Startup Canada Award for Innovation is presented by Intuit Canada

•The Startup Canada Award for Entrepreneur Promotion is presented by TruShield Insurance

•The Startup Canada Award for International Trade is presented by UPS

•The Startup Canada Award for Sustainable Development is presented by TELUS

•The Startup Canada Senior Entrepreneur of the Year Award is presented by Gerry Pond

2014 Winners

At the inaugural awards in 2014, Startup Canada celebrated Gerry Pond for his contributions to education and policy to advance Canadian entrepreneurship, top Canadian angel investor Randy Thompson for helping entrepreneurs find the right capital for their business, Microsoft Canada for its long-standing support of startups in Canada, TEC Edmonton for its world-class incubator program, and fourteen-year-old Linda Manziaris, founder of Body Bijou, among others. Read the press release here.

Eye on KW: Magnet’s 4Cast Awards

There was no surprise this year when Magnet Forensics captured the Computer Forensic Software of the Year this month at the 2015 Forensic 4cast Awards in Austin, Texas. It had after all won the award the two previous years.

What was special this year was that the Waterloo-based forensic software company also won the Phone Forensic Software of the Year for the first time.

“For us, it’s pretty rewarding to be recognized by our own customers,” said Magnet CEO Adam Belsher in an interview last week. It is a sign that the company’s focus on software to combat child exploitation and terrorism is paying off.

The company’s Magnet IEF software recovers deleted information from computers or mobile devices. Police and security agencies use it to find information that a suspect thought had been deleted – such as communications with other perpetrators, financial records, or contraband photos. It’s particularly effective in the fight against child pornography.

The company began when police officer Jad Saliba, returning from sick leave, was forced to become a digital forensic investigator and thrived at the job. In 2009, he left the police to launch the company. It solved an extreme problem in police work because it reduced the manual labour needed in retrieving deleted files and greatly increased the amount of material that could be presented in court.

With 66 employees and annual revenue growth of 50 to 70 percent, Magnet is one of the more mature software companies in the Kitchener-Waterloo tech cluster. I first interviewed Belsher in the spring of 2013 when the company had 1,500 clients in almost 100 countries, and in the past two years the number of customer has risen to 2,600 agencies and organizations. Magnet now says it has the best digital forensic tools on the market. 

Belsher said that forensic investigators tend to use more than one tool when investigating electronic devices. They often use Magnet IEF to locate and recover deleted files and messages and then use other tools to ensure the content is pristine enough to present in court.

“There are so many apps and devices out there that I think it’s difficult for anyone to say they have one product that does everything end to end,” said Belsher.

And Magnet is continuing to add to its suite of products. About half of its staff are involved in R&D and the company has about four major product releases a year. In recent years it has improved its products for mobile devices as criminals – like the rest of society – have used phones and tablets for more and more functions.

Magnet in April released version 6.6 of its IEF software, which includes new features to examine hexadecimal data and enhancements of other features.

Belsher said Magnet in the past few years has had the opportunity to move into other markets. But the company understands the importance of its work and has delved deeper into the fight against crime, especially child exploitation and terrorism.

“It’s certainly become a passion for us,” said Belcher. “We really care about these fields, terrorism and child exploitation, and we are extremely focused on doing what we can to help fight them.”


Eye on KW is a regular feature in Entrevestor that showcases the startup community in Kitchener-Waterloo. 

Bringing Sales Expertise to Mentorship

Al Sturgeon: 'I know how it feels to be dismissed on a cold call.'

Al Sturgeon: 'I know how it feels to be dismissed on a cold call.'

Al Sturgeon, an entrepreneur-in-residence at Propel ICT, wants all Atlantic Canadians to know that if they have an idea for a business, Propel and its partners can help them explore and possibly develop it.

Propel ICT is an Atlantic Canadian accelerator for startups. It hosts Build, a Moncton accelerator for mature companies, and Launch, a program for seed-stage startups. Launch operates in Halifax, Fredericton and St. John’s, N.L.

Sturgeon has just joined Propel and will work with Build and Launch participants to advise them on product-market fit, product development, hiring and sales.

“If someone has a business idea, they should share it,” he said. “People are often scared to do that for fear of the idea being stolen. But Propel helps people examine the concept and determine whether or not it can make a business.”

Sturgeon intends to work with startup founders to turn their ideas into ventures with strong growth potential.

“I want to help the people in our programs learn how to make good business decisions. This can be achieved by taking advantage of what Propel and its community partners offer.”

(Propel delivers its programs by working with partners in different centres, including Fredericton, Moncton, Halifax and St. John’s.)

Sturgeon said that good sales calls should be conversational.

“It’s about listening, gaining an understanding of a potential client’s problems and, if there’s a good match, about reaching an agreement.

“People should always think globally in terms of sales now. But some don’t see the opportunity, or they don’t know how to approach it.

“It’s important to realize that, even if you’re working with a bank headquartered in Toronto, you need to understand how they do business in other regions and countries.

“The regulatory requirements may be different to Canada’s. The company may be dealing with different demographics in different markets.”

Sturgeon said that experience in enterprise sales (selling to large corporations) can be lacking in the Maritimes.

“But people like myself have done it. I know how it feels to be dismissed on a cold call.”

He was raised in Doaktown, near Fredericton. He went on to study electrical engineering at University of New Brunswick and later built a career in sales and marketing in Ottawa.

He returned to Fredericton to join Radian6 as an account executive in late 2009, before the company sold out to Salesforce. He said he is fascinated to see how the Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurial sector has evolved in recent years.

“It’s become very dynamic. I’m excited about the diversity of companies and the strength of the support network, including the number and experience of mentors.”

Sturgeon gained his sales experience in several different industries. He has worked with five startups and three corporations. He understands much of the technology startups create, thanks to his degree in electrical engineering.

He also knows how frightening it can feel to diverge away from an anticipated path. He began his working life creating semiconductors. But the work didn’t suit him.

“I was good at it, but disliked it,” Sturgeon said. “I found I preferred being in front of customers. I liked helping people understand the technology and how it could help them.”

He went on to develop his sales career, ultimately focusing on selling to large, global corporations.

Startups he worked with include Titus, an Ottawa information platform, SafeNet, a data-protection software company, and AppZero, an app-migrations company. All three are now large companies and have offices across the globe.

At Propel, Sturgeon joins Ying Tam, the group’s other entrepreneur-in-residence, who is based in Halifax.

“If you’re an Atlantic Canadian passionate about your idea, take advantage of the programs available,” Sturgeon said.

“The region’s economy is changing and entrepreneurs are a big part of that. There’s a great ecosystem here now. If you want to start a business, there’s no reason why you can’t.”


Disclaimer: Propel ICT advertises on Entrevestor.

Next Up: Sales School, VC Fund

Now that Volta has found a temporary headquarters, there are two more important questions to be resolved for the Atlantic Canadian startup community in the second half of 2015.

First, there will likely be an announcement on a university program for international technology sales as proposed by East Valley Ventures chairman Gerry Pond. And second, the Nova Scotia government still has to release its request for proposals for a new venture capital fund based in the province.

Volta, the startup house in central Halifax, announced this week it is moving to a temporary location in 20,000 square feet of space on the sixth and seventh floors of the Maritime Centre, the tower at Barrington Street and Spring Garden Road. The move will double the incubator’s floor space and allow for an increase in the number of tenants in the facility. The next shoe to drop may be an announcement on an Atlantic Canadian university to offer a program in international technology sales.

“I have received three proposals to date and expect two more soon,” said Pond in an email. “One is a degree program.”

On Monday, it will be six months since the East Valley Ventures chairman offered $500,000 to any institution that launches an international tech sales program. Pond believes the main thing holding back growth-stage companies in the region is the limited ability of companies to sell technology around the globe. He hopes the new academic program — not just a course or two — will fix that.

This matters, because there are probably 80 Atlantic Canadian startups with more than $100,000 in revenue and high sales growth. Not all will find investment capital to finance their growth, so they need higher revenues. The Pond institution would certainly help train them (and the coming waves of intermediate startups) to sell in foreign markets.

Meanwhile, the Nova Scotia government was expected to release an RFP for venture funds in February, but it was delayed when with the economic development restructuring that created the Department of Business. The request, expected to solicit interest from investment funds in and outside the region, still has not been released.

People in the startup community say the government wants a fund with international reach, based in Halifax, to finance companies and attract co-investors. That’s the popular conception, but nothing will be known for sure until the RFP is released. The request may also clarify whether the existence of the new fund will change the role of the provincial innovation agency Innovacorp, which now invests in seed-stage startups.

The combination of the Volta and Pond announcements could have a great impact on the startup community. So far, Atlantic Canada has had success on developing an ecosystem that produces new companies. More than half the startups in the region are under four years old. What’s needed now is a system of supports that will help growing startups develop into bona fide companies.

Volta has said that by doubling its capacity, it will be able to accommodate companies in the early and later stages of development. And the Pond sales institute will help growing companies in the essential task of selling their products around the world. 

PowerWHYS Targets Renovation Jobs

Megan McCarty: 'We don't even pitch it as an environmental thing.'

Megan McCarty: 'We don't even pitch it as an environmental thing.'

While many cleantech companies encourage environmentally friendly practices in new construction, Halifax-based PowerWHYS is in the early stages of creating a system that recommends energy-efficient products for renovations.

The PowerWHYS system is a tool for contractors and allows them to input the specifics of the job when assessing renovation projects. The system then delivers real-time data about energy billing and recommends energy- and money-saving products for their projects.

PowerWHYS not only saves money for the homeowner, but it also gives contractors more money. Every time the contractors use the products recommended by the PowerWHYS system, they receive a commission.

 “A lot of the time, we don’t even pitch it as an environmental thing,” PowerWHYS Co-Founder Megan McCarthy said in an interview. “It’s always about the money, and it’s always about the incentives and how we can help people. … That’s how we’ve been pitching it to the contractors and it’s really spoken to them because they do see a lot of waste. When you own your own company, it’s all about the bottom line.”

McCarthy thought of the idea for PowerWHYS after she spoke to a contractor who mentioned that his clients often asked for sustainable products, but he didn’t know which ones to recommend. She then teamed up with Ty Parent, a media specialist, to create PowerWHYS.

As a passionate environmentalist, McCarthy left her Calgary oil job several years ago and moved to Halifax to complete an environmental science and business degree.  She has founded several environmental ventures, including a store that aimed to sell energy-saving products and an application to identify appliance problems.

What she’s learned is that green products will succeed only if there’s an economic benefit for the user.

”Unless there’s money in it for people or some really strong incentive to push them toward saving energy or saving money, it’s sad, but nobody really seems to have time to care, you really need strong incentives to get people to act on anything,” she said.

In regards to PowerWHYS’ finances, McCarthy said that they’ve been bootstrapping for now. They received a Productivity and Innovation grant from Innovacorp, the Nova Scotia innovation agency, to work with students at the Nova Scotia Community College to study the best hardware for PowerWHYS. The company is applying for second-tier funding at NSCC to work with the students again.

McCarthy said that she’s in talks with Innovacorp to apply for its early commercialization fund, as well as the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

PowerWHYS also partnered with a prominent San Francisco building development firm to test its system, and that has gained interest from Silicon Valley venture capitalists.

After tests with the California development firm and several municipalities within Nova Scotia, McCarthy said that the beta product should be out in late December. She assumes that the product will launch to the general public shortly after that.

“Our overall goal is mass adoption of energy efficiency services, practices and products,” McCarthy said. “We really feel like in the end we’re really thinking about all the stakeholders involved, and how to make sure that all of them are getting incentives so that the whole system can work symbiotically together to benefit everyone is really our ultimate goal.”

Volta To Double Capacity With Move

Volta, the startup house in central Halifax, is moving to a temporary new location and doubling its size and capacity in the process.

The group’s administrators and tenants later this month will move to 20,000 square feet of space on the sixth and seventh floors of the Maritime Centre, the tower at the intersection of Barrington Street and Spring Garden Road.

The Volta team was recently notified that its current home is due to be torn down for redevelopment later this fall. The group has been hoping to move into the old central library at Spring Garden and Grafton, but that property won’t be ready until 2017. It plans to make its home in the Maritime Centre for about two years.

“With all the different community events that happen at Volta, we needed a place that enabled us to deliver more programs and support more startups,” Executive Director Melody Pardoe said in a statement Monday. “We were looking for a place that not only fit Volta’s needs but the startup community’s as well, and the Maritime centre was the best fit.”

The upside is that the enlarged space will allow Volta, which now has about 10 tenants, to double its intake to 20 and accommodate startups at various stages of growth.

Programs for growth-stage companies could be a boon to the Halifax startup grouping given the number of companies with bona fide traction and strong revenue growth. But scaling is difficult and many companies could benefit from mentorship as they bring on new employees and accommodate a larger number of clients.

The brainchild of GoInstant Co-Founder Jevon MacDonald, Volta opened its doors two years ago and quickly became the hub for the IT startup community in the city. Known for its wildly painted walls and Star Wars murals, Volta has hosted a range of community events and hackathons and is the Halifax base for the regional accelerator, PropelICT.  As well as its current tenants, the group has more than 250 community members.

The Volta statement said the new space at the Maritime Centre will have conference rooms on both floors, allowing simultaneous events to be held. It will also have abundant meeting rooms and larger offices than the current location.

Conceptualiz’s 3D Printed Implants

Richard Hurley can envision a day when orthopedic surgeons design and 3D print implants right in their office. In fact, his startup, Conceptualiz, has already prototyped a product that enables the design work.

An orthopedic surgeon himself, the New Zealand native says the company’s software lets surgeons design implants on an iPad. And it is in the process of raising about $1 million in equity and other forms of capital to help it gain regulatory approval to sell the software to the orthopedic implant industry.

“We’re bringing a surgeon’s clinical perspective to the process,” he said in an interview last week. “It will reduce the time it takes to get to the market by three times and reduce costs by half. It will make implants higher quality because the surgeon’s input will be taken into account.”

Based in Halifax and Toronto, Conceptualiz is a software company whose platform lets surgeons design implants and do basic 3D modelling on their mobile devices right in their own offices. The company aims to revolutionize the standard process in the multibillion-dollar market for implants, which now involves generic orders being sent off to manufacturers and waiting for the product to come back.

The goal is to allow greater customization and to slash the six-week wait that patients often have to endure to receive their implant. Hurley said Conceptualiz offers a perfect fit with improved alignment and kinematics.

“Surgeons have a unique clinical perspective, and if they can be more involved in the design, then we think that will produce a safer process and higher-quality product,” he said.

Hurley’s co-founders are two University of Toronto computer science professors, Ravin Balakrishnan and Karan Singh, both experienced startup founders who specialize in graphic three-dimensional design and human-computer interaction. Their prototype — which now operates on Apple’s iOS operating system — allows surgeons to design an implant and ship the design to a manufacturer.

The long-term plan is to eventually have 3D printers in doctors’ offices, so the devices can be printed on site, reducing costs and improving service to patients.

As well as developing the working prototype, the company has patents pending for the United States and international markets and is now preparing to seek approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Since the design work does not directly produce an “invasive” device (meaning one that enters the human body), the company needs only Class II approval, which should take about six months.

The company, which recently presented at the Atlantic Venture Forum, has raised $75,000 in capital so far. Assuming it can attract about $500,000 from angel investors in Toronto, the U.S. and Atlantic Canada, the company will be able to leverage that with public funding of $400,000 to $500,000. That should allow the company to establish a business office in Halifax, a development office in Toronto and take the product through FDA approval.

The company then plans to proceed with the hardware and the more rigorous Class III approval process that will allow doctors to print the implants out with metal in their office. It is already in talks with a major 3D printing company on working together.

“What we’re saying is you no longer need medical implant companies to make them,” said Hurley. “It’s a huge leap.”

Eye on KW: P&P Undeterred by Mishap

The P&P Spectrometer

The P&P Spectrometer

P&P Optica of Waterloo is pressing forward with its business plan even though its members last month literally witnessed two years of work go up in smoke.

P&P Optica is a 20-year-old venture dedicated to making cutting-edge spectrometers, which are instruments that measure and analyze the properties of light over a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. They measure the light reflected by materials to analyze their chemical composition. 

The company got a boost recently when one of its spectrometers was chosen for experiments in the International Space Station. However, the SpaceX Falcon9 rocket carrying the device last month exploded shortly after liftoff, destroying the 4,000 pounds of equipment it was carrying to the ISS.

"As you might expect, we were disappointed when we saw the rocket break up on its way up to space, said Kevin Turnbull, P&P’s Vice-President of Sales. “Our balloon of excitement and anticipation deflated.  However, in the technology world you learn as much from setbacks as you do from your successes.”

So the company is moving forward with its core business. It has made inroads in the oil and recycling markets, and is in talks with food producers about using its product to detect harmful materials in produce and meat. And the fact it was chosen for a mission in space says something about the quality of the product.

The story of how a P&P instrument got to the International Space Station began in Quebec two decades ago, when the company incorporated as an optical design and manufacturing contractor. The group moved to the Kitchener-Waterloo area in 2000. Turnbull said that for its first 10 years, the company focused largely on research, and began to market its product in earnest around 2005. It now has eight products, not including those custom designed for specific customers.

The P&P spectrometer was to be used in the space station to conduct experiments on atmospheric chemical composition. Over time, it would have taken measurements at different depths and in different circumstances, such as when the sun is on the opposite side of the Earth from the space station.

The P&P device was selected for the mission by former astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason, who works in the Kitchener-Waterloo area and was familiar with the company. Tryggvason, a Canadian who flew space missions in 1992 and 1997, was working on the experiment and personally chose P&P’s technology. The parties had been working on the project for about two years.

“We were honoured when Bjarni asked if a P&P Optica spectrometer could be used during the mission,” P&P Chief Executive Olga Pawluczyk said in a statement issued before the failed liftoff.  “We are still uncovering ways for spectroscopy to be used creatively here on earth in applications ranging from mineral mapping to chemical detection, so who knows what it might uncover in space as part of the experiments?”

Turnbull said the experiments back on Earth are indeed continuing, and that the company has a rigorous research and development program.

“As an organization that is rooted in science and engineering, that is always a continuing effort,” he said. “R&D does not stop. We’re focused on continuing to innovate in the space of chemical imaging … and the quality of the signal that we obtain with our spectrometer.”

EY Names Atlantic Contest Finalists

Several members of the Atlantic Canadian startup community have been named as finalists at this year’s EY Entrepreneur Of The Year awards for the Atlantic Region.

EY, the global accountancy and consultancy firm, has selected 28 finalists in eight categories for the region. The winners of these categories and the overall Entrepreneur of the Year will be named at a gala dinner in St. John’s on Oct. 8.

There are several categories that don’t pertain to the startup world, but startup founders have featured in several of the races.

Chad Collett and Adam Rowe of SubC Control in St. John’s are in the running for the Technology and Communications category, while Michael Donovan of Halifax’s DHX Media and George Donovan of Gogii Games in Moncton are finalists in Media and Entertainment. Pablo Asiron of RtTech Software of Moncton has been cited in the Emerging Entrepreneur race.

The finalists for Information Technology are: Yves Doucet, of Dovico Software, Moncton; Tristan Rutter, Populus Global Solutions, Fredericton; and Jamie King, Raymond Pretty and Brendan Brothers of Verafin, St. John's.

"We're so proud to present this year's group of finalists," Ian Cavanagh, EY's Atlantic Entrepreneur Of The Year program director, said in a statement. "They push the boundaries, grow the Canadian economy and always give back to their communities. That's a lot to celebrate."

The overall Atlantic winner will compete with winners from four other regions – Pacific, Prairies, Quebec and Ontario – to become Canada's EY Entrepreneur Of The Year. The Canadian winner will go on to compete globally with more than 50 countries for the title of EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year in June 2016.

The complete list of Atlantic Canadian finalists is available here.


Disclaimer: EY advertises in Entrevestor Intelligence. 

Introhive Announces Funding Round

Introhive has announced a multi-million-dollar round of funding that has come about as a result of a strong performance in revenue growth.

The Fredericton- and Washington-based company issued a press release on Thursday saying it had closed a Series B Round of financing worth US$7.2 million (C$9.2 million). Yet the total includes the conversion of debentures previously issued by, so the new money would be less than that figure.

What’s interesting about the news is people associated with Introhive confirmed that the company now has about seven figures in revenue, and the amount is growing at about 25 percent per quarter. Those figures place Introhive in the higher performers among startups in the region.

“We continue to have really strong conviction around the team and this product in the market, and that’s been borne out by the traction,” said Build Partners principal Patrick Keefe in an interview this morning.

Halifax-based Build contributed $750,000 to the latest financing round, adding to its previous $1.5 million investment in 2013. It’s the first time Build, whose main backers are Atlantic Canadian governments, has made a follow-on investment in any of it six portfolio companies.

Founded three years ago by Washington-based serial entrepreneurs Jody Glidden and Stewart Walchli, Introhive helps large corporations to avoid having to make cold calls – especially for sales but in developing other relationships as well. The company’s software determines who in the company already has a strong relationship with an organization it wants to reach.

Introhive patrols the emails addresses that cross the client company’s server, especially large companies with thousands of employees. If a sales person wants to make a contact at another company, Introhive can identify colleagues who have been emailing with people at the target company, meaning they could be tapped to make an introduction.

The Globe and Mail reported Thursday the company’s clients include PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, which has rolled out the product to thousands of Canadian staff. The company said the platform is now not only available on but also on Microsoft Dynamics and Oracle. Introhive plans to use the new funds to expand its partner channel and direct sales team.

“With this new round of funding, we look forward to expanding our footprint within the Fortune 1000 segment as well as deepening our relationships with the leading CRM providers who have become important partners for Introhive,” said President and CEO Glidden in a press release. 

The company had been raising money over a period of time, and last winter TechCrunch cited regulatory filings to show it had received some investment. The Globe said the investors in the current round include Tech Equity Partners, which invests on behalf of primarily Silicon Valley-based limited partners.

The first round of funding included investment from GrowthWorks Atlantic, the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and a range of angels.

The Introhive announcement caps off a strong first half in institutional financing for Atlantic Canadian startups. Dartmouth-based Unique Solutions Design Ltd. unveiled US$15 million in funding last month, and RtTech of Moncton and Halifax area companies LeadSift, Metamaterial Technologies Inc. and CarbonCure Technologies have also announced major deals. 

Kolybaba Bids a Candid Goodbye

Kolybaba: 'If a couple of people in a small town don't like you, it's hazardous.'

Kolybaba: 'If a couple of people in a small town don't like you, it's hazardous.'

Some of Atlantic Canada’s startup community are wondering why Brandon Kolybaba, a hard-working and talented tech entrepreneur, is packing up and leaving.

According to Kolybaba, he is heading to British Columbia because the high cost of living and his own unpopularity in Atlantic Canada are making it hard for him to work and thrive here.

Kolybaba has co-founded and grown a fistful of businesses since he came to Atlantic Canada from Calgary in 2007.

These include: Dynamic Hosting; Norex; Sheepdog; and Cloud A. He is an investor in Cloud Brewery, a cloud computing company.

“I’ve started businesses here,” Kolybaba said. “I’ve created jobs and revenue. I’ve brought in revenue from outside the province. I’ve been successful.”

But it’s time to move on. He and his biologist wife, Sarah, are just waiting for their Prospect home to sell.

“The last few years have been very challenging,” he said. “We haven’t had any support. I’m proud that we had success at Cloud A despite the lack of support.

“Neither the government nor local community will work with me. If a couple of powerful people in a small town don’t like you, it’s hazardous.”

Kolybaba was raised in Vancouver. He studied economics, business and information systems at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, and was hired by Shell Canada as a business and data specialist when he graduated in 2002.

He stayed because he liked rural Nova Scotia.

“I liked the cultural values. Northern Nova Scotians are salt-of-the-earth people, but it’s not the same in Halifax.

“And Halifax is so expensive. The taxes on my home in Prospect are $5,000 this year. We have no services, no water, no transit.

“People accept these high bills, and because they accept, things don’t get better. If you speak up and name problems, people see you as negative and hateful and this all impacts on your ability to start and grow a business.”

Kolybaba is expecting the three other members of his team to also move to B.C. He is looking forward to life in the Vancouver area, where he has family.

“Most of our clients are in Toronto and Vancouver. Alberta is a big market for us, too. Cloud A has doubled revenue in the last six months, but it feels like a defeat for me to leave.

“I would say to other entrepreneurs — not everyone fits into boxes. If you don’t like someone, you might still be able to forge a good business relationship with them.”

When he gets back to the West Coast, Kolybaba hopes to find time to teach scuba diving. He is a specialty instructor and his skills include deep diving, wreck diving and night diving.

He is also keen to find a volunteer position with a non-profit.

“I will truly miss many of the good people I’ve met while living in the Maritimes. I hope the region is prosperous. ‘So long, and thanks for all the fish.’” 

Press Release: Swell Launches App

Swell Advantage, the Halifax startup whose app aids boaters, has released the following press release:

Swell Advantage Launches First Social Network for Boaters

Swell Advantage launches the first location based social network for boaters combining the ability to identify and track family and friends out on the water, with unique navigation tools.

July, 9th, 2015 - Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada - Swell Advantage, a marine technology startup focused on building new tools and services for recreational boaters, is excited to announce the launch of its first product, the Swell Advantage iOS mobile app.  Recreational boaters are highly social, and current navigation tools can be intimidating or confusing for the casual boater. 

The Swell Advantage app is designed help build boating communities by allowing people to see where their friends are out on the water, see when friends get onto their boats, and gives family members peace of mind by allowing them to track their loved ones out on the water.  Understanding that privacy is important, boater’s location is hidden while on land, and boaters can turn off the ability to be seen by their friends while on the water.

“In talking to our customers and having spent a lot of years out on the water, we have really just tried to design a product that fits our customers needs, fits their lifestyle, and helps them navigate and make decision.”  says Iaian Archibald, Swell Advantage co-founder and CEO.

The Swell Advantage suite of navigation tools re-imagines the navigation interface making it more intuitive and easier for the recreational boater. Using an innovative Navigation Ring, Swell Advantage strategically places the critical pieces of information needed by an operator, in a manner that is available and readable at a quick glance. Swell Advantage provides the operator with standard features like boat speed and heading, and also unique features like a real-time radial scale and a visualization of drift affecting the boat. 

Swell Advantage is available for free in the Apple App Store as an iPhone & iPad application, with an Android version expected mid summer, 2015.  An in-app purchase of marine charts for North America, along with unique navigation tools, will also be released mid-summer, 2015.  Swell Advantage’s second product, designed for boating clubs, marinas and boating schools, will be released in the early Fall, 2015.

Users can download the Swell Advantage app on the Apple App Store by using the following link(s): or

Swell Advantage is committed to building technology that saves lives, property and the planet while helping recreational boating be simple, fun and social. The ocean, and nature in general, is our passion. By combining an interdisciplinary approach including engineering, computer science, physical oceanography and business, along with emerging technology, we believe we can help to uncover some of the ocean’s mysteries while facilitating a healthy and safe human-to-ocean relationship. 

The Swell Advantage website is Twitt,er handle is @swelladvantage, for Facebook, on Instagram @swell_advantage, and YouTube at


About Swell Advantage:

Swell Advantage is a marine technology company located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada focused on developing marine intelligence solutions. Swell Advantage was founded in October, 2014 by Iaian Archibald and Craig Sheppard. Swell Advantage is a registered trademark of Swell Advantage Ltd.


Vrekic Launches Platform for Landlords

After three months in Las Vegas, Milan Vrekic has launched the company he spoke of when his term as executive director of Volta ended last year.

The former CEO of TitanFile and his partner Colin White have launched Zora, a company that uses technology to streamline the process of property management for small residential landlords. It will have dual headquarters, with the sales and marketing team in Las Vegas and the development team in Halifax. These cities will be the company’s two first markets.

“Home services and real estate services are one of the last remaining big pots of gold on the internet, and no one has got it quite right yet,” said Zora CEO Vrekic. “It is exciting to think about the implications and possibilities that Zora can have in the rental space.”

When Vrekic left the Volta startup house in Halifax, he and White had not yet nailed down what Zora would be. After hashing out ideas focusing on financial or content products, they decided on a platform that aims to make it easier for landlords to attract and service better tenants.

“We’re focused on getting landlords a higher quality of tenants, so they don’t have to worry about them,” White, the company’s chief technology officer, said in an interview. “Our research has shown that having an empty apartment is less expensive than having a bad tenant.”

He said that Vrekic rents out a Dartmouth condominium he owns and has seen the pains landlords face. His wife, Jenya Hryshyna, is a property manager and took a similar product through the Starting Lean initiative at Dalhousie University in Halifax last year.

When they settled on the idea, Vrekic and White applied to and were accepted in The Mill, an accelerator in Las Vegas, receiving US$25,000 (C$31,600) from the VegasTechFund on entering the program.

Having just completed the three-month program, they have now launched the product and are raising $250,000 in capital from investors in Canada and the United States. The round is oversubscribed, said Vrekic.

Zora is an online platform that streamlines the jobs facing landlords, especially those with fewer than 10 properties. In the early stages, the company plans to reduce the property management duties and eventually become a full property management specialist. While the company’s technology eases the process, Zora will also have to hire staff to do some of the heavy lifting of property management.

First, Zora checks a prospective tenant’s history — not just credit history, but a full range of factors in rating tenants.

It then guarantees the landlord prompt payment each month. If the tenant is short of funds on rent days, Zora pays the landlord and lets the tenant pay later, with a penalty. Finally, Zora can call on a roster of service providers for maintenance and other jobs.

There are plenty of online platforms for landlords, but White says they basically try to turn landlords into property managers by highlighting the tasks that need to be done.

“But the landlord doesn’t want to manage the property — they want it to be an investment,” said White, who was formerly a co-founder of a hardware company called Pixel. “We’re going in the opposite direction. We’re trying to take (work) away from the landlord and get them a good tenant.”

Press Release: CarbonCure in Vegas

CarbonCure Technologies, a Halifax-based maker of green construction materials, has issued the following press release:

Cind-R-Lite brings a sustainable masonry alternative to Las Vegas

Nevada's first established masonry manufacturer partners with CarbonCure

Cind-R-Lite Block Company is taking a leadership role in bringing innovative technologies to the Las Vegas building market by partnering with CarbonCure. As Nevada’s first established masonry manufacturer, Cind-R-Lite is now heading in a new direction by using recycled carbon dioxide as an ingredient to make greener concrete products.

Cind-R-Lite has been a family owned and operated company since 1946, and has the reputation of being reliable and steadfast in providing high quality products to their customers. "Cind-R-Lite has been a family business for over 60 years,” said Tom Allen, President of Cind-R-Lite. “I am the third generation—we have always looked forward and moved forward with innovative technologies, and now with CarbonCure we move forward again."

The manufacturer seeks to be a leader in innovation while staying strongly rooted in the traditional values that they have built their company on. Cind-R-Lite looks forward to supplying a variety of their products with CarbonCure to the Las Vegas and Southern California market, including their precision, split face, ground face and shot blast block.

Las Vegas has been working hard in the last decade to establish itself as a model of sustainability.  The strip is making the switch to being green, with many hotels and casinos taking initiative to develop sustainable best practices. In 2005, the Nevada state legislature made it appealing for developers to pursue green building, which helped the number of LEED projects in Nevada jump from 14 to 97 in the first two years.

Nevada is gearing up to start construction on twelve new schools, with the Clark County School District expecting the first seven to be open by 2017. With this boom in construction, Cind-R-Lite is now equipped to provide designers with greener masonry that makes use of captured carbon dioxide. “We are thrilled to bring specifiers something that is more environmentally responsible,” said Cory Climaldi, Architectural Representative at Cind-R-Lite. “This is a great opportunity for us to provide something unique and innovative in our market.”

About CarbonCure Technologies

CarbonCure is concrete’s gateway to the green building community. Its technology chemically repurposes waste carbon dioxide during the concrete manufacturing process, and is available for masonry and ready mixed concrete products. The company also provides reporting tools such as Environmental and Health Product Declarations for all products made with CarbonCure. Through collaboration with leading designers, the company and its partners are supplying a scalable solution to address the growing demand for green building materials. CarbonCure concrete is available through North America’s largest concrete manufacturers including A. Jandris & Sons, Anchor, Basalite Concrete Products, Brampton Brick, Cind-R-Lite, Ernest Maier, Mutual Materials, Northfield Block, Oneonta Block, Permacon, Shaw Brick, and Snyder Brick & Block.




SabrTech Begins Testing RiverBox

SabrTech will soon start testing its algae-production product, the RiverBox, marking the beginning of the Halifax-based environmental technology company’s commercialization plan.

The Riverbox is a system that can grow algae anywhere, with the goal aiding in several sustainable industries. Algae is a sustainable input for personal care products, food for aquatic animals and a sustainable fuel, and it can be found in the ocean, swamps, rivers, lakes, and polar and tropical regions.

For the past five years, SabrTech CEO and President Mather Carscallen has been researching algae with the goal of increasing production for commercial purposes. The company first came to light when it won the $300,000 first prize in Cleantech Open, an Innovacorp competition open to green technology companies from around the world as long as they established their business in Nova Scotia.

The years of work has led to the RiverBox, which differs from other algae production systems because it can be used anywhere due to its small size and algae’s ubiquity. 

“We tailored it to be usable by anybody—regardless if you speak English or another language or if you are from a third-world country, anybody can use it,” Carscallen said in an interview. “Our system is designed to be plug-and-play, and it appeals to the aquaculture industry and the aquaculture farmers because it means they don’t need additional training to operate the system.”

Carscallen’s research also led him to discover how to use fish waste to feed the algae and then use algae to feed the fish.

“We’ve piggybacked off the versatility and adaptability of the algae itself,” he said. “It creates this beautiful, closed, sustainable system.”

Many cleantech companies that are like SabrTech find it hard to finance their products. However, right from the beginning, Carscallen made it a goal to produce a low-cost algae production system.

Carscallen and his team have been raising money to finance the commercialization of the product, though he declined to reveal the specifics of his fundraising goals.

SabrTech recently took part in a Montreal accelerator called EcoFuel, which was launched by Cycle Capital Management, a Montreal venture capital fund specializing in cleantech. Carscallen said the accelerator allowed him to gain the skills and network needed to fund his commercialization plan and reach his funding goals. 

A Singapore company partnered with SabrTech to complete a pilot launch for the RiverBox.

The price of the RiverBox depends on the customers’ needs. It can be used in a large, commercial warehouse or operated by one person working at an aquaculture site.

“Algae is one of the solutions to the complex problems of the future, so we know that the opportunity is very significant in various industries,” SabrTech Chief Marketing Officer Alexandra Orozco said. “We’ve heard very positive feedback from potential investors and individuals that understand that algae is very important, and the technology we have is what’s going to make this algae accessible for multiple applications.”


Press Release: CBU’s Futures Fund

The Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment at Cape Breton University has issued the following press release:

Verschuren Centre Launches Fund Targeting Sustainable Start-ups

(Sydney, NS) – Today, the Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment at Cape Breton University (CBU) announced the creation of the Cape Breton Island Futures Fund (CBIFF).   CBIFF seeks to contribute to the economic future of Cape Breton Island by providing rapid financial assistance and non-financial business support to encourage the launch of promising ideas, to seed early stage start-up companies and to foster existing small and medium-sized enterprises, particularly those developing products or services within the sustainable business, clean tech and digital technology sectors.

“We’re thrilled to be able to support the community in this way,” says Dr. Andrew Swanson, CEO, Verschuren Centre. “The CBIFF will help grow an already active start-up community, nurture local talent and positively impact the economy Island wide. There are lots innovative ideas being talked about in the community that don’t always meet funding criteria. Our hope is that the CBIFF will provide the needed support to turn these ideas into sustainable businesses.”

The current size of the Fund is $500,000, with the intent to invest in 10 companies by December. To be eligible, the business must be regionally located and incorporated. Although the needed investment assistance will vary depending on the business, support will include access to the Island Sandbox (Verschuren Centre, Shannon School of Business, Marconi NSCC) mentors, advisors and business meeting services.

Unlike other funds, CBIFF has a rolling intake and groups do not have to be incorporated to apply, but do upon acceptance of the award. Applicants will be evaluated based on their ability to demonstrate the potential to develop business and commercial merit of the proposed products and/or services.  All applicants will be required to make a business pitch to CBIFF managers and go through an interview process.

For those interested in the Cape Breton Island Futures fund, please contact Andrew Swanson ( or Debi Walker ( at the Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment.

More information can be found at 


About the Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment

The Verschuren Centre is a commercially focused research, development and deployment service provider for the clean tech sector.  The Centre develops and delivers sustainable technology solutions in energy, food, and resources management to businesses, governments, and communities.  Its mission involves bridging engineering and scientific research into environmental, industrial and socioeconomic policy contexts that promote the adoption and effective application of innovation for large-scale positive impact. 

About Cape Breton University

Cape Breton University is one of Canada’s youngest and most ambitious universities with a comprehensive set of liberal arts, science and professional programs and a unique commitment to community, economic development, Aboriginal learning and research into many aspects of environment and culture. Currently home to approximately 3500 students, CBU’s vision of higher education allows students to pursue diverse fields of study in programs with national reputations in final year student satisfaction, faculty-student interaction and employability. Cape Breton University delivers an authentic multicultural experience to all who become part of its academic community. Strong community involvement and a spirit of entrepreneurship enhance CBU’s position in post-secondary education.

46 East Coast Startup Failures in 2014

At an Atlantic Institute for Market Studies symposium in February, Clearwater Seafoods president John Risley remarked, almost as an aside, that there was virtually no downside in a young person trying to start a business.

His rationale for such a statement is now in evidence throughout the startup community in Atlantic Canada.

“If it doesn’t work out, you’ll be a much better employee for someone than if you hadn’t had that experience,” Risley said. “But if it does work out, of course, that’s great.”

The hard truth is that businesses usually don’t work out — as has been witnessed in the startup segment this year. Origin Biomed of Halifax and Techlink Entertainment of Sydney, two ventures that government invested in heavily, have both faltered. Gillian McCrae shut down GetGifted of Charlottetown. There have been others.

We’ve counted 46 startups that “failed” in Atlantic Canada in 2014. That’s about 16 per cent of the companies we were following in 2013.

That sounds like a lot, but there’s one or two mitigating factor. Seventeen of those failures, or about 38 per cent of the total, were companies founded in 2013. You could argue that these were companies that never really got off the ground. But for the better part of a year, people were working on these projects so we slotted them into our failure bucket.

Second, the job losses were contained, as 26 of the startups had never had any paid employees. Three companies that failed in 2014 employed more than 10 people. In total, at their peak, these 46 companies employed a total of 101 people.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time lately speaking with startup founders who have had to make that difficult decision to stop operations. I wanted to know why they failed, and it’s difficult to develop themes. In a lot of cases, there was simply no market for the product, or no way to make money out of providing the product.

Beyond that, there’s no common theme. Some companies underestimated production costs, or the cost of acquiring companies. Some had divergent ambitions among the management team. Like Tolstoy’s observation of miserable families, each was unhappy in its own way.

One response I have NOT heard a lot of is that there was no capital available to perpetuate the company. One or two reported a cash crisis after their Scientific Research & Experimental Development tax credits were denied. But several companies had cash in the bank when they shut down. They simply didn’t see a way forward for the company and decided to return the remaining cash to their investors.

The founders and employees were distraught by the failures, but those I’ve spoken with have moved on quickly. I haven’t been able to track employees of companies with more than 10 employees, but those from the smaller failed companies seem to have found work, many with other startups.

Even the founders of the companies are moving into other companies. Joe Menchefski of Sydney had a well-publicized closure of Billdidit last year. Menchefski is now working with Sona Nanotech, which produces non-toxic gold nanoparticles. He’s raised enough private capital to fund the company for a few years.

And Gillian McCrae of GetGifted recently spoke at the Startup Newfoundland and Labrador Startup soiree in St. John’s. She highlighted the ethical imperative of being frank with investors when closing down a business.

“For the investors, it’s important that whatever you commit to, you do it diligently,” McCrae said. “I still have a positive relationship with my investors. They were really amazing.”

More Private Equity in #Startupeast

Steve Nicolle: 'We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard.'

Steve Nicolle: 'We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard.'

When Steve Nicolle was looking for growth funding for Halifax-based pharmaceutical services company STI Technologies Ltd. in 2013, he decided the founding source that made the most sense was private equity.

STI was transitioning from a startup to a growth company, and Nicolle, then the CEO, wanted to partner with a company that could help it grow.

“We were looking for investors aligned with where we’re going instead of where we’ve been,” said Nicolle, now retired and on several boards, including that of STI. “I was surprised at how many (firms) there were, how much money they had and how interested they were in deploying their capital.”

Toronto-based private equity firm Imperial Capital ended up investing $17 million in STI and bought out the company’s venture capital investors.

Imperial-STI was one deal that made the past half-decade a busy time for private equity in Atlantic Canada. What’s more, 2015 is on track to be the busiest yet.

Private equity is like the big brother of venture capital. Instead of investing a few million or less, with the expectation of a potential 20-fold return, private equity firms can put up $50 million to $100 million, often for a majority stake. Private equity firms tend to be active managers, unlocking value through financial or organizational restructuring.

This funding source became popular in Canada in the 1990s and is newer still on the East Coast. Gavin Penny, Thomson Reuters’ resident expert on private equity in Canada, said the region’s smaller sample size makes it harder to examine trends, but overall PE is on the uptick.

“As for buyout deals this quarter, we’ve seen $6 billion invested across Canada — the best [first quarter] we’ve ever seen,” Penny said in an interview. That’s good news for Atlantic Canada, because it tends to move in unison with national PE trends.

“We already have two deals on file for Atlantic Canada [in the first quarter],” he said. “It’s not a lot but it’s still on pace to be the best year on record for Atlantic Canada just in terms of deal count.”

There have been more than $100 million in disclosed private equity deals in Atlantic Canada almost every year in this decade – even though that mark was breached only three times between 1995 and 2009. It’s gaining acceptance in the region

“Research study after research study shows that these PE-backed companies tend to outperform, compared to public companies or companies that are financed in other ways,” said Kirk Falconer, editor of PE Hub Canada.

Falconer, who co-authored a 2013 Conference Board of Canada report on the private equity in the country, says Canada has seen an expansion of private equity activity coast-to-coast.

“It’s a result of there being more Canadian PE firms than there ever were before, the fact that they’ve got more capital under management than they’ve ever had before, and the fact that U.S. private equity investors and other international investors are taking an increasingly strong interest in Canada,” Falconer said.

The creation of more private equity shops in Atlantic Canada, such as Killick Capital and SeaFort Capital, has contributed to the uptick in activity, Falconer said.

St. John’s-based Killick Capital was founded in 2004 by Mark Dobbin (See page 7) to invest in Atlantic Canadian businesses and the aerospace sector. And Halifax-based SeaFort Capital was founded in 2012 by a group including members of the McCain and Sobey families. It prefers “old economy” companies with a strong tangible asset base.

In April, SeaFort closed a leveraged buyout of Dartmouth trucking company Jardine Transport Ltd.

“In a way that wasn’t possible 10, 15, 20 years ago, you’re seeing a good match between companies and private equity investors,” Falconer said.

The fact that come-from-away firms like Imperial are increasingly taking notice of Atlantic Canadian companies is a good thing, but it means local companies will have to step up their game, said Nicolle.

“Let’s not get caught up in the hype of yet another startup challenge weekend and yet another accelerator and incubator without holding ourselves accountable,” Nicolle said. “I think we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Who are the top 10 investors in my sector globally? Why wouldn’t I pitch to them?” 

Eye on KW: Bonfire’s Expansion Plan

It’s a good thing Corry Flatt was getting annoyed with the lengthy, paper-heavy process for filing Requests for Proposal, or RFPs. That annoyance—and the desire to get past it—enabled the marketer to create Waterloo-based Bonfire, a paperless RFP tool.

The product has been on the market for about a year and a half, and Flatt now plans to expand internationally by opening a Silicon Valley office in the next year.

Bonfire allows suppliers to send all necessary RFP documents via the platform to purchasers, who often need to read through hundreds of documents to decide who will become their newest supplier.

As well as providing a paperless tool for suppliers, Bonfire can also be used by purchasers, who often work in teams with strict criteria to choose the right client. With Bonfire, purchasers and their teams can compile their thoughts in one document instead of each person having his or her own copy of each file.  

“Your average purchaser is on Facebook and LinkedIn and has an iPad at home, and yet they’re forced to use paper and these horribly complex Excel sheets in their office jobs,” Flatt said. “We saw this as an opportunity to bring a modern tool to a very important and very complex workflow.”

Flatt and his team received lots of industry input before releasing Bonfire. These discovery sessions were conducted with universities, whose staff showed Flatt and the Bonfire team how they, as purchasers, dealt with the RFP process. Flatt and his team would then tweak the tool according to the universities’ suggestions, then return with improvements and ask them for their thoughts on them.

Flatt, who previously worked as a marketer focusing on startups, said universities were the perfect group to create the product with. Despite being public institutions, they operate like private sector businesses. Thanks to this product testing, both private and public sector purchasers needn’t customize Bonfire for it to suit their RFP needs.

“The best procurement teams are these huge value acts to the company, who are out there helping make huge spending decisions as well as possible,” Flatt said. “They’re the unsung heroes of a company or an organization, and we want to make their work lives effortless—but also impactful—so that they are recognized by the organization.”

Bonfire sales only started around January, 2014, but the company has more than 60 public sector clients, including the Chicago Public School Board and the University of Alberta. Bonfire doesn’t disclose the number or names of its private sector clients.

Though Flatt said Bonfire could be turning a profit at this point, he decided to spend the money to hire more talent. He has fewer than 10 people on his team, but is starting to rapidly hire salespeople and marketers in Waterloo.

One of his reasons for moving in to Silicon Valley is to take advantage of the great technological talent there.

“We see this massive opportunity, where these workflows are going to abruptly shift into the new world, and it’s bit of a land-grab out there,” Flatt said. “And we want to be first—we want to be planting the flag.”


Eye on KW is a regular feature in Entrevestor that focuses on the startup community in Kitchener-Waterloo.

Proposify’s Unlikely Partnership Works

Springer and Racki: An unusually successful partnership.

Springer and Racki: An unusually successful partnership.

Kevin Springer and Kyle Racki have forged an unusually successful partnership — forming two businesses and exiting one — despite a 20-year age gap and early religious differences.

Springer, 51, is president of Halifax-based PitchPerfect Software, the parent company of

Proposify is a software-as-a-service, or SaaS, product, which allows members of an agency to collaborate on client proposals.

Racki, 31, is PitchPerfect’s CEO.

Before Proposify, the two built the web-design firm Headspace Design, which they sold in 2014.

They first met a decade ago while working for a Halifax design agency.

The two got on well, even though Racki was at the time a Jehovah’s Witness and Springer was an atheist environmentalist.

“I was brought up a Jehovah’s Witness and, in my early 20s, I became a designer and preached the gospel door to door,” Racki said as he sat in the Proposify office at Volta, Halifax’s startup house on Spring Garden Road.

A U.S.-raised entrepreneur, Springer had already created several businesses, including one that raised funds to help save the endangered Florida manatee.

Springer saw Racki’s potential.

“Kyle was already a great user-experience guy and designer,” said Springer.

“He was thinking about a better way to write proposals. He already had the seed of Proposify.”

In 2008, the two began working on Headspace. Their connection has evolved since then.

“You have to nurture the relationship,” said Racki. “If you go too long without saying, ‘Good job,’ the other feels unappreciated.”

Both say building a business has been smoother the second time around.

This is partly because they are now selling a product, not a service. That means they have been eligible for more government support.

A funding round of $670,000 included an investment from Innovacorp and a loan from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

ACOA also helped them employ Jonathan Down, who built the Proposify prototype and is now their chief technical officer.

“With Headspace, it was a constant challenge to get business. Our clients were mostly regional,” said Springer.

“Now with a SaaS product, most of our clients are in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia.”

Second time around, the duo knew to focus on refining their product and finding their market niche.

Still, leaving Headspace to focus on Proposify was not easy. The two tried to work on both, but found themselves having to drop Proposify when Headspace clients came in.

“We had to make a decision. It was hard. The Headspace employees had become our friends, and it was difficult to find the right buyer,” Springer said.

But Proposify now has hundreds of customers who collectively pitch over $1 million every month.

With wildly different backgrounds and experiences, they have different skill sets.

Springer grew up near Boston, moving to Nova Scotia in 2001. A musician and athlete, he is well-known in Halifax as an athletics and ball coach.

He has a degree in fine-arts management, worked in museums and the music industry and ran a live music club in his hometown.

“A background in non-profits taught me how to market something on a shoestring,” he said.

“I love athletics and sports. When I’m with those kids, I don’t think about anything else. And dealing with parents has taught me communication and leadership skills.”

Racki was born in Calgary and raised in Cole Harbour.

He left the church after his father died, losing many friends and contacts. He has now rebuilt his life and personal and business networks.

“I’ve changed in a lot of ways,” he said. “Now, I believe life is not a training session; I make the most of it.”

Springer said Racki’s new philosophy helps them align their goals.

“I’m thinking of my legacy,” he said. “I want to build a solid company and live a great life.”

Racki grinned. “Yeah, we want to provide the best proposal software in the world.”

Revising our Jobs Data Upward

I’ve been diving into the data we’ve collected on Atlantic Canadian startups, and one thing that’s become clear is that we underestimated job creation by startups in 2014.

Earlier this year, we reported that the results of our most recent survey showed that employment at Atlantic Canadian startups rose 9.4 per cent, while revenues rose 36.5 per cent. It’s becoming clear we underestimated things on the jobs front. So we’re restating our data to say that the number of people working for Atlantic Canadian startups rose 14.3 per cent in 2014.

Here’s what happened, from the beginning. At Entrevestor, we try to provide metrics on the Atlantic Canadian startup community each year. It brings depth to our reporting, and the sale of data analytics reports helps to finance our operation. We identified 287 startups that were going concerns on Dec. 31, 2014, surveyed as many as possible and received responses from 152.

The result of those surveys showed a 9.4 per cent increase in employment by the startups.

In the months since we published those findings, we’ve been examining the numbers in more depth. There are a lot of companies that didn’t respond to the survey that we have information on through interviews, their websites or through third parties.

Using this broader data set, we found there were 2,473 people working for Atlantic Canadian startups at the end of last year. We counted part-time jobs as half a position.

That’s up 14.3 per cent from 2,164 a year earlier.

This is the best estimate available, though I’m the first to admit that the hiring, firing and contracting out by startups make it difficult to have precise numbers at any point in time. What’s important is that in broad trends, we’re seeing a robust growth in employment by innovative companies.

The findings of our research show that 90 per cent of the jobs created by these startups are held by Atlantic Canadians. These companies require specialized personnel and/or sales people based in their target markets, so one in 10 hires takes place outside the region.

As was the case a year ago, we found that startups pay well. There were 81 startups that shared payroll data. We only included those with annual payroll of more than $40,000.

These companies employed 762 people and had a total payroll of $45.7 million. That means that jobs with startups in Atlantic Canada pay $59,974 on average.

The speed with which startups can create jobs is quite astonishing. There were 91 created last year by companies formed in 2014. About one-third of the jobs were created by companies less than five years old.

The problem examining startups as engines for job creation is that the employment tends to be created where it’s needed least. We found that 108 jobs — about four per cent of the total — were generated by companies based outside the urban areas in the region: Halifax, Sydney, Fredericton, Moncton, Saint John, Charlottetown and St. John’s.

The only other shortcoming of highlighting startups as job producers is that they tend to employ a narrow range of people: highly educated with technical or business expertise. But overall, these numbers demonstrate the wisdom of using startups as a cornerstone of economic development.

Happy Canada Day from Entrevestor

In recognition of Canada Day, we’re pausing today  to reflect on how lucky we are to live in Canada.

Every day on social media, I read friends complaining that Stephen Harper has ripped the heart out of the country. I hear conservatives complain of the overbearing government and high taxes.

But I really don’t think there’s a better place in the world to live. As proof, here’s some data (chosen in no particular order) on how we stack up internationally.

-  According to the World Happiness Report released in March, we’re No. 7 in the best places to live.

-  We’re No. 24 in the 2014 Environmental Performance Index. (Could be better, but we’re ahead of Japan, France and the U.S.A.)

-  Canada had a 2010 Gini Index score of 33.2 according to the World Bank (Most recent data available). The Gini Index measures inequality, and a low score is best. The only major economy with a lower score is Germany (30.6). We did better than the U.K. (38.0), U.S.A. (41.1) and China (42.1).

-  In its 2015 Freedom in the World Index, Freedom House assessed the countries of the world in grades of 1 to 7, with 1 being the highest mark. Canada earned a 1 for the Political Rating, a 1 for civil liberties and 1 for political rights.

-  According to Gallop, Canada had the seventh highest median household income in the world in 2013 at US$41,280. (This would have shifted since then with currency fluctuations.) It beat Germany, Japan and U.K.

-  The IMF in April said Canada was 21st in the world in terms of GDP per capita at US$45,723. It was 11th among democratic countries.

-  In the OECD’s 2012 PISA tests, which examined the educational performance of 15 year olds in 65 countries, Canada was 13th in math, sixth in reading and ninth in science.  

-  The World Health Organization ranks Canada’s healthcare system as the 30th best in the world. Lots of work to do there.

-  According to the Tax Foundation, Canada is 23rd in the world in tax competitiveness. That puts us in the same league with Germany at 20, the U.K. at 21 and Japan at 25.

So overall, it’s a pretty damn good country. And it’s celebrating 148 years of continuous democracy, a mark that’s exceeded by few countries in the world.

Happy Birthday, Canada. And thanks. 

Transit 360 Downloads Spike with 5.0

Transit 360, a mobile app that gives information on public transportation, has experienced a five- to six-fold increase in downloads since its 5.0 version launched and it expanded into more cities this month.

MindSea Development Inc. of Halifax first launched the iPhone app, then called Transit To Go, in 2010 so commuters in its home city could see when buses were coming. Since then, it has expanded, using municipalities’ open data to update users in real time about a transit vehicle’s arrival.

With version 5.0, it has expanded to 37 Canadian cities, including Vancouver, Montreal, Quebec City, Victoria, Fredericton and London, Ont., providing real-time data for each city’s public transportation system.

The growth in downloads has been especially strong in Montreal and Calgary, even though Calgary recently launched a city-owned transit app that has real-time data Transit 360 can’t access.

“Just because other apps do the same thing, sometimes people like one more than the other,” MindSea CEO Bill Wilson said in an interview.

“They rely on lots of different things for traffic statistics to glean out of these really complex systems. Is their bus going to be on time? That’s the ultimate question: Can I catch the bus when I want to catch the bus?”

Transit360 saves its users’ commonly used routes and stops, and allows them to see on a map where a vehicle is and when it is likely to arrive at a stop. It also provides alerts to remind commuters of when their bus or train is coming.

In a MindSea user study, the company discovered that many people consult several different platforms, such as Twitter and transportation apps, to decide which route to use in the morning.

“We’re not trying, at the moment, to solve all the transit problems for all the people,” Wilson said.

“We’re really focused on those people that get up in the morning, they know they can take one of four buses, they need to find out which bus or train they need to take and when it’s coming next.”

Transit 360 is featured on Apple Canada’s homepage, as well as among Apple’s featured transit apps. One notable feature of the latest version is that it can be integrated with the Apple Watch.

MindSea partnered with the Halifax Herald Ltd., publisher of The Chronicle Herald, in 2014, with the media company taking a minority stake in the app producer.

Tranist 360 is a free app. Its revenue stream comes from banner ads. MindSea is in talks with publishing companies about advertising on the app, which has a main client base of 18- to 34-year-old women.

“We had to make it as viable a business as we can, and if it isn’t, it’s very difficult to pursue,” Wilson said. “So we wanted to make it a successful app. So far, so good.”

Dobbin Looks Ahead After Strong Year

Mark Dobbin: 'The pipeline is better and there's more people investing now.'

Mark Dobbin: 'The pipeline is better and there's more people investing now.'

More than a decade after encountering skeptics at a conference, Mark Dobbin feels vindicated for his faith in Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs.

The Founder and President of St. John’s-based Killick Capital Inc. was reminiscing lately about how he felt when attending an event for venture capital investors in Halifax in 2004 – about the time he launched his investment firm.

“They were discussing VC in Atlantic Canada and the theme seemed to be there aren’t enough good companies,” said Dobbin in a phone interview. “We disagreed with that then and we were proven right.”

He paused for a moment and added, “I don’t think I encounter that sentiment any longer.”

Nothing could validate Dobbin’s decade-old investment strategy more than the performance of Killick in the past year-and-a-half. The fund, which largely manages investments for the Dobbin family, has recorded two exits and joined a fresh investment round for one of its portfolio companies, Celtx. One company has had troubles, but overall Killick is on a roll and is pondering new investments.

A tall, lean man with a warm smile, Dobbin was perpetuating his family’s gift for entrepreneurship when he and Tom Williams, the Vice-President of Investments, began Killick. His late father Craig Dobbin was a larger-than- life figure who built up his helicopter fleet into CHC Helicopter Corporation, the world’s largest helicopter company. Mark Dobbin has continued the family love of aeronautics, so one of the two funds it manages is the Killick Aerospace Group. The other is known as its Atlantic fund, though it makes some investments outside the region.

Based in the Dallas suburb of Carrollton, Texas, Killick Aerospace sold four of its six divisions earlier this year to Alexandria, Va.-based transport support company VSE Corp. The sale will gross the Newfoundland investment firm about US$229 million (C$286 million). Killick is now growing the two remaining divisions, which are involved in aircraft parts supply and engine field services.

The units that Killick sold are also subject to an earn-out, meaning the final pay is tied to their future performance, so Dobbin still has to work on them. But he and Williams are also repositioning their Atlantic Canadian investments after a year of major shifts.

The biggest change came last year when Killick successfully exited its investment in financial software company Verafin. California private equity company Spectrum Equity invested $60 million in the St. John’s company and bought out several early investors including Killick.

The next change to the Killick portfolio came in late 2014 when Halifax-based Build Ventures invested $3 million in Celtx, a St. John’s producer of software for the film industry. Killick, which had previously invested $1.5 million in Celtx, joined the round with a $300,000 investment.

“That business is going through an exciting growth phase and we’re enjoying that,” said Dobbin. “They’ve just hired a new CFO and moved into a larger space and they’re just kicking it up a notch.”

Killick is continuing to develop Max, the chain of family recreation and arts centres, starting with a few facilities in St. John’s. Dobbin considers Max a mix of business and community service, and is committed to continuing with the project.

The problem patch in the Killick landscape has been its investment in the Ottawa company Plasco, which is developing a plant at which energy can be produced by burning waste. The company filed for creditor protection recently. Though Dobbin admits it “will not be a successful investment” he is quick to add he learned a lot from the experience.

“Don’t be seduced by the technology,” he said. “And don’t get involved in a company that grows their cash burn to the point that you’re not able to fix it. We’re not blaming the board or management but the cash burn was beyond our ability to fix.”

Overall the fund is in a strong position after two exits. Dobbin and Williams are considering new investments. They’re willing to join small deals as a co-investor outside the region as long as they’re invited into the deal by a VC partner they know and trust. And they’ve got a list of Atlantic Canadian companies that may soon be ripe for an investment. And in comparison to the environment in Killick’s early days, there are more good companies and more funders.

“One of the benefits we had five years ago is there had been a dearth of equity capital at the time,” said Dobbin. “There’s still an element of that now but the pipeline is better and there’s more people investing now. Everything is moving in the right direction. I’d like it to move faster but you can only do so much at one time.” 


This article originally appeared in our most recent Entrevestor Intellignce report. 

Build Ventures Invests in InteraXon

The Muse headset.

The Muse headset.

In its first investment outside of Atlantic Canada, Build Ventures of Halifax has invested in InteraXon, a Toronto company developing a consumer product that operates off brainwaves.

The Atlantic Canadian regional venture fund has announced it’s joined an investment syndicate led by OMERS Ventures that invested $10 million in the Toronto company. Build accounted for $2 million of the Series B investment round. The other members include: Felicis Ventures, of Palo Alto, Calif.; Horizons Ventures, of Honk Kong; and Flextronics Lab IX, of San Jose, Calif.

Together, they are financing InterAxon’s drive to get its Muse headsets on to the foreheads of people across North America. Muse is a head band and online app that together monitor people’s brainwaves. The system can be used to help with relaxation and concentration and improve mental health, and is already being used by other companies and researchers to explore more products that react to mental activity. (I got to test and early prototype of Muse two years ago when reporting on the company for USA Today.)

Build Ventures Principal Rob Barbara said in an interview that his firm was attracted to the investment because of the InteraXon team and the chance to build relationships with the investors in the round. The team launched Muse in November and in just seven months it built up $3.5 million in sales. Barbara said working with the InteraXon team is a chance to witness and understand how to get a consumer product to the global market – valuable knowledge that with develop Build Ventures’ expertise and help it to work with Atlantic Canadian companies.

“This is a product that’s going to be distributed like all new major electronic consumer products and it’s very important that we gain experience at it,” said Barbara. “This summer it will be available in more than 500 retail outlets.”

He noted that InteraXon is led by a strong management team. CEO Ariel Garten has a wide-ranging background, including experience as an artist and neuroscientist. She’s backed up by two veterans of Blackberry – Chief Operations Officer Derek Luke and Executive Vice-President of Sales and Marketing Jacqueline Cooper.

Build has raised more than $60 million, and most of its funding has come from the four Atlantic provinces and from the federal government through the Business Development Bank of Canada. About 65 percent of Build’s funding comes from the Atlantic provincial governments, which means Build could invest as much as 35 percent of its capital in other places.

Barbara said the fund has always planned to make a few investments outside the region, because that is the best way to develop a deep, trusting relation with other funds. Those relationships, it hopes, will help Build attract those funds to investments in Atlantic Canada.

“This is how this business works,” said Barbara. “They may not invest initially, but as they get to know us  . . . they are more likely to make investments in Atlantic Canada.”

Build Ventures has already invested in five Atlantic Canadian companies: Smart Skin Technologies, and Resson Aerospace, both of Fredericton; Introhive, of Fredericton and Washington, D.C.; Affinio of Halifax; and Celtx, of St. John’s.


Disclaimer: Build Ventures is a client of Entrevestor. 

Press Release: Venture for Canada

Venture for Canada,  a not-for-profit organization that places graduates with startups, has issued the following press release:

Venture for Canada Announces Partnership with RBC

TORONTO, June 25, 2015 /CNW/ - Most recent university and college graduates seek employment with well-established companies, but those interested in entrepreneurship should take a closer look at opportunities with top Canadian startups. 

Venture for Canada, a not-for-profit organization that recruits top graduates to work at leading Canadian startups, announced today a three-year partnership with RBC's Social Finance Initiative to support the next generation of Canadian social entrepreneurs. This is Venture for Canada's first partnership that is specifically designed to recruit top recent graduates to work at Canada's best social enterprises.

"At Venture for Canada, we believe in the importance of venturing not just for oneself, but also for others," said Scott Stirrett, Executive Director of Venture for Canada. "We are extremely excited to partner with RBC to support the next generation of Canadian social entrepreneurs."

Venture for Canada Fellows spend two years working at a Canadian startup, in addition to a five-week Fellow Training Camp, and ongoing mentorship. Through the program, recent graduates gain the experience, network, and training to successfully launch their own firms. Venture for Canada Fellows currently include alumni of The Next 36, a Top 20 under 20 recipient, and a former Apple engineer.

"We are proud to support Venture for Canada in fostering entrepreneurship though their unique and comprehensive programs," said Sandra Odendahl, Director of Corporate Sustainability and Social Finance, RBC.   "As a National Social Enterprise Partner we are looking forward to empowering more young Canadians to launch their own successful businesses with a strong social or environmental purpose."

About Venture for Canada

Venture for Canada is a not-for-profit that recruits top recent graduates to work at Canadian startups in need of talent, with the mission of fostering entrepreneurship.  Their mission is to provide opportunities for the best and brightest to create dynamic companies for themselves and others, to restore entrepreneurship as a career path for elite young grads and to assist great companies through providing sharp young minds to help them grow.

About RBC

Royal Bank of Canada is Canada's largest bank, and one of the largest banks in the world, based on market capitalization. We are one of North America's leading diversified financial services companies, and provide personal and commercial banking, wealth management, insurance, investor services and capital markets products and services on a global basis. We employ approximately 78,000 full- and part-time employees who serve more than 16 million personal, business, public sector and institutional clients through offices in Canada, the U.S. and 39 other countries. For more information, please visit

RBC's social finance initiative is designed to ignite the growth of social finance in Canada. The initiative supports and nurtures businesses that deliberately seek to make positive contributions to the community. The initiative demonstrates the opportunity to invest in businesses that deliver social, environmental and financial returns.

Co-Winners of Cleantech Competition

Two Nova Scotian startups, Unified Software Technologies and NeoThermal Energy Storage, are the co-winners of the $100,000 Smart Energy Demo Challenge, which will help them move their product closer to a market launch.

Innovacorp, which organized the competition for startups that promote energy efficiency, said Thursday night its panel of judges had chosen co-winners and each will get about $50,000 in non-dilutive funding to work on a demonstration project with their product.

The contest was aimed at companies that have a working product but have not yet launched it in the marketplace. The five finalists were each required to find a partner (an established company or organization) that could test the product between now and March 31, 2016. The prize money will finance the cost of that demonstration.

“It’s a game-changer for us because it establishes our presence in the province as a going concern,” said Laurie Perrin, the co-founder of Unified Software of Wolfville.

Unified Software’s technology is designed to allow software to run more efficiently on high-capacity microchips, thereby requiring less electricity to operate. To increase capacity in recent years, manufacturers have developed microchips with two, four or even six cores instead of one. The problem is that most software is designed to operate on single-core chips so any gain in processor speed is lost by the inadequacy of the software. UST, founded by twin brothers Laurie and Layton Perrin, has produced technology designed to correct that flaw, which should reduce the energy consumption of high-transaction users.

In its demonstration projects, UST will work with Internetworking Atlantic Inc. to demonstrate web and application server software and with Atlantic Computation Excellence Network, or ACENET to demonstrate lock-free software libraries.

NeoThermal Energy Storage was spun out of the Dalhousie University engineering school by grad students Louis Desgrosseilliers and Moe Kabbara.

The company will work with Dr. Alain Joseph of Nova Scotia Community College Waterfront Campus to demonstrate its new chemical heat storage technology. NeoThermal has developed a device that can heat a room efficiently. The device captures and stores energy either by taking on waste energy or by being plugged in to the grid at low-cost, non-peak hours. It then releases heat during the day to warm a room.

“Winning has basically let us proceed with our long-term goal of moving forward with our product and bringing it to the market,” said Kabbara. He added the company needs to demo the product over several months to be in a position to raise investment capital.

The other finalists were:

-- Atlantic Business Centre of Excellence and Commercialization of Innovation, which‎ is developing hardware and software that combine solar energy generation and battery storage to optimize energy efficiency in buildings;

-- Colibri Software, which is developing software that works with sensors and monitors in buildings to optimize and reduce energy use;

--  And, Renewable Alternative Energy Sources and Systems, which is developing building products that store and conduct heat.

 “What [the competition has] done is bring innovators out of the woodwork in the smart energy sector,” said Michael Dennis, the Innovacorp investment manager that oversaw the competition. “We have a lot of talent here and we have to bring it out.”

Full disclosure: Innovacorp is a client of Entrevestor.

Duff Brings Hard Lessons to CEO Role

Stephen Duff: 'We started listening very carefully to clients and that was our salvation.'

Stephen Duff: 'We started listening very carefully to clients and that was our salvation.'

Innovacorp President and CEO Stephen Duff knows what the entrepreneurs he supports go through. When Duff was first involved with Precision BioLogic, the biotech startup got so behind on the rent the sheriff turned up to change the locks on the door.

Duff held business development and product innovation roles at Precision BioLogic for over 25 years. The Dartmouth-based company develops, manufactures and markets blood diagnostic products.

Today, Precision BioLogic sells its products across Canada, the U.S. and Europe. But there were hard times.

“When the sheriff turned up, we thought damn the torpedoes, we’ve got nothing left to lose,” Duff recalled.

“We started listening very carefully to clients and that was our salvation. It was a huge insight. We began listening and observing. The power of those two things unlocked a value proposition that gained traction in Canada and the U.S.

“It was an important part of my life. My mentor there, Michael Scott, was inspirational for my career.”

Duff also worked in sales and promotion with Organon Teknika Canada, a division of the Dutch diagnostics multinational Akzo.

Such experiences assist Duff at Innovacorp, where he helps early-stage Nova Scotia technology companies succeed in the global marketplace.

Innovacorp invests in early-stage companies that are too young to find funding from private venture capitalists. 

Long before he took up his present role with Innovacorp in April 2013, Duff was involved with Innovacorp as a board and investment committee member. He is also a past-president of BioNova, the Nova Scotia life sciences industry association.

He believes entrepreneurship will help solve Atlantic Canada’s economic problems.

Last year, Innovacorp made 12 investments in 12 companies, 10 of which were new to its portfolio. A typical investment is between $250,000 and $1 million.

“Our venture capital portfolio is growing,” Duff said. “We have 35 companies in the portfolio now. Most will fail, a couple will gain traction, raise more capital and eventually exit and some will limp along.

“I get excited about the fast-growers that raise more money and discover revenue and the ones that are killed quickly.” (Because the founders don’t waste time and money and can pursue other things.)

Duff is pleased by the diversity of companies growing in Atlantic Canada, and by the maturation of the entrepreneurs themselves, who often develop surprisingly swiftly.

“It doesn’t take a lot of great companies to change the dynamic, to make people want to be here,” said the New Brunswick native who holds a bachelor of science and an MBA from Dalhousie University.

Like many in the startup community, Duff believes greater cooperation among the

Atlantic Provinces will boost overall growth and prosperity.

Innovacorp works with groups such as Propel ICT, the New Brunswick-born accelerator that has become an important regional organization.

Innovacorp sometimes invests in graduates of Propel’s programs. This augments the funds the startups have already raised and supports Propel.

Cooperation also helps Innovacorp achieve more for its companies.

“Our portfolio is growing, but our resources are not,” Duff said. “We need to work smarter and forge partnerships where possible. We’re trying to add value to the companies we invest in.

“We want to provide not just equity, but also advice. We frequently find it externally by connecting with mentors.”               

Cape Breton is currently generating a healthy number of early-stage companies. This is due to various factors, including UIT, an immersion program for startups developed by entrepreneur Gavin Uhma and Cape Breton University’s Shannon School of Business.

Competitions also accelerate entrepreneurship.

In Cape Breton, Innovacorp’s Spark Cape Breton competition provides winning startups up to $50,000 in capital plus mentoring.

Nova Scotia startups can also compete for cash and in-kind services totaling $900,000 through Innovacorp's province-wide I-3 Technology Start-Up Competition.

“Entrepreneurs told us that just being in the I-3 Competition helps them learn how to think like a successful company,” Duff said.

“All these things help grow the sector.”


Full disclosure: Innovacorp is a client of Entrevestor. 

BioNova, MEDEC Form Partnership

BioNova, the association of life sciences companies in Nova Scotia, has signed a partnership agreement with a national medical technology association that it hopes will accelerate the growth of Atlantic Canadian medtech companies.

The Halifax-based group said Thursday it signed a memorandum of understanding with MEDEC, the national association representing Canada’s Medical Technology companies.

“This is a big opportunity to support local growth as this gives us access to a very well qualified and experienced group of contacts and resources, as well as programs,” Scott Moffitt, Managing Director of BioNova,” said in an email. “On the flip side, we will now provide the voice for Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada for federal level issues.”

He said the federal issues that BioNova will now have a greater voice on include the Canada Revenue Agency’s Scientific Research and Experimental Development program, Health Canada regulation, and export and trade development.

Medical Technology is the segment of biotech that focuses on the development of medical devices, and a high proportion of the life sciences community in Halifax is dedicated to medtech.

The agreement will allow the members of each organization to have access to programs, advocacy efforts and industry knowledge offered by the other.

The two associations said in a statement their members will benefit from:

·         Greater opportunities to participate in advocacy initiatives at the national and provincial level;

·         Access to training and educational programs;

·         And access to relevant communications for each organization.

It added that the collaboration will advance health outcomes for patients and grow the medical technology industry. The parties hope it will enhance their work with governments and health system partners to increase patient access to innovative medical technologies and improve commercialization opportunities.

“MEDEC supports Canadian innovation by working with our partners in government and healthcare organizations in order to ensure that patients have access to innovative medical technologies that enhance patient care and increase the sustainability of our healthcare system,” Brian Lewis, President and CEO of MEDEC, said in the statement. “This agreement with BioNova allows us to have greater engagement in Nova Scotia and to harness a greater understanding of the needs of the many cutting-edge companies that are located there.”

Halifax Index Highlights Startups

I’d like to thank the Halifax Partnership for including my work in the Halifax Index, its annual examination of social and economic progress in the city.

I contributed a column on the startup hub in Halifax, which examined the growth and impact of startups in the city in the past few years. You can find its on page 44 of the report, and we’ve reprinted it below here.

I was lucky to appear on a panel at the Index launch yesterday to discuss the economic outlook for the city, province and region. We had a great discussion with my co-panelists, the Partnership’s Chief Economist Fred Morley and Junior Economist Ryan MacLeod and Deputy Business Minister Catherine Mayo Woodman. Mark Lever, CEO of the Chronicle-Herald, moderated the panel.

The most reassuring thing about these appearances is that startup development is now becoming a pillar of debates about economic strategy. This wouldn’t have happened even three years ago.

The Halifax Index is an interesting read which highlight that Halifax’s GDP is expected to increase 3.1 percent this year, tied for the best in Canada. Here’s my contribution to it:


Though it’s a young cluster, the start-up community in Halifax is a thriving, growing segment of the economy that is contributing to exports, attracting investment and creating employment. The city is also home to key components of the regional start-up ecosystem, many of which aid companies far beyond Atlantic Canada.

Some 109 start-ups are based in Halifax, according to the Entrevestor databank, and most are young companies. More than half the high-growth companies are less than four years old, whereas fewer than a quarter were founded before 2010.

Entrevestor’s research has shown that almost four-fifths of the revenue of Atlantic Canadian startups comes from outside the region, aiding in the development of export markets. Though the ITC segment dominates the Halifax community (59% of the start-ups are IT companies), there is actually a lower concentration of ITC companies than in the Atlantic Canadian community overall (64%). The reason is that Halifax has a disproportionately large biotech sector. There are 23 biotech start-ups based in Halifax – half of the total for the region.

These companies are drawing private investment to Halifax and using that capital to create high-paying jobs. Last year, Halifax-based start-ups attracted more than $26 million in equity investment, about half of it from venture capital investors. With this and previous funding, these companies have developed a workforce of about 1,000 people. Research from Entrevestor and others shows that the average pay at Atlantic Canadian start-ups is more than $50,000.

More than 400 people also work at local start-ups that have been bought by multinational companies, meaning the start-up community has directly created about 1,400 jobs in the Halifax area. In addition, research by Enrico Moretti of the University of California at Berkley shows that each “innovation” tech job creates five indirect jobs due to professional services, taxes and individual spending. That means the start-up sector is responsible for about 7,000 jobs in the region.

The ecosystem that has produced this success is largely regional, not local. Halifax’s start-ups have benefitted from such groups as PropelICT, an accelerator and mentorship network that began in New Brunswick. Conversely, there are institutions based in Halifax that benefit start-ups throughout the region and beyond. The biotech segment is strong in Halifax largely because of the medical facilities in the city, namely Dalhousie University’s medical school and the Capital District Health Authority. It means BioNova, the provincial biotech association, has grown in Halifax and assists life sciences from across the region. Innovacorp, the provincial innovation agency, is headquartered in Halifax and working at assisting a range of Canadian start-ups through its partnership with Disruption Corp. of Washington, D.C.

So what’s needed to enhance the success of the start-up segment? Some obvious answers would be greater access to capital or research funding. But even more than this the start-ups in Halifax and Atlantic Canada need to improve their proficiency in sales. Though revenues are increasing overall, there are still a range of start-ups that have no revenue or weak revenue. This has to improve if this exciting economic segment is to fulfill its promise. Unveils 1st Hyper-Local Site

Startups of all stripes want to build capital, but the weeks-old venture of Sydney-based serial entrepreneur Mathew Georghiou is focused on capital of an entirely different kind.

Social capital is at the heart of, the latest enterprise from the founder and CEO of software development company MediaSpark and e-learning gaming company GoVenture World. has already seen success, taking home $50,000 as a winner of last fall’s Spark Cape Breton competition. is a platform for hyper-local publications like goCapeBreton – portals that allow community members to post a range of content, from news to events to job postings to whatever people want to post. In the end, it builds social capital within the community. Its first product is, which launched a few weeks ago.

“My life is a repeated example of social capital at work,” Georghiou said in an interview.

Social capital, he said, is the most important key to success for a community – the sum of all its relationships, networks, skillsets and shared knowledge.  It means a geographical community, a real tangible place with real people and families and even a diaspora.

Georghiou tells how, more than 20 years ago, he and his new family were living in Toronto, itching for a change that would bring them back home.

Back in Cape Breton, his mother-in-law spotted an ad in the local newspaper for a new program, offering support for new businesses to set up in the region. She cut it out and mailed it to Toronto. As a result, Georghiou is back home in Sydney, where he’s spent two decades as an entrepreneur.

 “My mother-in-law wasn't thinking about economic development when she saw that ad,” Georghiou said. “She was thinking ‘I just want to get my daughter home.’ That's social capital at work.”

Now Georghiou and his president Richard Lorway are developing social capital with their new product, It is built on a proprietary content management and aggregation platform, designed to allow easy tweaks. And he envisions rolling out similar products far beyond the island’s shores.

“The model we're building here in Cape Breton is completely translatable to any community in the world,” he said. “So the plan is to launch and repeat what we're doing here in potentially thousands of communities around the world.”

By allowing anyone to post, share and react on the site for free, the company crowdsources news, events and more with the goal of facilitating more connections and building more social capital.

“A lot of these connections in the community are happening, but they're happening so rarely and in an unstructured way right now that they don't happen frequently enough to create critical mass,” Georghiou said.

“We describe it as we solve community problems. We don't sell news.”

Less than four weeks since the site went live, Georghiou says they’ve reached 50,000 page views and 25,000 visits.

Especially for the size of the community they serve, he finds those numbers more than encouraging.

“People are saying look we want to be involved in economic development. We want to see our community succeed,” he said. “We're tired of the top down approach to economic development where people are telling us what our community needs.” 

Press Release: Qimple Back from 500

Qimple, a Moncton human resources tech startup, has issued the following press release:

Atlantic Canadian company turns heads at international accelerator

After five months in San Francisco, HR tech startup Qimple is stronger than ever

MONCTON, New Brunswick (June 24, 2015)  After spending five months at 500 Startups in San Francisco, Moncton-based Qimple has come a long way.  Not only were they the first Atlantic Canadian company  o take part in 500, which is one of the most recognized accelerators in the world, but they were also considered one of the most promising startups in their cohort.

“Going to 500 was the best thing we could’ve done for Qimple,” said Yves Boudreau, CEO of Qimple.  “Being part of such an elite group has pushed us to work even harder to achieve our objectives and helped us gain greater traction than we would have otherwise.  People pay more attention to us now that we’re a 500 company because we’ve proven that we’re legitimate.  It gave us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that not many companies have and now it’s up to us to capitalize on it.”

500 Startups is a four-month program where companies are put through a rigorous process and are exposed to a variety of mentors, training sessions and investors.  The accelerator culminates with a “Demo Day” where the companies make their pitches to a room of 500 potential investors.   The program is known to be a game changer for the companies who are lucky enough to make it in.  Qimple was one of only 35 chosen out of over 1,000 applicants.

“There were companies from over ten countries in our group so the learning experience was unreal,” said Boudreau.  “It was an opportunity to gauge where we stood on the world stage and it answered a lot of questions for us in terms of what direction we should be going.  It also gave us the tools and the connections needed to compete in a very competitive space.  We definitely have an edge now, and we’re more focused than ever towards our goal of building the world’s most intuitive hiring platform.”

Qimple optimizes and distributes job opportunities based on a business’ geographic location, industry and the seniority level of the position - maximizing the number of applicants they receive.  Their headquarters is in Moncton, New Brunswick and they currently have a team of six employees, which will be growing shortly.

For more information, visit

About Qimple

Qimple helps some of the world’s smartest companies hire better candidates in less time.  The hiring hub for employers simplifies your hiring process by enabling you to post to multiple popular and niche job boards at a reduced rate in just one click.  Employers can then manage and track all of their applicants in one place. The team collaboration tools enable hiring teams to streamline their hiring process even further.

About 500 Startups (

500 Startups is a venture capital fund and startup accelerator based in Silicon Valley with ~$125M in assets under management. 500 Startups has invested in 1000+ companies all over the world since its inception in 2010, and employs a team of 40 people across 10 countries who speak over 20 languages. The company operates accelerator programs in the SF Bay Area and Mexico City emphasizing internet marketing and customer acquisition, design and user experience, and lean startup practices and metrics. Our investment team and mentor network has operational experience at companies such as PayPal, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Twitter, Apple, and Sesame Street (j/k).

Propel Grads Up For Venture NL Funds

Newfoundland and Labrador Startups in the PropelICT Build Program are now eligible for $250,000 in investment funding from the Venture Newfoundland and Labrador fund, the parties announced today.

Propel, the Atlantic Canadian accelerator, issued a statement saying Pelorus Venture Capital, the private-sector manager overseeing the Newfoundland fund, has approved the new funding initiative. The news means that startups from three of the four Atlantic provinces can qualify for two tranches of funding if they complete the Build Program.

“Propel ICT is an important part of the startup ecosystem in Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Tom Hayes, Managing Director of Pelorus Venture Capital. “Formalizing our relationship with this accelerator sets the stage for investment in graduates of Propel ICT’s Build program, supporting their business and growth agenda.”

Propel operates two concurrent programs – the Launch program for novice entrepreneurs, and Build for more advanced companies. Through the programs this summer, there are six startups in Build, including HeyOrca! from St. John’s.

Though Propel does not invest in the startups that go through its programs, it does allow for the companies to receive funding from its financial partners.  These arrangements include:

-- BDC Capital will invest $150,000 (or $250,000 for hardware companies) through a convertible note. This offer extends to Build participants from all four Atlantic provinces. Twelve companies so far have received funding through this program.

-- The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and Innovacorp offer $100,000 in convertible notes to Build grads from New Brunswick and Innovacorp respectively.

-- And now Venture NL is offering $250,000 funding to grads from Newfoundland and Labrador.

What it means is that Build grads from P.E.I. have an opportunity to receive $150,000, from N.S. and N.B $250,000 and from NL $400,000. All the funding is at the discretion of the funders, and graduation from the Build program does not guarantee the participant will receive investment.  

Venture Newfoundland and Labrador is a new VC fund supported by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, BDC Capital, Pelorus Venture Capital and local angel investors. It will soon announce its first funding.

“The relationship with Pelorus Venture Capital is important to our programming in Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Gary Dinn, the St. John’s-based CEO of Propel ICT. “Creating a pathway to significant investment capital is key to supporting startup companies in this province.”


Brilliant Labs Takes Hold in NS

Brilliant Labs, a New Brunswick-based not-for-profit, recently celebrated its arrival into Nova Scotia by participating in Maker Week, which encourages young people to learn about technology by making things.

Brilliant Labs helps to teach students about technology through project-based learning, especially within the classroom. The not-for-profit uses projects, such as jewellery-making, video game design and entrepreneurship, to teach people about how they can not only consume technology, but create it.

Maker Week took place June 12 to 18, which this year was the last week of high school before exams. Brilliants Labs’ Nova Scotia Program Directors, Sarah Ryan and Kim Desveaux, said the timing was great because the week introduced the not-for-profit’s programs to the province’s schools. Teachers and students were receptive to the programs because they can adapt to any type of learning style.

“It makes for a better school day when the kids are hands-on and they’re playing and they’re trying and they’re experimenting—they’re excited,” Desveaux said. “The bell rings and they don’t even get up their chairs to leave.”

Desveaux and Ryan have engaged many of the province’s schools since the April opening of the Nova Scotia office.

They organized the first ever Nova Scotia Scratch competition, in which nine students are awarded prizes for the best projects using Scratch, a MIT-created tool that teaches kids to program. The competition received more than 60 submissions.

“We were pretty blown away,” Ryan said. “The level of design quality was beyond what you would have experienced in the 80s and 90s in arcade games, which is pretty impressive.”

In October, Brilliant Labs hopes to bring in 150 Atlantic Canadian high school students to Nova Scotia to participate in the Super Power Challenge, which gives students the resources and tools they need to solve community issues. Brilliant Labs and its community partners then pair teams with a mentor in the community to help them develop their business idea and prepare them for the pitch competition in February.

“We’re hoping to evolve how the school system is working,” Ryan said. “Slowly we’re going to make an impact so that 10 years down the road, we can look back and say, there was a big change in Atlantic Canada in 2014, 2015, and we will be part of that change.”

Brilliant Labs Nova Scotia received $400,000 from the provincial government in April. The not-for-profit is also supported by individuals and private companies.

“We want to keep our kids in the province, we don’t want to necessarily move everybody to out west because that’s where the most prospective jobs,” Ryan said. “We’re going to prepare them with these real-world skills.”

Though school will be out, Brilliant Labs Nova Scotia will have programming throughout the summer. 

Meanwhile, Brilliant Labs in Fredericton will be participating in Maker Day on July 4. You can find details here

HeyOrca! Travels to Gain Mentorship

Joseph Teo, left, and Sahand Seifi at the Genesis Centre

Joseph Teo, left, and Sahand Seifi at the Genesis Centre

For the next few months, Joseph Teo will be travelling between St. John’s and Moncton, taking his Newfoundland startup HeyOrca! through PropelICT’s Build program.

HeyOrca! is an online platform that helps marketers collaborate on social media content. Working out of the Genesis Centre at Memorial University, it is conducting pilots of the products with marketing agencies.

The company aims to solve the problem agencies and freelance content creators have working with each other and gaining approval for social media posts.

“If you’re marketing for government or for high-value brands, you have to go through the communications department and several layers of management for approvals,” Teo said in an interview at the centre last week. “Our system has an audit trail to see who has given approval; it saves a lot of time.”

The HeyOrca! team — Teo, co-founder Sahand Seifi and web developer Nadia Sajjadi — has developed the product so it’s simple and effective for users, but the really interesting part of the company’s story is how it got where it is and what it means to the broader startup community in St. John’s.

Teo and Seifi first gained notice in the East Coast startup community when their previous project, Student Fresh, reached the finals of Canada’s Business Model Competition in 2014. They had only been working on the project — a matching platform for students seeking part-time work with local businesses — for two months when they entered the competition.

As they continued to work on the product, they focused on students looking for work on social media projects.

“One day, an agency came up to us and said, ‘We don’t want to hire your students but we hear you have a platform that we may be interested in,’” said Teo.

So the company changed tack. It worked with freelancers to understand the process of creating social media content and developed the platform to make it simpler. The company has focused on letting content creators, agencies and brands work closely together with the greatest ease of use possible. The team is integrating its product with software commonly used by marketers, such as Dropbox and Google Drive.

HeyOrca! was accepted into the Genesis Centre incubator late last year, and then applied for PropelICT. [Disclaimer: Propel is a client of Entrevestor.]

Teo and the team originally applied for the Launch program, the course for early stage companies being offered in St. John’s. But organizers saw how advanced the company was and encouraged Teo to go into the more advanced Build cohort offered in Moncton.

HeyOrca! was one of six startups, and the first Newfoundland and Labrador company, accepted into Build.

The curriculum focuses more on revenue generation, key for a company at HeyOrca!’s stage of development, and completing the program will give it more sway with potential funders. People within the St. John’s community hope HeyOrca! will establish a pattern other companies will follow.

The team plans to offer the product as a monthly subscription, though it is working on pricing.

“We’re still trying to refine that part of the process,” said Teo. “We’ll have something solid by the end of Build — hopefully before.”

Kristy O’Leary Enters THNK Accelerator

Kristy O'Leary: 'Thus feels like a really good fit for me.'

Kristy O'Leary: 'Thus feels like a really good fit for me.'

When Kristy O’Leary went to visit Vancouver, she often heard people describe the city as “thriving.” But in Halifax, where she lives and runs Scout & Burrow, an ethics-centric market expansion consulting group, she often hears Halifax and Nova Scotia described as “resilient.”

After noticing the different attitudes between the two coastal cities and talking to a friend heavily involved in Vancouver’s social justice scene, O’Leary came across THNK, a school of creative leadership. THNK created a six-month accelerator for people already heavily involved in their fields, but who want to develop their creative leadership.

O’Leary applied and will be one of the 35 students in the second Canadian THNK cohort.

After speaking with the THNK organizers, she has opened up a Vancouver office for Scout & Burrow.

However, O’Leary made it very clear that she doesn’t want to abandon the East Coast. She will be in Halifax when she isn’t participating in her THNK accelerator to run Scout & Burrow.

“This feels like a really good fit for me and Scout & Burrow because we’ve been working here in Nova Scotia, trying to create our own little centre for social innovation and do unusual things,” O’Leary said. “I want Nova Scotia to thrive, but in order to thrive, we have to be willing to break some rules and remake them, and step outside normal and forget what we’ve known. What we’ve known has got us in this situation; what we’ve known no longer serves us.”

The six-month THNK program is divided into four modules, each of which goes for seven to 10 days. Each module contains the core elements of THNK: Forum, which asks the cohort tough questions through games and simulations; Challenge, which gives teams within the cohort a real-life problem to solve; Quest, which includes feedback and conversations with the THNK practitioners; and Accelerator, which helps the students develop their businesses or projects.

Overall, it challenges its participants to think in new ways, often with unconventional missions. For example, the first task for O’Leary, who began THNK on Wednesday, will be to Vancouver’s Chinatown and find a girl with a red balloon.

Like the THNK developers, O’Leary sees social justice and creativity acting in a mutually symbiotic relationship with economic development. With Scout & Burrow, she tries to explain that to Nova Scotians every day and convince them that economic problems can be solved through empathy and community.

O’Leary said that she’s currently bootstrapping the Vancouver Scout & Burrow office. She hopes that through THNK and its network, she can gain interest from investors.

With Vancouver being the most sustainable city in the world, O’Leary said that she thinks there would be a lot of interest in an ethics-focused company like Scout &Burrow.

“To nourish ourselves and to nourish Scout &Burrow and to nourish our clients and Nova Scotia,” she said, “it makes sense for us to go coast-to-coast.”

Digital Discovery Camp Set for Halifax

Tech-lovers aged nine to 14 are invited to sign up for the Halifax-based summer Digital Discovery Camp.  

A partnership between Digital Nova Scotia and the Discovery Centre, the camp offers youngsters the chance to participate in a range of tech-oriented activities.

This summer, students will discover robotics and learn programming skills using LEGO NXT technology and new Lego EV3 models.

They will take apart advanced devices, deconstruct a computer and participate in a soldering workshop.

Campers will learn how a digital image becomes a 3-D model using specialized printers. Interactive tools will allow video-gamers to create their own characters and storylines with gaming development concepts and skills.

The Digital Discovery Camp is run with local industry participation and support. This is the second year it has been offered. This summer, there will be two camps. The first, for kids aged 9-11, will take place July 20-24. The second, a new advanced camp for youth aged 12-14, will be held August 17-21.

You can register here.

Press Release: Summer with Eyeread

Eyeread, a Halifax startup whose technology helps children to read, has issued the following press release:

Education Technology Startup, Eyeread, partners with Halifax Learning Summer Camp

Halifax-based education technology startup, Eyeread is excited to announce that, this summer, it will be partnering with Halifax Learning Summer Camp to offer an innovative learning opportunity for children!

Summer is an important time for children to continue building the skills that will help them return to school ready and full of confidence.

According to the National Summer Learning Association, “All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer.” They report that, “Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer.”

This phenomenon of learning loss over the summer is commonly referred to as the “summer slide.”

Together, Eyeread and Halifax Learning have a winning strategy to prevent the summer slide and give students a head start come September.

Halifax Learning has helped over 3000 students in Nova Scotia develop excellent foundational reading skills using the SpellRead program. SpellRead’s comprehensive approach to developing sustainable reading skills has been reviewed by researchers both locally and internationally over the past 20 years and results are available on our website: . Halifax Learning is looking forward to partnering with Eyeread this summer to explore how the addition of their technology will enhance students’ reading skills development even more.

Eyeread is the world's first affordable literacy accelerator for children that uses Artificial Intelligence on ebooks. The company is one of 198 teams that have been selected to compete in the Global Learning XPrize a four-year, $15M challenge to bring literacy to 250 million children around the world.

Eyeread is a unique reading assessment tool that uses infrared eyetracking and voice recognition to help children read independently, while providing realtime information to parents and educators. Eyeread detects when children are skipping paragraphs, reading right to left (instead of left to right), or getting stuck, and provides helpful prompts to help them get back on track. The application is built for children in grades P to 5, which are critical years for reading development.

Eyeread is also working closely with some of the strongest, most successful, results-oriented teachers in North America including K1 teacher, Katie Gillivan from the Booker IB School in Halifax and Grade 5 teacher, Brendan Lynch from the Thompson Brook School in Connecticut to develop effective learning strategies.

All children attending Halifax Learning Summer Camp will have the chance to try out the Eyeread software and participate in testing before and after they use it.

This testing will allow parents to see the progress their children have made, and will greatly add to our understanding of children’s needs as we all work together to improve reading proficiency. The end goal is always to help children develop literacy skills that meet or exceed grade level expectations!

To see Eyeread in action or find out more about the summer camp, you can also participate in a public demo at the Halifax Central Library in the BMO room (formerly Room 201) on June 24th 9:30am 3:30pm.

There are limited spaces available for this year’s Halifax Learning Summer Camp but regular programming will also be available throughout the summer at all Halifax Learning locations. 

Eye on KW: eSentire in Ireland

ESentire, a cyber-security solution company based in Cambridge, Ont., will open a new Security Operations Centre in Cork, Ireland, to serve as its new European headquarters.

eSentire identifies cyber-threats early on by evaluating all activity on a network, rather than just suspicious-looking ones. The company already has offices in Cambridge, Toronto, San Francisco, New York and London, U.K.

In the past few years, eSentire saw a dramatic rise in its activity in Europe. After considering other cities in the continent, it decided on Cork, due to its large pool of tech talent.

The Irish Development Agency escorted the eSentire staff around Cork and introduced them to the community, including people at technology companies and the two major technical colleges, the Cork Institute of Technology and University College Cork.

“The reaction that we’ve had from the community—here [in Canada], and especially in Cork—has been absolutely awesome,” Eric Ritter, eSentire Vice President Security Operations and Customer Experience said. “We’ve definitely seen an influx of people applying for positions that we posted recently for there, and we’re really looking forward to getting up and running and providing excellent service from our Irish office.”

With a recent press release from eSentire, Irish businesses already started enquiring about the company’s services.

Though there are other cyber-threat companies, eSentire is unique because of it uses human analyst—rather than just relying on algorithms—to detect cyber threats.

ESentire’s Active Threat Protection (ATP) is an award-winning service that monitors and solves cyber threats in real time. The company’s U.K. office was built to focus on ATP for mid-sized businesses.

“We’re going to continue to provide the best-in-class threat protection and threat management solutions that we have,” Ritter said, “and we’re going to always be looking for new ways to manage that threat.”

Ritter said that eSentire hopes to do a rotation program between the Canadian and Irish Security Operation Centres to ensure that both places are using the same best practices. Also, this rotation program will create a strong relationship between the two headquarters.

eSentire’s business has doubled in the past few years, with its staff going from 50 to 150 people within the past year. The company  will likely expand further in the next few years. However, Ritter said the company isn’t sure where they will locate their next office.

Last September, the company raised $14 million in venture capital funding from Georgian Partners, Cisco Investments, Northleaf Venture Catalyst Fund, Edison Partners and Venturelink.

“From an expansion stand-point,” he added, “we’ll evaluate where we need additional resources on a constant basis.”


Eye on KW is a regular feature focusing on the startup commuinity in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. 

Cowper-Smith Captures BDC Award

Chris Cowper-Smith, 2015 BDC Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Chris Cowper-Smith, 2015 BDC Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Nova Scotia’s Chris Cowper-Smith is the 2015 BDC Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

The federal government’s business development bank announced this morning that Cowper-Smith, the Co-Founder and CEO of Spring Loaded Technology, beat out competitors from nine other provinces to capture the national award. Spring Loaded will receive the $100,000 first prize.  

The awards were actually a sweep for Atlantic Canada as Melissa Butler, owner of the Real Food Market in St. John’s, captured the $25,000 second prize. The other Atlantic Canadian finalists were Phillip Curley, CEO of Fredericton’s HotSpot Parking, and Martin O'Brien of the Cascumpec Bay Oyster Company in Prince Edward Island.

The BDC Young Entrepreneur of the Year contest seeks to find the country’s leading entrepreneur aged between 18 and 35. The selection process relies on the decisions of a panel of judges, and the votes from the general public.

Cowper-Smith and his Co-Founder Bob Garrish have worked to develop the world’s first knew brace that provides power as well as stability for the joint. The brace, which has been in development for two-and-a-half years, will be launched later this year and manufactured at the company’s new headquarters in Dartmouth.

 “Their company is a compelling example of how Canadian entrepreneurs can create world-class and exportable products in the healthcare space and improve quality of life for an ageing population,” said Michel Bergeron, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Public Affairs at BDC, in a statement.

Throughout the contest, Cowper-Smith did an incredible job at rousing support for his cause during the public voting process.

Spring Loaded launched a social media blitz, and increased its digital advertising during the process.  The team courted traditional media and did as many radio interviews in Nova Scotia as they could. Cowper-Smith and Garrish attended as many events as possible to find supporters.

In the final days, Cowper-Smith even campaigned with rush-hour commuters at the ferry terminals in Halifax and Dartmouth. He took the ferry back and forth between the cities a couple of times, talking to passengers.

“The security guy on the ferry wasn’t too happy about it,” joked Cowper-Smith in an interview. “I explained to him what we were doing and eventually he was all right with it. I think he signed up to vote.”

Aside from the pride of accomplishment, there are two ways in which the BDC competition will have a lasting impact on Spring Loaded.

The $100,000 prize money will help the company expand capacity in its plant so it can produce eight to 10 times more units a day than it can now.

The company, which is part of the First Angel Network portfolio, has raised about $850,000 in equity funding and about $1.65 million from government programs. It plans to use the BDP money and the prestige from the prize as the foundation of another raise from angel investors.

The other benefit of the contest is that through the campaign Spring Loaded doubled the size of its contact list. Throughout its three years, the company has conducted a media campaign that reached thousands of individuals, about a third of whom said they are interested in buying the Spring Loaded brace.  Now that contact list has doubled, which can only help sales when the launch occurs.

“The publicity we received just from taking part in the contest has been amazing,” said Cowper Smith on the BDC website. “Over a thousand people from across Canada and beyond reached out to us.”

Sobey Brings Ethical Ethos to IT

Jenelle Sobey: Social Enterprises produce real solutions to real problems.

Jenelle Sobey: Social Enterprises produce real solutions to real problems.

Jenelle Sobey believes that Atlantic Canadians can innovate their way to a more competitive and sustainable future. That’s why the social innovation expert has accepted the role of Managing Partner with Halifax web design and invention firm, Norex.

Fredericton-born Sobey’s previous roles include acting as Social Innovation Manager at the Pond-Deshpande Centre at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, where she led the development of Canada’s second Social Enterprise Accelerator.

Social enterprises are ventures that meet a social, economic or environmental need.

“I’ve always been passionate about the social enterprise model because it produces real solutions to real problems,” said Sobey in an interview from Norex’s Gottingen Street offices.

“Social enterprises stand at the intersection between the private and non-profit sectors in that they use private sector methodologies to address problems that have been the traditional purview of the non-profit sector.”

The call to consider working with Norex came from the company’s senior partner Julia Rivard Dexter.

Sobey (who is not one of the Sobey grocery family) was surprised to hear from Norex and initially assumed the call was about her new startup. That venture, Good.Better is a cloud-based platform that helps organizations calculate the social return on investments.

Perhaps Sobey should not have been surprised to hear from Norex. She has an impressive reputation and is an active community volunteer.

After joining the New Brunswick Business Council, she helped coordinate the province’s first Economic Summit, Future NB. She has worked as an independent economic development consultant, and been recognized as a leading New Brunswick and regional leader.

“I was aware of Norex’s reputation as a world-class web design firm,” Sobey said of the initial phone call. “But, what really made me want to join the Norex team were the innovation projects.”

Innovation is so valued at Norex that team members are encouraged to dedicate 20 per cent of their time to an innovation project of their choosing, Sobey said.

The fruit of one such innovation project is Eyeread, which uses a camera to track the eye movements of reading children. By tracking the eyes, the software can detect which words trouble each child.  

Eyeread is run by former Norex Managing Partner Leah Skerry. Sobey said Eyeread will be tested this summer at Halifax Learning’s SpellRead summer camp, as well as at schools in Halifax and the U.S in the fall.

Norex has also created, a crowdfunding site for elite amateur athletes in Canada and the U.S. was launched in 2012 by Skerry, a former gymnast, Rivard Dexter, a former Olympic kayaker, and David Sharpe, an Olympic swimmer.

To date, has assisted 45 athletes in raising almost half a million dollars, and helped eight of those athletes compete in the Sochi Winter Olympics.

“When Norex team members get the chance to work on something they’re passionate about, this elevates their creativity and makes innovation possible,” said Sobey.

“Then, if it seems like an idea will add value, either by improving internal efficiencies, by solving a client problem, or by becoming a new stand-alone product, Norex will build it.”

With the addition of Sobey, Norex now has three women in leading management positions. The fast-growing company has almost doubled its staff in the last year to a total of 18.

Sobey’s degrees include an MA in Political Science from the University of New Brunswick and a Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation from the University of Waterloo.

She said she has always felt motivated to solve complex problems.

“We need to build a healthy, competitive region here in Atlantic Canada, and I believe that technology is the answer,” she said.

“At Norex, we have the talent and capacity to go after complex problems and build products that will make an impact.”

Press Release: Current’s MRI App

Current Studios, a Dartmouth interactive media company, has issued the following statement:

Current Labs' MRI Evaluation app wins Best App at 6th Annual Auggie Awards

Current Studios & Labs was honoured to win Best App for its MRI Evaluation app, "Don't Stumble Tumble" at the recent Auggie Awards in Santa Clara, CA.

The Auggies promote excellence in computer vision across various platforms and categories worldwide. The award show is held annually at the Augmented World Expo (AWE) – the world’s largest gathering of professionals focused on Augmented and Virtual Reality, Wearable Tech, and the Internet of Things.

Don't Stumble Tumble is a mobile application designed to help reduce the number of children requiring general anaesthetic. The app provides medical professionals a tool with which to monitor a child's ability to remain still for extended periods of time. 

When a child between the ages of 5-11 requires an MRI there is currently no way to evaluate if the child will be able to lie still long enough to complete the MRI or if the child will require anesthesia to be able to complete the MRI.  This results in either in efficiencies of the MRI machine or unnecessary anesthesia for children. 

Don't Stumble Tumble seeks to put an enjoyable experience on the process of GA assessment.

The game uses motion recognition software to give feedback to the child as they play, reminding them to remain still when motion is detected and eventually affecting their overall score.  The game is comprised of a ten level structure with increasing time intervals so children build up their comfort levels with longer time periods in the lead-up to their scan. 

All of the gameplay statistics and game data are constantly being tracked and displayed on an online dashboard.  This dashboard gives a visual representation to technicians and medical researchers of a patient's ability to remain still with a view to informing their decision of whether or not that particular child is a candidate for a non-sedated MRI scan. 

Don't Stumble Tumble aims to decrease the number of instances of general anesthetic for MRI scans, increasing patient throughput, lowering wait times, and reducing MRI costs. Current Studios & Labs worked with a team of medical professionals to develop this application which is now in clinical trials at the IWK Children's Hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia. 


Read our previous article on Current Labs and Don’t Stumble Tumble here.

Press Release: Bioenterprise in NS

Bioenterprise Corporation, a national accelerator for life sciences, has issued the following press release:

Bioenterprise Corporation Opens its Fourth Office, in Halifax, NS

Bioenterprise’s newest office in the Maritimes is established in collaboration with Innovacorp.

Guelph, ON (June 18, 2015) - Bioenterprise Corporation is pleased to announce it will be opening its fourth office, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Bioenterprise has established a two-year strategic partnership with Innovacorp for the commercialization of agricultural technologies and innovations.

“Partnering is the foundation of Bioenterprise's expansion strategy and doing so with a leading organization like Innovacorp, results in an exceptionally strong commercialization engine for the region,” explains Dave Smardon, President & CEO of Bioenterprise Corporation. “Expanding our footprint enables us to provide our comprehensive commercialization services to a much wider range of entrepreneurs and gives Bioenterprise critical links to universities, local incubators and strategic partners.”

“Bioenterprise’s deep domain expertise and global network in the agri-technology sector will add great value to our portfolio of companies. Together we will be committed to the growth and market success of start-ups in Nova Scotia and the entire region,” says Stephen Duff, President & CEO, Innovacorp.

The new office in Halifax provides Bioenterprise with access to key areas of unique and innovative agri-technologies, specifically: aquaculture, forestry biomass, clean/green energy as well as some of the more traditional areas of agriculture such as fruits, vegetables and derivative food products. The collaboration between Bioenterprise and Innovacorp will ensure that agrientrepreneurs and businesses have access to the highest quality and range of commercialization services.

Headquartered in Guelph, Ontario with an office located in downtown Toronto, this announcement follows a recently opened, third office in Charlottetown, PEI last month.

“Ultimately, our goal is to continue to take Canadian innovation to the global market and drive economic returns to the region, and Canada,” says Mr. Smardon.

Bioenterprise Corporation’s national expansion is supported by the Canada Accelerator and Incubator Program (CAIP), delivered by the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP). The funding announcement was made in Guelph earlier this year by the Honourable Diane Finley, Minister of Public Works and Government Services.

About Bioenterprise Corporation

Bioenterprise Corporation is a non-profit business accelerator, offering commercialization services to help promote the creation, growth and expansion of businesses in the agricultural technology sector. Dedicated to transforming cutting-edge ideas into commercial success, Bioenterprise provides business services, scientific and technical expertise, industry knowledge and global connections.

About Innovacorp

Innovacorp is Nova Scotia's early stage venture capital organization, working to find, fund and foster innovative Nova Scotia start-ups that strive to change the world. Early stage investment is at the core of the business model. Innovacorp also gives entrepreneurs access to world-class incubation facilities, expert advice and other support to help them accelerate their companies. Target industries include information technology, life sciences, clean technology and oceans technology.

Disclaimer: Innvoacorp is a client of Entrevestor.


Itavio Beta-Testing with Game Maker

One year after graduating from the PropelICT accelerator, Melani Flanagan and Matt Pichette are finally ready to present their product to the world.

Flanagan and Pichette are the co-founders of Itavio, a product that helps parents monitor and control how much money their children spend on online games. These games are often advertised as free but with options to buy bonus features. Some kids have been known to rack up thousands of dollars in bills before their parents catch on.

Itavio has developed a product that lets gaming companies effectively market their products to the estimated 148 million teens that play these games and a free app for parents to make sure their children don’t overspend. These components work together to make sure children don’t get carried away and that gaming companies have happy repeat customers.

“It takes a village to fix a problem like this,” Flanagan said after presenting at the Atlantic Venture Forum in Halifax last week, days after the company relaunched its website.

“If you’re a gaming company, you can’t just say, ‘I just spent all this money producing all this content and now I have to turn it off.’ And for the parents and kids, there’s a pattern of spending being formed that’s unpleasant to fix.”

Early in 2014, Flanagan and Pichette took their Moncton company (then called KinderGuardian) through the PropelICT tech accelerator. They did well but had one problem: they had just formed their company and didn’t have a product yet.

So in the last year, the four-member team refined the business, raised $275,000 in funding, spent some time in San Francisco and filed for a provisional patent. Most importantly, it finally finished an initial version of the product for the mobile gaming industry.

They are now beta-testing Itavio with two games that were released by a single studio. They are also asking people to sign up for the product ahead of the full launch at

Itavio allows parents to set limits for their children’s spending, almost like giving them a digital allowance. Parents can use the app not only to restrict spending but also to monitor how long a child is using the game.

Flanagan says the system helps game makers, who actually pay for the product.

First, they don’t hear from infuriated parents whose kids have racked up a huge bill. That also means there are fewer negative reviews, which have an adverse effect on sales. Second, gaming companies know how much money each customer has to spend so they can market products to the child appropriate to their budget.

Itavio can also reduce a gaming company’s cost of hosting a young client and thereby improve the profitability of each game.

Flanagan and Pichette, who have both worked as game developers, are focusing on the $22-billion mobile gaming market, in which there are 57,000 unique developers worldwide.

 “This is a space we know really well,” said Flanagan. “It pays to play (fair) in it, and we’re going to show people how.”

Press Release: Tesla Signs with Dal

Jeff Dahn having some fun with a Tesla

Jeff Dahn having some fun with a Tesla

Dalhousie University has issued the following press release:

Tesla Motors signs first Canadian university research agreement with Dalhousie University

(HALIFAX, N.S.) – June 17, 2015 – Dalhousie University and Tesla have signed an agreement that lays out the terms of a new five-year research partnership with Dalhousie lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pioneer, Dr. Jeff Dahn. The agreement was signed June 16, 2015 and the exclusive partnership with Tesla will begin in June 2016. It marks the first collaboration between Tesla and a Canadian university.

“Dalhousie University is a national and international leader in advanced materials and clean technology research,” said Martha Crago, Vice-President, Research at Dalhousie. “Jeff Dahn is developing Li-ion batteries that improve lifetime, increase energy density and reduce cost. This collaboration with Tesla is a natural fit and we look forward to working together.”

In a presentation to Dalhousie researchers and representatives Tuesday morning, JB Straubel, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer with Tesla, discussed the importance of the Li-ion battery to the company.

Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the transition to sustainable transportation around the world. To do so, it plans to expand beyond a niche market and produce hundreds of thousands of cars a year. In an effort to bring down the price of Tesla vehicles for the mass market, Tesla will manufacture Li-ion batteries with longer lifespans that cost less to create and be sourced with more materials from North America.

“Our research group’s goal is to increase the energy density and lifetime of Li-ion batteries, so we can drive down costs in automotive and grid energy storage applications,” said Dahn. “We’re incredibly excited to partner with Tesla, a company that’s so well- aligned with our research.”

Over the next year Dahn will continue to work as the Industrial Research Chair in Materials for Advanced Batteries, which is funded by 3M Canada and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). That research partnership will come to an end in June 2016 and the exclusive partnership with Tesla will then begin.

Dahn has 25 researchers in his lab, including graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and technical staff. This next generation of battery researchers will be involved in the Tesla agreement and with that, given invaluable exposure to a leading industry partner.

About Dalhousie University

Dalhousie University is Atlantic Canada’s leading research-intensive university and a driver of the region’s intellectual, social and economic development. Located in the province of Nova Scotia, Dal’s 18,000 students and 6,000 faculty and staff foster a vibrant, purpose-driven community. Across 13 faculties, Dal researchers and students conduct more than $135 million in funded research each year with hospitals, industry, governments, non-profit agencies and universities around the globe. Through learning and discovery, Dal is committed in its quest to make a lasting impact on our world.

OMERS, Salesforce VCs Back Leadsift

Tukan Das: Reimagining how to differentiate a product offering.

Tukan Das: Reimagining how to differentiate a product offering.

With a fresh wad of cash from two leading tech investors, Halifax-based social media-analysis company Leadsift on Tuesday launched its new API to further help companies understand the characteristics and intentions of their customers.

Leadsift said in a statement that OMERS Ventures of Toronto and Salesforce Ventures of San Francisco have invested in the company, though it would not reveal the size of the investment. The company will use the money for product development, sales and marketing.

“The unique combination of insight analytics and social media that LeadSift is bringing to the market is what attracted us to this team,” OMERS Venture Director Damien Steel said in a statement. “We believe the company can set a new benchmark on what sales and marketing team should know about their customers and through innovative product offerings can help them achieve that.”

Developed over the past four years, Leadsift’s technology allows users to mine social media to learn a range of characteristics about potential customers as well as their intentions. The software can sift through countless social media posts and identify more than 100 characteristics of the people in the user’s market. That helps it to refine its messaging and marketing.

Leadsift has now enhanced the customer’s ability to understand the technology’s findings with the release of the Consumer Insights API. An API, or application program interface, is a tool that allows different software components to interact and the Consumer Insights API helps the Leadsift software work with its clients systems.

“CRM [customer relationship marketing], Marketing Automation, Influencer Marketing and Media Buying platforms are reimagining how to differentiate their product offerings and grow their business,” said LeadSift CEO Tukan Das. “APIs offer a way to achieve this with minimal investment and disruption to existing resources.”

The statement said that Halifax-based InNetwork, an influence marketing software platform, has implemented the API into its Influence Marketplace, which helped it to capture new business.

“LeadSift is a great partner in providing the data we need to make our product more robust, said Jonathan Seller, VP Product and Technology InNetwork. “Their API is unparalleled in its ease of use, quality of support and the rich insights it provides. It has helped InNetwork customers find influence partners that better match their brand.”

Leadsift first received $500,000 in investment from OMERS Ventures in November 2012, months after Das and Steel met at a MentorCamp event in Halifax. Gerry Pond, the chairman of East Valley Ventures, and a range of other investors also invested at that time.

This is the first time Salesforce Venture – the VC arms of the cloud computing giant – has invested in Leadsift, though the Leadsift software has been available on the Salesforce marketplace for several years.

Though Leadsift struggled through a couple of tough years, it unveiled a new platform in December 2013 and last year generated a surge in revenue growth.

LeadSift was founded by four data scientists: Das, Sreejata Chatterjee, Hatem Nassrat and Daniel Allen. Its product is used by several global brands and agencies and has processed over 2 billion social conversations to better understand buying audiences. 


Propel Cohort Under Way in St. John’s

One of the greatest recent advances in the startup community in St. John’s is the fact that nine young companies have entered the first PropelICT cohort in the city.

Company formation has been a concern in the country’s most easterly startup community, so it’s encouraging that more than 20 companies in John’s applied for the cohort. Gary Dinn, CEO of the regional accelerator PropelICT, would have liked to see more but he’s heartened by the group he has.

“Mostly it’s gelling well,” said Dinn, sitting in his office Tuesday in the Common Ground co-working space in downtown St. John’s. “There are some people who are really digging in, which makes my job a lot easier.

“Of course, some of the companies that are more advanced need to go back through the lean canvas again, but that should always be the case.”

Propel announced this spring that it would offer a three-pronged version of its Launch program, which aims to teach early-stage companies the basics of lean methodology, such as using a lean canvas and conducting customer discovery. The program is being held in St. John’s for the first time as well as cohorts in Halifax and Fredericton, where they’ve been offered before.

The St. John’s sessions are being held at Common Ground and being led by Dinn and Common Ground Executive Director Peter Gifford, formerly the head of ExtremeOcean Innovation. (I’ll have the privilege of guest-hosting the fireside chat with the cohort tonight, when I will lead a talk on communications.)

The participants I spoke with have found value in the program.

“The experience has been absolutely invaluable to me,” said Lisa Gillam, the Founder of Melecho Music, a musical education venture that is in the cohort. “To have all this mentorship with Peter and Gary, well, I haven’t had an experience like it to date.”

Dinn said the group is strong, as more than half have working businesses already. Asked about the outlook for them, he said 74 percent of the Propel cohort in the summer of 2013 were still in business a year later and he hopes this cohort will exceed that historic measure.

As well as Melecho, the St. John’s cohort comprises: Vish Solutions, Order App, Pearus, CRE, Sulis, Team Startup, SocialCircle, and SolSports.

A 10th Newfoundland startup, HeyOrca, is attending the Build cohort for more advanced companies, which is taking place in Moncton.

Dinn hopes this will just be the beginning and there will be an even larger response in future years. “When the value is more recognized, we’ll have an easier time both in recruiting and in keeping the quality high.”

Disclaimer: PropelICT is a client of Entrevestor.


Mark Evans Nails How to Tell a Story

Storytelling for Startups: It all starts with the customer.

Storytelling for Startups: It all starts with the customer.

When Mark Evans talks about startups telling stories, he doesn’t talk about the founders sitting a client or funder down to tell them the company’s story.

For the Toronto-based communications consultant, the art of storytelling for startups involves a process of investigating and analyzing customers’ needs. Then the startup team has to plot the best way to construct a story that will let key audiences understand why they should pay attention to the company.

And it all starts with talking to your customers – a lot.

“One of the big mistakes that a lot of startups make is they don’t talk to their customer enough,” said Evans in an interview. “They really don’t have a granular insight into who the customers are.”

And he warned that your clients are almost never a nice generic group of identical people. “You have to tell different story to every buyer persona,” he said.

Evens is the founder and namesake of Mark Evans Consulting, and has been working with startups for years, first covering them as a journalist then working with them on their messaging.  He is probably best known for his newsletter The Observation Deck, which goes out to more than 2,000 subscribers each Saturday. But now he has packed his years of experience into a book, Storytelling for Startups.

At 273 pages, Storytelling for Startups makes it clear that no one should meet with clients or investors and just talk about themselves. They shouldn’t even talk strictly about their product, because that usually leads to a discussion of features.

“People don’t buy the features,” said Evans. “They buy products because they have something … that has everything to do with their [the customers’] needs and their interests. Customers are very self-focused so what startups need to do is to talk to the customer and find out everything to do with them.”

The book sets out clearly how to construct the proper messaging to relate to your clients – and more importantly to let them relate to your business. It even shows how to construct a lean canvas for messaging.  And like a traditional lean canvas, there is a heavy focus on the customer.

“The biggest thing many startups do not possess when it comes to messaging and storytelling is perspective,” said the book. “They are so focused on the task at hand - building and selling products - it is easy to forget about the outside world.”

So should founders shy away from telling the story of the company’s history? No way, Evans said. “I do think that stories about how they got started are important to tell. As part of your brand, you want to tell stories that make personal connections. It’s a really important story to tell and you can keep telling that story.”

 When I asked Evans to name a Canadian founder who embraces the storytelling ethos, he cited Michael Litt, CEO of Kitchener-based video marketing company Vidyard. It made sense. When he speaks at conferences, Litt urges his listeners to spend every waking minute talking to their customers.

You can find more information about and order Storytelling for Startups (the book is $24.98; the ebook is $7.98.) at

HealthQR Partners With Pfizer

As it begins to beta-test its app that encourages stricter adherence to drug prescriptions, HealthQR is getting a boost from one of the world’s largest drug companies, Pfizer of New York.

HealthQR, which works out of the Volta startup centre in Halifax, has been in talks with several major drug providers with the hope of helping them ensure their customers take their meds when they’re supposed to.

Those talks continue, but Pfizer recently came on board and is working with the Halifax company in a paid beta test. The reason the startup is gaining attention is it has developed an online product that lets people work with their pharmacies to improve the use of drugs.

“Partnering with Pfizer is an incredible opportunity,” said co-founder and CEO Patti Ryan in an email. “Together we will evaluate the effectiveness of our mobile health app in improving medication adherence and helping individuals better manage their medications and their health. Having Pfizer on board validates our business case and will open doors for other partnerships as we move forward.”

HealthQR is mainly targeting the estimated 29 million people in North America between 50 and 64 who have a chronic illness and a smartphone.

Ryan, her co-founder Michael Fanning and chief technology officer Steve MacDonald have developed a mobile app that works with pharmacies to track a customer’s prescription history. Working with pharmacies is a key part of the business model because they are not regulated so HealthQR can get to market relatively quickly.

The app begins to track the prescription as soon as the patient receives it, and monitors the various phases of the prescription process: filling it, the taking of the drug and refilling or renewing the prescription. It also reminds the patient when the medication needs to be taken.

The goal is to work with the patient to ensure he or she adheres to the terms of the prescription by taking the drug the right number of times each day.

That’s important because half of all patients are said to not complete their prescriptions, and non-adherence to medication programs costs the health system in the United States an estimated $188 billion each year.

Because it is a software-as-a-service product that integrates with the pharmacy’s IT system, there is little manual input needed as most of the information is drawn from the pharmacy itself.

HealthQR has completed a closed alpha test with a few collaborators, and it is undergoing beta tests now. The company continues to talk with other drug companies about using the product. It so far has raised $150,000 in capital from its co-founders and one angel investor, and is now looking for seed investment of about $2 million.

It hopes to use the money to build its team, conduct some tests in the U.S. and continue to gain customers in Canada.

“The time is now,” Ryan said last week at the Atlantic Venture Forum in Halifax. “We’re witnessing the consumerization of the health industry and extremely high rates of chronic illness.”

NL Focuses on Startup Launches

Spring is coming slowly to St. John’s, but that hasn’t stopped new startups from spouting up.

It’s now Startup Week in the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, and there is a strong focus on forming and seeding young companies. Company formation is picking up in the Newfoundland community and Startup Week is shining a spotlight on the growth of seed-stage ventures.

The event, organized by Startup Newfoundland and Labrador, has featured a Startup Weekend, and a Startup Soiree with a range of speakers. Today, Dalhousie University entrepreneurship professors Mary Kilfoil and Ed Leach are leading a bootcamp for young companies.

“StartupNL was built on the belief that entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs is the best formula for startup success,” said StartupNL Co-Founder Roger Power. “Startup Week is simply our effort to give value to the community by bringing together existing startups and those that want to create one.”

There were always great startups operating in St. John’s, and StartupNL is arguably the most active community-based startup group in the region. But what’s new this year is the focus on new companies coming down the pipe.

In speaking with different players in the ecosystem, there is a strong emphasis in getting more entrepreneurs launched.

“One of the pain points is in the funnel” for new companies, said Greg Hood, who is three months into his tenure as CEO of the Genesis Centre, the commercialization hub at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

In an interview, Hood said there are several components of the ecosystem – from NATI to Startup Newfoundand and Labrador to the new CIETC entrepreneurship group at MUN – are working together to provide a strong network of support. And what has been needed is for more entrepreneurs to begin the journey from idea to company.

Five teams comprising more than 20 people competed in the Startup Weekend that wrapped up Sunday. The entrepreneurs and mentors at the event included people from such lands as Ireland, Bangladesh, Australia, and Iceland.

The winner was DuJour, a team led by software developer Robert Byrne. The company developed an app that lets users choose a selection of recipes, then automatically prepares a single shopping list with all the ingredients required.

 The evidence of new companies is seen at the Genesis Centre, which is going through a period of change. Previous CEO David King left late last year and Keelin O’Leary, Vice President of Entrepreneurial Support, completed her tenure with the centre on Friday.

In the past year or so, several new companies have become tenants – a few of them declined interviews, preferring to talk publicly when they’re a little further along in their development.

The greatest evidence of the growth of new companies has been the St. John’s cohort of the PropelICT Launch program – a matter we’ll discuss in more detail tomorrow.

“Here we are three years later with a vibrant, entrepreneur-led  startup community that is creating new ventures,” said Power. “To me, that is a testament to the collective efforts of the hundreds of entrepreneurs who are StartupNL.”

NS, NL Entries Battling in BDC Race

A titanic struggle has been playing out on a federal Crown corporation’s website, and the combatants are a pair of thirtysomething entrepreneurs from Atlantic Canada.

For the past two weeks, the federal development bank BDC has been asking the public to vote on who should win the 2015 BDC Young Entrepreneur competition. There are 10 competitors, one from each province. Until today, the competition website showed the rankings, and the top two were from Atlantic Canada.

Christopher Cowper-Smith of Halifax’s Spring Loaded Technology has been in the lead for most of the two weeks, but Melissa Butler of the Real Food Market in St. John’s has been challenging him. Over the weekend, Butler moved into the lead, though Spring Loaded regained top spot on Monday.

BDC is no longer showing the rankings as the voting is now in the home stretch.

“Like a pancake, we're flipping over and over between 1st and 2nd! Every single vote counts now until June 17 1pm,” Cowper-Smith tweeted on Monday.

On June 3, BDC announced the finalists for the competition that seeks to find the country’s leading entrepreneur aged between 18 and 35. The other Atlantic Canadian finalists are Phillip Curley of Fredericton-based HotSpot Parking and Martin O'Brien of the Cascumpec Bay Oyster Company in Prince Edward Island. The winner, who will win $100,000, and runner-up, who will receive $25,000 in consulting services, will be announced on June 22.

BDC lets people vote for their favourite candidate as often as once a day here. The public vote will account for half the consideration when choosing the winners, with the other half coming from a panel of judges.

Though the rankings of the provincial candidates are no longer visible, people can still vote until tomorrow. 

UNB To Launch Masters in TME

The University of New Brunswick will launch its Masters of Technology Management and Entrepreneurship this autumn, which will feature an immigration component unique in Canada.

Dhirendra Shukla, the chair of the Fredericton university’s Technology Management and Entrepreneurship, or TME, program, said the university is looking for seven to 10 students who already have startups and or have business ideas they want to develop.

Though the Entrepreneurship Program is open to anyone, international students gain an additional benefit. Working with the federal and provincial governments, the program allows international students who seek permanent residency to fast-track their application the New Brunswick Provincial Nominee Program. The Nominee Program will speed up the immigration process for people who have been nominated by a Canadian citizen because they will stay in New Brunswick and contribute to its economy.

“I think it raised a lot of eyebrows as to how we got this done and we got it done very quickly,” Shukla said in an interview. “Our [TME] program has been around for over 27 years, so it’s just that … they saw that we have a history of doing good things.”

In the past three years, more than 32 startups have come out of the TME program. Shukla said that UNB constantly looks to make bold moves and do something different. The masters program is just another way that the university is doing what it’s always done, he said.

As well as attracting international students, Shukla said, the university hopes 50 percent of the cohort will be women entrepreneurs.

“We’re trying to create deeper meaning in society and community,” he said. “This program is going to be a huge game-changer for our region overall—and Canada, maybe.”

Shukla knows what it’s like to be an international student, as well as a Canadian immigrant. He completed high school, his undergraduate, graduate and PhD degrees in the United Kingdom, and then immigrated to Canada. He said students often come to him for advice on immigrating and living in Canada.

“You should seriously be looking at an institution like the University of New Brunswick that gets it, that understands international students, that understands entrepreneurship,” Shukla said.

Last year, Startup Canada awarded UNB the national award for the best university to engage in startup creation and entrepreneurship. Industry Canada has dubbed the university as a leader in entrepreneurship education.

Applicants to the Masters of Technology Management and Entrepreneurship must have an undergraduate degree in engineering, computer science or science, $10,000 to invest in the startup, and an active management role in the company. They must also commit to not selling the company for at least three years after completing the program.

Applications are currently being accepted. The program will begin in September.

CSIpix Eyes Bigger Sales Team

CSIpix is out to solve a problem familiar to all fans of crime fiction: overworked cops waiting days or weeks for fingerprinting results.

The St. John’s startup has developed software that helps forensic investigators quickly find possible matches for fingerprints taken from a crime scene, and then nail down the evidence to help secure a conviction.

“The customer pain we address is finger print examinations being done with a magnifying glass,” John Guzzwell, Vice-President of Business Development, said at the Atlantic Venture Forum last week. “Most police agencies still do it like that.”

The company has considerable traction with 300 clients in 25 countries. They include local, state and federal agencies in the United States, and police forces in Hong Kong, Switzerland, Canada, Austria France and Romania. Its core target market is the 18,000 police agencies in the U.S., which is by far the largest police market in the world.

The origins of the company date back to 1999 when Guzzwell and three co-founders began iSYS Corp., a St. John’s company dedicated to image analysis and automation. It specialized in the automated editing of photos for consumers. The team knew it has to find a new market when digital photography became the craze and people stopped printing photos.

So in about 2010 they started CSIpix (which is a product name operated by iSYS) to help with fingerprint identification.

The company now has three main products that help police agencies that lack advanced tools to search and match fingerprints: Comparator, to help investigators compare fingerprints; Matcher, to help find comparable features in two fingerprints; and Case AFIS, which  lets  agencies  search crime scene prints and compare them with a database of the local “usual suspects”.

Guzzwell said that there will always have to be a person to match the prints, in part because the legal system demands a person testify in court to identify the suspect based on the prints. But the strength of CSIpix, said Guzzwell, is that it helps cops to match prints quickly. A delay in an investigation often results in a crime going unsolved. Police using CSIpix’s products can often present suspects with fingerprint evidence while they’re still being interrogated.

“When criminals see evidence like what we’ve prepared, they often immediately begin to plea bargain,” he said.

CSIpix is now a four-member team led by President Patricia LeFeuvre. The team is strong in product development and it now needs to expend in sales and business development. 

The company, which has never raised capital, is looking for investment to help finance the larger team, and has begun to speak to investment  groups about the company’s prospects.

“We need to increase or sales and our marketing activity to expand beyond our current customer base,” said Guzzwell.

Eye on KW: Clearpath’s New Segment

Simon Drexler: 'It's an exciting roadmap.'

Simon Drexler: 'It's an exciting roadmap.'

Clearpath Robotics took only 18 months to reach profitability by targeting mainly the research market. Now, as it continues its growth phase, the company is tackling a new market that poses its own set of challenges – the automated handling of industrial materials in a warehouse, factory or distribution centre.

Clearpath now boasts a strong revenue stream with customers in the academic, mining, military, aerospace and agriculture markets in 40 countries. Its Grizzly, Husky and Kingfisher autonomous  vehicles are largely outdoor craft that are operated by specialists.

But now the company is working on indoor products, which means an entirely different type of user.

``We’re just starting our beta test [of the indoor vehicles] and we’re into our second prototype,” Simon Drexler, Director of Indoor Industrial Products, said in an interview. “The major challenge is the difference in user.  . . . When you bring it over to the industrial space you’re looking at someone who doesn’t use robotics each day.”

The Indoor Industrial Products venture is the latest initiative by Kitchener-based Clearpath, which has quickly established itself as a leader in robotics, data analytics and the internet of things. Launched in 2009, the 80-employee company now has gained traction with such noted clients and partners as Honda, Microsoft, General Dynamics and Intel.

The company received seed funding of $100,000 in 2010 and earlier this year announced a $14 million Series A venture capital round led by RRE Ventures of New York and iNovia Capital of Montreal. That funding will be key to developing and launching to new indoor product.

“Industrial companies and manufacturers across North America are challenged by offshore competitors and cheaper labour overseas,” Founder and CEO Matt Rendall – a finalist in the BDC Young Entrepreneur competition – said in a statement. “Intelligent automation can help them reduce costs, protect their workers from workplace injuries, and become more competitive, all of which can give a much-needed boost to the Canadian economy.”

The yet-to-be-named product will basically work in an environment in which workers need materials fetched. Clearpath – which is dedicated to automating jobs that virtually no one wants to do – envisages a factory with a production line, and its robot would move between the warehouse and production line to bring workers the materials they need. Using sensors and automated programs, it can tell if something is in its way and how to change the route. It can tell if a worker has moved to a different part of the production line. The vehicle does not need magnetic tape on the floor or other such infrastructure to tell it where to go.

Drexler said his team is developing a dashboard that is intuitive to all industrial workers, though he added developing the product is a continuous learning process.

The company plans to develop two versions of the vehicle in the near future. The first (the current prototype) will carry large materials on pallets, and then it will move on to a vehicle that moves smaller payloads. They will then work on a third indoor product.

“It’s an exciting roadmap that we have,” said Drexler. “It tackles a lot of different client issues and we can’t wait to get there.” 


Eye on KW is a regular feature on Entrevestor that showcases the startup community in Kitchener-Waterloo. 

DSM Wins BioNova Good News Award

BioNova, the association for the Nova Scotia life sciences industry, announced last week that its Good News Story for 2015 has been awarded to DSM Nutritional Products for its decision to invest at least $30 million in new capital to upgrade and expand its facilities in Mulgrave, N.S.

BioNova each spring has a celebration with the oxymoronic title Good News and Blues, which celebrates a good news story and lets members of the biotech community play some classic rock or blues hits. (Some are better musicians than you’d think.)

The DSM story caught the judge’s eyes in part because it demonstrated once again that startups can continue to grow in the region after they have been sold off to multinationals.

Royal DSM of the Netherlands in 2012 paid $540 million for Dartmouth-based Ocean Nutrition of Canada, which had been started by Clearwater Fine Foods to produce nutritional additives out fish-oil derived Omega-3 fatty acids.

There were fears the sale meant the operations would leave the province, but DSM has increased its business in Nova Scotia. And late last year it announced the investment of about $30 million into its omega-3 production facility in Mulgrave, which offered support for the economy in the Strait of Canso area.

“This investment validates what we believe – [that] we have the ability to compete on a global scale and an investment of this magnitude proves that,” said BioNova Managing Director Scott Moffit in a statement. “Attracting companies like DSM is something to be celebrated and embraced.  Beyond jobs, their investment goes a long way to developing capacity, capability and a highly skilled rural workforce which will have long lasting impact.”

One interesting note is to remember complaints not long ago that big exits would mean home-grown companies leaving the region. But some of the region’s largest exits have led to big investments here. Salesforce, which bought Radian6 of Fredericton and GoInstant of Halifax, has continued to increase its employment levels here. And BioVectra of Charlottetown is now carrying out a multi-year, multi-million investment program. The company, bought by Questcor Pharmaceuticals of Anaheim, Calif., will spend $30 million this year and $15 million for each of the next several years. 

Interview with CBC Cape Breton

I was interviewed last week by Information Morning Cape Breton host Steve Sutherland on what I witnessed on my recent trip to Sydney. We discussed the impact of programs like the UIT course and the Spark Cape Breton compeition. You can hear the full interview here