Ellis’ Dos & Don’ts of Growth Hacking

Sean Ellis: 'The biggest mistake people make is misunderstanding what it is'

Sean Ellis: 'The biggest mistake people make is misunderstanding what it is'

A true pioneer in 21st-century business trends is coming to Halifax next week, and he’s looking forward to sharing insights into the latest methods of getting products to markets.

Sean Ellis, the founder and CEO of GrowthHackers, will be the keynote speaker at the Amplify conference March 28 at Pier 21. In fact, he coined the term “growth hacking,” which will be the basic topic of next week’s conference.

In its simplest form, growth hacking or growth marketing is a process for using online marketing to get people to actually pay for your product. There’s a common misconception that it’s just quirky online gimmicks to attract people to your website, but it’s much more complicated than that.

“The biggest mistake people make (in growth hacking) is misunderstanding what it is,” Ellis said in a phone interview Tuesday from his company’s headquarters in Newport Beach, Calif.

“They think there are one or two growth hacks that they can copy and just plug it in to their own product and it’s going to work. That’s just wrong. It is a high-tempo process.”

Growth Hacking has become popular with startups because they don’t have the gazillion-dollar marketing budgets that big companies have to push out their products. Classic growth hacking — if we can call something that’s only a few years old “classic” — does indeed have some unique features that capture the attention of a broad number of people. For example, when Airbnb was starting out, it had a feature that let members easily post their listings on Craigslist.

But that’s only what the public sees. True growth hacking requires a constant, methodical measurement of how the market is reacting to these devices. The company has to focus on the most popular hacks, learn what the public likes about them, then modify the company’s product to give the public what it wants. Finally, the growth hacking team has to convert interested viewers into paying customers.

There’s art and science involved in it, and Ellis paused when asked which is more prevalent.

“If I had to choose between the two I’d say it’s more science,” he said. “It’s very process-oriented and data-driven. It does require creativity, but even if you’re not that creative you can probably generate an experiment that is likely to get you started.”

Ellis stressed in his interview that growth hacking requires a buy-in to the process from an entire organization — from the CEO down. That’s because the process will identify things that should be changed in the company’s products, and the whole company will have to respond to produce what the market wants.

“You can’t do it if the CEO isn’t on board,” said Ellis. “That’s one of the benefits of starting at a really early stage — you can bake it right into the DNA of the company.”

Large companies are now learning more about the process. Ellis recently met with a team from cosmetics maker L’Oreal, and he is doing ongoing work with Microsoft. Yet the focus of his talk in Halifax will be how early-stage companies can develop efficient processes that get people to buy their stuff.

A native of New Hampshire, Ellis said he’s looking forward to returning to the Northeast and meeting entrepreneurs in Atlantic Canada.

“It’s really unique to have this in a city like Halifax, where it’s not really a startup hub and there’s a good aggregation of talent there.”

NB Outlines Innovation Expenditures

As Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau  delivered his innovation budget Thursday, the New Brunswick government said it would spend $160 million over the next four years on innovation and R&D.

Some of the initiatives have been announced previously, such as funding for the Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity. But the announcement also showed the government is proceeding with some initiatives that have only been talked about, like the idea of exploring a single, secure digital ID for each citizen.

“By helping our businesses innovate and compete globally, we will create jobs in New Brunswick,” said Premier Brian Gallant in a statement. “That is why we are making strategic investments that will foster innovation and encourage research and development activities in New Brunswick.”

Gallant, which is the minister for innovation in New Brunswick, said the plan outlines government’s coordinated, complementary effort to improve New Brunswick’s economy.

The $160 million will be invested to foster innovation through things such as:

•Implementing new enterprise resource planning.

•Providing open data.

•Investing $200,000 to encourage smart grid technology.

•Supporting startups and entrepreneurs, including investment in the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation.

•Enhancing education and research in the province’s education and post-secondary education systems.

•Building upon the research and development capacity in the province.

•Fostering innovation at a young age by continuing to support Brilliant Labs and its work with schools to encourage creativity, innovation, coding and an entrepreneurial spirit among New Brunswick youth.

•Maintaining support for research initiatives, such as work being done by the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation, and continuing to support research offices at post-secondary education institutions; developing and promoting innovation capacity in the school system; and supporting innovation infrastructure.

•And investing $1.9 million in the Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity to research and develop cybersecurity technologies.

Breakthru Race Tight in Home Stretch

The Breakthru Crew: Attendees at one of the two Breakthru bootcamps this year.

The Breakthru Crew: Attendees at one of the two Breakthru bootcamps this year.

If you see perplexed, agonized people wandering the streets of Fredericton on Thursday, treat them with kindness and sympathy. They may be judges in the 2017 Breakthru Competition.

These poor tortured souls have an unenviable task that must be carried out by closing time tomorrow: they have to choose the winners of the competition to find the best new startups in New Brunswick.

The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation stages Breakthru every second year, with the goal of finding high-potential companies, mentoring them and giving the winners six-figure prizes in cash and in-kind services.

Five companies are competing for the top three prizes in the Provincial competition, and three of them will leave with prizes worth between $324,000 and $176,000. This year, for the first time, there are also be two companies vying for the National prize, worth $301,000, awarded to companies from outside New Brunswick who agree to grow their company in the province.

The winners will be announced at the Breakthru Gala in Fredericton Thursday night. There will also be an announcement on the Viewers’ Choice award, in which CBC viewers choose which of the Provincial finalists will fly to Toronto to pitch on Dragon’s Den.

I’ve interviewed all five Provincial competition finalists and two things stand out: first, there’s a healthy diversity in the group. They’ve all produced software but they’re attacking different markets. Two are software with life science applications, and one each applied to CleanTech, FinTech and data analytics.

What stands out even more is how strong and close the competition is this year. All have traction, and all have a plan to get to market whether or not they emerge from Breakthru with prize money.

I’d take it one step farther. It’s not just that top five are neck and neck.  I don’t think there’s a noticeable gap between the top six or seven competitors in this year’s competition. One of the semi-finalists that didn’t make it to the final five, eChart, pitched at the Propel ICT Demo Day in November. From what I’ve seen of that company, it could easily be in the top five. There could be others that I just haven’t had time to meet yet.

Entrevestor hasn’t yet profiled the finalists in the National Competition, Newpy and The Unity Project, but we hope to report on the winner in the near future.

Here are our reports on the finalists in the Provincial competition:

Quber Modernizes Traditional Saving

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EhEye Transforming Video Surveilance

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SomaDetect Plans 2017 Pilot

Turret Brings Its AI Tech to Germany

The Turret Psychoanalytics team: Chris Levesque, left, Jingyang Zuo, and Benjamin Arnfast. Image: Submitted

The Turret Psychoanalytics team: Chris Levesque, left, Jingyang Zuo, and Benjamin Arnfast. Image: Submitted

FREDERICTON – A New Brunswick startup is launching its technology across the Atlantic this week at a global business event.

Fredericton-based Turret Psychoanalytics, a company that uses big data and artificial intelligence (AI) to create customer market data and leads for businesses, will be at the CeBit conference and exhibition in Hannover, Germany. CeBit is an international conference for digital business with around 3,000 exhibitors and 2,000 keynote speakers and lecturers. Turret Psychoanalytics is only one of two Canadian companies slated to exhibit.

Turret’s technology works by analysing psychological profiles and mental models of customers to predict consumer behaviours and forecast buying activities. They do this by using public social media data. At CeBit, they will be launching its two product offerings. ...

Read the full article on Huddle.

 

Editor’s note: Huddle, New Brunswick's business publication, and Entrevestor are launching a new initiative to share each other’s content. In the future, we will be showcasing each other’s articles to increase the content for our readers. 

Nautel Turns to Rocket Science

Kevin Rodgers: 'We have a very robust core market.'

Kevin Rodgers: 'We have a very robust core market.'

Nautel, the Nova Scotia company that makes radio transmitters, is diversifying into a range of new ventures including rocket propulsion systems that could shorten the time it takes to travel to Mars.

Based in Hackett’s Cove near Peggy’s Cove, the company has grown into one of the world’s largest maker of AM and FM radio transmitters — an enterprise that will continue to be the cornerstone of Nautel’s business.

But the company has found opportunities in new fields and is planning to expand its design and R&D staff to work on new products. It will likely branch into industrial heating and sonar in the coming months, and is looking at working with a partner to produce plasma rocket systems, which could propel Mars-bound vessels once they escape the Earth’s gravitational pull.

“We have a very robust core market but now we have the opportunity to expand into some new things,” Nautel president and CEO Kevin Rodgers said in an interview.

Opened in 1969, Nautel changed owners in the past few years and Rodgers is now the sole proprietor. It has focused on transmitter manufacturing and has doubled its revenues in the past decade. Since Rodgers began to buy into the company in 2011, it has increased its staff to 240 from 210. Its largest recent order is a two-megawatt AM radio transmitter for a customer in Hungary, tied for the world’s largest, with the capacity to broadcast from Ireland to Malaysia. It’s 20 times larger than the biggest AM transmitter in North America.

With its current expansion plans, the company intends to increase its design team by half and grow its research and development budget by 40 per cent. Rodgers said the increases will take place this year, but declined to state the specific staffing levels or dollar amounts.

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One of the company’s main capabilities is working with radio frequencies, which among other things can be used to produce heat. (Think microwave ovens.) It is developing new applications for these heating systems.

The sexiest of the new business lines is undoubtedly the plasma rocket propulsion system, which it is working on with Ad Astra Rocket Co. of Webster, Texas. They have designed a system in which a Nautel radio frequency generator would heat hydrogen gas to convert it to a plasma, which would be burned to provide steady propulsion. Rodgers said it could cut the time of a trip to mars from four months to as few as 39 days.

Nautel recently hosted two Canadian astronauts — Chris Hadfield and David Saint-Jacques — to tour its facility and discuss the rocket project.

Nautel now has a sonar product ready for the market and could have its first contract for an industrial heating system within a month, said Rodgers. The drying product could be used to dry a range of materials, including wood and hay.

The worldwide radio market will continue to be the focus of Nautel’s design efforts as the company concentrates on innovations for AM, FM and MW transmitters of all power ranges.

“We now have more than 15,000 radio transmitters in 177 different countries,” said Mike Morris, Nautel’s chief operations officer.

“And we have gotten a clear directive from our thousands of customers to continue our focus on easy-to-use, reliable and versatile products for this industry.”

Innowave Wins Launch Ocean Event

A team called Innowave, which is proposing to use wave-generated energy  to recharge automated underwater vehicles, won the $4,000 first place at the Launch Oceans event at Dalhousie University this weekend.

But that wasn’t really the biggest news to come out of the marine entrepreneurship event. The biggest news was that the business development exercise took place at all. It shows that the wheels are turning in developing innovative businesses that can use the abundant resources for ocean industries in Halifax and the region. The event was organized by Launch Dal, the university’s entrepreneurship initiative.

Innowave is proposing a docking station at which automated underwater vehicles, or AUVs, can recharge without returning to the surface. The system would rely on energy derived from wave action, and would allow these under water drones to work for longer periods and at greater depths without having to return to the surface.

Innowave’s team members were Maria Kilfoil of University of Massachusetts, David Rowe of Nova Scotia Community College, and Katherine Lin and Canberk Bal, both from Dalhousie’s engineering program.

Launch Oceans followed the format popularized by the international group, Startup Weekend. Participants came together Friday night, breaking into teams and spending the weekend developing a business idea. The teams pitched late Sunday afternoon and a panel of judges named the winners.

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What was different about Launch Ocean was all the business ideas had to revolve around ocean technology. The ocean tech space has been getting a lot of institutional support in the Halifax area, as government and industry is committed to opening the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship, or COVE, in Dartmouth next year. And in September, government, private investors and academia came together to announce $220 million in funding for the Ocean Frontier Institute, a new research group led by Dalhousie University.

What has been slow to develop is a stable of ocean-related startups as most of the young innovation-based companies in Halifax (indeed, the region) have focused on something other than the potential of maritime industries. The goal now is to engender the culture of entrepreneurship in nautical and biomarine scientists that is so prevalent in computer science faculties.

Though the 14 Launch Ocean participants had less entrepreneurial background than many people who turn out for Startup Weekends, there was a wealth of technical expertise. The ideas focused on education, and on the AUV market, which is expected to grow to $4 billion by 2020.

The second prize, which was worth $3,000, went to a team called Aquim, which proposed gathering data on underwater marine environments using cameras mounted on AUVs. ROVault, which envisages an educational tool that uses AUVs to show children marine life, won the $2,000 third prize.

Ed Leach of Launch Dal said $1,000 in development funding would also be awarded to the other two teams: Marine VR, which wants to build a virtual reality system to help aquariums and museums provide a rich experience for visitors without holding marine life in captivity; and Deep Sounds, which proposed installing a network of underwater microphones in inlets to monitor whales and other marine species.

All five teams have been invited to participate in Oceans Week, which is being staged in Halifax in June. 

Mariner Lands TDC as XVu CLient

Mariner, the Saint John tech conglomerate specializing in online video delivery,  has announced its xVu unit has landed TDC Group, Denmark’s largest telecoms operator, as a customer.

Mariner said in a statement last week TDC will deploy Mariner’s xVu software as part of its strategic initiative to deliver best in class customer satisfaction and to enhance the organization’s Service Experience Monitoring, or SEM, project .

Mariner xVu (pronounced “X-View”) is the main product division of the company. It is an analytics system that allows online video content providers to identify and correct problems with Internet video delivery systems. It’s an attractive business because video is by far the fastest-growing segment of the internet and that growth is nowhere near reaching a plateau.

The Saint John company said TDC’s SEM team saw value in the xVu software’s ability to deliver end-to-end network and content visibility at massive scale.

“We required a market-hardened and proven solution that will materially reduce the number of faults and enable proactive service assurance for the highest level of customer experience,” Jens Peter Villadsen, TDC’s Vice President, IP Services, said in a statement released by Mariner. “We selected the xVu software for its ability to identify the root cause of issues across the service, network, systems and departments – at a time when our customers are watching more on-demand entertainment on both wired and wireless screens.”

Mariner xVu was chosen for its real-time capabilities, customer care applications and efficiencies gained through implementation of proven industry best practices. By providing deep and comprehensive analytics across various delivery platforms, the TDC team will have a customer view that includes traffic utilization, CPE devices, applications and services, all allowing them to more proactively handle and resolve both network and individual customer issues.

Mariner said earlier this year that the xVu division saw significant growth in Tier 1 operators who are looking for economies when managing new, inter-related services like TV entertainment, over the top streaming, broadband and Wi-Fi. It now has 40 million devices under management, and it is monitoring 150 billion events annually. (An event is basically something going wrong when a user tries to play a video.)

Over the past four years, the division’s revenues have been growing annually at about a 30 percent rate and exceeded that level in 2016, said the statement. It did not provide totals for the revenues.

“Mariner xVu enables operations and customer care teams to manage the next generation of video and high speed broadband experiences,” said Marc Savoie, president of Mariner xVu. “With a view to delight their customers – not to mention the realization of significant OPEX savings – operators like TDC are investing in software technology that gives a time advantage, as the volume and speed of video entertainment grows.”

Quber Modernizes Traditional Saving

Jen Leger: 'We’ve taken the old model of the saving jars ... and we've digitized it.'

Jen Leger: 'We’ve taken the old model of the saving jars ... and we've digitized it.'

Quber is a FinTech app that brings fun to an all-too-often overlooked aspect of personal finance – saving money.

When people think of personal finance, they envisage hot stocks, tech plays, hedging or getting the best interest rate. But Moncton-based Quber has made a game out of the essential – if less glamorous – task of restraining your spending.

Founded by Jen Leger and Venky Kulkarni, Quber is a mobile app that lets people set goals for their savings, and channel the saved-money toward something important. As well as a data-based analysis of individual spending habits, the app features a picture of a savings jar, and the more money you save by cutting out little purchases, the more that jar fills up with coins. The goal is to save enough that you can move the full jar toward something bigger, like a vacation, a car, or long-term savings.

“Quber helps people be more mindful about their spending and helps them saving for things that they want,” said Leger in an interview last week. “We’ve taken the old model of the saving jars people used to put change in to save for something they want, and we’ve digitized it.”

The app can analyze a person’s or family’s spending and identify ways to cut back on things like eating out less or buying less extravagant clothes. Leger said she’s become intrigued by the psychology of saving, and believes that people are rewarded by seeing coins go into that digital jar and getting one step closer to their saving goals.

“I have my Fitbit and for some reason it motivates me to get out and run,” she said. “I don’t know why. But you set yourself a personal challenge and we’ll let you know that you’re on track. It just keeps you on track.”

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Leger and Kulkarni are already make headway with the roll out of the app. On Thursday night, they will be one of five provincial finalists competing for top spot in the $1 million Breakthru competition, the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation’s biennial event that seeks the top new startups in the province.

As they’ve gone through the competition, the co-founders have produced a product for an iOS platform, which is now in a closed test with friends and family. They are planning a full beta test in about four to six weeks, and are hoping to have an Android-based app ready in June.

Quber has already linked up with “a regional financial institution” and are working on a full release of the product this year with about 8,000 to 10,000 users.

It’s not only regional institutions that are interested in Quber. Leger recently joined a mission to India, and she’s now talking to Indian institutions about using the product. She and Kulkarni have had talks with some of the big Canadian banks, as well as institutions in Singapore and Sweden.

Leger and Kulkarni are hoping to win one of the three Breakthru prizes, which range in value from $176,250 to $374,250. They’d use the money to bring on a full-time developer. But with the feedback they’re receiving, they plan to push on regardless of the outcome of Breakthru.  

One reason that financial institutions are eager to work with Quber is that it is a FinTech outfit that wants to work with big institutions rather than disrupt their business.  With a collaborative approach, these institutions see Quber as something fun and quirky that can help their clients save money.

“The financial institutions are starting to see the startups can come in and get things done a bit faster than they can,” said Leger. “So every financial institution that we’ve talked to knows that they need to improve on their technology and we hope to work with them.”

Job of the Week: Jameson Group

The focus of the Job of the Week column this week is an opening for a project coordinator at The Jameson Group of Halifax.

The Jameson Group organizes a range of events and projects across the region, such as Invest Atlantic, the Smart Energy event and the Pitch 101 competitions.  The 36-year-old company focuses on working with new economy companies in the region, and on developing entrepreneurs. It is working on an initiative to attract investors to the region.

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

Halifax

The Jameson Group

Project Coordinator

Jameson is looking for a self-motivated go-getter to help coordinate projects in Atlantic Canada’s startup community. Working from a home office, this person will be responsible for working with other team members on coordinating such projects as workshops, conferences or the initiative to attract investors. He or she will work with team members on marketing, event details and social media to see projects meet their goals. Weekly hours initially range from five to 20 hours, starting with an hourly/contract price and milestone bonuses. The position has full-time potential for the right individual.

Covina Focuses on $1M Round, CTA

Caitlin Pierot: 'It's been fast-paced for sure.'

Caitlin Pierot: 'It's been fast-paced for sure.'

What’s striking about interviewing Caitlin Pierlot today is just how much she has grown as an entrepreneur in 18 months.

Pierlot is the co-founder and CEO of Covina Biomedical, a Halifax company that is developing a non-toxic bone cement to help osteoporosis patients who’ve broken bones.

The company first gained attention in October 2015, when it won the $45,000 first place in the BioInnovation Challenge, the annual pitching competition for life sciences companies in the region.

The company has made considerable gains in the last year-and-a-half. It has raised about $350,000 through the First Angel Network. Pierlot and her cofounder Brett Dickey are now in the final stages of building on that funding and closing what they hope will be a $1-million equity funding round.

Meanwhile, the company has been accepted into the Canadian Technology Accelerator in Boston, a program offered by the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service to help Canadian startups access foreign markets.

Most important, Pierlot has been plotting a clear path to market for the medical device company. She’s developing in painstaking detail a seven-phase plan to move through the regulatory process and produce something the company can sell to customers.

It’s a sign that she and Dickey, who seemed so new to the entrepreneurship space when they competed in the Challenge, have taken on a lot in the past 18 months.

“After the big push and all the public attention we got around the BioInnovation Challenge, we thought it would die down and we can putter along as we had before, but things just don’t work that way,” Pierlot said in an interview. “It feels like we’re still in the rush. It’s been fast-paced for sure.”

Covina grew out of research conducted at the Dalhousie University laboratory headed by Daniel Boyd, assistant professor of biomedical engineering.

The lab received $1.7 million in funding from ACOA’s Atlantic Innovation Fund in 2011 to research “non-invasive bone augmentation”.

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That research led to the Covina product — a non-toxic bone cement that can be injected into the vertebrae of osteoporosis patients who have suffered a fracture. There are now 700,000 such fractures a year in the U.S., and Biofix is pioneering a minimally invasive procedure to cure them that would be inexpensive for hospitals and convenient for patients.

Pierlot is proud that, as the company has evolved, the basic product has not changed at all. In the next year, she and Dickey will take Covina through seven phases — things like concept development and design planning — so it will be ready to apply for regulatory approval in about a year.

Another thing that hasn’t changed for Covina is the core team, comprised of Pierlot, Dickey, Boyd and Bob Abraham. Boyd and Abraham are also the co-founders of ABK Biomedical, which aims to improve efficiency and safety when treating women for uterine fibroids, or benign tumours, in the uterus.

ABK is a more mature company than Covina, and Pierlot said her company has benefited immeasurably because Boyd and Abraham have helped Covina in navigating the complex path of bringing a medical device to market.

“We’ve really benefited in learning from them in terms of the hurdles and landmines along the way,” said Pierlot.

“We have a lot of heads up that when we head in a certain direction, this is a hurdle we might hit.”

Now Dickey is spending a lot of time in the Boston area, gaining knowledge and a network in one of the world’s biggest markets for medical innovation and commercialization. But Pierlot stresses that Covina is and will remain a Nova Scotia-based company

“We feel strongly about being a Nova Scotian company and we want to build the company here. As much as one thinks that going down to Boston is taking away from that, it’s actually doing the opposite.

“One of our major asks is to help us figure out how to build a company in Nova Scotia and get support and finance we need from the U.S . We don’t want it to be a defensive story, we want it to be a strong story.”

Local Experts To Speak at Amplify

Sean Ellis

Sean Ellis

The organizers of Amplify, a one-day mentoring event on growth marketing, have quietly added some tremendous speakers from Atlantic Canada to show local expertise in gaining clients through social media.

Held in Halifax on March 28, Amplify is a single-day event that will help to teach methods of growth marketing, and inspire people in the practice.  The speakers feature international experts on growth-hacking, led by keynote speaker Sean Ellis, founder and CEO of GrowthHackers.com.

Ellis is known for coining the term “growth hacking” and popularizing the term “product/market fit”. Previously, he was the CEO at Qualaroo, and held key growth and marketing positions at such companies as Dropbox, Eventbrite, Lookout, LogMeIn, and Uproar.  He now helps companies build agile growth teams with his new tool, the GrowthHackers PROJECTS.

As well as the other international speakers, organizers Propel ICTAlongside  and GrowthHackers have added rapid-fire speaking sessions by five Atlantic Canadian startup execs who excel at online marketing. They are: Ardi Iranmanesh, from Halifax-based Affinio; Thomas Rankin, from Halifax-based Dash Hudson; Kate Johnson, from Moncton-based Alongside; Matthew Cooper, of Halifax-based Swept; and Patrick Edmonds, from Proposify of Halifax.

Growth marketing, or growth hacking, is a marketing strategy that requires minimal budget for maximum appeal. Designed for companies that don’t have established brand names, it usually calls for a unique gimmick or idea that gets potential clients excited about a product and encourages them to spread the message. 

Amplify, to be held at Pier 21, is hosted by the Atlantic Canadian regional accelerator Propel ICT, recruitment software company Alongside, and GrowthHackers.com. Tickets are available here.

The other speakers at Amplify include:

- Alyssa Atkins, Director of Marketing at Careguide;

- Dominic Coryell, founder of Gimme Growth;

- Ethan Smith, Vice-President of Growth at Yummly;

- Netta Kivilis, CXO of Blue Seedling and formerly a senior marketer at Amazon;

- And Todd Saunders, co-founder and CEO of Adhawk, and a former member of the accelerated growth team at Google.

 

 

Disclaimer: Propel ICT is a client of Entrevestor, and Alongside is our partner in the Entrevestor Job Board.

Axem Logs 3 Gains in 1 Weekend

Though most early-stage tech companies are obsessed with landing equity investment, Christopher Friesen and Tony Ingram have just had the type of week that lessens the pressure to raise capital.

On Saturday, the co-founders of Halifax-based startup Axem, which is developing a wearable product that allows athletes to monitor their mental activity, won the $15,000 second prize at Canada’s Business Model Competition. On Sunday night, Propel ICT announced that they were accepted into the regional accelerator’s Launch program.

And on Monday, the company was awarded a $50,000 Early Stage Commercialization Fund grant by Innovacorp.

After all that, the pair of Dalhousie University students pursuing doctorates in neuroscience are more worried about developing the product and bringing it to market than raising money in the short term.

“Well, we got $65,000 in the last week and that will help for a while,” said Friesen, adding that the team can now use the money it has received to tap funds from other government programs. “We’re thinking that we can work for the next 12 months with no private investment. . . . We’re hoping to get as far as possible without investment.”

The story of Axem began last fall when Friesen and Ingram entered Dal’s Starting Lean program with the goal of helping athletes with their mental conditioning. They envisaged a system that would use infrared light to track the blood flow in the brain while athletes train. The system would let athletes know whether they’re training with the proper mental focus.

“What athletes get out of it is the ability to track their mental processes,” said Ingram, who is a licensed physiotherapist. “That’s what’s missing from the market right now. They can track their heart rate or whatever. But there’s nothing mental.”

The pair won the $3,000 first prize at Starting Lean’s pitching competition just before the holidays, and is continuing to build out the company. There are now four PhD candidates working on the project.

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What they’ve conceived is a product that looks like high-performance headphones, which athletes can wear and listen to music on while they train. The headphones conduct a brain scan throughout the training, and send the readings to a smartphone app. If the athletes lose focus, the volume on the music decreases, and rises again only when they concentrate properly.

Axem is already gaining the attention of professional teams and elite organizations, and has received letters of support from the Australian Winter Olympics team and the director of fitness for the Winnipeg Jets.

In the coming months, Axem will go through the Propel accelerator in Halifax and will work on building a prototype of the product. In doing so, the team has a few advantages, including the money it has in the bank. All members of the team are PhD students on scholarship — that means the company doesn’t have to pay salaries and has access to great equipment to build out the products. What’s more, Axem is building a sports product rather than medical device, so regulatory approval is not a big issue.

All of this means the company believes it has the means to produce a prototype that elite athletes can test and give feedback on.

Said Friesen: “Twelve months from now we would like to be out with our prototype, working with athletes and teams.”

Waterloo’s Landmine Boys Win CBMC

The Landmine Boys, a group of University of Waterloo students dedicated to the safe removal of landmines, have won the fifth annual Canada’s Business Model Competition.

The competition, which rewards university teams that have researched their market to develop a business, was held last weekend at Dalhousie University, which initiated the event in 2012. Launch Dal, the university’s innovation initiative, said 80 teams from 25 universities across the country applied for the event, and 35 teams participated.

Landmine Boys founders Richard Yim and Christian Lee were awarded the $25,000 first prize, and will travel to the 2017 International Business Model Competition on May 11 and 12 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

The Landmine Boys use excavation robots to remove landmines from the terrain in countries that have endured war, such as Yim’s native Cambodia. The goal is to ensure the safety of human operators and so mines can be removed or neutralized without endangering personnel.

It’s the third year in a row that the top prize was claimed by a team associated with the University of Waterloo. Two years ago, the event was won by Heads Up, a team of students from three universities including Waterloo.

The $15,000 second-place prize went to Dalhousie’s own Axem, founded by Tony Ingram and Chris Friesen. Axem is a wearable technology that allows athletes to track their brain activity to enhance performance.  Their second-place finish was the best performance of any purely Atlantic Canadian team since the first year of the competition.

A Queen’s University team called Rockmass Technologies took away the third-place prize of $10,000.

RockMass Technologies, led by CEO Matas Sriubiskis and COO Shelby Yee, collects and analyzes data on rock structures for geologists working in mining, geological exploration and civil engineering.

During the two-day competition student entrepreneurs were matched with mentors for coaching before the semi-finals Friday and finals on Saturday. Eight final teams then presented their pitches in the finals.

The panel of judges comprised Matt Campbell (Deloitte), Jon French (NEXT Canada), Charlotte Rydland (Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Propel ICT), Chris Cowper-Smith (Co-founder of Spring Loaded Technology), Cam McDonald (Co-Founder of Iconic Brewing), and Ying Tam (MaRS IT Healthcare Group).

WEnTech: SaaS for Green Energy

WEnTech Solutions’ increasing traction with customers is a sign of how far the waste-to-energy market has progressed in the past few years.

The Fredericton company has produced software that can assess a proposal to convert waste into energy and make suggestions on the best technology to achieve the task. Many of us still think of products that transform garbage into energy as a new frontier. But WEnTECH’s success with consulting engineers shows there now so many technologies that can convert trash into biofuel or electricity that experts need advanced software to sort through them.

WEnTech’s W-SAS product is a Software-as-a-Service solution that helps consulting engineers assess the needs of a waste-to-energy project and pick the right system to carry out the task. It takes into account such variables as the regulations in the jurisdiction, the environmental concerns, the materials being converted and the desired product.

Municipalities of all sizes want to reduce their mountains of garbage, and produce more green energy, and the market is growing steadily. In fact, Akbari said the total market for W-SAS is now about $2.6 billion, and there are now more than 900 consulting engineering firms specializing in waste-to-energy products in Canada alone.

WEnTech has completed one project for a paying customer in Nova Scotia, and is on track to complete another, far larger project this month. 

“We are negotiating closely with five other customers, four in Canada and one internationally, to start projects with each of them,” said WEnTech CEO Amir Akbari. “We are hoping to finalize the projects and close the deals with them as they have all provided LOIs [letters of intent] and have shown their interest to our tool.”

Akbari added that the company is in early discussion with nine other outfits, both in Canada and elsewhere, about possible contracts.

NBIF Names Breakthru Finalists

The positive response from customers is impressive for a company that is still developing its product. It has a “beta version” of the technology and is continuing to develop it.

One of the challenges faced by Akbari and his partners Farough Motasemi, Kevin Shiell and Kenneth Kent is that new products are coming into the market all the time.

“Some of these conversion technologies are at a lab scale and they have not been proven yet,” said Akbari. “W-SAS only includes the commercially available conversion systems in the technology database. However, W-SAS is built such that new technologies can be easily added once they reach a commercial level.”

The company, which has gone through the Propel ICT accelerator in Fredericton, is now raising capital with the hopes of raising about $250,000. It is one of five finalists in New Brunswick Innovation Foundation’s Breakthru competition, the winners of which will be announced next week. Placing in the top three could bring $125,000 to $250,000 in investment as well as a range of in-kind services.

“Our plan is to improve it based on the feedback that we are getting from our early adopters,” said Akbari. “We are adding a few more modules and functionalities to launch the first commercial version of W-SAS by the end of 2017. Our plan is to initially expand our market in North America and then globally.”

Sydney Prominent in Propel Cohort

The next cohort of the Propel ICT tech accelerator will have a distinctly Celtic flavor.

The regional IT accelerator announced today the 23 companies that will participate in the first 12-week program of 2017, and almost one-third of the companies are based in Sydney, Cape Breton. Propel for the first time ever will host a cohort of its Launch program – which is for early stage companies – at the Navigate Startup House in Sydney.

The Sydney Launch program will feature six companies. A seventh Cape Breton startup, the cybersecurity venture Mimir, is enrolled in the Build program, which helps companies with sales grow revenue and attract investment.

Mimir was founded by cybersecurity veteran Jim DeLeskie, an expert in the detection and mitigation of distributed denial-of-service, or DDOS, attacks. He previously founded Heimdall Networks, which won Innovacorp’s 2014 I-3 Technology Startup Competition, taking home $225,000 in prize money. 

The Build program, which meets at the Venn Centre in Moncton, will also include these companies (with a description for the companies familiar to Entrevestor):

Swell Advantage, Halifax, which is developing a parking management platform for temporary mooring and docking at boat clubs, marinas and government wharves.

Conceptualiz, Fall River, N.S., whose OSSA 3D surgical planning and implant design platform allows orthopedic surgeons to design personalized implants.

- Enkidu, Moncton

- Food Profit Group, Moncton

- SnapAP, Dieppe, N.B.

The companies named to the Launch cohorts are:

Fredericton (meeting at Planet Hatch)

Adventure Pack, Fredericton

dGrief, Saint John

GradsFinder, Moncton

Hit the Road App, Oromocto, N.B.

Methapal, Moncton

Sydney

Click2order, Sydney

BidSquid, Sydney

Player Pack, Sydney

Perata, Sydney

EspresSos, Sydney

MySong, Sydney

Halifax (meeting at the Volta Startup House)

AddText.me, Dartmouth

Living.Room, Halifax

Axem Neurotechnology, Halifax

Vitalo, Halifax

Tranquility online, Halifax

The Love Network, Halifax

Facilities Launch Regional Passport

Several Atlantic Canadian service providers and co-working spaces have banded together to create a passport program, which allows startups to tap the resources of facilities around the region.

Growing out of the partnership between Planet Hatch in Fredericton and ConnexionWorks in Saint John, the Atlantic Canada Entrepreneurial Services Passport was launched last week. Planet Hatch said it has been formed for cross-promoting events, sharing best practices, opening their doors to members in partnering locations, and supporting the common goal of assisting entrepreneurs in the region. A membership with any one of the Passport’s organizations provides free or discounted pricing across the participating locations.

 “As co-working spaces and entrepreneurial service providers on the East Coast collaborate and align their programming and spaces, the benefits for Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs will become stronger and more valuable,” Doug Jenkins, co-founder of ConnexionWorks, said in a statement. “We are always looking for new and innovative opportunities to grow our ecosystem.”

The passport program has been adopted by 13 facilities across the region, though some of the larger incubators or co-working spaces are not in the new network – such as Volta in Halifax, the Genesis Centre in St. John's, Venn Innovation in Moncton and Navigate Startup House in Sydney.

The participants in the passport program are:

- Business Portals, St. John’s;

- CO3 Space, Bridgewater, N.S.;

- Common Ground, St. John’s;

- ConnexionWorks, Saint John;

- The HUB South Shore, Mahone Bay, N.S.]

- LaunchPad, Charlottetown;

- New Dawn Centre for Social Innovation, Sydney;

- North Queens, Caledonia, N.S.;

- Planet Hatch, Fredericton;

- Sackville Commons Co-op, Sackville, N.B.;

- Social Enterprise Hub, Saint John;

- Startup Zone, Charlottetown;

- And The Ville Cooperative, Marysville, N.B.

It’s not known yet if other facilities will join the group.

When asked why Volta wasn’t in the passport group, Volta CEO Jesse Rogers said the Halifax facility had told Planet Hatch that it already had its own network membership program, which grants founders access to its facility and events regardless of where they are based.  

“I met with a few folks from across the region, and have also shared with them our open door policy for Atlantic Canadians,” said Volta COO Melody Pardoe in an email to Planet Hatch.

The organizers of the passport program intend to produce other pan-regional programs, though they’re keeping mum on the details.

“This is ideally only the first of many initiatives that are being put in place across Atlantic Canada,” said Lisa Kinney, Entrepreneurial Services Coordinator at Planet Hatch.

Jobs: VOX, EhEye, Dash Hudson

For our jobs column this week, we’re highlighting a pair of IT jobs in New Brunswick and a pair of postings on the business side at Halifax’s Dash Hudson.

In the Moncton area, VOX Interactif is looking for a web developer, while Saint John-based EhEye is in need of a New Brunswick-based software engineer specializing in computer vision.

Dash Hudson, which has been hiring strongly in recent months, helps clients analyze their Instagram and SnapChat data. It collects data on how major brands are connecting with customers on Instagram. The photo-sharing app is one of the most popular social media tools available but before Dash Hudson they were unable to analyze what effect Instagram posts were having with customers. It is now moving into providing the same service for SnapChat users. The company is seeking an account executive and a sales development intern.

VOX Interactif is a web marketing agency located in the Moncton area with more than 15 years of experience. With clients across Canada, VOX Interactif offers such web marketing solutions as web site development, web and social strategies, online advertising, analysis and SEO.

EhEye, which is a finalist in this year’s Breakthru competition, has developed technology that improves the performance and efficiency of surveillance video. The product recognizes suspicious things on a video and can notify authorities. It can go through endless hours of video instantly, allowing for quick assessment of an area.

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

Dieppe, N.B.

VOX Interactif

Web Developer

VOX Interactif is looking for an expert in front-end development who has knowledge of back-end development. The company is seeking a passionate web developer who is capable of balancing technical talents. He or she must possess efficient communication skills to deliver a continued level of superior service to clients. This person will create user interfaces and components that are modular, performant, and maintainable using HTML, CSS and JavaScript. The technical requirements for the position are available at the job posting.

New Brunswick

EhEye

Software Engineer – Computer Vision

The person must research and implement computer vision algorithms to support public safety and security applications across industry verticals. He or she will take part in full software development lifecycle from requirements engineering to field testing. This means leveraging expertise in computer vision, image processing, and machine learning to contribute sophistication to EhEye’s artificially intelligent video analytics platform. EhEye is looking for someone with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, electrical, mechanical engineering or other related technical discipline and with three years of relevant experience. This includes at least one or two years of prior computer vision and/or machine learning development experience. Applicants selected will be subject to a government security investigation and must meet the eligibility requirements for access to classified information up to the Secret level.

Halifax

Dash Hudson

Account Executive

The account executive will work with Dash Hudson’s sales team on the business development process, contributing to such tasks as lead generation, sales outreach, progress tracking and closing deals. He or she will engage with new and existing leads through creative outreach and follow-up communications. The duties include meeting  monthly and quarterly sales quotas, reviewing and qualifying inbound leads, and managing CRM and sales pipeline. Dash Hudson is looking for someone with one to four years of experience in a similar role, and someone with analytical, business development, strategy, and sales skills. The successful candidate must be hyper-organized with equal parts diligent and creative.

Sales Development Intern

The successful candidate will be a critical piece in the development of Dash Hudson's sales process. He or she will support a creative and customized outreach strategy to potential customers in such verticals as fashion, travel, food and others. The responsibilities include generating sales leads, and then tracking the performance of the lead generation strategy. Dash Hudson is looking for someone who is hyper-organized, obsessive about details and able to work under tight deadlines. Strong written and verbal communication skills, as well as a desire to learn and improve processes are great assets for this position. 

Sales Institute Opens in Montreal

Canada finally has its first university-level sales program – something that Mariner Chairman Gerry Pond has been advocating in Atlantic Canada for several years.

HEC Montréal, a French-language business college in Montreal, announced last week the creation of the Sales Institute, the first university-level centre in Canada in this field.

The HEC Institute will bring together professors and researchers from the school along with six partners from the private and co-operative sectors. Its goal is to create advanced expertise and foster a “sales culture” in Quebec and throughout Canada.

Pond, best known as an investor in tech startups, has long argued that the lack of sales talent is holding back Atlantic Canadian companies. He has offered $500,000 to any institution that launches a bona fide sales program on the East Coast, but so far there has not been a college or university that has taken up the challenge.  On Friday, he emailed news of the Montreal centre to academics in New Brunswick, adding that something similar is needed in Atlantic Canada.

Momentum Canada: Fostering a New Sales Culture

“HEC Montréal is acting as a pioneer by creating the first university body devoted to knowledge transfer, training and research in sales,” said HEC Montréal Director Michel Patry in a statement. “Sales is a misunderstood field that is nonetheless an integral part of the manager’s role. What’s more, there is a clear need for this kind of institute. On the website of the School’s Career Management Service, close to half of job offers for our BBA students are related to sales and business development.”

The new Institute will be headed by Jean-Luc Geha, a guest professor in the marketing department) and the academic supervisor of the marketing option in the BBA program.

“By bringing together professors, researchers and practitioners, we are looking to encourage advanced research and sharing cutting-edge knowledge adapted to the business world in Quebec and across Canada,” said Geha. “This will give organizations access to graduates with training in sales and the top experts in the field.”

In that connection, the school now has a new mandatory course in business development in the BBA program, and will be offering various training opportunities for executives and organizations.

Fostering a New Sales Culture

Momentum Canada co-founders Corey Dugas and Joanna Killen

Momentum Canada co-founders Corey Dugas and Joanna Killen

At a time when Atlantic Canadian business people are being urged to prioritize sales, Momentum Canada has been founded in Saint John, N.B. to help foster the region’s sales culture.

Momentum’s programs include one that matches people who want to learn to sell with companies that can’t afford salespeople.

“We want to build a new generation of salespeople and healthier companies,” said CEO Joanna Killen, who co-founded Momentum with Corey Dugas and Nicholas Clermont.

“Gerry Pond (a veteran New Brunswick investor) has said that Atlantic Canadian companies can’t scale to significant size without greater expertise in selling to international customers.”

Killen said Momentum is currently training five novice salespeople. The trainees are paid a percentage of the value of the business they create for client companies.

“We work across sectors to help develop sales strategies,” Killen said.

The trainees’ clients include high-growth startups, established companies that need new ways to boost sales, and non-profits looking for strategies for fundraising.

Momentum was developed at a startup weekend in Moncton last November, where Killen pitched the idea after realizing there were many companies struggling with sales.

“I decided to see if anyone wanted to learn sales while earning commission,” said Killen, who previously worked with entrepreneurs at startup centres Vennture Garage and Enterprise Saint John.

Some of the students attending the startup weekend signed up with Momentum, which is located in the Saint John Enterprise Hub.

CVCA: Value of VC Rounds Triples in 2 Years

Killen said the trainee salespeople include restaurant servers and students from different disciplines.

“To join us, they must be action-oriented, coachable and passionate,” she said. “We feel anyone can learn sales. You need good communication and listening skills and to be a problem solver.”

The trainee sales agents work 10-15 hours a week. Those who succeed may find full-time work, Killen said.

“If you grow a company’s sales, there’s no reason why the company won’t hire you. There is more chance this can become a full-time gig for you.”

Killen’s co-founder, Corey Dugas, who is chief of sales, said freelance sales work could appeal to others in the community.

“Fifty per cent of disabled people don’t work,” Dugas said. “As salespeople, they can work from home and work for great companies.

“And it’s good for the grey economy — people over 55 who are being pushed out because people think they can’t understand technology. Their skills and knowledge are priceless.”

Momentum’s sales students are not currently asked to pay for their training, as the curriculum is still being developed.

“We’re creating curriculum as we work with the students,” Killen said.

She said it’s hard to learn sales from books. Sales professionals need the confidence and skills to make cold calls.

“People are bombarded online,” she said. “Picking up a phone or writing a letter is coming back into play as a way of reaching people.”

In the spring, Momentum will begin offering its Impact 12 Accelerator for 12 high-growth startups. The companies will move at their own pace and not be part of a cohort.

Impact 12 will also be offered free of charge. Killen said Momentum is funded by commissions and by income from a three-tier membership model for participating companies.

Killen hopes Momentum will benefit individuals, companies and society.

Momentum is currently seeking B Corp certification. (Benefit Corporations are for-profit companies that meet high standards of environmental and social responsibility.)

“If regional companies grow, the economy improves and people get jobs. It’s good for everyone’s future,” she said.

“Atlantic Canada-made products are awesome. There are people in the world who want what you have; you’ve got to find them.”

CVCA: Deal Values Triple in 2 Years

Recently published data from the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association shows just how far Atlantic Canada’s startup community has come in just two years.

And how far it has to go.

The annual statistics published by the association, known as CVCA, show that the value of capital raised from venture capital firms more than tripled and the average deal size almost tripled between 2014 and 2016. And they also show that there is proportionally more seed funding on the East Coast than in any other part of Canada.

But it also showed that Atlantic Canada is still a Junior A player in the venture funding world — and has some work to do to reach the big leagues.

The CVCA said recently that Canadian startups raised $3.2 billion in venture capital funding in 2016 through 530 funding deals. The dollar amount was up 68 per cent from 2014, while the number of deals was up 40 per cent. (I’ve chosen comparisons over two years to show the longer-term trend than the one-year comparison.)

It’s really strong growth but the national increases are nothing compared with those of the Atlantic region.

For the four eastern provinces, startups in 2016 raised a total of $103 million, an increase of 24 per cent over the figure of 2014. The number of deals rose 27 per cent to 56. The main reason for the higher number was a number of major deals, like the US$11 million raised by Fredericton-based Resson, the US$9 million funding by Halifax’s Kinduct Technologies, and the US$3 million round raised by Sequence Bio of St. John’s.

Perhaps the most interesting development is that the average size of deals has also grown strongly in just two years — to $1.84 million in 2016 from $680,000 in 2014.

Atlantic Canadian Startups Setting Up Silicon Valley Outposts

The average deal size is important because companies that can raise large rounds tend to have the greatest impact. They hire more people, spend more on R&D, export more and fail less often.

“Given the relative scarcity of growth capital in the region, increasing the average deal size should take precedent over number of deals, or even total capital deployed,” said Gregg Phipps, managing director of investment at Innovacorp.

“The ecosystem will be better served by building a few incredibly successful companies that can scale and ultimately make money for investors. The depth and breadth of funding is almost always a strong predictor of longevity and commercial success.”

The CVCA makes clear that there are proportionally more small funding deals done in our part of Canada than anywhere else — 10 per cent of the venture capital rounds announced in Canada last year were done in Atlantic Canada. But the average deal size in Canada was $6 million. That means that only two Atlantic Canadian deals — Kinduct and Resson — were larger than the national average. (A third funding deal, Halifax-based Truleaf Sustainable Agriculture’s $8.5 million round, is also larger than the national average, but it came from angels rather than venture capital funds.) It also means Atlantic Canada has to more than triple its average deal size to reach the national average.

The 10 largest deals in Canada last year were all worth more than $50 million, and none was in Atlantic Canada. It will be a while until Atlantic companies are in that bracket, though there are entrepreneurs working at it.

Said Phipps: “Continuing to align deal size with the national average will do more to serve startup entrepreneurship and the success of the local ecosystem than any other metric.”

Bourgoin Shuts Down Squads

Katelyn Bourgoin

Katelyn Bourgoin

Katelyn Bourgoin has announced that Squads is closing its door.

Previously called Vendeve and Swapskis, Squads was a three-year-old company that evolved into a community of female entrepreneurs, offering peer-to-peer mentoring. Originally, Bourgoin aimed to develop a market on which women could barter their skills. The idea was that new female entrepreneurs, who might not yet have steady cash flow, could swap skills and help each other develop a client base.

A rookie massage therapist might not have the cash to pay for accounting services, but she could offer a massage as payment to a young accountant. Squads’ online offering would be complemented by the sale of female-curated digital learning content like e-books and e-courses.

On Monday night, Bourgoin posted on Facebook that the company in shutting down.

“This was a difficult decision to make, but it was also the right decision for many reasons,” she said. “The last three years have been a rollercoaster with many ups and downs. Yet as I reflect back... I honestly don’t regret a minute of it.”

Bourgoin built up a network with the venture quickly, attracting 1,800 members in 16 countries in her first five months. And she did a great job of attracting influential mentors like Vicki Saunders, founder of the SheEO accelerator program for female entrepreneurs, Betty DeVita, president of MasterCard Canada, and Lally Rementilla, the former chief financial officer of Lavalife.

A graduate of Propel ICT’s Launch 36 accelerator, the company was also accepted into The Mill, an accelerator in Las Vegas.

Calling All Second-Career Entrepreneurs

We need to ask a favour.

We’re researching “second-career entrepreneurship”, and are asking for feedback from mature people who are considering launching a business for the first time. We’ve prepared this survey and are asking people who are considering a business to fill it out.

The core of our market is older people – maybe they’re considering a business in retirement, or have been laid off and face dim prospects in getting hired elsewhere. But the people could be as young as their 30s. They could be people leaving the military, or house-parents whose children are leaving home. We’re just looking for people who have been in a traditional occupation and now want to become entrepreneurs.

We’re asking your, our contacts in the startup community, to complete the survey if you meet these criteria. If not, you may know someone who is considering such a move. And the farther away they are, the better. We want as many different places as possible. Please send this out to them and ask them to take two to three minutes to complete this survey. It will help immeasurably.

You can find the survey here.

We’re now assessing a business that would aim to provide support, resources and a community for second-career entrepreneurs. The first step is to try to understand the makeup and needs of this community. We’ll keep our readers posted as the plans develop.If anyone has any questions, feel free to contact me at peter@entrevestor.com.

Many thanks,

Peter and Carol Moreira

Setting Up a Silicon Valley Outpost

Resson founders Rishin Behl and Peter Goggin

Resson founders Rishin Behl and Peter Goggin

Travis McDonough loves being able to leave his office, jump on his bike and pedal five minutes to Stanford University.

The founder and CEO of Halifax-based Kinduct Technologies moved to the San Francisco area last summer and is now staffing the medical-tech company’s office in Palo Alto. He emphasizes that his company is still based in Halifax, where he hopes to employ 100 people by sometime in 2017. But the advantages of having an office in Silicon Valley are huge.

“It feels great to know we’re five minutes away from some of the best thought-leaders in the world,” said McDonough.

Kinduct is not alone. As the Atlantic Canadian startup community matures, more and more of the region’s innovation companies are opening offices or forming partnerships in Silicon Valley. Such arrangements offer more than just prime office space close to customers — they often also enhance research and development and improve the companies’ best practices.

It’s ambitious to open a base about 6,000 kilometres away from head office, and where the property costs are atrocious. But there is simply no substitute for the access, the networking and the partnerships that can be found in Silicon Valley.

Kinduct and Fredericton-based Resson have opened Silicon Valley offices as they attracted funding from California investors. Resson’s US$11-million investment included a contribution from returning investor Rho Canada Ventures. Rho principal Jeff Grammer became the executive chairman of the company and now heads its new office in San Jose, Calif. Co-Founders Rishin Behl and Peter Goggin continue to operate the company headquarters in Fredericton. 

Halifax's STI Exits for a Reported $200M

Meanwhile, Metamaterial Technologies Inc., the Halifax developer of special materials that alter light, announced in May 2016 it had bought the business of Silicon Valley peer Rolith, giving it a research and development base in Silicon Valley.

MTI set up an office in Rolith’s home town of Pleasanton, Calif., and brought on board the target company’s state-of-the-art R&D facilities and key employees. Some equipment was to be transferred to Nova Scotia, where the manufacturing operations will be based. CEO George Palikaras said the acquisition helped MTI reach the point at which it and Airbus are launching their first product, MetaAIR.

“The acquisition from last year has been very successful because in any project there are always little problems that crop up,” said Palikaras. “The acquisition allowed us to upgrade the nanofabrication process. There has also been a new patent resulted from that deal.”

Another Halifax company, SkySquirrel, has a long-standing partnership with VineView, based in St. Helena, Calif., 100 kilometres north of San Francisco. SkySquirrel uses drones to collect data on vineyards, and the benefits of teaming up with a complementary company in the Napa Valley wine region are obvious.

“VineView has been a leading provider of remote sensing services to grape growers in Napa Valley for 15 years and are recognized as experts in aerial vineyard crop diagnostics,” said SkySquirrel CEO Richard van der Put. “They bring extensive knowledge of grapevine disease detection and have developed a successful regional business model in California. Together we are able to provide a platform to scale this technology globally.”

And finally, 4Deep Inwater Imaging of Halifax gained entry to an R&D facility in Silicon Valley when it struck a partnership in 2015 with China’s Guangzhou Bosma.

Jobs: HeyOrca, NOCland, CarbonCure

Our Jobs of the Week column today features a few recent postings in St. John’s and one in Halifax.

NOCLand and HeyOrca are both looking for technical staff for their growing businesses. And CarbonCure Technologies is looking for a Director of Communications.

NOCLand is seeking a data scientist and an R&D software developer. NOCLand combines state-of-the-art technologies to create next-generation network-monitoring software. The company uses cloud-scale computing, machine learning, and real-time analytics to intelligently process data from networks of varying sizes. The goal is to work with more complex network architecture, which is arising from the proliferation of internet-connected devices.

HeyOrca, which wants to hire an experienced web developer, helps marketing agencies that are working with multiple brands to develop social media campaigns for their clients. HeyOrca also works directly with larger corporate brands to develop content for their social media campaigns.

CarbonCure, which has raised almost $10 million in equity investment, has developed technology that injects carbon into concrete to strengthen it and reduce costs. Traditional concrete production produces huge amounts of carbon dioxide, but the CarbonCure method actually reduces CO2. The company began with a process for concrete blocks and last year launched a process to inject carbon into ready-mix concrete.

Next week, we’ll highlight other recent job postings. These include postings for an account executive and a sales development intern at Dash Hudson and for a software engineer at EhEye. Check them out now on our job board.

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

St. John’s

NOCLand

R&D Software Developer

NOCLand is seeking an R&D-focused software developer to work closely with a data scientist to implement a proof-of-concept machine-learning system. The system can learn how to detect and suggest responses to network events, and will likely require the deployment of a high-throughput data pipeline and a database cluster to operate. The candidate does not need to be an expert, but should be highly motivated to learn about these areas. NOCLand is looking for a passionate, independent learner well versed in big data, Amazon web services, machine learning and Python.

Data Scientist

NOCLand plans to hire someone to work closely with a software developer and networking domain expert to design a proof-of-concept machine-learning system to simplify network operations. The company wants a person who enjoys solving difficult problems to help determine the most promising machine learning approaches to addressing identified challenges. He or she must perform statistical analysis on collected structured and unstructured data, and normalize, transform and store data in a variety of data stores. The skills needed include machine learning, statistics, programming, big data, and artificial intelligence.

HeyOrca

Experienced Web Developer

HeyOrca’s goal is to build a great team, which will lead to the development of great software. Developers should add value not just by coding, but by changing the way the team works. The company is therefore seeking members who can contribute in some way to most aspects of the software, from ideation to maintenance and support. The successful candidate should be skilled in Amazon Web Services, other ORMs, other PHP Frameworks, other JS Frameworks, Redux, React.js, Doctrine, and Laravel.

Halifax

CarbonCure Technologies

Director of Communications

CarbonCure’s Director of Communications will be responsible for developing and executing custom communications plans to target key audiences. These targets include concrete producers, end users (architects, engineers, construction firms), strategic partners, investors, press, government officials, and the general public. In addition to elevating CarbonCure’s brand, the individual’s goal will be to develop a program to accelerate sales of the company’s technology to concrete producers. He or she must also help promote the company’s existing customers to ensure they are successful in their respective markets.

Planet Hatch Partners with DMZ

Planet Hatch, Fredericton’s flagship business accelerator, has formed a partnership with the DMZ at Ryerson University in Toronto.

The partnership with the DMZ -- formerly known as the Digital Media Zone – allows members from both organizations access to one another’s facilities, expertise and resources.

Planet Hatch already has a relationship with the University of New Brunswick’s International Business and Entrepreneurship Centre, or IBEC. So the latest partnership will help UNB help students to connect to more resources and educational opportunities across Canada.

“Having a partnership with the DMZ at Ryerson University will be a great aid to Fredericton’s startup community and UNB students,” Karen Murdock, Chief Program Officer at Planet Hatch, said in a statement. “Creating new and innovative opportunities for our clients is always in the forefront of our minds, and this agreement will open a lot of doors for our startups.”

Last year, Planet Hatch struck a similar agreement with Walnut Accelerator in Chengdu, China.

The statement said one Planet Hatch company, Spatial Quest Solution, is already taking advantage of the relationship with the DMZ. Its CEO Eddie Oldfield has been using the DMZ offices in downtown Toronto for client meetings.

“Our partnership with Planet Hatch will provide startups with the opportunity to leverage resources across the country, while building a successful company in their home base,” said Abdullah Snobar, executive director of the DMZ. “We expect this to be the first of a much larger initiative that will connect the DMZ network with emerging startup communities to build connections that will foster best-in-class Canadian entrepreneurs.”

DMZ helps startups by connecting them with customers, capital, experts and a community of entrepreneurs and influencers. In 2015, it was ranked the top tech incubator in North America, and third in the world by UBI Global.

Planet Hatch is a business incubator in the New Brunswick capital and helped 48 new startups across several sectors commercialize their ideas during 2016.

SkySquirrel Enters Dublin Accelerator

SkySquirrel, the Halifax-area company dedicated to producing agricultural data for the wine industry, has been accepted into the Alltech accelerator for agricultural technology companies in Dublin.

The 15-week program includes a bit of funding plus mentorship sessions at the Dogpatch Labs, a major co-working space for startups in the Irish capital. Most important, it will offer the company a chance to work with specialists in agricultural technology in Europe — one of SkySquirrel’s largest markets.

SkySquirrel uses drones to gather data from agricultural fields, focusing on the highest-margin segment of agriculture, the wine industry.

The Alltech accelerator is the brainchild of Pearce Lyons, the Irish businessman who founded Kentucky-based Alltech and grew it into one of the world’s largest animal health and nutrition companies.

“Having the opportunity to be affiliated with a global leader in agricultural innovation, do business with them, and gain access to their network is extremely valuable to us,” said SkySquirrel co-founder and CEO Richard van der Put in an email.

“Given their global reach and international presence, I’m looking to learn more about how we can increase our international sales and expand into new markets, like Italy, one of the top wine producers in the world.”

Pfera Eyes Pilot at PEI Farms

At the conclusion of the program, participants will pitch at a “demo day” in Lexington, Ky. According to the Irish tech publication Silicon Republic, 10 companies from around the world were selected from a pool of 183 applicants and SkySquirrel was the only Canadian company accepted.

SkySquirrel is one of a host of Atlantic Canadian startups that are entering accelerators around the world. Earlier this month, WellTrack, the Fredericton company that provides online help with mental health issues, was accepted into the prestigious 500 Startups accelerator in Silicon Valley. Last year, Fredericton-based Chinova Bioworks, which is developing new preservatives made from chitosan, went through another Irish accelerator, IndieBio.

At the Alltech accelerator, the startups will receive free space at Dogpatch, 15,000 British pounds (C$21,000) cash fund and tech perks worth 300,000 British pounds (C$420,000) from companies such as Google, Facebook, SoftLayer and Amazon. Van der Put also said that about 3,000 people, including investors, attend the Demo Day in Kentucky.

Though SkySquirrel is working with clients around the world, its emphasis in the near term will be working on its technology to combat Flavescence Dorée, a disease plaguing southern European vineyards. There is no cure for the disease, which prevents plants from producing grapes; once it occurs, the farmer has no choice but to destroy the vine before it spreads.

“We are seeing very promising results in multiple grape varietals and have seen success with Flavescence Dorée disease detection, with up to 85 per cent accuracy,” said van der Put. “This growing season we are focusing on improving our results across multiple grape varietals and validating the technology on a larger scale, as well as working with academic partners on the scientific validation.”

SkySquirrel last year raised significant amounts of money. It had raised $1 million, with equal contributions from Innovacorp and an unnamed Ontario investor. The company also received a $500,000 low-interest loan from the Atlantic Provinces Opportunities Agency.

West Newfoundland Community Grows

Jason Janes

Jason Janes

The entrepreneurship community in Western Newfoundland is taking on a more cohesive structure, with more than 100 members in its Facebook community and a recent pitching competition.

Humber Valley Entrepreneurs is a group of entrepreneurs and enthusiasts in the area around Corner Brook, or as they put it “from Lark Harbour to Jacksons Arm and everywhere in between.” The group now has 116 members in its Facebook group, and the number is growing.

The growth of the group is evidence that organized entrepreneurship communities are spreading across the island of Newfoundland. In recent years, the activity on The Rock has been focused on St. John’s and other parts of the Avalon Peninsula, and now the organized community is spreading west.  

“The purpose of the group is to stimulate the entrepreneurial conversation in our local area,” said organizer Jason Janes in an email. “We will generate new interest, cause excitement, and take action. The result will be more ideas shared, more problems solved, more mentors engaged, and new businesses created. As a community, working together, we can achieve greater success.”

Janes had been one of the pillars of Startup St. John’s, and moved back to his original home in Greater Corner Brook about a year ago. Now he is joining the movement to grow the community on Newfoundland’s West Coast.

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The early stages of growing an entrepreneurship organization have developed in the last few years. Corner Brook’s two main academic institutions – Memorial University’s Grenfell Campus and the College of the North Atlantic – have come together to form the Navigate Entrepreneurship Centre, which mentors young entrepreneurs. It works with 25 to 40 students at any one time.

A year ago, the first Startup Weekend – a 53-hour event in which teams compete to see who can develop the best business idea in a weekend – was held in Corner Brook.

Last month, Humber Valley Entrepreneurs organized two events in the same weekend. There was a Pitch101 event, which trains entrepreneurs in pitching, and a Create-a-thon, which is similar to a Startup Weekend format.

The winner of the $1675 first prize at the Create-a-thon was Team Greenhouse, a four-member team working on an idea by Nazrul Islam Rahel. It proposed addressing problems in food security in Newfoundland by establishing a 10,000-square-foot greenhouse that would receive its heat and energy from waste water from the Corner Brook Pulp & Paper mill.

“Our proposed greenhouse would use that hot water to both heat the greenhouse and, through an inline generator, to create electricity to produce light,” said team member Dennis Wass, who pitched the project. “The primary challenge with growing greens in a northern climate is light. We don’t have enough light year round. “

The $925 second prize was claimed by Grenfell Go, and the $400 third prize went to Team Lyocell.

The community is moving forward with more events. The next is a second Startup Weekend, to be held on March 31. Humber Valley Entrepreneurs is hosting the competition in collaboration with MUN’s Grenfell Campus, College of North Atlantic, and Navigate.

CarbonCure in $10M Contest in Alberta

CarbonCure Technologies has announced that it will receive as much as $3 million from Emissions Reduction Alberta, or ERA, to accelerate the adoption of its CO2-utilization technology in Alberta.

The Halifax company also said it will be competing with three other companies in the ERA Grand Challenge for the final $10 million grant, which will be awarded in 2019. 

CarbonCure, which has raised almost $10 million in equity investment, has developed technology that injects carbon into concrete to strengthen it and reduce costs. Traditional concrete production produces huge amounts of carbon dioxide, but the CarbonCure method actually reduces CO2. The company began with a process for concrete blocks and last year launched a process to inject carbon into ready-mix concrete.

For the ERA Grand Challenge, CarbonCure will work with several concrete plants across Alberta to maximize the overall greenhouse gas benefits and improve the economics associated with the technology to attract smaller concrete plants as customers.

The project includes a range of partners from across the supply chain, including Praxair Canada Inc., and a fourth-generation family business and leading concrete supplier, BURNCO Rock Products.

CarbonCure’s technology is part of a growing new sector of technologies that convert CO2 emissions into products. According to the Global CO2 Initiative report last year, this group of new technologies is expected to be worth $1 trillion and could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by up to 15 percent by 2030.

CarbonCure says that its technology is unique in that it reduces greenhouse gases, while also providing significant economic benefits to concrete producers. The technology is currently installed in more than 40 concrete plants across North America.

The technology will give Alberta concrete manufacturers a competitive advantage to better meet the changing needs of customers while transitioning Alberta to a low-carbon future.

NBIF Names 7 Breakthru Finalists

The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation has announced the seven finalists in the 2017 Breakthru competition – seven from New Brunswick and two in the national category.

NBIF holds its Breakthru competition every second year to find the hottest new startups in the province. It will announce the winners – who will divide a cash pot of about $1 million – at the Breakthru gala in Fredericton on March 23. Tickets for the dinner are available here.

The five nominees in the Provincial category are EhEye, Pfera, Quber, SomaDetect and WEnTech. Descriptions of the companies are below.

For the first time this year, NBIF is offering prize money to companies from other provinces, who agree to base their companies in New Brunswick. The finalists for the $301,000 National prize are Newpy, which has entered from P.E.I., and the Unity Project, from Nova Scotia.

Here’s a closer look at the nominees, three of which have already been profiled on Entrevestor:

Provincial Competition

EhEye

EhEye specializes in extracting behavioral insights with artificially intelligent video analytics. Specifically, they are experts in automated object and activity detection within streaming video. EhEye has created a highly scalable and extensible platform for the development and operation of intelligent video analytics modules and alert systems, applicable to almost any industry that relies on video surveillance for safety, loss prevention, security and human behavioral insights.  Read our report on EhEye.

Pfera

Pfera  provides horse owners with a birth prediction tool to use on pregnant mares. The system they have developed estimates when the pregnant horse will give birth to the foal based on the mare’s milk chemistry. Pfera’s device can be used on any number of milk samples, and on any number of mares. Once the test is done a birth prediction is displayed on the attendant’s smartphone. The target customers for Pfera’s technology are horse breeders, foaling attendants, and veterinarians/veterinarian technician. Read our report on Pfera.

Quber

Quber enhances existing data analytics and digital capabilities for financial institutions to better understand clients’ needs and help consumers.  Quber is a state-of-the-art financial engagement platform designed to work with existing digital toolsets. Consumers are looking for better digital tools to manage money, and Quber can offer the solution with their mobile or web-based designed solution.

SomaDetect

SomaDetect is an agricultural technology company that has developed an in-line system for frequent monitoring and reporting of dairy-quality indicators to farmers and other stakeholders. The company was founded with the mission of helping dairy farmers produce the highest quality milk possible. SomaDetect’s patented technology uses light scattering to assess fat content and somatic cells (key indicators of the presence of mastitis) in milk. By measuring key dairy-quality variables from every cow at every milking, SomaDetect is helping dairy farmers to close the information gap and reduce the spread of disease while maximizing profits. Read our report on SomaDetect.

WEnTech

WEnTech Solutions Inc. is a Software-as-a-Service company specializing in the waste-to-energy sector. The company is built on the expertise of its co-founders in waste-to-energy projects and developing software products. WEnTech is computerizing the task of waste-to-energy project assessment with a software-based product called WEnTech Smart Analysis System, W-SAS. This tool is designed to automate the workflow of engineering consultants assessing waste-to-energy projects by allowing them to evaluate multiple conversion technology systems at once, based on a multitude of parameters.

National Competition

Newpy

Newpy is a social network app for posting photos of products that are hidden inside digital packaging. The digital packaging designs grab attention and spark curiosity as to what is inside. Newpy offers two types of digital packaging: variety, which are ever-changing unique designs to reflect user’s interests, and custom, which are specifically tailored to reflect a company’s brand. Custom Digital Packaging either showcases the company’s name or logo in plain sight directly on the packaging. Companies will now have a choice; they can choose to hope good photos of their products are taken, or they can guarantee with Newpy that every photo posted will grow their brand.

The Unity Project

The Unity Project allows businesses to create consumer loyalty by donating funds directly to the charities of their consumer’s choice. It allows consumers to support the causes closest to their hearts through their buying decisions without having to spend more. The Unity Project is a new way for charities to raise money, allowing organizations to get more from their networks without their donors paying more. Unity is a robust loyalty and marketing platform for businesses, layered into a social movement for charities leveraging existing social media platforms It creates a mutually beneficial relationship between businesses, charities and Unity members.

Simptek Adding More Customers

Keenan Gagnon and Asif Hasan

Keenan Gagnon and Asif Hasan

Fredericton’s SimpTek, a startup that aims to help utilities and customers understand energy usage through data collection, has been boosting sales in recent months.

The company produces software that acts as a bridge between utilities and consumers. It provides power management solutions that deliver knowledge, convenience, and control to consumers, while also offering insights about power usage to utilities.

Founded in 2014, SimpTek will soon announce a new client, said to be the largest multi- building owner in Atlantic Canada. 

“We provide a communication link between clients and utility companies,” said CEO and Co-Founder Asif Hasan.

Hasan said SimpTek’s solutions will help increase engagement between utilities and their customers as they work toward the same goal of saving energy.

“We’re suggesting it’s time for them to understand their clients, as Amazon and Netflix do, if they want to do more business with them,” Hasan said.

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SimpTek allows its client utility companies and apartment block owners to provide their own customers and tenants with home dashboards. The dashboards enable householders to understand exactly how and where energy is being used in their homes.

The utility and property companies can anonymously collect individual and aggregated data about home energy use, and find out which householders make the best candidates for new products or energy-saving offers.

“When a utility company runs a campaign, all customers get the publicity material, which people find irritating. But if homeowners know their own problems, they stop feeling annoyed and appreciate the contact,” Hasan said.

Helping save energy is part of Hasan’s motivation in building the company, which he started in 2014 with Co-Founders Keelen Gagnon and Lionel Fernandes.

He says energy efficiency is a culture we’re all adapting to.

“People want to be green but they need easy access to information to make decisions,” said the Bangladesh native, who arrived in New Brunswick five years ago, after winning a scholarship to study electrical and computer engineering at University of New Brunswick.

He said the team is celebrating the successful completion of the first phase of its pilot program with NB Power, which has resulted in the venture receiving validation through the Smart Grid Innovation Network.

The company also recently raised more than $700,000 in equity funding, and was named to Deloitte Canada’s 2016 Companies to Watch list, part of its Technology Fast 50 Awards. It was the only company in Atlantic Canada to receive this recognition.

The company now has 10 full-time staff in Fredericton and four part-time in Halifax, Saint John and Ontario.

SimpTek has many competitors for a multi-billion-dollar market. Hasan thinks Simptek’s advantage lies in its system’s ease of use.

He is planning to expand SimpTek’s reach across North America and the Middle East in 2017.

EhEye Transforming Surveillance Video

James Stewart: 'It can find things you’re interested in but didn’t know you were interested in.'

James Stewart: 'It can find things you’re interested in but didn’t know you were interested in.'

James Stewart is a former cop, a specialist in data analytics and one damned persistent entrepreneur.

Having worked on two previous tech startups, he is now back with EhEye, a company that improves the performance and efficiency of surveillance video.

The Saint John-based company has produced technology that notifies authorities if there is something suspicious caught on the video. In other words, it can recognize someone wearing a ski mask or carrying a gun in a crowd. At a packed stadium, it can even recognize if someone is carrying a backpack and later is walking around without the backpack.

“There are lots of applications,” said Stewart in a recent interview. “One of our biggest exercises is not so much finding the market but choosing the market. Depending on the market, the system will work a little different. … It can find things you’re interested in but didn’t know you were interested in.”

Having been an auxiliary policeman for 13 years and a crime analyst for 3.5 years, Stewart has a knack for working on technologies that help with crime prevention. His first company, RTV, used predictive analytics to identify serial drunk drivers, and he then worked on a company called Smart Castle, which aimed to protect children from cyber-bullying, internet luring and other online evils.

Now he has teamed up with data engineer Shawn Mitchell and business development head Patrick Parent to revolutionize the way security camera work.

EhEye can do more than highlight an anomaly caught by a security camera.

The system makes it easier for users to review video. For example, if users get an alert about something suspicious, they can review the video while the cameras are still on. What’s more, the system can sift through hundreds of hours of video looking for information. It can go through video collected by several different cameras and determine where an individual went to or came from in a certain location.

Pfera Eyes Pilot at PEI Farm

For example, when riots broke out in London in August 2011, the Metropolitan Police ended up with 200,000 hours of video. It would take 100 analysts a year to go through all that video, said Stewart, but EhEye can drastically reduce the time and work involved.

The trio of entrepreneurs now has two products and is working on a third. The first is a product for store owners to alert them about suspicious people. It is now being tested by a Saint John store owner who has been robbed five times in four years. Stewart said this solution so far has the greatest market draw of the three EhEye products.

The second product  is for fixed site security in larger locations, to alert owners of large stores or staff at a major centre when people are acting suspiciously.

The third product, which the team is now working on, is a mobile version. It would, for example, allow security at a G7 Summit, to film a location before the event, get a baseline of what is normal, and then highlight any anomalies through wearable cameras as the event progresses.

The company is beginning to get traction and is drawing attention. It is a semi-finalist in New Brunswick’s Breakthru competition, which will award a total of $1 million to four startups next month. And EhEye also took part in Global Affairs Canada’s Smart Cities mission to India earlier this month.

Stewart’s more than familiar with Breakthru. RTV entered in 2013 and Smart Castle was a finalist in 2015.

“That competition is fierce this year and I’ve learned to you need to come with a well-rounded team,” said Stewart. “You need a product that’s proven out and to have traction. [The competition is] so fierce I will be jumping for joy if we make top five.”

Reycraft New Head of Techsploration

Techsploration, a Halifax-based organization that encourages female high school students to pursue careers in science, trades and technology, has named Arylene Reycraft as its new Executive Director.

After spending 13 years as the Program and Fund Development Manager, Reycraft is familiar with the non-profit organization. She succeeds Techsploration’s founder, Tricia Robertson, who is leaving after 19 years to focus on her other career as an artist.  

“From recruiting thousands of our role models and bringing in significant sponsorship dollars, to developing and delivering innovative programming, it is difficult to express just how instrumental Arylene has been to the success of Techsploration,” said Tina Kelly, President of Techsploration’s Board of Directors. “Her dedication and commitment to Techsploration is infectious and will continue to propel this vital organization forward as she leads us into our twentieth anniversary next year.”

Prior to joining Techsploration, Reycraft taught customized management training at the Nova Scotia Community College. She had initially joined Techsploration as a three-month secondment from NSCC, but her passion for the organization and her ability to transfer her enthusiasm to others made her a permanent fixture and an essential component to the organization.

In 2016, Reycraft was one of six people chosen to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program’s Women in STEM Conference, which took place in Washington, Orlando, and Cincinnati.

“I’m absolutely honoured to take the helm at Techsploration and continue to build upon the legacy Tricia has created with Techsploration,” said Reycraft. “I always aim to create an environment where others can achieve results, which is why I am so proud to be part of an organization focused on breaking the status quo. I think it’s a rare occurrence to see tangible evidence that you’ve made a difference in someone’s life, but Techsploration offers that opportunity to our role models and alumnae on a regular basis.” 

Techsploration reaches about 3,000 students at 40 schools in Nova Scotia each year. 

3 Takeaways from STI’s Exit

Tim Gillis

Tim Gillis

The news has leaked out in the last 10 days that STI Technologies of Halifax has been bought by the American multinational QuintilesIMS, and now it’s time to draw lessons from the sale.

The U.S. company, a global leader in services and data for bio-medical research, closed the deal this month. STI, which helps drug companies distribute samples efficiently, will maintain its operations in Halifax under the leadership of CEO Tim Gillis. Allnovascotia.com reported that the price was about $200 million.

Here are three takeaways from the STI story:

1. The Founder Doesn’t Have to be the CEO.

STI started in 2001 when the whole startup thing was new in Atlantic Canada, and its three founders launched the business. William Adams, Paul Tobin and Greg Patey had experience in the pharma trade and believed they could improve the way drug companies get samples of new products to patients. They devised a smartcard system that avoided sending new drugs to doctor’s offices and collected data on how the samples were used.

But as the company grew they wanted a more experienced CEO and brought in Steve Nicolle, a veteran of the life sciences sector in Boston. Nicolle raised $17 million for the company, but was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2012. In 2014, STI promoted its CFO Gillis to the top executive position and he guided the company to its exit.

One of the many things that STI has done well is to build a versatile, resilient leadership team that can withstand shocks to the company. And that may mean bringing in people at levels above the founders.

2.  You can grow a company in Atlantic Canada without public-sector equity investments.

Despite the various complaints about a lack of capital, Canada’s East Coast is actually a hotbed for seed financing. (Little known fact: Atlantic Canada, with 3 percent of Canada’s population, accounted for 10 percent of its VC transactions in 2016.) A big reason for the number of deals is the participation of government-backed organizations, like New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, Innovacorp, and the Venture NL Fund, managed by Pelorus Venture Capital.

Even though it launched in the early days of the Atlantic Canada community, STI did not tap a government-backed funding body for equity financing. It sought funding from angels and from GrowthWorks Atlantic. The government-backed bodies are great, but our companies are often too focused on them.

3.  The Digital Life Sciences segments is still the hottest segment in the region.

The greatest success the Atlantic Canadian startup community has had in recent years is at the intersection of IT and life sciences. The sale of STI Technologies only adds to the success of that segment.

In terms of fundraising, this segment dominated the news last year with big fundings by Resson, Kinduct and Sequence Bio. Now it’s accounted for the biggest exit in the region in almost five years. It’s a segment that’s getting too little attention, given the success we’re having as a region. 

Jobs: MASITEK, Leadsift, Repable

This week, we’re rerunning a few of our recent postings for our Jobs of the Week column.

We’re highlighting openings we’ve posted in the past month from MASITEK, Leadsift, Dash Hudson and Repable.

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

Moncton

MASITEK Instruments

Product Development Engineer

MASITEK is looking for a product development engineer to develop and launch new and/or improved products to the company’s product line. He or she will play a major role in new product development activities such as research, design, and testing to bring products from concept to market.

MASITEK is a six-year-old company that produces hardware to help food and beverage producers prevent damage to containers and other accidents that can jam and delay a production line. Its main product is like a fake bottle with pressure-sensitive devises. It detects pressure points and logjams on the production lines of food and beverage producers to reduce stoppages and improve productivity.

The engineer will also work with the company leadership and the technical team to support the research and development road map and creation of design documents. MASITEK is looking for someone with strong problem-solving abilities that can be applied to electromechanical design challenges. This person must provide technical and project leadership across multiple engineering product development stages. A full job description is available on the job posting.

Halifax

Leadsift

Software Engineer

Leadsift is seeking a software engineer to work in a team of developers on diverse projects. The company is looking for someone who will demonstrate a knowledge of critical thinking and problem-solving. Proficiency with Python, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript is required, and LeadSift wants someone who understands Django Web Framework, and Javascript MVC frameworks.

LeadSift is building a sales intelligence platform that searches social media to help corporations understand people’s buying intentions and find the best candidates for a sale. It assesses a prospect's interests, mindset and willingness to buy. The LeadSift system identifies these prospects while they’re considering a purchase and connects them with the companies best positioned to meet their needs.

The software engineer must contribute to planning sessions, where tasks will be estimated and prioritized, and must collaborate with other programmers to design and implement features. This person must have excellent debugging skills and an understanding of cross-browser development.

The successful candidate will be part of a strong, hard-working engineering team in a startup environment, and learn hands-on about Leadsift’s industry and customers.

Dash Hudson

Sales Development Representative

Dash Hudson, which is looking for a sales development representative, helps clients analyze their Instagram and SnapChat data. It collects data on how major brands are connecting with customers on Instagram. The photo-sharing app is one of the most popular social media tools available but before Dash Hudson they were unable to analyze what effect Instagram posts were having with customers. It is now moving into providing the same service for SnapChat users.

The successful candidate will be a critical piece to the growth and development of Dash Hudson's sales process. He or she will manage a creative and customized outreach strategy to potential customers in verticals such as fashion, beauty, luxury, travel, food, publishing and consumer electronics. Through developing and maintaining the early stages of the sales pipeline, this person will contribute to the overall success of the sales team.

The position carries three main responsibilities: first, managing lead generation; second, overseeing custom outreach process, and third, being responsible for performance and tracking.

The company is looking for someone with a desire to learn and improve processes, with strong written and verbal communication skills, and who is self-motivating.

Toronto

Repable

Full-Stack Developer

Repable is looking for someone who can lead the development of an SaaS app used by the largest eSports teams in the world. This person will have a complete static mockup along with front-end assets, including a UI/UX team to help make changes on the fly. Repable has an experienced DevOps team to help with deployment, and a product manager, who can help translate mockup into functioning code.

Repable, which is based in Moncton and Toronto, collects and analyzes data on eSports, or competitive gaming, a fast-growing international phenomenon. It’s estimated some 200 million people watched competitive gaming in 2016.

The full-stack developer must build a tool that interfaces with some of the world's largest social networks. He or she will be consuming many social APIs (including Repable’s own), and use the resulting content to make the lives of eSports teams better.

Repable is looking for someone experienced in frameworks, APIs, eSports, MySQL, and JavaScript.

The winning applicant will work with people who have done this before, including world-class venture capital firms, and receive a competitive startup salary and stock options.

SimplyCast Launches EmergHub

Saeed El-Darahali: 'That allows you to do anything in any industry.'

Saeed El-Darahali: 'That allows you to do anything in any industry.'

SimplyCast on Thursday launched its new EmergHub platform, fulfilling a promise that the company’s founder Saeed El-Darahali made to himself on the night of the SwissAir Flight 111 air tragedy.

EmergHub is a military-grade platform that allows optimal communications between key personnel during an emergency. It adds nine new communications channels to the original SimplyCast suite of multi-channel communications applications to ensure emergency communication processes are safer and more efficient.

El-Darahali said in an interview that he was a soldier called out on the night that Flight 111 went down off Peggy’s Cove in 1998, and he saw how emergency response was hampered by inadequate communication processes. He swore that night that he would develop a product that would fix the problem.

“If we can show that we can enter the emergency industry, then we are truly the No. 1 communications platform,” said El-Darahali. “It allows us to be the first military-grade product. … That allows you to do anything in any industry.”

With clients in 175 countries, Dartmouth-based SimplyCast is a leading provider of interactive and multi-channel communication software for organizations around the world. The eight-year-old company has been growing steadily, with revenue growth of more than 30 percent in each of the last two years.

Now with EmergHub, it is entering the emergency response industry, which El-Darahali said is worth $2.5 billion and growing at 40 to 50 percent per year.

EmergHub has been developed in collaboration with Public Service and Procurement Canada and the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness, and the company has struck a partnership with Saudi Arabia to use EmergHub across the Mid-Eastern country.

Halifax's STI Sells Out to QuintilesIMS

What Emerghub does is provide a fully integrated communications system to be used by a range of responders at any emergency, whether it’s a shooting, plane crash, fire, or natural disaster. The callout in such a situation can take three or four hours, but El-Darahali said SimplyCast has shortened the time span to about 15 minutes.

Once the system is activated, everyone who is needed is contacted simultaneously. If someone is missing that day, the system notifies their replacements. It allows the responders and their command post to initiate an instant teleconference. And it provides a command hub with an interactive map of the area. If drones are deployed to the scene, it can livestream video from the scene.

EmergHub does not require any apps and can be used with any mobile phone, he said.

“We have built an innovative communication platform that will help improve emergency communication worldwide and it was built 100 percent here in Canada,” said El-Darahali.

SimplyCast, whose last major product launch was Agency365 in February 2015,  has been working on EmergHub for about three years. The company has been able to build the system because it is a Platform-as-a-Service technology, rather than the more common Software-as-a-Service offering.

SimplyCast has raised $1.5 million since its founding, all from Nova Scotian angels. El-Darahali said the company, which is profitable, will probably try to raise more capital this year. The company now has 50 employees and is hoping to add about 15 more in the short team.

El-Darahali made the announcement Thursday at an event in Halifax that was attended by almost 700 people. 

Mighty Pebble Unveils Miner Meltdown

Charlottetown indie video game development studio Mighty Pebble Games has launched its first game, Miner Meltdown.

The company, which last year went through Propel ICT’s Launch program, said in a statement on Thursday the game was launched to the Early Access channel on the gaming platform Steam.

Miner Meltdown is a two-dimensional team-based competitive multiplayer game. Players must scour the map for minerals, upgrade their gear, and attempt to blow up the opposing team all the while avoiding monsters, traps, and environmental pitfalls along the way.

Maps are randomly generated and 100 percent destructible, so every match is a fully unique, fast-paced, and chaotic affair.

"Miner Meltdown was something that I had been envisioning for several years,” said Mighty Pebble CEO James O'Halloran, who has worked full-time on the project for the last year and a half.

“With Charlottetown's close-knit business community's help, support and extra motivation is always available. Making an online multiplayer game as a solo developer is hard, but it would have been near impossible without the help of friends, family, and the local business community."

Miner Meltdown is available on the Steam platform for PC and MAC for US$6.99 per copy.

Pfera Eyes Pilot at PEI Farms

Lisa Pfister

Lisa Pfister

Having taken home $5,500 at a pitching competition already this year, Lisa Pfister is now hoping her company Pfera can capture 67 times that amount in New Brunswick’s premier startup competition.

Pfera is a Fredericton-based biotech company that helps horse owners predict precisely when their mares will give birth. It sounds simple, but it alleviates a big problem in a wealthy industry.

The company already won first place in the Apex Business Plan Competition in January, and now is one of the 10 semi-finalists in Breakthru, the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation’s biennial startup competition. Four winners at Breakthru, which will be awarded next month, will divide $1 million, and the first prize is worth $371,000.

What Pfera does is check the chemistry of fluid drawn from a pregnant horse, and predict fairly accurately when she is due to give birth. The system is now accurate to within 24-48 hours, and Pfister hopes to refine it further, to a 12-hour span. An accurate prediction of when a horse will give birth can save an owner tens of thousands of dollars. Even more important to a horse-lover like Pfister, it can make the birthing process more comfortable and safer for the mare and her offspring.

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“Because my horses have used some of the competitors, I know what’s out there and I hope this will be the most non-invasive and the most comfortable product (on the market),” said Pfister, who has been breeding horses for five years. “I want to keep the safety and comfort to the highest standard possible.”

A horse’s gestation period is 320-370 days, and Pfister said conventional techniques in judging when a mare is due vary by much as 73 days. That’s a problem because someone has to monitor a mare around the clock when she is due, and that gets expensive. What’s more, a problem could be fatal to the mare or the foal.

“If things go wrong in the foaling process, then they happen pretty quickly,” she said.

The company is working in a big and lucrative market, given that there are about one million horses in Canada, and 10 million in the U.S. The equine industry as a whole is worth almost $20 billion in Canada alone.

Pfister has brought in a computer science grad with a background in artificial neurology to help work on the IT component of the product. The vision is to study the data collected by the product so that it can become more accurate over time. Horse owners and equestrian staff will also be able to access data and receive alerts on their smartphones.

In the spring, Pfister will test the system with several farms and a veterinary group in Prince Edward Island. She plans to finish the testing and then work on signing more farms in the region to work with. The trials in the spring will be special for Pfister because one of the horses is her own.

“My own mare is due sometime between May and June so I will be using the system,” she said. “That kind of helps in the development part of this project.”

QuintilesIMS Is the Buyer of STI

American multinational QuintilesIMS, the world’s largest provider of biopharmaceutical development and commercial outsourcing services, has identified itself as the buyer of Halifax-based startup STI Technologies Inc.

The U.S. company put out a statement Wednesday confirming that it closed the purchase of STI on Feb. 10, though it declined to reveal the details of the transaction. Allnovascotia.com reported last week that the price was about $200 million.

“The combination of our capabilities will enable our customers to deliver a better patient experience,” said QuintilesIMS in a statement. “By providing the support patients need, a measurable improvement to health outcomes is possible, driving efficiency and savings in the healthcare system at the same time.”

The buyer said it does not foresee any changes of the local leadership, personnel or operations in Halifax, which means that CEO Tim Gillis looks set to retain top spot at the local organization. QuintilesIMS, which has dual headquarters in Connecticut and North Carolina, declined to grant interviews right now.

STI Technologies started out in 2002 to solve a problem for the pharmaceutical industry by simplifying the way pharma companies distribute samples of new products. Rather than shipping out small samples to doctors and have them hand them out to patients, the STI platform allows drug companies to send physicians smart cards they can hand out to patients, who take them to a pharmacy along with a prescription to receive the drug.

As well as cutting costs and improving safety, the STI platform allows for an orderly record of how the sample was distributed. The pharma companies that use the product include such global giants as Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.  

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It is now part of QuintilesIMS , a company that has a market capitalization of US$19 billion (C$25 billion), and 50,000 employees in 100 countries. The company was formed last year when Quintiles Transnational and IMS Health merged in an all-stock deal forming the leading company in their sector.  For the past three years, the company has been named in Fortune magazine’s list of the most admired companies in the world. QuintilesIMS’s literature stresses that it uses data and information to improve the development and delivery of healthcare products while protecting the privacy of patients.

Though the companies are saying virtually nothing about the STI deal, what is known is that one of the world’s leading providers of healthcare data suddenly has a 100-person operation in Halifax. STI now has access to capital to grow more strongly in Atlantic Canada, as has been the case with most exits by tech companies in the region.

STI previously received a $17 million capital injection from Imperial Capital Group of Toronto in 2013, though most of that money was used to buy out minority shareholders. The company has continued to grow since then, adding staff and increasing revenues.

The transaction will likely also prove to be a win for the bio-research community in Halifax, especially that of Dalhousie University. It can’t hurt this group that one of the world’s leading providers of medical data has a presence in the city, bringing with it world-leading technologies and information.

Startup Zone Admits 9 New Members

Ryan Abdallah

Ryan Abdallah

Startup Zone, the startup house in downtown Charlottetown, said Wednesday it has accepted nine companies into its residency program.

Ranging from arts and culture to information technology to food, the new companies bring fresh ideas, energy, and diversity to the program, said the organization in a statement. The new companies are: Becka Viau Inc.; codeAtlantic; Island2Island Products; KangarooHub; Kim Roach Designs; Onset Communication; R & L Inc.; Salty; and 24STRONG.

Onset Communication, whose technology helps film crew members communicate with one another more effectively, previously went through the Propel ICT Build program

The CBC did a feature on 24Strong last November, noting the founder of the organization to empower young women, Lacey Koughan, was only 17 years old. 

The value in the space is that it can bring together entrepreneurs and startups from a variety of sectors to build upon each other,” said Startup Zone CEO Christina MacLeod in a statement. “Surrounding founders with other startups from across Prince Edward Island has already shown to be successful and we are very excited to see what this next group will accomplish with support.“

The Startup Zone residency program now hosts 21 startup companies. As Startup Zone residents, these companies have access to office hour support for legal and accounting services, information sessions, mentorship, and workspace.

Meanwhile, the Startup Zone also said Wednesday that Startup Zone resident Ryan Abdallah has won the Food Xcel Accelerator program. The prize was $15,000 in cash and $15,000 in-kind support from Canada’s Smartest Kitchen.Abdallah’s product, Maroun’s Garlic Paste, is a condiment from the menu of his Charlottetown restaurant, Cedar’s Eatery

MTI, Airbus Move Ahead with MetaAIR

George Palikaras: 'Another milestone in our strategic partnership with Airbus.'

George Palikaras: 'Another milestone in our strategic partnership with Airbus.'

Halifax-based Metamaterial Technologies Inc. and its partner Airbus are moving into commercial production of metaAIR, and plan to manufacture the laser-filtering screens in the Halifax area.

MTI and the European aircraft maker held a news conference on Tuesday to announce that they would work together to “validate, certify, and commercialize” the product.  In 2014, the two parties agreed to test metaAIR, which is a screen constructed from man-made compounds that screens out laser beams even though natural light can pass through it.

The first commercial application for the product is to stick in on aircraft cockpit windows to protect pilots and co-pilots from laser attacks, which are becoming more common each year. The Federal Aviation Administration in the U.S. says the number of reported laser incidents in 2015 nearly doubled to 7,703 in commercial aviation. There were 1,439 laser incidents reported to the Civil Aviation Authority in the U.K. and almost 600 reported by Transport Canada.

"Today marks another milestone in our strategic partnership with Airbus,” said MTI Founder and CEO George Palikaras in a statement. “We are given the opportunity to propel our platform technology and learn from some of the top aerospace engineers while understanding the rigours of developing a product for the aerospace industry.”

MTI will work with Airbus through the aviation giant’s Start-up 2 Partner program, which works with startups developing disruptive technology in the aerospace industry.

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In an interview, Palikaras said the company will develop a manufacturing facility in Halifax that can produce commercial volumes of the screens large enough to fit over a cockpit window.

“When we started, we wanted this to be available by the end of this year, but there are always things that come up,” he said. “We keep pushing for speed. In the meantime, there is great development happening. We’re getting excellent technical feedback.”

He said the Halifax operation will produce the screens and Airbus will be responsible for taking them through the certification process, which is required for any safety feature on an aircraft.

"We know from facts and conversation with clients that cockpit illuminations are real, immediate and increasing in frequency, [so] metaAIR will benefit our customers," said Pascal Andrei, Airbus’ Vice-President and Chief Product Security Officer. "We also see an increasing number of possible applications for metaAIR, beyond the commercial aircraft division."

Last April, MTI paid an undisclosed amount to buy a Silicon Valley company called Rolith to accelerate the development of its manufacturing facility. Palikaras said that purchase, which gave MTI a Silicon Valley office and lab, has helped it gain expertise in the manufacture of the screens. In 2015, the company announced a round of funding valued at at least $3.1 million, led by Innovacorp and the First Angel Network

On Tuesday, MTI also announced a partnership with German materials-maker Covestro – a significant move given that Covestro has a market capitalization of 14.1 billion euros (C$19.5 billion).  The German company supplies materials used to make MetaAIR. Now MTI and Covestro plan to work together to produce eyeware for the ballistics market – a product that calls for much simpler certification than aerospace product. 

Said Palikaras: "MetaAIR will provide vision protection to pilots in the aviation industry and can offer solutions in other industries including the military, transportation and glass manufacturers."

BDO To Host Connecting with VCs

BDO Canada will host its annual Connecting with Venture Capitalists event in Halifax on March 29, offering startups a chance to pitch to four leading VC funds.

BDO, an accounting practice that targets the mid-market, initiated the events last year as a means of connecting entrepreneurs with funders. The Halifax event, to be held at the Four Points by Sheraton Halifax on Hollis Street, will include a session led by Brightspark that will instruct wealthy individuals in the basics of angel investing.

The organizers will accept five to seven Atlantic Canadian startups to pitch to the investment panel. They are accepting applications here until March 8.

“BDO is an accounting, tax and advisory firm focused on the mid-market space, and we know the early-stage startup space,” said BDO Partner Dan Jennings, who is organizing the event. “With our BDO StartSmart suite of services, our goal is to build a relationship with startups so that they can access the basic accounting and tax compliance advice they need as startups so that we’re there to help them succeed in all stages of their business.”

BDO said the tech industry is a major economic driver in Canada and will continue to grow in importance. The sector contributes 17 percent to Canada’s GDP and employs more than 854,000 Canadians, constituting 5.6 percent of the nation’s total employment.

The Atlantic BDO start-up team, led by Jennings and Craig Mulcahy, wanted to support the local community by connecting start-ups and angel investors with a greater number of venture capitalists, said the firm.

The Halifax event begins at 1 pm on March 29, with the pitching presentations, which will last until 3:30. The panel of VCs hearing the pitches comprises Sophie Forest of Brightspark, Brian Kobus of OMERS Ventures, Sam Haffar of Real Ventures and Rob Barbra of Build Ventures.

Brightspark, a Toronto-based VC firm that allows accredited investors to invest in its portfolio companies, will present a 90-minute seminar on “tips and traps” of angel investing. Details are available here. The event will close out with an evening networking session.

The Halifax event is part of a broader effort by BDO to link funders and founders. The group will hold a similar event in Toronto on March 7.

 

Full disclosure: BDO is a client of Entrevestor.

Dal To Host CBMC March 10-11

More than 80 teams from 20 universities across Canada have applied to compete in Canada’s Business Model Competition 2017, to be held next month in Halifax.

The contest was launched by Dalhousie University’s Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship in 2013. It allows finalists to compete for part of a total prize package of $50,000 and in-kind prizes.

A pool of 30 teams will be selected to compete in this year’s event.

The Newman Centre established the contest as part of its Launch Dal programming, which sees university-based venture teams use the business model canvas to validate their business idea, obtain customers and gain market traction.

The contest will begin March 10 at Dalhousie. The final part of the competition will be held on Saturday March 11 at 2 pm in room 1020 of the Rowe School of Business and will be open to the public.

Contest winners will go on to compete in the International Business Model Competition, which will be held May 11 to 12 in Silicon Valley at the Computer History Museum. 

With Big Clients, Celtx Eyes Series B

Mark Kennedy: 'We were coming into the orbit of these much larger players.'

Mark Kennedy: 'We were coming into the orbit of these much larger players.'

A year of signing up large enterprise clients has Mark Kennedy being in a position later this year to entertain a Series B funding round.

Kennedy is the CEO of St. John’s-based Celtx, which has been a pioneer in producing a range of software for the film industry.

Founded in 2000, the company has attracted millions of users who are film writers, designers, producers and others involved in “scripted media” like film, video, games, theatre and the like. The company’s breakthrough came when it launched its software-as-a-service product in 2012 and began to focus more on gaining revenues.

Kennedy said the company added more than 1.1 million registered users to its Software-as-a-Service and mobile products in 2016, but the big news was that it began to gain more customers for its enterprise offering, which is designed for large studios.

“About a year ago, we decided to tweak the product so it catered more to that type of company,” said Kennedy in a phone interview from St. John’s. “The first quarter is usually our strongest quarter for sales, and in the first quarter last year we saw increasing inbound interest in those specific customers — we were coming into the orbit of these much larger players.”

The enterprise clients listed on the company’s websites include: Univision, a Spanish-language television network in the U.S. whose 2015 revenues were US$2.9 billion; Rovio Entertainment, the Finnish maker of Angry Bird; Buzzfeed, the New York Internet media company, and the U.S. cable TV giant HBO.

In particular, Kennedy said the company has been making inroads in the Latin American market — so much so that one of its recent hires has been a customer services representative whose first language is Spanish.

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One reason Celtx is succeeding at the enterprise level is that the company made the choice about two years ago to give its clients the ability to work on episodic series. Celtx caught the wave of multi-episode series that is all the rage with viewers now, and Kennedy said Latin American companies are especially prolific in these productions.

Celtx has also made steady inroads into the educational community, and is helping not only post-secondary institutions but also high schools teaching film to students.

The client base now includes the Philadelphia School District, which is comprised of 25,000 schools.

And there is crossover between the film and educational clients. For example, the Toronto-based French-language TV network TFO is using Celtx software in its educational programming.

Pinning down the exact number of customers is difficult, because clients tend to use the software when they’re working on a project and can then set it aside for months. But Kennedy said 800,000 people downloaded Celtx’s mobile app in 2016. It is now seeing about 250,000 unique visits each month in the SaaS product. Overall, its revenues have increased by at least 55 per cent in each of the last three years.

To increase sales, especially among enterprise clients, Celtx this year hired Wade McCallum, formerly of Radian6 and Salesforce, to be vice-president of sales.

He is now building up a sales team in Halifax.

Celtx last raised money two years ago when it brought in $3.3 million from Build Ventures of Halifax and its original backer, Killick Capital of St. John’s. Kennedy has spoken of building up to doing a Series B funding round, considerably larger than the last round, once the company gets its sales to the right level.

“We’re not far from those metrics now — we should be in solid Series B metrics by the end of the year,” he said.

“And we’re getting inbound VC interest once or twice a week, all out of the States, both East Coast and West Coast.”

Ubique Partners with Caribou Contests

Vijai Karthigesu

Vijai Karthigesu

Ubique Networks Inc., a Sydney- and Toronto-based startup that reduces lag time in online gaming, has partnered with Thorold, Ont.-based Caribou Contests Inc. to promote problem-solving skills among students through global Minecraft and math competitions.

Ubique — pronounced U-bi-quay, it’s the Latin word for “everywhere” — has developed technology that significantly reduces the lag time in online communications, especially in multi-player online games. It will now use this technology to improve the performance of Caribou’s global math competitions, which are held six times a year.

“Using Minecraft games based on Caribou’s own math puzzles is an exciting way for many students to look at creatively solving problems,” said Ubique CEO Vijai Karthigesu in a statement. “This is part of Ubique’s strategy to promote the game-based education through Minecraft and other games.”

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Ubique, which received $1 million in equity funding last year, aims to solve a huge problem with multi-player online games. When players in different parts of the world are playing one another, the system is much faster for the player closest to the server, giving that player an unfair advantage.

Ubique’s solution is to develop a network of remote servers, so the players are always playing on a server based roughly equal distances from each of them. As of last spring, it had servers in Toronto, Seattle and Chicago and was growing the network.

It is now working with Caribou Contests, which holds worldwide online math contests for students in Grades 3 to 12. Tens of thousands of students from more than two dozen countries participate in the contests to test their problem-solving skills by resolving math puzzles. The Caribou Cup is awarded once per year to the top performing student within these competitions.

Ubique will reconstruct selected Caribou puzzles within the world of Minecraft. These puzzles include Floodfill, Nim, Sudoku and Chomp. Ubique will also introduce the Caribou Contests to new territories and hold global Minecraft-based tournaments.

“Caribou has shown a cost-effective way for students in many countries to improve their problem solving skills through math puzzles,” said Thomas Wolf, founder and CEO of Caribou. “Our partnership with Ubique will promote math skills around the world even further.”

Karthigesu is based in Toronto, and Ubique has a major development team in Sydney and some sales staff in Nova Scotia.

The gaming industry is now worth $15 billion, and more than 700 million people around the world play multiplayer online games or are engaged in e-sports. Ubique said the numbers are growing.

Appili Lands $2.8M in AIF Funding

Kevin Sullivan

Kevin Sullivan

Halifax-based Appili Therapeutics Inc., which is developing anti-infective drugs, said last week it will receive a $2.8 million loan from the Atlantic Innovation Fund, a research fund operated by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

The company said the funding will allow it to take its first drug, ATI-1501, through clinical trials to be ready for market approval. Last year, Appili received a key U.S. regulatory designation for this drug candidate, which treats Clostridium difficile infection, or CDI, in children.

"Having ACOA recognize the potential of our antibiotic reformulation to become a new weapon against anaerobic infections is outstanding,” said Appili CEO Kevin Sullivan in a statement. “This AIF funding supports our strategy to advance ATI-1501 into human clinical trials as soon as possible.”

Appili plans to take the antibiotic into clinical trials this year and is now manufacturing the clinical batch of ATI-1501 to good manufacturing practices, the standard required by the Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA has granted orphan drug designation to ATI-1501, which removes the bitter taste from Metronidazole, a drug that has been used to treat the condition since the 1970s. Metronidazole is effective, but it tastes awful, so children often won’t take it, thereby limiting its effectiveness. By removing the bitter taste, ATI-1501 improves the results of the drug.

The FDA granted the application because CDI is one of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s most urgent antibiotic-resistant bacterial threats. It affects more than 500,000 Canadians and Americans each year and causes 29,000 deaths annually.

Just two years old, Appili has been actively raising money. The company in December closed a $2.15 million equity funding round. In 2015, it raised $2.3 million in equity financing, which allowed it to tap $1.2 million in additional funding from such organizations as ACOA.

STI Reportedly Near $200M Exit

Tim Gillis

Tim Gillis

STI Technologies, the Halifax company that helps drug companies distribute samples, is reportedly close to announcing a $200 million exit.

Citing a report in Allnovascotia.com, the Chronicle-Herald said late Friday that the company has reached a deal with an unnamed purchaser to sell out for about $200 million. Representatives of the company did not respond to an email over the weekend.

Assuming the report is correct, the STI sale would likely be the largest exit of an Atlantic Canadian startup since Ocean Nutrition Canada of Dartmouth sold out to the Dutch conglomerate Royal DSM for $540 million in 2012.

STI Technologies started out in 2002 to solve a problem for the pharmaceutical industry by simplifying the way pharma companies distribute samples of new products. Rather than shipping out small samples to doctors and have them hand them out to patients, the STI platform allows drug companies to send physicians smart cards they can hand out to patients, who take them to a pharmacy along with a prescription to receive the drug.

As well as cutting costs and improving safety, the STI platform allows for an orderly record of how the sample was distributed. The pharma companies that use the product include such global giants as Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.

The company established itself among the top tier of startups in the region in 2013 when then-CEO Steve Nicolle landed $17 million in private equity investment from Imperial Capital of Toronto. Part of that investment bought out early investors, including GrowthWorks Atlantic, which bagged $6 million in the deal.

A few months before the Imperial funding, STI launched a new initiative called InnoviCares, which has been the fastest-growing part of the business. At the outset, it allowed patients to stay with a brand name drug at a lower price when the drug’s patent expires, and receive savings on other health care products.

Nicolle soon retired from the company and was replaced as CEO by Tim Gillis. During his tenure, the company made the Deloitte 2015 Tech Fast 50, the list of the top-growing technology companies in the country. STI took 41st place with revenue growth of 204 percent over four years. Deloitte also named STI to its North American Fast 50 list in 2015, assigning it the 319th spot.

The company now has about 100 employees, up from 57 at the end of 2014.

Mariner XVu Sales Growth Tops 30%

Saint John tech companyMariner has reported strong revenue growth at its flagship xVu division, whose video-system-monitoring software is now assessing 3 billion events a week.

Mariner xVu (pronounced “X-View”) is the main product division of the company. It is an analytics system that allows online video content providers to identify and correct problems with Internet video delivery systems. It’s an attractive business because video is by far the fastest-growing segment of the internet and that growth is nowhere near reaching a plateau.

Mariner said in a statement last week that the division saw significant growth in Tier 1 operators who are looking for economies when managing new, inter-related services like TV entertainment, over the top streaming, broadband and Wi-Fi. It now has 40 million devices under management, and it is monitoring 150 billion events annually. (An event is basically something going wrong when a user tries to play a video.)

Over the past four years, the division’s revenues have been growing annually at about a 30 percent rate and exceeded that level in 2016, said the statement. It did not provide totals for the revenues.

“The technology landscape is changing and operators are investing in customer satisfaction initiatives while looking to capture economies for serving entertainment, Internet, Wi-Fi and mobile offers,” said Shaun MacDonald, Senior Vice-President of Business Development and Marketing at Mariner xVu. “As operators add new entertainment offers, they must address the fragmentation of video capable consumer devices and at the same time deploy software systems that support multiple services concurrently.”

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The Mariner group is unique among the tech companies in the region for several reasons. First, it’s chaired by Gerry Pond, the best-known tech investor and evangelist in Atlantic Canada. Second, it’s big. The company has said publicly that the group’s 2014 and 2015 revenues were around $25 million each year. And third, it is the only tech company with its own broad-ranging investment portfolio. Its East Valley Ventures division comprises a portfolio of more than 20 startups, all but two based in Atlantic Canada.

As well as xVu and East Valley, the group includes: Mariner Innovations, a consultancy business that specializes in application modernization and IT professional services; and Shift Energy, an Industrial Internet of Things company specializing in energy efficiency in large buildings and complexes.

The company’s flagship is Mariner xVu, which can figure out what went wrong with video systems even when the issue is hidden deep in the largest systems. It’s a difficult task because online video delivery – which has grown even more complicated with the advent of mobile video – involves different components based in different places. Mariner CEO Curtis Howe calls it “finding a needle in a continental haystack.”

Mariner said last week the xVu platform continues to take market share from its competitors, and has witnessed significant recent growth as operators expand their streaming offerings.

Said MacDonald: “Mariner brings experience and expertise to support the operations teams so they can efficiently fix problems based on real time visibility, which has its highest ROI during service launches and updates.”

Job of the Week: Repable

Heather Anne Carson and Sean Power

Heather Anne Carson and Sean Power

Our Job of the Week column today features an opening for a full-stack developer with a fast-growing company providing eSports analytics -- Repable.

Repable, which is based in Moncton and Toronto, collects and analyzes data on eSports, or competitive gaming, a fast-growing international phenomenon. It’s estimated some 200 million people watched competitive gaming in 2016.

Co-Founders Heather Anne Carson and Sean Power teamed up in 2015 to create a product that would give analytics on viewership in eSports. The pasttime is growing so quickly that major consumer product brands want to use it as a marketing vehicle, but they don’t know how. It’s an opportunity to reach a young audience that doesn’t usually watch television, let alone read newspapers. But these brands don’t have firm metrics on who or what to sponsor or how to approach this new craze. So Repable’s analytics give them the information they need to work in this booming market.

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

Toronto

Repable

Full-Stack Developer

Repable is looking for someone who can lead the development of an SaaS app used by the largest eSports teams in the world. This person will have a complete static mockup along with front-end assets, including a UI/UX team to help make changes on the fly. Repable has an experienced DevOps team to help with deployment, and a product manager, who can help translate mockup into functioning code.

The full-stack developer must build a tool that interfaces with some of the world's largest social networks. He or she will be consuming many social APIs (including Repable’s own), and use the resulting content to make the lives of eSports teams better.

Repable is looking for someone experienced in frameworks, APIs, eSports, MySQL, and JavaScript.

The winning applicant will work with people who have done this before, including world-class venture capital firms, and receive a competitive startup salary and stock options. 

The Gender Divide and Mental Health

Michael DeVenney: 'Women are more likely to talk to people about how they're faring.'

Michael DeVenney: 'Women are more likely to talk to people about how they're faring.'

A Canadian study on how entrepreneurship affects mental health has revealed that women entrepeneurs do not grow their companies or export at the same rate as their male counterparts, despite starting as many businesses.

Halifax-based Michael DeVenney, who conducted The Mindset Project last year, believes the survey may be the largest on the subject in the world. He received 485 replies to his extensive questionnaire, 80 per cent of them from Atlantic Canada.

“Women have a tendency to start businesses that are sole proprietor ventures or have fewer than 20 employees. Men are more likely to start companies that grow larger,” said DeVenney, who is the president of consulting agency, Bluteau DeVenney.

He suggests this may be because female entrepreneurs are receiving insufficient support. Men and women also respond differently to risk and to the perception of risk.

“With the perception of high risk or high stress, men become less risk-averse, while women become more risk-averse,” said DeVenney, whose interest in mental health stems from his own struggles with depression.

“Women have a more realistic perspective on what entrepreneurship will take and its impact on life and relationships. Men think, I can make it all work…Women seem deterred by those perceptions.”

DeVenney said women are not wrong to be cautious as entrepreneurship is a horrendous lifestyle. Entrepreneurs work very long hours, and identify to an unhealthy degree with their businesses.

He said that although men feel they can handle stress, they do struggle.

“Men feel they can cope then have to deal with the aftermath. Men are not coping as well as they think.”

Probing the Mental Health of Founders

He said women tend to have better coping skills.

“Women are more likely to talk to people about how they’re faring than men — a key indicator of coping. Men are more likely to isolate, which compounds the issue.”

Despite women’s risk-aversion and greater coping skills, women reported a greater perception of overall health decline since starting in entrepreneurship — 53 per cent compared with 41 per cent of men.

Among women, 25 per cent said their mental health was poor or very poor, while 14 per cent of men said the same.

“Men feel they have to show they’re tough and can handle things, women maybe feel even more pressure to do the same,” DeVenney said. “Women seem to have to do more than men to prove themselves — For all the talk about gender parity, it’s still not happening.”

The survey also found women entrepreneurs are less likely to export than male. Only 12 per cent of female respondents had revenues from exports, compared with 21 per cent of men.

These figures are close to the national average. DeVenney said about 17 per cent of entrepreneurs nationally export, despite the recent nationwide focus on growing export markets.

His survey revealed a particularly high level of mental health problems among those who do export — 48 per cent of entrepreneurs who export said their overall health had worsened since becoming an entrepreneur.

“We may not have done a good job in supporting people who are exporting,” DeVenney said. “It requires more complex decision-making when the entrepreneur is already under stress.”

DeVenney said he would like to dig deeper on his findings and is in talks with other groups on follow-up surveys.

“We’d like to know more. We need to better shape how entrepreneurs work so women, and men, are more comfortable growing their companies,” he said.

“It bothers me that women aren’t growing their businesses. It’s not due to the type of business women are running or their capabilities. There are just as many female respondents running businesses that can be scaled.”

Bulletproof Opens Cybersecurity Centre

Bulletproof, an IT services company based in Fredericton, has opened a Security Operation Center, or SOC, which has already resulted in the creation of 15 new jobs.

An SOC is a facility in which enterprise information systems like web sites, applications, servers and networks are monitored, assessed, and defended. 

The Fredericton company said in a statement it is working in collaboration with CyberNB, the provincial initiative to make New Brunswick a hub for cybersecurity in Canada. The government has recently been promoting the province for its expertise in cybersecurity, and the potential of the segment.

“This center is a natural progression to our deeply entrenched security roots which we have provided customers across Atlantic Canada for the past 16 years,” Bulletproof CEO Steven Burns said  in an email. “The next phase of Bulletproof will see it become a global player in specific verticals like gaming and lottery, and this center is the catalyst.” 

Cybersecurity Institute Opens at UNB

Bulletproof, which last summer was bought by GLI Group of Lakewood, N.J., supports customers in 22 countries  and those exports will continue to grow with the opening of the $1.5 million SOC.  “The best part is that the jobs and the economic benefit will stay here in Atlantic Canada,” said Burns.   

He added that cybersecurity and a lack of security professionals is a cause of concern for many companies. There were 2260 confirmed data breaches in 2016, and there will be 1 million to 2 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs worldwide by 2019. Many companies don't have access to resources or funds for their own SOC, which makes this new service offering so exciting for small and medium sized businesses. 

Burns said his company’s SOC will provide around-the-clock monitoring, security event detection, and security incident response. The SOC uses intrusion-detection systems, end-point protection solutions, firewalls, servers, and other key systems.

For example, the SOC team can identify and investigate suspicious network traffic by relying on real-time security data analytics. They can also supplement a company's internal security team by offering around-the-clock network security monitoring.

Hypergive Recognized at Dubai Summit

Hypergive, a Halifax startup that uses blockchain to help the homeless, has been presented a special Year of Giving Award at the World Government Summit in Dubai.

The Halifax group were flown to Dubai last week as one of the finalists in the Blockchain Virtual GovHack, which aims to use blockchain, the technology behind bitcoin, to improve the way governments serve their citizens. Hypergive had a shot at winning part of $140,000 in prize money through to competition.

Though it were not one of the three big winners in the hackathon, Hypergive was presented the honorary 2017 Year of Giving Award at the Government Summit by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, at the awards ceremony.

“We're incredibly honoured and humbled by the recognition of Hypergive at the 2017 World Government Summit,” said Hypergive Founder and CEO Scott Burke in a statement. “As technology continues to rapidly transform society, it’s now our task to create and embrace future solutions without fear in order to tackle global challenges. It’s immensely meaningful to be a part of moving a vision forward which can help enrich the lives of those around us, and in turn, enrich our own.”

Burke founded a Halifax-based group called BlockCrushr, which is dedicated to developing new products using blockchain, which is a series of digital ledgers that can be used to transfer value and information between people, and leave a permanent record of who did what in each ledger.

From Dalhousie to a Tech Accelerator in Cairo

The BlockCrushr group includes Brian Jeffcock, who works with the Halifax startup Sidestory, and Andrew Redden, who works with Kinduct Technologies, also of Halifax.

Together, they have been working on Burke’s idea of a system to help the homeless. Hypergive lets people make donations so the homeless can buy food, clothing, toiletries — the essentials for living.

The donations are recorded and tax receipts issued. The money collected is stored on a card that charitable organizations can distribute to homeless people. These cards will include a QR code and possibly photo identification so they can only be used by the person who received the card. He or she can use the card to purchase goods at retail outlets, whose logos are also printed on the card, and there are daily spending limits on each card.

The purchases can only be made by the person identified by the card, and the card can be replaced if it is lost or stolen.

The Hypergive card should ensure tax-efficient and easy donations, and guarantee that the money is used only to buy needed goods by the intended recipient.

BlockCrushr is now looking to pilot Hypergive in cities around the world. Even in the concept stage, Hypergive drew the enthusiasm of others in the tech community, various media outlets, and key Rotary chapters, which want to help in rolling the project out.

The US$100,000 winner of the GovHack was Project Oaken, an American team that aims to be the leading Internet of Things hardware and distributed software platform used in smart cities. For the GovHack, it devised a system that uses blockchain to make automatic payments at tollbooths, cutting costs and increasing security. 

Helping the Aged with Home Sensors

John Robertson is one of the people to see an opportunity in the fact that the population of the western world — and Nova Scotia in particular — is aging.

Robertson is a Halifax-based business consultant whose company, inspiredEggs, helps firms bring their products to market. Now he’s focused on a new venture that he hopes will improve the lives of seniors who live alone.

The new company, homeEXCEPT, places thermal imaging sensors in seniors’ homes to ensure they are safe and healthy. The system, which will launch this summer, is non-intrusive, cost-competitive and provides peace of mind for the families of elderly people who live alone.

“We’re (reacting to) the fears of the GenXers and baby boomers and the fact that they are worried about the safety of their loved ones,” Robertson said in a recent interview. “But from a business perspective, we’re creating our own data set by having our own sensors in the marketplace and that gives us a data set that can be replicated by no one.”

Robertson came up with the idea a year ago when he delivered a presentation in Atlanta and heard U.S. officials speak about the coming “senior tsunami.” There are now 50 million Americans over the age of 65 and that is projected to be 75 million by 2030.

Robertson has been mentoring the founders of Halifax-based startup Bitness, which places sensors in retail establishments to gather data on customer behaviour. He wondered if a similar system could be used to let the elderly safely stay in their own homes.

Athletigen Added to Kinduct Platform

The solution is a series of sensors that are placed in each room in the house, and accompanying software that analyzes the senior’s movements and understands if something is amiss. It can tell if the individual is late getting out of bed, wandering at night, absent for a prolonged period, or has had a fall. It can distinguish between pets and humans, and it can tell if a stove is left on or a window’s left open. The longer the system runs, the more it understands the person it is monitoring and the more effective it is.

The system uses Facebook Messenger to contact family members if there is cause for alarm. It allows the family members to know immediately (using a free service they likely already use) if they need to check in on their elderly relative.

Robertson is now raising a round of angel financing with a goal of $250,000, and he already has $100,000 in commitments.

To bring the project to fruition, Robertson has struck a number of key partnerships. He’s working with Matt d’Entrement, director of the iDLab at Dalhousie University, and the tech consultancy T4G on developing the technology.

And he has teamed up with Northwood Care, which will help to bring the product to members of its network.

Finally, Robertson is working with a team of advisers that includes doctors Gail Estes and Aaron Newman, two of Dalhousie’s leading researchers in brain-related issues.

The goal over time is to build up a set of data that will help these researchers better understand the elderly brain and constantly improve the product.

“What we’re building is a data company more than anything else,” said Robertson. “There’s going to be a very, very rich amount of research that will result from this.”

Athletigen Added to Kinduct Platform

Travis McDonough and Jeremy Koenig

Travis McDonough and Jeremy Koenig

Two Halifax startups – both of which work in the intersection of IT and life sciences – have announced a collaboration to help athletes and coaches make better decisions.

Kinduct Technologies, a data and analytics software provider, and Athletigen Technologies Inc., which analyzes athletes’ DNA, have announced that Kinduct’s software platform will soon incorporate Athletigen’s genetic insights.

Athletigen’s platform analyzes an athlete’s DNA so coaches and athletes can better understand peak performance in training and competition. The Kinduct platform allows organizations to analyze athlete data collected from different sources and then use those insights to make better decisions and improve performance.

Kinduct, whose platform is used by some of the world’s best known sports teams, draws data from a range of sources, and will soon add Athletigen to the platform.

“The partnership with Kinduct is an exciting opportunity, with both companies focused on pushing the limits of human performance,” said Athletigen CEO Jeremy Koenig in a statement. “Clients will now have access to genetic markers combined with performance data, biometric scores and subjective inputs to provide a comprehensive view of the athlete to help understand and improve their in-game performance.”

Affinio To Launch LinkedIn Product

Kinduct’s platform, used by teams in the NHL, MLB, NFL, NBA, MLS, and NCAA, allows for a two-way information exchange between coaches and athletes. its Athlete Management System gives teams the ability to collect, analyze, and act on a wide range of player performance data and content such as training results, sleep schedules, maximum acceleration, deceleration, and heart rate. All of the information captured or calculated within the Kinduct platform supports informed decisions on personalized training and injury recovery programs for every athlete. This new partnership with Athletigen adds genetics as an important new layer of data.

“Athletigen analyzes genetic markers that help athletes understand where their performance strengths and weaknesses truly lie,” said Kinduct CEO Travis McDonough. “The partnership with Athletigen and the integration of their genetic insights into Kinduct’s platform will create a powerful tool for assessing an athlete’s condition and defining the optimal training and recovery programs.”

He added: “We see this combination of performance data and genetics as an important step in maximising player performance while reducing injury risk. Our clients can gain access to each athlete’s genetic foundation to better explain the data we capture.”

SImplyCast Plans Recruitment Fair

SimplyCast, the Dartmouth-based startup specializing in marketing automation, is planning to hold a recruitment fair at the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront Hotel from 11 am to 1 pm on Feb. 23.

The event will take place just before the company’s scheduled event, at which it will unveil news about the company’s future. That event will take place at the Marriott Harbourfront at 4 pm.

With clients in 175 countries, SimplyCast is a leading provider of interactive and multi-channel communication software for organizations around the world.

To keep up with the anticipated rapid growth of the company, SimplyCast is holding the recruitment fair to fill positions in six roles:

-          Account Management;

-          Digital Copywriter;

-          Customer Service Specialist;

-          Programmer/Developer;

-          Sales Associate;

-          And Hands-Free Specialist.

“We are always looking for new SimplyCasters to join our team,” said SimplyCast President and CEO Saeed El-Darahali. “We expect 2017 to be one of the busiest and most profitable years in company history so we need to begin making some hires so we are able to maintain our ability to meet and exceed clients’ needs.”

The SimplyCast recruitment fair will take place outside the Nova Scotia Ballroom.

Love, Marriage and a FinTech App

Amira AlKasem and Mohamad Tawakol

Amira AlKasem and Mohamad Tawakol

In honour of Valentine’s Day, we have a story today of love, marriage, an accelerator in Cairo and an intriguing FinTech app.

This is the story of Syrian-born Amira AlKasem and Mohamad Tawakol, originally from Egypt, two young people who met at Dalhousie University, where they were studying business and computer science respectively. I met them last year when they were going through Starting Lean, the university’s entrepreneurship program.

As you may have guessed, they’re now engaged and plan to marry later this year in Cairo, where Tawakol hails from.

Cairo features prominently in this story because Tawakol was recently accepted as one of 20 startups in the current cohort of the tech accelerator at the American University of Cairo, the largest private university in Egypt.

He and his co-founder Mohamed Zohair are taking their company Spare through the program’s FinTech cohort. Tawakol actually has found he is helping many of his colleagues in the program, because the course involves the lean methodology he’d already learned at Dal.

Spare is a payment system that aims to cure a massive problem for consumers in Egypt, and it could have applications in other developing economies.

Because of the costs, fewer than 10 percent of Egyptians have bank accounts, and about 4 to 6 percent have credit cards. That means 95 percent of all transactions are cash-based – even online. Merchants often don’t have the cash to give people the proper change.

“People always pay in cash, and merchants are always saying things like, `Do you want a pick of gum instead of your change?’” said Tawakol. “It’s known as the change crisis.”

WellTrack Named to 500 Startups

Spare aims to solve this problem with an app that allows consumers to store points on their phones, which can then be used to pay for goods at approved store outlets. Each point is equal to one Egyptian pound.

Consumers can download points from tablet that Spare provides for the merchants. Because the system is points-based rather than using the country’s currency, it avoids regulatory problems that could entangle a payment system. Commercial International Bank, the biggest bank in Egypt, sponsors the accelerator, and officials from the bank have helped Tawakol and Zohair on the legal matters.

“It’s like cashback in reverse,” said Tawakol. “You give the store cash and they load up your phone.”

Tawakol and Zohair plan to launch the service with  the merchants at the university. By six months after that, they hope to have the tablets in at least 100 stores, and then move into national chains.

They believe there is an international market for the product.

“Right now, it’s just Egypt because that’s the market we know,” he said. “There’s a really big need for electronic payments and no one has found a mobile app solution.”

Meanwhile, Tawakol and AlKasem are also busy planning their nuptial celebrations. He has returned to Halifax for two weeks, where AlKasem is working for a bank. They’re planning an engagement party in Beiruit this summer, as her family members in Syria can travel to Lebanon but not Egypt.  They are planning a wedding in December, and will be a married couple by the next Valentine’s Day. 

A Reminder to Complete our Survey

Here’s one final reminder to please fill out our survey to help us get a better understanding of the makeup and opinions of the Atlantic Canadian startup community.

The survey is completely anonymous. And you’re asked to reveal NO sensitive information about your company.

What the survey does provide is a chance for you to make your opinions known on matters like funding, government programs and talent. It’s well worth taking five minutes to complete it.  

You can find the survey here.

Entrevestor is partnering with the Atlantic Canadian team at the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program, or REAP, to generate data on the startup community in Atlantic Canada.

As probably know, Entrevestor has surveyed founders across Atlantic Canada for the past three years to gain keen insights into the growth of innovation companies and the health of our ecosystem. This year, our survey was happening concurrently with one carried out by the REAP team. To ensure that founders aren’t belaboured with too many surveys, we’re combining these surveys. We're going to use the REAP survey, which some of you may have seen on the Halifax or New Brunswick Startup Community Facebook pages.

REAP is a program offered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that helps regions to foster economic growth and social progress.  The program matches MIT experts with regional representatives to develop strategies in addressing specific economic challenges. This year it accepted a group from Nova Scotia comprising business people, academics and officials from federal and provincial governments. The goal is to bring leaders from the region to one of the world’s greatest academic institutes and develop plans to improve the economic environment in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada.

This survey will give the REAP team the baseline data it needs to understand the regional startup community. And Entrevestor will use the data to produce its annual study of the community, which it sells to customers to help finance our free news service.

Job of the Week: Dash Hudson

The focus of the Job of the Week column this week is an opening for a sales development representative at Halifax-based Dash Hudson.

Dash Hudson helps clients analyze their Instagram and SnapChat data. It collects data on how major brands are connecting with customers on Instagram. The photo-sharing app is one of the most popular social media tools available but before Dash Hudson they were unable to analyze what effect Instagram posts were having with customers. It is now moving into providing the same service for SnapChat users.

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

Halifax

Dash Hudson

Sales Development Representative

The successful candidate will be a critical piece to the growth and development of Dash Hudson's sales process. He or she will manage a creative and customized outreach strategy to potential customers in verticals such as fashion, beauty, luxury, travel, food, publishing and consumer electronics. Through developing and maintaining the early stages of the sales pipeline, this person will contribute to the overall success of the sales team!

The position carries three main responsibilities: first, managing lead generation; second, overseeing custom outreach process, and third, being responsible for performance and tracking.

The company is looking for someone with a desire to learn and improve processes, with strong written and verbal communication skills, and who is self-motivating.

We’re Teaming With REAP for Survey

We’re pleased to announce that we’re partnering with the Atlantic Canadian team at the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program, or REAP, to generate data on the startup community in Atlantic Canada.

As many of you know, Entrevestor has surveyed founders across Atlantic Canada for the past three years to gain keen insights into the growth of innovation companies and the health of our ecosystem. This year, our survey was happening concurrently with one carried out by the Reap team. To ensure that founders aren’t belaboured with too many surveys, we’re combining these surveys. We're going to use the REAP survey, which some of you may have seen on the Halifax or New Brunswick Startup Community Facebook pages. 

Many of you have already completed this survey. If you haven’t, could you please take a few minutes to do so. It will help immeasurably in producing the data we need in the efforts to build a better ecosystem in the region.

You can find the survey here.

REAP is a program offered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that helps regions to foster economic growth and social progress.  The program matches MIT experts with regional representatives to develop strategies in addressing specific economic challenges. This year it accepted a group from Nova Scotia comprising business people, academics and officials from federal and provincial governments. The goal is to bring leaders from the region to one of the world’s greatest academic institutes and develop plans to improve the economic environment in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada.

The program drew some controversy in Nova Scotia last year when it was reported that Dalhousie University was funding the initiative. However, we’ve been assured that external fundraising has covered the cost of the Atlantic Canadian team to go through the program, and the core team members are volunteering their time and covering their own costs.

The REAP team has been surveying founders in the region. Entrevestor will now help out by contacting our list of Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs and ask them to complete the survey. We want to emphasize that we need data from across Atlantic Canada. The more responses we get from across the region, the better our understanding will be of how the startup community is evolving.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Yours,

Peter Moreira

The Market for Sustainable Swag

Jane Mitchell: 'Business will be central to the delivery of the change we need.'

Jane Mitchell: 'Business will be central to the delivery of the change we need.'

Pens made from recycled pop bottles and lanyards formed from factory scraps don’t sound particularly appealing. But Jane Mitchell, owner of Oyster Promo Inc., is building a business around companies’ desire to promote their environmental consciousness.

Oyster Promo provides sustainable promotional products. Mitchell established the Halifax-based company just over a year ago. She said business has grown five-fold as companies realize that consumers want to shop sustainably.

“Our products include reusable water bottles, USB drives made from FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)-certified maple, polo shirts and other apparel made from recycled polyester or bamboo and organic cotton,” said Mitchell.

“We’ve also got tote bags made by a women’s co-operative in India. We help clients build their brand in line with their values, and to purchase branded merchandise that shows their customers that they care about the environment and social good.”

Mitchell said that promotional products are a small piece of a company’s marketing budget but they’re effectively tangible.

“These days, we’re increasingly online and dealing with intangibles. Products can help a company build a brand,” said the Halifax-raised entrepreneur who has an MBA from Ivey Business School in Ontario.

While Mitchell is based in Halifax, she also operates out of Vancouver. At present, 60 per cent of her business is done in Atlantic Canada but she sells across the country and is focusing on expanding in Toronto.

She first thought about establishing Oyster when a B.C.-based friend started a sustainable products business. The desire to do the same was intensified when Mitchell, who worked for an ethical funds company at the time, attended a function organized by a company that wished to promote its efforts on sustainability.

“Their sticky notes were not made from recycled paper,” she said. “It seemed they’d missed an opportunity to get their message across and show they were walking the talk.”

Plato Aims to Hire 1000 Native People

She said the price difference between sustainable and non-sustainable products is lessening.

“For a paper notebook the cost is identical. Most of the paper we buy now is at least 30 per cent recycled.”

Customization is a popular trend.

“You can buy water bottles with your logo and a different individual’s name on each bottle,” she said.

“Tech products are always popular, as are some utilitarian items— customized socks, for instance. You can have your logo woven into the sock. Socks are useful and often have the advantage of being made in Canada.”

Mitchell said clients seeking sustainable products may find there is not one available at the same price as non-sustainable, but the option of sustainability is always there.

“The product might be made from recycled material or sourced from a fair trade organization,” she said. “Sometimes it just needs to be made in Canada.”

Mitchell said her company has competitors in the promotional products business, but few that focus on sustainability.

“I think I formed my company at the right time. Al Gore said business will be central to the delivery of the change we need around climate change.

“A study by Unilever stated there is a market opportunity of $1 trillion for brands that can effectively market the sustainability of their wares.”

Mitchell said all consumers are becoming more aware of environmental and social justice issues, but millennials are particularly concerned.

“People care,” she said. “Millennials like to shop and buy brands, but they want their brands to be in line with their values.”

Affinio To Launch LinkedIn Product

Tim Burke and Stephen Hankinson

Tim Burke and Stephen Hankinson

Affinio announced this week that it is launching a new product that assesses business sentiment by studying data produced by LinkedIn.

The three-year-old Halifax company has developed an advanced database technology that allows low-cost, real-time processing of social network data to determine how every person on the web is connected. It mines publicly available social media posts and other business data to find people who are connected by common interests, experiences or networks.

So far, the company has focused on analyzing the sentiments of individuals, and that strategy has gained Affinio a host of blue chip clients, largely in the entertainment industry. These include BBC Worldwide, Spotify, 20th Century Fox and Sony Music.

Now the company wants to provide insights for customers who play in business-to-business markets.

Affinio said in a statement this week it will expand its range of networks this year and provide analysis of LinkedIn data in collaboration DataSift’s PYLON for LinkedIn Engagement Insights.

Read Our Last Indepth Report on Affinio

“Adding LinkedIn to our social mix is an exciting way to both reveal direct business-to-business audience insights as well as let brands better understand the influencers who resonate with their consumers," said Leanne Cochrane, VP of Product Management at Affinio.

Based in San Francisco, DataSift over the past seven years has produced a range of products for analyzing products from social media. The company, which has raised a total of $64 million in venture capital, last month announced its partnership with LinkedIn.

With DataSift’s LinkedIn Engagement Insights, Affinio said it can change how B2B marketers understand their audiences and relate to their customers on LinkedIn. It will add another data source for Affinio’s clients so they can validate and compare audiences across networks, in a way that respects people’s privacy.

Founded by serial entrepreneurs Tim Burke and Stephen Hankinson, Affinio last raised capital in November 2015, when it closed a $4 million round led by Whitecap Venture Partners of Toronto. The other backers were its first funding partner Build Ventures of Halifax as well as new investors  New York-based Social Starts, New York-based BRaVeVentures and several angels. 

WellTrack Named to 500 Startups

Natasha O'Brien

Natasha O'Brien

WellTrack, the Fredericton company that provides online help with mental health issues, has been accepted into the prestigious 500 Startups accelerator in Silicon Valley – only the second Atlantic Canadian company to do so.

The accelerator group announced Wednesday through a post on TechCrunch that it had named 44 companies to its 20th cohort, one-third of them from outside the U.S. WellTrack – which has graduated from Atlantic Canadian IT accelerator Propel ICT not once but twice – was among the new group.

The only other company from the region to be accepted into 500 Startups was Moncton-based recruitment software company Alongside, which was known as Qimple when it attended the program in 2015.

Psychology professor Darren Piercey started WellTrack in 2010 to create an online tool to help treat mental health issues like anxiety and depression. After the company, whose official name is CyberPsyc Software Solutions, received funding in 2012, he hired Natasha O’Brien, who is now the company’s COO. Together, they altered the product and its target market so they are now making sales.

WellTrack is a product that helps organizations improve the mental health of its members, especially those suffering from stress, anxiety and depression. The company has had some sales to corporations, but it found a more responsive clientele in universities.

The reason is that depression and anxiety afflict about 45 per cent of university students in North America — more than double the percentage of the general population.

According to the company’s website, its clients now include University of Windsor, Ball State University, Providence College, Ryerson University, and University of California – Santa Cruz, among others.

WellTrack has an interesting history with accelerators. Piercey took the company through its first cohort of Propel’s first accelerator, Launch36. Then he and O’Brien enrolled in Propel’s Build program last year to help position the company to scale.

Early on in its existence, the company brought on funding from East Valley Ventures, and it has tapped New Brunswick Innovation Foundation a couple of times for money – most recently a $50,000 investment in the 2015-16 fiscal year. As a member of the 500 Startups accelerator, the company will receive some funding.  O’Brien and Piercey last summer were looking to close a $1 million funding round. 

RtTech Grows 28-Country Footprint

Keith Flynn is starting 2017 with more optimism than 2016.

The president and founder of RtTech Software, the Moncton-based company specializing in the Industrial Internet of Things, is bursting with good news. The company spent the last year forming partnerships with several international players, and those relationships are turning into sales.

The company’s products are now being used in 28 countries — 11 of them added since the end of 2015. Its client list now ranges from local champions like Irving and McCain Foods to such global powerhouses as Procter & Gamble, even NASA.

About a year ago, things were harder. RtTech and Pablo Asiron, RtTech’s original CEO, had parted ways, and Flynn suddenly found himself running the company. He makes no secret of the fact that it was a difficult adjustment.

“You’ve got an office full of people, people who needed some sort of direction,” he said in an interview last week. “I’ve been working as an entrepreneur since 2002, always on the technical side, and that’s all about execution. To be flipped to the other side, it’s hard.”

It was a change for the company that had become one of the high-flyers of the regional startup community, having just landed $3 million in venture capital funding from McRock Capital and the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation.

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RtTech’s IIoT applications help large industrial companies monitor and make decisions on energy consumption and operations using data captured by sensors installed in the plant’s machinery. 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 had released a cloud-based product in 2015, but then learned it was difficult to scale the product profitably. So a big part of the work in 2016 was reworking the product so it would meet demand.

The solution was to develop a platform called Cipher, a new piece of infrastructure 100 per cent owned by RtTech on which clients can add IIot applications.

“We actually built this in less than 12 months,” said Flynn. “We have customers coming to us and asking for us to build apps that can run off it. . . . This is the part that will go viral.”

Working with its new partners, including global players like Microsoft and Cisco Systems, the company is getting the product in the hands of end-users around the world. Flynn expects to add clients in more countries soon, including China, Austria, Ghana, and Poland.

The company now has 25 employees and its sales effort is focused on using its partnerships to reach large industrial companies. The goal is to help these companies connect their “assets” — that is, bring the power of digital technologies to machinery or other objects to improve their efficiency.

“What’s the highlight of 2017? RtTech is going to help customers connect more assets than ever before," said Flynn. “2017 will be all about connecting more assets.”

IMV, Merck in Phase 2 Clinical Trial

Halifax-based Immunovaccine Inc., a clinical-stage immuno-oncology company, has announced that its main drug candidate for battling cancer will go through a Phase 2 clinical trial.

The publicly listed company said this week that its DPX-Survivac cancer vaccine candidate and a product of the New Jersey-based pharma giant Merck will be the subject of a Phase 2 trial at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto. Researchers aim to test the safety and efficacy of the drug combination on 42 ovarian cancer patients. Immunovaccine, or IMV, said in a statement that Merck will pay for the trial, which will begin once they receive regulatory clearance from Health Canada.

Immunovaccine has developed a platform for delivering drugs called DepoVax, which allows a constant flow over a long period of time of drugs that work with the immune system to battle diseases. The product being tested in this trial, DPX-Survivac, operates in the DepoVax platform.  The drug being provided by Merck is a checkpoint inhibitor called Pembrolizumab.

"Ovarian cancer is a main focus for Immunovaccine as we continue to develop DPX-Survivac," said Immunovaccine CEO Frederic Ors in a statement.  "Combination therapies … are emerging as increasingly promising approaches for hard-to-treat cancers.” He added that he hoped the trial, if successful, would “position our immuno-oncology candidate as an optimal co-therapy in this disease area."

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Phase 2 trials are a big deal, and it's extremely rare for an Atlantic Canadian drug discovery company to reach this phase of clinical trials. Phase 2 trials test for efficacy, meaning they prove a drug does what the company says it can do, and the costs usually amount to tens of millions of dollars.

The trial at the Prince Margaret will test the anti-tumor activity of the IMV and Merck products along with low-dose cyclophosphamide, a medication used in chemotherapy.

The study's primary objective is to assess the overall response rate, which means it will examine whether the combination of drugs actually shrinks cancer tumors. The secondary objectives include the study of the progression-free survival rate, overall survival rate, and potential side effects, over a five-year period.

"Ovarian cancer is among the most challenging cancers to treat, as it is associated with poor response rates to currently available medical interventions," said Amit M. Oza, the Senior Staff Physician at Princess Margaret who will be lead investigator in the trial. "To support the tens of thousands of women battling this disease, we need to develop new and novel approaches. With this trial, we have the opportunity to explore a novel combination of promising immunotherapies."

The company has conducted previous clinical trials on DPX-Survivac combined with a low dose of cyclophosphamide. These showed the combination was “highly immunogenic” in most participants with high-risk ovarian cancer.

IMV also announced it is conducting a Phase 1b trial with Incyte Corp. to evaluate the triple combination of DPX-Survivac with one of Incyte's drugs called Epacadostat, and low-dose oral cyclophosphamide in patients with platinum sensitive or resistant ovarian cancer. Immunovaccine expects to announce top-line interim results for this trial by the end of March.

Immunovaccine, which is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and has a market capitalization of $118 million, raised $8 million in December through a private placement of shares.

 

Disclaimer: the author owns Immunovaccine shares. 

QRA Launches QVscribe Product

Halifax-based QRA Corp., which helps manufacturers eliminate design flaws early in the development process, has launched a new tool to ensure everyone working on a project can understand the written requirements.

After a successful beta program, QVscribe is now available to defense, aerospace, and automotive industries customers looking to improve their requirements documents. If left untouched, sloppy language in requirements could result in significant re-work in both the design and build phases. 

Growing out of a research project at Dalhousie University, QRA has developed technology that helps large manufacturers identify flaws in complicated machinery early in the design stage. The idea is to work out the kinks before the manufacturer spends millions of dollars prototyping a machine that has ill-matched components.

“Because of the subjectivity of language, often what’s clear to one person is misunderstood by another,” said QRA Chief Executive and President Jordan Kyriakidis in a statement. “As easy as Spell Check, QVscribe flags potential errors right in Microsoft Word, allowing users to immediately fix ambiguities long before they cause problems. It’s a fast, seamless and easy-to-use solution that enables more people to contribute to the requirements process in far more productive ways.”

Powered by Natural Language Processing, QVscribe corrects problems with syntax using a visual grading system. This enables virtually anyone to use the QVscribe analysis directly within familiar Microsoft Office and Visure files to contribute to the consistency and quality that is paramount in an effective requirements program. 

According to recent studies, more than half of all engineering errors originate in the requirements stage, and the cost of fixing those errors in systems and software increases exponentially over the project life cycle.

“Erroneous requirements contribute to 70 percent of the errors found during a system development project in the aerospace industry today,” said Yogananda Jeppu, Principal Systems Engineer at Honeywell Technology Solutions. “Correct requirements are the need of the hour. QVscribe is an automated way of analyzing requirements for correctness. The quality metrics based on a user-defined library of words brings an early detection of errors which can improve quality upfront. QVscribe has an easy to use interface and automation that makes it a very handy tool for the engineer.”

Last October, QRA was named to the first cohort of the Lazaridis Institute Canadian Scale-Up Program, which will help promising Canadian startups to go through their growth stage. Named for BlackBerry Co-Founder Mike Lazaridis, the institute at Wilfrid Laurier University set up the program to help 10 companies from across the country to extend their sales to the global market. QRA is the only company from outside Ontario or Quebec selected for the program.

Plato Aims to Hire 1000 Native People

Denis Carignan: 'What we're seeing is the opening of a doorway.'

Denis Carignan: 'What we're seeing is the opening of a doorway.'

When Denis Carignan met Keith McIntosh 18 months ago, they didn’t realize their encounter would lead to a new business that has the potential to employ 1,000 indigenous people across Canada.

The business is Plato Testing, a Fredericton company that is building a network of aboriginal software testers. It is set to have 50 employees by June, based mainly in New Brunswick and Vancouver, and its executives are on track to have a staff of 250 by the end of 2018. It hopes eventually to have a staff of 1,000.

The company is 50-per-cent-owned by its staff, so the goal is to bring native people into the tech community and to create wealth in First Nations communities across the country.

“What we’re seeing is the opening of a doorway, and it’s part of the indigenous experience in Canada,” said Carignan in an interview from his home in Saskatchewan.

“We’re helping people to see themselves as being able to enter a career in information technology where right now there are not that many (aboriginal) people who are working in the field.”

The story of Plato Testing began in the summer of 2015 when Carignan, whose career was dedicated to working with First Nations communities, attended the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference. One of the delegates he met was McIntosh, the founder and CEO of Fredericton-based PQA Testing, which has offered software testing services for 20 years.

Lottery Innovation Outpost Primed for First Product

Software testing is a huge business worldwide, worth $6 billion to $7 billion annually, that provides quality assurance to the makers of software. Any software must be tested over and over again, in all conditions and on a range of platforms, to make sure there are no glitches. This is especially true of enterprise software produced by large companies like banks, retailers and large software companies.

The software testing industry is divided into two groups — automated, which can be carried out anywhere with computers, and manual, which is usually carried out in low-wage economies like India or China.

A native of Saskatchewan, Carignan found himself talking to McIntosh about the software market. Together, they reasoned manual software testing could be carried out in First Nations communities across the country.

They were soon working with the Community College of New Brunswick and the Fredericton-based Joint Economic Development Initiative (which promotes economic development for aboriginal communities). Carignan became the company’s president and chie operating officer. They developed a certification program for software testers at CCNB and began to train their staff.

Plato Testing is a subsidiary of PQA, and the parent company handles much of the sales as well as administrative tasks like human resources and finance. PQA has 200 customers worldwide, and now rather than ship manual testing offshore it is able to hand the jobs to Plato. The young company has however, landed its first client on its own.

Plato, which has just been accepted into the Propel ICT Growth program,  has also developed its own training staff, which is allowing it to add staff rapidly. Carignan said the company is helping to develop links between corporate Canada and the First Nations.

“That linkage between corporate Canada and our population often isn’t there,” he said. “I think that Plato can help. People may be working for Plato, but they’re working on a project for Royal Bank or Canadian Tire or one of those companies. And we really believe it is a sustainable business.”

Lottery Outpost Primed for 1st Product

Scott Burke: Disrupting ourselves before we get disrupted by someone else.

Scott Burke: Disrupting ourselves before we get disrupted by someone else.

The Atlantic Lottery Corp. will soon pilot a new product that came into being because it placed a bunch of geeks at the heart of Halifax’s innovation Hub.

The lottery organization, which is owned by the four Atlantic Provinces, will begin a 1,500-person pilot project this month for its new product Winvelope. It is the first product to come out of the Crown corporation’s innovation outpost at Volta, the Halifax startup house.

Last summer, Atlantic Lotto opened an innovation outpost in Volta with the goal of bringing out new products to help the business. Led by tech entrepreneur Scott Burke, the outpost group decided to play on the current craze of subscription boxes and devise a lottery product people receive regularly in the mail.

“People like to get a physical product, and when everything is online, getting a physical product is a novelty,” said Burke in an interview. “They like the unboxing experience. This is something that tests well with younger people, the 19 to 34 year olds.”

With Winevelope, people will be able to subscribe to the program, and receive lottery tickets or other products mailed to them on a regular basis, probably once a month. Other entrepreneurs have had great success with these so-called subscription boxes, receiving recurring revenue in exchange for regularly mailing out toothbrushes, razors or special gifts.

Burke admits that it’s surprising that a group of tech enthusiasts would choose a mail-based subscription model for their first product, but it made sense to produce a something that could come to market quickly.

The Money Finder Lands $1.75M from Build, Innovacorp

The idea of an innovation outpost is for traditional corporations to place a few tech-savvy employees in an innovation hub to bring about new products. Young entrepreneurs in these hubs benefit from exposure to traditional businesses, and the corporations gain new insights into current trends of development.

“We asked ourselves, if a lottery corporation was a startup, what kind of products would we build and bring to market?” said Burke. “The whole idea is to essentially disrupt ourselves …  before we get disrupted by someone else. We were tasked with making exciting products that will delight Atlantic Canadians.”

Volta hopes the Lottery Corp. is just the first to establish an innovation outpost in Halifax.

“We have seen serious interest from other large corporations who are interested in taking advantage of the unique start up environment at Volta,” said Volta CEO Jesse Rogers in an email. “Our goal is to have a cluster of innovation outpost labs here at Volta as we grow and continue to be a leader in bringing together corporations and innovators.”

Burke said his team has gained from interacting with entrepreneurs, and from hosting a hackathon to share ideas with the community.

“We’re here at Volta for the hallway conversations and to get out of head office and start with a clean blackboard and see what we can come up with.” 

Job of the Week: LeadSift

The focus of the Job of the Week column this week is an opening for a software engineer at Halifax-based LeadSift.

LeadSift is building a sales intelligence platform that searches social media to help corporations understand people’s buying intentions and find the best candidates for a sale. It assesses a prospect's interests, mindset and willingness to buy. The LeadSift system identifies these prospects while they’re considering a purchase and connects them with the companies best positioned to meet their needs.

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

Halifax

Leadsift

Software Engineer

The software engineer will work in a team of developers on diverse projects. The company is looking for someone who will demonstrate a knowledge of critical thinking and problem-solving. Proficiency with Python, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript is required, and LeadSift wants someone who understands Django Web Framework, and Javascript MVC frameworks.

The software engineer must contribute to planning sessions, where tasks will be estimated and prioritized, and must collaborate with other programmers to design and implement features. This person must have excellent debugging skills and an understanding of cross-browser development.

The successful candidate will be part of a strong, hard-working engineering team in a startup environment, and learn hands-on about Leadsift’s industry and customers. 

Money Finder Closes $1.75M Round

Stephanie Holmes-Winton: 'We've bootstrapped this company from nothing.

Stephanie Holmes-Winton: 'We've bootstrapped this company from nothing."

The Money Finder has found money.

The Money Finder, the Halifax startup that helps financial advisers plan cash flow for their clients, has landed $1.75 million in venture capital financing from Build Ventures and Innovacorp.

Innovacorp invested $250,000 in the firm in September. And on Tuesday night, the startup closed a $1.5-million equity financing round with Build Ventures, the Atlantic Canadian regional venture capital round. Build Ventures Partner Rob Barbara will join the company’s board.

“This means everything because we’ve bootstrapped this company from nothing,” founder and CEO Stephanie Holmes-Winton said in an interview. “The cost of bootstrapping when you’re not a technical CEO is enormous. . . . This investment will allow us to hire senior technical people in the region, and to foster the junior people.”

Bootstrapping is startup jargon for bringing technology to market before you’ve raised money from external investors, and Holmes-Winton has proven herself really good at it.

A career financial planner, she devised her own financial planning system, and found a group that would build the software in return for equity. Rather than sell the product directly to big financial corporations, she sold it to financial planners, because that was the fastest way to bring in money. Until last June, all the staff worked from home. Holmes-Winton herself oversaw sales, and The Money Finder is now used by 300 financial planners across the country.

“We generated a million dollars in annual recurring revenue before we raised a dime of capital,” chief financial officer Kathy Doucette said.

The company has developed an educational program and related software that help financial advisers to devise plans for their clients that ensure they have a proper cash flow in their retirement. Most financial planning strategies aim to help individuals to build up a pot of money, which can be used for income in old age. But The Money Finder assesses spending, debt and human behavior, and produces a plan that ensures a predictable cash flow for the retiree.

The Money Finder, which now has a full-time staff of 16 people, plans to use the money to build up its development team so it can develop an enterprise solution. That is a product powerful enough that it can be sold to a corporation, which can distribute it to its own financial analysts. Two smaller finance companies are already in line to pilot the product.

The development team so far has comprised five more junior developers. It now is recruiting a vice-president of software engineering, to take the lead on the enterprise project.

Holmes-Winton has been distracted from selling while she’s been raising capital, but will now oversee strategic growth, which will focus on enterprise sales.

And she has already begun to court investors for an A Round — a venture capital round generally considered to be worth $4 million or more. More capital will be needed to roll out the enterprise product to major corporations.

Said Doucette: “We’re hoping to be in Series A in a year’s time.”

 

(Disclaimer: Innovacorp and Build Ventures are both clients of Entrevestor.)

Sentinel Alert to Close Down

Sarah Murphy at the Bootcamp at Communitech

Sarah Murphy at the Bootcamp at Communitech

Sentinel Alert, a groundbreaking startup based in St. John’s, is closing down.

Founder and CEO Sarah Murphy posted on Facebook on Wednesday that the company will be ceasing operations.  

“The last two-plus years have been the wildest journey of my life,” said Murphy. “This was undoubtedly one of the hardest decisions I've ever made, and over the coming weeks I will reflect and share more about what led to this outcome.”

Sentinel was working on software that could detect when a worker has had an accident or may soon have one. From the outset in 2014, the idea had been that a smartphone or mobile device can detect when someone has fallen and hit the ground, and the phone should be able to alert the company that an accident has taken place.

The company described its solution as being like “a FitBit for worker safer” that uses advanced mathematics to detect and prevent worker accidents in manufacturing, forestry and construction environments.

The company came out of the first Startup Weekend in St. John's, and was the first company from Newfoundland and Labrador to enroll in a Propel ICT accelerator. Murphy moved to Fredericton for four months to attend the program as it was not yet being offered in St. John’s.

The high point of Sentinel Alert came in 2015, when was accepted in the Women’s Entrepreneur Bootcamp (now called the Fierce Founders Bootcamp) at Communitech in Kitchener. Murphy won the pitching competition, taking home the $35,000 first prize.

In late 2015 and early 2016, Sentinel Alert raised $525,000 in equity investment from the Killick Group, Venture NL (managed by Pelorus Venture Capital) and a private angel investor.

Murphy was unavailable for comment Wednesday , but her Facebook post effusively thanked her teammates, backers and mentors.

“Although I'm not sure what's next just yet, one thing is for certain,” she said. “I will remain an active part of the startup community whether that be joining a new team or launching my next venture. More updates to come soon.”

Website Weekend Set for Saint John

Kelly Lawson

Kelly Lawson

Website Weekend, a new initiative that allows participants to build a website in two days, will be launched in Saint John in March.

The initiative was founded by Kelly Lawson, the CEO of ELLA, and photographer Sean McGrath. It is designed to be an intensive gathering of web developers, designers, professional photographers, bloggers and business owners to create and launch new, professional websites in two days flat.

The first Website Weekend will take place in Saint John on March 18-19. The cost is $1900 plus HST per company and registration is now open.

“Anyone who has been through the web design process knows that it can take a long time from start to launch because of missing content, loose deadlines, busy schedules, late revision feedback, photography appointments, lots of back-and-forthing and life in general getting in the way,” said Lawson in a statement. “During our two-day workshop, participants will have a professional team at their disposal and their sites will be live in 48 hours or less. Working one-on-one, in person with web experts is much more efficient than the usual back and forth emails of traditional web design process.”

She added that the team will educate workshop attendees on how to modify and update their own websites so that they are in complete control of their web presence and not reliant on third parties to manage their content.

“Our vision is to extend this to service any Canadian business owner who believes this will suit their needs, timeline and budget,” said Lawson. “We would love to see people joining us from away, and we would love to take Website Weekend on the road.”

Sean Ellis to Headline Amplify

Sean Ellis

Sean Ellis

Sean Ellis, founder and CEO of GrowthHackers.com, will headline the speakers at Amplify, a one-day mentoring event designed to teach East Coast entrepreneurs best practices in growth marketing.

Amplify is a single-day event that will help to teach methods of growth marketing, and inspire people in the practice.  Participants will gain insight on how to attract and activate more leads, how to build a growth team and how to retain and nurture more customers.

Growth marketing, or growth hacking, is a marketing strategy that requires minimal budget for maximum appeal. Designed for companies that don’t have established brand names, it usually calls for a unique gimmick or idea that gets potential clients excited about a product and encourages them to spread the message.  

Amplify, to be held at Pier 21 in Halifax on March 28, is hosted by the Atlantic Canadian regional accelerator Propel ICT, recruitment software company Alongside, and GrowthHackers.com. Tickets are available here, and early-bird rates are available until Feb. 17.

“I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to come to Atlantic Canada for the first time,” said Ellis.  “In my experience, the Atlantic Canadian companies I’ve encountered have all had one thing in common – they’re hungry.  They’re ready to grow and they’re willing to do whatever it takes.  I have no doubt this event will deliver amazing results to all who attend.”

Ellis is known for coining the term “growth hacking” and popularizing the term “product/market fit”. Previously, he was the CEO at Qualaroo, and held key growth and marketing positions at such companies as Dropbox, Eventbrite, Lookout, LogMeIn, and Uproar.  He now helps companies build agile growth teams with his new tool, the GrowthHackers PROJECTS.

Propel ICT Names Companies to First Growth Cohort

The other speakers at Amplify will include:

- Zack Onisko, Vice-President  of Growth at Hired.com;
- Dominic Coryell, founder of Gimme Growth;
- Ethan Smith, Vice-President of Growth at Yummly;
- Netta Kivilis, CXO of Blue Seedling and formerly a senior marketer at Amazon;
- And Todd Saunders, co-founder and CEO of Adhawk, and a former member of the accelerated growth team at Google.

“This is a prime opportunity for startups and businesses to get the expert advice and insight they need to properly scale their businesses for rapid growth,” said Propel ICT Entrepreneur-in-Residence Trevor MacAusland said in a statement.  “The conference is built to help marketers and founders connect with the best mentors and address their challenges so they can get out there and get real traction to happen the very next day.”

Lead generation is the number one barrier to exponential growth faced by startups and it’s also the one thing that all startups need to survive. 

“Atlantic Canada has a plethora of smart, innovative and growing companies,” said Alongside CEO Yves Boudreau. “This conference will help to put a spotlight on Atlantic Canada and expose the amazing startups we have here."

 

Disclaimer: Propel ICT is a client of Entrevestor, and Alongside is our partner in the Entrevestor Job Board.

2 East Coast Firms in Fashion Awards

Kyle MacNevin and Kayley Reed of Wear your Label

Kyle MacNevin and Kayley Reed of Wear your Label

When the Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards are handed out in April, two Atlantic Canadian companies will be among the finalists.

Halifax-based Dash Hudson has been nominated for the Joe Fresh Fashion Innovation Award, which will be presented to a company that is innovating how we experience, consume or interact with fashion through technology. Founded by Thomas Rankin and Tomek Niewiarowski, Dash Hudson provides data analytics for corporate clients using Instagram.

And Wear Your Label of Fredericton is competing with three others for the Fashion Impact Award. It will be presented to a Canadian designer or brand that has made a significant social or philanthropic impact in the Canadian and/or international community.

Wear Your Label, led by Kyle MacNevin and Kayley Reed, designs and sells apparel with sayings and designs that can create conversation around mental health. The wording is subtle and designed to create discussion rather than scream a message.

The fourth annual Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards Gala will take place on Friday, April 7, at the Fairmont Royal York in downtown Toronto.

SimplyCast Names Brien as Chair

Saeed El-Darahali

Saeed El-Darahali

SimplyCast, a Dartmouth-based leader in marketing automation, has named Michael Brien as its new Board Chair, replacing J. William Ritchie, who will remain as a board member.

With clients in 175 countries, SimplyCast is a leading provider of interactive and multi-channel communication software for organizations around the world.

“Michael has been a member of SimplyCast’s board since 2015 and we are all very excited for him to transition to chairman,” said SimplyCast President and CEO Saeed El-Darahali in a statement. “Mike has been heavily involved in helping companies become strong and profitable and I am pleased to have his expertise leading our board.”

Brien is the CEO of Rockland Capital Ltd., an investment holding company. Previously, he was CEO and owner of Macdonald Chisholm Track Insurance, a leading insurance brokerage in Atlantic Canada, which he recently sold to a publicly traded company.

Outside his work, Brien has been President of Nova Scotia Insurance Brokers Association, CEO and Board member of Halifax Professional Basketball Club Inc. (Halifax Hurricanes), and Chair of the Atlantic Chapter of the Young Presidents Organization. Currently, he is Vice Chair of Nova Scotia Community College, and a board member Halifax Professional Basketball Club Inc.

“I have been an investor in SimplyCast since early on in its development and have watched with enthusiasm how Saeed and his team have developed a unique platform for growth and profitability,” said Brien in a statement. “I look forward to my new role and continuing to work with the SimplyCast team to help drive our strategy to scale our business model.”

El-Darahali also extended his thanks to Ritchie for his service as chairman. 

Demone, StFX Back Eosense

The Eosense Team.

The Eosense Team.

Cleantech startup Eosense has found new backing from former High Liner Foods CEO Henry Demone and from St. Francis Xavier University, the institution where Eosense was born.

The Dartmouth-based company has spent seven years developing and marketing instruments that detect carbon dioxide seeping from soil. With clients like University of California at Berkeley and the Max Planck Institute in Germany, Eosense is expecting the fiscal year ending in May to be its best yet in terms of sales.

The company has now raised just over $500,000 in equity financing, including an investment by Demone, who has become the company’s chairman.  Meanwhile, StFX has transformed licences on the intellectual property used by Eosense into common equity.

What this means is that Eosense now has the capital to move forward in the foreseeable future, and it has removed some hurdles in seeking later rounds of funding.

“The last little while has been a culmination of lot of hard work, but it’s really exciting because the money, the partnerships and the expertise we’ve brought on give us the freedom to focus on our strategic priorities,” said Co-Founder and CEO Gordon McArthur in an interview.

ACOA Contributed $9.2M to Springboard

Eosense's technology was developed at a StFX lab run by David Risk. The company has developed three gas-detection products out of this technology. It has sold them mainly to academic institutions, but also companies in key industries like mining, oil and gas, and environmental services.

McArthur said the company is now experiencing annual sales growth of 30 to 50 percent, and it will use the new capital to expand its sales team.

Beyond the additional cash on hand, the company has a cleaner capital structure. It now owns its intellectual property and the recent funding has allowed Houston-based investment firm Surge Ventures to clarify its equity position in the company. These factors mean that when Eosense courts venture capital firms for its next round of funding, there will be no extraneous issues that could complicate matters.

The recent agreements cement key relationships for Eosense. Demone, who has been a mentor to McArthur for the past four years, now has a formal role with the company.

“He was the guy who was always willing to pick up the phone,” said McArthur. “Following his retirement [as CEO of High Liner], he was willing to help with a global challenge – that is managing our environment better – with a company that isn’t brand new, that has some experience, that has made a few mistakes but has had some successes too.”

StFX now holds common shares in a startup it helped to launch. “This academic-corporate relationship ensures that Eosense can benefit from the highly specific soil-gas expertise of Dr. Risk and students of StFX’s Earth Science Department,” said StFX Manager of Industry Liaison Andrew Kendall in a statement.

And Eosense has more money to help increase sales and finance additional research.

“We’re turning our attention to longer-term matters,” said McArthur. “Being able to push these matters over the hump is really important. It’s liberating. And the more sales we do the more we can invest in new products.” 

This VC Is a Bootstapping Evangelist

It’s not uncommon for a tech specialist to advocate bootstrapping. But if that specialist is a VC investor from Silicon Valley, people tend to pay attention.

A roomful of tech enthusiasts certainly paid attention Thursday night in Halifax when Eric Bahn, of 500 Startups, outlined the ways to avoid giving up equity in their ventures. In private meetings and his speech at Start Grind Halifax, Bahn advised founders to look for ways to move their companies forward on the cheap rather than raising.

“I work at a venture capital firm but I hate venture capital,” he said. “Venture capital is almost like a cocaine addiction.”

Once you’re raising, he said, there’s just a fevered struggle to get to the next round, and then the next. Bahn can speak knowledgeably about bootstrapping. He started his own company on $32,000 and ended up selling it for millions.

He describes himself as having been a mediocre student who had a singular talent – doing standardized tests. He founded a blogging site called Beat The GMAT and turned it into the largest MBA applicant social network on the internet, serving 3 million people each year. He grew annual revenue to more than $1 million and eventually sold the company to Hobsons, Inc.

Precise Messaging Taught at Breakthru Bootcamp

Bahn is also the Co-Founder of Hustle Con Media, which promotes events and content to help non-technical entrepreneurs launch startups.

He told the entrepreneurs in Halifax that they have to try to bring in revenue at the earliest possible stage. Rather than raising money to produce a minimum viable product, or MVP, they should focus more on what he calls an MVD, or minimum viable design. By that, he means a conceptual product that clients will pay for before it’s actually produced. Getting the money in early proves the demand for the product and provides the cash to build it.

“You should bootstrap as long as you can,” he said. He added that the proper growth hacking or growth marketing can bring in money to even the youngest companies. “I’ve seen what can happen if the growth-marketing is done really well.”

The meeting of Startup Grind Halifax – which brings a range of speakers from around the world into the city -- marked a watershed for the organization. Oleg Yefymov, who founded the group and tirelessly grown it, has decided to hand the rains over to Dave Culligan, the President at behuman clothing co.

Open Letter Opposes US Travel Ban

The Canadian tech community has come together to oppose the entry restrictions in the U.S. imposed on people from some majority-Muslim countries.

More than 150 people (as of late Sunday) signed an open letter to the world opposing the move by the U.S. government. The organizers are inviting more people from the community to add their names by emailing cdntechwithoutborders@gmail.com.

The move comes after President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and suspending all refugee admission for 120 days.

The names on the open letter include representatives from some of the largest tech companies and organizations in the country, including DMZ, MaRS and Communitech. The Atlantic Canadians who have already signed the letter include: Jesse Rodgers, Volta; Heather-Anne Carson, Repable; Jevon MacDonald, Manifold.co; Topher Kingsley-Williams, Porpoise; and Yves Boudreau, Alongside.

The full list of signatories can be found here at Betakit.com.

The following is the letter in full:

The Canadian tech community comprises many different nationalities, religions, sexual orientations, gender identities, mental and physical abilities, and perspectives. We believe that this diversity is a source of strength and opportunity.

On this topic, we are united.

Canadian tech companies understand the power of inclusion and diversity of thought, and that talent and skill know no borders. In choosing to hire, train, and mentor the best people in the world, we can build global companies that grow our economy. By embracing diversity, we can drive innovation to

benefit the world.

The 21st century will be driven by pluralistic economies powered by pluralistic societies.

This is a belief founded upon personal experience for many in our community. Many Canadian tech entrepreneurs are immigrants, are the children of immigrants, employ and have been employed by immigrants.

As connected economies, decisions by the United States can directly impact every business north of the border. The recently signed Executive Order to block entry of citizens from seven countries has already impacted several in our community. As a community, we are all affected. As a community, we stand together in opposition to the marginalization of people based upon their race or religion.

The Canadian tech community supports Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s message that Canada will and must remain inclusive to all nationalities.

We also stand directly opposed to any and all laws that undermine or attack inclusion, and call on Prime Minister Trudeau and our political leaders to do the same.

The Canadian tech community also calls on the Canadian federal government to institute an immediate and targeted visa providing those currently displaced by the US Executive Order with temporary residency in Canada. This visa would allow these residents to live and work in Canada with access to benefits until such time as they can complete the application process for permanent residency if they so choose.

Diversity is our strength. We as Canadians recognize our privilege as a prosperous nation. We believe providing refuge to people seeking safety should remain our compass.

In the hours following the US decision, many members of our community have privately shared personal stories of their immigrant experience. We ask them now to share those stories publicly so they may be amplified.

Pour lire cet article en français, cliquez ici.

Precise Messaging at Breakthru Event

The Breakthru Bootcamp Participants.

The Breakthru Bootcamp Participants.

The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation did something on Saturday it’s never done before – it held a second bootcamp for the participants of its Breakthru competition.

The 12 semifinalists for the startup competition – which will award $1 million in prizes on March 23 – assembled in Fredericton for a focused day of mentorship on pitching, fundraising and value proposition. It followed an initial bootcamp late last year. 

Marcus Daniels, the Founding Partner of Toronto pre-seed venture capital fund Highline BETA, spent much of the day discussing early-stage fundraising and perfecting pitches and slide decks. And Kent Murphy, Vice-President of Program Operations at Atlantic Growth Solutions, delved into value propositions, and explained how to present them to sales leads.

A highlight of the NBIF calendar, Breakthru is the innovation agency’s flagship competition, held every second year. It aims to bring entrepreneurs into the startup community and usher them through the early stages of starting a business.  The competition has always featured a bootcamp for participants, but NBIF added a second event this year to increase the mentorship component.

“I’m impressed with the participants,” said Daniels in a break at the bootcamp. “It’s Saturday morning and everyone is here excited to be working on their projects.”

Calling it “a smorgasbord of ideas”, he said he was pleased with the diversity of ideas and the enthusiasm of the participants.

Daniels, who has made 37 investments and had 14 exits, delved into what investors look for in companies, especially in early-stage companies working on their earlier rounds of funding.  He stressed the importance of founders building up credibility among investors, and said the founders themselves are critical in investment decisions.

Read About Breakthru Entrant Soma Detect

“I value the team at about 50 percent at this stage of the company,” he said, in explaining the weighting of the investment decision. “The team is going to make or break the company.

Murphy, whose New Brunswick-based consultancy, demonstrated how to determine a company’s value proposition, whether it’s an ability to increase sales, save money or reduce risk. And he showed how to present a value proposition and who to target.

“A value proposition is a tangible result of what the customer gets when they use your product or service,” said Murphy. And the most important term in this is ‘tangible result’.”

A common theme in both Daniels’ and Murphy’s presentations is they both called for clarity, precision and brevity. Daniels stressed the importance of slide decks that have economical language, adding that most slides should present just one major idea.

And Murphy told the participants to use language appropriate to the target audience. “If you’re going after business development people, tech-speak just doesn’t work,” he said. “You have to describe the problem you solve in one sentence that people understand.”

Some 61 companies entered Breakthru this year, and the organizers have whittled the pool of participants down to 12. NBIF will announce a handful of finalists in late February. Prizes will be awarded live at the award dinner on March 23 at the Fredericton Convention Centre.

NBIF will award $750,000 in cash and in-kind services to the top three New Brunswick companies. And for the first time it will set aside $250,000 for a company from other parts of Canada that wants to set up base in New Brunswick.

Job of the Week: MASITEK

An opening for a product development engineer at Moncton-based MASITEK Instruments Inc. is the focus of our Job of the Week column today.

MASITEK is a six-year-old company that produces hardware to help food and beverage producers prevent damage to containers and other accidents that can jam and delay a production line. Its main product is like a fake bottle with pressure-sensitive devises. It detects pressure points and logjams on the production lines of food and beverage producers to reduce stoppages and improve productivity.

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

Moncton

MASITEK Instruments

Product Development Engineer

The product development engineer must develop and launch new and/or improved products to the company’s product line. He or she will play a major role in new product development activities such as research, design, and testing to bring products from concept to market. The engineer will also work with the company leadership and the technical team to support the research and development road map and creation of design documents. MASITEK is looking for someone with strong problem-solving abilities that can be applied to electromechanical design challenges. This person must provide technical and project leadership across multiple engineering product development stages. A full job description is available on the job posting. 

Gifford Advises Focusing on the Basics

Peter Gifford: Taking the time to figure out his next move.

Peter Gifford: Taking the time to figure out his next move.

Entrepreneurs believe they can change the world, but Peter Gifford advises the founders he mentors that their optimism needs to be grounded in reality.

Gifford is entrepreneur-in-residence with regional accelerator Propel ICT in St. John’s. Propel aims to mentor and graduate over 400 startups across Atlantic Canada by 2019. The group is ramping up in Newfoundland and Labrador, where it began work in 2015. 

Gifford has been in his role for about a year, working mainly with early-stage ventures. He tries to help founders avoid common mistakes.

“Founders are intrinsically very optimistic and that’s an awesome trait,” he said. “But we challenge people to dive deep on one critical piece of their business that will make a difference to the client and prove financial value.”

He said it’s important to find that one starting point. Founders can expand their product offering later on.

He said entrepreneurs often fail to research the needs of potential clients. They assume that once their technology is perfect they’ll acquire clients, but they don’t spend time getting to know their market.

“Entrepreneurs think, if the technology did this, this and this it would be so much better,” he said. “People can invest a ton in technical development then have to make further investments in order to achieve business success.”

Bringing Tech to Mink Farming

Gifford draws on personal experience in his mentoring work. He was founder and CEO of Extreme Ocean Innovation, a St. John’s startup that developed an access vessel to serve offshore wind farms.

He had that role for four years until 2014 when the company closed down.

“The venture didn’t work out in the end, although it was selected by Carbon Trust of the U.K. as a top company and received investment from governments in Canada and abroad,” he said.

“I was devastated when the company failed, but I learned a ton and I see my opportunity with Propel as a chance to help startups avoid some of the mistakes we made. I want to help get them to clients and revenues faster.”

He said the reasons for his company’s failure include technical and commercial issues and possibly bad timing.

He was fortunate that his next opportunity involved acting as executive director at St. John’s co-working space Common Ground during a major expansion.

In late 2015, he became Propel’s entrepreneur-in-residence in St. John’s, helping with the city’s first cohort of the Launch program for early-stage startups.

Propel is currently accepting applications for the next cohort of Launch in St. John’s. Applications close January 31 for the program that starts Match 6.

Propel ICT Names First Growth Cohort

Gifford said the Propel team have listened to feedback from entrepreneurs they’ve worked with and have differentiated their Launch and Build programs (Build is for companies with revenue) to make them more complementary.

He said that so far, Propel has graduated 25 companies in St. John’s, resulting in 15 active ventures.  

“We’re excited about the investment those companies have found,” he said. “They’ve gained $1.1 million in private follow-on investment and created about 25 new jobs.”

Gifford believes St. John’s has become more entrepreneurial since he arrived in 2003 in order to study naval architecture at Memorial University.

He completed a master’s in naval architecture, becoming involved in developing the access vessel for offshore wind farms.

He would like to be involved in another startup in the future.

“I’d absolutely like to start another company,” he said. “I’ve got to make sure it’s the right idea and the right team. It will take a bit of time to figure that out. In the meantime, I’m learning a lot and contributing.”

(Full Disclosure: Propel ICT is a client of entrevestor.)

ACOA Awards $9.2M to Springboard

The federal government announced Thursday that it will contribute $9.2 million to Springboard Atlantic, the organization that supports the commercialization of research at Atlantic Canadian universities and colleges.

Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and the minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, said ACOA will make the contribution to promote innovation and high-growth industries. Bains has spent the past year in consultations on a new innovation strategy, the pieces of which are beginning to fall into place.

Over the next three years, the Springboard funding will support 30 commercialization officers throughout the Atlantic region. These officers will connect entrepreneurs with researchers so ideas can be transformed into products and services that can be brought to market.

“Innovation can create entirely new jobs, markets and industries that never existed before,” said Bains in a statement. “To do that, we need to turn ideas into solutions, science into technologies, skills into jobs and start-up companies into global successes. Partnerships between research institutions and industry are crucial in the development and commercialization of new technologies and products that could lead to the creation of new companies that provide well-paying jobs for Canadians.”

Envenio Raises $500K After SaaS Launch

Speaking at a ceremony at St. Mary’s University, the minister said the region is proud of its history of innovation, and highlighted several startups as carrying on the tradition. For example, he named Halifax area startups BlueLight Analytics and CarbonCure Technologies as companies that are growing sales and employing young Canadians.

By backing Springboard Atlantic, the government is supporting an organization that works with 19 post-secondary organizations in the region to conduct $350 million in research each year.

“The investment in Springboard Atlantic drives the regional commercialization network that facilitates industry collaborations and new ventures between Atlantic companies and institutions,” said Springboard CEO and President Chris Mathis. “This increases competitiveness and retains our graduates here in the region.”

In a brief interview, Bains said the consultations on innovation have produced a framework for developing policy and programs, and the government has identified three themes it will focus on: first, developing talent and people; second, helping business and citizens adopt emerging technology to increase competitiveness and productivity; and third, helping small companies to scale.

Does the government now have the funding tools to put such a strategy in motion? “We do have some of the tools we need,” said Bains. “But there’s obviously new tools that we can use to achieve our most desired themes.”

 

[Disclosure: Springboard Atlantic is a client of Entrevestor.]

B4checkin Partners With Agilysys

Saar Fabrikant: Goal of protecting highly sensitive information

Saar Fabrikant: Goal of protecting highly sensitive information

B4checkin Inc., the company that provides cloud-based software to the hospitality industry, has announced that its payment solution, b4easypost, is now being offered by the American company Agilysys.

Halifax-based b4checkin said this week that b4easypost is now available to users of Lodging Management System, or LMS, Agilysys’ property management system. Alpharetta, Ga.-based Agilysys provides a range of digital services to the hospitality industry around the world.

The announcement is an important one for b4checkin because LMS is recognized as one of the hospitality industry’s leading property management systems. What’s more, B4checkin is now partnered with a much larger company, as Agilysys is listed on the Nasdaq and had revenue in the quarter ended Sept. 30 of US$32.7 million (CAN$42.9 million).

B4checkin is the creator of a suite of cloud-based software that allows hotels to carry out online reservations, check-ins, feedback and other functions. The company began in 2006 when CEO Saar Fabrikant and chief financial officer Martin MacKinnon teamed up to produce a reservation system for hotels overlooked by larger providers.

The company’s b4easypost is an interactive platform that enhances data security, enabling guests and meeting planners to make deposits and payments to hotels and resorts. The solution eliminates credit card authorization forms, which are labor-intensive for businesses, inconvenient for customers, and are not compliant with PCI, a leading international security standard.

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“Our primary goal when developing b4easypost was to protect highly sensitive payment and personal information, as well as reduce the PCI risk for the property,” Fabrikant said in a statement. “This product revolutionizes the end-to-end process of facilitating deposits and payments between hotels and their customers.”

B4checkin has emerged as one of the fast-growing innovation companies in the region. In 2015, Fabrikant said in an interview that his revenues had grown 70 per cent year-on-year. Last year, b4checkin named Peter J. Rogers, Jr., the former executive vice-president of business development and investor relations at MICROS Systems of Columbia, MD, as its chairman, and was named as a finalist in the information technology category for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Atlantic 2016 awards program.

The company said that b4easypost automates every aspect of a hotel’s operations. These include not only reservations and credit card processing but also accounting and housekeeping, sales and catering, activities scheduling, food and beverage sales, online reservations, remote check-in and spa scheduling.

By facilitating e-commerce transactions online, there is also a cost reduction for hotels, said the statement.

“B4easypost’s integration with Agilysys’ LMS is an extension of the success we’ve had using this product with our Visual One PMS customers,” said Jim Walker, senior vice-president of global revenue at Agilysys. “The combination of PCI compliance and operational efficiency is an increasingly important issue for customers.”

Walker added that Agilysys decided to offer b4easypost to LMS users so “they can benefit from the combined value of our two solutions to reduce costs and improve the payment process.”

March Break Tech Camp in Halifax

Digital Nova Scotia and the Discovery Centre have opened registration for their Digital Discovery Camp,  which offers STEAM programs to nine- to 14-year-olds during March Break in Halifax.

The camp is a curiously interactive camp featuring the elements of science, technology, engineering, arts and math, celebrating each field throughout the week. These include assembling robots, crafting a simple circuit, a spin on spin art and launching rockets.

Led by local industry members, youth will connect with Nova Scotia-based technology companies and learn about the epic digital technologies industry.

The organizers say this March Break camp week is completed with interactive, educational activities and experiences that will inspire your child. The campers will be split into two age groups to give the right level of challenge, activity and enjoyment.

Registration is now open and can be found here

Envenio Eyes $500K After SaaS Launch

Having launched the SaaS version of its product in October, Fredericton’s Envenio is on the hunt for $500,000 in equity funding to help finance the development of its fluid analysis software and push into new markets.

Growing out of intellectual property developed at the University of New Brunswick, Envenio has developed revolutionary computational fluid dynamics, or CFD, software, which it calls EXN/Aero.

What that means is that engineers can use the company’s software to analyze and solve problems involving the flow of liquids and gases. The company’s algorithms allow desktop computers to simulate the flow of these substances. Like a virtual wind tunnel, it can simulate how air flows around a vehicle or aircraft to help engineers optimize the shape, structure and performance.

Envenio began six years ago with three mechanical engineers building a business out of IP they licensed from UNB. Initially, it was an engineering consulting company, helping companies and organizations like the Canadian Department of National Defense with their CFD projects. Then in October, it launched products that clients could buy to conduct their own CFD studies at a fraction of the price of competing products.

“It’s actually been good,” said CEO Ian McLeod in an interview. “In October, we asked if people wanted to sign on, and there was a pretty strong uptake right away. So far we’ve been getting really good feedback.”

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Envenio has a Software-as-a-Service product that a lot of customers can use in the cloud as a first step. But it also offers a stand-alone version for clients who don’t want to keep their most valuable IP in the cloud.

The company now has clients in Canada, the U.S. and Europe and has just secured two military clients – one naval and one weapons-based. McLeod said EXN/Aero is a good fit for the automotive and aerospace segments, which always need to simulate the flow of air around and throughout their products.

The key advantage of the Envenio solution is that it leverages powerful computing hardware (like graphics processors) that makes it faster and far less expensive than other CFD solutions on the market. That means that engineers can use Envenio for complicated simulations using desktop-scale computers rather than needing large server clusters.

McLeod said that independent benchmarking of the software concluded that it offered 10 to 11 times better performance per dollar than its competitors.

The company last year secured a $300,000 equity investment from the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation. It was then able to leverage that money into an additional $600,000 in funding from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the National Research Council’s IRAP program. 

Envenio recently has boosted its staff, and the hires have included Vice-President of Business Development Scott Walton, previously CEO of industrial gases company Enovex. With its sales efforts ramping up, Envenio is trying to raise capital again. McLeod said the company has been talking to potential investors in Toronto, Boston and New Brunswick about a raise worth $500,000.

The company has bolstered its sales team and is continuing to develop its product. Envenio is now adding functionality so it can be used in other segments. For example, the company hopes to have combustion models on the market by next year that could be used in the development of gas turbines. 

Ladies Learning Code Event Jan. 28

Ladies Learning Code Halifax will hold its 2017 Kick-Off event on Saturday, teaching women and youth basic programming skills at its Data Processing with Python for Beginners workshop.

Ladies Learning Code is a not-for-profit organization with the mission to be the leading resource for women and youth to become passionate builders -- not just consumers -- of technology by learning technical skills in a hands-on, social, and collaborative way. 

This is a great story of the Halifax community coming together to provide women with a safe, fun and welcoming environment where they can learn to code.

The kickoff workshop will be held at the Innovacorp Enterprise Centre on Jan. 28 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. You can register here

Analyze Re To Speak at Launch Dal

The Analyze Re team.

The Analyze Re team.

Launch Dal, the entrepreneurship program at Dalhousie University, will kick off its winter program with fireside chat with Analyze Re on Jan. 31 at 6:30 pm.

Analyze Re is a Halifax company whose software-as-a-service product helps reinsurers assess risk. It exited in October by selling out to Jersey City, N.J.-based data analytics company Verisk Analytics, Inc. for an undisclosed price.

Analyze Re came together in 2013 when Oliver Baltzer, Adrian Bentley and Shivam Rajdev decided to launch a company after the reinsurance support company they had been working at downsized. Their first step was to go through Starting Lean, the forerunner of Launch Dal.

Anyone interested in attending the fireside chat can register here.

Launch Dal has accepted 14 teams into the program for the winter cohort, and may add more. The program will hold an introductory session Thursday, Jan. 26,  at 5pm in the Collider on the second floor of the Killam Library.

This workshop is mandatory for Collide applicants but open to the public as well.

Aiding the Homeless with Blockchain

Scott Burke: Innovating around person-to-person street giving.

Scott Burke: Innovating around person-to-person street giving.

Scott Burke wants to use one of the world’s hottest technologies to improve the lot of homeless people.

Burke is the cofounder and CEO of Hypergive, a new Halifax company developing a stored-value card that allows homeless people to purchase essentials and makes it easier for anyone to help the homeless.

What’s special about Hypergive is that it uses blockchain, the technology that is the foundation of bitcoin, the digital currency. Blockchain is a series of digital ledgers that various parties can access and exchange digital money or perform other tasks. The chain keeps a permanent record of who entered and what they did, guaranteeing a high level of security.

“With explosion of blockchain technology, I started to think about some of the applications and where could this be used,” Burke said in a recent interview.

“Since the previous fall, I thought of innovating around person-to-person street giving and … some of the related problems, like donor cynicism and digression of funds.”

Burke, who also heads the Atlantic Lottery Corp. innovation outpost at Volta Labs, leads a group called Blockcrushr Labs, which researches blockchain opportunities. Through Blockcrushr, he wrote a white paper a year ago outlining his vision to use blockchain to help homeless people. Eventually, he teamed up with tech enthusiasts Brian Jeffcock and Andrew Redden to develop Hypergive.

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Hypergive is at the proof-of-concept stage, but here’s how it is envisioned: people can make donations so the homeless can buy food, clothing, toiletries — the essentials for living.

The donations are recorded and tax receipts issued. The money collected is stored on a card that charitable organizations can distribute to homeless people. These cards will include photo identification and a QR code so they can only be used by the person who received the card. He or she can use the card to purchase goods at retail outlets, whose logos are also printed on the card.

The purchases can only be made by the person identified by the card.

The Hypergive card should ensure tax-efficient and easy donations, and guarantee that the money is used only to buy needed goods by the intended recipient.

Even in the concept stage, Hypergive drew the enthusiasm of others in the tech community, various media outlets, and key Rotary chapters, which want to help in rolling the project out. Burke and his team entered the project in the US$140,000 Blockchain Virtual GovHack, an international competition that seeks to find blockchain-based technologies that improve government and/or public services. Hypergive was one of 10 companies chosen for the semi-finals, and as of press time Burke was waiting to learn if it would be one of three finalists. If so, the company will be flown to Dubai for the finals.

The Hypergive team is still working out how to structure the company once they launch the product. Regardless of whether it is a for-profit or not-for-profit model or a hybrid of the two, Burke hopes the technology can help people in need.

“I don’t come from a social work background,” he said. “It’s just this idea I had. Hypergive seems to be an idea that’s taken on a life of its own. People really respond to it and we’ve had offers of assistance.”

After a moment’s reflection he added: “I want to see this project fly. I don’t know if it is going to work. Retailers have to get on board. People we want to feed have to use it. People have to give. My attitude is let’s try it and see if it works.”

Propel ICT Names First Growth Cohort

Propel ICT, Atlantic Canada’s IT startup accelerator, has announced the first round of companies selected to its Growth program,  which aims to help established innovation companies grow more quickly.

Veteran technology executive Stephen Palmer, who was formerly the Co-CEO at Fredericton-based Remsoft, has customized the six-month program to meet the specific needs of its participants.

The eight entrants include companies that have graduated from accelerators in in the U.S. For example, Moncton-based Alongside is a graduate of the 500 Startups accelerator in Silicon Valley, and Eosense of Dartmouth went through the Surge Ventures accelerator in Houston.  

The selected companies are:

Alongside, Moncton – a maker of digital recruitment tools.

BASE Engineering, Saint John – a developer of radio remote control technology for the petroleum industry.

Eosense, Dartmouth – a maker of instruments to detect gases escaping from the ground.

Ironflow Technologies, Dieppe, N.B. – a maker of web-based human resources software.

Lixar, Halifax and Ottawa – mobile transportation technology in air, auto, telco and emerging new technology markets.

Luminultra, Fredericton -- microbiological testing in any industry concerned with water.

PLATO Testing, Fredericton -- building a network of Aboriginal software testers.

RtTech, Moncton – a provider of IIoT apps for downtime tracking, asset management, and energy management software solutions.

The Growth program offers intensive workshops, monthly online meetings, one-on-one mentoring sessions with technology leaders, and access to Propel ICT’s speaker series and bootcamps. The participants will also be offered the opportunity to take part in showcase events in Canadian and international markets.

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“The Growth program is focused on helping already successful businesses reach the next level,” said Propel CEO Anita Punamiya in a statement. “Participants will learn from each other and from business leaders in Atlantic Canada and who have faced similar business challenges and found innovative ways to succeed.”

Propel ICT also offers two other programs: Launch for new technology businesses; and Build for established but early-stage companies. Applications for these programs will be open until Jan. 31 and can be found here.

CarbonCure in Global Cleantech 100

Robert Niven: Speaking on the potential $1 trillion carbon product market.

Robert Niven: Speaking on the potential $1 trillion carbon product market.

CarbonCure Technologies, the Halifax company whose method of making concrete reduces carbon emissions, has been named in the prestigious 2017 Global Cleantech 100, produced by Cleantech Group, or CTG.

The Global Cleantech 100 represents the most innovative and promising ideas impacting the future of a wide range of industries. Featuring companies that are best positioned to solve tomorrow’s clean technology challenges, the Global Cleantech 100 is a comprehensive list of private companies with the highest potential to make significant market impact within a five- to 10-year timeframe.

This year, the nominations amounted to a record 9,900 distinct companies from 77 countries.

“We are honoured to receive this award for the second year in a row,” CarbonCure Founder Robert Niven said in a statement. “We are proud to be leading the industry with our solution that is available today for concrete producers to sequester waste CO2 to make concrete both greener and stronger.”

CarbonCure's CO2-utilization technology is one of a select few commercially available solutions that could help reduce global emissions by more than 10 percent by 2030.

CarbonCure Aims to Triple Clients This Year

Niven will be in San Francisco this week for the Cleantech Forum, where the Global Cleantech 100 award winners will be revealed. He will be presenting at the event, alongside Issam Dairanieh, CEO of CO2 Sciences, and Lars-Erik Gartner, Innovation Technology Specialist of The Linde Group in a session called "Carbon-based products: An overlooked trillion-dollar market opportunity?" The session will describe how scalable innovations in the "carbon-based products industry", such as CarbonCure's, could represent a market size approaching $1 trillion by the year 2030.

This award announcement comes on the heels of several other recent awards for CarbonCure. Recently, CarbonCure received the 2016 Manning Innovation Award, and is a semi-finalist in the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE.

12 Teams in Breakthru Semi-Finals

A Breakthru bootcamp -- the next one will be held Saturday.

A Breakthru bootcamp -- the next one will be held Saturday.

The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation has announced the dozen finalists for the 2017 Breakthru competition in the build-up to revealing the winners in late March.

Breakthru is the innovation agency’s flagship competition, held every second year. It aims to bring entrepreneurs into the startup community and usher them through the early stages of starting a business.

To reach the semi-finals, the entrants had to submit a full business plan to the committee. This year, 53 companies submitted the plans and 12 of them will now move on to the next round. What’s interesting about the group of finalists is about half the teams have female founders. Also, there is a strong concentration of companies developing IT products for life sciences – one of the hottest segments in the region right now.

The semi-finalists from New Brunswick are:

EChart Healthcare, Amanda Betts --  Software to connect long-term care patients with families.

EhEye, James Stewart -- Artificial intelligence system to catch anomalies in security.

Newpy, Erin O'Halloran -- Application for digital marketing.

Pfera, Lisa Pfister -- Application to detect birth times in horses.

Quber, Jen Leger -- Fintech application allowing you to save money easily.

Shoplaw, Randy Campbell -- Online resource for public to find lawyers.

SomaDetect, Bethany Deshpande -- Cow milk quality detection software tool.

Stash Energy, Jordan Kennie -- Energy storage for use during non-peak times.

The Unity Project, Steve Skinner -- Donation at point of sale software.

Vibes Intelligent, Marcel Petitpas -- Analysis software for client satisfaction.

WEnTech, Amir Akbari -- Waste to energy software tool.

Zecken Laboratories, Kami Harris -- Lyme disease detection tool.

NBIF will award $750,000 in cash and in-kind services to the top three New Brunswick companies. And for the first time it will set aside $250,000 for a company from other parts of Canada that wants to set up base in New Brunswick.

All semi-finalists will be required to attend the competition’s second bootcamp on Saturday

NBIF Chief Executive Calvin Milbury said the competition, now in its 10th year, has attracted a record number of entrants.  Some 61 teams comprising 141 people entered the 2017 competition, and all but nine of the entries were teams rather than individuals. There were seven national entries, made up of 17 participants.

Prizes will be awarded live at the award dinner on March 23rd at the Fredericton Convention Centre. 

Job of the Week: Resson Developer

In our Job of the Week column today, we’re showcasing an opening for software developers (Computer Vision) with one of the regions hottest startups, Resson.

Fredericton-based Resson launched four years ago to create software that would assess data from a range of sources on a farm. They developed a system called RAMAS, which collects data from such sources as tractors, sensors buried in the field, and aerial drones flying over the field. It brings all the information together and presents the farmer with a report on what is happening in his field and what actions need to be taken.

The company sprang to prominence last summer when it announced a $14 million round of funding, led by the VC arm of Monsanto, the St. Louis-based agrichemical and agritech giant.

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

Fredericton

Resson

Software Developers (Computer Vision)

The Computer Vision software developer will contribute to the development of an image classification system for agriculture. The company says the ideal candidate will be driven by his or her own creativity and ingenuity. This person should possess the passion to bring tomorrow's state-of-the-art, machine-learning and image-processing solutions into today's precision-agriculture industry. This role requires a robust understanding of the theory and practice of computer-vision techniques and the related fields of algorithm development. These include object detection, classification, and pattern recognition, and statistical data analysis. Strong communication skills are essential for this role.  Resson is looking for someone with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science and two to five years’ experience in a similar role. The technical skills required for the job can be found in the job posting. 

MPs Meeting East Coast Innovators

A four-member group of Atlantic Canadian members of Parliament has wrapped up a tour of the region to hear the concern of innovators and entrepreneurs from the oceans, tech, clean tech, and social innovation sectors.

Andy Fillmore (Halifax), Matt DeCourcey (Fredericton), Sean Casey (Charlottetown), and Nick Whalen (St. John’s East) sought feedback from stakeholders that will form policy recommendations for the Atlantic Growth Strategy. The MPs – who are all Liberals, given the party’s sweep of the region in 2015 – focused on the innovation sector.

One of the stops was at Volta Labs, where Nova Scotia innovation leaders shared challenges and opportunities and gave direct input intended to influence policy. The group also visited New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador. 

“Volta was proud to host a diverse group from the innovation community to provide meaningful feedback and share tangible ideas with the federal representatives that will influence policy,” said Melody Pardoe, Chief Operating Officer of Volta Labs, and the session’s moderator. “We hope that the Atlantic Growth Strategy will further accelerate the growth of the technology innovation sector in Atlantic Canada and provide support to the many talented entrepreneurs driving its success.”

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Discussions at the roundtable session centred on streamlining approval and project management processes for existing funding programs and creating programs to help companies scale and commercialize. Participants also identified the importance of attracting venture funding to the region and making programs less project-based and more related to the needs and speed of businesses.

“Halifax is home to many of Atlantic Canada's leading innovators, many of whom are supported by Volta, Common Good Solutions, Dalhousie and other organizations," Halifax MP Andy Fillmore said. "We are traveling across the region to hear from these innovators directly because their on-the-ground experience gives them a keen understanding of what government can be doing to better support their work. Ultimately, we believe the success of our innovators will give Atlantic Canada a leading edge, and therefore we must do everything we can to make it as easy as possible for them to succeed.”

The findings from these meetings will be formed into three to four recommendations and delivered as a report to Navdeep Singh Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. 

Bringing Tech to Mink Farming

Mathias Nielsen is like a one-man diversity project. Born in Denmark, Nielsen once developed an app in China that gauged the authenticity of expensive alcohol. Now he’s based in St. John’s where he’s launched technology that helps mink farmers better manage their operations.

The Mink Manager technology provides farmers with services such as analytics, reports, medical test tracking and custom-made breeding programs.

“I saw the need for this after visiting farms that were using paper systems,” Nielsen said. “Mink is a billion-dollar industry, although it took a hit when the price of mink fur fell in 2014,” he said. The slump in mink prices hit Nova Scotia’s mink industry hard.

“Many farms amalgamated and operations grew. Those farms need management tools. And the mink industry is growing now . . . Auction houses are selling mink for reasonable prices again.”

Nielsen’s new business stems from his peripatetic life. He spent many of his early years in Greenland after his father, who was in the fur trade, moved his family there from Denmark. The young Nielsen spent time with the Inuit people and learned their language.

He lived in China for seven years, where he worked with Nokia and Apple, learned Mandarin and developed an app called JiaJiu to check alcohol’s authenticity.

When he and his wife Jade started a family, they decided to move to avoid Beijing’s famous pollution, so they joined his parents and one of his brothers in St. John’s.

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Nielsen recently took Mink Manager through the Launch program run by regional accelerator Propel ICT. He has acquired clients and is finding St. John’s a good place to start a business.

“St. John’s is Greenland with infrastructure,” said the new resident, who is now father to a little boy named Oliver.

“Newfoundlanders are very welcoming and it’s becoming a good environment for startups . . . It’s a similar setup to Denmark, where there’s a good startup community. There’s not the same support in China.”

Still, he created his alcohol-testing app in China and later sold the business. The app he created allowed clients to test whether the alcohol they’d purchased was genuine and whether the bottle had been refilled.

“In China, it’s estimated up to 65 per cent of the alcohol on the market is fake,” he said. “The product may smell similar and the bottle looks the same. In bars and clubs, clients pay the real price believing the whiskey, champagne, vodka, or whatever they’ve ordered is real.

“We put test-me labels on real bottles so customers could see if the product was fake or not. Bars pushed it out for us. The app tested the sticker. If the bottle had been previously opened, the app alerted the client.”

Nielsen said his mink management technology could be used to manage other types of farms. It could be particularly useful for improving breeding programs, he said.

He’s building a team at Mink Manager. Including himself, there will soon be three staff. They will be working with the technical developers who built his alcohol-testing app and are based in China and India.

He hopes to be able to build a global company from St. John’s. He’s also enjoying the Atlantic Canadian environment and climate, which is suitable for farming some mink breeds.

“In St. John’s, I also enjoy the nature I loved in Greenland,” he said.

Propel ICT’s Build Program Schedule

Propel ICT, the regional accelerator, has released a tentative schedule for the Build Program in its coming cohort.

Build is the program for scaling companies, those with revenues and looking to grow their businesses. The next 12-week program will be held this winter, and applications for the Build and Launch programs are available here and open until Jan. 31. Launch is the program for new companies.

Trevor MacAusland, who leads the Build Program, has released this tentative schedule for the program, which is subject to change:

Session 1:  Startup Diagnostic

Mentors:  Toon Nagtegall and David Crow from THENEXTPHASE

Location:  Moncton

Dates:  March 6-8

This session is designed to bring clarity of vision to the founders.  The clarity of vision and direction toward goals are essential for successfully turning a good idea into a good business.

Session 2:  Amplifying Growth

Mentors:  Sean Ellis, CEO of growthhackers.com, and Dom Coryell, Founder of gimmegrowth.com and former 500 Startups Growth Guru

Date: March 28-29

Location: Pier 21, Halifax,

Propel ICT is teaming up with Growthhackers.com and Alongside to gain insight on how to attract and activate more leads, how to build a growth team and how retain and nurture more customers.

Session 3:  People, Process and Leadership

Mentor:  Adrienne O’Pray, President and CEO of the New Brunswick Business Council, and Matt Symes, CEO Symplicity Designs

Location:  Moncton

Dates:  April 12-13

Participants in this session on Day 1 will build on their plan from Session 1 and plot long-, medium-, and short-term strategy. On Day 2, they will focus on their boards of directors.

Session 4:  Sales Management and Operations

Mentors:  Details coming soon

Location:  Moncton

Dates:  April 27-28

Learn how you can build and manage your sales team towards global success. In this session you will learn sales management best practices and methodologies to help your company scale up an effective sales team.

Session 5:  Pitch, Please!

Mentor:  Andrea Barrica, founder of O.School and former venture partner at 500 Startups

Location:  Moncton

Dates:  May 11-12

Learn the most common Dos and Don’ts of Pitching from one of the world’s most experienced pitch coaches, who has worked with thousands of entrepreneurs through 500 Startups. In the process, she has helped them raise over $60 million.

Session 6:  Show, don’t tell

Mentor:  Al Sturgeon, former Entrepreneur-in-Residence , Propel ICT

Location:  Moncton

Date:  May 25

In this session, participants will learn how use a product demo to amplify the impact of their next sales meeting, conference keynote, investor pitch and technical demo.

The Build program meets every second week for two full-day sessions. Graduates of the program that successfully raise capital are asked to contribute $5,000 to Propel.

Graduates of the Build program are also eligible to receive an investment of $150,000 through a convertible note from BDC Capital. Based on their province, they could also receive an investment of $100,000 from Innovacorp or the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, or $250,000 from Venture NL and Pelorus Venture Capital.

[Disclosure: Propel ICT is a client of Entrevestor.]

Digital NS Partners With WCT

Digital Nova Scotia and Women in Communications and Technology are pleased to announce a partnership agreement.

Under the partnership, the two non-profit organizations will collaborate on a number of initiatives, including their respective awards programs and an industry roundtable session to be held in Halifax in March 2017.

Award recipients of DNS’ Digital Diversity Awards will automatically be vetted and nominated for WCT’s own national Annual Awards program. The WCT Annual Awards recognize leaders from across Canada for their contributions to Canadian innovation and diversity.

DNS launched its first-ever Digital Diversity Awards program last year as part of its Women Leaders Fueling the Digital Economy project, funded by Status of Women Canada. DNS announced this past June that the Digital Diversity Awards would continue as a legacy program beyond the scope of the project. The Call for Nominations for the 2017 Digital Diversity Awards is open until March 8. Nominations can be found here.

“This is an exciting venture for DNS as it will enable us to nationally showcase the exceptional talent that exists within our region and our sector. Our new partnership with WCT provides a unique opportunity and national platform to recognize the significant efforts and contributions of our Digital Diversity Award winners. As a previous WCT Award winner, I know first-hand the importance of national recognition and the business connections that can be fostered as part of an awards program,” said DNS President Ulrike Bahr-Gedalia in a statement.

In addition to the Awards program partnership, DNS and WCT will co-host a Halifax roundtable session as part of WCT’s national project to create a “Blueprint for Women’s Leadership in the Digital Economy” on March 28,. The initiative is funded by Status of Women Canada and aims to mobilize knowledge sharing and use input from industry stakeholders to help develop a blueprint for industry and advance the careers of women working in communications, media, and technology, set to be released in the fall of 2017.

”We are pleased to formalize a partnership with DNS to promote the advancement of women in Nova Scotia.” Says Joanne Stanley, Executive Director of WCT. “Leadership recognition, both regionally and nationally, is a critical ingredient in inspiring and empowering women to reach new heights in their careers.”

The roundtable session on March 28 will be held at McInnes Cooper’s Halifax location. 

BlueLight, 3M Form US Partnership

J.P. Furey: 'It’s definitely a huge milestone for the company.'

J.P. Furey: 'It’s definitely a huge milestone for the company.'

BlueLight Analytics Inc., a Halifax company that helps ensure the proper curing of dental fillings, has partnered with industrial giant 3M Corp. to greatly expand the startup’s sales power in the U.S.

The two companies announced the partnership on Wednesday. Under the terms of the deal, 3M salespeople will offer BlueLight’s flagship product checkMARC, which helps to ensure dentists use their curing light for just the right length of time when curing resin-based fillings.

“This partnership gives us a national presence in the U.S., which is the biggest market for us,” BlueLight chief executive J.P. Furey said in a phone interview from Dallas, where he’s been training 3M sales teams.

“It’s definitely a huge milestone for the company and we think it’s the first of many as we expand globally.”

Growing out of research at Dalhousie University, BlueLight began about seven years ago to solve a problem few dentists spoke about. The lights they use to cure resin vary greatly, and each model has to be used for just the right amount of time to cure the resin properly. Too long a time could adversely affect the tooth and too little would leave the resin only partially cured.

BlueLight developed the checkMARC system, which can test and identify the efficacy of a dental office’s curing lights. Based on the results, 3M will review the light-curing protocols currently in practice. The Minnesota-based company said it can then work with the dental clinic to identify evidence-based opportunities to improve clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction.

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BlueLight said that before its technology was commercialized, there was a “quality gap” in the market for dental fillings — a multi-billion-dollar market that is the cornerstone of every dental clinic.

Almost two years ago, BlueLight announced a partnership with the Canadian division of 3M to jointly market checkMARC across Canada, and that led to a broader relationship.

“The last announcement was Canadian-centric,” said Furey, an accountant who became the company’s CEO in the autumn of 2015. “Since then a lot has happened and it has led to pilots in the U.S. and now this deal, which covers the whole U.S. It’s five to 10 times bigger than the Canadian market.”

He added that he and three other BlueLight representatives are in the U.S. this week, training 3M sales representatives in checkMARC. The salespeople are expected to begin offering the service to clients as early as this week.

The relationship with 3M is already expanding beyond North America. The Halifax company has been working with 3M in Australia, New Zealand and Germany.

“As the market leader for restorative dentistry, 3M is dedicated to providing dental professionals the latest technologies and innovations in dentistry to improve practice productivity,” the Minnesota company said in a statement.

BlueLight has partnerships with a few large companies. Also in 2015, it announced a partnership with Henry Schein, the Melville, New York-based medical product distributor whose 2014 sales exceeded US$10 billion.

Fundica Roadshow in Halifax April 6

The Fundica Roadshow, now in its fifth year, has launched its $1 million pitching competition, and will have a session in Halifax on April 6.

The Halifax pitching event will be held at the Innovacorp Enterprise Centre. You can apply to pitch here.

Presented by Intuit and its partner First Stone Venture Partners, the Fundica Roadshow is a national competition that offers an investment award of $1,000,000 to Canada’s most promising startup.

With 10 stops from Halifax to Victoria, a select group of early-stage innovators will get a chance to pitch their business to a panel of angels, VCs, banks and government organizations. All 10 city-stop winners will be invited to the Grand Finale where the top Canadian startup will receive a $1,000,000 investment from First Stone Venture Partners. If there is a split decision, two startups will receive a total amount of $1,000,000 between them in funding.

“First Stone is delighted to now be officially working with Fundica in the cross-Canada search for investment-worthy Canadian startups. Consistently we see highly credible prospects presenting at the Fundica Roadshow,” said Margo Langford, an FSVP partner and company recruiter.

Don’t Get Nagged! Fill in our Survey

There’s something I hate about this time of the year – even more than shoveling.

I have to pester people about filling in our survey. So this post is a not-so-subtle request to fill our survey in before I start contacting people and asking them directly. I hate doing it, and really appreciate everyone who completes the survey unnagged.

You can find our survey here.

A key component of our business, the Entrevestor survey is completely confidential and super easy to complete. It takes about 3 minutes. We aggregate and analyze the data and sell the resulting report to clients, which allows us to continue to provide the community with news.

We are looking for submissions from companies that meet three criteria:

- They must be locally owned (no subsidiaries or divisions of companies based elsewhere);

- They must be commercializing proprietary technology (no web developers or service companies);

- And they must be producing at least one product for the global market.

Age is insignificant. We have a couple of companies that date back to the 1990s. We're interested in new companies, but we want active teams that are actually developing their product and business. It's got to be beyond the idea stage.

I’m soon going to begin emailing people directly. Please save us both the inconvenience and complete the survey today. 

East Coast SME Optimism Rebounds

The Business Development Bank of Canada is seeing growing optimism among Canada’s small- and medium-sized businesses, with particular strength in the national technology sector and across Atlantic Canada.

The BDC, the business-focused financial institution owned by the federal government, on Monday released its annual survey of 4,000 of those businesses and their intentions for the coming year.

The headline figure shows that these small businesses plan to boost total investment to $96.6 billion in 2017, up 1.6 per cent from 2016. What’s really interesting about the survey is that BDC found particular strength in the tech community nationally and in Atlantic Canada.

“What we’re seeing in the survey is that entrepreneurs in Atlantic Canada are more confident about the economy than a year ago,” said Pierre Cléroux, BDC’s vice-president of research and chief economist. “For example, 75 per cent of the entrepreneurs in Atlantic Canada believe that their revenues are going to increase this year. So this is a very positive result. And it’s actually higher than the national average.”

Scaling Tech Companies Surging on East Coast

On a national level, 69 per cent of small business owners are expecting improved revenue in 2017 — an improvement from 45 per cent in the 2016 survey. Cléroux said the main reason for the increase is the strong optimism among high-growth small businesses, who are expecting a 19 per cent jump in revenues.

The survey found that retail businesses lag other sectors, with a drop of 31 per cent in the amount they intend to invest over the next year.

Overall, the survey showed that a lack of confidence in the economy is no longer a primary obstacle to investment. Rather, the biggest problems are the lack of cash flow and of qualified personnel.

Cléroux added that the information technology sector is showing particular strength right across the country, driven by both strong investment and high demand for technology products.

“The tech sector has been growing very strongly in the last five years,” said Cléroux. “In fact, it’s the only sector that has been outperforming the economy in terms of growth. That’s why I’m not surprised to see that their investment intentions are so good compared to the other sectors. Their investment intentions are 38-per-cent higher this year than the year before, which is the highest level in our survey.”

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While they are expecting higher revenues, technology entrepreneurs in Canada are expecting to dramatically increase their investments in 2017.

BDC found that 54 per cent of the entrepreneurs in the tech sector plan to increase investment in 2017 — far higher than 34 per cent for small- and medium-sized businesses in the broader economy.

Cléroux said that the survey results also point to the underlying strength in demand for tech products because so many companies overall list technology at the top of the capital investment plans in the coming year.

“When we ask all the entrepreneurs in our survey, what is going to be your number-one investment project for 2017, 61 per cent said it’s going to be an investment in technology,” said Cléroux. “So they want to invest in computer hardware, in software and ecommerce. That’s the reason why we’re confident about the tech industry — it’s because the demand will remain very strong.”

Cybersecurity Institute Opens at UNB

Ali Ghorbani: 'The Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity is poised to alter the cyberwarfare landscape.'

Ali Ghorbani: 'The Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity is poised to alter the cyberwarfare landscape.'

The University of New Brunswick on Monday opened the Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity, a hub for research, training and industry collaboration that has been backed by more than $4.5 million in funding .

The institute, which has signed on IBM as its first R&D partner, will train skilled cybersecurity professionals and provide leading-edge research into one of the most pressing issues facing society today. It has been launched as New Brunswick aims to become a centre of excellence for cybersecurity.

“The Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity is a culmination of more than 15 years of successful innovation and research in cybersecurity at the University of New Brunswick,” UNB President Eddy Campbell said in a statement. “The creation of the institute allows us to forge an even more crucial role in developing security measures necessary to protect modern critical infrastructure in Canada and beyond.”

The development of cybersecurity in New Brunswick originally grew out of the success of Q1 Labs, which began in Fredericton and was purchased in 2012 by IBM for a reported price of more than $600 million. The acquisition served as a catalyst for IBM’s security division, which is now a $2 billion business employing more than 8,000 researchers, developers and security experts across 133 countries.

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Q1 and IBM provide the nucleus of a cybersecurity community in New Brunswick with great expertise in preventing cyberattacks. Since the acquisition, other startups have formed in the space like Sentrant Security and Beauceron Security.

The worldwide cybersecurity market is large and growing, with market estimates ranging from US$75 billion in 2015 to US$170 billion by 2020. The size of the market is a response to the rising global cost of cyberattacks, which is expected to grow to US$2.1 trillion by 2020. As a result, there is intense interest in the development of new-generation cybersecurity solutions.

“The need for more cybersecurity support and services around the world is a huge opportunity to create jobs here in our province,” said Premier Brian Gallant, whose government has identified cybersecurity as a pillar of its innovation program. “New Brunswick is already a world leader in cybersecurity. Enhancing training and research opportunities through this institute is another step in seizing this significant economic opportunity.”

The institute was made possible with $2.27 million in funding from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s Innovative Communities Fund and through the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. The provincial government provided a contribution of nearly $2 million, while UNB is adding $330,000 in funding.

Ali Ghorbani, Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity at UNB and the university’s dean of computer science, serves as director of the institute.

“The Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity is poised to alter the cyberwarfare landscape by propelling research, training and collaboration with governments and industry to new levels,” said Ghorbani.

IBM is the institute’s first research and development partner, helping to fund highly skilled resources in the field of cybersecurity and other in-kind contributions such as technical and management resources to provide project oversight and mentorship for students.

This partnership builds on IBM’s long-standing history of investments and partnerships across the province. IBM maintains a research and development and customer support centre in Fredericton, which provides support for more than 5,000 customers around the globe.

The institute, housed at existing facilities on UNB’s Fredericton campus, is a comprehensive multidisciplinary training, research and development and entrepreneurial unit. It will collaborate with researchers in the social sciences, business, computer science, engineering, law, and science, as well as other national and international research centres.

Startup Halifax Event on Finances

John Hamblin

John Hamblin

Startup Canada Halifax will hold a seminar titled “What Startups Need To Know about Financial Information” at 4 pm on Jan. 24 at Volta Labs in Halifax.

The event is free and you can register here.

John Hamblin, the head of Startup Canada Halifax, said the event will be an opportunity to learn, network and build contacts.

The program includes:

-- A presentation by Propel ICT highlighting the value of the Propel programs across Atlantic Canada.

-- A talk by featured speaker, Stephanie Holmes-Winton, the author of two financial planning books and the Founder and CEO of The MoneyFinder.  This is a Halifax-based FinTech startup that helps financial planners plot cash flow analyses and perform other tasks.

-- Presentations and discussions on what startups need to understand to set up and manage their businesses. These talks will include presentations by accountants, and discussions on the financial problems faced by startups. 

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