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 CEO 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


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


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.


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.



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.”   


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.


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


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.”

Eye on KW: Silqe’s Financial Analysis

A startup company in Kitchener is now working with about 200 sample clients to test software that could revolutionize the way people analyze publicly traded companies.

Silqe – the second financial technology startup co-founded by CEO Ben Bittrolff – has developed software that lets the user quickly and easily extract data from all financial statements filed with regulators in the U.S.

Yep, ALL financial statements.

If the closed beta test is successful, Bittrolff and his team hope to do an open beta test later this summer and launch the product before the end of the year.

“We’re Google Search for finance,” said Bittrolff in an interview last week. “One aspect of it is there is nothing good out there that does what we do. People are able to cover a large really data set.”

Silqe – pronounced the same as “silk” – is one of 10 companies now going through Communitech’s Rev accelerator, which focuses on improving revenue for seed-round companies.

Bittrolff and his team previously formed a startup in Toronto called Cyborg Trading Systems, whose algorithms helped stock traders to automate their trading systems. It was bought by a Toronto investment house last year for an undisclosed price.

Bittrolff, who has an MBA in finance, wanted to stay in the FinTech segment so the team turned their attention to a platform that would help investors quickly customize searches of company financials.

As it stands now, Silqe’s automated system goes through every public filing in the U.S. and extracts key data from the financial statements. (It will eventually apply to any company that uses Gaap or IFRS accounting standards.) It collects raw data, which is one of the program’s strengths. Users can then go to the dashboard and quickly perform searches with their own criteria.

They could, for example, look up all tech companies with more than $300 million in revenue in the first quarter of 2015. Then they could compare the findings to the previous first quarter and see growth patterns emerging. Then that could divide the number of shares into the findings, and see earnings-per-share performance. These searches would take seconds.

Silqe includes an application program interface, or API, which means it can work with the IT systems of its clients. What it doesn’t have yet is a visualization feature that allows for charts and graphs. Bittrolff said that will come in later versions.

Because Silqe deals with raw data from the financial statements, it gives the user the bare numbers on a company’s performance. That’s important, but companies frequently present the best numbers possible in the written portion of a statement.

“There are all sorts of nuances in a financial statement,” said Bittrolff. “And if you try to lump it all into a proprietary data base you have to make a judgement call, and that isn’t always appropriate.”

The Silqe team is now mid-way through the closed beta test, and hopes to complete the open beta and launch by the time Rev wraps up in the fall. When Silqe launches the product, it plans to target investment boutiques as the first clients because they would probably make the fastest decisions to buy. Then the team will move on to the larger blue chip financial houses.

For now, it’s focused on working with the 200 beta customers, who comprise a range of traders, analysts, and other professionals.  Their response has been enthusiastic – so much so that they’re already asking for new features.

“One says wouldn’t it be cool if it could do this, and another wants it to do that,” said Bittrolff. “We’re busy filtering out the noise and remaining focused on our technology road map.” 

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

Mycodev Raises $500K from NBIF

Brennan Sisk: As our clients develop, so will we.

Brennan Sisk: As our clients develop, so will we.

The interesting thing about the $500,000 financing of Mycodev Group announced on Wednesday is the company is working with other startups to develop a whole new niche market.

Mycodev’s development will depend to some extent on how quickly these clients can increase demand for the Fredericton company’s product – high-quality chitosan.

“We have some really great early adopters,” said CEO Brennan Sisk in an interview. “Some of them are startups themselves, and as they develop so will we.”

The company said this week that it has received a $500,000 investment from the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, with which it will flesh out its team and complete its initial plant. Mycodev also raised additional funding from angel investors and assorted programs, but did not release details of this additional financing.

Mycodev set out about two years ago to develop a new method of producing chitosan – a material that has numerous commercial applications in such fields as medicine, agriculture, wine or industry. The higher quality chitosan – which can cost thousands of dollars per kilogram -- is usually associated with medical applications, and this is the segment that Mycodev has targeted. The total market for chitosan is expected to reach $21 billion this year.

Though the biopolymer is usually extracted from the discarded shells of shellfish, Sisk and his co-founders CTO David Brown and Chief Engineer Peter Dean set out to extract chitosan from a species of fungus. It avoids the use of harsh chemicals need in the crustacean-based processes and produces chitosan of a high purity with its own special composition.

“Chitosan is an extremely effective coagulant that, when combined with other agents, can almost immediately stop bleeding and promote healing in humans,” said NBIF CEO Calvin Milbury in a statement.  “Although chitosan is already on the market, its traditional production method leaves impurities that can prevent its use in pharmaceutical products.”

Mycodev is now working with three early adopters – two in wound care and one in cancer treatment. In particular, the company and its partners are targeting bandages and wound dressings that that would stop bleeding. By the end of the summer, Mycodev hopes to be supplying them with medical-grade chitosan.

So far, the company has developed methods for producing the fungal biomass that it needs. It plans to complete the extraction system by mid-June and spend months after that validating the system, making sure it can produce required amounts of high-quality product.

NBIF – which advertises on Entrevestor – said its investment will be used in part for the purchase of production equipment. It will also be used to fine-tune the production and extraction process to meet growing customer demand for the ultra-pure chitosan.

Then things get interesting: the early adopters will work with Mycodev’s chitosan to develop products. As those products reach the market, the demand for chitosan increases and Mycodev would ramp up its own production. Sisk said any future funding for Mycodev will really depend on how much demand and value is created by the development of its clients’ new products.

“The technology we’ve developed is highly scalable so as the market grows we have the flexibility to replicate that growth,” said Sisk.

Philip LeBlanc: Artist-Turned-Maker

Philip LeBlanc: 'Designers will play a larger role.'

Philip LeBlanc: 'Designers will play a larger role.'

Designer Philip LeBlanc could probably make his living from his art, but the founder of the Fredericton Makerspace focuses on design because he believes improving it will transform our lives.

“Design is essentially making decisions and acting on them; I think design should play a larger role in innovation,” said LeBlanc, an interdisciplinary designer whose skills include graphic design and silkscreen printing.

“Soon, designers will play a larger role because good designers challenge people to think about how they research and approach problems.”

LeBlanc is the lead designer for Castaway Golf and SimpTek Technologies, first- and second-place winners at the recent NBIF Breakthru competition.

“It’s been amazing to see how the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Atlantic Canada supports young entrepreneurs.”

LeBlanc is also designer in residence for the technology, management and entrepreneurship program at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, and an instructor at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design.

With the pace of innovation accelerating, creativity and problem solving are becoming increasingly important.

Modern tools, such as computer-assisted design, are useful, but many students develop an early reliance on them, inhibiting their own creativity.

LeBlanc said students should develop their individual creativity by first learning the principles of design on paper, something many resist.

“It can be frustrating for graphic design students who want to dive into Photoshop to have to start with pen and paper. They’ve grown up with computers, but too early reliance on computer-assisted design can make everyone’s work look the same.”

He said students need to learn to ask the right questions. For instance, he asks engineering students to consider how their designs affect users.

LeBlanc began the Makerspace in 2013 after gaining his master’s in design from Halifax’s NSCAD University.

Back in Fredericton, he found he didn’t have the equipment to develop his ideas. So, he established the Makerspace, a place where people of different skill sets share ideas and tools, from 3D printers to sewing machines.

The Makerspace movement began in Germany in the early 2000s. LeBlanc said it is democratizing innovation.

“It allows people with differing talents, expertise and equipment to meet and work collaboratively.

“It helps people realize they can transform their world. And Makerspaces provide room for play and experimentation. Self-led learning is important because it puts the person in control.”

Appropriately, LeBlanc was assisted in founding the Makerspace by his participation in the six-month Social Enterprise Accelerator held at the Pond Deshpande Centre at the University of New Brunswick.

“If not for the accelerator, the Makerspace may have fizzled out. People would still be working in their garages.

“There are a lot of home 3D printers in Fredericton, at least 35 that I know of. People work on their own projects, but they want to be part of a community.”

The Makerspace has also been supported by the community. Smart Skin Technologies donated a 3D printer that has been “running nonstop.”

It recently received provincial funding to set up a professional screen-printing facility.

Now, LeBlanc is excited to be leaving his home province to move to Toronto with his wife, Nicole. She was formerly director of finance for the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and now works with the Business Development Bank of Canada.

“Nicole’s influenced me with her high level of professionalism and the way she’s so giving of her time.”

He said that he will continue to work with the Summer Institute program at UNB and other design workshops.

In Toronto, he hopes to teach design and drawing at the university level.

“I’ve learned most as a designer through working with others, but I don’t think students need more structured ways of learning.

“They’re graduating into a workplace that is continually evolving. I believe they can gain from adopting more methods of self-directed learning.”

Alston Kicks Butt at Kiras

Alston, Mathis and Shukla: Industry champions.

Alston, Mathis and Shukla: Industry champions.

David Alston was crowned Industry Champion at the KIRA Awards in Fredericton last night, recognized for his contribution to the innovation community in the province.

The Chief Innovation Officer of Introhive and Radian6 alumnus has become an eloquent campaigner for the new economy in New Brunswick. He is one of the founders of Brilliant Labs, which is increasing technical education in public schools in the Maritimes. He is passionate about developing an innovative and socially responsible economy, as he showed in his recent opinion piece for Entrevestor.

KIRA Awards are handed out annually to members of the public and private sectors to recognize the contributions the people, companies and organizations have made to developing innovation in New Brunswick.

“If there is one thing for certain in New Brunswick, it’s that our Industry remains strong and vibrant,” Alan Gray KIRA Awards Co-Chair, said in a statement. “Not only do we continue to see truly amazing and talented companies emerge through our Most Promising Start-up Award, but the talent and accomplishments across the board are amazing!"

The other winners, announced at a gala in Fredericton last night, were:

Most Promising Start-upResson Aerospace, Fredericton, whose software analyzes data collected from farm fields to maximize production, beat out Eigen Innovation Inc. of Fredericton and Qimple Inc., of Moncton.

Economic Impact – oNBoard Award: The winner was BMM Test Labs, Dieppe, the longest-established private independent gaming certification lab in the world. The runners-up were Blue Spurs and Siemens Canada Limited, both of Fredericton.

Innovative New Product or Service – Private Sector: Excipio Technologies Inc., Moncton, which has developed faster, more specific and efficient exosome isolation for the development of diagnostic tests, won the award. It beat out RtTech Software Inc., Moncton, and Eigen Innovations.

Innovation in the Public Sector: River Watch, NB Department of Environment and Local Government was the winner over the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and Cancer Prevention and Screening Program.

In the Industry Champion category, Alston was competing with Dhirendra Shukla, head of the University of New Brunswick’s Management, Technology and Entrepreneurship Program and Chris Mathis, CEO of Springboard Atlantic.

The interest in the award peaked when the above photo began making the rounds on Twitter. The originator of the photo is unknown, giving rise to unfair claims that the picture may have been doctored. 

Clean Simple Plots Growth in Ottawa

When Michael Brown discussed the $300,000 in funding that cleaning company Clean Simple is closing, he wanted to highlight that part of the investment came from the parents of one of his cleaners.

“We thought it was fantastic,” the CEO said in an interview Tuesday. “Our slogan is that we focus on our cleaners so they can focus on you, and this speaks volumes for the relationship we have.”

The Halifax company started last year when Brown and co-founder Matt Cooper devised the theory that homeowners would book cleaners and pay for them online if the service was good enough. They’ve proven the concept works in Halifax. Next month, armed with new funding, a bigger team and new technology, they’re expanding into Ottawa.

“We selected Ottawa because we wanted a city that was larger than Halifax but one that doesn’t have the logistical issues of a city the size of Toronto,” said Brown.

The original idea was to use technology to improve the standard manual business of cleaning services.

People could book and pay for a cleaner online. With the cheaper administrative process, Clean Simple could afford to pay its cleaners more and retain them to ensure the highest quality of service. In 14 months of operation, it has only let one cleaner go.

The model worked in the residential market, but the business really grew when Clean Simple moved into the commercial market and adopted new technology. For example, the mobile platform its cleaners use allows them to communicate with the office manager, leaving notes on the cleaning job or asking questions at any hour.

That innovation is one reason the commercial business, which launched last autumn, has taken off. Clean Simple’s revenue increased 540 per cent between August and December.

Then one cleaner came up with an idea: It would help if management could use photos to explain the cleaning instructions. Done.

If Brown is meeting with clients, he takes photos of the site, draws instructions on the photos and sends them to the cleaners through the communication platform. He and Cooper are planning to add video soon.

Brown and Cooper have been raising capital and managed to secure $100,000 in equity funding, which they are supplementing with about $200,000 in debt and grants. The funding should close soon. One of the direct investors is Chris Harker, who recently sold his company Massage Addict and will be joining the team at Clean Simple.

Brown said he has also approached potential investors in Ontario. The feedback was encouraging. They liked the business plan and communications system, but one potential funder said the company should be going into more cities and raising more equity capital than $100,000.

The addition of Harker is part of an expansion wave under which the management team will grow to six people, including one in Ottawa. They plan to develop the business in Ottawa over the summer and consider expansion into other cities later in the year.

And they also plan to continue to recruit the highest quality of cleaner they can find.

“Our goal is to give them all the tools they need to be successful,” said Cooper. “They’re appreciative of the fact that we’re talking all the time to help them do their job well.”

CyberPsyc Breaks Into US Market

Darren Piercey: 'We're getting really good traction.'

Darren Piercey: 'We're getting really good traction.'

With its list of clients growing, CyberPsyc Software Solutions has broken into the lucrative U.S. market.

The five-year-old Fredericton startup, whose software helps organizations improve the mental health of this members, has secured HCL America, an IT consulting and services company, as its first corporate client. And Founder and CEO Darren Piercey said CyberPsyc, which so far has been selling mainly to universities, has a strong pipeline which should lead to further sales.

“We’re getting really good traction,” said Piercey in a phone interview Wednesday. “Just in the past few weeks, we’ve signed three new customers. So we’ve got 13 customers now and we expect to double that by the end of the year.”

CyberPsyc has developed a Software-as-a-Service product that uses the research conducted by Piercey, a University of New Brunswick psychology professor, to help people treat phobias and anxiety. 

Since January 2014, CyberPsyc has been selling products mainly to treat three conditions – stress, anxiety and depression. Together, they make up a massive market when you consider that anxiety and depression cost the North American economy an estimated $46 billion each year.

CyberPsyc’s flagship product is WellTrack, an online platform that provides users the treatment and tools they need to overcome these afflictions.

Using treatment called Computerized Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, WellTrack replicates environments in which individuals may feel stressed and helps them deal effectively in those situations. This product is complemented by a mobile app called MoodCheck, which pings users daily to help them identify activities or environments that make them happy, sad or anxious.

A statement from the company said WellTrack is currently deployed in universities across Atlantic Canada where it is being used by about 2500 people. CyberPsyc said that of those students who chose to log in and try a session, 70 per cent returned for more therapy.

The company has received funding in the past from such investors as the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and East Valley Ventures Co-Founder Gerry Pond. It raised a round of $135,000 last year and Piercey is now seeking $2 million in what he calls a “pre-Series A round”.

The pitches for this funding rest on the growing traction the company is gaining, and its success with clients like HCL America. It is a division of HCL, an Indian technology services company with more than 100,000 employees in 31 countries.

The CyberPsyc contract initially offers its products to 1,000 employees at the company’s Cary, N.C., American headquarters, and then to its 7,000 employees in the Americas. This contract has the potential to expand CyberPsyc’s reach to all HCL employees.




Press Release: TechImpact Launches

The New Brunswick Information Technology Council has issued the following press release:

New Brunswick Information Technology Council Re-launches and Re-brands as TechImpact

Fredericton—The New Brunswick Information Technology Council (NBITC) announced today it is re-launching and re-branding as TechImpact. The private-sector group is made up of the top leaders from Information Communications Technology companies from New Brunswick and increasingly throughout the Maritimes.

“The technology sector holds tremendous potential for Eastern Canada. By embracing technology in everything we do, we can build a stronger economy, create new jobs and opportunities, assist existing private sector companies in becoming more competitive globally, and help government cost-effectively deliver public services,” said Roddy Awad, TechImpact’s chair and the president of Moncton-based TKS.

TechImpact has five prime areas of focus:

1)   Developing the region’s workforce including improving the education system and attracting and retaining skilled immigrants

2) Celebrating the successes of business and government technology initiatives

3) Building regional businesses by supporting the ecosystem and finding more opportunities for export

4) Working with all levels of government to create a supportive policy environment and smarter ways of delivering public services

5) Fostering innovation through increased research and commercialization efforts in the private sector and in post-secondary institutions

For TechImpact’s CEO Ed McGinley, the evolution to a new brand reflects the organization’s mission. “Through discussion with our members and deliberation on our long-term goals, it became clear that our focus needed to be on the impact of technology in transforming our region’s economy,” he said. “It’s not just about technology, but more importantly what technology can do for our society.”

About TechImpact

TechImpact is a private sector group made up of leaders from the top Information Communication Technology companies in Eastern Canada. TechImpact’s focus is on embracing technology to deliver positive economic and social impacts. Find out more at http://www.techimpact.it or follow @TechImpact_IT.

BlueLight Partners with 3M Division

BlueLight Analytics has secured another major distribution partner for its main product, which helps dentists ensure they use optimal energy when curing the resin in fillings.

3M ESPE, a Canadian division of the American conglomerate The 3M Co., announced Tuesday it has partnered with BlueLight to distribute the Halifax company’s checkMARC product across Canada.

Developed from an idea generated at Dalhousie University, checkMARC addresses a sizable problem in modern dentistry. Dentists make more than half their income from resin-based fillings, but have never been able to ensure they are using the right amount of energy when curing the resin. CheckMARC lets dentists check their curing lights and make sure the energy levels are optimal.

“With the checkMARC system, 3M ESPE will test and identify the efficacy of a dental office’s curing lights,” said 3M ESPE in a statement.

“Based on the results, 3M ESPE will review the light curing protocols currently in practice, and work together with the dental clinic to identify evidence-based opportunities to improve clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction.”

Last summer, BlueLight announced it had formed a partnership with Henry Schein, the Melville, N.Y.-based medical product distributer whose 2014 sales exceeded US$10 billion. Now it’s formed a second partnership with a 3M ESPE, whose parent company book 2014 revenue of about US$30 billion.

The 3M division said it is now inviting dentists to contact 3M ESPE sales representatives to set up an appointment to have their curing lights tested and light curing protocols reviewed.

What’s important here is that BlueLight is working with titans in its field, who will no doubt help in the difficult task of convincing medical professionals to use new technology. There’s a buzz around BlueLight, but CEO Colin Deacon never reveals revenue figures. The fact that it has secured leading partnerships lends credence to the view the company is doing well. 

GoFullSteam Is Free For NS Clients

Emily Richardson has taken Ray Ivany’s targets to heart.

Richardson is the Founder and CEO of Halifax-based GoFullSteam, a startup developing a series of tools that can help small businesses plan and execute the early stages of their development. The online product includes tools that help business people with their pitches, their business plans and their financial projections.

Richardson and her team – CTO Deepika Agarwal and Director of Community Ben Boudreau -- were struck by the Ivany Report, which called for private sector leadership in lifting Nova Scotia out of its economic morass. In particular, they took note of the report’s goal of launching 4,200 new businesses a year to grow the private sector. So GoFullSteam is doing its part to help.

“We’re making our platform free for everyone in Nova Scotia that has an idea for a business and needs a plan of attack to get it off the ground,” said Richardson, sitting in her office in the Volta startup house in Halifax.

GoFullSteam started last summer and instantly got a boost when Richardson was accepted into the Women Entrepreneurs Bootcamp at Communitech in Waterloo, Ont. It was a forum where she could not only learn but also discuss her platform with other entrepreneurs.

The idea behind the product is that there are a gazillion online products to help entrepreneurs but many are confusing and/or time-consuming. GoFullSteam aims to give the new business person a series of simple, easy-to-use tools that can help anyone get their business going.

The company is working with various partners in the community. It has formed a partnership with East Coast Credit Union to introduce the product to the lender’s clients. And it has also worked with the immigrant services community to ensure the GoFullSteam platform easy for new Canadians to use.

GoFullSteam now has a few hundred users, including clients as far away as India and South Africa. As it increases its user base, it plans to introduce new products so that growing entrepreneurs use the suite of products as their business becomes more sophisticated.

“If we could produce digital tools that we could use ourselves, then that would help our fellow entrepreneurs to see it as something you come back to again and again as part of the ongoing process,” said Richardson.

GoFullSteam so far has been funded by the team with small contributions from friends and family. Richardson hopes to raise seed capital in 2016. 

Press Release: DNS, HCC Team Up

Digital Nova Scotia, the association representing ICT in the province, issued the following press release:

Digital Nova Scotia and Halifax Convention Centre Form New Partnership to Attract National and International ICT Events

HALIFAX, May 5, 2015 – Digital Nova Scotia (DNS), the industry association for the Province’s fastest growing sector, and the Halifax Convention Centre (HCC) announced a partnership this morning to attract national and international Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and ICT-related events to Halifax. The two organizations have been developing a targeted list of events they would like to bring to the region to benefit Nova Scotia’s growing ICT sector.

“It is within our mission and mandate as an industry association to encourage the growth of Nova Scotia’s digital economy. We believe this partnership will result in greater global business opportunities and a broader eco-system of support for our members and stakeholders,” says Ulrike Bahr-Gedalia, President and CEO, DNS.

As a sponsor and organizing partner of the highly anticipated 2015 Big Data for Productivity Congress, DNS is already collaborating on high-level conferences scheduled in the region. Set for Oct. 19th – 21st, the Big Data for Productivity Congress features a global trade track and internationally recognized speakers including Ray Kurzweil of Google. Both organizations are also actively involved in the coordination of STEMfest, a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education-focused initiative, which will be hosted in the new state-of-the-art Halifax Convention Centre in 2018.

“We’re proud to partner with DNS to attract ICT conferences to our new Centre,” said Scott Ferguson, President and CEO, Halifax Convention Centre. “By working together, we will not only connect our local experts with their global counterparts, but help to enhance the profile of Nova Scotia’s ICT sector worldwide.”

During this morning’s announcement, DNS invited its members and partners to work alongside both DNS and HCC in identifying potential events and to maintain momentum by leveraging the hashtag “#BringITtoNS” in support of the initiative.

Press Release: SimplyCast Aids Grads

SimplyCast, which has developed a multi-channel marketing platform, has issued the following press release:

SimplyCast Rolls Out Student Loan Repayment Program for New Employees

Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, May 5, 2015 - SimplyCast.com, a global leader in multi-channel marketing Platform-as-a-Service solutions, is excited to announce the launch of the new Student Loan Repayment Program.

The program helps new graduates pay off their student loans. SimplyCast hires many students and new graduates. The team is keenly aware of the debt struggles faced by these employees. SimplyCast will make the minimum monthly student loan payment for each new employee who qualifies.

SimplyCast is seeking graduates from across Canada looking to work in full-time sales, computer science and engineering roles. To be considered for the program, graduates must complete the Student Loan Repayment Program application. Applicants must also complete the standard SimplyCast application, found here.

To see if you qualify, you will be asked to provide details about your student loan payments, three personal references and a letter of interest. The SimplyCast special committee will review applications on a monthly basis and invite selected applicants for an interview.

“The average Canadian student graduates with a debt of over $25,000, and we want to help alleviate that burden,” said Saeed El-Darahali, President and CEO of SimplyCast. “The program is intended to provide new employees with a great career opportunity as well as a debt payment incentive.”

SimplyCast is dedicated to hiring young talent. Hiring students and new graduates reduces the unemployment rate, keeps talent in Canadian communities and contributes to a sustainable workforce.

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.

SMU’s Afri-Sea Places 5th at IBMC

For a team that squeaked into the competition, Afri-Sea from Saint Mary’s University exceeded expectations at the International Business Model Competition on the weekend.

The company, which uses compounds from seaweed to mitigate the effects of drought, made the finals at the event at Brigham Young University in Utah, ending up placing fifth and winning US$5,000.

Not a bad performance, when you consider the team from the Halifax university’s Master of Technology Entrepreneurship and Innovation program missed the finals of the Canadian competition held at Dalhousie University in March.

The story of this team began last autumn when Tim Cranston, Sulayman Cham and Todd Mercer entered the 16-month graduate program that teaches lean entrepreneurship. (Disclaimer: The program advertises on Entrevestor.)

Cranston had already co-founded a marine biotech company, Natural Ocean Products, which won the biotech category at the I-3 startup competition in Nova Scotia last year.

He learned from Cham of the devastating drought in Gambia, and the team was formed to find a solution using bioactive compounds Cranston had worked with in his studies as a marine biologist.

They understood that seaweed can retain 200 to 300 times its weight in moisture so they began to investigate using coastal sea plants as an additive to retain moisture in soil.

They developed it into a business model, and Progress Magazine reported that the proposal has been endorsed by Gambia’s government and is being reviewed by the World Bank.

In March, Afri-Sea entered Canada's Business Model Competition at Dal, which is a qualifying round for the event in Utah. The competitions, which assess university students’ proficiency in developing a business using the lean startup methodology, are held in 15 countries. All 3,832 teams that competed this year were trying to qualify for the finals in Utah.

The competition at the event in Halifax was strong, and Afri-Sea was knocked out before the Canadian finals.

“Because we felt that the … team was a great team, Tim pursued getting into the (international) competition through the at-large international competition route,” said Dawn Jutla, head of the program.

“He had a video created, submitted and they were on their way.”

Afri-Sea competed with 41 other university teams in Utah and drew strong praise from participants and judges. Big Idea Wisconsin, a startup organization attending the event, sent out a tweet Saturday that summed up the reaction: “Afrisea … mind blowing … seaweed as a solution to drought in Africa and around the world. #IBMC2015”

The judges were especially complimentary, saying Afri-Sea was a “world-class” company and used the complete business canvas well.

The overall winner of the competition was Emilia Diaz and her Chilean company Kaitek Labs, which developed biosensors to identify water and seafood poisoned by red tide toxins. She was the first female founder and first competitor from outside the United States to win.


Timbre Cases Prepares to Launch

Timbre Cases, the Fredericton startup dedicated to making the best guitar cases available, announced funding Monday that will finance its final push to get a product into the market.

Founded by music aficionado Peter McMath, Timbre Cases will soon launch the DNone, an upmarket acoustic guitar case that’s aimed at music professionals. McMath said he will soon reveal a few high profile endorsements for the product, but he’s keeping the names under wraps for now.

The release of DNone will foreshadow the release next year of a second product that will target the broader market of guitar players. But the goal of the product remains the same – to protect the instrument and make it convenient for the owner to transport it.

“We’ve been through different phases of our prototyping and this is the last leg of it,” said McMath in an interview. “It’s the final step in our commercialization phase. It’s about product development and the launch of our initial product, the DNone.

Timbre Cases announced Monday that it received a loan of just under $200,000 from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to help finance this financing. The company on its own has $66,000 from angel investors in the region.

Timbre Cases in December launched a crowdfunding campaign on the Kickstarter website with a target of $30,000. It ended up raising $31,547.

While most of the startups in New Brunswick are in the IT space, McMath set out to join another group of entrepreneurs.  A lifelong music fanatic, he wants to emulate the success of local companies Sabian Cymbals and Los Cabos Drumsticks, which have excelled in the global market for music equipment.

McMath has spent the last two years refining the design and manufacturing process of the cases, and he says the team has dramatically improved the “geometry” of the cases. They include wheels sunken into the body of the case so they don’t break off and a watertight seal. 

“It’s gotten a lot better,” McMath said of the design. “We’ve spent the last two years working with everyone from engineers to designers to musicians. For example, we’ve achieve 63 percent in weight savings.”

The product is manufactured in Canada and the final assembly is carried out in Fredericton.

The plan for the rest of the year is to sell the instruments through an array of distribution channels. The company will sell directly to musicians themselves, through music retailers and in partnership with instrument manufacturers.

A strong goal is to increase sales in key geographic markets, such as the West Coast and in the southern U.S. In the long-term, McMath wants to branch out into cases for other types of musical instruments.

“We’ve really come up with a world class product and so we’re excited about getting out the next generation of cases,” said McMath. “We’ll be able to move into a mid-market product in 2016, but we’re really setting the standard this summer.”

Press Release: Startup Hfx Bootcamp

Startup Canada Halifax, the Halifax chapter of the national organization Startup Canada, has issued the following press release:

Startup Canada Halifax engages local entrepreneurs in initiative to reduce startup failure through financial literacy

Startup Canada Halifax is convinced that Entrepreneur financial literacy is a key element in generating jobs and revenue for the Nova Scotia.

On May 7th at 5 PM at the Volta Center on Spring Garden Road, Local Entrepreneurs and small business owners will participate in a local installment of a national initiative to reduce startup failure today. This event is the first Startup Canada Finance Bootcamp to be hosted in Halifax.

The initiative is part of a nation-wide financial literacy program presented by Startup Canada, a national, entrepreneur-led movement supporting the development of vibrant startup communities, and Intuit Canada, a leading provider of business, financial and tax management solutions for small & mid-sized businesses.

The program aims to close the financial literacy gap for entrepreneurs and empower them to pursue sustainable, scalable businesses opportunities that create value for the local community through job creation and revenue generation.

Fifty Startup Finance Bootcamps, Meetups, and QuickBooks Clinics will take place between April and August 2015 and engage 2,500 entrepreneurs in communities from coast to coast.

“Startup success and failure hinges on an entrepreneur’s ability to make sound financial decisions,” said Victoria Lennox, CEO and Co-Founder of Startup Canada. “By connecting entrepreneurs with financial literacy education locally, we are planting the seeds to fill empty storefronts, lower unemployment and retain the local talent pool.”

“Intuit has a longstanding commitment to helping entrepreneurs achieve financial independence and success,” said Jeff Cates, President of Intuit Canada. “Our partnership with Startup Canada allows us to take this program to entrepreneurs where it makes an impact – in the local communities they call home. Our goal is to ensure startups scale-up with financial health.”


Startup Canada is a grassroots, entrepreneur-led movement founded in May 2012 that has become the most recognized, energized and active entrepreneurship organization in Canada. Startup Canada’s programs have mentored more than 20,000 Canadians, grown to represent more than 80,000 entrepreneurs, and increased entrepreneurial momentum, wealth and jobs in Canada while promoting Canada’s diversified economy and high quality of life.

Startup Canada is recognized globally as the benchmark for fuelling grassroots entrepreneurship. It has educated the leaders of peer organizations in the United Kingdom, Malaysia, South Korea, South America and the United States.

 About Intuit Inc.

Founded in 1983, Intuit had revenue of $4.5 billion in its fiscal year 2014. The company has approximately 8,000 employees with major offices in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, India and other locations. More information can be found at http://www.intuit.com


Eye on KW: Wagepoint Surges in US

Having settled into its new Waterloo office and expanded into the U.S., Wagepoint is on a roll with its base of paying clients soaring to 900 in the last year.

Founded originally in Nova Scotia, Wagepoint offers an affordable solution to help businesses perform all the tasks associated with payroll through a single platform. That means that small and medium-sized businesses can use Wagepoint to pay employees, deduct taxes, keep records of their payments and similar functions.

The company launched in June 2013, and expanded into the U.S. last August. The American expansion sparked a growth spurt so pronounced that the company had to slow down and take stock last autumn. Then it began to grow again and this winter it had back-to-back months of 50-percent revenue growth. It now has 900 clients and growing.

“A big thing is that once we were in the U.S. we immediately saw a big uptake in our signups,” said CEO Shrad Rao in an interview Friday. “It’s basically doubled our business overnight.”

The U.S. still accounts for only about 20 percent of the company’s client base, but it has shown rapid growth in just eight months. Roa attributes the growth in part to a strong focus on customer service, and takes pride in the fact that the Stevie Awards, a Fairfax, Va.-based group that recognizes international business achievements, presented Wagepoint with a Silver Stevie for customer service this year. And the company was able to raise US$2 million in equity and debt in December, which will help to finance further expansion in the U.S.

“The Human Capital Management tech startup market has been an exciting space over the last couple of years, as employers seek to simplify and streamline aspects of workforce management,” said Sunil Sharma, Managing Partner of Extreme Venture Partners, one of the investors. “Within this HCM space, Wagepoint has carved out its niche, creating a simple, intuitive payroll solution that small business owners and HR managers actually want to use.”

The financing was led by Toronto- and Waterloo-based Extreme and Montreal-based BDC Capital and featured several angels from the U.S. The financing also included a C$500,000 loan through the Business Development Program of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the federal economic development agency for the East Coast.

The ACOA funding took place because Wagepoint has seven employees in Nova Scotia – a legacy from its early development in the province. Rao said the company also has several clients in the Atlantic region and it remains an important market for the company. The company's headquarters officially remains in Nova Scotia and will remain there, he said. 

Still the CEO added that one of the company’s key developments in the past few years was settling on the Kitchener-Waterloo region as its Ontario base. Wagepoint went through Hyperdrive, formerly Communitech’s flagship accelerator, and now has its headquarters in Waterloo. Roa said that the company found technological and entrepreneurial mentorship and support in a community small enough to make meaningful connections.

Wagepoint has now grown to a 15-person operation, and the growth will continue. Rao is planning another funding round, likely by the end of the year. It will continue to add staff though Rao prefers to hire slowly to make sure he finds employees that fit with the company’s culture.

“We’ve got a lot on the go, adding new apps and repositioning the company,” he said. He wouldn’t reveal any details but added: “We’ve got some things coming down the pipe that will change the narrative of the company. “


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

Erin Flood’s Promise to New Brunswick

Erin Flood, the COO of Fredericton’s HotSpot Parking, was recently accepted into Tech Women Canada in San Francisco. Last week she posted this blog on her website:

My Promise to New Brunswick

The glass ceiling is still there, waiting for the unwary woman who thinks she will be treated the same as a man. The difference today is that strong women are consistently punching their way through and the working world is placing increasing value on those who are successful. We are starting to see an increase in the number of women at the top who act as a beacon to people like me who are just starting out.

I’ll admit that before diving into the world of start-ups and business I was naïve. I thought that I could rise above this “nonsense” and prove myself to all those naysayers. I set out believing that with a little spunk and a lot of confidence I could change the way females are viewed and valued in the workplace.

I was wrong.

But I was only partly wrong. With a lot of spirit and confidence I can make a small difference on my own. But once I started joining like-minded women I started to feel that real change was truly accessible — and New Brunswick has some incredible women.

When I was 13 my father decided it was time to drag my brothers and I out of Toronto and back to New Brunswick. I was furious because, let’s face it, my life was effectively over. I’m now 25 and can confidently say that it was the best decision my father ever made for me. In New Brunswick I am surrounded by entrepreneurs of all ages creating businesses with global potential. When new, exciting and world-changing ideas come to surface the geographic area in which these ideas are born become the spotlight; do we really want our beautiful province, our best kept secret, being revealed to the world? The answer is unequivocally YES.

Building a company in Atlantic Canada gives companies one hell of an advantage, because while the rest of world is flocking to big skyscraper cities, we’re quietly creating stories in our backyard that have the potential to shock the nervous system of the business world (doing all of this while overlooking the Saint John river and not the 401 highway is a nice perk).

I was recently accepted into this year’s Tech Women Canada and I was shocked. I was shocked because, with every new person I meet I realize how much more I have to learn. What I have realized is that directly in front of us, here in New Brunswick, are some of the best resources and some of the most incredible mentors in the world. The heroes who have been the biggest inspiration to me while building Hotspot are the ones directly in front of me.

These people in my own backyard have gotten me to where I am now. It’s my turn to brag and boast about the strong and growing network of strong female entrepreneurs surrounding me. It’s my turn to share the quiet, yet so incredibly strong success stories with the world. My pledge to New Brunswick and the powerhouse female entrepreneurs living here is that I will not leave San Francisco without absorbing every possible piece of knowledge, insight, and wisdom; more importantly, I will not leave SF without telling our story and offering the rest of the world insight on how much potential we truly have.

Our network is strong but we still face unequal treatment in the work place and in the business world. I think that bringing knowledge from people who offer new and unique background stories will help with the journey for Canadian female entrepreneurs. Every step is a step forward. I want to see our Atlantic community step up and boast their female staff in the workplace. Together, we can close the wage gap and promote the powerful contributions that female leaders give to our business success.

I’ll step off my soapbox now and end with a quote that has, and will forever, resonate with me.

“If you want to get something done, hire a woman.”

- Gerry Pond

Curwin Prepares to Begin Production

Gregg Curwin: 'Anything involving food, energy and water has become highly attractive.'

Gregg Curwin: 'Anything involving food, energy and water has become highly attractive.'

With California’s drought raising concerns about food supply, Gregg Curwin is well placed to begin producing leafy greens out of his indoor farm near Truro.

Many of Atlantic Canada’s vegetables are grown in California. Curwin, president and CEO of TruLeaf Smart Plant Systems, said that’s problematic.

Nutrients are lost during transit and storage, and California’s drought is highlighting the vulnerability to supply disruptions.

Curwin intends the TruLeaf indoor production method as a way to improve the health of Atlantic Canadians and protect the food supply.

“About 90 per cent of the leafy greens eaten here come from California, and California is perilously close to running out of water,” Curwin said.

“Atlantic Canadians are among the least healthy people in North America. Good nutrition is key to health. Our greens will be ultra-fresh, ultra-nutritious and ultra-clean.”

TruLeaf vegetables will be available in Atlantic Canadian stores, restaurants and hospitals by September, at a price comparable to California organics, Curwin said.

The entrepreneur’s plans begin regionally, but his ambitions are international. Curwin said TruLeaf’s farming system can help feed the world.

His farm near Truro is being built inside a warehouse, but the technology can be adapted to allow farms to be created inside containers. These containers can be rapidly deployed anywhere, including to remote areas or disaster zones. The first deployable version will be operating in Nunavut this fall.

“We’re building an indoor farm in Iqaluit,” Curwin said. “There, a fresh lettuce can cost three times what Atlantic Canadians pay but offer less quality and nutrition.

“We’re also working with chefs at a resort in the Bahamas to create a culinary experience.”

The TruLeaf system grows plants in stacked trays under LED lights. Energy, including 90 per cent of water, is reused, and there is no effluent or runoff.

Curwin said the Truro facility will be one of the largest multi-level indoor farms in North America.

The New Brunswick-raised entrepreneur established TruLeaf in 2009.

He first majored in marketing and finance at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. Later, he spent two decades in health-care innovation industries, including medical devices and retail.

He became intrigued with indoor farming after seeing a picture of a Japanese multi-level farm.

He raised seed capital from Innovacorp and private investors, receiving additional funding from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Curwin said TruLeaf has been supported and advised by Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Agriculture, the Perennia Innovation Centre and the people of Truro.

“I had zero experience in the space but hired people familiar with plants. I’m proud of how swiftly we evolved.”

TruLeaf has just completed a $4-million financing round that includes equity and debt. Raising capital on the East Coast is notoriously difficult, and investors favour tech companies that provide quick returns, Curwin said.

“The challenge is that venture capitalists are all giddy about the three-year exit (sale). One VC said, ‘I don’t look at anything that’s living.’

“But we say, ‘No, we’re a bigger story. It may take five to seven years, but you will change society and obtain a good return.’”

Fundraising was assisted by the fact agricultural technology is popular right now, Curwin said.

“Anything involving food, energy, water has become highly attractive.”

Beyond food production, Curwin said TruLeaf is working with a pharmaceutical company about growing drugs out of the Nova Scotia facility.

“We want to displace synthetics with precision-dose botanical extracts. Vaccine production can be done in facilities like ours where organic medical compounds can be grown in tobacco, which grows very fast.”

TruLeaf offers 30 plants in the leafy greens/herb category. Future plans include producing high-nutrient powders, oils and beverages.

The staff now stands at 12 and will soon rise to 20. Farm workers will receive an above-average hourly rate of $16 to $17.

Curwin said TruLeaf’s timing is good.

 “Consumers are realizing the importance of diet. We can be a global leader.”


Disclaimer: Innovacorp, Acoa, Dalhousie and St. Mary's are clients of Entrevestor. 


Press Release: NBIF Funds Research

The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, the agency responsible for developing innovation in the province, has issued the following press release:


FREDERICTON, N.B.—The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation (NBIF) today announced $1.4 million to fund 111 graduate and 62 undergraduate student researchers at five post-secondary institutions across the province, the largest amount in its 12-year history.

Awarded in partnership with the New Brunswick Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour (PETL), the funds will be used to pay exceptional students to work part-time in the lab with their professor on research projects.

“It’s paramount that we continue to invest in people to accelerate innovation in our province,” says NBIF CEO Calvin Milbury, “that’s why we’re making this record investment, to provide the opportunity to more students than we’ve ever done before to gain hands-on experience in the lab and help our researchers commercialize their work.”

The value of each assistantship is $5,000 for undergraduates and $10,000 for graduate students. The competition for assistantship funding occurs on an annual basis with decisions made by a committee of representatives from NBIF, PETL, Academia and business leaders.

“Innovation fosters growth in New Brunswick, and it has a tremendous role to play in our efforts to create jobs and help families,” said Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Francine Landry. “That is why our government has declared May 3-10 Innovation Week and why we are proud to support the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation in its efforts to assist researchers and their students.”

One project, led by Mechanical Engineering Professor Amirkianoosh Kiani at the University of New Brunswick will have three students working on new human implant materials. Dr. Kiani has developed a new surface for bone mending metals that encourage bone and soft tissue attachment and regeneration. The innovation will lead to less post-surgery rejections by the immune system and speed up healing and recovery.

“This is especially important for hip replacements in people of advanced age,” says Dr. Kiani, “implant rejection correction can be painfully long and costly, and the better we get at putting foreign objects in the body that it won’t reject, the more effective corrective surgery will become. After being in New Brunswick for just over a year, I’m grateful to NBIF for giving both the students and my project this great opportunity for success. It definitely speeds things up.”


Disclaimer: The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation advertises on Entrevestor.



Entrevestor Ends Sponsorship Era

As of today, Entrevestor has no sponsorship from government.

Since we began almost four years ago, this website and its quarterly Entevestor Intelligence reports have been dedicated to reporting on and promoting the Atlantic Canadian startup community, and telling the stories of its entrepreneurs.

We began in 2011 financing our journalism with sponsorship from a few government organizations and universities. We continued to have sponsors for our publications until yesterday. Our only sponsorship now is for our Entrevestor luncheons with BDO, a private company. We believe we’ve been transparent in declaring our sponsorships and adding a disclaimer when reporting on the organizations that support us.

Late last year, we began to convert to an advertising model, and we’re delighted with the response. Our clients understand that advertising in Entrevestor is the best way to reach the fastest growing segment of the Atlantic Canadian economy. As we increase our exposure to the Kitchener-Waterloo community, the attractiveness of our advertising platform will continue to grow.

Some government agencies have chosen to advertise with us, and we welcome their business. But we’re thrilled that we have now more than twice as many private sector advertisers as those from government in both our online and printed publications.

We continue to sell analytical reports based on the data we collect, and government is the main client for these reports.

We have outlined our revenue streams at the bottom of our home page. But since we no longer receive government sponsorship, we will no longer place a template disclaimer at the end of each story.


East Coast Startups Must Think IPO

There’s a new trend developing in Canadian technology, and it ain’t happening in Atlantic Canada.

This is the year of the tech initial public offering in Canada, with companies like Shopify, Hootsuite, Stingray and Vision Critical likely to list their shares on public markets. In an IPO, a company selling shares on a stock exchange for the first time after a rigorous regulatory approval process.

These companies are generally more advanced than any Atlantic Canadian startup, so it’s not fair to criticize the East Coast startups not joining in the party. But it is fair to question why virtually no startups in the region so much as discuss plans for an IPO, and why the people overseeing the ecosystem don’t include public listings in their long-range planning.

Here are the tech companies creating a genuine buzz in Canada’s  public markets these days:

-  Shopify – the Ottawa-based ecommerce phenom this month filed for a $100 million IPO on the New York and Toronto stock exchanges. The banks leading the offering are Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse Group and RBC Capital Markets.

-  Stingray Digital Group – The business-to-business music provider, said on Friday it plans to list on the TSX. Media reports indicate it aims to raise about $120 million. The lead bankers are National Bank Financial, GMP Securities and BMO Capital Markets.

-  Hootsuite Media – The Wall Street Journal has reported that the social media analytics platform is considering an IPO. Its latest venture capital funding reportedly valued the company at about $800 million.

-  Vision Critical – The Vancouver consumer intelligence software provider is reportedly working on an IPO. The Globe and Mail recently reported the company could be valued at $500 million in the offering.

What’s disturbing is that the letters I, P and O rarely pass the lips of startup founders in Atlantic Canada. The few (and I can count them on one hand) founders that talk about public listings seem more intrigued by a Capital Pool Company listing, that is getting on the stock exchange through a reverse takeover of a listed shell company.

Listing through a CPC is a bit like buying your wedding dress at Kmart. It’s functional, but it’s not going to wow anyone who matters.  All four companies mentioned above are listing through IPOs. That means they’re going through the full regulatory process, will be championed my major banks and will meet with the leading analysts and institutional investors in tech and small-cap stock categories.

A CPC listing is not going to get the same attention, which means the stock will not get the same distribution when it lands on a stock exchange. 

That might not matter if Atlantic Canadian startups were lacking in ambition. But these companies are ambitious. Their stated goal is to establish tech companies (note the plural) in Atlantic Canada with billion-dollar valuations.

This community has spent the last five years convincing venture capital investors across the continent that Atlantic Canada is home to some great startups. Now the time has come to start over and educate three groups of the same thing – tech investment bankers (like those doing the Shopify and Stingray deals); tech analysts; and institutional investors specializing in small-cap and tech stocks. This is a completely different community from VC and it needs some attention. Five years from now, there may be a few East Coast companies that will appreciate it.


Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support start-up companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies are featured in this column nor do they have the right to review columns before they are published.


HotSpot Enters US with Passport

HotSpot Parking 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.

The Fredericton startup announced Tuesday that it has struck a partnership with Passport under which the North Carolina company will use Hotspot’s technology to link merchants in with the Passport mobile payments system. 

The two companies will launch their joint product in Ashville, N.C., which has a population of about 90,000. Following that, HotSpot and Passport will launch products in four major cities, each with a population of more than 4 million people.  This move into some of the world’s largest parking markets will expand HotSpot’s accessible market by about 100 times.

Operating under the brand name Hotspot Merchant Solutions, the New Brunswick company’s product will be an add-on to an existing Passport solution.

HotSpot seems to have been on a roll since Founder and CEO Phillip Curley took his idea through a Startup Weekend in Fredericton just 25 months ago.  

The graduate of the PropelICT and ACcelr8 accelerators had raised equity investment from BDC Capital and the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, and a grant from the New Brunswick government announced by Premier Brian Gallant. It now operates in Fredericton, Saint John, Moncton and Charlottetown, and has about a 30 percent penetration rate in each. If that’s not enough, the company’s COO  Erin Flood was just accepted into the TechWomen Canada event in San Francisco next month.

“Our ability to partner so closely with the Atlantic Canadian cities made this innovation possible and now we’ve created a solution the entire world wants,” said Curley in a statement. “We’re happy to build a business in Atlantic Canada that will serve major world metropolitans.”

The HotSpot technology allows the remote payment of parking meters. Drivers can feed the meter without interrupting their shopping or meetings. Or merchants can use a cellphone to pay a customer’s parking, rather than have the customer run out of the store to feed the meter and never return.

What’s special about the Hotspot product, and what Passport is interested in, is that it produces invaluable data for downtown businesses. Hotspot allows these businesses to advertise directly to customers through their cellphones. And because of the geolocation capabilities of cellphones, the company can track how many people respond to their ads, who returns and who spends money.

Passport provides online payment systems specializing in parking and transit. The company has raised US$7.5 million in investment, has satellite offices in Barcelona and Bangalore, and operates in more than 1,000 locations, including Chicago, Toronto and Boston. The company announced this morning that its revenues in the first quarter of 2015 from the previous quarter. 

In a phone conversation Tuesday, Curley declined to answer questions about the company’s financing plans. 

Ooka Island Launches Web Product

Joelle MacPhee: Ooka Island is planning mobile apps by August.

Joelle MacPhee: Ooka Island is planning mobile apps by August.

Ooka Island, the P.E.I. software company dedicated to teaching children to read, has launched the web-based version of its program in time for Charlottetown’s Reading Town week starting on Saturday.

The company, which hired a new CEO and raised capital last year, has competed a year-and-a-half of work on a new product and website. Both will be launched this weekend as part of the reading celebration in Charlottetown.

Ooka Island was founded by Kay MacPhee, a teacher, researcher and entrepreneur who sold an earlier reading venture, SpellRead, for more than $20 million in 2006. Two years later, she teamed up with her granddaughter Joelle MacPhee and others to launch Ooka Island with the belief that an online game would be accessible and thus help more children.

“Reading achievement in the early years is highly correlated to success later in life,” said Joelle MacPhee, the company’s marketing director. “With our new web-based version it now means East Coast parents can easily access the program online and get their little learners on the path to becoming confident readers.”

Ooka Island has set out to gamify reading for children in primary to Grade 2. The child becomes a hero tasked with finding missing books and helping Ooka Elves to learn how to read.  As they play the game, they are exposed to 80 hours of play and 85 eBooks. The company says the curriculum includes 7,000 distinct steps culminating in the mastery of all five foundational skills: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.

The company made a major move last summer when it hired Kelly Shaw, an executive at Pearson North America, as its new CEO. She oversaw the opening of the company’s Toronto office, a $900,000 fundraising and revamped the business model.

The Ooka Island product until now has been downloadable and targeted mainly at schools. With the new launch, it will be web-based, meaning less hassle for the user, and the focus is now more on parents than schools.

“Kelly has accelerated the development of our proprietary Adaptive Learning Platform, which continually analyzes a child’s progress and plots a personalized path towards mastery of the five foundational reading skills,” said Joelle MacPhee. “Our platform is the engine that drives Ooka Island's success and it is multi-lingual and multi-subject capable.”

The product is now launching on desktops and the company plans to have tablet and mobile products in Android and iOS by August. It is now in talks to place Ooka Island in Apple’s App Store, which is eager to increase its educational offerings.

The product has already gained traction and has about 3,000 paying retail customers. MacPhee said Ooka Island will continue to sell to schools but the company will focus more on a business-to-consumer sales strategy.

As part of the launch and Reading Town Week in Charlottetown, Ooka Island will have a with a roving “Say Ooka!” booth moving around Charlottetown on Saturday. Families can get their picture taken on Ooka Island and be entered to win a one-year subscription to the program valued at $89.99.

MacPhee declined to discuss new funding efforts. 

EoY, Propel, Metabridge Deadlines

The hours are ticking down to the deadlines to apply for a few of the country’s leading entrepreneurship or startup happenings  -- the EY Entrepreneurs of the Year competition, PropelICT's next cohort  and metabridge.

April 30 is the deadline to enter the EY Entrepreneur of the Year competition. This annual extravaganza picks winners from each region in the country. The Atlantic champion will be crowned at a gala dinner in St. John’s on Oct. 8.

Of special interest to the startup community is the Emerging Entrepreneur category, which was won last year by Introhive of Fredericton.  Applications can be found here.

May 1 is the deadline to apply to the next cohort of the PropelICT accelerator and to metabridge, a two-day mentoring and networking event in Kelowna, B.C.

Propel (which advertises on Entrevestor)  is now accepting applications for the cohort to run over the summer.  Its Build stream is for more mature companies and is based in Moncton. And its Launch stream for seed-stage startups is hosted at Volta in Halifax, Planet Hatch in Fredericton and Common Ground in St. John's. Details on the coming cohort are available here.

Metabridge is a two-day immersive program that links 15 of the leading startups in the country with a range of Canadian and American investors.  One of the keynote speakers this year is Disruption Corp. found Paul Singh, who recently entertained a crowd of founders in Halifax. Participants have an opportunity to pitch in front of entire metabridge audience, including VCs, top executives, and other tech leaders.

Ozge Yeloglu, the Founder and CEO of Halifax-based topLog, attended the event last year. You can apply here.

Fiddlehead Raises Funds, Begins Pilot

Shawn Carver and David Baxter

Shawn Carver and David Baxter

Two veterans of the New Brunswick startup scene are gaining traction with a new data-based product they hope one day will reduce global food waste.

David Baxter and Shawn Carver – both known for their work as mentors – have spent more than two years getting Fiddlehead Technology off the ground. The startup has developed Forecast Guardian, which helps food companies forecast the demand for food, helping to ensure they neither carry too much inventory nor run out of stock. 

Fiddlehead is now working with an early adopter and hopes to snare three more this year.  And if they are successful, the principals hope they will help global food producers waste less so there is more food for the world’s growing population.

“One of the benefits of moving the inventory as close to the food demand as possible is you reduce food waste,” said Baxter, President and Co-Founder of Fiddlehead.  “It isn’t something that’s lost on the people we talk to. They see the benefits to society that will come if there is less waste.”

It’s taken a few years of prodding to get Carver and Baxter to speak publicly about Fiddlehead. Carver, an energetic tech enthusiast, was a principal of the mentoring group TheNextPhase until late 2012. Baxter was a Vice President of Innovation at the tech consultancy T4G and a former chair of the PropelICT startup accelerator group.

They teamed up in 2012 to form a company involved in data analytics. They explored several ideas and eventually settled on a product that would help food producers predict demand. The product could help other sectors but they are focusing on food producers as an entry point.

Forecast Guardian works with the food producer’s existing budgeting and operations software, layering over it to analyze factors that the company may have previously overlooked. It analyzes data on such factors as weather patterns, economic conditions and holidays to more accurately predict the demand for specific types of food.

Though the societal benefits of not wasting food are obvious, the product also meets an economic need. It’s known that food producers and retailers both accrue extra costs if they carry too much inventory. What’s less well known is that the producers pay retailers a penalty if store owners order a product and the producer has none to deliver. So precise assessments of demand are critical. Some experts estimate that a 1 percent error in forecasting demand can cost a major food producer $2 million to $5 million annually.

Vice-President Product Carver and Baxter have been working with a major Maritime food producer to develop Forecast Guardian, and that company will begin a major pilot project. Baxter said Fiddlehead hopes to line up three more major companies for pilots this year. It would prefer to work with Atlantic Canadian companies because they’re nearby, but will work with others as well. 

Fiddlehead, which now employs four people, received a financial boost late last year when the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation invested $100,000 in the company. The investment complemented funding the company received from several private investors, including members of Saint John-based East Valley Venture.


Press Release: CarbonCure’s Traction

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

Mutual Materials propels green masonry movement forward with CarbonCure partnership

Cleantech company partners with second producer in Pacific Northwest .

One of the Pacific Northwest’s longest serving masonry producers is set to install CarbonCure’s CO2 sequestration technology in their flagship plants. With operations in Oregon and Washington, Mutual Materials is a regional leader in masonry best practices. The addition of CarbonCure to its plants in Kent, WA and Clackamas, OR will set a new standard for the companies’ environmental stewardship.

“We’ve always paid close attention to the environmental impact of our operations,” said Joe Bowen, Chairman of Mutual Materials. “When an opportunity to reduce our footprint comes along, we take it because it’s smart business and it aligns with our values.”

Mutual has implemented multiple strategies to make its operations more sustainable, including installing stormwater management systems and smart meters to monitor energy use. In 2014, the company partnered with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Transport program. The program is designed to reduce carbon emissions associated with industrial transportation. Mutual tracks the fuel used for the transport of its products and has been working to increase the average MPG of its vehicles.

Mutual is setting a new standard in masonry production with its recycled aggregate practices, using its on-site crusher system. Mutual on average uses 10-13% recycled aggregate in its masonry. The company also offsets cement use by using recycled slag in its mix designs. Now, with the addition of CarbonCure, Mutual will take CO2 from regional smokestacks and permanently sequester it in its masonry.         

“I think we’ll always demand more from our masonry,” said Bowen, “and CarbonCure is helping us to do just that.” 

About CarbonCure Technologies Inc.

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

Metamaterial Raises At Least $3.1M

Palikaras: 'This is a true game-changer.'

Palikaras: 'This is a true game-changer.'

Metamaterial Technologies Inc. has closed a $3.1 million round of funding, which will help the Dartmouth company with its ambitious plans to establish a metamaterials R&D and pilot production facility in Nova Scotia.

The company – which has developed revolutionary materials that deflect, enhance or absorb light -- has raised $2 million from Innovacorp. It comprises a $1.5 million venture capital investment and a $500,000 non-dilutive contribution from the innovation agency’s cleantech fund.

The company has also raised $1.1 million from private investors, including an undisclosed contribution from the First Angel Network, the Halifax-based angel group. FAN arranged for Founder and CEO George Palikaras to also pitch to the Wilmington Investor Network, and the size of the round may rise once the Wilmington angels come in. 

Palikaras has developed optical metamaterials — nano-composites with properties not found in nature — that are capable of filtering, absorbing or enhancing light. The technology is the basis of Metamaterial Technologies, which comprises three main divisions: Lamda Guard, which filters specific forms of light to protect vision; Lamda Solar, which focuses on doubling solar energy efficiency; and Lamda Lux, which can increase the output of LED lighting by up to 10 times.

“They’re miles ahead of anything else in that space,” said Ross Finlay, the Co-Founder of the First Angel Network. “It’s like being the lead dog in a dog sled race. If you’re not the lead dog, the view doesn’t change much.”

Lamda Guard, the unit that filters light, is now developing the company’s first product, metaAIR, a transparent thin-film that can filter out laser beams and deflect light. Last year, the company struck a partnership with Airbus, the world’s largest airplane manufacturer, to develop and test metaAIR to help prevent laser attacks on aircraft cockpits.

With the new funding, Metamaterial will begin to develop an R&D and pilot production facility that will allow the manufacture of these thin-films for cockpit windows.  Facilities now exist that would allow the production of the screens on a small basis, for goggles and visors. But Palikaras wants to produce larger screens.

“This is a true game-changer,” said Palikaras. “Until now, these nano-structured materials have been too expensive to produce in large sizes. But through our research and in partnership with vendors and suppliers, we are investing and developing new manufacturing processes that allow for cost effective large scale and volume production capabilities.  So far, the state-of-the-art has been a few centimeter-squared size and we are going to metre-squared.”

 Metamaterial Technologies, which now has seven employees, will need more capital and staff to meet Palikaras’ plans and industry demand. It’s difficult to say how much capital it will need because it will depend on how quickly it can bring in money from its aerospace product. The CEO pointed out that aerospace is a regulated market, and producing innovation in a regulated industry takes time due to all the approvals.

But the company is moving forward, and has recently opened an office in Los Angeles and hired its eighth employee.

“We want to grow this company to achieve the full potential, which means we will need more capital,” said Palikaras.

 Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support start-up companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies are featured in this column nor do they have the right to review columns before they are published.


Eye on KW: Rev Targets Growth Stage

Sam Legge instructing founders at Communitech (Photo byMeghan Kreller/Communitech)

Sam Legge instructing founders at Communitech (Photo byMeghan Kreller/Communitech)

It’s strange -- and certainly refreshing – to hear the program manager of a tech accelerator say he doesn’t really care whether startups get any investment once they graduate from his course.

In fact, Sam Legge hopes the 10 companies now going through Rev at Kitchener-based Communitech won’t need to.

Rev is the new accelerator program at the Communitech startup hub in Kitchener, and it’s unique because its focus is traction for growth-stage companies. The 10 tech companies that began the six-month program in March all have a product in the market, probably seven to 10 employees, and some revenues. Rev aims to help them ramp up those revenues.

“I honestly believe it is the most difficult phase [in a startup’s life] because there is so much growing pain,” said Legge in an interview last week. “The biggest thing is taking cofounders and making them CEOs.”

Until last September, Communitech’s main accelerator program had been Hyperdrive, which over two years graduated 34 seed companies in five cohorts. Late last year the braintrust at Communitech decided the best way to help companies in Kitchener-Waterloo was to teach intermediate companies to sell more.  So they decided to replace Hyperdrive with Rev, to be overseen by Legge and Communitech Vice-President of Startup Services Steve McCartney. The hope is that growth-stage startups enter the program and corporations leave it.

“No longer is there a conversation in the accelerator on how to build a product with the aim of getting investment at the end of the program,” said Legge. “We found that works for about one out of 10 companies.”

He said Communitech wants all 10 companies in the program to scale through repeatable, sustainable sales.  Therefore the curriculum at Rev focuses first on the processes needed to ensure those sales and second on the structure the company needs to grow. The accelerator arranges some funding to support the company during the course, but it takes no equity in the companies. 

In the first category, Legge and McCartney are teaching things like how to use weekly sales metrics and what a sales funnel looks like. The sales processes are interesting because seven of the 10 companies in Rev have Software-as-a-Service models – that is, they deliver their product online through the cloud, allowing a truly global market.

“It’s pretty exciting because we’ve come along at a time when there are new models coming out that that focus on SaaS sales,” said Legge.

As for structuring companies, most of these participants have seven to 10 employees and have produced some traction on the strength of their product. Rev aims to help them develop sales and marketing teams and the corporate culture that will allow them to impose their brand on a global market.

“We can’t do their sales for them,” said Legge. “So much of the conversation is, first, helping them to take a critical look at their business, and second, helping them to put in place a framework so that they have the systems to scale on a sustainable basis.”

The 10 companies in the Rev program, all of which are based in or moving to Kitchener-Waterloo, receive matching funds of up to $60,000, which Communitech has arranged in partnership with the Ontario Centres of Excellence SmartStart program. The 10 companies now in the program are:

Advolve Media, which installs mirrors in public spaces that can be used as advertising platforms.

Aterlo Networks, whose NightShift product improves the quality of Netflix viewing on screens throughout your home.  

- Blitzen, which has developed an intelligent hub for a growing business’s data.

- Bridgit, whose Closeout product is a cloud-based communication and organization tool for the construction industry.

- MetricWire, which gives researchers complete creative control over the design of their study within minutes. 

- Nicoya Lifesciences, whose OpenSPR is a powerful and affordable label-free molecular analysis instrument for researchers.

- Nix Sensor, whose smartphone app helps designers and color professionals precisely categorize the color on any surface.

- PiinPoint, whose online platform helps businesses find the best locations for their branches and stores.

- Set Scouter, which has developed an online marketplace connecting filmmakers and producers with property owners looking to rent their spaces.

- Silqe, which allows users to search the financial data of U.S. public companies, analyzing various industries and multiple years from a single interface.


Eye on KW is a regular feature in Entrevestor providing news on the Kitchener-Waterloo startup scene. 

Press Release: Bluteau DeVenney Relaunches

Bluteau DeVenney, a Halifax-based business consultancy, has issued the following press release:

Bluteau DeVenney Resets, Rebrands and Renews

Halifax, Nova Scotia, April 23, 2015.  Bluteau DeVenney and Company announced today that they have shifted their focus to growing companies through their new custom programs.   “We want to support more entrepreneurs to build high-growth companies right here in Atlantic Canada”, said Michael DeVenney, Managing Partner of Bluteau DeVenney, “To do our part, we hit reset – a new brand, a clear voice, and a suite of programs for businesses starting up and scaling up to focus strategically, while accelerating their growth.”

Using an innovative crowdsourcing of ideas approach, Bluteau DeVenney has a fresh new look, feel and voice. Working with business owners, investors, and economic developers, the company has created content and programs designed to give entrepreneurs the space to think, explore, and commit to actions to move their business to the next level. The new brand and program offerings can be seen at http://www.bluteaudevenney.com

Bluteau DeVenney is now launching the Strategic Startup Program for new ventures and the Focus on Growth Program for existing companies that want to make the right decisions from a built to grow mindset. The programs are smart, interactive, and practical for entrepreneurs serious about growing their businesses. By the end of the year, we plan to have programs running in all areas of the province with over a hundred businesses participating.

Bluteau DeVenney was started 12 years ago and has focused on developing strategy that is supported by leadership and people performance. DeVenney said, “We are focusing our experiences and knowledge on the entrepreneur.  After all, we are entrepreneurs ourselves and we want to see more businesses win in Atlantic Canada.”

Ying Tam Takes New PropelICT Role

Tam: 'I want to make a difference.'

Tam: 'I want to make a difference.'

Ying Tam, the straight-talking CEO of Mindful Scientific, has been named PropelICT’s first Entrepreneur-in-Residence and will become the regional accelerator’s presence in Halifax for the next year or more.

Trevor MacAusland, Propel’s Vice-President of Business Dev elopement, introduced Tam at a meeting at the Volta startup house in Halifax Thursday night, at which they outlined plans for the coming cohort.

PropelICT – which advertises on Entrevestor – offers accelerator cohorts in various streams. Its Build stream is for more mature companies and is based in Moncton. And its Launch stream for seed-stage startups is hosted at Volta in Halifax, Planet Hatch in Fredericton and Common Ground in St. John's. (Details on the coming cohort are available here.)

Tam’s job will be to host the Launch cohort in Halifax and to assist MacAusland in mentoring the companies in the Build program. It’s a significant event for Propel because it’s the first time the organization has had a full-time executive in the largest city in the region.

“I want to make a difference,” Tam said over a coffee Thursday afternoon. “One of the platforms in my personal mission is to contribute to the entrepreneurial community and to economic development in the region.”

The Entrepreneur-in-Residence position is expected to last for about 12 to 18 months, and during this time Tam will work with Propel companies and remain as the full-time CEO of Mindful.  He will also continue mentoring students at the Starting Lean program at Dalhousie University.

For the past three years, Tam has established himself as a decisive and candid mentor at Starting Lean. Having been involved in nine startups (three of which have exited), he’s adept at quickly grasping a business prospect and analyzing it with no sugar coating.

MacAusland said Mary Kilfoil and Ed Leach, the profs in charge of Starting Lean, recommended Tam and worked to secure the position. One of Tam’s strengths is that he has worked in both the IT and medical device segments, which bring a broad perspective to the EIR position.

“He’s the best one for the job,” said MacAusland.  “He has a depth of experience, knowledge of lean startups, has the energy and seems to be a sucker for punishment.”

Tam and MacAusland last week traveled to Texas to work with the author, entrepreneur and educator Ash Maurya, whose book Running Lean is the foundation for the PropelICT curriculum. Members of the Build program this summer will get several one-on-one sessions with mentors including some with Maurya.

Meanwhile, Tam is still busy with Mindful Scientific, which is developing the Halifax Consciousness Scanner, a portable device that can be slipped on to a person’s head to check for brain trauma. The HCS then analyzes the individual’s brain waves to see if he or she has a concussion.

Tam said the big milestone the company hopes to achieve this year is to sell the device to researchers. The long-term goal is still to sell the scanner to sports teams, but researchers will take an early iteration of the device and “play with it”, he said. What’s more, they don’t require regulatory approval.

Propel this winter advertised for two Entrepreneur-in-Residence positions, and MacAusland said there will be another announcement soon.



Disclaimer: Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.     


Promoting Fredericton’s Tech Hub

Woodside: 'We're focused on how to make the Q1 Labs of tomorrow.'

Woodside: 'We're focused on how to make the Q1 Labs of tomorrow.'

When Fredericton Mayor Brad Woodside reads dismissive comments about Atlantic Canadians made by Canadians elsewhere, he feels the usual irritation.

Case in point: Woodside recently read a commentator in an Ontario newspaper question why a group of Ontarians would visit Fredericton when “the city contains nothing but snow.”

“They think we’re so backward,” Woodside said.

“They don’t think we have the intellect or passion to do what they do. But that makes our victories sweeter. Coming from smaller communities, we have to fight that much harder.”

A gifted orator who has won 35 awards for his public speaking, Woodside is well placed to change attitudes, something he does in his role as president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

He is able to tell doubters that Fredericton has achieved many victories. The city is doing a great deal to foster entrepreneurship, environmentalism and innovation, and has the awards to prove it.

Fredericton has birthed companies that garnered some of the nation’s biggest tech deals, including Q1 Labs and Radian6, both of which sold for eye-watering sums.

With its Vision 2020 Economic Development Strategy, launched two years ago after consultations with more than 250 stakeholders, the city proclaimed its ambition to become the startup capital of Atlantic Canada.

But its mayor believes it could become the startup capital of the country.

“We’re focused on how to make the Q1 Labs of tomorrow, on how to get them from the idea stage to invoicing as quickly as possible.”

The ambition may not be as grandiose as it sounds.

According to Woodside, who is the city’s longest-serving mayor, having been elected for a record eight terms, Fredericton got a head start in promoting innovation.

That’s because the city began diversifying its economy in 1992, after realizing government jobs were not as numerous or reliable as they had been.

The city began to focus on improving infrastructure. The costs of high-speed Internet plummeted when, in 2000, Fredericton created its own telecom group, the non-profit e-Novations.

In 2013, e-Novations announced that it would offer business rates 75 per cent lower than those offered by competitors. Startups would get their Internet free.

At the time, Woodside said, Fredericton’s Internet rates were 400 per cent higher than Toronto’s.

In recent years, the city’s progress has been recognized with awards for its environmentalism and use of digital technologies.

It has twice been named one of the world’s top intelligent communities, the mayor said.

Intelligent communities are chosen by the Intelligent Community Forum think-tank and provide role models for best practices in creating competitive local economies and vibrant societies.

Mentoring of young entrepreneurs by more experienced businesspeople has been part of Fredericton’s success, the mayor said.

Immigrants are assisted by the Business Immigrant Mentorship Program, operated by the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce.

Another opportunity, the Hive, has recently opened in Fredericton, after being piloted in Moncton.

Participants of the Hive will get membership to Planet Hatch, which provides training, mentoring and networking opportunities in the city.

Planet Hatch and the ACceler8 commercialization centre are based in Fredericton’s Knowledge Park, an area housing over 30 companies that generate more than $100 million in gross domestic product.

Hive participants will also access the services of Ignite Fredericton, an economic development agency offering counselling and tools for entrepreneurs.

Woodside said the city’s progress is being built on everyone working together on one long-term vision.

“It’s important for municipalities to come to terms with who they are, what they want and where they’re going. In Fredericton, we’re all on the same page, following the path we set in 1992.

“I’m the cheerleader. We don’t have an NFL football team, but then neither does Toronto.”


Disclaimer: Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.     


The Launch of Yes Nova Scotia

About 70 people congregated at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax on Tuesday night to launch an initiative that will help young people to understand that entrepreneurship is a viable career option.

The Yes NS initiative — Yes stands for youth and entrepreneurship skills — has set up several working groups that will take various approaches to raising awareness of entrepreneurship.

“We started with an open-ended conversation on what can we attack to make a difference,” said Daniel Holland, executive vice-chairman and managing director at Beacon Securities and one of the founders of the group.

Yes NS grew from Holland and a few other businesspeople noticing a national poll last year that showed only 12.8 per cent of college students want to start their own businesses. With the One Nova Scotia commission calling for private-sector leadership, they decided to form a group to help encourage more people between the ages of 15 and 24 to understand the opportunities in entrepreneurship.

The group — which includes Nate Kroll, Bill MacAvoy, Matthew MacLellan, Chad Munro, David Regan, James Surette and David Thompson — wants not just to educate youth about opportunities but also let them know there’s a support network out there.

They set a few ground rules for themselves. Though they are all white men in their 40s, they wanted a broad representation of Nova Scotia society in the new program. They wanted it to apply to all sectors of the economy, not just information technology, which gets the most attention. The new program had to work across the whole province. And finally, they didn’t want to interfere with existing programs but to work with other groups in spreading the gospel of entrepreneurship.

“A lot of young people in Nova Scotia are not given the opportunity to understand what the options are in terms of entrepreneurship,” said Holland.

There’s a lot of hype around tech startups, but young people should be aware of opportunities in other sectors. They should also understand that the province is rife with aging business owners, and there are opportunities to enter these companies and grow them.

The people who showed up Tuesday represented the broader business community, including a lot of business founders. About a third were women, and 10 per cent were in their 20s.

Working groups were given the task of tossing around ideas on what could be done in seven areas: mentoring, financing, success, outreach, education, Corporate Challenge NS and 100 Entrepreneurs Who Give a Damn, modelled on the group 100 Men Who Give a Damn. Organizers had planned a contest for young entrepreneurs, but there was not a lot of enthusiasm for it.

Holland said most of the working groups made plans to move forward with their projects. Yes NS is focused on launching a few initiatives in September, when the school calendar begins, but some projects may take shape before then and begin working with young people across the province.

“I think we did a good job of doing something on a pan-Nova Scotia basis,” said Holland.

MacAusland Speaking at Volta Tonight

Trevor MacAusland, the specialist in accelerator programming at PropelICT, will be at the Volta startup house in Halifax tonight from 6 pm to outline plans for Propel’s next cohort.

Propel, which operates a startup accelerator for entrepreneurs in all four Atlantic Provinces, is now accepting applications for its next cohort. The deadline for applications is May 1, and the program runs over the summer.

MacAusland, the Vice-President of Business Development at Propel, will outline the two tracks of the Propel accelerator – the Launch track for early stage companies and the Build track for more mature companies.

Held at Planet Hatch in Fredericton and Volta in Halifax, Launch was developed in collaboration with author and entrepreneur Ash Maurya. It is delivered over 12 weeks in a series of two-week-long thematic segments. These themes cover the core components required to build strong startups, such as business modeling, validating hypotheses and designing a minimum viable product.

The Build program, which takes place mainly in Moncton, is the next step and is about making better entrepreneurs. It does this by mentoring businesses in four key areas – people, strategy, capital and execution.

MacAusland tonight will discuss available funding options for Propel participants, what stream is best for their company and how to improve their odds of getting selected.

PEI to Host 1st Startup Weekend

Startup Weekend will be held for the first time on Prince Edward Next weekend, one of three of the collaborative weekend events to take place in Atlantic Canada in the next two months.

Startup Weekend events have been held in more than 100 countries and several Atlantic Canadian cities but the one on May 1 to 3 will be the first in Charlottetown. The event at PEI Farm Centre is titled the Food and Farm Edition of Startup Weekend.

Startup Weekend, an international organization based in Seattle, encourages entrepreneurship by staging 54-hour competitions around the world. People turn up on a Friday night and present their business ideas. Teams form around the best ideas and spend the weekend building the business, ideally producing a barebones product by the time they make a pitch to a panel of judges on Sunday evening.

“Our event is themed Food and Farm with the aim of collaboration centered on rural innovation,” said Arleigh Hudson, the lead organizer of the Charlottetown event.

“We need jobs in P.E.I. and creating excitement by tapping into the global network of Startup Weekend will hopefully help people find a way to work and live at home, nearby family and friends.”

Meanwhile, there will also be Startup Weekends held in New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador in the coming weeks.

"Startup Weekend is all over the world from Tehran to China to Malaysia, and it's incredible to finally see Startup Weekend in all four Atlantic Provinces," said Sally Ng, the Executive Director of Planet Hatch in Fredericton. Ng has been the facilitator of Startup Weekends around the world, and will hold that position at the events in Charlottetown and St. John’s.

Startup Weekend NL will be held at College of the North Atlantic’s Prince Philip Drive Campus on June 12 to 14.

The Fredericton edition of Startup Weekend NB will take place this weekend (April 24-26) at Planet Hatch. 

Phased.io Focuses on Succession

Phased.io, a young company developing at the UIT program at Cape Breton University, is looking for companies and organizations that can help it develop an online product to help with succession or bringing in new employees.

The company was founded by Colin MacInnis and Brian Best, two students at the new CBU program that teaches lean entrepreneurship. They were among the handful of entrepreneurs that presented their projects when Premier Stephen McNeil delivered his State of the Province address in February.

At the time, the duo was working on a product that would help university student councils hand work off year after year, even though the senior people on student councils change just about every year. They are now focusing on a product that help with succession – a key challenge to Atlantic Canadian companies given the number of small and medium-sized businesses owned by people who are getting on in years.

“We are now moving from student unions to small businesses, charities and not-for-profit – anything that does business on a small scale,” MacInnis, the company’s CEO, said in an interview.

MacInnis said Phased.io will bore down into the problem that organizations face when people come into new positions. It could be through succession of the top position and ownership, or it could be because a company is expanding and bringing in new people.

The problem is that when people leave a position, they take a wealth of knowledge with them. MacInnis and Best want to “give a job a memory” so that expertise remains with the organization after people move on.

Phased is looking for about five companies or organizations that can work with it to develop a digital product that can help overcome these problems. The partners would have to commit an hour or two a week to working with MacInnis and Best so that together they could produce a product that would help new people understand the organization’s operations.

“When people are new at a job, they can learn a lot about the industry by going to Google,” said MacInnis. “The thing they can’t Google is how to run the business. So we’re looking for a better way to handle that problem.”

He added that each company or organization will have specific requirements. But by working with five test clients, patterns will begin to emerge and the developers can design a new product that solves common problems.

“By giving jobs a memory, small businesses can avoid knowledge gaps created when key employees leave, retire or step down.” Best, the Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder, said in a statement.

MacInnis and Best came up with the idea for Phased.io in January by during their time at UIT Startup, an 11-month immersive program that teaches students technology skills and how to start businesses.

They realized that student unions had problems with continuity because of the high turnover each year, so they wanted to bring “memory” to student council projects. What they learned as the investigated the project is it’s hard to sell to student unions. The members have exams, midterms, reading weeks, study breaks, special events and then they’ve graduated. So Phased.io decided to focus on small businesses instead. 

RtTech Wins Frost & Sullivan Award

RtTech Software of Moncton has received the Frost & Sullivan Best Practices Award for 2015 in recognition of its “unrivaled innovation and leadership”.

RtTech Software, whose state-of-the-art automation helps industrial companies improve manufacturing processes, is the second Atlantic Canadian startup to be recognized by the international market research firm. Last year, Halifax-based Lamda Guard Inc. was awarded the 2014 Global Frost & Sullivan Award for Product Leadership for its solution to the problem of laser attacks on aircraft.

RtTech was spun out of ADM Systems Engineering of Moncton four years ago. Its main products are RtEMIS, which can pinpoint when and where part of a system is using excess energy, and RtDUET, which allows companies to examine specific processes to find the cause of downtime and poor utilization issues. The company is now releasing a cloud-based product that will allow smaller manufacturers to access its technology.

Earlier this year, RtTech landed $3 million in venture capital funding -- $2.5 million from McRock Capital of Toronto and $500,000 from the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation.

“RtTech Software’s Best Practice Award is a strong indicator to customers, employees, investors, and the public that RtTech Software understands demand, nurtures its brand, and differentiated itself from the competition in the asset and energy management platform market for manufacturing SMEs,” said Frost & Sullivan in a statement.

The firm added that RtTech’s partnership with Emerson Process Management, a global automation vendor with a larger sales force, has further strengthened its market positioning.

Frost & Sullivan is a leading, 53 year-old market research and consulting firm that tracks several industries including automotive, healthcare, information, communication technology, and more. Headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., Frost & Sullivan employs 1,800 analysts and has offi­ces in more than 40 countries.

Press Release: Kula’s Platinum Status

Kula Partners, an inbound marketing agency based in Halifax, has issued the following press release:

Kula Partners Becomes Canada's First HubSpot Platinum Partner

Halifax, NS — Kula Partners, an inbound marketing agency based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has become the first Canadian agency to achieve HubSpot Platinum Partner tier status.

As one of only 35 agencies globally to have achieved the distinction, reaching Platinum Partner tier status places Kula Partners in a select group of the over 2000 HubSpot agency partners worldwide. HubSpot (NYSE: HUBS) is the world’s leading provider of inbound marketing and sales software. The HubSpot Partner Tier program acknowledges agency partners who bring inbound methodology to the most clients and execute services to the highest standards with specific metrics for performance and customer happiness.

Led by co-founders Jeff White and Carman Pirie, Kula Partners has continued its rapid growth in recent months, further expanding their North American client base. “Our team is really excited to be delivering inbound marketing results for a growing number of clients from coast to coast,” Pirie said. “There are now Kula Partners clients spanning from the Silicon Valley to Philadelphia, from here in Halifax to Edmonton and beyond. Achieving Platinum Partner status will help the team put our brand of inbound marketing to work for even more growth-focused firms in the coming months.”

"We're excited to have Kula Partners become our first ever HubSpot Platinum Partner agency in Canada," said Peter Caputa, HubSpot's VP of Sales and Partner Program Founder. "Ever since they joined the program in 2012, the Kula team has excelled at not just driving results for clients using the inbound methodology, but fostering creativity and innovation on the HubSpot platform as well. I look forward to seeing their growth continue in the years to come."

About Kula Partners

Kula Partners is an inbound marketing and conversion-focused web design agency based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Serving clients from across North America, Kula Partners provides inbound marketing and sales acceleration services to help growth-focused companies generate more leads and customers. For more information, visit http://www.kulapartners.com

About HubSpot

Since 2006, HubSpot has become the world’s leading provider inbound marketing and sales software. Today, over 12,000 customers in more than 75 countries use HubSpot’s software, services, and support to transform the way they attract, engage, and delight customers. For more information, visit ww.hubspot.com

The Film Industry’s Impact on Startups

Here’s an angle on the Nova Scotia film industry debate that’s not getting enough attention: Moviemakers are vitally important to several high-growth industries that we need for economic development.

When Finance Minister Diana Whalen brought down her budget, she took several difficult measures to constrain the 2015-16 deficit to $97.6 million. It’s a tremendous achievement, given that a year earlier she had forecast a 2014-15 deficit three times that size, at $279 million.

But the benefits were lost in the tsunami of controversy that arose from the cuts to the Film Investment Tax Credit, which now covers up to 65 per cent of the labour costs in film production. Whalen is cutting the $24-million annual program to $6 million.

As you’ve no doubt heard, members of the film industry are warning the cuts would effectively kill their business in Nova Scotia. If that happens, the impact would be felt far beyond the cultural community. It would affect a range of tech startups, many of which benefit from skills and talent generated by the film industry.

The kernel of the problem is that Nova Scotia’s economic growth has rarely risen above one per cent per year in decades. The only way to solve this woeful performance is to develop high-growth businesses, preferably with local ownership.

Need some proof? Entrevestor’s survey of startups from across Atlantic Canada shows these companies increased their revenues 38 per cent in 2014 and their staffing rose 9.4 per cent. Some 78 per cent of their sales occur outside the region.

Innovative startups have the potential to transform the economy of Nova Scotia and its similarly stagnant neighbours. There are tremendous efforts being made to develop the best ecosystem to startups here: improving mentorship, access to capital, connections with key markets.

One huge component of the ecosystem is the talent in the region. The fuel for these startups is human brainpower, so to develop here they need a range of business, technical and research talent. That includes film talent.

The areas of expertise developed in the film industry, such as storytelling, digital video production and animation, are essential in the gaming industry, which is making waves in Atlantic Canada. When Halifax’s Orpheus Interactive launched its Sons of Anarchy game this year, it landed in the top five in the United States in Apple’s App Store.

Video is an essential component of other information technology ventures in the region. Spot Interactive, which allows consumer transactions during online video, is undergoing remarkable sales growth for a second-year company. Another company that’s ramping up sales is Kinduct Technologies, which owns the world’s largest library of medical animation.

Though I haven’t spoken to the heads of these companies, I’ve spoken to several entrepreneurs about this and I’m hearing the same message: The talent developed by the film industry helps Atlantic Canada compete in highly desirable sectors. Without a regional film industry, many companies would likely have to contract out work to people in other locations.

The development of high-growth companies requires a massive range of talent, including those developed in the film industry. If the Nova Scotia film industry fades away, the ecosystem for startups — our best hope for true economic growth — will be weaker.



Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support start-up companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies are featured in this column nor do they have the right to review columns before they are published.

Eye on KW: TitanFile Offers Credeon

Fifteen months after it formed a partnership with Hitachi Solutions America, TitanFile has launched its advanced Credeon browser technology to allow users to encrypt files that they store and share on the cloud.

TitanFile, which has developed an easy-to-use, secure collaboration and document-sharing system, began life in Halifax four years ago and is now headquartered in Waterloo. The company’s sales and user base have both tripled in the past year, and it is now launching this new product to further strengthen its offerings.

“We are the first, and only, software service that offers this kind of technology to the legal market and other professional services,” said President and Chief Operating Officer Tony Abou-Assaleh in an interview last week.

TitanFile began as a secure file-sharing product and has evolved into a Software-as-a-Service product that allows users to securely collaborate over documents without having to download or install any software or plugins.

In January 2014, the company struck a partnership with Hitachi Solutions America and signaled they would work together on an encryption device that could benefit TitanFile customers.

Though most cloud solutions that store files claim to be secure, Abou-Assaleh explained that they can be hacked, thus compromising the security of the file’s owner. So a second-layer of protection is to encrypt files that are kept on the cloud.

Abou-Assaleh said the Credeon browser technology allows the simple encryption of files so lawyers and other professionals can protect their files without going through the hassles downloading software or using a plugin.

The launch of the Credeon product caps off a year of strong growth for the company, whose main client markets are the legal profession, finance and insurance. TitanFile was used by 3,000 to 4,000 professionals a year ago and now it has about 10,000 professional users. As well as its headquarters in the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo, the company now has offices in New York and Silicon Valley.

One major development of the past year was TitanFile raised an undisclosed amount of capital from Oakville entrepreneur Chris Stoate. He’d previously founded LaserNetworks Inc., which he grew into the largest independent managed print services provider in North America. He sold it to Xerox in 2012. Stoate became TitanFile’s CEO in December.  Abou-Assaleh had held the position previously and became President and COO.

The company will soon announce that it has formed a few channel partner agreements with major companies that already have sales to TitanFile’s chosen markets. The idea is that these companies can now add TitanFile to the suite of products they sell to legal and financial customers.

Since it began in Halifax in 2011, TitanFile has raised funding from Innovacorp and the First Angel Network, and spent two years in the accelerator program offered by the Accelerator Centre and Communitech.

Nova Scotia remains an important market for the company, said Abou-Assaleh, as several of its key clients are based in the province. The main Atlantic Canadian presence within the company is in the board of directors, which includes David Fraser of the law firm McInnes Cooper, Dawn Umlah representing Innovacorp and Don Doucet representing FAN.


This is the first edition of “Eye on KW”, which will become a regular feature in Entrevestor providing news on the tech community in Kitchener-Waterloo.





Big Data Vs Privacy Debate at Acadia

There’s going to be an interesting debate at Acadia University tomorrow night on the tension between Big Data and privacy concerns, and the organizers are inviting anyone interested to attend.

“Big Data or Big Problems? The Pros and Cons of Data Analytics Debate” will take place Tuesday from 7 to 8:30 pm at the K.C. Irving Centre Auditorium at Acadia on Tuesday. Anyone interested in attending the event can register for free here.

The topic is an important one for Atlantic Canada given the efforts led by T4G President Geoff Flood to establish a centre of excellence in Big Data in Atlantic Canada. The debate is a nice complement to the Big Data Congress, which will be held in Halifax in October.

The two debaters are authorities in privacy law and in digital technologies. Catherine Tully is the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Review Officer for Nova Scotia and has spent the past 15 years working across Canada in the area of privacy law.

Giles Crouch, the managing principal of Thistlwood, has 20 years of experience in sales, marketing communications and government relations in the tech sector. He has led groundbreaking projects around the world in open source, Big Data social media research.

I have the privilege of moderating the debate.

Big Data – the process of analyzing massive amounts of electronic data and acting on it in real time – is both a massive opportunity and a cause of concern.

It can help governments and businesses improve efficiency in ways we could not have imagined 10 years ago. But it could also jeopardize the privacy of individuals and groups as governments, businesses, even criminals can collect information on us from our data trails.

Tully and Crouch will probe the opportunities and threats of Big Data, touching on such areas as data ownership, consent, protection and how to resolve the tension created by this new technology.

Big Data or Big Problems? Is organized by the Acadia Institute for Data Analytics. 

LifeRaft Nears $2.5M in VC Funding

LifeRaft, a startup whose platform uncovers potential threats through social media posts, expects to soon close a $2.5-million round of venture capital funding that it hopes will accelerate its already-impressive growth.

LifeRaft of Halifax identifies threatening keywords, such as “kill” and “gun,” on social media sources like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. This then allows the user to drill into any post of concern to better understand the context of an individual’s comments.

LifeRaft attempts to be proactive in preventing threats in this new world of social interaction.

“If someone makes a public comment on social media — ‘I’m going to school with a gun tomorrow’ — we believe law enforcement should be able to respond quickly before a tragedy occurs with the intelligence LifeRaft provides,” co-founder and chief marketing officer Darren MacLeod said in an interview.

Since its launch last year, the company has completed a $700,000 round of seed funding from angel investors, complemented by $270,000 in funding from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. The company expects to close a venture round at the end of April through a group based in Toronto.

The funding has the economic benefit of helping to grow a Halifax company, and the social benefit of helping authorities prevent harmful acts.

Recently, LifeRaft claimed, it alerted an organization of a person who shared in a social media post the intention to assassinate an American politician. Due to LifeRaft’s intervention, authorities in the area arrested a suspect.

“When you hear about all these terrible things happening in the world, it’s nice that we’re able to lend a helping hand,” marketing manager Hayley Fox said in an interview.

Since its October launch to the public, LifeRaft has gained traction with more than 100 users in various jurisdictions either piloting or actively paying for the platform.

LifeRaft’s users are mainly within post-secondary education and law enforcement. LifeRaft has resellers throughout Canada, the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia.

The company offers a subscription service in which users pay a monthly fee. It can start as low as $500 a month, based on the number of users and enabled features an organization requires.

“People live online; the whole face-to-face social engagement is disappearing quickly,” MacLeod said.

“Our markets were struggling to understand what’s happening. … ‘How do we filter through all the noise to get to know what we need to know?’”

LifeRaft has 14 employees and six people on its advisory board.

They include Jamie Nicoll, former commissioner of the Nova Scotia Securities Commission, as its vice-president of investment. Other team members include Yannick Marchand, director of research and adjunct professor at Dalhousie University; Jennifer Ozon, former RCMP manager of covert intelligence; and Daniella Degrace, former vice-president at Radian6.



Disclaimer: Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.      

KIRA Awards Finalists Announced

The 2015 KIRA Award’s Selection Committee on Thursday announced the finalists for New Brunswick’s Knowledge Industry Recognition and Achievement Awards, with Eigen Innovation Inc. of Fredericton capturing two nods.

Eigen, whose industrial Internet algorithms help companies automate a range of actions in their manufacturing processes, is a finalist in the Innovative New Product or Service category and in Most Promising Startup.

KIRA Awards are handed out annually to members of the public and private sectors to recognize the contributions the people, companies and organizations have made to developing innovation in New Brunswick.

The winners will be announced May 7 at a dinner at the Fredericton Convention Centre. To order tickets, call 855-682-KIRA (5472) or send an e-mail to kira@knowledgepark.ca.

The finalists are:

Economic Impact

- The oNBoard Award

Blue Spurs, Fredericton, a tech service company focused on using modern technologies, development tools, and agile methods to solve real customer problems;

BMM Test Labs, Dieppe, the longest-established private independent gaming certification lab in the world;

Siemens Canada Limited, Fredericton, the Canadian arm of the German industrial conglomerate Siemens AG.

Innovative New Product or Service

Excipio Technologies Inc., Moncton, which has developed faster, more specific and efficient exosome isolation for the development of diagnostic tests;

RtTech Software Inc., whose state-of-the-art automation helps industrial companies improve manufacturing processes;

•Eigen Innovations Inc.

Most Promising Start-Up

•Eigen Innovation Inc. ;

Qimple Inc., Moncton, which makes the hiring process easier for recruiters and applicants with its applicant-tracking system and proprietary candidate-scoring tool;

Resson Aerospace, Fredericton, whose software analyzes data collected from farm fields to maximize production.

Innovation in the Public Sector

New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, Fredericton, the provincial innovation agency;

Cancer Prevention and Screening Program – NB Cancer Network & Health Business and Technology Solutions - NB Department of Health;

River Watch - NB Department of Environment and Local Government

Industry Champion

Dhirendra Shukla, head of the University of New Brunswick’s Management, Technology and Entrepreneurship Program;  

David Alston, Chief Innovation Officer at Introhive;  

•And Chris Mathis, CEO of Springboard Atlantic.



Disclaimer: Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.      

Press Release: BioEnterprise in PEI

BioEnterprise Corp., an ag-tech business accelerator, has issued the following press release:

Bioenterprise Corporation Expands into the Maritimes

Bioenterprise opens a new office in the Maritimes in collaboration with Prince Edward Island ADAPT Council.

Guelph, ON (April 16, 2015) - Bioenterprise Corporation is pleased to announce that it will be opening its newest office in Charlottetown, PEI. Bioenterprise has established a 3-year strategic partnership with the Prince Edward Island ADAPT Council for the commercialization of agricultural technologies and innovations.

"We are looking forward to working with PEI ADAPT. They have been at the heart of agri-innovation in the Maritimes for more than a decade," explains Dave Smardon, President & CEO of Bioenterprise Corporation. "Their knowledge and network throughout the east coast as well as their commitment to advancing agri-businesses is invaluable to Bioenterprise and our new office in the Maritimes," he says.

"PEI ADAPT is excited to pair our regional expertise with Bioenterprise's business savvy and agri-tech industry knowledge. Together we will be committed to the growth and market success of start-ups in PEI and the Maritimes. We are truly going to be a hub for innovation in agriculture," says Phil Ferraro, CEO of Prince Edward Island ADAPT Council.

The collaboration between Bioenterprise and PEI ADAPT will ensure that agri-entrepreneurs and businesses have access to the highest quality and range of commercialization services. With complementary mandates, the organizations will be dedicated to helping new companies launch their businesses or take existing companies to a new level.

"Ultimately, our goal is continue to take Canadian innovation to the global market and drive economic returns to the region and Canada," says Dave Smardon.

Bioenterprise Corporation's national expansion is supported by the Canadian 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 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 Prince Edward Island ADAPT Council

The PEI ADAPT Council works collaboratively with the Island's agri-entrepreneurs to foster rural economic development by expanding the sustainable production, manufacturing and distribution of Island agricultural products. By investing in the commercialization of new agricultural products and business expansion opportunities, ADAPT provides a broader role than the traditional early-stage business support model.



ShowBattery Lights Up the Ski Hills

A Dartmouth company whose product is gaining traction in the trade show industry is pondering whether to make a similar mark in an unexpected market — skiing.

SGS Solutions Inc. has produced portable batteries for exhibitions and trade shows that allow exhibitors to save thousands of dollars by avoiding electric installations. In the meandering way entrepreneurs stumble on innovation, it is planning a system that will allow skiers to become a human light show during night runs.

Last year, SGS Solutions introduced its ShowBattery at the ExhibitorLive conference in Las Vegas and won the buyers’ choice award. This year, the company returned to the annual trade show — attended by 6,000 people from the trade show industry, representing 30 countries — to introduce a smaller version of the ShowBattery, and it won the award again.

“It’s just the beginning,” said founder and CEO Shelley Simpson-McKay in an interview. “It’s a huge thing in the industry because traditional electrical services now hold a monopoly.”

The industry she refers to is trade shows and exhibits, and it’s worth about $36 billion annually in North America. But companies that exhibit regularly have problems because the cost of electricity can be exorbitant.

They often have to get electricity from the site and pay electricians for connections, costing as much as $150 an hour. The costs add up for companies that attend 20 or 30 shows a year.

To reduce the burden, Simpson-McKay, a former partner at Adhpro Adhesives Maritimes in Dartmouth, invented a portable, rechargeable battery strong enough to power booths. Clients are buying the product. SGS, which has three employees, had sales of as much as $30,000 in its first year, and they are increasing in Year 2.

By pairing the battery with LED lighting, it can dramatically reduce the amount of energy used at booths and meet the demand for “green” features in the trade show industry.

SGS has taken the product a step further by developing an automated system that can control LED lighting on the booths and provide a mini light show. Simpson-McKay is also working with the iDLab at Dalhousie University to further develop products.

The company wanted to demonstrate how portable the batteries are and how cool the lighting can be. So in March, Simpson-McKay and her team planned a demonstration on a ski hill. They lined a pair of skis with programmable LED lights, the new industry standard for trade show booths, and used an automated program to control them. They put one of their smaller batteries in a backpack and sent a skier up on a hill at night to put on a show as he zoomed down the slopes.

The video it produced was so cool that friends are telling Simpson-McKay she has to develop a product for skiers — a kit that has rhythmically flashing lights on skis. She believes the opportunity is too attractive to ignore and is interested in moving forward.

To help her drive the business forward, Simpson-McKay enrolled last autumn in the Master of Technology, Management and Innovation program at Saint Mary’s University. (Disclaimer: The program and Dalhousie are both advertisers on Entrevestor.)

“It’s helped a lot,” she said. “It’s helped us focus in terms of strategy and helped us to fill in the gaps and broaden our vision.”

Entrepreneurs’ Forum Relaunches

Entrepreneurs’ Forum, the pan-regional not-for-profit that promotes entrepreneurship, has rebranded itself as Entrepreneurs3.0 as a sign of its enhanced mission.

As Entrepreneurs’ Forum, the group was known for bringing together entrepreneurs and mentors in an intimate dinner so they could work together to improve the company’s prospects. The not-for-profit has held 55 to 65 for these meals a year, and they will continue to be a pillar of its product offering.

But CEO Kathleen Rayworth says the organization has been expanding its suite of services, including successful efforts to help companies raise money in Atlantic Canada and in Ontario.

“We’re looking at new service offerings and new ways to help our clients,” said Rayworth in an interview. “At this point we want to utilize the braintrust and expertise of our advisers on a much greater scale.”

Now in its third decade, Entrepreneurs3.0 connects new and growing entrepreneurs with advisers over dinner. The idea is for advisers to speak frankly and candidly about different paths or solutions the entrepreneur can take to grow and diversify. The problems they can discuss range from how to break into a new market or how to save a failing business.  [Disclaimer: Entrepreneurs3.0 is a client of Entrevestor.]

“What I’ve learned over the past couple of months is we’re very unique in our service offering and we’re cost-effective,” said Rayworth. “It’s the quality of the advisers that we have and the actual advisory process. That provides a very comfortable space for people to get to know each other so they can work together very quickly.”

In the last year, Entrepreneurs’ Forum began a new initiative in its P.E.I. branch that expanded into Nova Scotia and will be further enhanced this year. The organization launched missions to take Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs to Toronto to help them raise capital. The “Access to Capital” program also provides entrepreneurs with the opportunity to meet with industry experts, competitors, potential suppliers and customers as well as seasoned advisors.  A total of 18 companies took part in the missions, and they raised a total of $10 million from investors in Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

Entrepreneurs3.0 plans to expand the program this year to include companies from other provinces.

“Any success I’ve had has been in many respects thanks to the advice I received when I was first starting out, said P.E.I. entrepreneur Reagh Ellis, who has become Entrepreneurs3.0’s new board president. “It means so much to me to be able to contribute to other entrepreneurs in the same way and pay it forward.  Entrepreneurs3.0 truly offers invaluable and affordable services to businesses throughout the Atlantic region.”

Press Release: CBU & Sona

The Verschuren Centre at Cape Breton University has issued the following press release:


Sydney, NS – Sona Nanotech Ltd., a new Nova Scotia company developing nano materials for health and clean technology applications, signed a three- year research agreement to collaborate on the creation of a Smart Metallic Nano Material Research Program at the Verschuren Centre, Cape Breton University. "Nanotechnology is proving to be one of the most exciting developments of this decade, with the potential to benefit nearly every sector of the economy", says Verschuren Centre CEO, Dr. Andrew Swanson. "There is a tremendous strategic synergy between the Sona team and our existing Verschuren Centre nanotechnology researchers. This partnership is accelerating the commercialization of several truly remarkable break-through products and solutions which will benefit our university and our community."

Dr. Gerrard Marangoni, CEO and co-founder of SONA Nanotech, is a leading expert in the field of surface chemistry.  He will become the Smart Metallic Nanoparticles Chair at the Verschuren Centre. “Our company would have to raise millions of dollars in equipment to move our research forward.  We have what we need at the Verschuren Center. More importantly, we will be in the presence of world-class researchers with backgrounds that will allow us to develop rewarding applications for our nano materials.” 

SONA Nanotech developed the world’s first toxin-free gold nanorods.  Company officials and co-founders Drs. Kulbir Singh and Michael MacAlduff are collaborating with leading researchers and potential customers around the globe and are receiving a very positive response.  “Gold nanorods have applications in medical diagnostics and several different cancer treatment methods, as well as areas related to clean technology and the environment,” notes Dr. Singh.  Dr. McAlduff adds, “This is a very exciting time for us and we’re happy to be able to collaborate with the world-class scientists already working at the Verschuren Center.”

The collaboration agreement became effective April 1st and the research team is now moving into the Verschuren Centre, with plans to begin commercializing their ground-breaking nano materials.  SONA’s business offices are located in downtown Sydney at VSI 2.0.

PEI Seeks Applicants for Ignition

Innovation PEI is looking for promising new P.E.I.-based businesses and startups to bring forward proposals for the second round of its Ignition program.

The provincial government’s innovation agency recently announced the winners of its Development and Commercialization Fund, and is now similarly encouraging earlier stage companies with its Ignition program.

The first round of the ignition program, launched in 2014, provided mentorship and $25,000 of early stage capital to start-ups and traditional small business in P.E.I. Forty-six businesses applied to the Ignition program, the winners included Skip The Waiting Room from Mont Caramel, as well as Can’t Check This and BamText Corp., both of Charlottetown.

The Ignition program offers support for new business ventures in the early stages of operations.

“Government recognizes that innovative and commercially promising projects are being developed in our economy,” Innovation and Advanced Learning Minister Allen Roach said in a statement. “Entrepreneurship is key to growing the economy of Prince Edward Island and we want to encourage entrepreneurs and start-ups across this province. The Ignition program can help businesses in the crucial early stages of business development.”

Vernon River-based Island Artisan Cheesehouse, which makes locally crafted curd cheese for the food industries, was one of the businesses selected for the first round of Ignition.

“Ignition was perfect to help me reach the market” said Mathieu Gallant, owner of Cheesehouse. “It allowed me to install a packaging line. This helped me control my costs and have a better presence in the marketplace.”

Applications for the Ignition program, which must be submitted before June 1, can be found here.

Meanwhile, Innovation PEI recently approved funding for five projects under the Development and Commercialization Fund for a total investment of $500,000. The government agency will cover what the company spends on development and commercialization up to a maximum of $100,000.

The winners were:

-- Engineering Technologies Canada Ltd., whose Septic Sitter system comprises innovative electronic devices that make on-site sewage systems more sustainable, effective and affordable;

-- MAXIMUS Canada Services, Inc., whose Deltaware Systems will enhance its existing public sector benefits management solution, Medigent, which is currently in use by nine Canadian jurisdictions.

-- Somru Bioscience Inc., which is dedicated to developing investigational medical test kits for patients suffering from Crohn’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis and other illnesses;

-- Mugisha Enterprises Inc., which has developed Video Assistant, a wireless communication tool for film crews to collaborate in an active film and TV production environment;

-- And Frontier Power Systems Inc., which offers renewable energy-based electricity systems to isolated communities around the world.


Gingles Buoyed by Live Streaming Fad

Erik Gingles: 'Our platform isn't a toy.'

Erik Gingles: 'Our platform isn't a toy.'

Erik Gingles reacted to the news of Periscope’s purchase by Twitter with equal measures of elation and frustration.

The news broke March 9 that Twitter had bought Periscope, which allows Twitter users to display live video from their smartphones, for just under $100 million. It was a blow for Meerkat, another app that allows video live streaming, as Periscope’s links with Twitter appeared to give it market dominance.

Gingles, the CEO of I Communications in Moncton, was more perplexed than anything because he has a comparable product that he believes is in many respects superior to both Meerkat and Periscope.

For one thing — and it’s a big thing — Ginglelive.com can record video and then post it to social media, massively improving the use of live streaming as a marketing tool.

 “We are recording,” Gingles said in an interview. “What I have been telling clients is our platform isn’t a toy. It’s a powerful marketing tool, and that’s how we sell it.”

Gingles is a mix of marketing consultant and tech entrepreneur. He was a member of the first cohort of PropelICT’s Launch36 tech accelerator in the summer of 2012, working on a social enterprise project designed to help charities live stream their events. After that, he went quiet on the startup front as the father of three focused more on his consulting business.

But behind the scenes he pushed on with the live streaming product, moving it into tools for journalists or marketers. He improved the functionality, adding more than just the recording feature. There is also the TAP, or “take a picture” feature, which allows the user to take a still photo from a video and use that to highlight the clip on social media.

The journalism product is on the back shelf, but he’s pressing forward with the marketing device and gaining traction.

After speaking on a high-profile panel in New York City, Gingles has grown his network in the world’s largest marketing community and is gaining acceptance.

He has tested its marketing capabilities in a one-year project with Mount Allison University, which has signed up with Ginglelive.com for another year. The university used the live streaming function as a key part of its communications strategy. It found that the following of its Ginglelive.com video was five times that of its YouTube content, though the former had been available for about one-quarter of the time.

When Mount A had a parent information session recently, 15 people attended the event. But the marketing team videoed it using Ginglelive.com and sent out an email blast. Some 178 people in 18 countries watched the video as a result.

Gingles is plotting his way forward with the product. The Periscope-Meerkat story has frustrated him because he believes Ginglelive.com is the superior product of the three, but it also gives him hope that he is on the right track.

In particular, he said, the educational sector could be a prime market for Ginglelive.com. He’s planning to attend a conference in Britain soon that he hopes could be a springboard to a client base of colleges in Europe.

 “We’re not just selling the app," he said. "We’re selling the whole system and the marketing strategy behind it.”


Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support start-up companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies are featured in this column nor do they have the right to review columns before they are published.


How Budgets Changed Tax Credits

Lost in the recent controversy over budgets in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick is the fact that we’ve moved no closer to harmonizing or unifying investment tax credits in the region.

In fact, there are now greater differences in the provincial programs than ever before.

The recent budgets have created controversy over the film tax credit in Nova Scotia, over the fiscal picture in New Brunswick, and over education funding in both provinces.

The issue that the startup community had focused on in the lead up to the budgets was the tax credit given to equity investors in small businesses, especially in high growth businesses. For years, the community has been calling for these credits to apply to investors outside the provincial border – either to other Atlantic Canadians or to anyone regardless of where they live. Ideally, the community members would like a harmonized credit across the region.

None of the provinces has moved any closer to broadening the geographic application of these credits. Each of the provinces still grants the tax credit for individuals only to residents of that province.

The big change in these credits in this budget season came in New Brunswick, which increased the Small Business Investor Tax Credit rate for individuals from 30 per cent to 50 per cent. New Brunswick allows the tax credit to apply to investments of as much as $250,000, so the increase raises the maximum tax credit from $75,000 per year to $125,000.

The changes are very much in keeping with Premier Brian Gallant’s declaration that encouraging innovation is one of his government’s priorities.

In its budget last week, the Nova Scotia government made no change to its Equity Tax Credit, which grants a 35% credit on investment of up to $50,000. That means the annual maximum credit in Nova Scotia is $17,500.

Following the most recent budgets, New Brunswick entrepreneurs can benefit from eligible investments that are five times greater than those in Nova Scotia, and their investors can receive maximum credits seven times greater than those of Nova Scotia.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Direct Equity Tax Credit offers a credit of 20-35 percent (depending on where the company is based) on investments of up to $50,000.

While Atlantic Canada has maintained a patchwork of four provincial investment tax credits, they are also becoming more complicated. New Brunswick allows corporations to apply for the credit at a different rate than individuals. Newfoundland and Labrador has introduced the Venture Capital Tax Credit for corporations.  And P.E.I. allows larger eligible investments for manufacturers than for other businesses. 

ETC Preps for Septic Sitter Launch

When Kelly Galloway speaks of her product that monitors septic systems, it doesn’t take her long to outline her plans for an Internet of Things solution that will automatically protect homeowners from the horrors of reversing septic tanks.

Galloway is the President of Stratford, P.E.I.-based Engineering Technologies Canada Ltd., which later this year will release its patented Septic Sitter system.

By the time it launches, the product will be capable of alerting homeowners (or their proxies) through their smartphone or mobile device of a problem with their septic drainfield. ETC is now testing the product on a couple of P.E.I. sites and hopes to have the product ready for early adopters by late summer. Galloway believes the time is right for Septic Sitter to find strong demand.

“The big thing I find that has changed in the last five years is the proliferation of [smartphone] apps … and the development of smart devices in the home [like Nest],” said Galloway in a phone interview.

“There’s no question that this sort of thing is going to take off. There’s really just a debate on how long it’s going to take.”

ETC and the Septic Sitter product were in the news on PEI recently because it was one of five companies selected to receive up to $100,000 from Innovation PEI’s Development and Commercialization Fund. The government agency will cover the company spends on development and commercialization up to a maximum of $100,000.

The prize is just the latest step for Galloway, an engineer who specializes in the design, installation and maintenance of septic systems. She developed Septic Sitter to use technology growing in acceptance (sensors and smartphone apps) to make sure people operate and maintain their septic systems properly.

Septic Sitter – whose tagline is “Peace of mind for your behind” – places sensors in a septic tank’s drainfield, the underground area that catches the runoff from the tank. The sensors send readings to a sensor hub in the house, which can assess whether there is unusually high runoff and keep a record of flow in the drainfield. It sends an alert to a mobile device whenever the flow is at dangerous levels.

If there is a sudden expansion of flow from the septic tank, the homeowner can take measures like reducing washing machine use or repairing toilet flapper valves before there’s a catastrophe. The record can also be used when selling a house to demonstrate the septic system is in working order.

Galloway said some people believe their systems will be fine as long as they pump the tanks regularly. But other problems can occur regardless of the usual maintenance and Septic Sitter helps to prevent these.

The exciting thing about Septic Sitter is what the later generations will be. ETC is working on an Internet of Things product in which septic sensors can detect high levels or flows and instantly correct any number of sources to make sure it shuts down. It might automatically shut off a dishwasher or make sure a leaky toilet stops flushing.

The company is already being featured in a futuristic glimpse of online capabilities. Austin, Texas-based Freescale Semiconductor has an educational tour called the Internet of Tomorrow Tour, which has been traveling the U.S. since last October. And Septic Sitter is featured in this traveling roadshow.

The product was also showcased recently at the 2015 Water and Wastewater Equipment Treatment and Transport Show in Indianapolis, and Galloway said the product received glowing feedback.

“The main question was: When will it be ready?” she said. “We have U.S. distributors anxious and ready to start selling the system as soon as it is finished.”



Disclaimer: Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.      

Sears Moves SageCrowd Forward

Sean Sears: 'We stress active learning.'

Sean Sears: 'We stress active learning.'

From the outset, Sean Sears and his team at sageCrowd felt that modern learning science would provide a sound basis for their e-learning platform.

Nonetheless, in a pattern typical of startup development, the sageCrowd founders shifted the direction of their company several times before finding the best course.

The Halifax company works with well-known authors to deliver competency-based skills training to the staff of large enterprises. The focus is on improving performance in areas such as sales and innovation.

The SageCrowd e-learning method is built on research into behavioural economics, psychology and neuroscience.

“The goal is to increase the efficiency and efficacy of training by using the brain’s ‘natural’ process for creating permanent memory,” said Sears, the sageCrowd CEO.

“We’ve developed an algorithm called Insight-Scaffolding. We teach skills the way people learn, layer upon layer, like scaffolding.”

Sears said that sageCrowd honours the brain’s natural four-step learning cycle, first developed by James Zull, author of The Art of Changing the Brain.

The sageCrowd platform teaches content in small chunks. Sears said current training methods can overwhelm working memory.

“Our teaching segments are not only short, they’re also singular. We teach one thing at a time and present it in many forms.

“We stress active learning. For example, we pose questions in which all the answers are partially correct and the learner must identify which answer is most correct.

“The subtlety of that approach drives the learning deeper. It requires reflection and generates personal insight, this kick-starts the formation of permanent memories.”

All sageCrowd learning is done online. People work individually for 15 minutes and then communicate as a team to apply the learning within a work context.

The approach is gaining traction. The company has recently been invited to advise entrepreneurs at Boston’s influential incubator LearnLaunch.

SageCrowd has also been awarded a four-month acceleration program by the Canadian Technology Accelerator in Boston.

Last week, the company closed an additional $750,000 of financing, part of its seed capital round. 

Sears, who grew up in Antigonish and has an MBA from Dalhousie University, had already founded companies and developed Ogden Pond Group when he was approached to help with sageCrowd in December 2010.

He and the other founders then participated in business development programs in Halifax such as PhaseMap and the Starting Lean program at Dalhousie.

Sears said it took several shifts in direction for the company to find its course.

He defines those as breakthrough points where founders realize how to transform a business into something more powerful, but they can be hard to identify.

“It can be hard to know what data to rely on and how to assess its significance. And a business is founded on an original vision, and a pivot can mean a departure from that vision. That is always a hard departure.”

SageCrowd originally intended to offer its e-learning platform to both corporations and individual consumers.

“In February last year, we chose to pitch to corporate only,” Sears said.

“Over the two previous years, the cost of finding a consumer on the web had risen from $10 to $12 to $60. Facebook had changed its algorithms so it was harder to use to grow a network.”

The founders had also expected the authors to write the platform content, but the authors said they had neither the time nor the expertise to do so.

This worked out well for sageCrowd.

“Because we had control of the content, we asked ourselves what would make it better and kept asking until we discovered Insight-Scaffolding,” Sears said.

Sears is confident sageCrowd is now on the right track.

He said learning science is being widely applied in American schools, but sageCrowd is one of the first companies to sell it to the corporate world.

The NS Link to the LinkedIn Deal

There was a Nova Scotian angle to the $1.5 billion deal that was the talk of Silicon Valley yesterday.

Professional social media network LinkedIn announced it would pay $1.5 billion in cash and stock for Lynda.com, a Carpinteria, Calif.-based company that offers online training. Part of the technology that LinkedIn is buying was developed by Halifax-based Compilr, founded by serial entrepreneur Patrick Hankinson.

Last year, Lynda bought Compilr for an undisclosed price, and Hankinson and his CTO Tim Speed have continued to work on the product since the deal closed.

Compilr began life in 2011 as a platform that would allow programmers to write code on the cloud, but it involved into a training service that taught people online to write code. It was a natural fit for Lynda’s suite of training products.

Aside from the fact that Atlantic Canadian technology helped this deal, the notable thing about the announcement is that Hankinson is continuing to grow as a tech player. He’s been involved in two exits in just more than a year, including a substantial deal in Silicon Valley.

He’s also re-channeling his gains into the tech community in the region. According to Angel List, he’s an investor in such Halifax startups as Leadsift, Dash Hudson,  Proposify,  UpMyGame,  BlueLight Analytics. He also had money in Charlottetown-based GetGifted, which this week signaled it would cease operation. 

NBIF, Innovacorp Fund Propel Grads

PropelICT, Atlantic Canada’s startup accelerator, announced Wednesday that the best Nova Scotian and New Bruncswick graduates from its accelerator will now be eligible for an additional $100,000 in funding.

The accelerator has struck a partnership with the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and Innovacorp, which will consider investments in the leading graduates from each cohort. This program will begin with the coming cohort, which will run through the summer.

These graduates – those that complete the more advanced “Build” program – are already being considered for $150,000 in funding from BDC Capital. (Makers of hardware are eligible for even larger investments from BDC.) So with the new announcement, graduates of the Build program could be eligible for as much as $250,000 in seed financing.

“Atlantic Canada is building a growing ecosystem that supports the formation and growth of startup companies,” said Gary Dinn, CEO of Propel ICT. “With this announcement, we make that environment even stronger with increased access to early stage venture capital.”

Propel ICT operates two accelerator programs – Launch and Build. The Launch program is offered for early stage startups that have yet to fully develop their product or service. The Build program is for more advanced startups that have developed a product or service with early sales success.

Build graduates headquartered in New Brunswick will be eligible for investment of up to $100,000 from NBIF, while Build grads based in Nova Scotia will be eligible for up to a $100,000 investment from Innovacorp, Nova Scotia’s innovation agency. They are also eligible for BDC funding. 

All these investments – those from Innovacorp, NBIF and BDC Capital – take the form of convertible notes, meaning they convert to equity investments once the company raises its first funding round.

“Propel ICT has proven itself as one of Canada’s top startup accelerators,” said Calvin Milbury, President and CEO of the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation. “We have invested in Propel ICT graduates from New Brunswick previously, and this partnership paves the way for more investments in the future.”

Added Charley Baxter, Vice President of Investment at Nova Scotia’s Innovacorp: “Propel ICT helps smart Nova Scotia entrepreneurs with good ideas build successful businesses. Some of Nova Scotia’s most promising startups have come out of its programs and we expect to see more.”

Participation in the Launch or Build program is available to any entrepreneurs based in Atlantic Canada. Applications for the next round of Launch and Build are now open with the deadline for applications being May 1. You can find more details here.

Since Propel ICT’s launch, more than 75 companies have graduated from its programs, attracting investment, creating jobs and growing the region’s economy.



Disclaimer: PropelICT, NBIF and Innovacorp all advertise in Entrevestor. Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.     


Alston Calls for a Cultural Shift

David Alston: 'We are still soaking ourselves and our children in a culture of the past.'

David Alston: 'We are still soaking ourselves and our children in a culture of the past.'

I returned recently from a trip to India. We were there to film part of a new documentary called The Millennial Dream. We wanted to see how millennials and an emerging culture of social entrepreneurship in a city of 1.5 million people could inspire us back home. The documentary records New Brunswick’s journey toward becoming Canada’s mecca for millennials or “digital natives” who want to create and work in impact organizations that aim to improve the world we live in. It’s a bold and necessary vision, especially since, for the first time, deaths now outnumber births in N.B. The constant stream of young people sleepwalking out of our province as soon as they graduate doesn’t help either.

This is a vision that sees my home province shift from being one of Canada’s greatest exporters of young talent to one of its greatest importers. Studies show that this generation and the generation that follows it, Gen Z, value making an impact in the career they choose.

Often, it’s more important to them than earning higher salaries at organizations that don’t have missions to make an impact. There are many studied reasons for this. I believe that, unlike any other generation in our history, our 30-somethings, and those a little younger, have grown up mostly being able to live atop of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; in the triangle labeled “self-actualization”. When you also consider they’ve grown up with instant digital access to the whole of the world’s problems at their fingertips, it’s no wonder they feel an urgency to find solutions.

For them, the days are gone when you worked long hours to “pay the bills” so that, someday in the distant future, you could retire and maybe dedicate the rest of your days to something more meaningful. No, they want to have meaning embedded in their careers now because they know the world’s environmental and social problems won’t allow them to wait 40 years to find solutions.

So with this knowledge in mind, one would think that our youth would be lining up to start their own businesses, ready to problem-solve at the drop of a hat, ready to help the world innovate its way out of the mess it’s gotten itself into. Sadly, for the most part, that’s not the case. Or better put, it’s not the default or the norm … yet.

But that’s not because the support structures don’t exist. There are a wide number of initiatives currently underway that work with students and others—from Brilliant Labs, Place Aux Competences, The Gaia Project, and CHAT to the Future, to Junior Achievement, The Pond-Deshpande Centre, the University of New Brunswick’s Technology, Management and Entrepreneurship program, The Wallace McCain Institute and PropelICT, among many others. The awareness and support within the leadership of the province at the political, civil service, non-profit, private sector and community levels are also there. They’re collaborating with one another, shoring up additional grass-roots movements and working in a collective impact approach. And New Brunswick is blessed with groups that are aiding a cultural transformation. There is a wonderful mentor network of CEOs willing to coach young entrepreneurs. There are employees from tech and the trades going into schools to help teachers with project-based curriculum ideas and assisting with early literacy skills. Indeed, the momentum is strong and building and it paints a path of great hope and opportunity.

So what seems to be missing?

After speaking with hundreds of students, parents, employers and educators, I’ve boiled it down to one thing. We are currently still soaking ourselves and our children in a culture of the past--a culture of the status quo.

When I landed in India and began the eight-hour drive to Hubli from Bangalore all my senses were on high alert. I began to soak in a new culture. Watching it through the glass of a TV screen back home or with my Western assumptions was not at all the same as “being there”. What was amazing was how fast I adjusted to a brand new world. It took a day.

As parents, educators, leaders and employers, we need to begin to paint a vivid new world where the culture of social entrepreneurship and innovation, while perhaps overwhelming at the beginning, quickly become the new norm. Let’s begin to soak ourselves in a wondrous realm of new possibilities, if not for us then at least for the new generations chomping at the bit to embrace them.


David Alston is the Chief Innovation Officer at Introhive and the driving force behind Brilliant Labs, a project that encourages the teaching of programing in public schools.


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


Disclaimer: Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.      

GetGifted Calls It a Day

Gillian McCrae: 'I think there will be another venture.'

Gillian McCrae: 'I think there will be another venture.'

GetGifted has sent out its last gift list.

The Charlottetown startup that helped local merchants reward customers by giving them gifts announced on social media Tuesday that it would cease operations.

CEO and co-founder Gillian McCrae said in an interview that merchants were still using the weekly gift lists. However, she and her team came to understand the resources needed to roll out the product nationally or internationally and realized they simply didn’t have them.

“It was a very hard decision,” said McCrae.

“There has to be a way to (use merchants’ gifts as a marketing tool) at a scalable level, and right now we just don’t have the means to do that. To take it nationally or internationally, there’s just far more that you have to do.”

GetGifted began two years ago as a marketing idea. McCrae’s business hypothesis was that if merchants, including bars and restaurants, offered consumers a gift, such as a free sample, customers would come to the outlet and end up spending more than the value of the gift.

Then McCrae validated that theory. She launched GetGifted, which sent out a list of gifts from participating local merchants every Tuesday. Consumers received the lists on their smartphones and simply had to show up at the establishment to claim it within two weeks.

The gift list became a sensation on Prince Edward Island. About 13,000 Islanders eventually signed up for the gift list, claiming 1,500 to 2,500 gifts per week.

About a year ago, GetGifted launched its service in Halifax, and at its peak there were 8,000 subscribers.

Along the way, the team achieved various milestones that some young companies only dream of. GetGifted graduated from the Launch36 accelerator and was really one of the stars of a strong cohort in late 2013. It raised $400,000 in angel funding in the spring of 2014.

McCrae had been planning on expanding and testing her model in a big city. As recently as last autumn, she’d been planning to launch in Toronto in early 2015. Then the company encountered some difficulties.

She said she had to look “at the business model and the traction today and ask the hard questions about what the path to future success is.”

Though GetGifted is no more, McCrae said marketing continues to be a passion for her and that she will probably launch a new venture at some point. GetGifted proved an effective tool because it allowed local merchants to measure in-store traffic that resulted from their marketing spending. What she would like to come up with is a tool that can measure increased revenue based on such spending.

She added that working in the startup community and her experiences at Launch36 were revelations because they taught her that entrepreneurs can build anything they can dream of.

“What’s next? After today, my heart’s still in it for the local business owner,” she said. “Marketing is a love of mine, so that will continue. I think there will be another venture.”



Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support start-up companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies are featured in this column nor do they have the right to review columns before they are published.

NS Gives $400K to Brilliant Labs

The Nova Scotia government announced Tuesday it will contribute $400,000 to Brilliant Labs, an initiative that encourages technical education in schools in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Premier Stephen McNeil said the government will ensure the initiative operates through all eight school boards in the province in the 2015-16 school year.

Under the terms revealed Tuesday, the not-for-profit initiative aims to provide lab space, to teach a range of technical skills and to encourage collaboration with industry.

A statement from the government said it will offer labs where students can work with such equipment as 3D printers. It added the program will “help students gain skill and experience in engineering, metal and woodworking, fashion, textiles, electronics, robotics, rapid prototyping and fabrication, computer programming, video-audio engineering.”

The statement also said Brilliant Labs will begin a project-based learning fund designed to assist teachers by providing resources and support for science, technology, engineering-entrepreneurship, arts and math projects.

"Brilliant Labs helps teachers incorporate technology, creativity, and entrepreneurship into the classroom," said Education Minister Karen Casey in the statement. "Students are encouraged to be creative and explore new ways of using technology, helping prepare them for the type of innovation needed to have success in any field."

Brilliant Labs is the brainchild of David Alston, the Chief Innovation Officer of the Fredericton-based startup Introhive. At an awards ceremony in Fredericton two years ago, he offered to work with anyone who wanted to encourage the teaching of programs in schools. It led to a program in New Brunswick that aimed to support individual teachers who chose to teach coding to students. Brilliant Labs is now working with teachers in more than 200 New Brunswick schools.

Around the same time, GoInstant CEO Jevon MacDonald was calling for more tech education in Nova Scotia and a group of tech diehards began to introduce the program in that province.

"This is about encouraging students to think of new solutions and look at challenges from a different perspective," said Jeff Willson, executive director of Brilliant Labs. "Through hands-on learning, students get to express their creativity, find innovative new ways to use technology to solve problems and put their ideas into action."

Addo Aims to Grow Across Canada

At Volta, Moses is leading his people to the promised land of wellness and productivity.

In this particular case, Moses is Moses Robicheau, CEO of Addo, a startup that helps organizations encourage physical activity and good health among their memberships. It is one of the newest ventures working out of the Halifax startup house, and it’s already creating an impressive list of corporate and not-for-profit clients.

Make no mistake: there are a lot of competitors out there, as there are several websites that help organizations improve the wellness of their employees. But it’s also true that no one has established dominance in the field so there is lots of room for growth.

“Our differentiator is we really leverage on competition and usability,” Robicheau said in an interview in a conference room at Volta.

“The solution we’re providing makes it engaging for the user.”

Addo is an online platform on which organizations can host 21-day health and wellness competitions for staff or members. Participants sign up to see who can live the healthiest lives over three weeks.

Addo take a holistic approach to health and assesses participants’ wellness in four categories: exercise, nutrition, community and mindfulness.

After participants sign up, they keep tabs in the Addo site each time they do something healthy or unhealthy. While the exercise and nutrition categories are obvious, the community segment lets people record things like family time, carpooling and volunteering. The mindfulness category tracks such facets as sleep and reading time.

Each participant gets points for healthy choices. Everyone in the competition can view the league tables, and the system declares the winner at the end of three weeks. Participants can continue with the program afterwards if they prefer.

Robicheau has been working on the project for more than 21/2 years, received support from Entrepreneurs’ Forum and even took it through a Startup Weekend in Ottawa. In January, he and his co-founders, Raphael Titsworth-Morin and Brett Barro, officially rolled out Addo (Latin for “I inspire”) and launched a pilot program with the insurer Aon.

Addo has been used in fitness campaigns by six companies or organizations, and three more were booked for April.

Shortly after Robicheau and his team moved into Volta, the startup house staged an Addo competition. The winner was PACTA, the husband-and-wife team whose technology helps medium-sized manufacturers manage contracts with customers, suppliers and others.

So far, the Addo team has financed the company’s development without raising any external capital, but it is working on raising a seed round of funding with a target of $500,000. The company is also looking for strategic clients interested in helping to grow in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Robicheau and his co-founders are also looking at setting up an office in Vancouver this year in the hope of having clientele across the country.


Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support start-up companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies are featured in this column nor do they have the right to review columns before they are published.

Armstrong: Growing Through Failure

Nathan Armstrong: 'I will probably jump into the entrepreneurship game again if I get a chance.'

Nathan Armstrong: 'I will probably jump into the entrepreneurship game again if I get a chance.'

Nathan Armstrong doesn’t mind using the F-word, and believes more Atlantic Canadians should discuss it openly.

The F-word, despite what you may have thought, is “failure”.

Armstrong is rightly proud that he and his brother Greg launched their cleantech startup Hyton Innovations, were shortlisted for an award and took the company through two accelerators. And he’s not ashamed to say that they eventually failed.

It’s a fact of the startup world. Startups are highly risky propositions. They deal with experimental technology, often lack proper working capital and have challenges in finding suitable personnel. They often fail.

“There are still people who view it negatively,” said Armstrong in an interview. “There are always people who are going to say, ‘I knew Hyton wouldn’t progress.’ But we need to find people in the community who can step up after failure.”

The story of the Armstrong brothers is far from an uncommon one. In examining the members of the Atlantic Canadian startup community, we found that 43 startups failed, or died, or however you want to describe their ceasing to be.  In round numbers, it’s about 15 percent of the companies we were following last year. Some had employees and had been going for a few years. Some were operating off little more than the dreams of a few college kids.

Hyton was somewhere in the middle.

Entrevestor first reported on the Armstrong brothers two years ago when they entered their Fredericton-based company – then called CeteX – into the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation’s Breakthru competition.  Its aim was to help companies clean up wastewater from their plants without a massive investment in infrastructure.

CeteX or Hyton proposed fitting all the equipment needed to treat wastewater into a mobile shipping container, backing it into a plant and letting a client lease the system without an expensive upgrade. It would clean the water so that it could be flushed away with no harm to the environment, or re-used in the plant.

The company was one of five finalists in the Breakthru competition. It entered the Accelr8 program at Planet Hatch in Fredericton then, last year, it went through the Launch36 accelerator. It also competed in BioNova’s BioInnovation Challenge.

The Armstrongs lined up early adopters for their system, but they didn’t have the firepower to fully develop the product.

“We had great early adopters,” said Armstrong, now 27. “But we were trying to build a business without a team so product development was a problem. We just didn’t have the cash flow to build it.”

In mid-2014, Greg Armstrong opted to take another position and they decided to wind down the company.

“No one really knows what to do after a company closes,” said Nathan Armstrong. “You wonder what you’re going to do next and not many people want to talk about it. It could be the most pivotal period in an entrepreneur’s life.”

Armstrong found solace in the peers and mentors who he and his brother had relied on in building up Hyton. They included Springboard Atlantic CEO Chris Mathis, Enovex CEO Scott Walton and Xiplinx CEO Brent MacDonald. He also found support from the other founders in his Planet Hatch cohort.

He thought of launching another startup immediately, but soon realized it wasn’t the right time. So he took about two months, during which he conducted a penetrating assessment of himself, his skill set and his wants.

He realized he had an entrepreneurial flair and he did not want to work for a conventional company. He liked innovation. He liked the sales process.

Armstrong began to spend more time with MacDonald. He’d been following Xiplinx, whose Internet of Things application helps food and beverage producers manage their manufacturing processes. Soon he was working for Xiplinx as an account management executive. He works with potential clients through their pilot programs and helps to convert them to paid subscribers.

“I don’t think I could work at a normal company where you’re just a number,” he said. “I feel suffocated where I can’t use my skill set and get into the strategic thinking. Down the road I will probably jump into entrepreneurship again if I get the chance.”


This article first appeared in our first Entrevestor Intelligence report of 2015. 


Disclaimer: Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.     




Ron Keefe’s 2 Waves of Investment

Ron Keefe: 'Business comes down to people.'

Ron Keefe: 'Business comes down to people.'

Ron Keefe is proud that the sale of BioVectra, the Charlottetown drug manufacturer he has led for 11 years, is generating two waves of investment into Atlantic Canada.

Tens of millions of dollars will be invested in capital improvements at BioVectra over the next few years. Plus, the company’s original owners are putting together a fund to invest in Atlantic Canadian businesses.

Keefe and his Charlottetown-based team sold BioVectra in 2014 to Questcor Pharmaceuticals of Anaheim, Calif., for $100 million.

Entrepreneurs everywhere struggle to raise investment funding, and raising funds is especially difficult in Atlantic Canada. That’s why Keefe and his colleagues will soon launch a new fund that will invest in promising regional companies.

Keefe said that BioVectra’s original owners are all P.E.I. people who are very excited about having the chance to help fellow entrepreneurs.

“The owners have already been able to use the proceeds we’ve received to reinvest in other businesses,” said Keefe, who remains BioVectra’s CEO.

“The sale has also brought BioVectra positive things, including access to capital,” he said. “We are in a capital expenditure program right now. We’ll spend $30 million this year and $15 million each year for the next few years.

“We are hiring staff, acquiring and retrofitting plants We have four plants and each one is getting an upgrade.”

Already, BioVectra’s original owners have invested in various science-based businesses through the Regis Duffy Bioscience Fund, of which Keefe is president.

“We’ve recently made a $1-million investment in Vitrak Systems,” Keefe said. “And in 2016 we intend to create a new $5-million fund to invest in Atlantic Canadian businesses.

“We plan to help Atlantic Canadian companies reach commercialization and help grow the economy.”

Despite being a passionate entrepreneur, Keefe didn’t start his career in the business world.

The P.E.I.-born father of three first worked in accounting and law. He became an entrepreneur 11 years ago after he was poached from law firm Stewart McKelvey by entrepreneur Regis Duffy, who was at the time a client of Keefe’s.

Duffy made Keefe president of Diagnostic Chemicals, BioVectra’s predecessor.

“You take a leap of faith when leaving a profession you’re established in,” Keefe said. “There’s trepidation.

“As a lawyer, I’d been exposed to a number of excellent entrepreneurs. People like Mike Arnold, who worked on the revitalization of downtown Charlottetown, and Mike Schurman of Schurman Construction and building supplies. I felt inspired and hoped to be like them.”

Keefe’s transition to entrepreneurship was relatively smooth, although at the time the company faced financial challenges in growing the business.

Those challenges were overcome and BioVectra achieved revenue of $14 million in 2008 and will achieve nearly $100 million this year.

He feels that, with more collaboration among the Atlantic provinces, this region’s businesses can benefit from many local benefits. These include good universities, easy access to U.S. and European markets and talented staff.

“Business comes down to people,” he said. “At BioVectra, we’ve had excellent scientists, business managers and engineers. You need a great mix of people who can make ideas work.

“I agree with the recommendations of the Ivany report, but I don’t think we need any more studies now. We need more action from people who can make things work. We need government policies that will foster businesses.”

Community service is important to Keefe, who has been named a Top 50 CEO of Atlantic Canada. He’s also a past president of the United Way of Prince Edward Island and a former director of the Bank of Canada.

He is now chairman of a task force for the P.E.I. Chamber of Commerce called Island Advance.

“We are trying to foster an entrepreneurial culture,” he said. “A lot has already been done with this. A lot of good stuff is already happening.

“I feel there’s no reason why other Atlantic Canadian companies can’t achieve the same kind of success we’ve achieved at BioVectra.”

Origin BioMed in Receivership

Origin BioMed has been placed in receivership.

The Chronicle-Herald reported Friday that the Halifax company was placed in receivership on March 16, with Grant Thornton Ltd. being appointed trustee.

Origin Biomed, which had received venture capital funding from Nova Scotia Business Inc., GrowthWorks Atlantic and Avrio Ventures of Calgary, manufactured and marketed Neuragen, a natural pain relief for diabetes sufferers.

At its height, the company sold the sold the product over-the-counter at more than 20,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada. However, in 2011 the company ran into problems because of a coupon program in the U.S. and never fully recovered. The company restructured and was able to raise $1 million a year later, but it never regained the ground it had lost.

NSBI’s venture capital arm, which is no longer making new investments, invested a total of 7.9 million in the company. GrowthWorks Atlantic invested $2.6 million in Origin BioMed in 2009 and an additional $500,000 in 2013.

Other investors, including members of the First Angel Network, had also put money in the company in the past.

No Distrapptions Wins CS Square

The CS Square pitch competition at the University of New Brunswick took place last week with first place going to No Distrapptions, an app that allows users to eliminate the distraction of message notifications.

By turning on the app, notifications from messages are blocked, and the user has the option to send an automatic response.

“If the user needs to notify someone of their arrival, they can use the app to send an automatic (one time or recurring) message to a specified contact at a specified destination,” Natalia Stakhanova, NB Innovation Research Chair in Cyber Security, said in a release.  

“The app could also limit distraction during activities such as studying and reading.”

Stakhanova said the Computing Science Creative Space (CS Square) is an entrepreneurship centre within the UNB Fredericton Faculty of Computer Science.

Ten teams entered the competition, which was in its second year. Each team was given five minutes to pitch to the panel of three judges: Steven Burns (Bulletproof Solutions); Mike Leblanc (Blue Spurs) and Ali Ghorbani (Ara Labs, Dean of FCS).

Second place resulted in a tie between Tutoregal and Kimun8ty Technologies. The Community Impact award went to Open Good. 

Vendeve Wins Funding Roadshow

Vendeve, the Halifax startup that helps women find a market for their skills, has won six months in Silicon Valley to help develop its business.

The company was the winner Wednesday in the Funding Roadshow pitching competition hosted by Fundica at the Innovacorp Enterprise Centre in Halifax. Eleven companies pitched at the event. The winner was Vendeve and its model for encouraging businesswomen to become early adopters for each other.

“The sharing economy is changing everything so the two-sided marketplace is exploding,” Vendeve Founder and CEO Katelyn Bourgoin told the gathered participants yesterday.

Fundica is a for profit corporation that aims to link entrepreneurs with funders. Its Funding Roadshow is holding events in 11 Canadian cities, and one company from each event will be chosen to work in northern California for half a year.

As the winner of the Halifax event, Vendeve will receive six months of office space in Silicon Valley as well as return air fare to San Francisco. It will also be allowed to pitch at an event in the Bay area attended by local venture capital investors.

Formerly called Swapskis, Vendeve offers a marketplace for women in service industries, allowing them to charge money or to swap their services with other people on the site.

The Halifax startup began last year with the mission of helping women barter their skills with one another, so they could build up resumés and networks and eventually charge real cash for their services. Last summer, Bourgoin realized a better way to generate revenue for the business would be to be a cash-based market place for women’s services.

So she and her colleagues changed the business model to allow more cash-based transactions. But the fact that the word “swap” was in the company name confused the business message to potential investors and the broader community. So they changed the name. The bartering of services is still an integral part of the business, but there is a much greater emphasis on cash transactions.

Bourgoin said following the competition that her company now has 1800 signups from 14 countries and that the conversion rate among visitors to the site has risen from 4 percent to 15 percent. It also has commitments of about $300,000 in equity funding.

“We’re seeing faster growth than Esty, TaskRabbit and Elance saw in their first year,” said Bourgoin, referring to comparable companies. 

Forerunner Growing in Surge Accelerator

Having already secured funding from the world’s leading seed-stage venture fund for energy technology, Gordon McArthur is now focused on impressing more investors in energy-related tech next month.

McArthur is the CEO of Forerunner Research, a Dartmouth company whose technology detects and measures soil gases. In February, the company was one of eight companies accepted into the fourth cohort of the accelerator operated by Surge Ventures of Houston, a funding and mentoring organization specializing in energy technology.

At the end of the three-month cohort, Forerunner Research will make a presentation at the closing event, which is attended by the venture arms of major energy companies.

Whereas Surge makes early-stage investments, these funds are better suited to providing growth capital to developing companies like Forerunner. It’s a big deal given that the graduates of the Surge accelerator program are averaging US$1 million once they leave the course.

“Everything we’re doing now points to the May 19 showcase with the venture capital arms of the world’s major energy companies,” said McArthur in a phone interview from Houston last week.

Forerunner Research has developed a range of products that measure the flux and concentration of gas in soils. They have been used to assess ground gas levels around the world, including projects above the Arctic Circle and below the Antarctic Circle.

The applications include helping oil and gas companies test to make sure carbon capture and storage facilities are operating as they should. They also include helping researchers test whether the permafrost is releasing more carbon dioxide as the climate changes.

Forerunner’s technology was developed at a St. Francis Xavier University lab run by David Risk, and is gaining traction mainly with researchers but also with energy companies. The company’s clients include University of California at Berkeley, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

So far, researchers have been the leading client base of the company, but the largest industrial users are in the energy industry. And that is why the relationship with Surge has proven so valuable.

Over the last winter, Forerunner was one of about 1,000 energy-related companies that applied to the Surge accelerator program. On being accepted, the startup received a US$50,000 investment from Surge Ventures, which capped off the company’s $400,000 funding round.

But McArthur said the funding is only part of what Surge has brought to the company. Surge is well connected within the global energy industry and the Forerunner team has made invaluable connections while wintering in Texas.

“In the time we’ve been here, we’ve had meetings with some of the world’s largest energy companies,” he said.

McArthur and his partners Nick Nickerson and Chance Creelman have now developed Forerunner into an eight-person company. St. F.X. has transferred the intellectual property for the products to the company to help it along, and it has struck international partnerships, including one with California gas measurement company Picarro.

Focusing on Memogain, Neurodyn Raises $1M

Hoping its leading Alzheimer’s drug candidate will soon be fast-tracked in Europe, Charlottetown drug discovery company Neurodyn Life Sciences Inc. has completed a $1 million funding round.

The company said in a statement Tuesday it will use the funds to support development and commercial initiatives across its product line.

Neurodyn specializes in treating diseases of the brain and has been focusing recently on the commercialization of Memogain, a prescription drug candidate it bought from a German company in 2013. The drug has been shown to increase cognitive processes, both among the elderly and even in young, healthy people. And given the acute need around the world for drugs that can battle dementia, there is reason to believe the drug could soon enter an accelerated regulatory process.  

“Recent regulatory meetings in the EU suggest that Memogain could be the next Alzheimer’s drug approved in Europe,” said Neurodyn CEO Ken Cawkell in the statement. “EU regulators have commented that Memogain could qualify for their Innovative Medicines Initiative, designed to expedite new drugs to market.”

Memogain is Neurodyn’s patent-protected improvement of the natural cognitive enhancer galantamine, which is currently on the market and being used for the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

Neurodyn’s Phase 1A clinical trial results demonstrated that Memogain promotes higher preference for the brain than galantamine. That means there are fewer adverse side effects and higher cognitive enhancement than are found marketed Alzheimer’s drugs now on the market.

The company said the latest round of funding has come from existing shareholders and a range of investors in both Canada and the U.S., including certain American family-managed venture funds. Neurodyn’s last major fund-raising was a $1.5 million round in February 2013 led by the Regis Duffy BioScience Fund Inc. of Charlottetown and Mertz Holdings, a family-owned investment fund based in Houston, Texas.

The company also said the new money will help with the development of a new “cognitive enhancing emulsion” called Cerbella. The company describes the drug as a “highly bioavailable formulation of ginsensosides and green tea catechins, which are complexed and delivered in a flavored Omega-3 emulsion.”

The company, which has offices in Charlottetown, Halifax and Germany, plans to launch Cerbella in Canada and the U.S. this year and said its formulation and state-of-the-art packaging will revolutionize the way consumers think about brain health.

“Investors are excited about the near-term potential of our product pipeline,” said Cawkell. “Like us, they recognize the devastating socio-economic impact of an aging population that is becoming increasingly more susceptible to neurological disease.”


Disclaimer: Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.     


Solace, Boeing Move to 2nd Phase

After successfully proving its wireless power technology can recharge drones, Solace Power is embarking on the second phase of a development project with aircraft manufacturer Boeing.

But Kris McNeil, CEO of the Mount Pearl, NL, company, was quick to point out in an interview last week that the Boeing contract is only one of the projects that Solace is working on. The company is applying its wireless power technology to automobiles and various military and industrial functions.

Without a doubt, Solace Power so far is best known for the project it conducted with Seattle-based Boeing with the support of the federal government’s Industrial and Technological Benefits program.

Boeing reps came to Mount Pearl, a city southwest of St. John’s, to work with Solace on developing the project, then they both attended a demonstration session in Florida with the U.S. military. During the demo, a quadcopter’s battery recharged even though the vehicle was nine to 12 inches from the power source. The results were featured in the Silicon Valley tech publication TechCrunch, which included a video of the test.

“The idea is that the unmanned drone can recharge its battery without a physical connection,” said McNeil. “It means the drone could in theory stay out in the field indefinitely.”

Solace Power was founded in 2007 with the goal of developing a technology to deliver electricity without power cords and batteries. While some in the field choose consumer applications such as recharging cell phones, Solace has focused mainly on industrial and automotive applications with a special emphasis on military uses.

The Solace system can be used to recharge a drone while it’s still in the air. McNeil said the advantage is that if there are windy conditions that could make a landing difficult, the drone would still be able to recharge and continue with its duties.

The technology can be used on mid-sized quadcopters, those weighing as much as five kilograms, which includes some used by the military.

“Solace's wireless power technology can bring real, tangible value to many of Boeing's products, and we look forward to working with them, and other industry-leading companies, to advance their business through technology innovations," Neil Chaulk, Solace’s Vice-President of Business Development, said in a statement.

Solace is less public about some of its other projects, but they’re no less interesting. It is working with a major North American car manufacturer, and with another customer that makes suits for bomb disposal personnel. These suits contain electronic devices, and there is a power cable to the helmet that limits mobility. Solace is working on a solution that would eliminate the cable.

Solace is moving forward on several fronts, and without providing details McNeil said the company this year is bringing in revenues for the first time. It now employs 15 people (all but one in Newfoundland), and will soon raise the staffing to more than 20.

The company, a graduate from the Genesis Centre at Memorial University, raised money from the First Angel Network in late 2012. Last year it raised more capital from existing investors, though McNeil declined to say how much. The company is considering another raise later this year.



Disclaimer: Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.      

Build Ventures: A Strong 18 Months

The mood was joyous and full of humour among the two Build Ventures partners the day after the New England Patriots won the Superbowl.

Patrick Keefe, a Patriots fan, was delighted his team had prevailed the night before. And his partner Rob Barbara, a New York Giant supporter, was pleased that there was no longer a sore point that the Pats had lost two Superbowls to his team.

“This has really been the only strain in the relationship and now it’s gone,” joked Barbara over lunch at a Turkish restaurant in Halifax.

Barbara and Keefe are now about 18 months into their venture capital partnership, and so far there have been few problems other than the feud between their football teams. Since five governments and a few private investors came together to launch the fund, the duo have invested in five companies, and none has been a flameout. In fact, all five seem to be performing brilliantly – no mean feat in the chancy game of VC investment.

But the partners are quick to point out that they’re now going through the easy part of developing a VC portfolio.

“As well as things have gone in the first two years, we’re probably going to have bad news before we have good news,” said Keefe, proudly sporting a grey Patriots T-shirt.

Added Barbara: “If the fund is managed properly, the bad news is going to come first because we’re not going to hide behind it.”

Everyone knew there would be bad news at some point when the four Atlantic Canadian provinces and the Business Development Bank of Canada kicked in most of the more than $60 million for the fund. The idea was that there was a crying need for a financial body to provide follow-on funding to the best companies in the region. The best way to meet that need was for all four provinces to back private fund managers to ensure that there was sufficient capital and no political interference. Failures would happen, but they should be outweighed by successes.

So far, things have unfolded as planned.

Based in the Volta startup house in Halifax, the company has invested in five 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. Though it’s still early days for all these investments, the Build partners are pleased that all five are reporting growing revenue and no major problems.

“That infusion of cash has helped us grow our business and really helped us get into the market,” said Smart Skin CEO Kumaran Thillainadarajah. Since Build and a host of co-investors invested $3.9 million in the company in January, 2014, Smart Skin’s team has grown from seven engineers to 13 and it has opened a sales office in Munich, Germany. The company’s revenues rose 600 percent last year.

Peter Goggin, the CEO of Resson, said his company has benefited from more than just money through the $3 million in funding it received from Build and Rho Ventures Canada. Barbara has joined the board and helped the Fredericton company make connections in Nova Scotia.

Keefe and Barbara are pleased to state that all these companies are doing well, but they know that will not always be the case.

The Build I fund will probably make 12 to 15 investments, and the partners know the nature of the VC trade is such that there’s bound to be a company or two that runs into trouble. And they will likely encounter problems before a member of the portfolio exits. That’s what Keefe and Barbara mean when they say they’ll have bad news before the good. Despite that, the prospect of a second Build fund does come up in discussions with Keefe and Barbara. Raising that fund may prove more challenging than raising the first, because the goal will be to raise money with a greater contribution from the private sector. That would be a challenge given the dearth of VC limited partners in Canada at the moment.

The Build Partners said Build I will have to be performing well when it comes time to raise Build II. That doesn’t mean there will have to be a range of blockbuster exits. But the partners will have to demonstrate that they backed companies that achieved dynamic growth in global markets.

Between now and then, Keefe and Barbara will continue to build out the portfolio of their first fund. They are visible at events around the region, and continue to seek opportunities. They have invested in three of the four provinces, and would like to make a deal or two in P.E.I., whose government invested $2.5 million in the fund.

Build’s most recent funding was its largest to date, and it demonstrates how the group’s roots in Atlantic Canada bring it opportunities before other funds learn of them. Build sank $3 million into the St. John’s pre-production software company Celtx in a deal that closed Christmas Eve. CEO Mark Kennedy said Keefe had been following the company since they met in Halifax in late 2011. “Back in the summer, I told [Keefe and Barbara] that we were taking a serious look at raising some capital,” said Kennedy. “I did an early pitch to get their feedback, and they were interested. Before long, Build agreed to invest.”

Barbara and Keefe are also willing to invest in companies outside the province. 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 and Keefe almost invested in a Montreal company recently, but were outbid by another fund.

Atlantic Canada will continue to be the focus of the firm’s activities. They perceive a huge amount of opportunity in the region, and are excited by the growth of the ecosystem. They’re also pleased to have developed ties with funds based in other parts of the world that are interested in investing in Atlantic Canadian startups and working with Build. In fact, the Build seal of approval is becoming a factor in outside investors’ investment decisions.

Said Barbara: “What we’re really pleased with is that when firms outside the region are considering an investment here, a lot of them want to know what Build is doing before they make their decision.’’


Full disclosure: Build Ventures is a former sponsor of Entrevestor and now advertises on our site.


This artricle was first published in the most recent Entrevestor Intelligence report.


Disclaimer: Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.      

Ecosystem Gains from New Programs

Denis Daigle, right, and Topher Kingsley-Williams at work in the Venn Centre.

Denis Daigle, right, and Topher Kingsley-Williams at work in the Venn Centre.

There’s a theme of community running through the story of Ongozah.

The Moncton startup founded by Topher Kingsley-Williams, Denis Daigle and Dan Gillis is developing a platform that will help community groups crowdsource the various things they need. And to nurture the company, they relied on a new community startup facility in their hometown.

Ongozah – a Swahili word that means everyone moving in the same direction –is one of the startups being groomed in the Vennture Garage, the new program recently opened in the Venn Centre in downtown Moncton to help encourage young entrepreneurs. By working with the staff at the Garage, the Ongozah team has almost completed its product, found 15 customers and bagged a couple of investors.

Vennture Garage’s work with Ongozah is simply one example of a fairly new program that introduces young people to the tasks and philosophies of entrepreneurship. Such programs are springing up all around the region and becoming the farm teams for Propel ITC, the regional accelerator. There are a range of university programs, and there are community-focused pre-accelerator programs developing in Moncton, Sydney, and Prince Edward Island, to name a few.

“The idea for the Vennture Garage came out of the evolving circumstances in the ecosystem in New Brunswick and some excellent new programs,” said Doug Robertson, CEO of Venn Innovation, which operates the program. “But there were concerns about the quantity and quality of applicants to those programs.”

The idea is that society is awash in potential entrepreneurs, but most have been reared on traditional concepts of business that are outdated or just plain inaccurate. So these introductory programs familiarize them with concepts like ideation based on solving pain, customer discovery and the mysteries of the lean canvas. The programs also teach the virtues of failure, especially fast failure – a concept that is counterintuitive to most of us. In short, they are preparing entrepreneurs to apply for a facility like Propel.

On P.E.I., the provincial government has initiated its Ignition Program, which provides mentorship and $25,000 in early-stage capital to entrepreneurs interested in both startups and more traditional businesses.

Innovation PEI launched the program last June, and has so far invested a total of $200,000 in eight companies.

Mark Richardson of Cornwall, for example, got help from Ignition for his company, Skip the Waiting Room. It’s an online product that lets walk-in clinics help patients avoid long waits in a waiting room. The company went through the most recent cohort of the Propel accelerator.

Other startups that have tapped Ignition are Queen Bee Games of Pownal, and BamText Corp. of Charlottetown.

In Sydney, startups are gaining a boost from two recent introductions to the ecosystem – the UIT program at Cape Breton University and the Spark Cape Breton competition. Initiated last year, Spark differs from other startup contests in the region because it aims to give a bit of money ($5,000 to $50,000) to a broad range of winners. In two years, 14 companies have received funding from the award.

UIT, meanwhile, is an experimental tech/entrepreneurship course that will continue, even expand, next year. It has taught 12 students (six of them women) the basics of entrepreneurship, relying heavily on online curriculum.

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

Back at the Vennture Garage in Moncton, Robertson and Entrepreneur-in-Residence Dave Gallant have established a program in which participants can enter and leave at any time and still benefit. It provides co-working space free for the participants, and works hard to encourage young people to learn about entrepreneurship. They focus a lot on what makes a good idea for a business.

“A lot of us never know how to come up with a good idea,” said Gallant. “I have people come in that have a desire to be an entrepreneur . . . but they don’t have a good idea [for a business].” So his instruction focuses on how to test ideas with potential clients and how to plot the stages from idea to development. “I help them come up with an idea that solves a problem.”

Still in its first year, the numbers speak to its success. Twenty-one teams have applied and there are now 10 or 11 active teams working in the Garage. Three have entered Breakthru, and three or four have decided to leave the program.

“To enter the Garage, they have to look at the problems, look at the solutions and they have to go out and validate it,” added Robertson.

“They have to talk to 10 people a week for one month. They need to come back with the results.”


This article originally appeared in the latest Entrevestor Intelligence report.


Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support start-up companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies are featured in this column nor do they have the right to review columns before they are published.

Entrevestor Luncheon Canceled

We’re afraid we have had to cancel the Entrevestor Luncheon, which had been scheduled for Moncton on April 15.

We’d like to thank the people who helped us with the event – especially Sally Ng of Planet Hatch and Doug Robertson of Venn Innovation.  We have reimbursed the money of anyone who bought tickets.

Entrevestor and BDO are now working together on plans for further events and will let the community know once we have decided on our next event. 

Eyeread Unveiled to Public Tomorrow

Eyeread, an online product that helps to teach children to read, will make its first public appearance Saturday at the new Halifax Central Library.

Leah Skerry and Julia Rivard Dexter, the principals the Halifax web-design consultancy Norex, and a team of educators will let children test the product that they have been developing in conjunction with Dalhousie University and University of Moncton.

Eyeread uses the camera facing the reader on a laptop or other device to track the eye as the child reads. By tracking the eye, the software can detect where the child is having trouble in reading a passage. Educators can then use the information to customize a personalized learning routine for the child. At first, that will have to be done manually, but the founders hope the later versions of Eyeread will automatically come up with customized curriculum for each young reader.

“The goal of the technology at this stage is to understand what is valuable to parents, teachers, and children,” said Skerry, the CEO of Eyeread. “In the long-term we will be able to provide a product that diagnoses reading challenges and measures progress over time.”

Eyeread so far has been developed within Norex, and the company is now raising money – a target of about $300,000 – to spin it out into its own company. Though Norex is a service business, it has developed a culture of innovation and has launched Pursu.it, a crowdfunding platform for elite athletes, and Hashpipe, a product that presents hashtags from various social media on a single canvas. Their focus now is on building Eyeread into a successful stand-alone company.

They are working on a pioneering scientific study on how tracking children's eye patterns can pinpoint specific challenges while reading on computers and tablets. They’re therefore looking for testers to help guide the product development. On Saturday, March 28, the team has partnered with the Halifax Central Library, seeking user feedback on their beta product and collecting sample data from young readers.

“Gathering feedback from children is vital to the success of the product. We are excited about collaborating with young readers to make a product that really helps them,” said Rivard Dexter.

The Eyeread team that will be at the library includes reading recovery teachers and researchers available to share and review test results with parents throughout the day.

On the heels of these tests, the Eyeread team has been selected to present at the ASU Global Silicon Valley Summit on April 7, which will showcase some of the world’s leading education technology startups. The Summit is attended by such luminaries as: Vinod Khosla, Managing Partner, Khosla Ventures; Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group; and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

This event will position Eyeread in front of some of the top EdTech investors in the world as it seeks to raise capital.

Skerry also noted that some of the world’s leading influencers understand that self-learning will be a key part of improving education in the coming decades. That is why the Xprize [funders of SpaceShipOne] is sponsoring innovation in education through a $15 million prize for software that will enable more than 250 million children in developing countries to teach themselves basic literacy.

“It offers the opportunity to make a significant dent [in illiteracy among children] and we want to be part of that,” said Skerry. 

Yves Boudreau Is Back In the Sun

Yves Boudreau is so thrilled to be participating in prestigious San Francisco-based accelerator 500 Startups that his voice seems to glow with Californian sunshine. 

Being one of just two Canadian companies to get into the internationally respected accelerator is especially meaningful to the entrepreneur because his first business ended in bankruptcy.

“I’m learning so much I’ll be a wise Buddha when I’m done here in another 12 weeks,” said Boudreau, over the phone.

“Raising money in the Valley is very different. I’m working on a bigger vision for us. They dream of $1 billion companies here,” said the entrepreneur, who is currently CEO and co-founder of Moncton-based online recruitment company Qimple.

Getting into 500 Startups is just the latest success for Qimple, which tracks and rates job seekers to make the hiring process easier for both recruiters and applicants.

For Boudreau, it feels good to be forging ahead after his first venture ended unhappily.

The entrepreneur, now aged 36, began his first business at the age of 19 when he started Halation Studios, a digital creative agency, out of his home town of Bathurst.

Halation quickly became successful and work came in from major record labels and large financial corporations. Boudreau was named a 2003 CBDC Young Entrepreneur of the Year and was nominated as a 2004 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

But problems arose. 

“My first venture had an amazingly talented team,” he recalled. “We were all misfits from New Brunswick Community College in Miramichi. Revenues went up and 2001-2004 were good years. We were racking up accolades and I was buying into our hype.

“Then the reality of me not knowing how to grow the business kicked in. I was naïve about managing my team, our clients, and cash flow. In 2004-2005, we were running up debts.”

Boudreau had to scale down and cut expenses. He began to have trouble sleeping then developed anxiety.

“I knew nothing about anxiety, so one day when I suddenly couldn’t breathe I thought I was having a heart attack at 25. The doctor said I needed to change my lifestyle.

“l didn’t, but my passion did waver and I began to lose my grip. I was breaking down in my banker’s office, pleading for help to make payroll. I feared losing everything.”

Finally, an unfortunate fire damaged his company’s equipment and meant the end of the business. “That was the last straw for me. I knew it was time to move on,” he said.

Boudreau was $250,000 in debt.

“I tried to negotiate deals with creditors and might have avoided bankruptcy but couldn’t make it work in the end.”

He said that after the bankruptcy, he felt directionless and began to hide away at home.

“When you work so hard for something and it doesn’t pan out, it feels like you can’t be successful at anything else,” he said.  

“I couldn’t talk about this for a long time. It felt like a loss. I had to work hard at overcoming the emptiness I felt. The lift began when I went to a Cybersocial event and met old friends whom I hadn’t seen in months.”

Eventually, Boudreau found a job with Enterprise Greater Moncton, as an entrepreneurship development officer.

“I felt I could use my experience to help other entrepreneurs. Over time, the job became rewarding and I regained confidence,” he said.

He attended an event at regional accelerator, Launch36, and, sitting there listening to the entrepreneurs pitching their ideas, he realized he needed to found another startup.

“I saw them on stage and I knew that I was meant to be part of it. I’d spent five years re-building financially. I had a good-paying job, but I knew I was ready to put it all on the line again,” he said.   

Now, as Boudreau builds his second company, he places a greater emphasis on balance and physical and mental health. 

“I’m as driven as I was when I started my first venture,” he said. “But I’m more leveled-headed this time around and handle the highs and the lows better.

“It means so much to be at 500 Startups in San Francisco after the rollercoaster I’ve been through. It feels like I’ve come full circle. I hope my story will inspire others.”   

This article first appeared in the latest edition of Entrevestor Intelligence.




Disclaimer: Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.     


Disclaimer: Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.     



Verafin Uses Funding to Add to Growth

Jamie King:'Third consecutive year of double-digit revenue growth.'

Jamie King:'Third consecutive year of double-digit revenue growth.'

If there was a Deal of the Year for in the Atlantic Canadian startup community in 2014, it would undoubtedly have gone to Verafin’s $60 million financing by American private equity fund Spectrum Equity.

Rumours of a whopper of an investment began to circulate in Verafin’s home base of St. John’s in the spring, and it lived up to expectations when CEO Jamie King announced it last May. Now Verafin, which makes software that detects money laundering and fraud, says it has continued to grow with the new capital on board.

“With our third consecutive year of double-digit revenue growth, strong new customer growth, and many new enhancements to our product, we had an outstanding year in every part of our business,” said King in a statement in February.

The details of the Spectrum investment were never released, but the Boston- and Silicon Valley-based fund took a substantial minority stake, and some of the $60 million tranche went to buying out existing investors.

In its history, Spectrum has raised $4.7 billion for investment in IT and media companies, and now has more than 50 portfolio companies including AMC Entertainment, SurveyMonkey and Ancestry.com.

No deal announced last year in the Atlantic Canadian startup community had more impact. The exits in 2014 were modest. The Spectrum deal was the largest investment in a high-growth company in Atlantic Canada since Entrevestor began almost four years ago, possibly ever. It was a pure private sector deal, and brought in foreign capital. It allowed Killick Capital to exit its investment in Verafin, and Killick has already begun to redeploy the capital, adding to its funding of Celtx in late 2014.

Most important, it has allowed the continued growth of one of the most successful startups in the region.

Verafin’s revenues continue to storm ahead, with organic revenues rising 45 percent in 2014. At the time of the investment, the company forecast its sales would rise by about half in 2014 to about $30 million. Overall, Verafin said its compound annual growth rate for revenues in the past three years has been 51 percent.

The company has clients in 44 states in the U.S. and its number of customer bookings in the fourth quarter of 2014 was 68 percent higher than the same period a year earlier. The company, which reached its 1,000th customer in May, 2013, added 200 customers in 2014.

“This growth demonstrates the strength of the unique Verafin cloud Putting New Funding to Good Use

Having raised $60 million in private equity in 2014, Verafin recorded organic revenue growth of 45 percent and added 200 clients.

“This growth demonstrates the strength of the unique Verafin cloud solution,” said Vice-President of Sales Jason Quann.

“It’s been an amazing year for growth, and we are very excited to continue this momentum into 2015.”

Founded in 2003 at the Genesis Centre at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Verafin makes enterprise fraud-detection and anti-money laundering solutions for financial institutions across

North America. Its software uses advanced behavior-based analytics that allow banks and credit unions to stay a step ahead of cutting-edge fraud trends.

The company has been growing strongly for several years. Its citation in the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 (the 50 fastest-growing tech companies in Canada) in 2012 revealed its revenues had grown 358 percent in the five years to 2011. In March 2013, the company added the 1,000th financial institution to its list of clients.

Verafin’s other milestones in 2014 included:

• Upgrading its user interface for increased speed and enhanced usability;

• Improving analytics so false alerts were reduced by 50 percent;

• Implementing new data interfaces to bring the total to more than 125;

• Launching a new user community with 6,000 users to enhance the customer experience;

• Surpassing 120 million transactions processed daily;

• and maintaining a leading retention rate of 98 percent.

The company is continuing its growth in 2015. In listing its achievements in the past year, Verafin noted it was listed in the Globe and Mail’s Canada’s Top 100 Employers list for 2015, which should help in its bid to attract new talent.

As it looks forward to 2015, Verafin plans to continue its track record of growth and further penetrate the North American market with its innovative software solution. The company now has weekly product releases to increase its ability to help customers fight fraud and money-laundering.

“We are constantly working to ensure we provide our valued customers with the highest level of service and the best solution for their needs,” said King. “We are proud to have over 1,200 customers benefit from our software and are well on our way to see that reach 3,000 in the next few years.”

This article originally appeared in the latest edition of Entrevestor Intelligence.


Disclaimer: Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.     



Booth Eyes Online Meal Delivery

Fresh from a global conference on the new economy, Wesley Booth of Wolfville is putting together plans to launch Feddishes, an online service that arranges the delivery of prepared meals.

For the last year or so, Booth has been working as the communications and events co-ordinator at the Acadia Institute for Data Analytics in Wolfville. And he’s been working on a few ideas that would marry two of his great loves: cooking and tech startups.

He got a chance to research his business plans when he was in California last month to attend the Global Innovation Summit.

Here’s the story: Booth and his co-founder, Sean Williams, are experimenting with services that deliver prepared meals to online clients. The idea is that people in a specific city can use an app to order a nutritious meal, and it will be delivered to their home within a certain time period.

The models are existing services in San Francisco. SpoonRocket is a service that delivers an affordable meal to the door within 15 minutes. Munchery allows people to order a restaurant-standard meal early in the day and have it delivered that evening.

Booth and Williams were researching these sites from afar when, one night, Booth, 23, noticed an ad for the summit, a meeting of business and government leaders from 50 countries discussing the new economy. Organizers were looking for young people to attend.

On a lark, Booth applied and was accepted. He was given a free pass to the event, but he had to cover the travel costs. He crowdfunded the money he’d need and was one of three people under 25 at the summit.

“It was a different experience where these were people in positions of power but they didn’t know how to (implement the tech economy).”

Booth said there was a spirit of openness at the event and he had no difficulty meshing with the older participants and making contacts from around the world.

“The whole concept of being globally connected is amazing, but we can do better. I might be better at connecting with companies in Russia than in my own backyard. There’s a need to help each other out.”

After the event, he returned to San Francisco and stayed at a startup hostel, a combination of living accommodation and work space. He investigated Munchery and SpoonRocket and considered ways to start a similar service in Nova Scotia.

He and Williams are in the planning stage of the project and looking for a chef interested in working with them. Though they haven’t decided where to base the company, they’re hoping for a soft launch this summer and starting the company in earnest when students return to university in the autumn.

They believe these delivery services will eventually replace fast-food outlets, and they want to be part of it.

“The whole purpose of Feddishes is to allow everyone to eat better and to get what they want when they want it,” Booth said.



Disclaimer: Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.      

Kolybaba: Seems We Chose Never

Note: Brandon Kolybaba, founder and CEO of Cloud Brewery, posted this blog on his Koly-Blah-Blah’s Raw Blog last weekend. While I don’t agree with all of it, it’s forceful and thought provoking so we’re republishing it here. – Peter Moreira

It's starting to look to me like we chose "Never"

Over a year ago now the Ivany Report came out. In summary, Ray Ivany said "It's now or never". At the time that's all anyone I knew was talking about, but what's actually changed since then? We set up a coalition in Nova Scotia who I'm sure are all fine people with good intentions, but as far as I can tell they have not put a dent in the problem yet (http://onens.ca/about/timeline/). The problem is clearly identified: a lot of talk with little to no action = failure.

Now I know I'm likely going to get some flack for this post. Some people will paint me as a negative jerk while they promote what I would suggest is an overly simplistic view of the world where we all just need to be positive all the time. Well to them I say: just because something isn't good doesn't make it a negative thing, and sometimes you just need to face the reality of a situation to effectively make it better rather than pretending that the problem isn't real. And this problem is very real.

 I think some people get critical perspective too easily confused with negativity. All the people I know who have a critical opinion similar to the main message of the Ivany Report and the news stories on the subject are not anti-Maritimers. Just the opposite, the reason I, and I suspect others, put our thoughts out there is to help people realize that the problem will not go away without significant, dramatic, and painful change. And every day we delay that change it gets worse. Proverbially, the house is on fire! It's precisely because I want to see the region do better that I want people to better understand the problem and as a result TRULY consider the sacrifice required for REAL change. If it's not uncomfortable then we are doing it wrong!

It can actually get worse, you know? It has over the past 8 years since I moved my family here to start and grow tech business in Halifax. "Today I was inspired to write this after reading this article in the Globe & Mail: "How the Maritimes became Canada’s incredible shrinking region".

By the way, no one is coming to our rescue. There is no economic swat team that can magically make it all go away. It will only get better when YOU decide to do your part and en masse the collective whole working together can make REAL change happen.

So what does that mean in tactical terms? Painful sacrifice and having the guts to do what it takes to make things better for the greater community. Here's how:

•BUY LOCAL: Every Dollar you spend counts! Every dollar spent on consumer items, business services, travel, etc. outside of the region means it has to take a long treacherous journey to find it's way back (and all too often, sadly it doesn't make the migration home). When you choose to buy local, you add a drop in the collective bucket of mutual benefit. But be smart about it. The most value for buying local comes from when you stop a dollar from leaving. Remember, if it's an imported good, part of that dollar is gone; if it's a business service, understand how it's being delivered. Are the people doing the work actually here? Is the company that profits from it here? You can reframe your thinking by asking yourself: Who has a job as a result of this purchase I'm making today?

•STOP THE WASTE: If you work in Government (or are in a pseudo government role) and you see someone spending money in a way that isn't beneficial to the greater good of the community, make them stop. Ask them to stop, or blow the whistle! This could be your boss or your drinking buddy. It will be be a very hard thing to do. If at the next Olympics Nova Scotia has a "Pavilion" that they somehow justify flights and accommodations (at astronomical rates) for a dozen or so people we've failed.

•DON'T ACCEPT THE LIES: We do it every day. Someone fudges some stat and no one ever checks the facts to promote a perception that they are doing something good when, in reality, we all know it's bullshit. Call them out. Again, this is likely your friend, someone you trust and who trusts you. Change the culture so it's unacceptable to lie like that.

•DO THE RIGHT THING FOR THE GREATER WHOLE: Every day you are faced with decisions, some big some small, but even the tiny ones matter when we all make them. You can reset your frame of reference to ask yourself: If I do X will it be of net benefit to the region? Do your best to ignore how it will benefit or disadvantage yourself as much as you can afford to do so.

•FORGET THE BULLSHIT: It's disgusting to me how many people don't like X or Y because of somebody who did something at some point in the past. forget it! It's the same with French vs. English, or New Brunswick vs. Nova Scotia. It's a waste of time. We are all people who want to be happy and make life better for our children. If we can't figure out how to work together better, that is never going to happen. Those things will help, but they are not enough on their own.

When I said DRAMATIC, I meant it. Now these ideas will sound absurd to some, even totally ludicrous to others, but desperate times call for desperate measures:

•THE COST OF GOVERNMENT IS OUT OF CONTROL: If you are in government and you needed to choose between getting laid off or taking a 15% pay cut what would you do? That's a serious question that if you were in business you wouldn't think was so crazy. It happens every day. We need a plan to cut government spending (and staff) by at least 10% every year for the next 3+ years..

•LOBBY YOUR UNION: If you think that as a result of collective bargaining you are better off than you were, consider the possibility that it just might be too good to be true. Why not collectively bargain your salary to be twice what it was last year? And then double it again the following year? They would not seriously consider that idea because it's not reasonable or sustainable. The fact is, many situations are unsustainable today and you can look to many recent examples to see what happens as an inevitable conclusion. If that isn't rectified, when the organization (or government) fails the collective labour group loses out big time! You need to think big picture. If the government is going to cut costs, you need to do your part or it just won't happen..

•SHARE THE WEALTH: If you are fortunate enough to have some degree of wealth, consider what will happen if things get worse for a minute. History is full of examples of what happens when the middle class evaporates, it's never a good thing for the wealthy. Consider investing in the future of the region where you and your family plan to live (as some have, but not enough). Yes, tax breaks are good and that is a great incentive for sure, but it should be understood that it's secondary to helping the region improve as a whole for the shared benefit of the greater community. Even if you are not in the 1% club but have moderate wealth, consider how you can fund the creation jobs here. In the best case those jobs are doing something valuable that bring in revenue from outside the region. And in the very best case, you might even get your money back with a return some day.

•FIRE THE GOVERNMENT AGENCIES THAT HAVE FAILED TO GROW THE ECONOMY: This shouldn't be a tough one to figure out. In Nova Scotia alone there are 8+ different agencies all with the same basic objective that is: economic development. Well, if it's not blatantly obvious to everyone I'll say it, they all basically suck at what they try to do, and in the business world they would all be fired. How many of those pseudo government agencies occupy the most expensive real estate at the top of a building in downtown Halifax? (Spoiler Alert: all of them) How many people in total are being paid today to accomplish that goal? Isn't the measure of GDP an indisputable yard stick for how well they have done that job ultimately?  What is the annual budget for all of that? If, instead we were to use that money to provide simple tax breaks for any business (new or old, big or small, without prejudice or favouritism) to create any number of new jobs they can (and maybe give an additional incentive to those locally owned companies that create jobs that generate net revenue from outside the region) would that not be a better plan? Business will drive change, not government, and I can tell you almost every business owner I know thinks these government agencies are in large part a waste of tax payer dollars but they rarely say much about it publicly because it's made very clear that if you are critical of them in any way, you won't receive any benefit from them.


Disclaimer: Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.      

Atlantic Motor Nabs $250K in Funding

Halifax-based Atlantic Motor Labs has received a $250,000 equity investment from Innovacorp to help develop its more durable motor for the oil and gas industry.

Founded by Braden Murphy, Atlantic Motor has developed a motor that combines features of piston and turbine motors to improve the efficiency in the drilling head. It offers a simpler, more robust and longer-lasting drill motor than those used in more than 70 per cent of the world's drilling rigs.

Innovacorp said in a statement the innovation should reduce motor-related down-time while drilling by 30 per cent and save the oil and gas industry close to $1 billion per year.  Atlantic Motor will use the money to demonstrate and commercialize the down-hole motor technology.

"Today's standard drill motors frequently break down due to degradation of the rubber seals, and there is growing concern as exploration and production pushes towards more challenging geological formations with deeper, more complex wells," said Murphy in the statement. "Our motor is designed without rubber seals and will extend the period between motor failures and servicing."

Murphy started Atlantic Motor Labs in 2013 as a spin-out of his award-winning undergrad and thesis work at Dalhousie University. He had previously founded a company called Scotia Motors, which aimed to use pneumatic motors in lawnmowers to reduce noise pollution.

Murphy also worked closely with Dalhousie's Industry Liaison and Innovation office to secure funding for patents and prototype development.

Atlantic Motor was the runner-up in the Halifax region of the 1-3 Competition. The company previously raised close to $350,000 from private and public investors to support prototype development, patents and marketing to the drilling industry.

"The innovative hybrid piston-turbine motor design from Atlantic Motor Labs has potential in several different markets, with the global market for drill motors alone estimated at $1.5 billion," said Michael Dennis, investment manager at Innovacorp. "The impact of Atlantic Motor Labs' technology on reducing costs and non-productive rig time could change the entire drilling industry's outlook on using down-hole components. We're looking forward to being a part of their future success."



Disclaimer: Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.      

BDC Recognizes Pond’s Leadership

Gerry Pond: 'We need more people, especially young people, to embrace this mindset.'

Gerry Pond: 'We need more people, especially young people, to embrace this mindset.'

Gerry Pond, the driving force behind the East Coast startup community, has received the first-ever BDC Entrepreneurship Champion from the Business Development Bank of Canada.

He received the award during a reception in Toronto last night. Tonight, by coincidence, he will be the first speaker at the Startup Grind Halifax meeting at the McInnes Cooper officee.

The BDC Entrepreneurship Champion is a national award that recognizes the achievement of a Canadian entrepreneur and community leader. It is given to someone who has created and grown one or many successful small or medium-sized businesses while significantly contributing to the prosperity of the Canadian entrepreneurship ecosystem.

“Gerry exemplifies the qualities of the consummate entrepreneur –innovator, visionary and community leader,” said BDC President and CEO Jean-Rene Halde in a statement. “He has demonstrated these qualities throughout the course of his career and has imparted his wealth of knowledge and experience, inspiring other Canadian entrepreneurs to achieve national and international success.”

The former president of New Brunswick Telecom, Pond is chairman and co-founder of Mariner Partners Inc., one of the largest tech companies in the region. He holds the same titles with East Valley Ventures, whose members have invested millions of dollars in dozens of tech startups.

Pond was an early investor in several successful start-ups, including Q1 Labs and Radian6. They exited for a combined value of more than $1 billion in 2011, and some of the proceeds have been reinvested in the Atlantic Canadian economy.

As an advocate for advancing entrepreneurship in Atlantic Canada, Pond co-created Propel ICT, a start-up accelerator. He is also a cofounder of the Pond Deshpande Centre at the University of New Brunswick, which encourages emerging entrepreneurs and innovators in the region to accelerate the creation of sustainable, scalable enterprises.  

“At its core, entrepreneurship is about hard work and determination to make something better,” he said in the statement. “It’s about focusing on the greater good, and collectively making positive change. We need more people, especially young people, to embrace this mindset, tackle difficult issues, and continue the proud tradition of Canadian entrepreneurship.”

Pond recently offered $500,000 to any institution or institutions that can set up a school for international sales. He believes the lack of skill in selling in foreign markets is a key factor holding back the region’s tech companies.

A national selection committee representing the Canadian business community selected the winner.

The BDC Entrepreneurship Awards are presented throughout the year to recognize outstanding contributions in four pillar areas: serial entrepreneurship, mentorship, innovation, and entrepreneurial resiliency. 

Lunch To Focus on International Sales

When Doug Robertson leads a discussion on international sales on April 15, he’ll be dealing with a subject close to his heart.

Robertson, the CEO of Venn Innovation in Moncton, has been preparing companies lately for entering overseas markets. So he’s looking forward to hearing other people’s views on how to improve Atlantic Canadian startups’ ability to sell in foreign locales.

Robertson will moderate a discussion on international sales at the Entrevestor Luncheon, sponsored by BDO, to be held at the Future Inns Moncton, starting at 11 am on April 15. The second discussion, to be led by Planet Hatch CEO Sally Ng, will examine how to get more women into the startup game.

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.

Moncton-based Venn Innovation works with young companies in New Brunswick and prepares them for accelerators, investment and the marketplace. And one thing that keeps coming up in Robertson’s work is that companies need to prepare better to meet customers in the U.S. and other foreign markets.

“A lot of the challenges -- and we hear this time and time again from the trade commissioners and others -- is that our companies need to be better prepped to do business in those markets,” said Robertson on Monday. “So we’re working with companies, especially in ITC, to prepare for international markets.”

Robertson said that most ITC companies sell to clients outside the country. And given the wave of ITC companies forming around the region, it is becoming all the more necessary to improve their marketing and salesmanship in foreign markets.

The discussion at the Entrevestor Luncheon will look at such issues as identifying jurisdictions that could be good markets, and understanding the culture of these jurisdictions. Robertson wants to discuss positioning products for new markets and making the right connection in those markets.

“The policy rationale for all this is that growing exports is a priority among  both federal and provincial governments,” said Robertson. “With ITC growing at a pace that is double the rest of the economy, we have to ensure these companies are able to grow in export markets.”

Robertson, Entrevestor and BDO all hope that the audience will include some young companies that can benefit from this discussion. But we also hope some experienced companies that have hard-earned lessons from the marketplace will also come and share their experiences.

BDO, the accountancy and tax advisory consultancy, has agreed to sponsor four Entrevestor Luncheons this year. The luncheons are an opportunity for members of the startup community can come together to discuss ways to improve the regional ecosystem. Tickets for the luncheon are available here

Castaway Grew Throughout Breakthru

To understand why Castaway Golf Technologies won the $287,250 first prize in the 2015 Breakthru competition, it’s best to consider why it changed its name in the middle of the six-month competition.

The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation announced Thursday that the Fredericton company founded by Matt Vance and Josh Ogden had captured top place in the biennial event.

When asked after the announcement what the prize meant, CEO Ogden mentioned coachability and making the changes needed to move forward.

“We’ve pivoted on a few things since we spoke before,” Ogden said Thursday, highlighting how much the company had changed since I had met him and Vance two months earlier.

Castaway started out as a company called Matt’s Got Balls, an irreverent name that suited the jocularity of Matt Vance, who got the whole thing going. Vance, as a boy in Truro, loved finding lost golf balls, and he and his father developed a mechanism for retrieving them from water hazards.

Matt’s Got Balls quickly made links with Maritime golf courses, and they made money retrieving balls and finding markets for them. The team also struck a deal with the Giant Tiger retail chain.

Then they entered the Breakthru competition, began to work with mentors and repositioned the business.

Hence the name change. Ogden and Vance are tapping a huge market, especially in the southern United States, and their customers are largely golf clubs that cherish dignity. The name Castaway Golf Technologies is a better fit for that market, so they adopted it in the middle of the competition.

But that wasn’t all they changed. In January, Ogden and Vance were considering setting up a franchise network and allowing independent operators to use their technology and sales platform. But they want to ensure anyone on a golf course with Castaway products conducts themselves properly. They’re planning to eventually have Castaway employees servicing these courses in distant markets.

Ogden gave an overview of the company’s plans. It is initiating three research and development projects and working on manufacturing deals for its equipment.

Ogden is the lone full-time employee, but the hope is to have three others in the autumn.

In short, he outlined the type of corporate growth that made Castaway Golf a winner. In many respects, it was a surprise.

New Brunswick is known for its digital success stories, yet the judges awarded first prize in its biggest entrepreneurship competition to a company with an automated product for golf courses.

Silver medallist Simptek, which is working on a digital home automation system that saves energy, is a more typically New Brunswick company. Even third place NB Biomatrix, which has developed a solution to remove heavy metals from waste water, rose out of university research, as many of the province’s best startups have.

Castaway is a bit of an outlier but probably won because its founders are aggressive sales people who have demonstrated they can position themselves to grow into something meaningful. They’re innovative, but they also give you the sense they understand the corporate side and will do what’s needed to bring money into New Brunswick.

“The entire community in New Brunswick is why we’re here, and we’d like to thank everybody who’s helped us,” Ogden said.

“We look forward to employing New Brunswickers here in New Brunswick.”



Disclaimer: Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.