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.com.

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:

SPECIAL ANALYSIS: HALIFAX’S START-UP COMMUNITY

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.

Lokol.me 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 lokol.me, the latest enterprise from the founder and CEO of software development company MediaSpark and e-learning gaming company GoVenture World. Lokol.me has already seen success, taking home $50,000 as a winner of last fall’s Spark Cape Breton competition.

Lokol.me 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 goCapeBreton.com, 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, goCapeBreton.com. 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 goCapeBreton.com 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 Qimple.com.

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 (http://www.500.co)

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: http://www.halifaxlearning.com . 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 Pursu.it, a crowdfunding site for elite amateur athletes in Canada and the U.S. Pursu.it was launched in 2012 by Skerry, a former gymnast, Rivard Dexter, a former Olympic kayaker, and David Sharpe, an Olympic swimmer.

To date, Pursu.it 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. http://www.bioenterprise.ca

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. http://www.innovacorp.ca

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.com.

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 Salesforce.com – 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 Storytellingforstartups.ca.

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

HotSpot, PACTA, Win AVF Honours


While presenting his company at the Atlantic Venture Forum on Thursday, Phillip Curley announced that HotSpot Parking Inc. would launch later this month in Columbia, South Carolina, and in a new city once every six weeks after that.

The Fredericton company, which helps local merchants connect with their customers, obviously made an impression with the judges at the two-day conference as it was selected as the top growth-stage company at the event. PACTA, a Halifax startup developing a contract management system, was named the leading seed-stage company.

The AVF is a meeting place at which Atlantic Canadian startups can link up with potential investors. There were 12 seed-stage and nine more advanced growth-stage companies presenting to the delegates, but there was also an array of other startups in attendance.

Curley – who has been shortlisted for the 2015 BDC Young Entrepreneur Award – announced in April that it’s moving into the U.S. in partnership with Charlotte, N.C.-based mobile payments specialist Passport . The move increases HotSpot’s accessible market by 100 times.

On Thursday, Curley noted that the company, which is now doing business under the name HotSpot Merchant Solutions, is deploying a huge network of beacons in major cities across the continent. These beacons send signals to customers’ cell phones so retail outlets can sense when customers are nearby and communicate with them. The company now has about 30 percent market saturation in Atlantic Canada.

“What’s interesting is that about one in 100 of these beacons in the world are now in Atlantic Canada,” said Curley.

Formed by the husband-and-wife team of Charlotte and Isak Rydlund, PACTA has developed a platform that helps large companies manage their portfolio of contracts. Such companies can have hundreds or thousands of contracts, each of which can need adjustments for dates, pricing, milestones and the like.

PACTA has been named one of 25 information and communication technology companies to watch by the Branham Group. It graduated from the PropelICT Launch Program last year and is now in the more advanced Build program.

Several of the 21 companies that presented at the Forum revealed that they have been making progress attracting customers, partners and capital.

For example, Eyeread, a Halifax startup that helps to teach children to read by tracking the movement of their eyes, announced that it has received funding from members of Saint John-based East Valley Ventures.

Based in Reykjavík  and Halifax, Bungalo said it has received funding from BDC Capital. The company that provides a market place for cottage rentals received the funding as a graduate of PropelICT.

Sona Nanotech, the Sydney company that can produce non-toxic gold nano rods for the medical industry, said it is close to signing a funding deal with Numus Financial of Halifax. Though business development officer Joe Menchefski declined to reveal the amount of capital, he said it would likely be enough to fund the company for three years.  

 

Pilōtalk Explores Audiobook Niche


Tom Creagh, left, Alex Kall and Carissa Boer have formed Pilotalk.

Tom Creagh, left, Alex Kall and Carissa Boer have formed Pilotalk.

After Hurricane Arthur knocked out power in New Brunswick last July, Alex Kall lay sleepless in the dark. He wished he had someone to read to him.

Kall suffered several restless nights. But that time without power gave him the idea for Pilōtalk, a service that offers 20 to 30-minute audio recordings of mellow stories to help adults sleep.

“I was alone in the apartment. I missed my fiancée. I missed hearing another voice,” Kall said. “I started thinking about audio books, about voices reading bedtime stories.”

Soon after, Kall met his co-founders, Tom Creagh and Carissa Boer, at a Startup Weekend held by Fredericton accelerator Planet Hatch.

Boer is a recent graduate. She holds a Bachelor of Philosophy with a minor in Business. Kall and Creagh are both MBA candidates. All three have studied literature and are passionate about it.

So far, Pilōtalk offers just two ‘stories’: Beauty and the Beast, and the Gift of the Magi. They plan to release a new story every week.  

Pilōtalk also offers calming ambient sounds, such as rain tapping at a window, quiet forest rustlings and white noise. Users can access one story per week for free, or pay $1 per night for unlimited access as the catalogue grows.

To date, four narrators have been hired as the company focuses on increasing production.

Kall said Pilōtalk is different from existing audio book sites because the established sites tend to focus on a range of content and longer works.

“We’re focusing on the human connection of storytelling,” he said.

He said what makes the Pilōtalk tales especially soothing is the fact the stories are recorded on a binaural recording system.

Binaural audio is said to capture sound as humans hear it because it is recorded with a head-shaped microphone with silicon ‘ears’ , thus capturing 360 degree sound. 

Kall, who is an audio engineer, bought the device while working for Symphony Nova Scotia in Halifax as a stage manager.

For five years, he recorded a lot of classical music this way.

“Pilōtalk captures the reader’s voice exactly as you would hear it if you were lying in bed,” he said. “The reader is speaking beside you, the way your grandmother would.”     

Kall said the company also offers customizations.

“For instance, we can offer multiple narrators reading a story in different ways. Stories can even be listened to as if the narrator is sitting to the right or the left of the listener.”

The company has received seed funding from the Pond-Deshpande Centre at the University of New Brunswick.

The founders are also attending the Summer Institute at UNB, an accelerator that helps entrepreneurs meld their artistic passions with entrepreneurial skills.

The three founders are being assisted in their choice of stories by an international group of advisers garnered from well-known book sites.

“They offer feedback on our stories and voices,” Kall said. “We’re not just choosing our own favourites.”

Kall said Pilōtalk began by recording classic stories because these stories are familiar and in the public domain so the founders don’t have to worry about violating copyright.

“But we’re looking for new stories,” he said. “We’d love to hear from writers of stories of about 5,000 words.

“We’re open to new ideas, although we don’t want anything too stimulating. We don’t want lots of action and big plot twists.”

There are many reasons adults suffer insomnia, including poor mental health.

“We want our stories to help listeners feel comforted and connected,” Kall said.

 

Press Release: Startup Week in NL


Startup Newfoundland & Labrador has issued the following press release:

15-Plus Speakers and Mentors Set Stage for Startup Week NL – June 12 to 18

ST. JOHN’S, NL – Startup Week is the latest initiative by Startup Newfoundland & Labrador that will see a spotlight put on the startup community in the Province. Startup companies are bringing some of the most exciting ideas to the fore and showing off the skills and business acumen of this new generation of ventures.

The week kicks off with Startup Weekend, a 54-Hour event that will see the real-time formation of new companies with functioning products and services. On Monday everyone is invited to a half-day conference where entrepreneurs who have started companies will give the insider story on startup financing - an extremely relevant topic given the emergence of new financing options in Atlantic Canada. On Tuesday we are offering the 'Starting Smart' Bootcamp that will engage startups in lean startup practices. For the remainder of the week StartupNL visits several communities across the province to get local entrepreneurs together in order to connect and help one another.

StartupNL is doing these things because startups themselves, more than any single organization or program, are the key to increasing the number of new enterprises in the province. By working with peers who have experience, startups can get mentorship, gain financing and access markets.

Startup communities are a global phenomenon and are eager to work with one another. StartupNL and startup companies in this province are currently connected with other startup communities in New Brunswick, Alberta, Ireland, Iceland and Silicon Valley with plans to network with more communities in the future. For example, Ed Kavanagh who is active in Ireland's startup sector will be working with local entrepreneurs in helping them refine their pitches - short presentations to investors and potential customers. He says, "Events like this are great for bringing communities together both locally and globally, I am finding out about the startup scene here in Newfoundland and Labrador and will bring those lessons and connections back to Ireland."

StartupNL is a grassroots movement and startups themselves are making this happen. With over 500 engaged StartupNL members, Newfoundland & Labrador is an excellent place to launch a company.

For event details and a listing of partners and sponsors, visit http://www.startupweeknl.ca

About Startup NL

Startup NL is an innovative community of founders, entrepreneurs and enterprises that are active in the Newfoundland & Labrador startup scene. As part of the global startup movement, we hold events and host programs that encourage and enable startup activity. By representing the startup community, we work together to create an environment where these ventures can be created and thrive.

DevCon Set for Fredericton Tomorrow


For the first time in four years, Maritime DevCon, the conference for computer developers, will take place on Saturday in Fredericton.

Maritime DevCon was started in 2006, but was called DevEast and held in Moncton. It then occurred again in 2010 in Moncton and in 2011 in Fredericton.

DevCon Chair Derek Hatchard only started organizing the conference six weeks ago.  Despite that, this year’s DevCon is almost sold out, with more than 120 people registered to attend this Saturday’s event.

“I think it really speaks to the pent-up anticipation in this area because we haven’t had a lot of events lately,” Hatchard said. “Nobody’s been organizing the developer group.”

This year’s DevCon will have 12 speakers, 11 of whom are from Atlantic Canada (the other speaker is coming from Austin, Texas). Topics covered include mobile web development, statistical analysis and data design.

Hatchard said that the organizers received 16 speaker submissions—an all-time record. They were even receiving submissions after the deadline. In the past, Hatchard said he had to persuade people in to talking at DevCon.

“I can’t go to all of these sessions, and that really bums me out,” he said. “I would go to every single one if I could.”

Through his own and his team’s network, Hatchet managed to secure sponsorship from companies such as SalesForce and Planet Hatch, an incubator in Fredericton.

Hatchard said it’s important to him that cost isn’t a barrier to those wanting to attend the conference. Tickets are $60, and that gets you access to $1200 worth of door prizes (including an iPad mini, gift cards, electronics and clothing), a continental breakfast, lunch, coffee and snacks. You can register for the conference here.

“I’ve found that there are two things developers love: one is food, and the other is free T-shirts,” Hatchard said. “If you have either of them at your event, people will come in droves.”

Of the 123 people registered, 17 percent are students.

“We’re also creating an opportunity for our more seasoned professionals to pass on some of their wisdom to these up-and-coming developers,” Hatchard said. “And 10 and 15 years from now, they’re going to be experts in their area and hopefully come back and they’re going to hopefully come back and speak at conferences like this.”

Social media also helped leverage DevCon’s presence. In a contest to win a free pass to DevCon, participants had to upload a GIF showing how excited they were for the conference. With a bunch of these GIFS on Twitter and Facebook, DevCon engaged even more with the Fredericton tech community.

“We want to put on an event that caters to people who are really passionate about what they want to do,” Hatchard said. “They care about it enough that they will show up on a Saturday, and engage in this deep, technical and sometimes geeky conversation because that’s what they care about.”

DevCon is very likely to happen again next year. Date and location will be decided at a later date, but sign up here for DevCon’s newsletter to find out first.

Press Release: TruLeaf’s First Farm


TruLeaf Sustainable Agriculture Ltd., a Halifax startup that grows plants in stacked trays under LED lights, has released the following press release:

GoodLeaf Farms, Exclusive Canadian Licensee of TruLeaf’s Smart Plant Systems®, Announces First Farm Construction

BIBLE HILL, NS, June 10, 2015 – GoodLeaf Community Farms Ltd. (GoodLeaf Farms), a wholly owned subsidiary of TruLeaf Sustainable Agriculture Ltd. (TruLeaf), has awarded a contract to Fowler Construction Services Ltd. (Fowler Construction) to begin construction of its first farm, in Bible Hill, this month.  A building in the Agritech Park is being converted into one of North America’s largest indoor multi-level growing facilities. The farm will have the ability to grow hundreds of thousands of pounds of fresh greens and herbs annually without the use of pesticides.

“We are extremely excited and thrilled to begin construction of our first commercial farm in Bible Hill this summer,” said Gregg Curwin, President & CEO of GoodLeaf Farms. “Consumers are demanding local, fresh, and clean produce, and we’re going to bring that to the market by this Fall. We will deliver a culinary experience like no other.”

GoodLeaf Farms has secured a deal with a national grocery retailer to offer a wide range of leafy-green products. Additionally, GoodLeaf will be selling its ultra-clean, ultra-fresh greens to institutions and healthcare providers in the Atlantic region.

“Our products will be sold at a price comparable to California-organic, but grown in our region, year-round. It’s great for us to be able to contribute to the physical and economic health of the region, and become a national leader in leafy-green production.”

About GoodLeaf Community Farms Ltd.

GoodLeaf Farms, located in Bible Hill, Nova Scotia, is a wholly owned subsidiary of TruLeaf, and is the exclusive licensee of the TruLeaf Smart Plan System® in Canada. Using innovative indoor growing technologies, GoodLeaf Farms grows ultra-clean, ultra-nutritious and local produce for retailers, food service providers, hospitals, and institutions.

About TruLeaf Sustainable Agriculture Ltd.

Founded in 2011, and located in Bible Hill, Nova Scotia, TruLeaf has developed an indoor farming system that grows fresh plants for food and medicines anywhere in the world, regardless of environment, 365 days a year. The system integrates growing technologies in a controlled environment to grow high quality, predictable-yield, and clean plants with innovative and efficient technologies.

About Fowler Construction Services Ltd.

Fowler Construction Services Limited is a privately owned and operated, servicing the Atlantic Provinces for over 30 years. Centrally located in Bible Hill, Nova Scotia, Fowler Construction supplies a broad range of services to the commercial and industrial fields. Fowler Construction is bonded, certified by the Nova Scotia Construction Safety Association (NSCSA), and maintains a Workers’ Compensation (WCB) Certificate of Recognition.    

Assessing the Companies at AVF


A mating ritual got under way at the Nova Scotia Westin in Halifax on Wednesday as the Atlantic Venture Forum brought together dozens of Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs with investors from across North America.

The third annual forum is a meeting place at which startups from the region can link up with potential investors. There are 21 startups — 12 seed-stage companies and nine more advanced growth-stage companies — presenting to the group, but there is also an array of other startups attending to meet with possible funders. The literature given out at the forum provides fascinating insights into the growth prospects of these companies. 

At least 28 investment entities are attending the conference, and they include regional, national and international funds. According to the official program, the out-of-town groups include the likes of GrandBanks Capital of Boston, BDC Capital and Real Ventures of Montreal. And though the Atlantic Canadian community features younger startups than other locations, several investors have noted the progress the region has made in a few years.

“It’s more focused overall,” said Ron Warburton, managing partner with BDC Capital. He mentioned that three years ago, Atlantic Canadian startups tended to think of their market as Canada. “Now you’re looking at becoming world-class companies, and that’s a bit of a change in mindset.”

BDC has invested in 12 Atlantic Canadian graduates of the PropelICT accelerator and also has invested in such companies as Radian6, Q1 Labs and Analyze Re.

Sunil Sharma, managing partner of Extreme Venture Partners in Toronto, noted how much more “capital efficient” companies are in Atlantic Canada than elsewhere. Commercial leases and core business expenses are less than in a market like Toronto, and wages for technical people tend to be lower.

“Early hires in Atlantic Canada are probably 30 per cent less expensive than in Toronto, and when you compare that to the U.S. it’s even more dramatic.”

One interesting thing about the forum is presenting companies are asked to reveal financial details of their companies, providing a rare snapshot of how the region’s leading high-potential companies are performing. Consider the growth-stage companies pitching at the forum. Six of these more advanced companies provided revenue data to the delegates, and their total revenue rose three-fold to about $2.1 million in 2014. They’re now about halfway through 2015 and have a pretty good idea how this year will shape up. They’re forecasting revenues this year will grow more than two-and-a-half times to $5.6 million, and more than double next year to $12.5 million.

The 12 seed-stage companies had no revenue or virtually no revenue in 2014, but nine are forecasting sales this year totalling about $1.8 million. As a group, the 12 companies are expecting $17.8 million in 2016.

Not all of them are going to meet these goals. But the growth-stage companies showed in 2014 that these companies can double, triple or quadruple sales in a year. These 21 companies are lean, employing fewer than six employees each, on average. And investors — predominantly private investors — have already sunk a total of $22 million into these ventures with the expectation they will meet these sales targets and grow in coming years.

In total, the 21 companies are looking for $51 million in investment to help them grow further. As the forum continues today, they’ll be trying to link up with the investors in attendance.

NB Crowdfunding Sessions Set


New Brunswick’s Financial and Consumer Services Commission, or FCNB, is planning a series of education sessions about equity-based crowdfunding.

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 free sessions, which include lunch, will feature speakers from FCNB, the law firm Cox & Palmer, and the accountants and consultancy EY. They will be held from noon to 2 pm on the following dates:

-  Saint John, July 7, at Connexion Works;

-  Moncton, July 8, at the Venn Centre;

-  And Fredericton, July 9, at Planet Hatch.

To register to this free event, please visit this link or call 506 643-7805.

An FCNB spokesman said the commission is planning on a joint session with the Nova Scotia Securities Commission in the autumn. 

Brightspark East Launches on AVF Eve


On the eve of the Atlantic Venture Forum, Brightspark Ventures of Toronto held a reception Tuesday night to outline its plans for Brightspark East, a collaboration with East Valley Ventures of Saint John.

The AVF begins today at the Nova Scotia Westin Hotel, and will allow more than 20 Atlantic Canadian startups to present their companies before investors from across Canada and the U.S.

One of those investors is Sophie Forest, Managing Partner of Brightspark Ventures, who introduced the group’s funding model Tuesday night.

Brightspark is positioned somewhere between a venture capital fund and an angel network. It is overseen by a professional fund management team. Each time they identify a company they want to invest in, they create a new fund to invest just in that company. All the Brightspark members are then invited to invest in the company through the new fund, which will be managed by Brightspark.  It’s a funding model that’s already been used successfully by such groups as FundersClub in California and Ourcrowd in Israel.

Brightspark has done four deals in Ontario in the past year, raising between $500,000 to $2 million in each.

The funding group is now raising money for Halifax-based social media marketing company InNetwork, which is expected to raise about $1 million. The funding will likely close in September.

Forest and East Valley Venture Chair Gerry Pond made it clear they plan for more deals in the region. Bright Spark East has hired Barrie Black, the former President and CEO of the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, as its Vice President of Business Development and its person on the ground in the region.

Brightspark has had success investing in Atlantic Canada as the fund, like the founders of East Valley, invested in Radian6, the Fredericton social media analysis company that sold out for $326 million in 2011.

“The reason we are here in Atlantic Canada is we were investors in Radian6,” said Forest. “We know the culture. There’s a great entrepreneurial spirit and a great work ethic in the companies we’ve seen here.”

With offices in Halifax and Toronto, InNetwork vets and approves influencers to ensure that they are bona fide opinion leaders. It beta-tested the product with about six Canadian customers last year and has been working with many more paying customers. Founder and CEO Chris Keevill was not at the reception Tuesday because he was at sales meetings in New York.

In 2013, the company received seed funding of $250,000 from Innovacorp and $240,000 from a group of angels led by Pond, who became the InNetwork’s Board Chair.

InNetwork presented at the AVF last year. This year the presenting companies include 12 seed-stage companies and nine in their growth phase. 

Dal’s Starting Lean Hosts Launchpad


The Dalhousie Starting Lean initiative is continuing to mentor young entrepreneurs this summer by hosting the LaunchPad Accelerator and providing seed funding for the teams involved.

Now in its second year, the accelerator allows young companies to develop their business models, conduct customer discovery, gain traction and pitch investors. The eight-week accelerator gave each of the participating teams $10,000 to jump start their company.

Many of the companies were developed in Dalhousie’s Starting Lean class, which allows students to learn about lean methodology and apply those lessons as they start their own business. Most of the time, the participating companies aren’t inside a classroom. They are out gathering information about their markets and discovering customers.

“It’s extremely important to us that we … give them that experiential learning component that is so important,” Dalhousie entrepreneurship academic lead Mary Kilfoil said in an interview.

However, each company has weekly assignments and must check in with the LaunchPad organizers to ensure that they are moving in the right direction with their business models.

They assemble at Dalhousie twice a week. On Tuesdays, they learn about an element of the lean canvas, the tool that LaunchPad uses to map out a company’s progress. On Thursdays, the companies pitch a group of potential stakeholders—such as investors or market experts—to receive feedback.

“To be a true accelerator, we wanted to make sure we ticked all the boxes, said Kilfoil.

The teams from last year’s cohort that applied to the Atlantic regional accelerator Propel ICT were accepted.

“We feel that we’re part of something bigger than us,” Kilfoil said. “We see this as an important piece in the stream of talent.”

LaunchPad organizers originally wanted only to accept Dalhousie students, but they decided to expand it to the broader Halifax community, as long as one company founder is a Dalhousie student.

"Expanding entrepreneurship and co-op education opportunities is one of the key ways Dalhousie is growing our contribution to Nova Scotia's economy,” said Dalhousie President Richard Florizone in an email message. “The LaunchPad accelerator is a great case in point: connecting students who have innovative ideas with the skills, mentors and resources they need to help bring those ideas to fruition.” 

He and Kilfoil both believe it is part of the university’s contribution to economic growth in the region.

“We see this is as being important for not only for fostering startups, but also retention,” said Kilfoil. “Through the networks they will build through this accelerator it increases their ability to stay in the region and to build capacity for the province.”

The teams selected to the accelerator are:

-  Intelligent Site Innovations, an automated traffic signal for roadside construction sites;

-  Crevoke, a social network for writers;

-  BacDrop, an interactive platform for restaurant’s music selections;

-  EyeRead, which helps children to read by tracking their eye movement and understanding what words give them trouble;

-  WorkLocal, a video interview platform for prospective employers;

-  Unify, a crowdfunding platform for alumni and current members of an organization;

-  Stir, a mobile app that matches people based on location and interests;

-  Canada Cold Press Juices, which uses sustainable agricultural practices to create cold press juices;

-  Pet Konekt, an online platform where pet owners can find pet services;

-  Cinemerse, which teaches language through watching foreign films;

-  and What’s Happenin’ VIP, which markets VIP passes to Halifax attractions. 

 

Disclaimer: Dalhousie University is a client of Entrevestor. 

Press Release: Unique Solutions Funding


Unique Solutions Design Ltd., whose scanning technology helps people select the best-fitting clothes, has issued the following press release:

Me-Ality is Oversubscribed for $15 Million Equity Private Placement and Welcomes Seasoned Executive and International Economics Expert to its Board of Directors

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Jun 08, 2015 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Unique Solutions Design Ltd., (Me-Ality), developer of the only scanner technology able to take precise body measurements while a person is fully clothed, and owner of the world’s largest database of body dimensionality, is pleased to announce the completion of a $15 million equity private placement. The funding exceeded the initial $10 million target by $5 million and was co-led by Me-Ality’s largest institutional investor, Northwater Capital Management Inc., and new Director, Skip Battle. The new funding will provide working capital for ongoing operations including the commercialization of the company’s proprietary handheld body scanner in international markets.

Skip Battle is Chairman of the Board of FICO (Fair Isaac Corporation), a Director at Netflix Inc., Workday, Expedia and LinkedIn. Prior to its recent sale, he served on the Board of OpenTable. Skip is a former partner of Andersen Consulting LLP (now Accenture) and was Worldwide Managing Partner of Market Development. Skip served as CEO as Ask Jeeves from 2000 to 2004 and as Executive Chairman from 2004 to 2005. He was on the Board of Directors at PeopleSoft from 1995 to 2004, was previously a director at Advent Software and Barra. He has served as a Board Member and Trustee at a number of educational and non-profit organizations. He is a Senior Fellow at the Aspen Institute and holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College.

Unique Solutions also welcomes a new board member, Peter Reiling. Peter is Executive Vice President for Leadership at the Aspen Institute where he is building out a global network of some of the world's leading business entrepreneurs. Prior to joining the Aspen Institute, Peter was President and CEO of TechnoServe, advising small to medium-sized businesses in Latin America, Africa and Central Europe. He is co-founder of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs and currently serves both as Chairman of the Central America Leadership Foundation and as a Director of Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation. A former adjunct professor at Columbia University, Peter is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and was named "Outstanding Social Entrepreneur" by the Schwab Foundation in Geneva. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BSFS) and the University of California/Berkeley (MBA).

Chairwoman Tanya Shaw said: “I have had the pleasure of working with both Skip and Peter at the Aspen Institute and their vast experience will add valuable perspectives to our Board of Directors.”

Me-Ality CEO Tuoc Luong said: “I have had the good fortune to work with Skip in the past. Skip’s experience, energy and wise counsel guiding new technology companies is going to be a great asset to our company’s future. His commitment to Unique, as a Director and his substantial investment in our company are matched by my own excitement as we prepare to commercialize our handheld body scanner. Northwater’s investment through their Intellectual Property Fund reflects their sophisticated understanding of our technology and its potential in multiple business verticals!”

The application of Unique’s body measurement technology and body dimension data, have far reaching impact in several industries. In the clothing industry, Unique’s size-matching technology, Me-Ality, matches body dimensions to clothing specifications, taking the guesswork out of size selection for consumers and uniform buyers.

About Me-Ality/Unique Solutions Design Ltd.

With offices in Santa Clara, Philadelphia and Halifax, Me-Ality has patented and IP protected body measurement software and scanner technology that has been used to create the world’s largest database of body measurements. This one-of-a-kind database provides an unparalleled opportunity to analyze segmented data allowing Unique’s business partners to target customers with Personalized Product and Service Recommendations. Partners can use Unique’s aggregate body dimension data to analyze macro consumer trends, behaviors and demographics in a way that was previously inconceivable. Unique’s initial strategy focuses on solutions that address the apparel industries’ multi-billion dollar clothing return problem. Unique’s database has been used to develop two sophisticated online sizing solutions and offers the only genuine Omni-Channel fit solution. Unique’s body dimension I.D.’s have application in several industries including health, fitness, insurance, ergonomics and gaming. For more information about Me-Ality/Unique Solutions Design, Ltd., please visit http://www.me-ality.com

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Disclaimer: The owners of Entrevestor invested in Unique Solutions before beginning this news service. You can find a full report on this funding here.

 

Cape Breton Ecosystem Evolving


D. Darren MacDonald, left, and A.J. Fraser work on the Slack channel before our luncheon had broken up.

D. Darren MacDonald, left, and A.J. Fraser work on the Slack channel before our luncheon had broken up.

My enduring memory of the two days I spent last week with the Sydney startup community will be the sight of two developers setting up a chat room for the community as one event was breaking up.

On Friday, we held an Entrevestor Luncheon sponsored by BDO Canada at the Verschuren Centre at Cape Breton University. It was followed by brief presentations from seven of the winners of the first two Spark Cape Breton startup competitions.  (See accompanying story.)

I’ve written recently about the number of companies being launched in Cape Breton, but spending time in the area showed me the people and business dynamic behind the numbers. What I found was a core of new companies that are preparing to launch their product or raise money. Some are even attracting talent to the Sydney area. And I found a remarkably energetic group of tech entrepreneurs.

Consider the Entrevestor Luncheon itself. The goal of our lunches is to get people in the community together to discuss issues that could improve the ecosystem. There’s no keynote speaker – just a group discussion. We’d hosted four of these events before, one in each provincial capital in the region, and we’d had 40 to 50 people at each one.

About 100 people turned out to the Sydney luncheon, and a large proportion of them participated in the conversation. The common challenges of finding talent and capital featured prominently in the discussion and there were a couple of novel suggestions about finding talent.

Lokol.me – one of the winners of the recent Spark Cape Breton competition – has launched goCapeBreton.com, a local site that includes content provided by the community. The site includes a page where employers or jobseekers can post their details, which could help solve the problems in finding the right employees.

One speaker, A.J. Fraser also suggested members of the Cape Breton startup community set up a slack channel, a sort of chat room, to post jobs and work together to solve common challenges. By the time the meeting broke up, he and fellow techie D. Darren MacDonald had got out their laptops and set up the channel. It was done by the time the Spark demo day started.

The Spark demo day highlighted one interesting feature of the Cape Breton startup community. It’s beginning – just beginning – to attract people to the area. Sona Nanotech, which is producing non-toxic gold nano-rods for the medical industry, has moved three PhDs to the company headquarters.

And Shout CEO Daniel Faria, a native of Portugal, became the seventh immigrant approved under the federal government’s Startup Visa program when he moved his company from Boston to Sydney. Shout is a social network in which people within a specific geographic distance of each other can link up.

The startup ecosystem is continuing to develop. University of Cape Breton is now accepting applications for the second year of its UIT program – a course in technology and entrepreneurship. Spark Cape Breton has opened applications for its third year. And Sydney will soon be home to its own tech incubator.

My own opinion is that the next step for Cape Breton is to become more involved in the larger startup movement in Atlantic Canada.  The Sydney metro area has a population of more than 100,000 and there are tremendous coders, business development people and mentors in the city. The Atlantic startup community overall will be richer when there’s a greater exchange of talent and support. 

Showcasing Spark Contest Winners


You’d tend to have low expectations for a group of tech startups that were seeded with no more than $50,000 each, but the Spark Cape Breton Demo Day on Friday surprised on the upside.

The event in Sydney allowed seven startups to showcase what they have done since claiming a prize in the competition in the past two years. Organized by Innovacorp, the Spark competition gives a maximum of $50,000 to Cape Breton and Mulgrave startups with good business ideas.

About half the winners from the past two years presented at Demo Day and they showed they had either launched a product or we close to doing so. There were also signs that as a group they’re attracting talent and capital.

The presenters were:

-  Lokol.me, started by veteran e-learning entrepreneur Mathew Georghiou, has just launched goCapeBreton, a local site that includes content provided by the community. Lokol.me envisages setting up hyperlocal websites in a range of communities.

-  Pizza Go, a mobile app for local pizzerias, is on the verge of signing its second customer. It is now testing its product, which lets people order and pay for pizzas, with a Sydney pizzeria.  The company has raised some funding and hired a developer.

-  Artisync Technologies Co-Op Ltd., which helps to link artists so they can collaborate on projects, is preparing a full launch. Its focus at the outset will be the comic market.

-   Chatsubo Heavy Industries is a network security startup whose product, Packet Monster, analyzes all data moving in and out of a network. It was founded by Jim DeLeskie, whose company Hemidall Technology won the 2014 I-3 Technology Startup Competition, and his son Kaleb.

-  Shout is a social network in which people within a specific geographic distance of each other can link up. CEO Daniel Faria, a native of Portugal, became the seventh immigrant approved under the federal government’s Startup Visa program when he moved his company from Boston to Sydney. Jim DeLeskie is also a co-founder.

-   Sona Nano Tech has established its headquarters in the Verschuren Centre at Cape Breton University and staffed it with three PhDs. The company, which can produce non-toxic gold nanobars for medical industries, has raised capital and is raising more. It is ready to sell the product to researchers, and preparing to apply to the Food and Drug Agency for approval to use the product in medicines for humans.

-  MapMaster is mobile app with an interactive map of a local region. It allows local organizations to post information about locations on the map, and people to comment on it. The Sydney map should be live in 2015.

The 2015 Spark Cape Breton competition is accepting applications until June 30 here.

 

Disclaimer: Innovacorp is a client of Entrevestor. 

Eye on KW: Qwalify at Metabridge


When Phil Noelting attends Metabridge this week, he will demonstrate how his startup can help employers find staff members who share their values and therefore suit their organizations.

Noelting is the founder and president of Kitchener-based recruitment company Qwalify, which has been selected to join 14 other leading Canadian tech companies to attend the retreat in Kelowna, B.C., on Thursday and Friday. Organized by Accelerate Okanagan, Metabridge exposes 15 leading Canadian startups to a range of high profile mentors and investors. 

Qwalify is a platform that allows companies to recruit employees by using personalized brand questions rather than simply receiving resumes.  

Noelting said 70 percent of millennials would take a job with an annual salary of $40,000 with a company they love over a job with an annual salary of $100,000 at a company they don’t have strong feelings for.

He started Qwalify when he realized that an experience-based document isn’t the way to hire in a generation that wants to align their own values with the company that employs them.

“When you look at Gen Y and how they do it, they’re curious, they want to get in there, they want to have a voice, they want to be an advocate for the brand they love,” Noelting said. “That’s really what we do: we allow companies to say, ‘Hey, if you ever thought about working with us, just introduce yourself here.’”

Qwalify allows those who already love a brand to stay engaged with it on the platform. Only 2 percent of those who visit a company’s careers webpage will actually apply to a job, he said. Qwalify attempts to engage the remaining 98 percent by having the company send out questions focused around the brand and monitor the responses.

When the company does need a new employee, it can go straight the brand fans on Qwalify rather than put out a job posting and receive a bunch of anonymous resumes.

Noelting believes that United Way is an example of a successful organization that recruits employees based on their values. The charitable organization only hires people who care about changing the world, as that’s the core value of United Way.

“If they can hire only people who want to change the world, and be a catalyst for people who want to actually change the world,” he said, “not only will they have an amazing hire, but they’ll have a striving culture.” He added the company will have the most loyal group of users, customers, and employees that it could imagine.

Noelting also values changing the world, and thus only hires people who want to do that, too. There are six Qwalify employees, each of whom owns a part of the company. For instance, the person in charge of technology owns the technology part of the company.

Noelting said Qwalify won’t take on business from companies that don’t align with its own values.

Qwalify hasn’t spent much money on advertising, as word of mouth has been powerful enough to scale the four-year-old company. Aon-Hewitt, a global human resource consulting firm and a client of Qwalify, now demos Qwalify to other companies.

To get more traction and expand his network, Noelting applied to Metabridge. He said he’s excited to be in an intimate setting with technology leaders to discuss more than the typical business talk.

Learning more from others at Metabridge will help Qwalify, as the company is expecting to triple its client-base in the next 12 to 18 months.

“It’s no easy changing a very legacy-driven process,” Noelting said. “We’re very excited that the large, large brands see that the customers are the people applying, and they need to start treating them well.”

 

Eye on KW is a regular feature on Entrevestor that showcases startups and the ecosystem of Kitchener-Waterloo. 

A Need for More High-Calibre CFOs


J.P. Furey: Companies need a CFO who 'can play a role strategically and operationally.'

J.P. Furey: Companies need a CFO who 'can play a role strategically and operationally.'

It’s accepted that there’s a shortage of capital in the Atlantic Canadian startup community. But here’s another problem that’s less well-known but no less relevant – there is also a shortage of people to manage that capital properly.

The Chief Financial Officer, the oft-overlooked counter of beans, is in short supply in Canada’s east coast startup cluster. And the lack of proper, seasoned CFOs is affecting more than just capital-raising and cash management at our startups. It’s also affecting strategy and operations.

“Given where a lot of the startups are, there’s quite a lot of nervousness in bringing on a full time CFO,” said J.P. Furey, who fills the position at the Halifax startup Bluelight Analytics. “What companies need is a CFO who’s versatile and can play a role strategically and operationally.”

He and other startup CFOs say the image of an in-house accountant who’s just a numbers guy is outdated and could be harmful. CFOs, said Furey, should have a role in such parts of the operation as business development, pipeline structure and contract negotiation. And they should be vocal in helping the company shape its strategy.

“An effective CFO is an essential part of the strategic team,” said Keith Abriel, the CFO at Halifax-based DHX Media Ltd., and a previous CFO for such startups as Bluelight and CarbonCure Technologies. “It isn’t to say that they should dictate the strategy, but they need to be a key part of the strategic team.”

The common problem is company founders usually divide the equity among themselves, setting aside about 20 percent or so for other employees. As the company grows, they realize they need a full-time CFO, someone to help with all the tasks outlined above. But the company could have trouble paying the full-time salary demanded by someone who could be working at one of the Big Five consultancies.

So they have to offer equity. But the CFO would need more than just a slice of the employee pools and the founders may be reluctant to share their stakes.

Mario Laflamme, CFO at Toronto-based Biosign Technologies, said companies need to dream big and understand that they need the right personnel to help achieve those dreams.

“You have to think big because that is a fundamental issue if you want to grow the company,” said Laflamme, who was formerly CFO with Halifax-based LED Roadway Lighting. “You have to create a situation where someone says, ‘Hey, I want to be on this team because I believe it will be successful.’ If you want to bring in top talent then you have to pay them and the pay is not just in cash – it is also in equity.”

Ideally, the team of a rapidly growing seed-stage startup will look for someone with experience who has had a hand in every step of the startup lifecycle – founding, a seed raise, VC funding, M&A and an exit. A good CFO will also understand the company’s operations and be able to work closely with the COO to make sure the business runs with maximum efficiency.

Such a person will help not only with the company’s operational performance, said the CFOs. He or she should also be able to help the company attract more capital. For one thing, CFOs speak the language of investors.

For another, they know how to shape strategy to help attract investment.

“You need a catalyst to get your investors excited,” said Abriel. “They have to be able to say, ‘This is what we’re going to get for our money.’ They have to understand what it [the investment] will be used for.”

So as the young Atlantic Canadian startups grow, there will likely be more demand for full-time, full-service CFOs, but the question is whether there will be enough qualified people to fill the openings.

Ideally, as the community grows, more financial execs will gain more experience and grow into the rounded individuals the community needs.

Even now there are people available, but the risks and compensation of the startup life don’t always appeal to them.

“You see a lot of talented financial people who could do more or they take a job that pays the bills but a lot of this financial talent is underutilized,” said Laflamme.

 

This article first appeared in the most recent Entrevestor Intelligence report.

Press Release: Risley Joins Kinduct


Kinduct Technologies, the Halifax medical-technologies company, has issued the following press release:

Kinduct adds fire power to leadership team

Leading sports and health technology firm welcomes elite-level business leaders to their advisory team.

HALIFAX, NS – June 5th, 2015 – Kinduct Technologies announced today the addition of John Risley and Vikram Rao to their leadership team.

Risley, the President and CEO of Clearwater Fine Foods Incorporated (CFFI), a diversified holding company, has been named as Chairman of the Board. While Rao, a former Managing Director at Scotia Capital, will act as a Strategic Business Advisor.

Mr. Risley brings an incredible amount of experience and success to the Kinduct team. John is the co-founder of Clearwater Seafoods, Columbus Communications and Ocean Nutrition and holds interests in many other businesses around the world. John was named an Officer of the Order of Canada and was inducted into the Nova Scotia Business Hall of Fame in 1997. He has received numerous awards, including Atlantic Canadian Entrepreneur of the Year and a Canada Award for Business Excellence in Entrepreneurship and is a graduate of Harvard University’s President’s Program and Leadership.

“John has been an amazing resource for our Company and we are thrilled to have him as the Chairman of our Board of Directors,” says Travis McDonough, Kinduct’s Founder and CEO. “As the deals and opportunities for our Company grow larger and larger every day, having access to a business Hall of Famer and mentor like John becomes invaluable. His ability to quickly assess situations and provide valued input really helps inform our decisions and guides our path forward as we ramp this business up.” 

“Travis and his team have done a wonderful job building and positioning the Company for success in the emerging health, wellness and sports technology markets”, says Risley. “I am excited to work more closely with the management team as we embark on what I believe will be an impressive and sustained period of growth and prosperity for Kinduct.”

Kinduct’s other new appointee to their leadership team, Vikram Rao, also brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Kinduct team. Vik has over 23 years’ experience in the fields of international investment banking, investment management, private equity and venture capital. Throughout his career, Vik has been a major investor and advisor to companies in varied fields such as technology, real estate development, resort development and energy. He has been involved with and has advised companies throughout their stages of early development, leading to stable operating companies and eventually acquisitions and IPOs.

“Vik has been there for us since day one and we are thrilled to have him working more closely with our team as we scale the business,” says McDonough. “We decided early on that we would focus 100% of our time building and selling our products, as opposed to pitching investors. Vik’s experience and advice gave us confidence that we could make this work on our own and that is really paying off for us now.”

“When I first learned about Kinduct in 2010, I knew they had the idea, people and energy that it takes to build a successful Company”, comments Rao. “However, in the software business, timing is everything. Kinduct is in the right place at the right time with the right products—we are going to make a huge impact and I am excited to be a part of it.”

About Kinduct

Kinduct Technologies is a privately held, SaaS-based software company with a head office in Halifax, NS and an animation development studio in Vancouver, WA. Kinduct’s overarching goal is to help make people better. The products are developed to address information challenges of organizations who work with athletes, patients, clients, students and employees. The company's solutions help organizations collect, organize, share and analyze data, in one centralized platform, to break down data silos, inform decisions and deliver powerful results.

 

Kinduct’s unwavering passion and dedication to helping make people better has resulted in partnerships with some of the world’s most influential organizations in professional and amateur sport, healthcare, fitness, military and public safety and corporate health and wellness. The Kinduct team has been the fortunate recipient of a number of awards and recognitions, including: 2013 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Nomination; 2014 Inaugural CBC Innovative Business of the Year Award; 2014 and 2015 Top 50 CEO in Atlantic Canada Award; and a 2015 Best Places to Work in Atlantic Canada Award.   

Rylunds Are Ramping Up PACTA


Isak and Charlotte Rylund: Customer base is growing

Isak and Charlotte Rylund: Customer base is growing

Entrepreneurs Charlotte and Isak Rydlund came up with a unique solution when they couldn’t find a skilled computer programmer in Halifax: they taught themselves to write code.

Now, the contract management system they created has been named a tech startup to keep an eye on.

The Halifax couple is thrilled that their PACTA system has been named one of 25 information and communication technology companies to watch by the Branham Group.

Earlier this year, they spent five weeks teaching themselves to code using free online resources. Then they wrote the code for their system.

The situation arose after they were unable to find an experienced developer.

“We’d interviewed potential clients and knew they had a problem. We didn’t want to let our lack of experience in computer science stop us from building our system,” said Charlotte, the CEO, as she sat in the PACTA office at Volta, Halifax’s startup house.

Isak, the chief operating officer, is a Swedish-born businessman and lawyer. He wrote most of the code for the system.

Charlotte learned the code language Python in order to better understand the product they were creating.

“Now I speak English, German, French, Swedish and Python,” she said with a laugh.

Both have years of experience in the business world, including in marketing and strategic purchasing, requiring them to negotiate multimillion-dollar contracts.

For seven years, they worked for Procter & Gamble in Switzerland, where they learned how difficult it is for companies to manage the many contracts they have with each business contact.

“You need to keep track of what you’ve agreed to,” Charlotte said.

“There are dates, pricing changes, milestones and checkpoints. Multiply that by hundreds or thousands of contracts.”

Contract details can be stored on spreadsheets, but they are a passive way of checking obligations, she said.

“There are custom-made contract systems, but you must check contract details yourself.

“Our system automates the extraction of key information like price change and expiry dates and proactively notifies you by email or text. Our automatic extraction and proactive notifications are unique.”

Since launching the system in April, the couple has acquired three customers.

Funding for their product was provided by a strategic investment from a large New York company that became their first client. The money has helped them hire computer science specialist and St. Mary’s University student Gaurav Rao.

The Rydlunds feel they have benefited from the supportive ecosystem that helps entrepreneurs in this region. They completed the Launch 36 program run by regional accelerator PropelICT. Now, they are part of the first cohort participating in Propel’s Build program for more developed startups.

They intend to establish their business in Halifax, although they initially set up their company on Vancouver Island.

“We found we missed the east coast,” Isak said. “The people here are more real. We didn’t feel at home out west and moved to Halifax after six months.”

The couple met while studying at Dalhousie University in 2002.

Charlotte, who has Maritime roots, was studying management. She had returned to Eastern Canada after being raised mostly in Vienna. Her father is a professor of music, specializing in the harpsichord, at the University of Vienna.

Isak, who was born and raised in Sweden, was finishing his master’s of law in information technology and media law.

The couple met near Fenwick Towers and later named their black lab Fenwick.

“We have gotten a lot out of Halifax and feel we can give back to other companies who may benefit from our international experience,” Isak said.

“We feel the startup ecosystem here is on the cusp of getting going,” added Charlotte. “And we want to be able to contribute.”

Sydney: Our Fastest-Growing Startup Hub


We had about 30 people show up at the Sydney TecSocial last night, where I had the pleasure of being the guest speaker.

We had about 30 people show up at the Sydney TecSocial last night, where I had the pleasure of being the guest speaker.

Before Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil unveiled his state of the province address in February, the stage was occupied by a few startups, one of which represented the fastest-growing startup hub in the region.

Colin MacInnis and Brian Best, two students at Cape Breton University’s UIT program, took the stage to discuss their company Phased.io, which had been developing a tool for student councils. They’re examples of what’s happening in the region once known as Industrial Cape Breton.

The burgeoning tech community in Greater Sydney has been a well-kept secret for several years, but it might soon be better known.

Here’s a fact that few people realize: Two-thirds of the startups in this community didn’t exist three years ago. The growth has been encouraged by several factors but largely by the coordinated efforts of entrepreneurs, academics and government to churn out new companies and see where they will lead.

“Sydney is really fostering the development of the tech startup community,” said MacInnis. “There are a lot of great companies beginning right here at home and they’re more than willing to help others looking to get started.”

The second-largest metro area in Nova Scotia has boasted some intriguing innovations companies for some time. Corrine MacIsaac has been building up Health Outcomes Worldwide in New Waterford into

a multi-million-business, and Mathew Georghiou’s MediaSpark has launched a range of eBooks and the GoVenture World massively multiplayer online game.

The profile has risen in the past few years. In 2012, the Caper community scored a massive win when GoInstant, a co-browsing startup whose cofounders included Cape Breton University alumni Gavin Uhma and Kirk MacPhee, sold out to Salesforce.com for a reported $70 million. Then Jim DeLeskie’s Heimdall Networks won the 2014 I-3 Technology Startup Competition, Innovacorp’s event that aims to find the best new startups in Nova Scotia.

And there has been a wave of company formation. According to the Entrevestor Databank, there were 16 startups formed in the Sydney area in 2013 and 2014 – two-thirds of the 24 companies we follow in the area.

Only Halifax has produced more startups in that time in Atlantic Canada, but Halifax is home to scores of startups so the growth has been far more explosive in Sydney.

More and more people, especially young people, are learning that they can plan careers as entrepreneurs.

“It’s a viable option and enough people are now saying that you can do it anywhere and here, Cape Bretton, is a great place.” said Bob Pelley, Innovacorp’s representative on Cape Breton Island.

There are two concurrent factors that have uncorked the startup spigot in the region better known for coal and steel.

First, Uhma began to work with CBU to establish the UIT program, which in the past year has taught technology and entrepreneurship to a dozen students, including six women. The intake will rise to 20 students in the coming year. The students are encouraged to come up with ideas in various forms of technology and investigate whether they could be developed into businesses. “The idea of the program is that throughout the course of the year they’ll be exposed to different forms of technology,” said Uhma.

It has led to a few companies, including Phased.io.

Phased.io began as a planning and organizational tool for student councils, but MacInnis and Best have since morphed it into a company that helps businesses and organizations bring in new employees or go through the process of succession.

The second development is the Spark Cape Breton competition, which has been held in each of the last two years and awarded development money to 14 companies. Spark Cape Breton looks for young companies, some with little more than an idea, and awards them small amounts of development capital. The winners last year ranged from a team of professors working in nanotechnology to a high school student.

“The energy that is in the startup community in Cape Breton right now is unbelievable,” said Pelley. “It’s a perfect storm of UIT and the success of Spark and it’s all just highlighting what can be done here.”

 

This article was taken from the latest Entrevestor Intelligence publication. I had the pleasure of meeting with the Cape Breton tech community at a TecSocial on Thursday evening. Today we hold out Entrevestor Luncheon and StartupCapeBreton 3.0 at the Verschuren Centre in Sydney. 

Vizwik Offered Free to 4000 Teachers


Simon Gauvin: Trying to bring coding to everyone.

Simon Gauvin: Trying to bring coding to everyone.

Agora Mobile, a New Brunswick software company, is offering all New Brunswick teachers a free premium lifetime membership to its platform Vizwik.

Vizwik is an online platform that allows anyone to create an app and sell it to others on the platform. Simon Gauvin, CEO and founder of Agora Mobile, said that Vizwik makes programming and coding easier because there are visual pointers on the platform to help users code and program their apps.

Gauvin said that coding is just as essential to students today as reading, writing and arithmetic. He encourages teachers to integrate programming and coding—with the help of Vizwik—into their lessons. This can help the students not only further their understanding in a traditional subject, such as science or geography, but also discover the possibilities and capabilities of coding.

“The digital economy is worldwide, there’s no reason why New Brunswick can’t participate in that,” Gauvin said. “The kids in high school have no visibility in that right now. Everything they have has nothing to do with the digital economy, and yet everyone’s a participant as a consumer, and nobody’s participating as a producer. We need to solve this problem.”

More than 500 teachers already signed up on Vizwik, and have used the platform to interact with more than 4,000 students. The project is in keeping with the goals of Brilliant Labs, the initiative in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to increase programming education.

The best part about Vizwik is that the teachers don’t need to know how to code to use it in their classrooms and teach their students to code. Gauvin recommends integrating Vizwik slowly into the classroom: first, use Vizwik with more traditional media, such as photos or text; next, create a button, which can allow one to navigate outside the traditional media and go from one medium to another; finally, start computing: create things that you want to use that aren’t part of traditional media.

Gauvin said that by the final step, the students are usually ahead of the teacher. Growing up in a technological age, they already know many of these things, but are expanding on them with the help of Vizwik.

In case Vizwik is proving difficult for the teacher, there are several tutorial videos on the website that show users how to use Vizwik.

MaRS Discovery District, a Toronto not-for-profit innovation hub, included Agora Mobile as part of the Impact8, which helps eight high-potential social ventures to attain financing. Gauvin said that he sees potential for Vizwik to expand to other impoverished areas to teach kids to code.

In September, Ontario will introduce Vizwik in some of its schools. The province of New Brunswick already recommends Vizwik as a tool for computational learning.

“The magic of Vizwik is that we don’t represent code in a cryptic way,” Gauvin said. “We represent the instructions in a very visual and tactical way so that you can catch them and drag them and connect them like Lego, and that makes learning to code in our platform significantly easier—and it also makes it’s more accessible to more of the population.”

Gauvin said that the true monetary market lies in bigger expansions of the platform, in places like Ontario or the US. Vizwik already has users in over 20 countries, such as Chile and Australia.

Gauvin added that after creating apps on Vizwik, users can sell them on this online store without needing people to download them, making apps adaptable to any device. Once the app store gets up and running outside of New Brunswick, Agora Mobile can start monetizing Vizwik by taking a cut from apps bought on the platform.

“We’re trying to bringing coding to everyone in the world,” Gauvin said, “and that provides entrepreneurship abilities into the digital world for everyone in the world.”

Marcato Enterprise Sparks Sales Gain


For some of us, summer music festivals bring to mind relaxation and enjoyment. For Darren Gallop, they mean a heavy workload and more revenue for his company, Marcato Digital Solutions.

Based in Sydney, Marcato provides organizational software to music festival organizers around the world. The Software-as-a-Service platform will be used by 146 events this year, the first year it’s handled more than 100. Some clients run several events and therefore get a discount, so Gallop said that overall the company’s revenues have risen by a respectable 30 to 35 per cent year-on-year.

“It’s a really busy time of year for us and we’re busier than we’ve ever been before,” Gallop, the company’s founder and CEO, said in an interview last week. “Luckily we have introduced new features and capacity and functionality.”

The big change for Marcato, whose flagship product had been Marcato Festival, came last December when the company released an enterprise version of its software — that is, a product designed for a large organization or company. Marcato Enterprise has helped the company meet the needs of larger clients and is now being used by about 20 festivals.

Marcato began in 2008 when Gallop (a former drummer and music manager) and chief technical officer Morgan Currie had the idea of a software product that would handle all the administrative tasks that burden musicians. They perceived a platform in which musicians could book engagements and hotels, keep their financial records and the like. They decided to add a product for music festivals. Though they still offer the product for musicians, that second platform became the focus of the business. The music users include such household names as Blue Rodeo, Joel Plaskett and Gordie Sampson.

Marcato now has clients in 26 countries — most in the U.S., but also several in Europe, Canada and Australia. The company is developing relationships in South America. Eight per cent of its business is in Atlantic Canada.

Along the way, the company has had two major funding events. In 2011, it raised $500,000 including debt from a range of backers, including $250,000 from Innovacorp and $95,000 from Enterprise Cape Breton (now part of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency). Last year, it raised about $700,000 from New Dawn Enterprises, which raises money through the Community Economic Development Investment Fund program, and ACOA.

Gallop said the company is now close to being cash flow positive — which means the company is bringing in enough cash to cover expenses. And the revenue should be sufficient to allow the company to continue growing. Having added four software developers in the last half year, Marcato Digital now employs 17 people, all in Sydney except for one in Halifax.

This team will spend the summer handling the flood of festivals. The introduction of the enterprise product has meant that some of the larger clients need help as they learn to use the software. Marcato also has a development team working on a stream of improvements.

“The other exciting thing is we are working on lots of new software tools as well as some significant reworking of our old staple tools,” said Gallop. “It’s become very busy.”

Press Releases: Two from SageCrowd


SageCrowd, the Halifax-based learning science software company, has issued the following two press releases:

SageCrowd Launches Learning sciences white paper

The brain's natural learning cycle

Boston, June 3, 2015 – Learning science software company sageCrowd, announced it has published and made available on its website, The Brain’s Natural Learning Cycle. Based on two years of research, this paper contributes to the learning industry's understanding of the learning implications of the brain’s natural process for creating skill-based memories and behavioral change.

The white paper outlines how a new and clearer understanding of how the brain learns and creates permanent memories could be the key to developing a better training design. The paper explores developments in human sciences, primarily neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral economics, and identifies important findings that are influencing modern learning design.

“This whitepaper has been a lot of fun to develop,” said Sean Sears, CEO of sageCrowd. “We set out to discover why is it so hard for adults to learn new skills and we discovered that most training is thwarting the way adults naturally learn. We identify nine learning implications, which represent about 60% of our current science, so while we are sharing some of our secrets, we think it is simply too important not to share. Organizations need to stop wasting money on hopelessly poor learning design.”

“This is a ground-breaking research summary. I think the implications are far reaching,” says Hakan Satiroglu, Co-Founder and Partner of LearnLaunch, the Boston-based EdTech incubator and co-location space. “SageCrowd’s whitepaper, The Brain's Natural Learning Cycle is informative, challenging and compelling. We all know adult competency-based skill development is challenging to make effective; this paper outlines some key design principles that should help a lot of companies, training vendors and corporate trainers.”

About sageCrowd:

SageCrowd uses modern learning science to deliver competency-based skills training for large enterprises. SageCrowd’s chief advantage is its focus on learning sciences, particularly the creation of the SageCrowd Way. This proprietary training methodology combines social learning capability with Insight-Scaffolding® to create a fundamentally different learning environment that can deliver a greater ROI on training and substantially improve enterprise performance.

 The goal is to rethink training by aligning it to the brain's ‘natural’ process for permanent memory creation. SageCrowd works with authors and subject matter experts, particularly those with comprehensive methodologies that transform enterprise performance.

 

Jim Smith Jr. International and sageCrowd Partner To Offer a New Sales Course for the Life Science Sector Personal Empowerment Principles

Phoenix, June 3, 2015 – World-renowned author, trainer and life science industry subject matter expert, Jim Smith Jr., and learning sciences software company sageCrowd, announced today that they have partnered to deliver a new course, Personal Empowerment Principles. The course is designed to deliver industry specific sales training from a world-class trainer using the best of modern learning science.

Known as “Mr. Energy,” Jim Smith Jr., and sageCrowd, are attending the Life Science Trainers and Educators Network (LTEN) Annual Conference this week to announce the new sales training program specifically designed for the life sciences industry. Personal Empowerment Principles will outline key strategies to discovering personal success. Moreover, the course highlights how to produce sustainable and phenomenal results through a new relationship to accountability.

Jim Smith Jr. has worked extensively with the life sciences sector and understands the issues sales organizations and individual salespersons meet daily. The intention of Personal Empowerment Principles is to use a blended learning model to enable a deep and personal adoption of each underlying skill and to create a culture of sharing best practices to sharpen the entire sales team and drive success.

“When it comes to thought leaders in the personal power space, there really is no one quite like Jim Smith Jr.,” says Sean Sears, CEO of sageCrowd. “His ability to help people connect their own dots and unlock untapped potential is why we love working with Jim. We are excited about this course, which is consistent with our approach to target very specific business challenges with directed training from one of the very best thought leaders!”

“It’s not complicated, but so many of us live our lives that way— unable to get out of our own way,” said Jim Smith Jr. of Jim Smith Jr. International. “By working with sageCrowd, we not only have an effective platform to deploy the training but also get to reach the entire team and deepen their skill adoption beyond the next level.”

Those interested can visit http://www.pep.sagecrowd.com to sign up for a free demo.

About Jim Smith Jr. International

Jim Smith Jr. also known as “Mr. Energy” is President and CEO of Jim Smith Jr. International. Jim JIMPACTs organizations and individuals—providing workshops, keynotes and coaching. Jim’s also a prolific writer, having written three books and co-authoring another. Jim’s most recent book, The No Excuse Guide to Success, was nominated for the 2013 NAACP Image Award.

About sageCrowd

SageCrowd uses modern learning science to deliver competency-based skills training for large enterprises. It partners with top subject matter experts to deliver skills training to enterprises. The objective is training experiences that drive better learning results for companies and their employees.

SageCrowd focuses on the brain’s natural process for creating permanent memories. SageCrowd’s chief advantage is its creation of the SageCrowd Way. This proprietary training methodology combines social learning capability with Insight-Scaffolding® to create a fundamentally different learning environment that can deliver a greater ROI on training and substantially improve enterprise performance.

Curley, Cowper-Smith in BDC Finals


Phillip Curley of Fredericton-based HotSpot Parking and Christopher Cowper-Smith of Halifax’s Spring Loaded Technology have made the shortlist for the 2015 BDC Young Entrepreneur Award, joining two other Atlantic Canadians as finalists in the competition.

BDC, the federal government’s business development bank, announced the finalists in a statement this morning for the competition that seeks to find the country’s leading entrepreneur aged between 18 and 35. The other Atlantic Canadian finalists are Martin O'Brien of the Cascumpec Bay Oyster Company in Prince Edward Island, and Melissa Butler, of St. John’s. The winner, who will win $100,000, and runner-up, who will receive $25,000 in consulting services, will be announced on June 22.

Between now and June 17, people can 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.

The two Atlantic Canadian entries have quickly distinguished themselves in differing sectors.

A few years ago, Curley came up with the idea of developing an app that would allow people to pay the parking meter with their payphone. Using a mobile payment app and a wireless network that uses Apple’s iBeacon technology, the system also helps local businesses to better serve their clients.

When shoppers using HotSpot enter a business, they are shielded from a parking ticket for as long as they stay. Establishments that serve alcohol can protect their customers from parking tickets, even if the patrons have to leave their car until the next morning. Merchants can also use the system for interactive marketing to their customers.

Hotspot announced in April it is moving into the U.S. in partnership with Charlotte, N.C.-based mobile payments specialist Passport – a move that will soon increase HotSpot’s accessible market by 100 times. It has since launched in Nashville and is now allowed to launch in Salt Lake City.  (Read our recent article on HotSpot.)

“Each of this year’s finalists has provided a compelling story about how their business stands at that crucial crossroads where the right mix of vision and action can secure future growth and success,” Michel Bergeron, BDC’s Senior Vice President, Marketing and Public Affairs, said in a statement. “With his mobile parking system, Phillip is tackling a problem that can cause real financial hardship for local merchants in a creative way that can actually drive more business to their doors.”

For his part, 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 manufacturers in the company’s new headquarters in Dartmouth.  (See accompanying story.)

“With his innovative knee-brace technology, Chris can take advantage of a vast market opportunity,” said Bergeron. “Spring Loaded is yet another example of how Canadian entrepreneurs can create world-class technology products for global markets.”

Both finalists said they owe a lot to the members of their team and plan to use the money, if they win, to increase their company’s traction.

“The $100,000 would be just the right ingredient to set us up the manufacturing of the braces later this year,” said Cowper-Smith.

Spring Loaded Prepares for Liftoff


Cowper-Smith: 'We weren't willing to give up.'

Cowper-Smith: 'We weren't willing to give up.'

After settling on its 15th design iteration, Spring Loaded Technology is finally ready to unleash its “bionic” knee brace on the world.

As it opens its new headquarters and manufacturing facility in Dartmouth this month, the company that grew out of Dalhousie University’s Starting Lean class is preparing for a pre-sales campaign it hopes will validate demand for the product. Spring Loaded has developed a knee brace that strengthens as well as stabilizes the joint. The product can increase the performance of athletes or grant greater mobility to people who have difficulty moving because of age, disability or obesity.

“It is the same size as an existing rigid shell knee brace, and it can do a lot of what a powered exoskeleton does,” said CEO Christopher Cowper-Smith in an interview. A powered exoskeleton is a military or medical application that fits over the body and can lift the individual’s entire body weight. “The big difference is that ours is one-tenth the size, one-tenth the weight and one-100th of the cost.”

Cowper-Smith, who today was short-listed for the 2015 BDC Young Entrepreneur Award, said he, Co-Founder Bob Garrish and their team have persevered to come up with a light-weight, efficient design for their brace.

The vision has always been for a joint that gains energy when the knee bends and then releases it when the knee strengthens, increasing the power in the joint. Since they began the project in late 2012, they tested and rejected three different joint technologies before settling on the fourth last year. Cowper-Smith won’t give away the secret ingredient of the device but said it was inspired by the landing gear of an aircraft.

As well as being functional, they had to come up with a design that was as light, elegant and small as possible. In all, they have designed it 15 times.

In the meantime, they embarked on a media campaign that included paying for social media posts. The result was that they reached thousands of individuals, about a third of whom said they are interested in buying the Spring Loaded brace. 

These people – many of them aging athletes who hope to extend their careers -- will be the backbone of the pre-sales campaign. Cowper –Smith expects a general launch before the end of the year.

The company has raised about $850,000 in equity funding and about $1.65 million from government programs. It plans to raise more money from angel investors to finance the sales push in the coming year or so.

Looking back, Cowper-Smith said he and Garrish had no idea it would take so long to get the product right.

“In all honesty, absolutely not,” he said. “We initially thought we could so this in half the time and probably for half the money. In hindsight, we know we accomplished a lot in this amount of time when you look at what’s involved in a project like this. We weren’t willing to give up -- that’s for sure. We managed to keep your heads down and keep on with it.”

A Banner Year in Financing in 2014


Blair Ryan: 'We had a great story that supported the raise.'

Blair Ryan: 'We had a great story that supported the raise.'

In many ways, The Rounds exemplified what happened in fundraising by Atlantic Canadian startups last year. It was a record year largely because companies like The Rounds tapped angels and government-owned agencies. 

The Rounds, a Halifax startup that operates a social network for medical professionals, announced a capital raise of $1 million in April 2014 from Innovacorp and a host of angels. Then in November, CEO Blair Ryan unveiled a $565,000 “seed –extension” from angel investors.

“The reason we raised a 'seed-extension' was because we'd hit most of those milestones after four months,” said Ryan recently. “We had a great story that supported the raise, and … adding to the team in that moment really let us capture and take advantage of the early success.”

Ryan could be the poster boy for 2014 financing. Yes, the headlines were captured by the $60 million private equity funding of St. John’s-based Verafin. But the equity funding of startups last year was notable for a 64 percent increase in angel investment and strong activity by government-owned investment groups.

“A large increase in angel investment in the region is incredible in a couple of ways,” said Patrick Hankinson, who made several investments after selling his company Compilr last year. “It shows that as a region we’re building businesses that are competitive on a global scale.”

The latest Entrevestor Intelligence report, which is published today, shows that Atlantic Canadian startups raised at least $124.5 million in equity financing (including convertible debt) last year. We say at least because there are always startup financing deals that are kept quiet. That top-line figure – which was bolstered by the $60 million private equity financing of Verafin of St. John’s -- is roughly twice the investment in startups from 2013 and 2012.

But the question has to be asked: should we include a massive one-time financing like the private equity investment in Verafin? (Private equity deals are generally investments in mature companies with strong cash flow whereas VC deals tend to be smaller investments in high-growth companies.) The St. John’s company whose technology exposes fraud and money laundering raised $60 million from California private equity fund Spectrum Equity – the largest single institutional financing we’ve reported on at Entrevestor. It accounted for almost half the money that East Coast startups raised last year.

That deal should definitely be included in the funding stats, and the reason highlights the first trend in funding we want to highlight in this report: these megadeals are no longer isolated incidents.

They’re rare for sure. But in three of the last four years, the East Coast startup community has witnessed PE deals of $17 million or more. As well as Verafin, there were the $17 million funding of Halifax-based STI Technologies in 2013, and the $30 million investment in Dartmouth-based Unique Solutions in 2011. This demonstrates that these big deals are going to pop up and distort the annual stats in many if not most years. They’re now part of the architecture.

The other trends that we’re noticing lie at the other end of the financing spectrum. A year ago, Entrevestor reported the big development in 2013 startup financing was national and international institutions replacing the agencies owned by provincial governments as the prime movers. Including the Spectrum-Verafin deal, those external institutions were formidable investors in 2014, accounting for $69.2 million in deals.

But the provincial-government-backed agencies were more active than ever – even though provincially owned Nova Scotia Business Inc. exited the VC game midway through the year. And though the government of Newfoundland and Labrador has approved the launch of the public-private Venture Newfoundland and Labrador fund, it made no investments in 2014.

Innovacorp in Nova Scotia and the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation became more active last year. There were 34 investments from agencies owned by provincial governments, up from 27 in 2013. They invested $10.1 million – a jump of 46 percent from the previous year.  [Disclaimer: Innovacorp and NBIF both advertise in Entrevestror.]

Angel investing also leapt. The total investment by angels into Atlantic Canadian startups increased 64 percent to $17.9 million in 2014. That’s a lot, considering that angels are generally known to invest $10,000 to $25,000 at a time.

“Outside of the dollar amounts raised, the other big win is the quality of angel investors we’re seeing backing these startups,” said Hankinson. “Most of these angel investors have been in the trenches and have war stories.  They’re helping founders in the region avoid mistakes and maximize the true value of their companies.”

Not all of these investments were nickel-and-dime antes. There were six companies in Atlantic Canada that raised more than $1 million from angels last year. There was only one such angel funding in the previous year, and three in 2012.

Which brings us back to Blair Ryan and The Rounds.

The company has spent three years developing a closed social network for medical professionals, so they can interact with complete privacy and consult one another for medical opinions. Doctors can join free, and The Rounds sells corporations, such as drug companies, limited access to the site so they can reach their target market.

Ryan spent much of the past few months in San Francisco, where he has continued to raise money with a target of $3 million. Given that he had already raised not one but two seed rounds, he initially told people he was raising a $3 million Series A round. It was met with quizzical expressions. 

“I was barely able to get meetings when I called it a Series A -- the next logical step after seed raises,” he joked. “But as soon as I called it a $3 million seed round, everyone was interested.”

Entrevestor’s Financing Infographic


If you want a quick visual presentation of startup financing in 2014, check out our infographic here.

Our artist Roxanna Boers has done a great job capturing in a single image the various nuances of how Atlantic Canadian high-growth companies raised money last year.

We look at total funding, the sources of funding and major deals. We even break down sources of institutional funding in the last three years. The infographic is featured in our latest Entrevestor Intelligence report, which we also published online today. 

Please feel free to share the image. 

St-Onge Focuses on Ascenta Skin


The least-noticed part of the Ascenta Health Ltd. exit may be the most interesting: it is the development of a new company around the Ascenta Skin product.

Ascenta Health, whose NutraSea brand of nutritional products are made naturally from omega-3 fatty acids, said last month it had been bought by Nature’s Way, an affiliate of Dr. Willmar Schwabe Pharmaceuticals of Germany. And a single sentence in the announcement said Founder and CEO Marc St-Onge would “move on and retain ownership in Ascenta Skin, the company’s newly developed high-end skincare brand.”

Though the financial details of the sale to Nature’s Way were not disclosed, St-Onge did say in an interview Monday that there is no earn-out. That is, all the money was paid when the deal closed and the payment is not linked to the future performance of Ascenta Health.

St-Onge, who started Ascenta Health 12 years ago, is working as a part-time consultant to help Nature’s Way grow the Dartmouth operations. But otherwise he is free to grow Ascenta Skin as a new company.

Ascenta Skin now has annual revenue in the six-figure range and St-Onge believes it is now in a position to accelerate sales.

In 2009, St-Onge and his team became aware of scientific research showing that omega-3 EPA and DHA (the fatty oils found in such fish as salmon) not only have nutritional benefits for the heart and joints but can also benefit the skin. The studies showed that omega-3 can increase collagens and hydration in the skin and reduce redness and irritation.

So the company spent four years developing Ascenta Skin, which it launched in 2013. It also secured a $500,000 loan from the Atlantic Canada Opportunity Agency’s business development program to develop the product.

Ascenta Skin is taken orally, which is why its marketing campaign features the tagline, “Beauty comes from within.” St-Onge said the product can improve deeper layers of the skin than others that are applied externally.

With the new company, St-Onge and his five employees will continue to take a science-based approach to developing products and establishing their efficacy.  Ascenta Skin is the first product of its type approved by Health Canada, and the company last year completed human clinical trials establishing that Ascenta Skin can reduce sunburn.

“For us, really pioneering new research is part of what we’re looking to do,” said St-Onge, adding the company is now looking into research partnerships with universities. “We want to bring some new science to this process of skin care and anti-aging.”

What’s new about Ascenta Skin is it sells through a different sales channel than its mother company. The product sells through the high-end beauty outlets and spas, mainly in the U.S. and Canada. It has a Canadian distributer and the team is in talks on a similar arrangement in the U.S.

The young company will be financed internally at least in the initial stages. If Ascenta Skin launches a big project or wants to buy another company, it may need to raise capital in the future, said St-Onge. Ascenta Health in 2009 received a $4 million venture capital investment from Avrio Capital of Alberta.

For St-Onge, the new company brings with it the excitement and challenges he went through 12 years ago.

“It’s going to mean meeting some new challenges by virtue of the fact that we are selling into a new market,” he said. “But I think we can accelerate things faster than we did at Ascenta. The journey of an entrepreneur is always learning through trial and error and experience.”

Techlink Suspends Operations


Sydney-based Techlink Entertainment has suspended operations and laid off about 60 employees.

Techlink’s specialty was producing VLT games that accepted prepaid cards rather than cash with the goal of alerting players when they’d spent a certain amount.

Such machines had been mandated in Nova Scotia under the province’s responsible gambling rules. But the provincial government ended Techlink’s responsible gaming contract last year, saying its My-Play system was flawed.

The company had received financial backing from Nova Scotia Business Inc., which had approved equity investments and loans to the company totaling $13 million, though not all of those funds had been paid to the company.

TechLink was the second company from the NSBI portfolio to halt operations this year as Halifax’s Origin Biomed went into receivership in April. NSBI’s venture capital arm, which is no longer making new investments, invested a total of $7.9 million in the company.

The CBC reported Monday that Techlink President John Xidos blamed the decision on "financial shortages from delayed and unforeseen business decisions."

The Sydney-area community is now working on doing what it can to reverse or mitigate the economic impact of the announcement on Monday.

The Chronicle-Herald reported that company officials want politicians and business leaders to attend a meeting at Techlink’s headquarters Wednesday to help forge a response plan of action. That could include steps to secure the company’s future and prevent losses to the local economy.

The organizers of the Spark Cape Breton Demo Day scheduled for Friday have changed the schedule so that it will include a Founders Speed Dating session from 3:30 to 4:30 pm. Each laid off employee will have 30 seconds to tell potential employers their name, skill set and what work they’re looking for.

The goal, said Innovacorp investment manager Bob Pelley, is to retain as much talent from the Techlink staff as possible in the city’s growing tech community.

“Our community is rallying behind these people and wants to do its best to keep as many of them as possible gainfully employed right here,” he said.

Xiplinx Goes Home to Move Forward


The First Launch36 Demo Day

The First Launch36 Demo Day

Things are going so swimmingly at Xiplinx Technologies that CEO Brent MacDonald is going back to where he was three years ago – in the PropelICT accelerator.

Xiplinx, the Saint John company that helps manufacturing plant managers monitor data from around their factories, was recently accepted into the Propel Build program. That’s the advanced accelerator for growth stage companies, and the fact that Xiplinx has entered the program makes sense once you think about it. 

The name Xiplinx jumped out from the list of companies accepted in Build because Xiplinx was a member of the first cohort of Propel (then called Launch36) in the spring of 2012. Recently, the company has been increasing sales and finding new partners. And MacDonald believes the best way to sustain the growth is to go through the three-month program once again.

“Our company’s growing for sure, but I sincerely hope that none of us get to the point that we don’t have a lot more to learn,” said MacDonald in an interview.

In assessing what Xiplinx has to achieve in the next year or so, he looked at the curriculum for the Build program and realized it covered a lot of material Xiplinx needs to learn.

“It was pretty clear that everything we’ll go through in the program will pertain to us in the next few months,” he said. “It really was a no brainer when we looked at it from that perspective.”

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.

The company has had 500 percent user growth in the last year, and MacDonald expects June will 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. It has also signed five channel partners, including such industry leaders as Bluewater Automation and BNAP Inc..

Last year, Xiplinx received a $500,000 loan from the New Brunswick government and a combination of grants and loans from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency totalling $214,250. The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation has a total investment of $350,000 in the company.

What MacDonald and his colleagues really want to learn in the Build program is more about how to scale a Software-as-a-Service product in a mature market.

XIplinx is older than the other five companies in the Build cohort this year, but MacDonald does not expect to stand out as the wizened veteran. He said the advances in the ecosystem have been so profound in the past few years that the other participants will come to the program well versed in lean methodology.

“I’ve met a bunch of them and I’m not worried about being in front of them,” said MacDonald. “We were part of the first Propel cohort. People are coming out of programs all over the region since then, and they’re 1,000 percent ahead of where we were just by virtue of the fact that the ecosystem is so much more mature.”

 

Disclaimer: PropelICT advertises in Entrevestor products. 

Eye on KW: Women’s Bootcamp


The Women Entrepreneurs Bootcamp in 2015

The Women Entrepreneurs Bootcamp in 2015

Communitech is looking for applications for its second Women Entrepreneurs Bootcamp, or WEB, and has quadrupled the prize pot to entice applicants.

The tech startup hub space in Kitchener-Waterloo will hold the event in the autumn with the aim of helping women entrepreneurs improve their skills at forming, launching and scaling tech products. The winner of a pitch competition to be held on Oct. 1 will receive $100,000, up from $25,000 last year.

“We’re really trying to work with female founders and accelerate them into this phase and kickstart their ideas,” Communitech Talent Program Manager Alayne Hynes said in an interview.

Last year, Communitech received 96 applications for WEB from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. With a $75,000 increase in this year’s prize money, Hynes is hoping that WEB will receive more than 100 applications. The deadline to apply for WEB is June 15.

The WEB accepts 25 female founders to a six-day bootcamp where they learn how to accelerate their businesses.

WEB requires that the companies have a female founder who is able to attend the bootcamp. The company must be tech-based and in its early stages of development.

The 25 companies from last year’s WEB are all still functioning and growing. For instance, second prize winner DraftingSPACE, an online tool that can show you several ways to renovate your own home, was just acquired by a B.C. company.

In a recent interview, Emily Richardson, CEO of Halifax-based startup GoFullSteam, said her company instantly got a boost in its early days when she was accepted into the Women Entrepreneurs Bootcamp last year. GoFullSteam has developed a series of tools that can help small businesses plan and execute the early stages of their growth. Richardson said the WEB allowed her not only to learn but also to get feedback on her own platform from other entrepreneurs.

The six days of the bootcamp are split into two three-day periods. The first period is devoted to developing ideas and helping the founders to create their lean canvases, a skeleton model for startups. The founders are also introduced to pitching, how to build customer survey and how to attain the market data they need.

Then the founders leave for a month. When they return for the second period, they are expected to have completed homework, which consists of a completed lean canvas, a pitch deck and a customer survey. The WEB organizers mark this homework, and enter the eight to 10 teams with the best overall marks in to the final pitch competition, where one of them will win $100,000.

The second period teaches the founders about foundational business concepts. The founders also participate in a few practice pitch rounds, which also factor in to the overall mark that determines which companies enter the final pitch competition.

“We want more women to enter the tech space, and this is one way that Communitech is helping them to do this,” Hynes said.

Due to the diverse companies and women who participate in WEB, many of last year’s participants said that building a network with other female tech founders was invaluable to them.

“That was something we weren’t intentionally trying to build,” she said, “so it was awesome that we were able to achieve that. We hope to build on that as we move forward.”

Eye on KW is a regular feature in Entrevestor that highlights startups and the innovation ecosystem in Kitchener-Waterloo. 

 

Simpson Wants More Success in NB


Cathy Simpson: We need to inspire young girls.

Cathy Simpson: We need to inspire young girls.

As the incoming chair of the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, Cathy Simpson intends to help more startups achieve the kind of accelerated growth that pushes companies and regions forward.

Simpson also aims to get more women involved in science, technology and management. To that end, she is leading youth initiatives that demonstrate that women can succeed in the innovation sector.

Interviewed shortly after taking up her new role, Simpson said she wants to see more companies like Radian6, Q1 Labs and User Events.

These New Brunswick ventures all sold for large sums and contributed to the economy through job growth and re-investment in new startups.

“We’ve had some big successes and we want more,” Simpson said. “We need to bring more of the private sector, government and academia together to ensure the growth of the ecosystem and help in the commercialization of research.”

As chair of NBIF, Simpson oversees an independent non-profit that invests in growth-oriented companies and applied research.  Since beginning in 2003, NBIF has helped create over 50 companies and 350 applied research projects.

Simpson brings 25 years of experience to her role, including 13 years in the Telecom industry working for NBTel and Bell Aliant.

She went on to T4G, an IT professional services firm, where she remains vice president (public sector).

She is a co-founder of PropelICT, which began 11 years ago as a group for the IT industry, and is now the foremost Atlantic Canadian accelerator.  

“At first we didn’t even know why we were meeting,” she said of Propel’s early days. “It was crazy, but we felt that if we were connected we could grow our individual companies and the IT industry.”

Simpson also played a leading role in producing Atlantic Canada’s Big Data Congress. The first two congresses were held in Saint John. This year’s event will be held in Halifax in October. 

At last year’s congress, there was a student event attended by speaker Hilary Mason, New York-based founder of Bitly (the app that abbreviates links). This year’s Congress will see another, similar student event.

“Hilary brought a female perspective to the coolness of data and the jobs available for those who love math and all things tech. David Alston (Chief Innovation Officer at Introhive), talked about the cool things happening in New Brunswick,” Simpson said.

“The kids’ subsequent tweets revealed how exciting and inspiring they found the conversation. I thought--we’ve changed lives today.”

Simpson is also a co-founder of The CASM Group, a social enterprise focused on young women’s leadership and personal development.  She was recently accepted into the International Women’s Forum (IWF).

The mother of three, including two daughters, believes girls need to hear that they can succeed in the innovation sector.

“We need to start when they’re still in school,” she said. “I’ve seen girls inspired by speakers like Sally Ng and Erin Flood.” (Ng is the executive director of Fredericton accelerator Planet Hatch and Erin is the COO of Hotspot Parking.)

“We need to change these terrible stats—that only about 15 per cent of CEOS of Fortune 500 companies are female, and fewer than 10 per cent of startups have female CEOs.”

Simpson was born in Newfoundland and moved to Nova Scotia while young. She gained her Bachelor of Business Administration from Nova Scotia’s Acadia University before starting her career in New Brunswick. So, she has a broad perspective on the region.

“It’s an exciting time. There are many economic opportunities. I see IT and the knowledge sector as continuing to be a significant regional strength, along with strengths like energy and healthcare.”

More regional collaboration would help fuel economic growth, she feels.

“PropelICT now works with groups across the region. It’s managed to eliminate borders. The NBIF mandate applies to New Brunswick, but we can share our ideas with others.

“We’re pretty small in Atlantic Canada. Regional innovation is essential.”

Disclaimer: NBIF advertises on Entrevestor.

Three Events in Sydney Next Week


I’m pleased to be the guest speaker at a TecSocial gathering Thursday in Sydney – one of a few events Entrevestor will be attending in Cape Breton late next week.

I’ll be delivering a brief chat on communications for startups at the TecSocial get together from 5:15 pm to 7:15 pm June 4 at the Membertou Trade & Convention Centre.

My talk will focus on the need for startups to identify their key message and make sure the entire team can deliver it.  They have to communicate internally and to investors, customers, and the broader world.  It’s important because no one can achieve their startup goals if they can’t explain to partners, customers and funders how and why the project will succeed.

TecSocial is a monthly meeting organized by Innovacorp in Sydney for those with an interest in technology and entrepreneurship. It is a free event and is open to the public. 

The next day, June 5, the Entrevestor Luncheon sponsored by BDO will be held at the Verschuren Centre at Cape Breton University.  Bob Pelley, the Innovacorp investment manager in Cape Breton, will lead a discussion on how to enhance the ecosystem to lift up the range of young companies that have started in Cape Breton recently. (Disclaimer: Innovacorp advertises on Entrevestor.)

The lunch, which starts at noon, is free and tickets are available here.

After the lunch, Spark Cape Breton Demo Day will be held from 2:30 to 5:30 pm.

Past Spark Cape Breton winners, including PizzaGO, Artisync, Shout!, Chatsubo Heavy Industries, BAMS Systems Inc., SONA Nanotech Ltd., and Map Master Technologies, will discuss their experiences and update the audience on their progress.

Spark Cape Breton is a competition for the best early stage technology companies in Cape Breton and the Mulgrave area.

Following this, a get together will be held at The Old Triangle in Sydney.

The latest Spark Cape Breton competition is now calling for submissions. Winners could receive up to $50,000 in cash and mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs. Anyone from Cape Breton or the Mulgrave area who is interested in entering muse submit a three- to five-page business summary by June 30, 2015, at 5:00 pm AST.

 

Futurpreneur Seeks Young Founders


Futurpreneur Canada, a group that supports young entrepreneurs, has launched the fifth annual Spin Master Innovation Fund, a competition for innovative young people.

The national organization is looking for innovative Canadian entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 and 39 to apply to the competition by June 19.

The competition’s judges will select as many as 10 contestants to win a  development loan worth up to $50,000 and two paid trips to Toronto to attend mentoring events. Each winner will work with one of Futurpreneur Canada’s 2,800 volunteer mentors, specially selected to meet the winner’s needs.

The contest focuses on young entrepreneurs who are looking to get their startup off the ground, and who aim to revitalize the economy by such efforts as exporting products and creating jobs. The contest is open to any sector, and the entrants need little more than an idea and the business plan that they complete through the entry process.

Last year, no one from Atlantic Canada placed in the top 10 in the competition, said Nicole Osmond, Futurpreneur’s Director Atlantic. She hopes to change that in 2015.

“There is a tremendous innovative spirit in young entrepreneurs across Atlantic Canada, and it would be great for those entrepreneurs to tap into this opportunity and have Atlantic Canada represented in the next Spin Master Innovation cohort,” said Osmond.

Osmond said the organizers are stressing innovation and entrepreneurial spirit in selecting the finalists. Applicants must be able to articulate an innovative vision for their company, demonstrate their benefit to the economy and have a viable business plan.

The contest is now accepting applications, which are available here .

Previous Spin Master Innovation Fund winners include Permission Click Inc. from Winnipeg and BiogeniQ from Montreal. Permission Click Inc. is an application for parental consent and payment collection in grade schools. BiogeniQ is a company focused on collecting genetic and nutritional information and tracking illness to give the user a personalized health assessment.

Following the June 19 deadline for applications, shortlisted candidates must go through a pitching competition in July. For the successful recipients, there is a two-day workshop in Toronto in the autumn followed by a two-day accelerator in the spring of 2016.

Press Release: Densitas’ ISO Standard


Densitas, a Halifax startup developing software that enhances mammography, his issued the following press release:

DENSITAS RECEIVES ISO 13485:2003 CERTIFICATION

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia – May 28, 2015 – Densitas Inc. announced today it has received 13485:2003 certification from the International Standards Organization (ISO).

This ISO standard specifies the requirements for comprehensive quality management systems for the design and manufacture of medical devices. Densitas is an early stage startup company that develops software for use in the digital mammography enterprise.

This milestone achievement underscores the company’s commitment to developing quality software products that meet clinical, administrative and IT needs of radiology clinics and health care providers, with the goal of improving appropriateness of care.

ISO certification is also an added assurance for customers in international markets that Densitas products will meet national standards throughout their lifespan.

“In our industry, ISO certification is a given,” said Mohamed Abdolell, CEO of Densitas. “It also sends a clear message that our products are developed to rigorous standards and allows our sales team to pursue business development opportunities at a global level.”

ISO certification lays the groundwork for submissions to regulatory bodies to begin selling products in a variety of countries. Densitas’ flagship product is DM-­‐Density. It provides a standardized, reliably reproducible and fully automated breast density assessment that integrates with the breast screening workflow. Regulatory activities are under way in the EU, Canada and the US.

ABOUT DENSITAS

Densitas Inc. is an early stage software medical device company, developing digital mammography products designed to meet the clinical, administrative and IT needs of radiology clinics and health care providers, with the goal of improving appropriateness of care. The company’s data-­‐driven solutions distill valuable information from the vast quantities of data generated in digital mammography. Densitas’ product pipeline will continue to solve real challenges in the delivery of healthcare.

For more information, visit http://www.densitas.ca or connect with us on Twitter @Densitas or LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/company/densitas-­‐inc-­‐).

McMaster Out to Defeat Android, iOS


Kirt McMaster: 'Our partners are more powerful than the incumbents.'

Kirt McMaster: 'Our partners are more powerful than the incumbents.'

A guy from Cape Breton Island has launched a war with both Google and Apple, and investors like Rupert Murdoch and Twitter have bet $85.4 million that he’ll win.

Kirt McMaster is gaining fame in the tech world as the CEO of Cyanogen Inc., a Palo Alto, Calif., company that is developing a new operating system for smartphones. There is now a duopoly in these operating systems as 90 percent or more of the smartphones in the world run off Apple’s iOS system or Google’s Android. McMaster, a former Dalhousie University student who grew up in Ben Eoin near Sydney, wants Cyanogen to join them, possibly exceed them.

“We’re building a platform that opens Android out,” said McMaster in a recent phone interview as he drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco. “On aggregate, we believe we can create something that is as powerful as the incumbents because our partners are more powerful than the incumbents.”

The task is absolutely staggering for Cyanogen, which has 96 employees and is valued at just over $1 billion. Google and Apple together employ more than 140,000 people and are valued at $1.1 trillion. They have a huge head start in a massive market. But there is such tremendous growth in that market, and Cyanogen’s partners are so powerful, that there’s an opportunity for a new competitor. McMaster colourfully tells the world that competitor will be Cyanogen.

“We’re putting a bullet through Google’s head,” he told Forbes magazine last month, showing he’s lost none of the Caper spirit since he left the region two decades ago.

Is it mere bluster? Probably not.

“Cyanogen is a very interesting company,” said David Crow, the co-founder of the StartupNorth website and co-lead of The Next Phase workshops in Atlantic Canada. He noted that the Android market is more than the slice that runs off the Google operating system. There’s also the non-Google Android market and Cyanogen is making waves in that portion.

“Cyanogen provides users, developers and companies a mobile operating system built on top of Android without a Google OS,” said Crow. “Who are these developers? Major developers like Microsoft, Twitter, Amazon, Facebook and others that compete with different Google services. Cyanogen is one of the leading companies because it offers a mobile platform for these companies to build new businesses and business models to reach new users in emerging markets.”

In the past few months, a parade of powerful players who don’t like the Google-Apple duopoly have fallen in line behind McMaster’s little company. The investors in the most recent $85.4 million investment round include: PremjiInvest, the investment arm of Azim Premji, India’s third-richest man; Twitter; mobile chip giant Qualcomm; Spanish telecom carrier Telefónica; media baron Rupert Murdoch, and Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn. That funding round was on top of $30 million the company had raised previously from some of the top Silicon Valley venture capital funds.

As well as the investors, Cyanogen has formed partnerships with some of the world’s leading tech companies. In April, Cyanogen and Microsoft Corp. announced a partnership to integrate popular Microsoft services across the Cyanogen operating system. The distribution arrangement includes such Microsoft favourites as Bing, Skype, Outlook, and Office.

What has attracted these mammoth partners is a six-year history of open-source innovation that gained a fervent following. In 2009, veteran programmer Steve Kondik began to tinker with Android (which is itself an open-source system) in an attempt to improve it. Soon he attracted a crowd and chatrooms were buzzing about the new platform called Cyanogen that could customize Android. Before long, 1 million people were using it.

In 2012, McMaster heard about the product, sought out Kondik and convinced him they should form a company.  They did and McMaster became the CEO.

What they have now is a product that McMaster describes as “Android on steroids” – an alternative with more power, speed and features than the existing products.  It’s a product that lets coders and hackers endlessly tinker with their phone to experiment and add features. But McMaster also wants a product that offers the general consumer greater speed, security and flexibility – an ability to easily add features to customize their phones.

He also believes the task before him is completely achievable. Tens of millions of people in 190 countries already use Cyanogen. The number of smartphones in the world is expected to grow from about 2 billion next year to 5 billion in the next few years. McMaster believes most of the growth will be in non-Google Android products. In fact, he predicts the non-Google Android market in a few years will be bigger than the entire smartphone market now.

Cyanogen plans to work closely with equipment makers and mobile network operators to expand the usage, and emerging markets will be key to the company’s growth. It’s no coincidence that so many of the investors have huge operations in emerging markets – Foxconn in greater China, Telefónica in Latin America and PremjiInvest in India. “Every quarter you’re going to see us roll out new features that are different than Android and Apple,” said McMaster.

He also believes his company will lead to a new breed of tech startup. “In time, a new class of startup will arrive on top of Cyanogen and that’s something that’s really exciting to me,” he said.

McMaster would not say how much capital he expects to need to fulfill his ambitions, but he did note the money raised by Chinese phone-maker Xiaomi, which databank TechCrunch says has raised a total of $1.6 billion. The message is clear: McMaster is just getting started.

In the near term, he wants to build up the company, focus on growth and hire some great people.

“The demand is high for awesome people, especially in the Valley,” he said. “The good news is there are very few places in the world that give you the opportunity to re-imagine the mobile computer. We’re re-imagining the whole industry and we’re doing it as a startup and we move very fast.”

 

All figures in this article are in US dollars. 

Kinduct Signs Up 7 Sports Teams


Travis McDonough

Travis McDonough

Halifax health-technology company Kinduct Technologies announced Wednesday it has signed five professional sports teams and two NCAA colleges to use the Kinduct Performance product.

The Performance product is an athlete management system that helps organizations that work with elite athletes find the information they need. The software helps these organizations collect, organize, share and analyze data in one centralized platform, leading to more informed decisions.

The company headed by Travis McDonough has been active lately, announcing a partnership earlier this month with sports analytics company STATS.com and buying Vancouver-based HealthMet Technologies last summer.

Kinduct said in a statement it has been working in the past year with some key clients to enhance their training program tools and content to meet the needs of elite strength and conditioning coaches and athletes. These enhancements were a critical factor in signing the seven new clients, it added.

“Kinduct has done a fantastic job with the enhancements to their strength and conditioning applications,” Reg Grant, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the New York Rangers, said in the company’s statement. “We have looked at a number of different platforms. Kinduct’s commitment to innovation and making their product better every day has produced the best solution and delivery team on the market.”

The company also recently enhanced its strength and conditioning module called ATP, or Advanced Training Programs. The module allows strength coaches to create custom program templates using their own workout sessions. When building these programs, coaches can select from Kinduct’s library of exercise videos, or they can upload their own.

Kinduct will have a large presence next week at the NHL Combine in Buffalo where it will meet with general managers, trainers and performance coaches from across the league. 

“The feedback we have been receiving from our professional sport clients in the NHL, NBA, NFL, and MLB has been extremely positive so far,” said McDonough in the statement. “Our new tool has helped head trainers and performance coaches deliver highly intuitive player and position specific programming in a manner not seen before in the industry.”

Anyone Want To Attend Startupfest?


Working with other partners throughout the region, Planet Hatch is trying to rustle up a group of founders and other startup lovers to make up an Atlantic Canadian contingent at the International Startup Festival in Montreal in July.

Sally Ng, the Executive Director of the glistening startup hub in Fredericton, said in an interview Monday her organization and others in the region are trying to get a group together to fill a bus to attend the festival.

Now in its sixth year, the Startup Festival gathers together more than 2,000 founders, investors, and analysts from more than a dozen countries. Startupfest offers a unique blend of deep content, inspiring stories, unbeatable networking, and unmistakable festival vibe. The event will be held July 15 to 18.

Two years ago, more than 50 East Coasters attended the Festival and last year an Atlantic Canadian tent at the Startup Festival allowed startups such as Moncton-based Qimple and Brownie Points of St. John’s to demo their products. Ng is hoping that tradition can be resurrected this year.

Planet Hatch and Pond Deshpande Centre are trying to work with a group of sponsors to reduce the cost of attending the event and make it possible for more people to attend.

“If an individual entrepreneur wants to go to the event, the cost (including transportation, accommodation and admission) would be about $900,” said Ng. “We’re trying to bring the cost down to about $450.”

If any startup lovers are interested, they can simply register here to reserve their spots. First come, first serve. Once sponsorships are confirmed, participants will be asked to purchase their tickets at the discounted rate.

As well as working on the voyage to Montreal, Ng is busy with a range of tasks at Planet Hatch. The space will host one of the three Launch cohorts of PropelICT this summer, so nine companies (seven from Fredericton) will be moving in in the next week or two.  

While she will be one of the mentors working with this group, she also hopes to reach out to some of the 160 companies that applied to Propel and didn’t make it to ensure they learn from the experience and apply again.

 

Venture NL Fund’s First Close


The Venture Newfoundland and Labrador Fund, the new public-private investment body that will provide seed financing in the province, has announced its first close and should make its first investment within three weeks.

Pelorus Venture Capital Ltd., the subsidiary of GrowthWorks Atlantic that will manage the fund, said Tuesday that the contributions by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, BDC Capital and Pelorus itself have all closed. Pelorus is talking to some institutions and potential angel investors about coming into the fund. It is working with the Newfoundland and Labrador Angel Network to bring angels into the fund. Pelorus anticipates the Venture NL Fund will be worth $15 million to $20 million by the final close.

“We are very excited to move to this next phase as we start to assess investment opportunities on behalf of the fund,” Tom Hayes, Managing Director of Pelorus, said in a statement. “At the same time, we are now introducing the fund to the local angel community who will benefit from a 30 percent non-refundable tax credit provided by the province when they invest in the fund.”

The provincial government announced last year that it wanted to establish a local, privately managed fund that would combine public and private money to invest in startups in the province.  The government has invested $10 million in the fund, while BDC Capital has contributed $2 million. Pelorus’ contribution will amount to 2 percent of the total raise.

GrowthWorks itself has three portfolio companies in St. John’s -- Virtual Marine Technologies, adfinitum Networks and ClearRisk – so the managers have experience with companies in the province.

“We have three portfolio companies here in the GrowthWorks Atlantic portfolio,” said Hayes in an intreview. “We’re very pleased with what we’ve seen in the GrowthWorks fund here and the ecosystem we think has improved.”

GrowthWorks Atlantic, meanwhile, is no longer accepting funds as the Canadian government has wound down the regulations governing labour-sponsored funds. Hayes said the fund is still managing its portfolio of about 20 companies.

Chris Moyer, an investment manager for GrowthWorks Atlantic and Pelorus, will be the point man in St. John’s and will be in the city on a weekly basis. He will work out of the Common Ground co-working space.

Hayes said the Venture NL Fund model is encouraging because it brings together private and public backers to support young companies.

“We’re quite pleased with the conversation we’ve had with the potential investors,” he said. “There’s quite a good buzz here. And this is a model I’d like to see moved out beyond Newfoundland, and l realize we need to take it one step at a time.”

Finding the Soul of Entrepreneurship


Zak Single sketches during his course work.

Zak Single sketches during his course work.

University of New Brunswick recently launched the second year of its Summer Institute, an accelerator that melds entrepreneurial fire with artistic passion. 

The three-month program differs from other accelerators that focus on sales, market research and typical research and development. Instead, the Summer Institute aims to help participants discover an issue they are deeply passionate about, and use that passion to create beautiful products. The goal is to create products that will develop a devoted and impassioned following rather than just plug a hole in the market.

The program has gained international attention, receiving applications from across North America and as from as far away as the United Kingdom.

“The program is about finding soul in what you’re doing,” said Dhirendra Shukla, chair of the Technology, Management and Entrepreneurship program at UNB. “People see products like Apple phones and think, ‘Oh this is tech.’ Really, it’s art with tech inside.”

The program begins by taking participants through the streets of St. Andrew’s, N.B., speaking with local artists, and seeking artistic inspiration that they can turn into viable products and sustainable revenue. Over the next several months, participants will develop products that connect with consumers on a personal level under the guidance of the program’s mentors.

Last year, five businesses run by seven people passed through the accelerator. Businesses such as Wear Your Label, a clothing line focused on positive self-image, and Oasis Farmery, urban farming using aquaponics, were among alumni of the 2014 Summer Institute.

This year the Summer Institute is hosting seven businesses run by nine entrepreneurs. The teams or individuals, who have been working for three weeks, include:

-  Localise It, by Kevin Mahabir, which sets out to bring greater visibility to locally grown food.

-  Arcaro Design, by Mi’kmaq designer Trish Arcaro. She is working on a clothing line that incorporates traditional native designs.

-  Pilōtalk, by Alex Kall and Carissa Boer, which is producing audiobooks for bedtime listening. The team is developing a library of relaxing 20- to 30-minute stories that people can listen to to calm down before they sleep.

-  Boxed Living, by Zak Single, who came to the program from the U.K. Boxed Living is developing furniture made from corrugated cardboard that is strong, attractive and can be unfolded when you move.

-  Limbic, by André Aikens and Alex Matson, which is making hand-crafted skateboards decorated by local artists.

-  John McConnell, a woodworker who has developed tools for knitters, and already sold 100 units of his yarn holders.

-  And Sterling Gale, by jeweler Kate White, whose work is already on display at exhibits in Fredericton and Toronto. She is developing a line of jewelry that people with anxiety issues can manipulate to ease tension.

Shukla attributes the variety and creativity of the program to uniqueness of UNB and the Atlantic entrepreneurial spirit.

“This is the place where we can do these things and have the greatest impact,” he said. “Everyone wants to be next Silicon Valley, but being the second anything leaves you playing second fiddle. Let’s just be a better us.”

 

 

ICrowdx Preps Crowdfunding Portals


At some point this summer, Sean Sears hopes Canadian startups will be raising capital on his new crowdfunding platform, ICrowdx.

Sears and his colleagues at the Halifax investment-firm-cum-startup-lab Ogden Pond have been working on developing the online portal in preparation for regulators approving equity crowdfunding. Now that that has been achieved, they are in discussions with regulators on the details of letting companies raise capital online.

In addition to helping companies raise money, Sears believes ICrowdx will help investors to manage a portfolio of angel investments and communicate with their portfolio companies.

“The portal will be social,” Sears said in an interview. “It will create an instrument in which the investor has a direct line of communication with the company. And that flow of communication will be constant. It is also directly up the alley of the skills these companies have.”

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) only this month first 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.

Sears said the restrictions are “brilliant” because they will force investors to hold a portfolio of startups rather than placing a heavy bet on one or two. Startups are inherently risky investments, and the restrictions force each investor to diversify, thereby reducing the risk.

ICrowdx immediately signalled that it will be among the first — if not the first — crowdfunding portal operating in Canada. The site will operate on a province-by-province basis and have staff in each jurisdiction in which it operates.

Sears believes the equity crowdfunding will prove to be a largely local exercise in which entrepreneurs attract investment from their local communities. He wants staff on hand to help the entrepreneurs launch successful campaigns and to vet companies to ensure they’re suitable candidates for investment.

He said he’s aware of four other companies that are proposing equity crowdfunding portals in Canada, but all are either based outside the country or in Ontario or Alberta (two provinces that have yet to approve equity crowdfunding). That could open the way for ICrowdx to be the first to actually launch a functional portal.

Sears expects that he will have passed the regulatory hurdles within 60 to 90 days. The first portal may be in Saskatchewan, a province that has been leading the crowdfunding drive in Canada.

Sears and Ogden Pond are best known for producing such companies as Abridean and SageCrowd, but they’re moving swiftly into the crowdfunding space. As well as ICrowdx, Sears is working on an education technology crowdfunding platform in the United States. He declined to provide details on it.

Sears said he has researched crowdfunding and there is interest from investors and entrepreneurs, including those in Atlantic Canada.

 “There’s genuine interest in finding a different way to invest,” he said. “People want autonomy and they want to be engaged. When you talk to the people who have launched (crowdfunding drives), they say they are overwhelmed by the demand from investors.”

A Call for Permissionless Innovation


Last fall the C.D. Howe Institute published a report titled, "Measuring Innovation in Canada: The Tale Told by Patent Applications". Innovation is a fickle concept, and patents only tell part of the story. Yet when one sees that Atlantic Canada ranks last and well below the national average, it's hard to deny that we have a problem.

Readers of Entrevestor are well informed of the vibrancy of the East Coast startup scene, especially for its size. But venture capital and startup firms are not identical to innovation. They represent the fuel and ignition behind new ideas, and as any good Cub Scout knows, a flame will go out without a supportive surrounding structure to give it space to grow.

Rather than provide that space, governments in Atlantic Canada have too often opted to throw water on innovation before it's allowed to catch fire. A case in point is the government of Nova Scotia’s pending decision to regulate Airbnb, the technology platform for bed and breakfasts.

Airbnb is among the most successful startup companies of the last decade, but to Nova Scotia’s established accommodation industry it represents a threat. As such, the Tourism Industry Association appears to have been successful in lobbying the government’s enforcement power to the doors of everyday folk renting out their spare bedrooms.

There’s no doubt that this and similar interventions have a chilling effect on Atlantic Canada’s startups, as well as outsiders looking in. Take Bungalo.com, a startup developing a peer-to-peer platform for cottage rentals. Originally from Iceland, they recently chose to open an international headquarters in Halifax. I asked Bungalo founder and CEO Haukur Gudjonsson about how the Airbnb crackdown will affect them. 

"If we were making the decision today to move our office to Halifax this would definitely be taken into the decision making process," he told me. "The interesting thing about startups is that they can, in most cases, be located anywhere in the world. And the decision on where to locate the team is usually based on facts like what location is most open and supportive to your type of startup."

There’s a myth that Atlantic Canada lags in commercializing innovation because of low access to capital. Yet as Gudjonsson points out, what's truly lacking is experienced capital: "The majority of young businesses get their early stage funding through governmental grants and loans, but would in many cases benefit more from getting experienced investors or VCs into the companies to guide them; to motivate them to chase sales instead of more grants."

With plenty of talented entrepreneurs like Godjonsson, the missing ingredient keeping experienced investors away from Atlantic Canada is the institutional embrace of permissionless innovation. Investors are quick to discount a great idea by its regulatory risk, given the power of new rules to stop a fast growing business in its tracks. Permissionless innovation is an approach to the regulation of new technologies that adapts to challenges as they arise, rather than shutting down new ideas to protect the status quo or out of excessive precaution.

To illustrate, take an area where Canada as a whole has excelled: Drone technology. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has all but banned the commercial use of drones, big or small, by requiring drone operators to obtain a pilot license and seek explicit permission from the agency (even to fly a small plastic quadcopter).

In turn, Amazon and many startups experimenting with drones have moved north, in particular to British Columbia, thanks to Transport Canada’s broad exemptions for permissionless commercial drone use and easy-to-acquire certificates for larger types of drones. As a result, Canada has pulled ahead with complementary innovations too, such as the world’s first insurance product for commercial drone operators.

Drones have many applications, from film production to agricultural crop monitoring. But what makes Transport Canada's embrace of permissionless innovation so exciting is that the full commercial potential of drones is still unknown. New applications are being discovered everyday as entrepreneurs are given the freedom to experiment, creating opportunities that no one can predict, much less micromanage, in advance.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The last few years have seen major breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, off-grid energy, and genetic sequencing to name just a few. And in every one of these cases, entrenched interest groups and antiquated laws ensure the fruits of innovation flow to the jurisdictions with the most forward thinking regulatory scheme.

Just this month Nevada granted the first ever license for an autonomous commercial truck to Diamler Company. By now it's clear that in the coming years autonomous trucking will completely disrupt the transport industry. Atlantic Canada's regulators could embrace this fact and differentiate our region to prospective investors of all types. But don't hold your breath.

Our leaders have yet to recognize that encouraging innovation does not require another spending program or deeper pools of capital. Most often, what’s missing is the simple promise of government self-restraint.

Meanwhile, our provinces are preoccupied with balancing their budgets, creating disruptions of a different kind. Given this fiscal climate, efforts to expand tax credits and the like aren't getting far. The good news is that Atlantic Canada’s governments can choose to embrace permissionless innovation without it costing the taxpayer a penny.

Doing so would spark innovation across the region. The alternative is to allow our economy to go up in smoke.

 

Samuel Hammond is Nova Scotia native and Saint Mary's University alum who recently earned his Masters in Economics from Carleton University. He currently manages social media for the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, and is slated to begin further graduate studies in economics at George Mason University in the Fall. 

Press Release: VetHealth Set for PEI


The P.E.I. BioAlliance, the organization that promotes the life sciences industry in the province, has issued the following press release:

Animal Health and Nutrition Businesses Converge on PEI

Charlottetown, PEI (May 25, 2015) – North America’s premier International Animal Health and Nutrition Business Conference – VetHealth Global – will convene in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, June 8-10, 2015.

Since 2007, this biennial conference has generated international interest for its ability to attract senior executives, investors, inventive startups, regulators, and researchers from around the world.

VHG 2015 is expected to draw close to 200 delegates from five continents to examine market trends, global regulatory issues, economic geopolitics, and innovations for companion animal and food animal health and nutrition. 

Committed to helping new technologies achieve commercial success, VetHealth Global 2015 will also showcase international emerging companies with new products and innovative solutions for both food animal and companion animal markets.

A venture development seminar for early-stage companies will focus on issues of leadership and financing and provide one-on-one guidance and support.  The program will feature many opportunities to network, establish sales channels, and explore investment prospects. 

This year’s honourary chair is Richard R. DeLuca, Jr., President of Merck Animal Health, a $3 billion+ animal health business with employees in more than 50 countries and products available in over 150 markets.

“VetHealth Global 2015 offers a unique opportunity for leaders of animal health and nutrition companies to assess the current state of our dynamic sector, identify emerging trends and to discuss the global future of our industry. We have the opportunity to help shape the future of our industry by connecting customers, researchers, regulators, investors and other partners,” says DeLuca.

The theme of VetHealth Global -- “Innovation, Partnering and Commercialization” – is timely for animal health and nutrition business leaders striving to incorporate these tenets into a wide-ranging strategy to feed a global population of 9 billion people by 2050.

Conference presenters will include keynote speakers Roland Klober, Senior Program Officer for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, discussing “Social License and Food Animal Production” and international journalist, columnist and documentarian Gwynne Dyer exploring “Geopolitics and International Business.”  

“VetHealth Global has become a seminal part of the international animal health and nutrition business ecosystem,” says Rory Francis, Conference Chair and Executive Director of the PEI BioAlliance -- recently recognized as one of Canada’s top accelerators and incubators for helping companies bring bioscience-based technologies to commercial success. “We take very seriously our role in providing a venue for animal health businesses, large and small, to take stock of the ever-changing marketplace, new business models, new technologies and new externalities.” 

Known for their innovations in fish vaccines, animal feed additives, diagnostics, and veterinary medicines, Prince Edward Island companies already have a reputation as an innovation catalyst with the credibility to attract a global audience.

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Registration for the Conference, the Venture Development Seminar and keynote luncheons is available at www.vethealthglobal.com.

About PEI BioAlliance:

The Prince Edward Island BioAlliance was incorporated in 2005 to accelerate the growth of PEI's bioscience sector and enable next generation prosperity. Since that time, the BioAlliance has coordinated the work of leaders in bioscience business, research and government organizations in PEI, providing strategy, focus, and alignment among the partners. This collaboration has been the driver of bioscience growth to date and has given the PEI Bioscience Cluster a reputation nationally and internationally. PEI is currently home to over 40 bioscience-based companies now employing some 1300 people and generating more than $150 million in private sector revenue annually.   

22 Startups to Present at AVF


Critical Path Group has named the 22 companies that will present at the Atlantic Venture Forum and tell their stories to investors assembled from across the U.S. and Canada.

The third annual AVF, organized by Critical Path Group, will take place at the Westin Nova Scotian in Halifax on June 10 and 11. The event brings together investors and entrepreneurs in Atlantic Canada’s clean-tech, information technology and life science sectors.

At every AVF, both early- and growth-stage companies present their ideas to investors. These investors can in turn provide growing entrepreneurs with advice, connect them to their networks and sometimes even invest in their companies.

“We bring in the outside investors, and we have guys that have barely even heard of Halifax or where it is in Canada,” Critical Path Project Manager Zach Silbernagel said in an interview. “They go from that to being, like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this because you guys have some really interesting things going on here.’”

The presenting companies were selected by an investor advisory board based on their ideas, business models and revenue streams.

AVF only could fit 22 companies on the presenting bill, but there were many other companies vying for those spots. Silbernagel said that he strongly encourages the rejected companies to come to AVF. Critical Path Group offered those companies a large discount to attend AVF so that they could still benefit from the Forum’s lectures, networks and resources.

Over the two days of the AVF, there will be lectures on topics such as commercializing and financing healthcare technology, perseverance and venture capital.

As well as a range of panel discussions, the event includes several keynote speakers, including: Leonard Brody, and the President of Highline, the investment firm formed last year by the merger of Extreme Startups and GrowLab Ventures; whurley (William Hurley) a co-founder of Chaotic Moon Studios, a mobile and interactive development house; and motivational speaker, Warren Macdonald, the first double above-the-knee amputee to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. 

Critical Path presents awards to the best company in both the early and growth-stage categories. Last year, Charlottetown drug discovery company Neurodyn captured the best growth stage company award, while another biotech company, DeCell Technologies of Halifax, won the award for the best early-stage company.

The companies presenting this year in the early-stage category are: ABK Biomedical, Halifax; Conceptualiz, Dartmouth; CyberPsyc Software Solutions, Fredericton; DynamicMonitors.com, Stratford, P.E.I. ; Eyeread, Halifax; Fiddlehead Technology, Moncton; Health QR Inc., Halifax; Itavio, Moncton; Pacta, Halifax; Selectbidder, Moncton; SkySquirrel Technologies, Halifax; and SONA Nanotech, Sydney.

The presenting companies in the growth-stage category are: Agora Mobile, Moncton; Bungalo, Reykjavik and Halifax;  CSIpix, St. John’s;  Forerunner Research Inc., Dartmouth; HotSpot Parking, Fredericton; LeadSift, Halifax; Metamaterials Technologies Inc., Dartmouth;  Neurodyn Cognition, Charlottetown;  QRA, Halifax; and Smartpods, Moncton.

 

Eye on KW: Plum Reprioritizes Hiring


Caitlin MacGregor: Helping companies hire based on attitude.

Caitlin MacGregor: Helping companies hire based on attitude.

Caitlin MacGregor is convinced the recruiting profession has its priorities backward, and she and her colleagues at Plum Inc. are determined to put them right.

Plum is a Waterloo-based startup that helps companies or other employers find the right employees based on their character rather than skill set or history. That is important because research published recently in Forbes magazine has shown that half of new employees only last in their jobs for 18 months. In almost nine cases out of 10, the reason for failure is an attitudinal problem.

And yet, to MacGregor’s amazement, most hiring executives select candidates based on their resumés or superficial factors.

“They’re looking at the wrong things,” she said in an interview on Friday. “It’s keywords or what school they went to. Whether someone went to Conestoga College or someone went to Harvard – that’s not something predictive to say how they’re going to do in your company.”

Plum’s software-as-a-service technology helps organizations – usually companies with 100 to 5,000 employees – find the individuals that fit that particular group’s culture. MacGregor said it does so by applying the same quality of psychological testing that Fortune 500 companies use to choose CEOs.

When a company using Plum wants to hire someone, the hiring executive spends about five minutes taking a test to outline the qualities the company is looking for in a candidate. The idea is to identify the company’s culture and the personality traits needed for the specific post. Then each candidate for the position takes a 25-minute test, which assesses his or her attitude, cognitive abilities and personality.

Plum then goes through the applicants for each posting and matches the company’s requirements with the individuals that most closely align with those requirements. The hiring executive can examine the leading candidates, and then consider such things as skill sets, background and education.

“Plum allows the employers to know who their candidates really are, rather than who they claim to be,” said MacGregor.

The genesis of Plum dates back to when MacGregor was tasked with opening a U.S. office for a former employer. She had to hire staff and was told that making the wrong choice for the first hire would cost the company $300,000. She gave the candidates psychometric assessments, and one of the top scores came from a woman called Christine Bird, a fine arts grad who worked as a waitress. In other words, she didn’t have the background expected for the position.

Another candidate won the position (he was later fired), but MacGregor found a position for Bird, who excelled as an employee. In fact, she’s a Co-Founder of Plum, where she’s now Vice-President of Sales and Partners.

Plum, a graduate of the former Communitech accelerator Hyperdrive, received a $150,000 convertible note from BDC Capital and other funding in the past. It has completed half its seed round, though MacGregor decline to reveal specifics of the round. 

The company now has more than 65 active customers and the platform has been used on every continent other than Asia. More than 40,000 job seekers have used the system.

MacGregor said she has received great feedback from companies that use Plum, but job-seekers also like the product.

“Jobseekers are so hungry to be judged for what they are,” she said, “and they are sick and tired of being rated based on a keyword.”

 

Eye on KW is a regular feature in Entrevestor that highlights startups and the innovation ecosystem in Kitchener-Waterloo. 

Woodland: Lawyer Turned Entrepreneur


Mandy Woodland: 'I wanted to find a way to help.'

Mandy Woodland: 'I wanted to find a way to help.'

As a lawyer, Mandy Woodland specializes in offering entrepreneurs affordable legal advice. Now, she’s also CEO of Caetum, a tech startup that aims to make clinical research easier and more successful.

Woodland said Caetum will create a cloud-based application for budgeting and organizing clinical trials that will be cheaper, easier to use and offer better predictive analysis than competing products.

“Our product will make it easier for researchers to budget. That will lead to more successful trials and more successful trials are good for patients,” she said.

“Our application will also be available to researchers working in other areas.”

Caetum grew out of Woodland’s participation in the Master of Technology, Entrepreneurship and Innovation program at St. Mary’s University in Halifax.

The MTEI program had seemed the right fit for Woodland when she was looking to further her education, which already included degrees in science from Memorial University in St. John’s and law from Halifax’s Dalhousie University.

Once in the program, St. John’s-based Woodland met her initial co-founders and began the task of developing a notification platform with healthcare and clinical trial applications.

Interviews with potential users revealed that those involved in running clinical trials struggled with budgeting.

Interviewees said they found similar, existing products expensive and time-consuming to use.

Now, the Caetum founders are creating a beta version of their own application. If tests go well, they hope to have the product on the market by spring next year.

Working on Caetum is just one more responsibility for Woodland who already has many professional and volunteer roles.

She owns Mandy Woodland Law. She also operates the Canadian practice of Damsel in Defense, a legal education course. Both aim to provide entrepreneurs with accessible legal understanding and protection.

“Most startups face the same issues,” she said. “They find it hard to access funds and professional services because they’re bootstrapping their businesses.

“I wanted to find a way to help. Getting away from expensive hourly billing was important. I found clients refused to make preventative phone calls until something went wrong. I wanted to fix that.”

Her newest venture is a partnership with digital strategist and PR consultant Karen Moores. Their new venture, Moores Woodland, will allow them to offer consulting services in digital media and privacy.

Woodland said she didn’t expect to get a startup out of the MTEI program, although Caetum is a natural progression for someone with a background in medical research and law.

“I wanted skills applicable to everything I do,” she said. “But it’s turned out well.”

Woodland’s interest in law was first piqued when she took a course in criminology as part of her undergraduate degree in science.

After finishing her science degree, she began working in medical research. She found she liked the work but disliked her working environment.  When a friend in law school encouraged her to study law, she was tempted but cautious.

“It’s a big leap to give up work to take on an expensive program and move to another province.”

But she took the step and found the transition aided by working at the College of Pharmacy at Dalhousie, and doing some research for a legal professor.

These days, her volunteer roles include acting as Chair of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology Industries. She’s also a board member at the Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs.

She said the MTEI program – which advertises on Entrevestor -- gave her a better understanding of herself as well as a new company. 

“We were asked to examine why we do what we do. I realized I’d felt driven to help people for as long as I could remember. 

“My father’s an entrepreneur and my brother is also entrepreneurial. I work with entrepreneurs who are changing the world and helping others. It makes me happy to help them.”

 

 

PropelICT Names 33 Cohort Members


Six diverse startups from around the region have been accepted into the PropelICT Build program this summer, headlining a record intake of 33 companies in the accelerator’s sixth cohort.

The PropelICT accelerator has grown into a two-tier system that operates in four cities. The flagship is the Build program in Moncton for more advanced companies, led by former Propel Executive Director Trevor MacAusland.

Younger companies are mentored in the Launch program in Halifax (led by Entrepreneur-in-Residence Ying Tam), Fredericton (Entrepreneur-in-Residence Al Sturgeon) and St. John’s (Propel CEO Gary Dinn).

The list shows that Propel’s ambitious goal of training more than 400 companies over five years is attainable. It is overcoming the organizational hurdles of producing simultaneous training programs in four cities. And it is finding enough companies to train. It’s impossible to judge the quality of all these companies, but they’re entering the program and their team members will emerge with valuable entrepreneurial skills.

One other observation is that company formation doesn’t seem to be slowing down even after the growth of new companies in the last three years. In one province, Newfoundland and Labrador, it seems to be on a strong uptick.

The six members of the Build cohort are:

Ongozah, Moncton – Nurtured in the Vennture Garage in Moncton, Ongozah is developing a platform that will help community groups crowdsource the various things they need.

Xiplinx Technologies, Saint John and Fredericton – Xiplinx was a member of the first Propel cohort and has developed technology that helps manufacturing plant managers monitor data from around their factories.

Simptek, Fredericton – The runner-up at the recent Breakthru competition is developing an automated system that helps people control the use of their household appliances with the goal of saving them money.

PACTA, Halifax – PACTA went through the Launch program last year and presented at the last Demo Day. It helps medium-sized manufacturers manage contracts with customers, suppliers and others.

Clean Simple, Halifax – The company, which is now expanding into Ottawa, lets people book and pay for cleaners online.

HeyOrca, St. John’s – One of the bright young lights of the Newfoundland startup community, HeyOrca helps freelancers streamline their social media.

The six-members of the Build cohort are notable in that they’ve already received a lot of training. Half of them (Xiplinx, Simptek and Pacta) have already gone through previous Propel programs.

The members of the Launch programs are:

Launch New Brunswick, to be held at Planet Hatch, Fredericton:

1 KeenCare     

2 Monamie    

3 Ella     

4 CloudNet   

5 Liv9   

6 Babelx  

7 RISE    

8 Rent Bucks   

9 Talent Scout    

Launch Nova Scotia, to be held at Volta, Halifax:

1 Exodo

2 Scotia Wave

3 Bitness

4 Pitch Play

5 Graph Reactor

6 Say So Communications

7 Buy My Lemonade

8 WebRTC Customer Support

9 Septic Sitter

Launch Newfoundland and Labrador, to be held at Common Ground:

1 Vish Solutions

2 Order App

3 Pearus

4 CRE

5 Sulis

6 Team Startup

7 SocialCircle

8 Melecho Music

9 SolSports

Nature’s Way Buys Ascenta


Ascenta Health Ltd., the Dartmouth maker of natural beauty products, has exited.

The company said Tuesday it was bought by Nature’s Way, an affiliate of Dr. Willmar Schwabe Pharmaceuticals of Germany for an undisclosed amount. The company in 2009 received a $4 million venture capital investment from Avrio Capital of Alberta. 

We were out of town when this story broke and will have more on the deal next week. For now, here is the press release:

Ascenta Health Announces Acquisition By Nature’s Way

Halifax, May 19, 2015 – Ascenta Health Limited announced today that it has entered into a sale agreement with renowned US-based health brand, Nature’s Way, for an undisclosed amount. As a division of Nature’s Way, the company’s operations and employees will continue in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

Ascenta Health was established in 2003 by Marc St-Onge and has grown to become a leading manufacturer of premium Omega-3 health supplements under its consumer brand NutraSea. Since its inception, Ascenta has helped position Nova Scotia as an ideal setting for marine-based life sciences with access to leading researchers and research facilities and geographic proximity to important U.S. markets and Europe.

CEO and President Marc St-Onge states, “Ascenta Health has been a pioneer in the important omega-3 category with its vision, innovative research, and commitment to being environmentally responsible. From our beginnings as a small Dartmouth based start-up to our current position as an industry leader, we have achieved a lot in 12 short years. With a global player like Nature’s Way the growth opportunities are expanded and will solidify the brand as a leader in the North American market.” As part of the agreement, St-Onge will move on and retain ownership in Ascenta Skin, the company’s newly developed high-end skincare brand.

Mike Devereux, CEO of Nature’s Way says ”We are excited to have the market leading NutraSea brand and the Ascenta team join forces with our Nature’s Way business in Canada. Together we will continue to bring high quality solutions to market that enable the users of our Brands to focus on their own health and wellness initiatives.”

Nature’s Way’s Senior Vice President, Rory Mahony, leads the organization’s Canadian business and welcomes the Ascenta team. The company employs over 60 people in manufacturing, research, sales and marketing and Nature’s Way will continue to invest in the company’s operations in Nova Scotia.

“Ascenta and Nature’s Way have a shared vision of putting quality and innovation at the forefront of their business in each and every aspect. Ascenta is a very exciting brand and compliments other industry leading brands within the Nature’s Way portfolio.”

For more information on Ascenta Health, visit http://www.ascentahealth.com

About Ascenta Health Ltd.

Ascenta is a leading manufacturer of natural health products. Headquartered in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, the company develops, produces and markets omega-3 supplements for human and animal health. Its human products under the NutraSea and NutraVege brand have a dominant position in the Canadian market with a rapidly growing profile. Most recently, Ascenta launched Spark, an Omega-3 supplement developed to promote brain function, memory and focus. In 2009 Ascenta received $4 million in growth capital from Calgary based Avrio Capital. Ascenta products are sold throughout North America. http://www.ascentahealth.com

About Nature’s Way

A pioneer in herbal supplements, Nature’s Way® is one of the most recognized and trusted consumer brands of dietary supplements. Nature’s way is known for its expansive line of whole herbs, standardized extracts, vitamins & minerals, and homeopathic remedies. Nature’s Way® products include brands such as Alive!® multi-vitamins, Umcka® Cold Care, Sambucus®, and Primadophilus® probiotics. They offer over 600 premium nutritional and natural products. For more information visit http://www.naturesway.com

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Press Release: Biorefinery Event Set


Le Collège communautaire du Nouveau‐Brunswick, Springboard Atlantic and BioNB have issued the following press release:

Changing the World One Technology at a Time: The Atlantic Biorefinery Conference to Kick Off in Edmundston

May 21, 2015 (Fredericton, NB) ‐ The Atlantic Biorefinery Conference, Canada’s premier conference on biorefining and bioprocessing, will kick off May 27th – 29th in Edmundston, New Brunswick. What started out as an idea for a small Atlantic event around current issues in biorefining, has transformed into a conference that attracts international presenters and spawns strategic partnerships.

Biorefining is a suite of technologies that enables the transformation of natural resources and industry by‐products into high value‐added products for global markets. These innovations in traditional natural resource‐based industries are creating high value employment, launching new businesses, and increasing the prosperity of our biomass rich region.

Over a dozen speakers are travelling from across Canada and Europe to deliver presentations on an array of topics including biofuels, bioenergy, opportunities involving marine bacteria, transformational agricultural technologies, and value‐add forestry technologies to reflect Edmundston’s proximity to major sawmills and forestry operations. Guests from industry, academia and the public sector will participate in a panel discussion “Impacts of Government Policy on the Development of Biomass to Energy and Biomass to Value Added Products Industries,” which will explore how Atlantic Canada can transform these innovations into drivers of economic growth.

The conference will also feature a talk from Chris de Visser, an active champion for the Dutch bioeconomy who operates ACRRES in Lelystad, The Netherlands. ACRRES is an application centre and test site for renewable resources that co‐develops innovations in partnership with private companies and research institutions; a model pilot site for small scale industrial biorefining.

“Our Government, through ACOA, is pleased to support the Atlantic Biorefinery Conference as it brings world‐class biorefinery researchers and leaders to our region and showcases the excellent work that is being done in the field here in New Brunswick,” said the Honourable Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, and Member of Parliament for Madawaska‐Restigouche.

“The conference is an opportunity to witness the benefits of value‐added processes and to see firsthand how natural resources can be used to boost productivity, helping to create a stronger and more sustainable economy.”

The first day of the Atlantic Biorefinery Conference will feature a full day of technology demonstration tours at local industry and research facilities, with visits to:

- Groupe Savoie Inc. ‐ a wood processer that employs over 550 employees

- DAVIA Forest Products ‐ a producer of pure organic DAVIA sap water that comes from maple trees http://www.AtlanticBiorefineryConference.ca

- Le Collège communautaire du Nouveau‐Brunswick’s Biorefinery Technology Scale‐Up Centre ‐a research centre that supports the regional biorefining and biotechnology ecosystem

- LaForge Bioenvironmental – operates a commercial biogas production plant that turns waste into energy

The Atlantic region holds significant research and development capacity in this nascent sector, showcased by the record number of academic posters to be featured as part of this year’s Poster Session. Students from Memorial University, Dalhousie University, le Collège communautaire du Nouveau‐Brunswick, and La Cité (Ottawa) will compete for poster prizes in the area of applied science and technology.

The organizing committee is proud to be showcasing the scope of technologies and innovative research in the Atlantic region and beyond, and looks forward to the collaborative biorefining projects that will emerge from the conference.

About the Organisers

Le Collège communautaire du Nouveau‐Brunswick

The CCNB is a modern student focused College with five campuses geographically located across Northern New Brunswick and in Dieppe. The CCNB contributes to the economic development of the communities it serves, with more than 90 programs that meet labour market needs. As an entrepreneurial and innovative College, CCNB adapts to the rapidly changing economy, supports the activities of applied research and encourages innovation. The Biorefinery Technology Scale‐up Centre located in Grand‐Falls, NB, supports the industry in its bioproduct/biorefining promotion efforts.

Springboard Atlantic

Springboard Atlantic helps move Canadian expertise and innovations from the labs and minds of academic researchers to final products in the marketplace. Springboard Atlantic is a regional commercialization and industry liaison network. Our members represent 18 Atlantic Canadian universities and colleges. Springboard members increase research commercialization collaborations, supports the creation of new and improved products, streamline processes and help develop a skilled and competitive workforce.

BioNB

Driving New Brunswick’s Bioeconomy, BioNB connects, supports and advocates for NB’s biosciences sector. BioNB provides business development, mentoring and coaching support to New Brunswick’s bioscience entrepreneurs and companies. BioNB hosts regular events to foster sector networking and educate companies, decision makers and the public on current issues and emerging trends. In collaboration with a vibrant ecosystem of companies, research institutions and partners, BioNB is dedicated to enabling a thriving bioeconomy in our region.

Press Release: RtTech Wins Award


BDC and the Canadian Venture Capital & Private Equity Association has issued the following press release:

BDC and CVCA award RtTech Software BDC Innovation Award for industrial app development

RtTech’s software deployed across 14 countries, 24 blue chip companies and 55 industrial sites

Toronto, ON – May 21, 2015 – RtTech Software, a New Brunswick based software company specializing in industrial app development, has been recognized by the Canadian Venture Capital & Private Equity Association (CVCA) as the BDC Innovation Award winner for 2015. The award recognizes an early-stage Canadian company that has demonstrated the ability to bring innovation to market, while reshaping a sector or industry in new and unexpected ways.

“Canada’s innovative software companies are being recognized around the world for their excellence. Our government has taken clear steps to create an environment where innovators and investors can   succeed and grow,” says James Moore, Minister of Industry. “By showcasing excellence, the BDC Innovation Award is a part of our Economic Action Plan commitment to build a strong entrepreneurial culture in Canada.”

“RtTech Software stands out in a very competitive industry,” says Jérôme Nycz, Executive Vice President at BDC Capital. “As one of the few software companies that develops industrial apps for operational intelligence in industrial facilities, they are well positioned to capitalize on the exploding industrial Internet markets.” 

RtTech’s solutions help manufacturing companies improve asset availability and utilization. According to Cisco, the market opportunity for industrial asset utilization is $2.1 trillion. RtTech is positioned to take advantage of this soaring market.

“RtTech is yet another example of exciting developments in Canada’s startup community where our young companies are driving innovation in ICT that are revolutionizing industry,” says Mike Woollatt, CEO, CVCA. “Canada has a vibrant VC-backed technology sector, and we expect to see many more success stories rise to the surface in the coming years.”

RtTech is also one of the first Canadian companies to offer cloud-based products such as RtDuet Cloud to embrace the next technology revolution - the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). RtTech’s Cloud and traditional on-premise software products enable industrial facilities, regardless of size, to connect machines to the enterprise and ultimately the Internet in an effort to eliminate unplanned downtime and improve productivity.

Canadian venture capital firm McRock Capital led a $3 million Series A financing to invest in RtTech Software because of its strength in analytic apps for IIoT. RtTech has deployed software in over 55 industrial sites with 24 blue chip customers in 14 different countries. Its clients include BHP Billiton, Cargill, Michelin and Barrick Gold.

Please visit http://www.bdc.ca/awards for more information.

About BDC

Canada's business development bank, BDC, puts entrepreneurs first. With almost 2,000 employees and more than 100 business centres across the country, BDC offers loans, consulting services, growth and business transition capital,  securitization, as well as venture capital to more than 30,000 small and medium-sized companies. Their success is vital to Canada's economic prosperity. http://www.bdc.ca

About the CVCA

The CVCA is the voice of Canada’s venture capital and private equity industry. We are focused on improving the private capital ecosystem by broadening industry awareness and providing market research, networking, and professional development opportunities. We also advocate on behalf of the industry to ensure sound public policy that encourages a favourable investment environment. The CVCA works alongside its members, who represent the vast majority of private capital firms in Canada, to improve the industry and drive innovation and growth.

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StockCalc Modernizes Stock Analytics


An intriguing company in Miramichi, N.B., will soon let people not only analyze publicly listed stocks by themselves but help more qualified users sell their analysis reports to others.

Patchell Brook Equity Analytics Inc. has developed a tool that allows people who follow the market to analyze publicly traded companies based on fundamental valuations. The results can be shared with others, and soon the company will provide a virtual storefront so people can sell their reports.

“We’re into a marketplace where individuals can be located anywhere and do the analysis on any publicly traded company,” said president Brian Donovan in an interview. “If they’re confident enough, if they have the skills and requirements, they can sell their reports.”

Patchell Brook’s product is StockCalc, and it brings a new dimension to the market for online analytics. Most available tools rely on technical analysis — that is, interpreting charts of recent stock prices — but StockCalc focuses on the financial information released by the companies themselves.

It allows people to find value in those companies analysts overlook. For example, there are 3,500 companies listed on the Toronto and Vancouver exchanges, but only 800 are covered by analysts. StockCalc can help analyze the other 2,700.

Essentially, users choose a stock listed on the NYSE, the Nasdaq, Amex, TSX or Vancouver. Patchell Brook has secured financial statements on all companies on these exchanges from data provider Morningstar, updated daily.

They can select raw data from a range of categories, including profits, revenue, cash flow, costs, dividends and cost of capital. Users can build historical charts based on the data and understand how the stock has been valued in the past. StockCalc then lets them look forward and understand what the stock price should be if certain assumptions are met.

By understanding how the market has priced the stock based on fundamentals in the past, StockCalc allows users to identify over- or undervalued shares. They can also post their findings and discuss stocks with other users.

Donovan is working with four developers, and the system is about 75 per cent finished. It is being tested by a few users. The company — which has received investment from the Miramichi Technology Fund, established by former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna — hopes to launch the product later this year.

Analytics tools usually are priced at about $20 to $90 a month for subscribers, and StockCalc will probably be in that range. Donovan hopes users could earn back their subscription fees through the sale of their reports.

The team has identified three main markets for the product: the roughly 500,000 people in North America who manage their own money and have the sophistication to analyze stocks, the 30 million people who have stock investments without using financial advisers and publicly listed companies that need to assess their valuations compared with their competitors.

“One of the great things about this space is the audience is quite captive,” said Donovan, a chartered business valuator with an MBA. “We can advertise on sites (used by the stock trading community) and know there is a high preponderance of people who would be interested in our product.”

CarbonCure Closes $3M Round


Robert Niven: Profitable in 2016

Robert Niven: Profitable in 2016

Green building materials maker CarbonCure Technologies has closed a $3 million round of funding, which it will use to launch its new ready-mix product. The Halifax company expects the funding will last until it reaches profitability, likely next year.

First-time investor Pangaea Ventures, a Vancouver venture capital firm specializing in advanced materials, led the round with a $1.75 million contribution.  The other investors include existing funder BDC Capital with $500,000, Power Generations Inc. of Florida, and a range of individuals.

It’s the third round of funding for the Halifax company, whose systems produce a cost-effective form of concrete that reduces carbon emissions.

“The round was oversubscribed but we decided to limit it to a $3 million round,” said CEO Robert Niven in an interview. “We decided that that was the amount we needed to get us where we want to be, which is profitability.”

Concrete, the world’s most common construction material, is responsible for 5 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions because traditional processes cure concrete blocks by heating them. CarbonCure’s process injects waste carbon into the concrete mix, thereby seriously reducing the CO2 emissions in the manufacture of concrete products.

The sales are going well and 23 plants across North America have licenced the technology. But CarbonCure is now ready to launch its latest product, ready-mix concrete that uses similar technology to reduce carbon emissions. Carbon is injected into the mix in the plant, and produces a product with extra strength when taken out and poured.

Niven said that he hopes that this year the company will have 40 plants using its concrete blocks technology and 10 using ready-mix, for a total of 50. He added he expects the company will be profitable by the end of 2016.

What this means is that CarbonCure will probably never have to raise capital again, having raised a total of about $8 million through three rounds. That’s an extremely modest amount of capital for a clean technology company and Niven says it is a sign of how the industry is moving.

For a few years, venture capital funds have been leery of cleantech enterprises because many demand huge capital outlays for new plants or physical installations. Because CarbonCure adopted a licencing model, it simply worked on the technology and left plant refurbishments to the owners of the plants.

“Cleantech is moving to the cleantech-lite model,” said Niven. “The days of having to do a big capital spend, I think, are a thing of the past.”

The small amount of capital it has raised now gives the company a lot of flexibility as it reaches profitability.  Companies that raise a lot of capital have to hold out for massive exits to reward their investors, but not CarbonCure. The company could find a buyer soon (a possibility Niven won’t rule out) or continue to grow for a larger payout later.

In the meantime, the company will continue to introduce new innovations in conjunction with various industrial partners.

In December 2013, the company raised $3.5 million in a round led by Montreal-based BDC. Other investors included Eagle Cliff Partners, based in the San Francisco Area, Innovacorp and 350 Capital of Toronto.

Early in 2012, it closed a $1.6 million round led by Innovacorp that featured a number of angel investments.

 

Entrevestor Luncheon Slated for Sydney


An Entrevestor Luncheon sponsored by BDO will be held on June 5 in Sydney, giving startup community members a chance to discuss the next phase of ecosystem development in Cape Breton.

The Entrevestor Luncheon, sponsored by the accountancy and advisory services firm BDO, will be held at the Verschuren Centre at Cape Breton University beginning at 12 noon. The event organized by Startup Cape Breton Island will feature a discussion led by Innovacorp’s Bob Pelley on how to help the growth of seed-stage startups in Cape Breton. 

"The Sydney area is the fastest-growing startup hub in the region, and we hope the lunch will offer a forum that helps to develop it further,” said Dan Jennings, a partner at BDO’s Bedford office.

Entrevestor Luncheons are not events that feature a keynote speaker. They are forums for discussion at which everyone present is encouraged to join in. We ask two community leaders to each lead a discussion, and after they introduce their topic, we throw it open to the house for a lively debate.

Cape Breton has launched a range of startups in the past two years, aided by the Spark Cape Breton startup competition and the UIT program at CBU.

However, the focus now must turn to ensuring these young companies find the resources they need to achieve sales, secure capital and develop their teams.

The Entrevestor Luncheon will be held from noon to 2 pm. The session will include a brief presentation on the latest data produced by the Entrevestor survey, followed by an in-depth discussion. Tickets for the event are available here.

The event will be followed by a Spark Cape Breton Demo Day, at which past winners of the competition will update the audience on their progress. Following this, the Old Triangle will be the site of an after-work get together.

We’re hoping a broad range of people attend the event and voice their opinions on the best ways to keep this community growing. 

Sturgeon Named to Propel Post


Al Sturgeon, product marketing manager at Radian6/Salesforce in Fredericton, has been named Propel ICT’s second Entrepreneur In Residence.

Propel ICT—which advertises on Entrevestor—is an Atlantic Canadian accelerator for startups. It hosts Build, a Moncton-based accelerator for mature companies, and Launch, which is for seed-stage startups and is in Halifax, Fredericton and St. John’s.

A blog post on the Propel ICT website announced that Sturgeon will work directly with Build and Launch participants. With his experience in marketing, he will advise them on market/product fit, product development, hiring and sales.

“It’s just such a good time to be here,” he said. “I think in a few years, people will look at Atlantic Canada and say, ‘They’re doing it right. We want to be like them.’”

Sturgeon’s contract as Entrepreneur In Residence extends indefinitely. Though he will stop working at Salesforce, he will remain in Fredericton to work with Propel ICT.

Sturgeon has worked with several successful startups. These include Titus, an Ottawa-based 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. 

“Al Sturgeon brings a tremendous combination of experience and enthusiasm to the role of Entrepreneur In Residence,” said Gary Dinn, Propel ICT’s CEO, in a press release. “His proven success in building successful startups will ensure he provides great hands-on insights and mentorship to our entrepreneurs.”

On June 1, Sturgeon will join the program. He will join Ying Tam, the first Entrepreneur in Residence, who is based in Halifax. “It’s great because it’s two people with the same goal,” Sturgeon said, “but in two different cities.”

Trevor MacAusland, the former Vice-President of Business Development, will oversee the Build program in Moncton this summer, and Propel CEO Gary Dinn will work out of St. John’s.

 

Swell Advantage Set to Launch


Criag Sheppard and Iaian Archibald

Criag Sheppard and Iaian Archibald

As mariners launch their boats this season, Iaian Archibald and Craig Sheppard are launching a mobile app to help them enjoy their time on the oceans more.

The co-founders of Swell Advantage have set June 1 for the official launch date for their app that tells boaters about the environment, their surroundings and helps them connect with other boaters. Swell Advantage is expected to be available for iPhones in the App Store by the end of this month. The company hopes to have an Android-based product on the market later this year.

“We’re trying to make the boating experience nice and easy for recreational boaters, giving them information about the environment around the boat,” CEO Archibald said in a recent interview. “And we’re developing a social network for boaters so that when your friends are out on the water, you can find out where they are and meet up.”

A former student recruitment consultant with a love of the sea, he originally conceived of a mobile app for surfers about two years ago. Then he met Sheppard, now the company’s chief technology officer, and they morphed the idea into something for boaters. They began the company last October and have been working away since January in the Volta startup house in Halifax to get the product coded in time for the boating season.

The basic Swell Advantage app is free and will provide users with a range of information. It draws on weather services for the latest environmental information. It can automatically detect and tell the height and speed of waves around the boat. It can calculate the current and wind force that could affect the craft’s drift, and therefore help the boater plot the course.

Users can also pay for premium features, such as charts — nautical maps that show the depth of the ocean floor and noted landmarks. More for-pay features will be added as the company grows.

The technology is designed to be intuitive so any boater can use it easily.

“We’re intending to make the app almost like navigating in a video game — they can navigate visually on the screen,” said Sheppard.

Swell Advantage is now beta-testing the product with about 75 avid boaters in Nova Scotia, and the founders are ready to launch it. What they’re hoping will help propel its usage is boaters’ insatiable craving for the latest device or gadget.

“We do have an app that everybody’s going to want to have and that will be a key part of boating culture,” said Archibald. “We spent a lot of time talking to our customers so we come up with an app that everybody wants to have.”

Although they have been test marketing the product in the briny North Atlantic, Archibald and Sheppard hope the app will draw users from across North America, especially in the parts of the United States with longer sailing seasons than ours. They are already planning to attend a slate of outdoor and boating shows across North America in the next year.

The company, which has five employees, has been financed by a small investment round from friends and family and various programs. The team is now raising money from angel investors.

Innovacorp to Add Bootcamp to I3


Innovacorp will be adding a boot-camp component to its I3 Technology Startup Competition when the event launches the autumn to help the contestants build their businesses.

I3 is a biennial startup competition that picks the best business ideas from around Nova Scotia. The competition is sponsored by the early stage venture capital firm, Innovacorp, which is a client of Entrevestor.

A panel of Nova Scotia lawyers, entrepreneurs and leaders choose the five best business ideas, one from each of the five zones across the province. Each zone winner receives $100,000. The five zone winners then compete for an extra $100,000 to launch their businesses.

The new boot-camp will give each zone winner access to mentors from Nova Scotia’s business community and provide resources to research their consumer markets as they compete for the extra $100,000.

“The point is, let’s create value for the companies through the process itself,” Innovacorp CEO Steven Duff said.

In the 2013-14 I3 Competition, Innovacorp received 228 applications. Since its 2013-14 victory, Heimdall Networks, a Sydney-based network security company, raised additional funds and gained more market traction.

Innovacorp allocates close to $1 million toward the I3 Competition. Duff said that the I3 Competition aims to increase the number of startups and the level of entrepreneurship in Nova Scotia.

“The province of Nova Scotia’s future—economic and quality of life—I think will largely a function of the entrepreneurial spirit of the people of the province,” Duff added. “It will be entrepreneurship that will help this province get on a path for prosperity, so we’re very proud to deliver the I3 Startup Competition and work toward those very important goals.”

The I3 Competition will begin accepting submissions in the fall of 2015.

 

 

Eye on KW: 3D Printing With Paste


Having established itself as the leader in hardware for 3D printing soft materials, Structur3d Printing of Kitchener is now raising capital to help it expand into commercializing the materials themselves.

Structur3d was started by materials researchers Charles Mire and Andrew Finkle to add a new dimension – admittedly, a poor choice of words – to the 3D printing craze. Their Discov3ry Paste Extruder allows anyone with a 3D printer to print a three-dimensional subject using soft materials – from silicon paste to wood filler to Nutella.  

CEO Mire and his eight colleagues are now raising capital with a target of $500,000 so that they can begin producing materials to be used in the Discov3ry device. Make no mistake – they will continue to produce new features for Discov3ry. But they see a huge market in specialized soft materials that can be used to 3D print unique objects.

Mire (a native Texan) received his PhD in chemistry in Australia and Finkle is now completing his doctorate at University of Waterloo.  The team has the brainpower to produce revolutionary materials for 3D printing.

“We have a lot this knowledge from our research background,” said Mire in an interview. “Our goal is to be the go-to company for these soft materials in the 3D printing market.”

When they started, they felt there were enough 3D printers on the market, and anyone who had one wouldn’t want to buy another. So rather than a new printer for soft materials, they produced the Discov3ry Paste Extruder, which works off any existing 3D printer.

Discov3ry sits beside your printer and attaches to your machine. It holds and dispenses the goop while the printer’s mechanism crafts the model, but the soft material won’t clog your printer.  

“The mechanics [of the 3D printer] never come in contact with the material,” said Mire. “You put whatever soft material you would like in the cartridge. The tube and the tip are the only things you have to put on the existing 3D printer.”

Structur3d, a graduate of Communitech's former Hyperdrive accelerator, has found a market in the retail 3D printer market and also in more specialized niches, such as academic researchers and innovators within corporations. It’s sold about 450 units so far.

“Our market now is primarily the maker market because this is a group of very smart people doing very clever things with 3 printing, and they like being on the cutting edge,” said Mire. He added they love to experiment and re-experiment with a new device. “If something doesn’t work right, they’re willing to do something different.”

Discov3ry is already leading to such innovations as:

  • The printing of foods for elderly people who have trouble eating normal food. These people need soft food but will often eat it only if it resembles something they’re familiar with.
  • The printing of orthotics for shoes.
  • Tissue engineering. You can print a biopolymer material (a biological material made of the repetition of similar molecules) into a structure that you can then grow cells on.

Structur3d has been researching specialized materials in two market areas – industrial materials (such as polymers that can conduct electricity) and biological materials. The market potential seems obvious: soon entrepreneurs and corporations will be using these materials to produce new products, which in turn can lead to new industries. 

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

 

Trevor MacAusland to Join 3Plus


MacAusland: 'I'm interested in taking an existing industry and transforming it.'

MacAusland: 'I'm interested in taking an existing industry and transforming it.'

Trevor MacAusland will bring fresh perspectives largely gained from the startup world to his new role as Director of Business Development for 3Plus Corp., the economic development agency for Moncton, Dieppe and Riverview.

PropelICT announced Friday that MacAusland would be leaving his post as Vice President of Business Development at the East Coast tech accelerator to take the new job at 3Plus. For years, MacAusland was Propel’s executive director and ran its accelerators. The transition will be gradual as MacAusland will oversee the next cohort of Propel Build, the course for more mature companies that will meet in Moncton through the summer.

For the most part, MacAusland’s focus in the coming years will be developing the economy of the metropolitan area in Southeast New Brunswick with a heavy emphasis on innovation and new industries.

“One of the reasons I was probably the successful candidate is … most of the economic development in the region has been focused on entrenched and existing industries and protecting the status quo,” he said in an interview on Sunday. “I told them in talking about this job that that’s not what I’m interested in. I’m interest in taking an existing industry and transforming it.”

As you might expect, MacAusland is going to use some lean methodology in helping new businesses that crop up in the area. If someone wants to open a restaurant, he’ll likely suggest a popup restaurant or mobile outlet before they invest in bricks and mortar.

He also wants Moncton to develop more new businesses and join cities like Fredericton in churning out more high-growth companies.

But he also knows economic development goes beyond startups. He looks forward to working with established companies on commercializing internal ideas and bringing them to market.

MacAusland is looking forward to the Build cohort this summer. Propel now offers concurrent cohorts in several cities throughout the region. Propel Launch offers places to early stage companies while Propel Build guides about a half dozen later-stage companies.

"Trevor's commitment and hard work is a big reason why Propel ICT has evolved to become one of Canada’s most respected accelerators," Jeff Thompson, Chair of the Propel ICT Board, said in a statement. “He has been a major catalyst for the growth of the East Coast startup scene. We are fortunate he will continue to make his mark by leading the Build program in Greater Moncton."

MacAusland said Propel hasn’t yet decided what companies will be accepted into Build this summer, but he was heartened to see several companies from the last Launch cohort apply.

In 2011, MacAusland championed the idea of an accelerator that would “launch’’ 36 companies in 36 months, and thus Launch36 was born. No one was sure at the time it was a realistic goal. But when he stood before the crowd at the last Launch36 demo day last November, he was able to announce that 49 companies have gone through the accelerator in the allotted time.

Asked what his fondest memory of the past five years was he said there were many but one night was extra-special.

“For me, the highlight was the demo day for the first Launch36 cohort here in Dieppe,” he said. “When we started, I said we were going to do 36 in 36 months and didn’t really know we’d be able to do it. [The first Demo Day] was the first time I said to myself, ‘We’re going to be able to do this because people are drinking the Kool-aid.’” 

Munro Envisions Medtech Hub


Munro: We must access the right capital at the right time.

Munro: We must access the right capital at the right time.

Chad Munro sees a lot of potential in Atlantic Canada’s medical technology sector, but it needs more players and more of an ecosystem for the benefits to be realized.

The financial rewards can be great, but there are many challenges in building a medtech company, including the long and expensive regulatory process and defending intellectual property.

Munro, the CEO of Halifax Biomedical, said the right investment capital can attract complementary companies from around the world to form a cluster.

He said Dalhousie University in Halifax could become an internationally significant centre.

“Compared to many U.S. and Canadian universities, Dalhousie has a high ratio of patents per research dollar,” said Munro, whose Mabou company makes 3D imaging devices for the health-care industry.

“Dalhousie could be a core medical technology cluster to attract companies from across Canada. It’s already birthed many early stage med-tech and health-care companies.”

Munro said such companies should be shining stars in Atlantic Canada’s economy.

“Many leading economies are driven by innovation sectors. Med-tech is a high-margin, high-growth, export-oriented sector. If the IP is protected, these companies can generate significant wealth.”

Munro knows the challenges first-hand.

“You have to carry all the R&D and testing costs until you receive a regulatory approval and before the company can even start to sell its products. That quickly adds up to millions of dollars for a single company or single product.”

In the last year, Halifax Biomedical has overcome difficulties by lowering the costs of its main product, the Halifax exam imaging device. It allows two simultaneous X-rays of the knee to be taken from different angles.

The firm has also advanced quickly with a new product that images the spine. It has regulatory approval in the United States, Europe, Canada and Australia.

The company sells surgical supplies and analysis services for every patient monitored with its system.

“This is high-margin revenue, where we have a sustainable advantage,” said Munro. “It is the core of our business model.”

Munro said Atlantic Canada lacks two key ingredients to complete a strong cluster: specialized fund management with successful U.S. medical technology experience, and a significant amount of capital to service deals and attract synergistic companies from elsewhere.

For Munro, “significant” means a venture capital fund focused on medical technology, with more capital than that held by all the funds currently managed in Atlantic Canada.

The sector can make an attractive investment, he said. It often returns more than 10 times the money invested in the early stages of a company, and 2.5 times the money invested later.

When he is not travelling for his own business, Munro, a New Glasgow native, mentors regional medical technology entrepreneurs.

Before forming Halifax Biomedical in 2004, he worked for Swiss medical device company Synthes. There, he turned around two product lines that brought in tens of millions of dollars a year and learned how to pursue and defend patents.

His experience left him with an international network that he leverages for Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs.

Munro, who holds a master’s in biomedical engineering from Dalhousie, said his company’s location in rural Nova Scotia has not deterred overseas employees.

“Our Mabou location has attracted some of the best people I’ve worked with. Our team is international, with 15 staff in Mabou and three elsewhere.

“Our challenge has been accessing the right capital at the right times. But it wouldn’t have been easier in any other Canadian location because health-care IT and med-tech are under-serviced across the country.”

He said Atlantic Canadians must capitalize on expertise and build a medical technology cluster based in Halifax.

“Many of the core elements are already in place.”

NS, NB Approve Equity Crowdfunding


Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are two of six provinces that announced Thursday they will allow entrepreneurs to raise equity capital through crowdfunding.

Equity crowdfunding – soliciting equity investments from a range of individuals through an online campaign – has been studied by regulators in Canada and the U.S. for several years. Finally this year, regulators have decided that investors can be protected while allowing companies to raise capital through crowdfunding campaigns.

“Crowdfunding has become a popular method of raising money using websites such as Kickstarter,” Jeff Harriman, Capital Markets Specialist with the Financial and Consumer Services Commission of New Brunswick, said in a statement. “These rules allowing equity crowdfunding support our efforts to foster the capital markets and provide protection to safeguard investors from the risks of investing in issuers during early stages of their development.”

The two Maritime provinces’ securities regulators announced the new rules simultaneously with their peers in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec.

The new rules will allow startups to use approved crowdfunding sites raise as much as $500,000 a year, though no more than $250,000 in a single campaign. Individuals can invest a maximum of $1,500 in each campaign and they will have the right to pull out within 48 hours of making their commitment.

The rules apply only to small companies and not to large companies that already distribute securities.

The FCSC statement said there are now no portals ready to carry out equity crowdfunding campaigns and so no campaigns will be launched until there are such sites. Donation-based crowdfunding  sites like Kickstarter or Indigogo are not approved sites.

"The startup crowdfunding exemption reduces the regulations around the raising of capital for smaller Nova Scotia companies and introduces a modern, cost-effective way to connect with investors," said Sarah Bradley, chair and CEO of the Nova Scotia Securities Commission. "This exemption also creates an opportunity for investors to find local investment options and help grow our provincial economy."

The announcement is part of a global movement toward more equity crowdfunding for startups. As mandated by the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act of 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission in the U.S. this year ruled companies could sell as much as US$50 million in shares each year through crowdfunding.

Opinions on crowdfunding among Atlantic Canada entrepreneurs vary. Some founders are anxious to test the waters. Others believe the effort needed to attract hundreds of investors to come up with at most $250,000 could be a drain in management time.

The FCSC also urged investors to be cautious.

“The failure rate of start-up businesses is high compared to established businesses with a history of successful operations,” said Harriman. “Business failure may be the result of a poor business plan or economic factors beyond the business owner’s control. A failed business is unlikely to return your capital, let alone provide a rate of return. The best way for investors to protect themselves is to be informed.”

Eigen Lands $250,000 from NBIF


Aiming to improve its industrial Internet of things technology, Eigen Innovations in Fredericton has landed a $250,000 investment as part of a funding round it hopes will amount to $750,000.

The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation said Tuesday it will invest in the company, which makes automated systems to help manufacturers refine their processes.

The funding is another step in the development of New Brunswick’s industrial Internet of things cluster, in which automated systems gather data from machines, analyze it and give machines instructions with greater speed and precision than a human could. There are estimates that 50 billion devices will be connected to each other like this by the end of the decade.

“Today’s production line is very complex, with modern machines that generate extreme amounts of data, and many companies are not equipped to process and utilize it,” said Eigen CEO Richard Jones.

“The ‘industrial Internet’ is a $3-trillion market, and Eigen is well-positioned to be an early differentiator in this space.”

A graduate of the PropelICT tech accelerator, Eigen’s product, Intellexon, helps manufacturers improve production efficiency and reduce waste. The system uses algorithms developed under the guidance of researcher and co-founder Rickey Dubay at the University of New Brunswick. Eigen chief technology officer Scott Everett is a graduate research assistant at the university.

In a phone interview, Jones said Eigen has five multinational clients, each in a separate industry: food processing, mining, automotive, pulp and paper and construction.

Eigen is working with partners, including Oregon’s FLIR Systems Inc., the world’s largest thermal camera and sensor maker, to further develop Intellexon to suit these customers’ needs.

Intellexon selects data from sensors and other sources in a customer’s plant and sends the relevant data to the cloud, where it is analyzed. Finally, it sends information back to the plant, where action is taken. All of this happens in real time, so the actions are precise.

Jones said the goal is to use the system’s algorithms to produce predictive analytics so Intellexon can take even more efficient action.

The money from the foundation (which advertises on Entrevestor) and a range of angel investors will be used to help simplify the processes, Jones said.

Eigen must work closely with clients to implement the system, and it wants Intellexon to become so intuitive that plant managers can install and operate it on their own.

“One of the things we’ve been putting a lot of effort into is to take what we’ve learned from the customer engagement and embed more automation so it requires less hands-on intervention,” said Jones.

“We want to make the software more scalable and so you don’t need a PhD in science (to use it).”

Jones said that as the company proves it has repeatable, scalable technology, it aims to raise a multimillion-dollar funding round.

Two other members of the New Brunswick industrial Internet of things community raised significant venture capital rounds recently. Moncton’s RtTech Software closed a $3-million round in February, and Fredericton’s Smart Skin Technologies landed $3.9 million in funding in January 2014.

Coaching Summit Set for Shediac


The Atlantic Branch of the International Coaching Federation, or ICF, will hold its annual conference in Shediac, N.B., next week.

The 3nd annual ICF Atlantic Summit at the Shediac Multi-Purpose Centre on May 20-21 will feature the theme of Ride the Wave of Coaching. It is geared to professional coaches, those interested in becoming coaches, and other professionals who use coaching skills and practices in their work.

The workshops will include sessions led by:

-  Jonathan E. ‘Jeb’ Bates, an executive coach and leadership development consultant based in Cambridge, MA. He is the Chief Experience Officer of The PaperRoom Institute, a firm focused on bringing a unique coaching experience to clients;

-  And Nancy Roberts and Chris Kenney, co-creators of My Income180.  They aim to completely revamp networking, speaking and sales strategies and have taken their business from $60,000 in its first year to over $500,000 in its fourth year.

Further information on the conference is available here

NL Innovation Week Starts Tuesday


Newfoundland and Labrador’s Innovation Week will take place May 19 to 22 in St. John’s, featuring 15 events through four days. Each event will incorporate this year’s theme – Propelling Innovation.

This is only the second annual Innovation Week, but more than 1,200 people are expected to come to the various events. Innovation Week aims to encourage Newfoundlanders to get involved with the province’s technology and entrepreneurship sectors. Innovation Week is a community event, partnering such organizations as the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technical Industries, the St. John’s Board of Trade, Startup Canada and Startup Newfoundland & Labrador.

“We have to make sure we create—or partner to make—really long-term, sustainable, well-paying jobs for the people who want to be here,” said Ron Taylor, the CEO of NATI and founder of Innovation Week. “A huge part of that is going be youth, a huge part of that is going to be women.”

Newfoundland’s technology industry is currently worth $1.7 billion. But Taylor wants to make the province’s tech sector worth $4 billion by 2025.

Many Newfoundlanders leave the province in search of better opportunities. Typical jobs in the province, such as those in forestry, only offer $50,000 to the economy. Each technology job adds $430,000 to Newfoundland’s economy, said Taylor, making it a sector that can keep youth in the province, as well as give them a well-paying job with opportunities for travel.

One of the events Taylor loves the most at Innovation Week is the Youth Technology Conference, which brings together 400 Grade 9 students to inform them about the career opportunities in technology.

At the Youth Technology Conference, Taylor said he especially wants to inform young women about careers in technology. Taylor sees many women in the Newfoundland tech sector, but most of them don’t own startups—and he wants to see more of that. Natalie Panek, a 30-year-old female NASA rocket scientist training to be an astronaut, is one the speakers at the conference to show the success of women in the tech sector.

“[Girls] see [tech] as this very uncool, geeky thing: doing code in a windowless room at three o’clock in the morning, eating pizza with three guys with propellers on their heads,” Taylor said. “Once you dispel the myths, and they start seeing that wow, this is a really good career opportunity, a really good career move, then you start seeing traction.”

Other events at Innovation Week include the NATI Knowledge Summit to discuss the future of technology and innovation, Tedx St. John’s, and Innovation and Leadership Luncheon with Governor General David Johnston. You can find the full list of events here.

“Innovation Week is not meant to be a classroom in which someone’s up there preaching to you—it’s something that you’re active with, that you’re involved with, that you’re engaged in,” Taylor said. “It’s exciting, it’s entertaining, and it really celebrates the things that are great here in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Press Release: Kinduct & Stats.com


Kinduct Technologies, the Halifax medical-technologies company, has issued the following press release:

Kinduct partners with STATS.com

Leader in athlete management solutions extends it service offerings by integrating with STATS.com  

HALIFAX, NS – May 8, 2015 -- Kinduct Technologies announced today a new partnership with sports analytics powerhouse STATS.com.

The Kinduct Performance software platform helps sports teams and organizations collect, organize, share and analyze data in one centralized platform, leading to informed decisions and powerful results for their athletes.

This partnership will see Kinduct integrating the STATS suite of player tracking systems, analytics platforms and data feeds into the Kinduct Performance product to provide teams and leagues with an incredibly powerful solution to help increase player performance and reduce the risk of injury.

“We have been working very closely with the STATS team over the past 6 months to develop an integrated technology solution that we feel, is unparalleled in the world of sport performance,” says Travis McDonough, Kinduct’s Founder and CEO. “We have deployed our integrated platform with a handful of teams in the NBA and the results have been fantastic thus far.”

STATS Director of Elite Performance, Paul Robbins, will be presenting this integrated solution at the upcoming 2015 NBA combine—a multi-day showcase that occurs before the annual June NBA draft, where college basketball players take physical measurements, participate in interviews, undergo drills and take medical tests, go through five-on-five drills and perform various athletic tests in front of NBA coaches, general managers, and scouts.

“The marriage of Kinduct’s athlete management applications and content with STATS’s player tracking, analytics and consulting solutions has produced an extremely unique and powerful offering for teams and leagues around the globe,” says Robbins. “It is a very exciting time for our industry and we are thrilled to be working with Kinduct to change the face of sport performance analytics for years to come.”   

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About Kinduct

Kinduct Technologies is dedicated to making people better. Its products are developed to address the information challenges of organizations who work with athletes, patients and clients. Its software solutions help organizations collect, organize, share and analyze data in one centralized platform, leading to informed decisions and powerful results. For more information, please visit www.kinduct.com.

About STATS

STATS is the world’s leading sports technology, data and content company. Its mission is to revolutionize the way sports contests are viewed, understood, played and enjoyed. STATS provides real-time scores, historical sports information, Associated Press editorial content, a turnkey fantasy sports operation, brand activation and SportVU technology.  Today, STATS’ worldwide client network of media companies and professional sports leagues and teams utilize a broad spectrum of dynamic in-game broadcast presentations and virtual images, multimedia enhancements and game analysis and tactical coaching tools.

About Vista Equity Partners

Vista Equity Partners, a U.S.-based private equity firm with offices in Austin, Chicago and San Francisco, with more than $14 billion in cumulative capital commitments, currently invests in software, data and technology-based organizations led by world-class management teams with long-term perspective. Vista is a value-added investor, contributing professional expertise and multi-level support towards companies realizing their full potential. Vista’s investment approach is anchored by a sizable long-term capital base, experience in structuring technology-oriented transactions, and proven management techniques that yield flexibility and opportunity in private equity investing. For more information, please visit http://www.vistaequitypartners.com

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Lesbirel, Binkley Expanding FastRack


A few years after graduating from the Dalhousie University business management program, Mitchell Lesbirel and Casey Binkley are entrepreneurs with a product selling on the Canadian Costco website.

Lesbirel and Binkley are the co-founders of Axle Plastic Inc., a Toronto-based company that has produced FastRack Wine, a wine-bottle drying, transporting and storage system now being sold on Costco.ca.

The launch on Costco’s website is the latest chapter in an entrepreneurial saga that began at Dal, went through one of Canada’s leading entrepreneurship accelerators, and featured a successful pitch on Dragon’s Den.

“Costco recognized the early wine trend and began offering their Vino Europa wine kits,” FastBrewing said in a press release. “Now, it is branching into equipment with the FastRack Wine, which is ideal for cleaning, storing, and transporting wine and beer bottles.”

The FastBrewing story began when Lesbirel, a native of Oakfield, N.S., and Binkley linked up at Dalhousie.

In 2011, Lesbirel entered the Next36, a Toronto program that helps top-flight university students learn about entrepreneurship and growing their own businesses.  “Best program I ever did –hands down,” said Lesbirel in an interview when asked about the Next36.

Lesbirel gained a reputation for his persuasive personality at Next36. In fact, whenever the Next36’s Jon French visits Halifax he jokes about “Mitch the Pitch” wowing his classmates with his pitching abilities.

Originally, the two Dal grads formed the company to sell FastRack, the product featured on Costco’s website, to bars, restaurants in hotels. Lesbirel said lots of FastRacks were sold, but the homebrewing and winemaking markets are so much larger than hospitality that they switched their focus toward that market instead.

In April 2013, Lesbirel and Binkley appeared on CBC’s “Dragon’s Den,” in which start-ups ask influential businesspeople to invest in their company. Boston Pizza CEO Jim Treliving struck a deal for the duo’s FastRack product: $50,000 for a five percent royalty, having nine months without a royalty, and then dropping to a three-percent royalty after recovering his investment.

In the past two years, the duo has sold about 50,000 to 100,000 wine-racks and 15,000 fermenters.

Their products are in about 1,300 stores in more than 30 countries. Last month, the company launched its sales in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

 “We just developed trust in the industry—people know us,” Lesbirel said. “They know we deliver quality products.”

The FastBrewing products include a fermenter that can ferment beer in one container to avoid a mess; FastRack, which is a rack that holds empty beer and wine bottles to avoid a messy pile of empties at the end of the night; and FastLabel, which can customize beer, bomber and wine bottles.

 FastBrewing underwent 300 percent revenue growth in 2013-14, and Lesbirel said that the company expects another 300 percent revenue growth this year.

“It’s a very simple path,” Lesbirel said, “more product, more distribution.”

Press Release: SimplyCast Q1 Growth


SimplyCast, the Dartmouth multi-channel marketing company, has issued the following press release:

SimplyCast Achieves Impressive Q1 Growth

Marketing automation users have grown by over 650% from Q1 of last year.

The Partnership Program has achieved growth of 310% since Q1 2014.

Automation customer retention rate is at 100% as of the end of March 2015.

Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, May 12, 2015 - SimplyCast.com, a global leader in multi-channel marketing Platform-as-a-Service solutions, is excited to announce high growth rates for Q1 2015.

In the first quarter of 2015, SimplyCast has seen great success with its flagship 360 marketing automation product. 360’s user base has grown by over 650% compared to Q1 2014.

SimplyCast has seen strong performance from its Partnership Division, which has achieved unit revenue growth of 310%. Our partners are also seeing increased success as a direct result of the continued growth targeted enhancements that our developers have made to the application. Individual partners have seen their platform growth doubling month over month, with strong indications of growth that will continue for the next year.

SimplyCast is also able to report that it has succeeded in improving its customer retention rate. The automation customer retention rate improved to 100% in March 2015, hitting a new company record. Satisfied customers help ensure that the quarterly growth targets continue to be met and exceeded.

“We are very pleased with our Q1 results. Our flagship product SimplyCast 360 continues to gain new users and our partnership division is seeing triple digit growth,” said Saeed El-Darahali, President and CEO. “Our team has worked hard to improve customer satisfaction and retention. All our efforts are paying off.”

SimplyCast has continued to expand its head office staff during Q1, including its development and human resources teams. SimplyCast is expecting to continue hiring for all positions. In the past few weeks, there have been additional employees added to the Sales, Marketing, Research and Development teams.

The SimplyCast team could have located anywhere in the world, but chose “Silicon Dartmouth.” SimplyCast has exceeded its ambitious revenue targets for the first quarter, and has grown revenues substantially compared to the first quarter of 2014. With growth continuing into the first part of Q2, SimplyCast expects to continue to post strong quarterly results for the foreseeable future.

About SimplyCast

SimplyCast.com is a leading provider of interactive and multi-channel communication software for organizations worldwide. The company’s 360 Customer Flow Communication Platform is a feature rich solution combining marketing automation, inbound marketing and interactive communication. With customers in over 175 countries, including many of the most recognized brand names around the globe in retail, non-profit and hospitality industries, SimplyCast provides organizations the ability to effectively reach customers on their preferred mode of communication.

TownSquare Targets Democracy Gap


When Taylor Quinn chatted with Premier Stephen McNeil last November, he didn’t know the discussion would soon lead to the launch of a startup in Toronto to encourage greater participation in democracy.

Quinn is a Dalhousie University student and serial entrepreneur, and he’s co-founder of TownSquare, which aims to encourage a more meaningful discussion between politicians and government officials on one hand and the general public on the other.

“TownSquare sets out to democratize democracy by encouraging dialogue between government officials and citizens,” Quinn said in a phone interview Monday from Toronto. “We built a platform that will allow government officials, politicians and citizens to engage in a two-way dialogue in ways they can’t now.”

Quinn and his co-founders are planning to launch the product this summer.

The company took shape when Quinn entered The Next36, a Toronto entrepreneurship program for Canadian students, but it all began when Taylor found himself talking to the Nova Scotia premier last autumn.

 “I asked him what was the biggest problem he faced, and he expressed frustration that he has no way to engage with the public en masse,” said Quinn.

He explained that politicians and government officials gauge public opinion by monitoring social media or the comments sections on media websites, but there is no site dedicated to allowing government and the governed to meet on neutral ground and work together on better policy.

Quinn has a history of community engagement with young people and entrepreneurship, and in January he was one of two Atlantic Canadians accepted into the Next36. The other was Jeremy Tupper, a Dalhousie computer science grad.

At The Next36, Quinn was paired up with Aishi Jiang, a graduate student from the University of Western Ontario with whom he had to develop a company. They decided to work on Quinn’s idea for an interface between government and citizens. A friend of Jiang’s, Harvard University computer science student Grace Lin, joined the team as chief technical officer.

One strength of the Next36 is its mentorship network, and TownSquare has been able to work with leading political and government figures from across the country. Quinn, who declined to name any of these advisers, said the team has consulted municipalities and political parties on developing the platform. He has not yet approached the Nova Scotia government, but he intends to.

They’ve learned that government and politicians are interested in the platform, and they’re hoping their advisers will help generate interest among the public.

The team has developed a minimum viable product. By the time Quinn and Jiang present their company at the Next36 graduation in August, they want to know whether they have a viable business.

 “We’re planning to roll out our (test) this week and we’re hoping to sign initial contracts with political parties and municipal governments in mid-June,” said Quinn, adding that the team planned to move on to provincial and federal governments from there.

“We understand the timeliness of what we’re working on, given the upcoming election in Canada this year and the upcoming election in the U.S. next year.”