Smart Skin Aims to Raise $6M-$8M

Kumaran Thillainadarajah: 'Atlantic Canada is growing some great companies, and we're one of them.'

Kumaran Thillainadarajah: 'Atlantic Canada is growing some great companies, and we're one of them.'

It doesn’t take long in an interview with Kumaran Thillainadarajah to understand why Deloitte named his business, Smart Skin Technologies, to its list of companies to watch in Canada.

In the last two years, the Fredericton firm has installed its technology in 45 plants owned by some of the largest beverage producers in the world, and sales are growing rapidly. Smart Skin, which raised $3.9 million about two years ago, is raising follow-on capital, with a target of $6 million to $8 million.

“It’s great to be recognized on the national stage,” said Thillainadarajah, the company’s CEO, sitting in the boardroom last week.

“It sends a message that Atlantic Canada is growing some great companies, and we’re one of them.”

STI Named to Deloitte Fast 50

Thillainadarajah started Smart Skin in 2008 to commercialize technology developed at the University of New Brunswick that can detect pressure on a surface and chart it in real time on a computer or other device. After testing a few markets, the team hit on a product for the beverage industry three years ago that immediately drove sales.

Food and drink companies with huge production lines have problems regulating the flow of cans. If too many pack the lines at once, bottlenecks occur and the system must be halted and fixed, reducing productivity. By placing Smart Skin’s Quantifeel drones — fake cans lined with a pressure-sensitive skin — in the production line, managers can monitor pressure and motion in the lines and prevent bottlenecks.

Thillainadarajah said the company is targeting six firms (Coca-Cola, Pepsico and the four largest beer manufacturers) that have 1,500 plants around the world and account for 60 per cent of the global market. So far, four of these are customers for Smart Skin and have installed the product in a total of 45 plants, including some of the largest.

“That’s great for a company of our size, but we want to be in all 1,500 of the plants,” said Thillainadarajah.

One reason sales are improving is that Smart Skin this year hired away two senior sales executives — one in Europe and one in Chicago — from beverage companies. Thillainadarajah said these people have brought with them deep ties to the industry.

The company intends to develop more cloud-based software products that can analyze the reams of data collected through Quantifeel products.

“We are going through an evolution from this hardware sensor system when we entered the market to more of an Internet of things or data play.”

He said that in about five years, Smart Skin hopes to serve every segment of the packaging industry.

In late 2013, Smart Skin raised $3.9 million in venture capital in a round led by Rho Canada Ventures, Build Ventures and the GrowthWorks Atlantic Venture Fund. The round also included a second investment by the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and contributions from angel investors.

Thillainadarajah said he began the latest stage of fundraising a few weeks ago and is already getting good feedback from potential investors. He said he hopes to close the funding in the next few months.

Voltera Wins 2015 Dyson Award

Kitchener-based Voltera has won the 2015 James Dyson Award, which recognizes brilliant new products by university graduates.

The team from the University of Waterloo won the award for the Voltera V-One, which prints custom circuit boards using the same principals as those of a 3D printer. Voltera, which operates out of the Velocity Foundry, received US$45,000 (C$59,000) as the first place winner. The university also received an award of US$7,500. Voltera is the first Canadian company to win the award. 

“The Voltera V-One team is made up of four impressive young graduates,” said James Dyson in a statement. “Their solution makes prototyping electronics easier and more accessible – particularly to students and small businesses. But it also has the potential to inspire many more budding engineers. Something I am very passionate about indeed.”

Voltera was founded by Jesús Zozaya, Katarina Ilic, James Pickard and Alroy Almeida two years ago to develop a device that can print customized circuit boards. As well as working with Velocity, the University of Waterloo’s accelerator, the company spent some time at HAX, the rapid prototyping accelerator in southern China.

The official statement from Dyson, the manufacturer of the Dyson vacuum cleaner, said that printed circuit boards are the electronic paths on an insulated surface that help power appliances such as smartphones, biomedical devices, and other electronic technologies.

To research and develop new electronics, engineers, inventors, and students must be able to able to prototype these circuit boards cheaply and quickly. But circuit board designs usually have to be sent to a factory for printing several times as minor changes are made.

The Voltera V-One allows hardware developments to prototype rapidly and cheaply, thereby improving the production process.

The V-One lays down conductive and insulating inks to create a functional, 2-layer circuit board. It’s also a solder paste dispenser, allowing components to be added to the board and reflowed by a 550w heater.

“We’re at a critical point with Voltera,” said Zozaya in the statement. “Our parts are now being manufactured and we are about to begin a new wave of testing in our lab. The $45,000 we’ve been awarded as winners of the James Dyson Award will help us to ramp up production and enhance testing.”

Earlier this year, Voltera raised US$502,000 in a Kickstarter campaign.


Cisco Names Eigen to Global Finals

Scott Everett

Scott Everett

Cisco Systems Inc. has named Fredericton-based Eigen Innovations one of six finalists at the Innovation Grand Challenge, the pitching competition at the prestigious Internet of Things World Forum on Dec. 7 in Dubai.

Eigen has developed algorithms that allow machines to respond automatically to messages from sensors – a classic Internet of Things, or IoT, application. It is one of 3,000 companies from more than 100 countries that entered Cisco’s Innovation Grand Challenge and was named a semi-finalist in October. Eigen is the only Canadian finalist.

Top prize is US$150,000 (C$200,000) and VIP access to industry, investment and business experts, including Cisco’s Innovation Centers and Cisco Investments teams.

“To me, as the organizer of this Grand Challenge, these innovators are incredibly inspiring in how they combine sheer creativity with the technical skills of our digital era,” said Cisco’s Director of Innovation Strategy and Programs Alex Goryachev in a statement. “I can’t wait to get to know this year’s Super Six finalists in Dubai, where they will make their Shark Tank-like pitches in front of a live audience before the judges.”

Scott MacDonald on Canada's IIoT Opportunity

A graduate of the PropelICT tech accelerator, Eigen’s product, Intellexon, helps manufacturers improve production efficiency and reduce waste. The system uses algorithms developed under the guidance of researcher and co-founder Rickey Dubay at the University of New Brunswick.

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

In May, the company had five multinational clients, each in a separate industry: food processing, mining, automotive, pulp and paper and construction.

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

"Being named one of the top six Internet of Things companies in the world by Cisco is tremendous recognition of our technology and how it helps manufacturers improve production efficiency," said Eigen’s CTO and Co-Founder Scott Everett in the statement.  "We congratulate our fellow finalists and look forward to seeing them next month in Dubai."

In May, the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation invested, $250,000 in Eigen Innovations, and the company said that investment would be part of a far larger funding round. There has been no announcement since then, but the First Angel Network now lists Eigen among its portfolio companies.

Two other members of the New Brunswick industrial Internet of things community raised significant venture capital rounds recently. Moncton’s RtTech Software closed a $3 million round in February, and Fredericton’s Smart Skin Technologies landed $3.9 million in funding in late 2013.


VFC Fellows Dive Into Startups

Emily Miller and Danny Williams

Emily Miller and Danny Williams

Emily Miller recently spent a month at the Halifax Central Library curating information on various Maritime and Ontario startups – she really wanted to work in the startup space. A political science major at St. Francis Xavier University, Miller used her research skills to prepare for her interview with Venture for Canada, or VFC, an organization that partners young people with Canadian startups to encourage entrepreneurship.

Her research paid off: Miller was accepted as a 2015 VFC fellow and the program paired her with Halifax startup Eyeread, an eye-tracking application for ebooks that measures and analyzes children’s independent reading. Today, Miller is Eyeread’s general manager.

“I’ve always had a passion for helping children learn to read—I was a tutor throughout high school, a camp counsellor, and have done several trips to India to work in schools,” Miller said in a recent email. “I realized that this product has the potential to revolutionize the way children learn to read and impact millions of children around the world.”

The application process for VFC is rigorous—just like the program. It consists of essays, transcripts, resumes and interviews. The VFC website cites intelligence, character, founder potential, ability to contribute and grit as the characteristics required of VFC fellows.

Read our Provile of VFC Founder Scott Stirrett

Danny Williams, another 2015 VFC fellow, attributes his acceptance into the program with his involvement in growing his own startup.

“The best predictor of future success is past action,” Williams said, also in an email. “If there is one consistent thread amongst all the Fellows at Venture for Canada, it’s a history of past action.”

The program begins with a five-week bootcamp, in which the cohort of 46 learn from world entrepreneurship experts about business, tech and startup worlds. It is designed to prepare them for their two-year placement at an Ontario or Maritime startup.

This year’s bootcamp featured entrepreneurs such as Shopify Director of Product Satish Kanwar and Salesforce Senior Vice President Dan Debow.

“We constantly brought discussions from the classroom back to the dorms and spent many late nights debating and teaching each other,” Miller said.

“There was never a negative ‘we can’t do this’ attitude. If a challenge arose it was ‘how do we fix this or get around this?’”

Once the fellows completed the bootcamp, they were matched with a startup based on location preference, skillset and company fit.

Williams chose to work for Norex, a global web design and innovation firm and the company from which Eyeread originated. He said he was drawn to Norex because of its competitive nature.

The company has a 20 percent innovation time policy, in which staff spend one-fifth of their time creating and innovating new products. As product and innovation manager, Williams ensures that these projects are feasible for creation and commercialization.

Eyeread, where Miller works, was one of the projects that originated from the 20 percent innovation time policy.

“We’re essentially building micro startups within the company,” Williams said via email. “It’s awesome.”

The goal of VFC is to give young Canadians the network and resources to understand the startup world for two years so that they can then create their own startups and contribute to society and the economy.

Williams and Miller both work in Atlantic Canada with Norex and Eyeread, respectively. They both expressed the importance of retaining more talent in the East.

“I do think that Atlantic Canadians can be a little too humble and scared of pushing themselves outside of the region,” Miller said. “We need a global mindset.”

Added Williams: “I would encourage Atlantic Canadians to embrace the same mentality that was ever-present at VFC’s Training Camp - that is to have the audacity to start out with the goal of changing the world.” 

Readers Respond to Keefe’s Column

Patrick Keefe’s column on Friday drew big response from readers, both on Entrevestor and social media, and we’d like to share some of the feedback with you.

Keefe, a Partner at Build Ventures in Halifax, wrote a response to the analysis conducted by the global consultancy EY and Entrevestor, showing the cost benefits of Halifax over Silicon Valley.

Keefe countered in a piece on the Build website that the analysis omitted one all-important factor -- the time it takes to bring a product to market when operating out of a smaller centre.

Read the EY-Entrevestor Analysis of Costs

Several writers commented on a proposal of parties in Atlantic Canada to have an extended-stay facility in major centres so Atlantic Canadian sales staff can have affordable accommodation and a base when traveling.

Here’s some of the feedback that the column received:

On Entrevestor:

Chris Mathis

This is an excellent observation and one that isn’t difficult to address at least from the point of view of funding support, and provided the commitment to on the ground validation for accelerated growth is internalized in the company. Larger population bases will naturally have a higher likelihood for local sales revenue than we have (depending on the product) - so our cost base for reaching more customers sooner is higher. But I wonder if the issue is a lack of available/sufficient sales experience in our start-ups, which is more challenging to fix but feasible to address possibly in collective ways. Helping start-ups to locate and hire experienced sales people may be the focal point to address Patrick’s observation.

Giles Crouch

Excellent article! So very true! Maybe the province(s) and investors could leverage short-term living spaces in key cities like Boston, Toronto and San Francisco where regional start-ups pay a small fee, lower than what a hotel would cost, so it’s break even. They get that extended stay in key hubs and can hop back and forth for a few months? Rent a 4-5 bedroom home for example and have an account with a car sharing service (avoids high cost of rentals) and transit passes. Meals can be cooked in the house when they aren’t entertaining clients or working on partnerships. Okay, maybe a crazy idea.

On LinkedIn:

Steve Willson

Patrick and Peter, thanks for highlighting this issue. I would add one observation, many people in Atlantic Canada don't believe that what works in other parts of the world will work there. The attitude against CFAs (Come from away's) and even more so CBFAs (Come Back From Away's) is as strong as it ever was. We need to recognize that the world is a big place and just because we love our laid-back lifestyle doesn't mean we can force the rest of the world to slow down and smell the roses.

Colin Deacon

Very important article. Thank you Patrick and Peter. This message should be required reading throughout the region.

Stephen Finn

I would like to know your thoughts on having a remote sales office that feeds product development information back to the Atlantic Canada head office. From Newfoundland, one of the biggest challenges meeting with our customers is the cost of flights and logistics.

Craig Hubley

Agreed, Giles Crouch. Actually a shared living space with a few private rooms and a shared kitchen and facilities, like a suite, in each of these cities, would actually form much closer relationships and contact sharing between Atlantic Canadian companies, few of which are in direct competition. But most of which are probably meeting people that they cannot help, or who cannot help them, but could easily help another Atlantic Canadian entrepreneur, or be helped by them. It's one of the best ideas I've read on this.

Craig Hubley

Stephen Finn that's one of the best reasons to have a suite in remote cities where there are lots of customers, though it's possibly a better reason to have a van with a few 4K cameras and 3D scanning gear set up to go right to where the customer's issues are. Anything we can do to replace travel with telework is going to be a huge benefit to us, especially as we are so central on the low latency fibre optic cables from this region.

Andrew Menchions

Stephen Finn there are companies in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia doing just as you ask about. It can work with a well trained team (both local and remote sides) - and as always when working at a distance, superior team communications are critical.

Sabrina Poirier

Excellent insights.

[Disclaimer: Build Ventures is a client of Entrevestor.]

4Deep Raises $500K from Bosma

Stephen Jones: The Chinese market

Stephen Jones: The Chinese market "suits our product".

A subsidiary of Chinese optics manufacturer Guangzhou Bosma Corp. has invested $500,000 in Halifax’s 4-Deep Inwater Imaging, expanding the microscope-maker’s R&D and distribution capacity.

The companies said in a statement today that Bosma USA will invest in the Halifax company and that the two companies will establish a joint research and development facility in Silicon Valley.

Bosma is best known for making telescopes and binoculars and wants to use 4-Deep’s product to check the precision of its curved glass lenses. The Chinese company, based just north of Hong Kong, has about 1,100 sales channels in Greater China and will become the distributor of 4Deep’s products in China, Hong Kong and Macau.

Formerly known as Resolution Optics, 4-Deep manufactures and sells powerful electronic microscopes, and focuses on those that operate under underwater. They allow researchers or industrial users to monitor microscopic articles in the water without having to take samples back to a laboratory.

A Good Year in Follow-on Funding

“It’s a smart investment and they fully appreciate what we’re doing here with 4-Deep,” said CEO Stephen Jones in an interview in his Halifax office. He added that the funding will allow 4-Deep to tap other sources of capital so it will raise a total funding round, including debt, of about $1 million.

“It will finally allow us to hire some people,” he said. The company now employs four people in Halifax and one in Russia, and plans to hire three employees in 2016.

The Halifax company said Bosma’s expertise in optical manufacturing will help to enhance “4Deep’s core proprietary digital holographic technology for the purpose of quality control for large-scale, optics manufacturing.”

In the statement, Jones said the Chinese market “suits our technology perfectly and will no doubt push the limits of innovation and creativity, and generate some exciting products in the next year or two.”

He said the focus of the Halifax team will continue to be enhancing and promoting the submersible microscope for real-time water quality applications. The company has just signed a research agreement with Dalhousie University to collect marine algae images that will be used to develop a Deep Neural Network based automatic recognition software.

The statement also said that 4Deep will also launch a new submersible florescence microscope.

Dalhousie University professors Manfred Jericho and H. Juergen Kreuzer founded 4Deep in 2008 with the goal of making submersible and desktop microscopes producing real-time “4D” images of particles and micro-organisms, meaning the devices show them from three angles as they move over time.

The company raised $125,000 in equity financing from private investors in late 2013, and leveraged the investment with additional funds from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and others.

In 2014, 4Deep was the only Atlantic Canadian company to make Deloitte’s “Companies to Watch in Canada” list, Jones was a finalist in the 2014 EY Entrepreneur of the Year Atlantic awards.


Atlantic Canada Isn’t Always Cheaper

Keefe: A cost analysis should consider the time it takes to get to market.

Keefe: A cost analysis should consider the time it takes to get to market.

One of our unquestioned assumptions when we closed the Build Ventures’ fund in 2013 was that launching a startup in Atlantic Canada was cheaper than doing it in other parts of Canada or the United States. Our location, at least in this respect, was thought to be a competitive advantage.

There are certainly challenges to building a company here given the early stage of our ecosystem, but we thought we had the core ingredients: lots of smart entrepreneurial people and an environment which allowed those people to get more done with less.  The key cost driver at the early stage of any startup is salaries and rent. On both fronts we seem to have an advantage.

Our evidence is anecdotal based on comparing the burn rates of a small sample size, but it’s safe to say that on average the costs on the East Coast are substantially lower. Recently Peter Moreira from Entrevestor, working with EY, published an excellent deep dive on the regional cost structure. Entrevestor’s analysis was based on a company that nailed the product-market fit, has $3 million in revenues and is generating positive net income.

Read the EY-Entrevestor Analysis of Startup Costs

So a similarly staffed company in Atlantic Canada should be able to run at a substantially lower burn rate than a similarly sized one elsewhere.  Source of advantage – right?

Actually no.

We are now realizing that we made a significant omission in our assumption that startups are cheaper to launch and run here. In hindsight it seems obvious, but we didn’t include one major factor – time.

It’s true that once a company hits a threshold like $3 million in revenue and is turning a profit that it can operate more cost-effectively in Atlantic Canada. The question we have all neglected to address is how long it takes an East Coast company to get to this stage.

It’s not the absolute monthly spend alone that matters. Rather it’s the combination of the number of months it takes at that burn rate to reach a given milestone for a company.  Our observation is that companies in Atlantic Canada are taking longer to find product market fit. This more than offsets the operating cost advantage.

Put another way, startup companies here are taking too long to grow.

Why is this? Our hypothesis is that the feedback loops for companies are much longer here. That’s because founders are not immersed with customers, partners, competitors, and investors all the time, their cycle times to drive the business forward (or learning loops) are longer.

Let’s be clear, they still get there, it just takes longer. And that comes with a cost.

In fact, it’s always astounded us how much a business grows after a team member returns from an extended trip to places like San Francisco or New York City. The customer immersion seems to speed up the cycle time, for a while at least, until the effect wears off.

So to make the most of our operating cost advantages, we need to see startups on the East Coast accelerate their development. Get on a plane, go to where your customers are, learn from them, and then apply that learning to your product development.

If East Coast companies work with the same level of intensity and learning as startups in the big hubs, they can take better advantage of the cost savings that come with launching in Atlantic Canada.


Patrick Keefe is a Partner at Build Ventures, a Halifax-based early-stage venture capital fund. This column was first posted on the Build website. Build is a client of Entrevestor.

5 Great Tips on Crowdfunding

Many in the packed house at the FullSail conference in Fredericton on Wednesday very quickly learned that their preconceptions about crowdfunding were mistaken.

The conference on crowdfunding, organized by the Financial and Consumer Services Commission, featured several experts in crowdfunding, people who have gone through the process at least once, and stripped away the myths about it being a route to easy money.

They were all advocates for the process, which raises money from a broad range of people on the internet. But they detailed the painstaking work that’s needed to mount a successful campaign on Kickstarter, Indiegogo or another site.

“The biggest misconception is that if you build it they will come,” said Peter McMath, the CEO of Fredericton-based Timbre Cases, which raised $31,547 on Kickstarter last year. “That’s just not going to happen.”

Here are the five main lessons that were highlighted by the speakers:

1.        It’s hard work – The speakers spoke of the months of preparation and execution needed to conduct a successful campaign. It requires research, strategy, design and a massive commitment to community with your backers. And all that doesn’t even include the execution of your product.

Speakers described the countless hours they spent building up the community before their launch, and the exhausting days spent during their campaign.

“Reward-based crowdfunding, some people say it’s free money but it comes with a lot of energy attached,” said Justin Bailey of, a crowdfunding platforms for games, who was livestreamed into the conference.

Added Ken Seto, CEO of Toronto-based game developer Massive Damage: “If you are planning a Kickstarter campaign, plan not to sleep for the first three days, just from the adrenalin.”

2.       Research your peers – Seto, whose company raised $187,706 in its last campaign, detailed in particular the value of doing deep research before you start your campaign.

He advised researching several peers – if your company is unknown, research crowdfunding by other unknown companies in your sector. And Seto broke down the research to detail each tier of the funding – which is easily done as there is so much public information in a Kickstarter campaign. He examined how much was raised in each tier, and which tiers were the most profitable. And he dug down into which tiers promised to reward backers with a physical gift, and how much of the total that would cost. “You want to drive people to just a few tiers that will make the most money for you,” he said.

3.       Don’t give away your profits – Seto and George Rohac, the CEO of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based advisory firm Breadpig, warned against structuring campaigns that promise too many physical rewards that have to be purchased, packaged and shipped. The goal is to raise money for the development of your company, and not to sell and ship T-shirts and posters. Rohac said the cost of buying and delivering a reward should not exceed 35 percent of the contribution, and preferably it should be about 20 percent. 

4.       Maintain ties to your backers – The people who contribute to a crowdfunding campaign have an interest in the progress of the company they’re backing. So keep them up to date. The speakers suggested emailing every few weeks to give them an honest appraisal of how the development is going. And if there are problems, tell them about it. “People like reading about the process,” said Seto. “They paid to see the internal workings of the company that funded.”

Innovacorp VC Funding hits $5.9M

Innovacorp, Nova Scotia’s provincial innovation agency, invested a total of $5.9 million in 14 companies in the fiscal year ended March 31, including a previously unannounced $1 million funding of Halifax-based QRA Corp.

The data are contained in the Crown corporation’s accountability report for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which was released a few months ago but has not been reported on. [Full disclosure: Innovacorp is a client of Entrevestor.]

For the most part, the report is a summary of Innovacorp’s activity in the past year, including the venture capital deals it announced during the last fiscal year.

The investment in QRA has not been previously announced as the company is known to be working on a funding round involving several investors, some of whom have not closed yet. A year ago, QRA Co-Founder and CEO Jordan Kyriakidis said he was targeting $4 million in equity and other forms of capital in the current funding round. The Innovacorp statement shows the company has closed on $1 million of the total.

NBIF Doubles VC Investments in 2 Years

QRA helps machine manufacturers to detect problems with their designs early in the development process. It grew out of research that Kyriakidis and his team performed at Dalhousie University under a contract for Lockheed-Martin, the world’s largest defence contractor.

QRA is one of two companies to receive $1 million or more from Innovacorp in the 2014-15 fiscal year. The other was Reno-Sub-Systems of Halifax, which received $1.76. The company reportedly closed a total funding last year of $8.5 million led by Intel Capital.

“In addition, in 2014-2015, our portfolio companies generated about $26.3 million in revenues . . . and directly employed about 376 people,” said the report. It added that the employment “resulting in a payroll of roughly $27.4 million (an increase of 7 per cent), most of which was in the form of high-value jobs.”

The other companies that received funding and the amounts they received from Innovacorp are:

Information Technology

Livelenz                                                $390,000

Dash Hudson                                     $350,000

The Rounds                                        $250,000

Proposify                                             $250,000

SupplyStream                                    $250,000

LeadSift                                                $187,000

Life Sciences and Oceans

Spring Loaded Technology           $250,000

Ocean Executive                              $100,000

Performance Genomics                                $150,000

Clean Technology

TruLeaf                                                 $520,000

Cellufuel                                              $250,000

Atlantic Motor Labs                         $250,000

Innovacorp had invested previously Livelenz and Performance Genomics and decided to make a follow-on investment because the companies had reached certain milestones.

The accountability statement said that these 14 companies attracted $12.7 million in additional funding from other venture capital and private equity investors, mainly based outside Nova Scotia.

Innovacorp’s main fund is the Nova Scotia First Fund, which was financed with a commitment from the province of $25 million a few years ago. The accountability statement said that as of March 31, some $14.19 million had been drawn from the fund. It added that an additional $14.5 million has been committed to the fund, leaving $25.3 million available for investment.

Tallyfi Targets Expansion Beyond KW

Tallyfi, one of the four companies recently admitted to Communitech’s Rev accelerator, has pioneered the 21st Century equivalent of the bouncer’s counter.

The Kitchener-based company is dedicated to helping bar staffs keep track of traffic in their establishment and to analyze data that can increase sales and reduce costs.

“It’s primarily for counting people but on top of that our real value is to teach our customers how valuable that data is to them,” said Co-Founder Ryan Walker in an interview last week, shortly after the team was accepted into Rev.

Walker and his co-founders Gil Pinheiro and Don McKenzie – who met each other when they all worked at BlackBerry -- launched the company about a year ago. They funded it themselves and strove to produce a piece of hardware that would meet the needs of bouncers and doormen.

Rev Welcome Four Companies to Cohort 2

As they researched the matter, they learned that their main competition is an old-fashion handheld counter, which has serious limitations. There’s no connectivity, so if a bar has more than one entrance there’s no way to accurately know how many people are in the place. What’s more, counters only add UP, so the bouncers need a second counter to tally the people exiting and subtract one from the other.

They also learned that bouncers don’t like touch screens, which are difficult to use in cold climates and can lead to mistake.

Their solution is a handheld wireless device that – in the finest BlackBerry tradition – has big mechanical push buttons. It counts men and women both entering and leaving the establishment. A bouncer can use it while his hands are in his pocket, or with gloves on. Each device shows how many people are in the establishment.

“Where it really gets interesting is what we’re able to do with the data,” said Walker. “The first part is the real-time information. … Most value is looking at past data and comparing it week-to-week or month-to-month. That’s where we start to see the interesting stuff.”

The real time information is interesting because an owner doesn’t even have to be at the club to view the traffic. He or she just has to be somewhere with an internet connection. If it’s dead, they can close early and save money.

The data over time is useful because owners can tell when the heavy period are, and compare the traffic with drink sales to assess whether all clients are being served properly.

The three co-founders, who have been working with the University of Waterloo’s Velocity accelerator, have been selling the product in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, and have about 10 clients. Now they want to push it out to the North American market, and that’s where Rev comes in.

The program is designed to accelerate sales for companies with traction, and Tallyfi is putting together a strategy to sell its device to bar owners they can’t drive to. Walker said one thing they want to learn through the program is whether they will need a direct sales force or can sell the devices online or by the phone.

He’s pleased that the mentors at Rev are focused on these sorts of questions rather than on raising capital.

“They’re not about pushing for funding,” he said. “They’re about helping us to get where we want to go and do it through our own sales. That’s what we like about it.” 

Septic Sitter Eyes IIoT Applications

Kelly Galloway: Not one to take herself too seriously.

Kelly Galloway: Not one to take herself too seriously.

When Freescale Semiconductor put together its Internet of Tomorrow Tour last year, it included an exhibit on a little-known piece of Atlantic Canadian technology many of us would prefer stayed underground.

Based in Austin, Texas and valued at US$11 billion, Freescale assembled a mobile exhibit in a truck to educate its customers and the public about the wondrous things the Internet will do in the next few years. And it showcased Septic Sitter, an advanced system that helps homeowners avoid problems with their septic systems.

Version I is due to be launched this autumn, and its developer Stratford, P.E.I.-based Dynamic Monitors (a unit of Engineering Technologies Canada Ltd.) is already planning for later versions that would feature full Internet of Things applications.

“I want this to be as valuable and logical to have as part of your septic system as the sensors and warning lights in your car – the ones that warn you your engine is over-heating,” said Kelly Galloway, the President of ETC.

“I see a system that has flexibility in how the end-user wants to receive the information. I anticipate many septic owners will also want direct communication between the system and their designated service-provider.”

Read Our Full Report on IIoT and Big Data

Septic Sitter – whose tagline is “Peace of mind for your behind” – places sensors in a septic tank and drainfield, the underground area that catches the runoff from the tank. The sensors send readings to a sensor hub in the house, which can assess whether there is unusually high runoff and keep a record of effluent levels and temperatures in the septic system.

It sends an alert to any internet-connected device whenever pre-defined alarm levels are exceeded or dangerous trends are detected.

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

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

The market is huge. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated there were more than 26 million households with septic systems in the U.S. alone in 2007. And the pain is . . . well, ask anyone who’s had a septic tank back up how acute the pain is.

The exciting thing about Septic Sitter is what the later generations will be.

ETC is working on an Internet of Things system in which septic sensors can detect high levels, and instantly cause any number of potential overload sources to be shut down. The system might automatically shut off a smart washing machine or close a smart valve on the main water supply to make sure a leaky toilet stops running.

“One of the real big goals for the system … is to not just have early warning capabilities but for the system to be integrated into third party smart home systems and have actuation or control capability,” said Galloway, an engineer who specializes in the design, installation and maintenance of on-site sewage systems.

She noted that when people speak about “smart homes” they usually envisage systems that control lighting, heat, electricity consumption and security. But ETC is working on a unique component of a smart home that would benefit tens of millions of homes.

In the lead-up to the launch, Galloway has been refining both the hardware and software side of the product. As of press time, she believed the launch will take place in early October. And she’s talking to potential investors with a view to raising money once the product has some sales.

Galloway recently joined an Entrepreneurs3.0 tour to Toronto, during which she pitched for a range of investors. She also went through the Propel ICT Launch accelerator program this summer.

She has presented the product at events like 2015 Water and Wastewater Equipment Treatment and Transport Show in Indianapolis. And, of course, Septic Sitter is part of the Internet of Tomorrow Tour that has been travelling around the U.S.

Freescale now plans to expand that tour, replicating it in China and Europe. And will Septic Sitter be part of it? Galloway wasn’t sure. She’s been busy focusing on the coming launch, but she’s also interested in marketing Septic Sitter in overseas markets.

Press Release: SimplyCast in Finals

SimplyCast, the Dartmouth multi-channel marketing company, has issued the following press release:

SimplyCast is a Finalist for Three Awards

Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, November 17, 2015 – SimplyCast, a global leader in marketing automation, is excited to announce that have they been selected as a finalist for three 2016 Halifax Business Awards. These awards are presented by the Halifax Chamber of Commerce.

SimplyCast has been selected as a finalist for Business of the Year and Innovative Business of the Year. As well, Saeed El-Darahali, President and CEO of SimplyCast, has been selected as a finalist for Business Person of the year.

The Halifax Business Awards take place annually and celebrate the local business community. The awards recognize risk takers in the community and business people who are pushing the limits of innovation and growth. Awards night is a gala that includes entertainment, prestige, and celebration.

“These awards are a wonderful effort on the part of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce,” said SimplyCast’s Chairman J. William Ritchie. “We are very pleased to have been selected as finalists in the three categories.”

According to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, SimplyCast is the first company in nine years to be a finalist in three categories for the Halifax Business Awards.

“Our team has put a lot of work into accomplishing our goal of being the best marketing automation solution and it is a great honor to be nominated for these awards,” said Saeed El-Darahali, President and CEO of SimplyCast. “The SimplyCast team, shareholders, directors, and I would also like to extend sincere congratulations to all the other finalists.”

SimplyCast remains dedicated to growing the local business community. The company focuses on hiring talented employees from the local workforce and co-op students from universities and high schools in the area. Training young talent is one of the best ways to sustain a strong business community and build success for today and the future.

About SimplyCast is a leading provider of interactive and multi-channel communication software for organizations worldwide. The company’s 360 Customer Flow Communication Platform is a feature-rich solution combining marketing automation, inbound marketing, and interactive communication. With customers in over 175 countries, including many of the most recognized brand names around the globe in retail, non-profit and hospitality industries, SimplyCast provides organizations the ability to effectively reach customers on their preferred mode of communication.

About the Halifax Chamber of Commerce

The Halifax Chamber of Commerce aims to improve the business culture in Halifax. The Chamber advocates on topics such as taxation and workplace health. The Chamber is made up of 1,500 member businesses and a volunteer board of directors and staff.

GoVenture World in Contest Finals

GoVenture World, the long-anticipated business education game devised by Sydney serial entrepreneur Mathew Georghiou, has been shortlisted for Microsoft’s competition to find the best new game in Canada.

Georghiou is best known as the CEO and founder of MediaSpark, whose GoVenture product is a series of educational digital games that have been used by more than one million people around the world. For several years, he and his team at MediaSpark have been developing GoVenture World, with the aim of producing a game that simulates running a business better than anything else available.

The team expects to begin testing with users early in 2016, but it has already been recognized by Codename GOA, Microsoft’s competition to find the best new game in Canada. Last week, Microsoft announced that GoVenture World was one of seven products shortlisted as finalists.

“We believe it offers us two benefits,” Georghiou said of being a finalist.

“First, it provides external validation that what we are creating is indeed unique and innovative in the gaming industry; second, it will help us create awareness of the game so that we can acquire more players faster.” Unveils First Hyper-local Site

Georghiou flew to Montreal on Monday to attend the Montreal International Gaming Summit, where he was to demo GoVenture World at the Microsoft booth. Microsoft is scheduled to announce the winner of Codename GOA today.

GoVenture World has been years in the making; in the autumn of 2012 it was selected as one of the 50 top startups in the world to compete in Startup Open. MediaSpark has also conducted a demo via video conference to White House senior policy advisers for science and technology, who were curious to discover how it could encourage entrepreneurship and business knowledge.

It’s taken a long time to develop because it’s such an ambitious project. Georghiou said it has the potential to be “the single biggest innovation in the history of entrepreneurship and business education.”

In the gaming community, GoVenture World is what’s known as a massively multi-player online role-playing game. Played on computers, tablets or smartphones, users can create and manage virtual businesses while competing and collaborating with others around the world.

Georghiou said he hopes the game will provide business experience and skill development that are so authentic that people will include their success on GoVenture World on their resumes. He said it could provide university credits or offer a business education to people who cannot afford a post-secondary education.

Now in its third decade, MediaSpark, whose products are marketed under the GoVenture brand, tends to sell its products like ebooks to educational institutions and training services to corporations.

This year, Georghiou launched an enterprise called, a platform for what he describes as a series of hyper-local news sites. These are portals that allow community members to post a range of content, from news and events to job listings. In the end, it builds social capital within the community. Its first product is, which launched in the spring.

Velocity Fund Finals Set for Nov. 26

Twenty teams will vie for a total of $115,000 in seed money at the Velocity Fund Finals on Nov. 26 at the SLC Great Hall at University of Waterloo.

The competition organized by Velocity, the university’s tech accelerator, comprises two tiers. At 11 am, 10 very early stage student teams will pitch. Three of them – two chosen by judges and one by the audience – will be awarded $5,000 each so they can begin to work on their ideas.

Then at 1 pm, 10 more advanced teams will pitch for four prizes worth $25,000 each.

“Funding for very early stage companies is an important part of the support Velocity provides,” said the accelerator on its website. “The Velocity Fund is a grant program for startups and aspiring entrepreneurs to win funding through competitions held three times per year. “

Tickets for the free event are available here

The finalists for the $25,000 prizes will be:

-  Acorn Cryotech -- Acorn Cryotech preserves the cells of youthful people today as a resource to draw from for personalized medical therapy in the future. This provides a bank of youthful cells, for use in growing new immune-compatible organs, genetic therapies able to revert damage, and mutations that accumulate with age.

-  Arc Home -- Arc home is designing a smart vent system, which works with your smart thermostat to control the temperature of individual rooms in your home, preventing uncomfortable temperature differences and reducing your home energy bills by up to 30%.

-  Dabbabi -- Dabbabi develops new motorcycle technologies to improve performance and safety monitoring on the race track and on public roads.

-  Doppel Move -- Doppel aims to precisely quantify individual movement patterns by means of a smart garment. Our goal is to provide athletes with a new standard of safety by detecting detrimental movements in their infancy, and ensuring safe practice by means of vibratory feedback cues.

-  HealthIM -- HealthIM synchronizes law enforcement and health care systems to improve the quality of care for mentally ill patients using a clinical reporting system that integrates directly into existing police hardware.

-  Nashwaak -- Nashwaak is building GPU-powered data tools for high-speed spatial analysis and visualization. They focus on spatial operators and fast mapping techniques (point and heat maps, choropleths, network diagrams).

-  NERv -- NERv develops implantable bio-sensors that operate from within the human body. They are being developed to collect data about the body and send feedback to the doctor, allowing medical care facilities to have a portable bio-lab able to assess the human body.

-  Penta Medical -- Penta Medical is developing a technical medical fabric with five key benefits: it promotes faster healing, reduces inflammation, alleviates musculoskeletal related pain, is antibacterial, and is highly sustainable.

-  Sweat Free Apparel -- A high tech company for apparel, producing under-garments that prevent sweat stains from reaching and ruining your clothes.

-  Thalo -- Thalo develops displays based on the idea of ink on paper – there’s enough light to read a book or a magazine, and they don’t need a battery to work. By using the light that’s already around you, we can cut down the amount of power your screens use dramatically.


Propel Searches for New CEO

Gary Dinn

Gary Dinn

It is a time of change and growth for the regional accelerator, Propel ICT.

As it undergoes changes in senior management with the departure of St. John’s-based CEO Gary Dinn and Halifax-based Entrepreneur-in-Residence Ying Tam, Propel ICT is preparing for its first cohort of 2016 with a broader geographical reach than ever before.  And it is working on doing more to support the companies that have graduated from its programs.

Propel said Friday that it is looking for a new Chief Executive Officer following the departure of Dinn, the St. John’s-based executive who headed the organization since June 2014. And in an interview today, Chairman Dave Grebenc confirmed that Tam is no longer with the accelerator.

Meanwhile, it is now accepting applications for the next cohort, a 12-week program that will be offered in six cities. The Launch program, an introductory course, will be offered again in St. John’s, Fredericton, and Halifax, and for the first time in Sydney and Charlottetown. The Build program, for more experienced companies, will be offered in Moncton. [Full disclosure: Propel is a client of Entrevestor.]

The moves come at a time when Propel has just completed what all parties consider one of its best cohorts ever. Twenty-seven companies went through the recent Launch program and six through Build, and a total of 12 of these companies pitched at the recent demo-day.  Now the organization is gearing up to take on as many as 45 teams in the first cohort of 2016.

“In the last year, we really made Propel pan-Atlantic in every sense of the word,” Dinn, a former sales exec with St. John’s-based Rutter, said in an interview.

During Dinn’s 15 months overseeing Propel, the accelerator replaced the Launch 36 format, a single program offered to all participants, to a two-tiered system. He added that during the time the organization quadrupled its budget and developed its structure in the three largest provinces while preparing to move into P.E.I.

Grebenc said both Dinn and Tam did a “phenomenal” job with Propel and thanked them for their services.

In the case of Tam, he said Propel could only have one Entrepreneur-in-Residence and it chose Gillian McCrae, who joined the organization as a vice-president earlier this year.

“In Halifax, we had two great candidates … and we chose Gillian,” he said. “This has nothing to do with performance. It’s just that we were changing our business model and streamlining it.”

A serial entrepreneur, Tam is also the CEO of Halifax startup Mindful Scientific and has been mentoring for years with the Dalhousie University Starting Lean program. With a background in marketing and small businesses, McCrae is the former CEO of Launch36 grad GetGifted.

Propel ICT is continuing to grow and earlier this month held its first Alumni Weekend, in which the companies that passed through the accelerator got together to socialize and continue to support one another. Grebenc said this will be the beginning of more structured programing so that Propel can continue to support alumni.

“We’re looking at being with the companies through their lifecycle,” he said. “We want it to be like a St. Francis Xavier University ring – once you graduate you’re a member for life.”

Applications for the coming cohort are now open and applicants can register on the Propel website. The deadline for applications if Jan. 15. The accelerator is holding the following information sessions for anyone interested in applying:

-  Halifax – Volta,  Wednesday, Nov. 18, 5:30-6:30 pm;

-  Saint John – ConnexionWorks, Thursday, Nov. 19, Noon-1 pm;

-  Fredericton -- Planet Hatch, Monday Nov. 23, Noon-1 pm;

-  Moncton – Venn Centre, Friday, Nov. 20, Noon-1 pm;

-  St. John’s -- Genesis Centre, Wednesday, Nov. 25, Time TBA.



Medella Health Is Close to Prototype

The Medella Co-Founders.

The Medella Co-Founders.

Medella Health’s story sounds like the premise of an epic tale in which a team of underdogs competes against corporate behemoths -- in this case GoogleX and Microsoft Research.

The two-year-old Kitchener startup is working on a revolutionary contact lens that measures diabetic blood sugar levels through tears – a pursuit that has also engaged the two American tech giants. For what must be a high-pressure situation, CEO Harry Gandhi is incredibly calm.

“Whenever a technology gets to a certain state, and you start to be able to do things with it, there’s an overload of competition,” he said in an interview, noting that there are also particular challenges to running a science-based startup.

“It’s not like building an app where you know the end outcome. You’ll do an experiment and it might or might not work – who knows?”

It is this zen attitude that is helping Gandhi, a current Thiel Fellow, lead his small team through the tricky development and regulation process.

Though he can’t delve into specifics, he said Medella is “quite close” to a prototype, and explained that the glucose monitoring technology has three main elements: the micro-chip in the lens, the sensor that monitors the blood glucose levels; and the antenna that emits communication via Bluetooth to a nearby mobile device.

The product notifies the patient, who can take corrective action, when certain glucose thresholds are breached. The system also produces valuable data for the medical community.

The different elements of the technology require a diverse research team, and Gandhi is confident that Medella matches the description. 

The company, which began in October 2013 as a fourth-year project at the University of Waterloo, was founded by nanotechnologist Maarij Baig, biochemist Huayi Gao and Gandhi, who has a background in health IT. Since then their team has grown to include several PhDs and PhD candidates specializing in areas such as electrical engineering, contact lens research and macromolecular and coordination chemistry.

Gandhi believes that Kitchener-Waterloo is the ideal location for developing their specific technology due to the lab spaces they are able to work from. There’s the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology, the Centre for Intelligent Antenna and Radio Systems, which is the biggest antenna lab in Canada, and the Center for Contact Lens Research, which is the largest of its kind in the world.

“You might be able to find one or two of these elsewhere,” said Gandhi, “but you’ll never be able to find all three within a couple of minutes’ drive.”

The team is also a part of the Velocity Foundry accelerator, and Gandhi, who founded the Velocity Science acceleration program, says the Waterloo community has helped their development along tremendously.

“I attribute a lot of Medella’s success to one line,” says Gandhi, “Which is: we value people, implementation and ideas—in that order.”

STI Named to Deloitte Fast 50

Tim Gillis: 'There's still a lot of growth in front of us.'

Tim Gillis: 'There's still a lot of growth in front of us.'

Halifax-based STI Technologies has been named to the Deloitte Fast 50, the first Atlantic Canadian company to make the list of the fastest–growing Canadian tech companies in three years.

Deloitte Canada released the list on Thursday, placing STI in the 41st place with revenue growth of 204 percent over the past four years. On Friday, Deloitte named STI to its North American Fast 50 list, assigning it the 319th spot. The company expects to have 80 employees by the end of the year, up from 57 at the end of 2014.

The company, which landed $17 million in private equity investment from Imperial Capital of Toronto in 2013, is still on a growth trajectory and is now looking to acquire more businesses to continue its growth.

“Luckily, there’s still lots of growth in front of us,” said CEO Tim Gillis in an interview on Thursday.

Read our report on STI's $17M Funding

The Fast 50 is a list of the fastest growing companies based on actual revenue over a four-year period. Heading the list this year is first-time entrant, Montreal-based men’s online clothing retailer Frank & Oak, whose sales soared 18,480 percent in the four-year period.

STI is the first Atlantic Canadian company to make the Deloitte Fast 50 since 2012, when St. John’s-based financial software company Verafin placed 25th.

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.

A few months before the Imperial funding, STI launched a new initiative called InnoviCares, which is now 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.

Gillis said in the interview that InnoviCares has evolved in the past two years and now includes additional features for the customer. He added the same could be said for the entire company.

“Our service offering has grown to the point where we want to be known as a patient engagement company, not just a card company,” he said.

By making the Deloitte Fast 50 this year, and being named one of the 50 Best-Managed companies in Canada last year, Gillis said the company is increasing its recognition with corporations and individuals to a greater extent.

When asked if STI needed to raise more capital, Gillis responded that, on the contrary, the company is now looking for acquisitions, as long as there is a strategic rationale and an affordable price. STI is interested in an American or Canadian acquisition that would bring the company “technology or added capability,” though it wouldn’t turn down an attractive deal in another part of the world.

The only other Atlantic Canadian company recognized by Deloitte on Thursday was Fredericton-based Smart Skin Technologies, which was one of a dozen companies names to its 2015 Companies-to-Watch list.  

Six KW Entries in Deloitte Fast 50

More than one-tenth of the fastest growing tech companies in Canada are based in the greater Kitchener-Waterloo region, according to the 2015 Deloitte Fast 50 announced Thursday.

The Kitchener-Waterloo region placed six companies on the closely watched list, which assesses revenue growth over a four-year period. Deloitte Canada announced its 2015 version of the program on Thursday.

Heading the list this year is first-time entrant, Montreal-based men’s online clothing retailer Frank & Oak, whose sales soared 18,480 percent in the four-year period.

The top KW company was Waterloo-based Magnet Forensics, which makes software that helps recover data from hard-drives that people have tried to erase or destroy. It placed eighth on the list with a four-year revenue growth of 1154 percent.

Magnet Forensics Wins 4cast Awards

Aeryon Labs, also of Waterloo, captured 10th spot with 1032 percent revenue growth, while Dejero Labs of Waterloo placed 18th with 590 percent growth.

The other companies from the region that made the list are: No. 32, Miovision Technologies, of Kitchener, 305 percent; No. 42, eSentire, of Cambridge, 202 percent; and No. 45, Igloo Software, Kitchener, 159 percent.

In 2014, the region placed four companies on the list, led by Dejero with a four-year revenue growth of 14,299 percent.

Deloitte also said that Waterloo-based TrustPoint Innovation Technologies was one of a dozen companies named to the 2015 Companies-to-Watch list. 

Pierlot Eyes Enhanced Bone Cement

Caitlin Pierlot

Caitlin Pierlot

A new bone cement being developed in Halifax will be used in the treatment of orthopedic patients. The developers aim to make treatment easier and more affordable, and open up a whole new market.

The new product is a glass ionomer cement, said Caitlin Pierlot, the CEO of Biofix Medical Technologies.

“GICs have been used for years in dentistry, and still are,” Pierlot said. “However, conventional GICs, which contain aluminum, can’t be used in orthopedic applications because aluminum release from the cement is neurotoxic, damages bone and has had fatal consequences in the orthopedic environment.”

Aluminum is not toxic when used in the mouth, she said.

The cement created by Biofix Medical Technologies is aluminum-free.

“Until now, no one has been able to make a GIC … without aluminum that has the handling properties and strength needed for orthopedic applications,” Pierlot said.

Biofix Wins BioInnovation Challenge

Many big orthopedic companies use bone cements that set by polymerization, a chemical reaction in which small molecules combine to form larger molecules that resemble the originals.

“The problem is that’s a 50-year-old technology that was grandfathered in, so it has not undergone the tight Federal Drug Administration approval process,” Pierlot said.

“It’s also toxic and clinicians don’t like it. It doesn’t have good handling properties. We asked clinicians what they would like in a bone cement and developed our product around their requirements.”

The Biofix cement is non-toxic and can be injected into the vertebrae of osteoporosis patients who have suffered a vertebral compression fracture, the most common fracture in people suffering from osteoporosis.

The potential market for the new product is vast and growing as populations age.

“There are now 700,000 such fractures a year in the U.S. alone. The number of people with osteoporosis or its precursor is predicted to increase to 61 million by 2020 in the U.S.,” Pierlot said.

“And it’s predicted that U.S. health care will consume 90 per cent of GDP by 2080. That’s unsustainable, obviously. Our minimally invasive procedure could cure patients in a way that would be inexpensive for hospitals and convenient for patients.”

The Biofix technology has been developed at Dalhousie University in Halifax by company co-founders Brett Dickey, now chief technology officer, and Daniel Boyd, head of the Minimally Invasive Interventional Materials laboratory. The work has been supported by an academic grant from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Pierlot joined the lab last year, soon after completing her PhD in biomedical engineering at Dalhousie.

“I wanted to transition from fundamental science to the industry side.

“I got involved to bring the biological side to the team. … A lot of the de-risking of the technology involves testing how materials will act in the body and how the body will respond.”

The company received a boost last month when it won Nova Scotia’s annual BioInnovation Challenge. Coming first meant a total of $45,000 in cash and services from the competition run by BioNova, the Nova Scotia Life Sciences association.

Biofix is seeking $1.3 million in equity investment, with the goal of applying for FDA approval by the end of 2017. After gaining approval, the company expects to start clinical trials and later gain regulatory approval in the European Union and Canada.

Pierlot, who was raised in East Dover, near Peggys Cove, said she has discovered biotech is her passion.

“The biotech sector is growing in Nova Scotia. It’s a great community. There’s lots of collaboration. … That’s characteristic of Atlantic Canada, and it’s one of the reasons I returned after doing my bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at McGill University.

“I loved Montreal, but I’m a Maritimer at heart. So I did my PhD here because I knew this was a growing sector. Lots of young entrepreneurs want to be here.”

She said the company’s next step is to incorporate within the next few weeks.

WINstorm Lands NAGC as Partner

Mike Willoughby

Mike Willoughby

WINstorm presents Inc., a Dartmouth-based sales communications company, has been selected as the digital marketing partner for the National Association of Government Communicators, or NAGC.

WINstorm, which started in 2002, licenses marketing and sales communication software and has always targeted government as a key sector for its product. The deal with NAGC is important because it will deepen the company’s contacts within the sector.

“WINstorm has always been successful in the government sector and this deal allows us to reach their membership, colleagues and partners,” said WINstorm President and CEO Mike Willoughby in an email.    “It is a natural fit for our product and a very strategic partnership.”

WINstorm’s clients include the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Government of Maryland, and Destination Halifax.

The American group selected WINstorm after a thorough selection process lasting several months, during which it evaluated several communications tools before settling on WINstorm, said the company.

“We are excited to work with WINstorm to help us achieve our goals of providing opportunities for professional development and networking, enhancing the government’s ability to effectively communicate with constituents, and advancing the profession,” says NAGC President Elect Kathryn Stokes in a statement.

NAGC is a national network of federal, state and local government communications employees, such as editors, writers, graphic artists, video professionals, broadcasters, photographers, information specialists and agency spokespersons.

The WINstorm platform provides an easy-to-use communication tool for such operations as marketing, business development, event promotions and recruitment. The cloud-based software helps make online storytelling more interesting and measurable.

This cloud-based software allows users to create their own custom presentations, or microsites, that tell their story, engage their audience and track their success.

 “Our product is a highly cost-effective tool that engages key audiences and measures the impact of each communication,” said Willoughby. “The NAGC is a strategic partner to help us grow our national, state and municipal public sector client base in the U.S.A.”

He added the company will continue to focus its business development activities on government, hospitality and manufacturing sectors, where it already has strong client relationships and credentials. “Geographically we will focus sales in North America, and technologically, we see integration with complementary software applications to further enhance our growth,” said Willoughby.

Fullsail to Showcase Crowdfunding

The Finance and Consumer Services Commission of New Brunswick will host a Fullsail conference in Fredericton on Wednesday to discuss various forms of crowdfunding.

The FCSC, a regulatory body whose duties include securities regulations, hosts its Fullsail conferences around the province to inform the public on a range of issues pertaining to raising capital. Crowdfunding – or the raising of money from a broad group of people on the Internet – is a topical subject because it offers growing businesses a chance to raise money before they even have a final product to sell.

The conference on Wednesday – which takes place from1-4 pm at the Crowne Plaza Fredericton – will deal with more than just equity crowdfunding, in which companies sell securities online. This has become a topical subject since six provinces, including New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, have approved a limited form of equity crowdfunding.

But beyond that, the conference will examine how to use crowdfunding to sell a product, often before it is even ready for the market.

The speakers include the following founders: Peter McMath of Timbre Cases; Ken Seto of Massive Damage, Inc.; Justin Bailey of; Levi Lawrence of Real Food Connections; and Jake Wildman-Sisk of Oasis Farmery.

To register for the free event, call 506 643-7805.

A Good Year for Follow-on Funding

One of the noticeable highlights of the Atlantic Canadian innovation community in 2015 is the number of multimillion-dollar funding rounds from venture capital investors based outside the region.

There have been at least four companies that have announced deals worth $3 million or more from VC funds based elsewhere. CarbonCure Technologies of Halifax and RtTech Software of Moncton both announced $3-million rounds, Affinio of Halifax $4 million, and Introhive of Washington, D.C., and Fredericton US$7.2 million. The fact that their funders are based outside the region is important because it adds to the companies’ networks and adds validity to claims that these companies have global reach.

We could probably add LeadSift, also of Halifax, to the list. It said in June it raised a new funding round led by OMERS Ventures of Toronto and Salesforce Ventures of San Francisco. It was LeadSift’s second funding round, so it would be surprising if it amounted to less than $1 million.

Read About Affinio's $4M Raise 

There may be one or two more of these deals announced before the end of the year. So it’s conceivable there will be a half-dozen companies that have raised meaningful VC rounds from outside the region.

That compares with three companies raising this sort of funding round in each of the last two years: St. John’s, N.L.-based Celtx, Halifax-based Reno Sub-Systems and Resson Aerospace of Fredericton in 2014, and Karma Gaming of Halifax, CarbonCure and Smart Skin Technologies of Fredericton in 2013.

This is important because the recent emphasis on innovation in economic development will only pay off if it leads to the development of large companies attacking export markets. All four Atlantic provinces have identified technology and innovation as cornerstones of their economic strategies — including Nova Scotia last week with the release of the One Nova Scotia Coalition action plan. Building a lot of small tech companies will have minimal impact on growth, so the strategy will only work if some of those companies grow into bona fide corporations.

There are already a few such companies in the region, such as Verafin in St. John’s and Mariner in Saint John, N.B., but more are needed. These are the companies that create the most wealth, employ the most people and offer employment to the greatest range of talent.

And as a rule, it takes a great deal of capital to grow such companies. Atlantic Canada has greatly improved its ability to attract growth capital in the past few years, but overall the region’s high-growth companies are attracting small parcels of money.

For example, in the first half of 2015, according to Thomson Reuters and the CVCA, there were 244 VC deals across Canada worth a total of $939 million, or about $3.8 million per deal. Atlantic Canada accounted for 24 of those deals — about a 10th of the total. But those 24 fundings were worth a total of about $42 million, or about $1.8 million each. In other words, the typical Atlantic Canadian venture capital funding is less than half the national average.

The small deals do help seed-stage companies, but the large deals will likely have more economic impact. And it’s good to land the money now. The recent prevalence of massive funding rounds, especially in Silicon Valley, has created warnings of a tech bubble that could burst at any time. If that happens, it will be all the more difficult for Atlantic Canadian companies to raise meaningful capital.

Meanwhile, it’s great to see these companies making hay while the VC sun is shining.

Explaining Equity Tax Credits

Eric Feunekes: Explaining the tax credits for investors in each Atlantic Province.

Eric Feunekes: Explaining the tax credits for investors in each Atlantic Province.

Growth startups have one thing in common: they need injections of cash to drive that growth. Without money, startups may be able to grow, just not as fast. So, if rapid growth is the goal, and investment helps them get there, how do we get as much cash to as many startups as possible?

The answer from all four Atlantic provinces is using equity or small business investor tax credits (in this article I'll use “ETC” for simplicity) to make investing cheaper. ETCs allow investors to reduce their taxes. The result is that it can cost 70 cents or less to invest a dollar – a pretty neat trick.

The rules are governed by legislation in each province. In this article, we look at the similarities between the provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I., and Newfoundland and Labrador), identify significant differences, and point out some important considerations.

OneNS Report Recommends Enhanced ETCs

To keep it simple, we’ll stick to ETCs for individual investors; we won't talk about community development corporations (which are an extension of the ETC framework in some provinces) or companies and trusts as investors.

What is it?

In theory, the process of applying for ETCs is relatively straightforward (you’d have to ask your lawyer or accountant about how hard it is for real).

It starts with a company looking to raise a round of funding, knowing that it will be able to raise more money, more easily if it can give investors an ETC. By reducing the investor’s taxes, the company effectively gives the investor a discount on its shares.

Let’s look at an example, Brickify Inc. wants to raise $100,000 from an angel investor, Susan. Without ETCs, Susan pays $100,000, hoping that in a few years she will get a lot more money back.

If, instead, Susan could get a 35% ETC, she would pay Brickify $100,000 for its shares, but reduce the tax she pays by $35,000. The net effect is that Susan pays $65,000 for shares worth $100,000 – increasing her potential return and decreasing her risk.

So, an eligible company can, theoretically, use ETCs to raise money at a higher valuation from local investors.

The process looks like this:

1.            Brickify goes out and gets investors like Susan to subscribe for shares (essentially an expression of interest);

2.            Once the investors are lined up, Brickify applies for certification (the process is a bit different in each province)

3.            With certification approved, the round closes

4.            Within a month after closing Brickify applies for certification and ETCs for each of its investors;

5.            Susan, and the other qualifying investors get tax credits;

6.            Everyone is happy.

The application is different in each province but generally, the company needs:

•             Articles of incorporation (or equivalent documents, depending on the province);

•             Amount of money to be raised;

•             List of investors;

•             Financial statements;

•             Investment plan outlining how the money will be used.


The deduction is the part most people care about and focus on; this is the amount that investors are allowed to subtract from their taxes.

The allowable deductions by province are:

•             New Brunswick: 50% (max. investment of $250,000, min. of $1,000);

•             P.EI.: 35%;

•             Nova Scotia: 35%;

•             Newfoundland: 20% to 35% (depending on where you are).

On their face, these deductions are great, but it's important to know that there are limits in some provinces regarding how much you can actually deduct in a year.

Nova Scotia restricts investors to deducting a maximum of $17,500 annually, and in P.E.I., the maximum is only $7,000. This can lead to misunderstandings. For example, in Nova Scotia, for an investment of $100,000 the credit should be $35,000 for the year. But instead, the investor can only deduct $17,500 in that year, and then has to carry over the rest of the credit (essentially claim it in another year).

In Newfoundland, the maximum credit in a year is $50,000, significantly better than in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. But, in Newfoundland any applications can be denied if the total of all credits will exceed $1 million. This is a pretty high bar, but you wouldn’t want to be the investor whose claim is denied after investing in a company and expecting to get a tax credit.

In New Brunswick, the maximum is $125,000, a recent change that, with the 50% deduction, provides a significant incentive for investors there.

It is important to understand the restrictions that come with the initial deduction because they can play a significant role in how much money an investor saves.

Eligible company

In all provinces, a company must be "eligible" to apply for a certificate. Below are the most common requirements for eligibility.

In all provinces, an eligible company must have assets and revenue below a certain threshold:

•             Newfoundland: Assets less than $20 million;

•             New Brunswick: Assets less than $40 million;

•             Nova Scotia: Assets and revenue less than $25 million;

•             PEI: Assets or revenues less than $3 million.

In all provinces except Newfoundland, a certain proportion of wages and salaries must be paid to employees who are resident in that province:

•             New Brunswick: 75% (or 50% if more than half of revenue comes from outside the province);

•             Nova Scotia: 25%;

•             PEI: 75%.

There is a requirement that the company is an active business in the sense that it should be doing something with the money. The company can't just reinvest or lend out the money to others. Also, some services are barred from certification (e.g. lawyers, accountants, etc.).

Finally, and unsurprisingly, the company must stay in the province. This doesn't mean it can't do business outside the province, just that the registered office has to stay within the province.

Holding periods

Investors are required to hold their shares for a few years after buying them. The investor may not sell the shares back to the company or sell or transfer them to anyone else.

The required number of years are:

•             Newfoundland: 5 years

•             New Brunswick: 4 years

•             Nova Scotia: 5 years

•             P.E.I.: 5 years


The legislation governing ETCs gives the provinces a lot of discretion over whether or not to authorize a particular certificate and whether to revoke it later.

For example, in all provinces, certification may be revoked if the company is "conducting its business or affairs in a manner that is contrary to the spirit and intent of this Act and the regulations." This gives the province wide authority to revoke a certificate.

The intent of ETCs is to facilitate investment in small businesses and stimulate growth; the intention is not to give people a tax loophole. In fact, there is a clause in all four pieces of legislation that says if it looks like you are doing the investment as a tax shelter, it will be denied.

Disclaimer from a law student

I wrote this article as a review of the rules in each province, not as an instruction manual for how things work. What's written here is a simplification of what the rules say and whenever the law is simplified there are likely to be misinterpretations.

Use this as a guide to educate yourself on how ETCs in each province are similar and different, not as a guide to actually applying for and using ETCs.

Get the Cheat Sheet

There is also a simple, 2-page, infographic cheat sheet that condenses the basic information for each province and how the application process works.

Get it here.


Eric Feunekes is working towards a joint Law and MBA degree at University of New Brunswick and will use them to pursue a career in law, finance, technology, and work with start-ups. To read more of his work, visit

Benjamin Calls for More Audacity

Yobie Benjamin: 'The crazier the better'.

Yobie Benjamin: 'The crazier the better'.

Be audacious.

That was the message Yobie Benjamin had for Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs when he delivered the keynote address at the Engage 2015 Conference in Halifax this week. The celebrated entrepreneur and funder called on East Coast startups to be as audacious as possible, because it’s the only way to grab the attention of major venture capital investors.

“You need to have audacity – the crazier the better,” he said.

Benjamin gained recognition this year when he was awarded the 2015 Technology Pioneer award from the World Economic Forum, best known for hosting the Davos Conference in Switzerland each February.

But that was simply one chapter in a remarkable career that has included founding startups that have raised millions, a fascinating career as an investor, even the head of IT at Citigroup ICG/GTS. And his central message when he spoke at the two-day conference for entrepreneurs was to be bold because VC investors are drawn to entrepreneurs with huge ambitions.

“One thing about venture capital is that it’s different,” said Benjamin. “People in venture capital are not interested in small returns. If it’s not going to return, say, $500 million or above, it’s a waste of time.”

He also noted the opportunities that are abundant in consumer technology and media, citing data showing that these segments will increase by $500 billion in the next five years. In fact, he said the average American spends more time using technology and media that he or she does working or sleeping. The idea is to capture some of that time.

“If I could capture less than a minute a day of your time, I would create a billion-dollar company,” he said.

Startup Empire Highlights Scaling

Clad completely in black, Benjamin delivered rambling talk and gave clear demonstrations of some of the “audacious” companies he had worked on or invested in.

One company he is involved with is Avegant, which has created the Avegant Glyph - The Smart Headphone. It’s a headphone that also produces high-resolution images for the wearer without producing exterior heat or light. The product, which has military applications, raised $1.5 million on Kickstarter and $49 million in VC financing.

The companies he has invested in include Orphidia, which uses microfluidics to test a single drop of blood for 50 different conditions in real time anywhere. It does all of this free to the patient. The company is able to this by selling the data the tests produce to pharmaceutical companies.

“The lesson from Orphidia is the business model,” he said. “It’s about doing something to help a lot of people and make money doing it.”

Benjamin also presented the Skully motorcycle helmet, which he invented to help make improve safety for bikers. The helmet provides a 360-degree view of the bikers’ surroundings on a screen in front of their eyes so they never have to turn their head. It raised $3.2 million in crowdfunding.

Benjamin said there is a world of potential in Atlantic Canada – he was especially impressed with GreenNexxus of Fredericton, whose Sustainability Engagement Systems help communities engage people in green projects. Yet he believes the companies on Canada’s East Coast need to be more ambitious to grab more investment from international investors.

“Atlantic Canada is a very rich region,” said Benjamin. “There’s capital here but the capital here but the capital doesn’t seem to want to deploy.”

GM Partners with Communitech

GM Canada announced on Tuesday that it has formed an innovation research outpost at Communitech among other research initiatives in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.

In a speech at the Canadian Club in Toronto, GM Canada president and managing director Steve Carlisle also said the Canadian subsidiary of General Motors Corp. will support the University of Waterloo's Engineering Faculty by providing $1 million to fund a Research Chair in advanced materials. The company will also sponsor engineering student Capstone design projects involving software development, which Carlisle said is key to GM Canada's work on "the connected car."

The move reflects a growing trend in automotive innovation. As software plays a greater role in modern automobiles, corporations are searching for more new innovation from startups and university researchers. In fact, Carlisle called on Canada to play a greater role in researching the car of the future.

"No company, country or government owns this space, but we see that Canada has distinct advantages in mobile technology, engineering skills, applied research and a strong automotive history," said Carlisle. "As Canada prepares to invest billions in much needed urban transportation infrastructure, we need to understand how new automotive technologies and urban mobility approaches can increase infrastructure ROI, accelerate environmental benefits and anchor new high skilled Canadian jobs at the forefront of a new automotive innovation supply chain."

Ansik Lands Partners after Techstars

GM will join other global corporations like Google, Thomson Reuters, TD Financial, and Deloitte that have a presence in the Communitech Hub in Kitchener.

"Communitech has developed a unique innovation ecosystem that allows enterprise companies and startups to collaborate and innovate together," said Communitech CEO Iain Klugman in the statement. "General Motors Canada is a great addition to this ecosystem, as our startup and mid-sized companies will benefit from having access to a world class automotive company, while GM Canada will be exposed to new concepts, technologies and ways of thinking about opportunities in the automotive sector."

The White Cross, By H.P. MacKeen

My grandfather, artillery officer H.P. MacKeen, shown on the left, wrote this poem in Ypres in September 1917, two months before the Battle of Passchendaele.


The White Cross

It isn’t a medal or order,

It carries no ribbon or braid

But a token still

As on Calvary Hill

Of the greater sacrifice made.


It stands as a lonely sentinel

O’er the place where the hero sleeps

‘Neath a lowly mound

In the shell-swept ground

Near the battered walls of Ypres.


It bears a simple legend,

Yet a tale of lasting glory:

“Here lies a British Soldier

Pro patria mori.” 

Rev Names 4 Startups to Cohort 2

The winners take the stage at Centre Stage in September. (Photo: Communitech/Meghan Kreller)

The winners take the stage at Centre Stage in September. (Photo: Communitech/Meghan Kreller)

Communitech has named four startups to the second cohort of its Rev accelerator, which is designed to help companies with traction accelerate revenue growth.

The Kitchener-based startup hub earlier this year launched the six-month accelerator to help develop up to 10 growth-stage companies at a time, and the first cohort graduated eight teams. Now Communitech has enhanced the program by staggering the intake and naming four dedicated Executives-in-Residence to the program.

“We’re excited to bring customized sales and marketing coaching to the new cohort,” said

Rev program manager Marylin Ma in a statement. “This is driven by dedicated domain expert EIRs who will work with the unique challenges of each company and customize relevant learning sessions.”

The four companies named to the cohort are:

•        BluePoint Technology, whose product Kindera allows parents to supervise their home Internet from their smartphone. Kindera is a wireless router that parents install in their home to manage their children’s online activities through an easy-to-use web service.

•        Knowledgehook, a cloud-based math software that helps teachers and school boards improve student outcomes by increasing their engagement with the material and helping teachers implement a strong assessment process.

•        FunnelCake, which provides B2B marketers with insights into marketing influence across their entire funnel. FunnelCake aggregates data from existing sales and marketing apps and helps marketers make decisions faster with more accurate data.

•        TallyFi, which has built a high-tech replacement for the mechanical counter used to count people at nightclubs, festivals and events. The company’s purpose-built hardware is used by security staff and provides real-time statistics of entrances and exits, along with time-stamped logging and deep analysis of past data.

The Rev program is still a six-month program but now admits as many as five companies at a time to allow for smaller, more intimate groups.  In three months, it will announce another cohort, ensuring that the current group overlaps the one coming in. The more seasoned founders can then provide peer-to-peer mentorship for the rookies.

Read our coverage of Centre Stage

The mentorship has also been enhanced by naming four EiRs, each of whom specializes in a key discipline. They are:

·         Heather Galt, former Vice-President of Marketing at Kik Interactive;

·         Daryl Sherman, serial entrepreneur focusing on commercialization and sales with a diverse background in the life sciences, medical, and consumer packaged goods sectors;

·         Jeff Fedor, who specializes in product and design and has more than 20 years’ experience in startups and software as founder of Covarity and co-founder of Ardesic and ParkVu;

·         And Steve McCartney, Vice-President of the Startup Services Group at Communitech, a leadership expert whose previous roles include President and CEO at Bering Media Inc., Partner at Tequity Inc., and President and CEO of Atria Networks LP.

The first cohort ended in September with five companies pitching at the Centre Stage celebration, and explaining how they would hit $25 million in revenue in five years. Nicoya Lifesciences captured the $50,000 first prize at Centre Stage, while Bridgit and PiinPoint tied for the $25,000 second prize.

“Building off of feedback from the companies in the first cohort, we will closely follow each company’s progress, analyzing where things are working and where things are breaking down,” said Ma. “The goal of this approach is to drive the companies to be focused on rapidly refining and optimizing their sales and marketing engines.”

Planet Hatch, Sally Ng Part Ways

As it charts a new course, Frederiction business incubator Planet Hatch has parted ways with Sally Ng, who has been its executive director since it opened more than two years ago.

Ignite Fredericton Chief Executive Officer Larry Shaw confirmed in an interview Monday the board of the economic development agency thought it was “best to decide to move on” with a new head of Planet Hatch.

“We couldn’t be more happy with all the work that Sally has done in the past few years,” said Shaw. “She got Planet Hatch up and running and got our early stages of the accelerator going.”

However, he added that as the economic development agencies have consolidated into Ignite Fredericton, the board has decided that the incubator must meet the needs of all entrepreneurial ventures, not just high-growth startups.

Ng declined to comment for this article.

When Knowledge Park (the knowledge-based industrial park that is now overseen by Ignite Fredericton) opened its incubator in 2013, it chose Ng as the first head of the facility. As well as being a veteran of several startups, she was a facilitator for Startup Weekend and steeped in startup development.

Ng proved a tremendous champion for Fredericton tech startups, and several growing ventures, such as Resson Aerospace, Eigen Innovations, Mycodev Group and Hotspot Merchant Solutions passed through the ACcelr8 program she initiated.

Our Report on the First Cohort of ACcelr8

Meanwhile, the economic development scene was changing in Fredericton. The city that bills itself as “The Startup Capital of Canada” created Ignite Fredericton to oversee the complete economic development agenda, including business attraction, immigration, promotion and other facets.

Shaw said Ignite Fredericton’s board decided that Planet Hatch should be the hub for all entrepreneurial activity, not just high-growth ICT startups. For example, he said if someone wants to open an engineering business, they should be able to go to Planet Hatch and find the same expertise, mentorship and support as any other type of business venture.

“All that we’re doing is broadening the base of Planet Hatch and putting more facilities in there,” said Shaw. “We never saw it as just as an accelerator. It’s a place where entrepreneurs can go, whether you’re a high-growth startup or another type of business.”

He added that the commitment to the tech community has not diminished at all, and that the regional Propel ICT would continue to host its Fredericton cohorts at the facility.

Shaw said the board will take a few weeks to assess the structure of Planet Hatch and then will seek a new executive director. It may decide to retain the same structure or make a few changes, he said.

“We’ve got an extremely aggressive agenda,” he said. “We’ve had two great years [but] we also realize … it‘s a good time to step back and see if there are things we would like to change. We’re going to take a few days and figure that out.”

OneNS Report Focuses on Tech

Days after leaving his job with, Jevon MacDonald wanted to discuss the prominent place the tech community holds in the recently released One Nova Scotia Coalition report rather than his own plans.

MacDonald is best known as the co-founder of GoInstant, the Halifax startup that San Francisco cloud computing giant bought for a reported $70 million in 2012. Since then, MacDonald has headed the Salesforce office in Halifax (which he left last month), co-founded the Volta startup house and been a member of the coalition.

He was enthusiastic during an interview last week about the prominence technology and technological education was given in the 10-year plan, which was released Friday.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a policy document that put our business front and centre like this one does,” MacDonald said.

The lengthy report highlights seven key areas on which the province must focus to increase prosperity. Woven into the fabric of its recommendations are several policy statements on tech and technological education:

•Teaching coding in public schools

•Greater support for IT startups, such as enhancements in the equity tax credit, venture capital and other support such as accelerators and incubators.

•More information technology education at the post-secondary level

It’s similar to the actions MacDonald called for two years ago when he addressed the Halifax Chamber of Commerce and called for a greater emphasis on tech in economic development and education.

NS Gives $400K to Brilliant Labs

One surprising thing about this shopping list is that the most noticeable gain has been the recent announcement by Education Minister Karen Casey that the province would accelerate the adoption of universal coding education. It builds on the work by Brilliant Labs, a New Brunswick-Nova Scotia initiative that provides resources to teachers who want to teach more technology and related subjects.

“This one, to me, has a tangible benefit,” said MacDonald.

“We did this stuff with Brilliant Labs to prove that there was a strong demand for it, but what happened here was the minister decided to make a bold move and it got done.”

MacDonald said more needs to be done in community colleges and universities. That means Nova Scotia universities need larger computer science faculties. Even though computer science enrolment has been rising by about 15 per cent annually, more students need to enter these faculties, and tech training has to move beyond computer science to all parts of universities.

MacDonald said the time has come for the province to respond to repeated calls from the tech community to improve the equity tax credit. It gives Nova Scotian investors back 35 per cent of their investment when they invest up to $50,000 in a company based in the province.

The tech community wants greater flexibility and a higher investment ceiling. MacDonald noted that the coalition believes improvements are needed, and the premier and both opposition leaders are members of the group.

As for criticisms that the report represents more talk than action, MacDonald said he can understand that, but the report summarizes actions that have been and will be taken.

As for his own plans, MacDonald said that for the time being he’s enjoying spending time with his two young daughters.

Chalk Reaches 120,000 Teachers

William Zhou: 'Learning is innately human.'

William Zhou: 'Learning is innately human.' began when William Zhou decided he wanted to do something to help his former teachers. And three or four years later, about 120,000 other teachers are using the product he created.

Zhou, 23, is the Co-Founder and CEO of the Kitchener company that provides workflow-organization software for teachers. In its brief history, it’s gained a vast customer base by offering its product free to front-line teachers, and charging school boards for the administrative service and data.

The company’s sales this school year are on track to hit $1 million, and are up 400 percent over the previous school year.

And it all started when Zhou, then a student at the University of Waterloo, returned to his native Vancouver and visited a few of his high school teachers. As a young adult, he began to understand all the organizational challenges that teachers face – the class preparation grading papers, administration issued.

“I realized my teachers are actually my friends,” said Zhou in an interview last week. “What you don’t see as a student is all the preparation work they have to do … There are a lot of things that aren’t really seen by the students and that’s when I decided to help them out.”

Fellow Velocity Grad Suncayr Expanding

Chalk helps teachers to plan their entire day – it’s the productivity tool for the teaching profession.  It helps teachers plan their lessons and grade papers, but that is only the start. It also offers teachers analytics of how a class of 30 or so students is performing. That means teachers can identify the students who are struggling and need extra attention. And that, said Zhou, leads to an overall improvement in performance outcomes.

Zhou and Co-Founders  CTO Ryan McKay-Fleming and Sales Director Suraj Srinivas launched Chalk in 2012 and it didn’t catch on at first.

“We actually made a pretty big mistake,” said Zhou. “We started charging teachers.”

The product was popular but teachers were unwilling to pay for it. Then Chalk heard from a school district in Texas. Some teachers in the district had used the product and liked it so much that the district wanted it for all its teachers.

Zhou, Srinivas and McKay-Fleming changed their pricing model so it would be free for teachers and school boards would pay for it. The boards get two benefits from using the product: first, they can use it to disseminate curriculum to the teachers so they are all up-to-date on what should be taught; and second, the boards gain access to the data collected and analyzed by Chalk. Zhou said this second benefit is huge when assessing success rates.

Chalk has grown with $500,000 in seed funding, and its investors include BDC Capital, the MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund as well as such angels as Ryan Holmes, founder of Hootsuite, and John Baker, founder of D2L Corp. It is a graduate of the Velocity accelerator and Zhou says it's benefited immeasuably by the community created by Communitech. 

Zhou said the company is not raising money now but will focus on continuing to build its North American customer base by helping teachers excel.

“Learning is innately human,” said Zhou. “We’re helping these teachers become super teachers. They are actually personalizing the education for each and every student.”

VidSnippets Prepares for 30-Day Trial

VidSnippets, a video searching and editing tool, is gathering names of individuals and organizations interested in participating in a free 30-day trial. The company will select the participants in the trials, which will begin later this month and continue through December and January. 

Started at the Masters of Technology, Entrepreneurship and Innovation program at St. Mary’s University in 2014, co-founders Paul Farmer and Suman Pettem created a tool so users can highlight the best or most important parts of a video. The selected segments are automatically combined into custom trailers that retain their linkage to the source video. Viewers can hover over the related thumbnail to trigger the trailer and access the source video with a single click of their mouse to see more content.

In an interview, VidSnippets President Farmer cited a study that revealed that half of business content will be non-text by 2017. He also cited another study which said that today 44 percent of knowledge workers can’t find the right information.

“Video is a rich media for conveying a lot of information,” Farmer said.  “But it’s not very searchable right now.”

VidSnippets offers a “metadata management platform” for videos. Video creators can search the video like a Word document to find the most relevant points, and then make a trailer out of it.

The software, which will be offered as a SaaS solution, allows users to tag the entire trailer or any of the highlighted segments. Someone can then search the video using text or keywords, and the tags will bring together all the content related to the search.

Enhanced tools for in-video tagging & searching are planned for development in 2016.

VidSnippets can tag in any language. Video creators can use VidSnippets regardless of the video’s content or the device used to record the video provided the video can be converted into a MP4 format.

“Once the video’s captured, we’re going to let you do more with it,” Farmer said.

VidSnippets offers analytics on videos. The software can offer more detailed viewer activity tracking and engagement analytics than YouTube because it assesses them on a per-user/per-session basis.

Farmer said that he and his team already have big plans for VidSnippets next year. The team hopes to unveil native and mobile version of the software in 2016. This new version would allow companies to take VidSnippets with them when they go out to film. The workers can use VidSnippets while they shoot, allowing them to edit on-site, rather than return back to the office and realize they need to go back to the site to get more shots.

For the past year, VidSnippets bootstrapped and used some government funding. Farmer said that he hopes once the company gains customers—hopefully through the 30-day trials starting later this month—they’ll start funding rounds with investors.

“We’re going to increase their usefulness,” Farmer said. “The whole idea is to make video a more searchable, usable and valuable asset.”

Anyone interested in participating in VidSnippets’ 30-day trial can contact Paul Farmer at  

Incubating a Network of Incubators

Lindsay Uhma, left, and Ardelle Reynolds: the Co-Founders of the Navigate Startup House

Lindsay Uhma, left, and Ardelle Reynolds: the Co-Founders of the Navigate Startup House

At the Entrevestor Luncheon in Sydney in the spring, it didn’t take long for the 100-plus attendees to zero in on one essential thing missing in the local ecosystem – an incubator.

The event, which was sponsored by BDO Canada, asked the diners to discuss how the ecosystem could be improved. And while most people enthusiastically applauded the mentors in the Cape Breton city, they thought Sydney needed a physical space where companies could work, where entrepreneurs could learn from one another, and where events could be held.

It turns out they didn’t have to wait long.

The Navigate Startup House announced in September that it would open in October in the New Dawn Centre for Social Innovation. Founded by startup evangelists Ardelle Reynolds and Lindsay Uhma, it has offices for four startups and enough co-working space for about 20 other teams. And – as the people at the luncheon envisioned – it is a meeting place that the community can call home.

“People who are interested in starting a startup but are at an earlier phase will be able to become members of our network,” said Reynolds in an interview. “It means you can have access to our events, mentors, and other resources. The idea is to build the startup community.”

Another facet of Navigate is that it is the latest piece in a network of tech incubators that spans the Atlantic Provinces. Call them co-working spaces, incubators, startup houses or whatever, they are offering a physical space in the major centres in the region. Just as the British Empire had outposts and the Hudson’s Bay Company had factories, the Atlantic Canadian startup community has incubators.

Two Teens Develop their Startup at Venn

There are three things to keep in mind about this network of tech-focused spaces – it’s young, it’s expanding and it’s integral to the particular challenges facing the Atlantic Canadian startup community.

You can appreciate the youth of this group when you consider that only one dates back more than three years. Volta in Halifax and Planet Hatch in Fredericton both celebrated second birthdays this autumn.

Eighteen-year-old Genesis Centre in St. John’s is undoubtedly the elder statesman in the bunch. Now located on the Memorial University campus, Genesis will relocate in 2016-17 to the Battery complex on the side of Signal Hill.

It’s one of several facilities that is expanding. Volta this year doubled its size when it moved to two floors in the Maritime Centre on Barrington Street in Halifax. And Venn Innovation of Moncton opened its second Vennture Garage – this one in Saint John.

The reason these facilities are so important is the vast geographic distances involved in the Atlantic Canadian startup community. The regional accelerator Propel ICT has no headquarters and it needs meeting places for its events and classroom sessions. These incubators are community partners for Propel, which held cohorts at the Venn Centre, Planet Hatch, Volta and Common Ground this past summer.

Reynolds and others have been in touch with Propel and look forward to the day when the accelerator holds sessions in its space.

“We’re planning to take our first Propel ICT cohort early in the New Year,” she said. *

Pond-Deshpande Redesigns B4 Change

Desh Deshpande, left, Karina LeBlanc and Gerry Pond

Desh Deshpande, left, Karina LeBlanc and Gerry Pond

A thorough redesign of the B4 Change program at the University of New Brunswick will assist social entrepreneurs by working with regional partners to deliver more tailored and individualized programming.

A social entrepreneur is someone who founds a for-profit or non-profit venture with the aim of addressing a social or environmental issue. The sector is increasingly relevant as charities experience lower donations and consumers pressure businesses to demonstrate a social conscience.

The B4 Change accelerator is based at the Pond-Deshpande Centre at UNB in Fredericton.

Social entrepreneurship is about building new models that create shared value and wealth, said the centre’s executive director, Karina LeBlanc.

PDC Cohort Tours CTA at Boston

It can be hard to make this kind of venture financially viable. For that reason, B4 Change stresses the need for business rigour.

“It’s about the equal importance of financial viability and social impact,” said LeBlanc.

“Some of our companies have a passion for social justice and little business acumen. Some come from the other side. They are well trained in business, but we are able to show them the social and profit benefits of building a business with social impact.”

The B4 Change accelerator graduated its first cohort of seven ventures last year. They covered a range of sectors and were at different stages of growth, causing some problems.

As a result, programming is being divided into six levels. They reflect the growth stages of companies and entrepreneurs themselves. For instance, participants in Level 1 may have no more than an interest in social entrepreneurship.

By Level 2, they are working on an idea. By Level 3, they are looking at business plans, and so on, all the way up to growing a company in Level 6.

Level 4 is being launched first, this week.

“We’re starting with Level 4 because we had demand at that level. We have a backlog of social ventures ready to go to market,” LeBlanc said.

“They will be embarking on the six-week boot camp that will be a feature of Level 4.

“By January, we hope to have introduced Level 1. Then we will add a layer every three months. By the end of next year, we hope to have Levels 1 through 4, at least in New Brunswick. That’s the hypothesis anyway. It might be a little utopian.”

Students will move through the levels at their own pace.

“Progress will be entrepreneur-driven,” LeBlanc said.

“For instance, if I’m a mompreneur with kids at home, I can get what I need when I need it.”

She said B4 Change has approached 17 organizations around Atlantic Canada about partnering in delivering programming. She said partnerships have already been struck with Fredericton’s Planet Hatch, Common Good Solutions of Nova Scotia and with LearnSphere Canada.

 “The neat thing is many of our objectives are already being delivered by other organizations across Atlantic Canada,” LeBlanc said.

“There’s no point in duplicating what’s offered.”

The Pond-Deshpande Centre is funded by serial tech entrepreneurs and UNB alumni Gerry Pond of New Brunswick and Gururaj Deshpande, originally from Hubli, India, now living in Boston.

The New Brunswick centre, which opened in 2012, advances innovation and entrepreneurship for all entrepreneurs by facilitating collaboration among emerging and aspiring companies, students, faculty and alumni.

It works with the other Desphande centres: two in the Boston area, including one linked with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and one in Hubli.

LeBlanc said the B4 Change programming will remain free of charge for the near future because the course is still being honed.

“It won’t necessarily stay free, but I prefer to build these kinds of programs, create and demonstrate value, and then ask for a reasonable contribution for accessing.”

Health QR Celebrates Launch

Patti Ryan

Patti Ryan

Health QR, the Halifax startup whose mobile app helps patients improve success with their medical prescriptions, launched its product in a reception at the Volta startup house last night.

As well as launching the product, the two-year-old company is spreading its wings. CEO Patti Ryan is taking it through the Canadian Technology Accelerator in Philadelphia, which specializes in health-related IT companies. And she is spending more time in Ontario with the healthcare community surrounding McMaster University in Hamilton.

Dartmouth-based Compass Pharmacies, which owns seven outlets, is the initial adopter and the company is in talks with other chains.

Health QR provides customers with a mobile app that helps them to manage their prescriptions. It reminds them when to take their drugs, when they should refill, and tells them why the drugs are important. The free mobile app, which can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play, connects securely to participating pharmacies.

“With the launch of Health QR, we are taking a small first step by providing people access to their medication information,” said Ryan.

One of the key features of the app is it reminds patients to take their medication. Non-adherence to instructions is a big problem in the pharma and healthcare industries. Half of all patients are said to not complete their prescriptions. It costs the United States health system an estimated $188 billion each year, according to a 2012 consultants’ report.

Health QR sends reminder to the patients, and if they choose not to take their meds it records why. It keeps data on the adherence rate so the patient can share it with the physician.

Individuals can receive notifications about their prescriptions and reminders when refills are due.


Immunio Grows After Product Launch

Mike Milner

Mike Milner

Backed by $2.7 million in venture capital funding, Immunio is rapidly gaining clients for its software that battles breaches of company data.

The Montreal- and Dartmouth-based company aims for ease of use in its product that allows companies to embed protection, offering greater security and flexibility than a firewall.

“Our protection is actually inside the application,” said Chief Technology Officer Mike Milner during an interview in Halifax this week.

“When a request reaches the app, we see what’s going on. … It allows us to make better decisions on whether the request should or shouldn’t be granted.”

Immunio is already gaining traction with a range of clients, including such companies as SurveyMonkey and

Milner spent 10 years working with security agencies in Canada and the United States, and then worked for the open source software company Canonical. There he met Zaid Al Hamami, and they decided two years ago to launch Immunio as a simple way for businesses to protect their websites from hackers.

Immunio is as geographically diversified as any startup. Al Hamami, the CEO, is based in Montreal, while Milner and two other developers work out of Dartmouth. The company has just hired its first sales exec, based in London, England. And there are other staff in Portland, Ore., the Washington, D.C., area and India.

In total, the company has 19 staff, financed largely by a $2.7-million funding round from Hoxton Ventures of the United Kingdom, Real Ventures of Montreal and Bloomberg Beta, the venture capital arm of the information company Bloomberg LP.

They are tackling a problem that has gotten more attention. High-profile breaches at Target, Sony and Ashley Madison have raised awareness about the perils of hackers gaining sensitive data through websites.

Milner said web application firewalls are the most common protection for these breaches, and companies have hundreds of thousands of clients. But he said there are hundreds of millions of sites with sensitive data.

The reason they’re not all covered is because of the expense and complexity of adopting the solutions on the market, especially for medium-sized businesses. Immunio has stressed ease of use as it developed its product.

The company began to take on customers in April, when it first promoted the product at RailsConf, the global conference for users of the Ruby on Rails web application framework. It was there it met SurveyMonkey and CareerBuilder.

At the end of September, it moved the product to a general release, and Milner said the takeup has been swift. Users can get a free general product, which detects intruders to a site, and paying customers get the full service, which automatically moves to prevent intruders from retrieving data.

Milner said the company is working on increasing sales, hoping it will lead to a larger funding round in the next six months.

“It’s a product that is easy to install and easy to try. And we’re getting a lot of adoption.”

Waterloo MP Gets Small Business File

Bardish Chagger

Bardish Chagger

Kitchener-Waterloo has a representative at the federal cabinet table, and it seems appropriate that the rookie minister’s portfolio is small business.

Bardish Chagger, who won the Waterloo seat in the Oct. 19 election, was named the Minister for Small Business and Tourism on Wednesday.

“We recognize that small business is important and our platform promises that we made and you all know about, you'll see that we are committed to and working for Canadians for a better Canada," she was quoted by the CBC as saying.

It’s interesting that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose an MP from Kitchener-Waterloo to head the small business file. As the representative from one of the country’s leading innovation hotspots, she should have a solid understanding of the role for science and innovation in growing a new generation of Canadian businesses.

The 35-year-old Waterloo native received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Waterloo in 2004.

Taking Steps to Improve Innovation

Calvin Milbury

Calvin Milbury

Calvin Milbury hopes New Brunswick improves its standing the next time the Conference Board of Canada ranks the innovation performance of Canadian provinces. And the President and CEO of the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation is taking steps to improve the performance.

For example, NBIF is participating in the Conference Board’s conference on innovation in Fredericton next month.

In September, the think tank released its report card on innovation, which considered such metrics as R&D spending, venture capital investment and entrepreneurial ambitions. None of the Atlantic Provinces raced home to show the report card to their parents.  Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador scored a D, while New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island were dead last with a D-minus. Canada overall received a C.

“We consider the report to be a wakeup call and we need more partners involved in innovation to move things forward,” said Milbury in an interview on Wednesday. “But we also don’t want to discount the work that’s been done.”

NBIF Doubles VC Totals Over 2 Years

Conference Board chief economist Glen Hodgson and Daniel Munro, Principal Research Associate of Public Policy, will be in Fredericton to take part in the Economic & Innovation Outlook 2015: New Brunswick conference on Dec. 1. Information and tickets are available here.

In the interview, Milbury highlighted steps being taken to improve innovation in the province, but he also did not dismiss the problems that exist.

“There’s an investment gap and there’s a requirement for businesses to invest in R&D,” he said, adding that more businesses have to invest in R&D and bring new products to market. “A lot of good can come out of it,” he said.

NBIF has addressed this issue by expanding its voucher program, in which businesses receive a voucher from NBIF to fund research that could lead to new products. The research must be carried out at a New Brunswick institution. Already 40 businesses have received the vouchers and Milbury described it as a small step to improve matters.

NBIF – which is a client of Entrevestor -- also encourages innovation through its Research Innovation Fund, which awards as much as $200,000 to researchers coming to New Brunswick universities. The fund is designed to award enough money to attract top-flight researchers and purchase the equipment they need to proceed with their work promptly.  

The foundation announced this week it had awarded $670,000 to attract eight professors under the fund. Milbury said that the fund has awarded $2.9 million since it began in 2003, and 85 percent of the researchers are still in New Brunswick. The professors that received the grants have attracted an additional $40 million in funding from other sources, he said.

“This program is one that has flown under the radar but it’s one where we get one of the biggest bangs for our buck,” said Milbury.

He added that the startup community is creating more companies and attracting more investment than ever, and that NBIF has more than doubled its investment in startups in the last two years.

“What we want to feature is that there’s a lot happening in the province,” said Milbury. “I think these efforts will show up in the next report card that will come out in a couple of years’ time.” 

Moncton Teens Build Drain Power

Kyle Hoar, left, and John Quimby

Kyle Hoar, left, and John Quimby

When John Quimby and Kyle Hoar attended the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge in Moncton to get out of school for the day, they couldn’t have known it would be the birth of a business venture.

The two 15-year-olds presented their science fair idea: to use the water going down the drain to generate energy. They won the Challenge—in the 18- to 35-year-old category.

Now both 16 and in Grade 11, Quimby and Hoar brought their idea to Vennture Garage, a New Brunswick-based initiative to help early-stage companies validate and build out their ideas.

Quimby and Hoar now call their company Drain Power, which uses water coming down the drain to create energy for household appliances, such as cell phones.

Quimby said he doesn’t know how much Drain Power will cost, but it will be much less than the existing energy-saving tools, such as solar panels, one of which costs around $4000.

“People keep on preaching the idea, we have to go green, we have to go green, we need to go green—but nobody can afford it,” Quimby said. “Why don’t we think of something that hasn’t been done yet, will be renewable energy that will make our world a greener place, have a brighter tomorrow?”

Robertson Developing Talent Pipeline

Dave Gallant, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Vennture Garage, saw Quimby and Hoar present at the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge last year. Drain Power and the physical prototype Quimby and Hoar brought with them amazed him.

Gallant encouraged the teens to apply to Vennture Garage’s 2015-16 cohort. Since May, when the two co-founders joined Vennture Garage, Drain Power went from a science project to a customer-validated business with interested investors.

“I don’t even get it!” Gallant said of Quimby and Hoar. “They have schematics. They’re true entrepreneurs, you can see it. They’re so driven.”

Vennture Garage started in August 2014 in Moncton. This June, a branch of Vennture Garage opened up in Saint John. Excluding the stats from this year’s Saint John Garage, 15 startups have formed at the space. The teams received over 500 hours of coaching and mentoring and conducted more than 500 customer discovery interviews.

The current Vennture Garages contain 13 startups.

Doug Robertson, President and CEO of Venn Centre, which supports Vennture Garage, said he began the Garage to help better prepare early-stage startups in New Brunswick for accelerators and create successful and sustainable business.

Five of the past Vennture Garage teams went through Propel ICT, which the regional accelerator for Atlantic Canada.

Robertson and Gallant want to see more young people like Quimby and Hoar creating business in the Maritimes so that they will stay in the region. The Maritimes have many unused entrepreneurial resources.

“People are doing nothing but complaining,” Quimby said. “Kyle and I are actually getting up and doing something about it…We need to stop treating young people like young people, they should give us a voice.”

Suncayr Plans Broader Product Line

Suncayr CEO Rachel Pautler sums it up best when it comes to the obvious appeal of her company’s skin protection product, joking that her team initially wondered, “Why has no one done this before?”

The product—a marker that tests the effectiveness of your sunscreen using ink that only becomes visible when your skin is exposed to UV rays— has a literal pain point, allowing users to avoid sunburns and skin damage. Pautler says it is also more precise than competing products like the Netatmo June wristband and Goodlux Sunsprite lapel clasp, which measure the overall amount of UV exposure received, but cannot gauge sunscreen coverage.

Pautler and fellow co-founders Derek Jouppi, Andrew Martinko and Chad Sweeting are nanotechnology engineers who began working on the idea as a senior class project at the University of Waterloo in 2013. Development started in Waterloo’s Velocity Science accelerator program before half the operation moved to the Velocity Foundry, a hardware incubator. It has also received mentorship at Communitech. 

3 Takeways from a Month in KW

In the span of about two years, Suncayr’s innovative technology has already started turning heads internationally. In 2014, the company was the only Canadian team shortlisted for the prestigious James Dyson Award. Most recently, Suncayr was named one of the Kairos Society’s K50 companies, an international network that spotlights companies that have founders under 25 and a revolutionary, market-ready product.

At the K50 Global Summit held this month in Hollywood, Suncayr was selected out of the group as one of the most promising 13 startups, receiving a resource prize from the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center which includes a week of retail space in San Francisco for consumer testing.

Pautler says that while getting the Suncayr marker to market is their chief focus, the medical implications of their technology reach far further.

“Our core technology is not really the UV sensing at all,” she said. “It’s more so how we keep it on the skin. Sun screen has a lot of solvents-- it dissolves a lot of things-- so we developed our technology to keep a very thin film on the top of your skin.”

Future applications of their technology, Pautler says, could include better skin-contact drug delivery for things like nicotine or birth control, and use as an alternative to surgical tape.

“We’re hoping to build out the company to a whole suite of skincare products.”

For now, the Suncayr marker is still in the process of going through Health Canada’s regulation process. Once the company gets the greenlight they will be able to start pre-sales this spring, in anticipation of a full launch in to the Canadian market by July. Pautler says the company’s first round of funding could occur as early as this December.


Modest Tree, RaceRocks Team Up

Modest Tree Media Inc., a Dartmouth-based simulation and training software company, has teamed up with RaceRocks 3D Inc., a Victoria-based education technology company. Together, they will work on the training for a upcoming Canadian defence procurement, Project Resolve

Chantier Davie, Canada's largest shipbuilder, and Project Resolve Inc. recently acquired a European container ship and will be converting it into an oil supply ship for the Canadian Navy. With a new ship comes new systems, and the operators need training to work the ship. Modest Tree and RaceRocks will provide these training solutions. Both companies have been in the defence space for a combined nine years.

“It is a good opportunity to partner with another company that’s in aerospace and leverage each other’s core competencies,” said Emily Smits, Modest Tree’s Chief Operating Officer. 

“We are thrilled to team with Modest Tree because their software makes learning a lot like playing a video game, something millenials will spend 10,000 hours doing by age 21,” said RaceRocks CEO Scott Dewis siad in a press release. “This hasn't escaped the Navy either.” He said the Navy is training millennials and already uses Modest Tree software with its Canadian Virtual Naval Fleet.

Both Modest Tree and RaceRocks intend to go after future proposals and projects together, especially those in the Canadian navy, army and air force sectors.

Project Resolve is still in talks with the Canadian government and therefore a start date has not yet been confirmed. 

Modest Tree is a graduate of Launch36, which was offered by the regional accelerator Propel ICT, and a former resident of Volta.

Affinio Raises $4M, Led by Whitecap

Tim Burke

Tim Burke

Affinio, the Halifax-based company that uses social media analysis to identify communities for marketers, has raised a $4 million Series A venture capital round led by Whitecap Venture Partners of Toronto.

The other members of the investment group are Halifax-based Build Ventures – which was the lone investor in Affinio’s $1.5 million seed round two years ago – New York-based Social Starts, New York-based BRaVeVentures , and several angel investors. The company said the round was over-subscribed and it turned interested investors away.

Founded twoyears ago by serial entrepreneurs Tim Burke and Stephen Hankinson, Affinio is an advanced database technology that allows low-cost, real-time processing of social network graphs 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. That allows the user to identify communities and people with common interests, which helps to find potential customers, employees or supporters.

“The challenge of accurate and effective customer targeting is being won through new and highly-intelligent approaches to segmentation and characterization,” Whitecap Partner Joe Catalfamo said in a statement. “In this context, Affinio’s rapidly growing customer base and measurably impressive results for brands and agencies shows unusually rapid market traction for its unique content-driven approach.”

Affinio Wins $1.5M and Strata Award

Catalfamo, who will join the Affinio board, is no stranger to Atlantic Canadian startups as he invested in Radian6 of Fredericton, which later sold out to for $326 million.

Affinio has used its seed funding to good use, as its revenues have grown by double digits in each month since it launched its product last October. Its clients include such global companies as BBC

Worldwide, SABMiller, and L’Oréal.

"Affinio is the most exciting thing I've seen in 10 years of looking into social data and the only one that's genuinely insightful," said BBC Worldwide EVP Insights David Boyle in the statement distributed by Affinio.

In an interview, Burke said the 16-employee company will use the new funds, which it expects to last about 24 months, for both sales and product development.

“It will be heavy on the sales side,” said Burke. “On the back of this, we’re growing out our inside sales team and will place a heavy emphasis on agency sales.”

In product development, he said the company will emphasize R&D from a machine learning perspective with goal of pinpointing what content resonates with specific communities.

Burke has previously described himself as a “parallel entrepreneur”, that is, someone who works on several projects simultaneously. But he now says his full-time focus is on Affinio due to the strong demand and growth.

The Affinio funding is the latest example of an Atlantic Canadian startup this year announcing a multi-million-dollar VC funding round. Since St. John’s-based Celtex announced a $3.3 million in a round led by Build in January, other big VC announcements have included: RtTech Software of Moncton raised $3 million in February; CarbonCure Technologies of Halifax raised $3 million in May; and Fredericton- and Washington-based Introhive closed a Series B Round of financing worth US$7.2 million (C$9.2 million) in July.

Another interesting tidbit about the funding: of the five Atlantic Canadian companies in Build Ventures’ portfolio, two (Introhive and Affinio) have raised follow-on funding this year. (Disclaimer: Build is a client of Entrevestor.)

CTA Offers Wealth of Mentorship

In his new role as a diplomat, David Alward was relaxed and jovial as he welcomed a busload of startup founders to the Cambridge Innovation Centre, just across the Charles River from Boston.

The former New Brunswick premier is now Canada’s consul general in the Massachusetts capital, and part of his job is overseeing the Canadian Technology Accelerator in Boston. New Brunswick politicians understand the economic potential of technology startups better than their peers in the other Atlantic provinces, and Alward beamed as he greeted his guests from Fredericton last Friday.

“What you’re going to see today is going to blow you away,” Alward told about 50 entrepreneurs who had joined the trip organized by the Pond-Deshpande Centre at the University of New Brunswick.

The CTA@Boston is one of 12 tech accelerators operated by Canadian embassies and consulates around the world. The idea is to offer a three- or four-month program for Canadian entrepreneurs in an environment that would be most beneficial to their companies. Ideally, they receive unparallelled mentorship and are surrounded by potential clients and funders. For example, Boston is a favourite destination for life sciences because of its massive health-care base. New York City is ideal for companies with corporate clients, and San Francisco for those selling to the information technology world.

The Boston accelerator, which takes in about 25 companies a year, is especially popular with the Atlantic Canadian community because of proximity and the cultural links. It has hosted such companies as Sequence Bio of St. John’s, N.L., Mindful Scientific of Halifax and IPSNP of Saint John, N.B.

Sean Sears, a serial entrepreneur from Halifax whose ventures include sageCrowd and Abridean, has been working at the accelerator for two months and said he has had about three breakthroughs that will help his business grow.

“One of the biggest problems I have down here is deciding what to do with my evenings. It’s not that there’s nothing to do. It’s that every night there are about four or five events and they’re all great.”

One of the things entrepreneurs rave about with the Canadian Technology Accelerator is the massive wealth of talent and experience at hand in Cambridge. The accelerator operates out of the Cambridge Innovation Center, a highrise structure that opened in 1999 and now houses 800 companies, including 500 startups. (By comparison, there are about 300 startups in all of Atlantic Canada.) That’s just in this one building. There are about 1,400 startups in all of Cambridge, which is home to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. Every Thursday night, there are get-togethers called Venture Cafes, where funders and entrepreneurs mingle and chat.

As well as interaction with other startups, the Canadian Technology Accelerator relies on mentorship from Canadian Entrepreneurs in New England, whose members are Canadian expats, including entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and leaders at large corporations. The overall goal is to bring a sense of community to Canadian entrepreneurs trying to break into the United States market.

“You’ve got to remember you’re not in it alone, and if you are in it alone, you will not succeed,” George Kenny, a Canadian Entrepreneurs in New England member, told the Pond-Deshpande students. “You need a team to get where you’re going.”

Blitzen Launches at Dublin Summit

Blitzen, a venture-backed startup based in Kitchener, has launched its lead management solution for small and medium enterprises.

CEO Jesse Guild unveiled the product today at the Dublin Web Summit, promising it is a tool that will let SMEs generate and manage sales leads the way large enterprises do.

There has been a lot of buzz around Blitzen in the past year or so. Business Insider recently labeled Blitzen the third-fastest growing stealth startup in the world, and it has graduated from the AngelPad accelerator in the U.S. and Communitech’s Rev accelerator. Earlier this year, it raised $500,000 in seed financing in a round that included venture capital funds iNovia, Garage Capital, and Hedgewood.

What’s really interesting about Blitzen is that even before its launch the product was drawing interest from high-growth companies like Uber, Shopify, and Kik. Guild said at the Rev graduation in September that Blitzen has lined up about 1,000 potential clients that are interested in viewing the product once it’s launched.

"We ate our own dog food and used Blitzen to survey our early beta customers,” said Guild in a statement. “We found that lead data quality and capturing actionable customer insights are still surprisingly big challenges for SMBs. “It presented us with an opportunity to fill a gap.”

Read our Report on the Rev Graduation

Blitzen’s statement said that 98 percent of SMEs are looking for their first marketing software, with lead management cited as their No. 1 priority, according to the research firm Software Advice, a division of Gartner.

Blitzen says it goes beyond traditional marketing platforms to help these small companies identify promoters and improve retention rates with existing customers. “We believe surveys are an essential part of the customer journey,” said Guild.  “Tools such as Net Promoter Score surveys can be powerful drivers of growth.”

What Blitzen does is build forms that enrich a company’s leads with social and company data, and uses

progressive profiling to improve conversion rates. The software tracks the sales team’s contacts with potential clients, and it scores each lead so the team can prioritize its follow-ups. And it works with tools that SMEs are already using, which they are apps like Google Sheets, Slack and Trello, or customer relationship management tools like Salesforce, Zoho, and Pipedrive.

“The tools available to SMBs today are either too thin or too resource intensive,” Joe Gelata, Author of The Revenue Engineer Blog and Head of Demand Generation at Vidyard, said in the Blitzen statement. “Finally a company has stepped forward with a solution that enables SMBs to generate leads with the sophistication of the enterprise.” 

Innovacorp Reveals I-3 Finalists

Innovacorp on Monday released the list of finalists for the regional and sectoral contests in the I-3 Technology Startup Competition.

Innovacorp, the Nova Scotia innovation agency, holds the competition every second year with the goal of encouraging aspiring entrepreneurs to develop their ideas into businesses as they go through the contest. Some 188 companies entered the competition, and Innovacorp has now announced five or six finalists for each of five regions and six sectors.

The winner of each region will receive $100,000 and the chance to win an additional $100,000 grand prize. The runners up in each region will receive $40,000. There are also $25,000 prizes for the winners in six different sectors. Several companies are finalists for both the regional and sector prizes.

The next major announcement will come on Jan. 22, when Innovacorp – which is a client of Entrevestor – will announce the winners of each sector and region.

The finalists are:

Zone 1 (Cumberland, Colchester, Pictou, Antigonish and Guysborough counties)

Ag Seed Tech (Canada) Inc. – Sandra Newbold, Trevor Newbold – Bible Hill

 Biochemical and biomaterial products created from agricultural waste streams

Ditch Doctor Drainage Solutions – Adam Fisher, Carole Fisher – Glenholme

 An environmentally friendly work-tool that creates, restores and maintains ditches

Lootbag – Daniel Code-McNeil, Jason Young – Antigonish

A mobile application streamlining new product development

FUNDY Paint – Gena Arthur – Bible Hill

Ecologically safe, all-natural paint products

MacDonald Aquaculture and Consultation – Sean MacDonald, Ame MacDonald – Stewiacke

Sustainable, eco-responsible aquaculture technology for production of pure striped bass

Zone 2 (Lunenburg, Queens, Shelburne and Yarmouth counties)

Allendale Technologies – Guy Tipton, Cyril Meagher, Ben Pooley, Elizabeth Pooley – Lockeport

Carbonation system for the microbrewery industry

Sustane Technologies Inc. – Peter Vinall, Javier De La Fuente, Robert Richardson – Chester

Technologies that enable recycling of municipal waste, eliminating the need for landfills

WoodsCamp Technologies Inc. – Alastair Jarvis, Will Martin – Mahone Bay

A platform for sustainable management of forest resources

Atlantic Tank Innovations – Glen Aylward – Shelburne

An advanced composite oil tank that prevents corrosion and spillage

Bridgewater Renewable Energy Works – Richard Pearson, Bruce Marks, David Stewart, Michael Skroski, Michael Trunzo – Bridgewater

A facility producing renewable energy streams from local and regional sustainable biomass resources

Zone 3 (Digby, Annapolis, Kings and Hants counties)

Manzer Apiary Inc.  – Brian Manzer, Owen Manzer – Digby

 A beehive that reduces bee loses, increases crop yields and improves honey production

Aerhyve (a division of Frostbyte Interactive Inc.) – John Frost – Wolfville

Machine learning algorithms applied to drone technology to gather actionable data on agricultural crops

GO BUMP FREE (Airline Employee Travel Inc.) – Donna Lavallee, Colin Lavallee – Elmsdale

A travel platform for airline employees that offers increased security and decreased financial risk

Colibri Software – John Read – Wolfville

A cloud-based approach to smart energy management in commercial and industrial settings

Unified Software Technologies (UST) – Laurie Perrin, Layton Perrin – Wolfville

Software that increases computer processing efficiency and performance

Zone 4 (Halifax Regional Municipality)

NovaEel Inc. – Paul Smith – Halifax

 Proprietary method for farming eels

SATELLIGENT Telemetry Solutions Inc. – Arjun Warrier – Bedford

Solar string inverter technology that converts output from photo-voltaic panels to a grid-friendly format

NewAE Technology Inc. – Colin O’Flynn, Hilary Taylor – Halifax

Open-source technology for finding and analyzing security weaknesses in hardware

MouseStats – Kousha Nakhaei, Ehsan Nakhaei – Halifax

A customer experience analytics suite that uses website visitor interactions to provide insights

Site 2020 Inc. – Mitchell Hollohan, Cole Campbell – Halifax

Smart, networked, portable traffic lights that increase road construction safety while reducing costs – Guy Shaham, Isaac Moscovich – Dartmouth

A fundraising platform for schools that fosters entrepreneurship at a young age

Zone 5 (Victoria, Cape Breton, Inverness and Richmond counties)

SONA Nanotech – Gerrard Marangoni, Kulbir Singh, Michael McAlduff, Joe Menchefski – Edwardsville

 A technology to produce gold nanoparticles for life sciences applications without using toxic chemicals

Layers – A.J. Fraser, Matt Johnston – Sydney

 An image creation and editing application that allows users to remix and share images – Colin McInnis, Brian Best – Sydney

An analytical application for employees to share workplace information with others in their organization

Orenda – Tanya Collier MacDonald – Sydney

A social media analysis service that combines expertise and data to determine an organization’s overall corporate standing in real-time

Ubique – Vijai Karthigesu – Sydney

A technology that delivers “lagless” communications

Sector: Information Technology

Ubique – Vijai Karthigesu – Sydney

A technology that delivers “lagless” communications

Zora – Milan Vrekic – Dartmouth

A platform for landlords that reduces risks associated with rentals, using a tenant scoring system

Machina Metrica – Richard Levesque, Dany Larouche – St. Margaret’s Bay

A predictive maintenance software platform that monitors conditions and predicts industrial equipment breakdowns in real-time

NewAE Technology Inc. – Colin O’Flynn, Hilary Taylor – Halifax

Open-source technology for finding and analyzing security weaknesses in hardware

MouseStats – Kousha Nakhaei, Ehsan Nakhaei – Halifax

A customer experience analytics suite that uses website visitor interactions to provide insights

Site 2020 Inc. – Mitchell Hollohan, Cole Campbell – Halifax

Smart, networked, portable traffic lights that increase road construction safety while reducing costs

Sector: Life Sciences

Panag Pharma Inc. – Mary Lynch, Melanie Kelly, Orlando Hung, Christian Lehmann, William Cheliak, Raphael Mechoulam – Halifax

Topical formulations for pain and inflammation

Conceptualiz – Richard Hurley, Ravin Balakrishnan, Karan Singh – Fall River

Mobile software that allows medical experts to design and 3-D print implants

Treventis Diagnostics, Ltd. – Sultan Darvesh, Chris Barden, Mark Reed, Scott Banfield – Halifax

Early, non-invasive diagnostic technology for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s

Eyeread – Julia Rivard, Leah Skerry – Halifax

An artificially intelligent reading coach for children

SONA Nanotech – Gerrard Marangoni, Kulbir Singh, Michael McAlduff, Joe Menchefski – Edwardsville

A technology to produce gold nanoparticles for life sciences applications without using toxic chemicals

Sector: Clean Technology

SATELLIGENT Telemetry Solutions Inc. – Arjun Warrier – Bedford

Solar string inverter technology that converts output from photo-voltaic panels to a grid-friendly format

NeoThermal Energy Storage Inc. (NeoTES) – Louis Desgrosseilliers, Moe Kabbara – Timberlea

Chemical heat storage battery improving the form and function of electric storage room heaters

Lorax Systems Inc. – Mark Bishoff – Halifax

Technologies that prevent and treat environmental problems related to fuel lines and filtration

Jaza Energy Inc. – Sebastian Manchester, Jeff Schnurr – Halifax

Energy management and mobile payment technology for solar micro-grids in developing countries

SGS Solutions Inc. (Showbattery) – Shelley Simpson-McKay – Dartmouth

Rechargeable lithium-ion pack and LED lighting systems for the exhibition industry

Sector: Agricultural Technology

Novagreen East Inc. – Bruce Marks, David Stewart, Nova Green – New Minas

Agri-food and nutrition products developed through an innovative and sustainable process

Manzer Apiary Inc.  – Brian Manzer, Owen Manzer – Digby

A beehive that reduces bee loses, increases crop yields and improves honey production

Allendale Technologies – Guy Tipton, Cyril Meagher, Ben Pooley, Elizabeth Pooley – Lockeport

Carbonation system for the microbrewery industry

Aerhyve (a division of Frostbyte Interactive Inc.) – John Frost – Wolfville

Machine learning algorithms applied to drone technology to gather actionable data on agricultural crops

NovaEel Inc. – Paul Smith – Halifax

Proprietary method for farming eels

Sector: Waste Diversion Technology

ChemCause – Amitabh Jha, Prabhu Mohapatra – Wolfville

A platform that facilitates the exchange of surplus chemicals

Halifax Feed Company, LP – Greg Wanger – Halifax

Technology that recycles food and brewery waste into commodities

Shellganics – Matthew Lent – Tiverton

Organic fertilizer created from waste streams

Ag Seed Tech (Canada) Inc. – Sandra Newbold, Trevor Newbold – Bible Hill

Biochemical and biomaterial products created from agricultural waste streams

Sustane Technologies Inc. – Peter Vinall, Javier De La Fuente, Robert Richardson – Chester

Technologies that enable recycling of municipal waste, eliminating the need for landfills

Sector: Ocean Technology

Soluna Energy – Bill Crossman – Centrelea

 Tidal turbine technology that reduces costs traditionally associated with tidal energy

Turbulent Research Inc. – Chris Loadman – Dartmouth

 Underwater data acquisition and signal processing products

LeeWay Marine – Jamie Sangster – Halifax

 Technology for stabilized launch and recovery of ocean equipment

Dingbot Ltd. – Jonathan Underwood and Christopher Beck – Halifax

 Robotic technology for collecting data in marine and aquatic environments

Introducing the Entrevestor Job Board

Entrevestor and Qimple are delighted to announce the launch of our joint job board, which will be the region’s first job posting site targeting the technology, innovation and startup sectors.

The Entrevestor Job Board, powered by Qimple, is now live on the Entrevestor site. It offers the most cost effective way to broadcast your hiring needs and is now offering a special introductory discount.

Until Jan. 31, you can post job openings on the Entrevestor Job Board for just $25 each – a 50 percent discount from the regular price of $50. The regular price will begin in February 2016. The postings will appear on our Job Board page, and on a panel on our homepage and all articles pages.

Entrevestor is the voice of the startup community on the East Coast, and we are now expanding rapidly into the Kitchener-Waterloo startup community. In October, we received 24,600 pageviews, up 140 percent from a year earlier. Our rapid growth is continuing.

Until now, there has been no go-to place where you can go to find the special talent required in our sector. We hope that the Entrevestor Job Board will fill that gap.

We’ve been really fortunate to team up with Qimple, the Moncton-based company that simplifies its customers’ hiring process. I’ve been super impressed with the growth of this company in the last two years, which included its recent participation in the 500 Startups accelerator in Silicon Valley.

We hope that you’ll try our job board during our introductory period, and that you have great success with it. If you need any further information, please feel free to contact me at

Charting the Concerns of Entrepreneurs

As a digital research firm operating out of Atlantic Canada, we at Thistlwood wanted to attempt to understand the primary issues and concerns of entrepreneurs and start-ups in Halifax and largely Nova Scotia. We did this by analyzing discussions and commentary from social media and other digital channels online.

This infographic aims to provide a visual sense of the primary concerns of entrepreneurs in Halifax and to a large extent, Nova Scotia. As can be seen, capital is the number one concern. On the issue of capital, the main concern discussed online is that access to capital is controlled mostly by a very few, making it difficult to determine risk tolerance and grow to the next level. Many entrepreneurs feel this restricts their opportunity.

Second is export growth. While it is easier than ever to reach global markets, many entrepreneurs feel there is a lack of people with exporting skills in the market and few investors understand the need to be export-driven. Others were concerned with the impact of the TPP and CETA trade agreements and what opportunities they could gain.

The third issue is government red tape. In this area, conversations we analyzed pointed to a high cost to get started, naming restrictions on a business that aren’t seen in other jurisdictions, various permits and the length of time to get by-laws and shareholder certificates from the government and that these hamper closing financing rounds.

Fourth is government, while many of the programs are appreciated and many have said improved, the degree of paperwork required to access and them and the follow-up reporting is high. In addition, many angel investors won’t invest without some government funding involvement and vice versa, making capital raising difficult and longer than other jurisdictions in Canada such as Alberta and Ontario.

The complete set of findings can be viewed on the Thistlwood blog here. In addition to the above, entrepreneurs in Nova Scotia also expressed a number of sociocultural concerns: how they are perceived within the community and vice versa. Two key findings here were that the public, government and business don’t seem to understand the value and need for some startups to fail and there is a low tolerance for failure. Second is the need for immigrants and lack of support from the federal government while feeling the provincial government has it’s hands tied. Other concerns ranged from a perceived lack of action on the Ivany Report, not enough entrepreneurial spirit in the province and poor community support for entrepreneurs.

But it’s not all bad news, entrepreneurs (primarily startups) felt more positive about starting up a business in Halifax than they have in the past few years.

Giles Crouch is the Managing Partner at Thistlwood, a Halifax-based Agile Digital Research firm. 

Plum Wins US$250K in 43North

Caitlin MacGregor

Caitlin MacGregor

Plum Inc., a Waterloo-based maker of behaviour-based recruitment software, has won a US$250,000 (C$327,000) award and incubation space in Buffalo as one of the winners of the second annual 43North competition.

As well as the development funding, the prize will afford four-year-old Plum a base in the U.S. from which is can grow its American clientele.

The 43North competition is part of the New York State program to develop entrepreneurship in the state, especially in Western New York. It awards a total of $5 million to 11 startups from anywhere and gives them incubation space, mentorship and tax breaks so they can grow their business in Buffalo.

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

Read our previous coverage of Plum

The company has been taking on clients rapidly and as of May had more than 65 active customers and the platform had been used on every continent other than Asia. More than 40,000 job seekers had used the system.

“Being backed by the Buffalo government provides an efficient baseline for us to reach out and make a quick and addressable impact,” said the company in a statement on the 43North website. “We are all very excited to be able to make an impact very quickly to measure and monitor the changes in hiring time, turnover and potentially the change to unemployment rates in Buffalo.”

The statement added that having a base in Buffalo will grant the opportunity to launch in a defined U.S. location. Buffalo boasts growing financial, healthcare, technology and education sectors, all of which are targets for Plum.

Plum previously graduated from the Hyperdrive accelerator at Communitech and has received funding from BDC Capital as well as other investors.  

Eleven companies were awarded at least US$250,000 each in the 43North competition, now in its second year, and will now occupy space in the incubation centre. The grand winner was Buffalo-based ACV Auctions, which is a live wholesale marketplace for dealer-only automobile auctions. It will receive $1 million.

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

“Plum gets to the heart of who someone really is,” the company told 43North. “Our company’s greatest strength is its employees. They were all hired using Plum and are well matched to their positions.”

MouseStats Plans Next Moves in NS

Ehsan and Kousha Nakhaei

Ehsan and Kousha Nakhaei

You’re probably never going to meet two happier entrepreneurs than Kousha and Ehsan Nakhaei, and not just because their startup MouseStats has attracted blue-chip clients.

They’re elated just to be in Nova Scotia.

The Nakhaei brothers arrived in Halifax from Iran this month, having been accepted in the Canadian government’s Start-up Visa program, which allows entrepreneurs to move to Canada. They had been working on getting to Halifax for about a year and a half, and their joy at being in the city was palpable.

“It’s perfect,” Kousha Nakhaei said in an interview Tuesday in their office at the Innovacorp Enterprise Centre.

“People are the most important thing, and the people here are too kind. How wonderful people are when they are smiling at you.”

The journey to Halifax was a long one, and it began — as entrepreneurs’ stories often do — with a series of startups that produced mixed results. Kousha is the technical brains of the pair, and Ehsan has a background in business management. Together, they launched eight web-based products.

Biopolynet Wins StatOil, GE Award

But they had trouble assessing which elements of each website were reaching an audience so they devised a product that could help users analyze the specific parts of each web page.

MouseStats is an analytics tool that can tell the users what images, icons, widgets or other components on a web page are gaining traction with the public. The key function in the product is the HeatMap, which assesses how long viewers’ cursors hover over each part of a web page. Parts of the page that are viewed a lot appear as hot colours when the page is viewed through HeatMap.

The other features include Visitor Recording, which shows how individual visitors interact with a page, and Form Analytics, which shows how visitors react to each field when filling out a form.

In total, MouseStats features give users a deeper understanding of how the public interacts with their online content.

MouseStats won an award for the best English-language website in Iran, and its clients include Intuit in Mountain View, Calif., and Mobistar of Belgium.

But being based in Iran proved a huge obstacle because the country has been under international sanctions for the last few years. That meant the Nakhaei brothers were trying to market their product internationally but could not use international banks or credit card companies.

So two years ago, they began to look for a new home and found information on the Nova Scotia sponsorship program on the Canadian Citizenship and Immigration website. They liked the look of the East Coast, so they applied to Innovacorp to sponsor them. (Disclaimer: Innovacorp is a client of Entrevestor.)

Innovacorp agreed to be a sponsor, then the Nakhaeis had to work with the federal Immigration Department to secure admission under the new Start-up Visa program. They were accepted this month and landed in Halifax two weeks ago.

Now the brothers are focusing on building their business. They are starting to work on securing investment and are focused on accelerating their growth now that they no longer have to worry about the obstacles they faced in Iran.

“We have a clear plan, and our product will be expanded,” said Kousha.

“We have never advertised, and thanks to being in Canada we are going to start a marketing campaign.”

Biofix Wins BioInnovation Challenge

Biofix Medical Technologies, a Halifax company development a bone cement, has won the $45,000 BioInnovation Challenge for 2015.

BioNova, the Nova Scotia Life Sciences association, announced the winners at its annual BioPort Atlantic conference Wednesday in Halifax.  The winner of the fifth annual BioInnovation Challenge will take home $15,000 in a cash investment to cover development costs and $30,000 in in-kind services.

Founded by CEO Caitlin Pierlot and CTO Brett Dickey, Biofix is developing 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.  

“The technology’s been developed over the last five years and we’ve been working very closely with clinicians in the field to make sure that we’re developing the product they want,” Pierlot, who received a PhD in biomedical engineering from Dalhousie University last year, said during the semifinals on Tuesday. “They love it.”

She said the non-toxic, glass-based bone cement is made with properties matched to bones and can be adapted for other medical applications.

Pierlot and Dickey are now doing clinical studies. They are seeking $1.3 million in equity investment, with the goal of gaining Federal Drug Administration approval for the product by the second quarter of 2018. They would then hope to gain regulatory approval in the EU and Canada.

The runners-up in the competition were: Help Method, which analyzes brain patterns to diagnose mental illness, and is focusing at first on treating soldiers suffering on post-traumatic stress disorder; and RetiCAD, which uses imaging technology to fight diseases caused by leaky blood vessels, such as dementia, epilepsy and – the initial focus of the company – blindness caused by diabetes.

“We had a great cohort this year, an excellent judging panel, and the three finalists presented extremely well today,” said BioNova Chair Brian Lowe in a statement. “All three companies deserve the win, but there can only be one and BioFix Medical Technologies came out on top and I wish them every success moving forward.”

The judging panel comprised Amine Benmoussa, Associate Director, BDC Capital, Toronto; Ross Finlay, Co-Founder and Director of the First Angel Network, Halifax; and Lidija Marusic, an investment manager with Innovacorp, Halifax. 

Rise Looking Ahead After Propel

Matt Daigle

Matt Daigle

When Matt Daigle learned there wasn’t a tool to help home renovators find the most environmentally friendly products on the market, he decided to build one himself. Thus Rise was launched.

Daigle and his three co-founders are creating an online platform to inform renovators about the best materials. They recently took Fredericton’s Rise through the Propel ICT Launch program at Planet Hatch in their hometown.

They are preparing to release their minimum viable product, something tentatively scheduled for late November. They hope it will undergo a full commercial launch next year in two cities that are hotbeds of sustainable construction practices: Vancouver and San Francisco.

It plans to retain its headquarters in New Brunswick, and most of its early customers are in Atlantic Canada, but Daigle said there is a bigger market in the West Coast cities.

“I consider that now we have the training wheels off and we’re going full throttle,” said Daigle in an interview Tuesday.

“We’re planning for the launch of our MVP and looking at a seed round (of funding).”

He declined to say how much money the company is hoping to raise in its first round, but he did say he has spoken to several potential investors.

Read about Ella, another NB Propel Grad

Rise is an online dashboard that helps homeowners, contractors and retailers work together to find materials and products that can benefit the environment and reduce costs. The company envisages a product that can inform users about the best products available and have a social component connecting the various parties.

In time, it hopes to include such features as listing incentives available in a user’s city to encourage use of green materials. The team also plans to eventually offer a subscription-based premium product for contractors to develop recurring revenue in the company.

Daigle has spent the last six years in the tech industry, working for such companies as Salesforce Radian6 and Saint John’s Mariner. He spent his weekends renovating houses and wanted to know more about green alternatives, but he couldn’t find the information.

“I started looking into the green building material market. It is a pretty big market, and it is growing. You either have to become an expert on this stuff or rely on your contractor. I didn’t like either of those options, so that led to the creation of Rise.”

Now that it has completed the Propel Launch program, designed to help early-stage companies validate their product, the Rise team is looking for further mentorship opportunities. They have applied for a CleanTech accelerator in Boston, and they are also in talks with the Pond-Deshpande Centre at the University of New Brunswick about joining its B4Change accelerator, which helps companies dedicated to social and environmental change.

Rise eventually hopes to receive a B-Corp designation, awarded to companies with a strong social agenda.

Daigle said the company would be interested in proceeding into Propel’s more advanced Build program next year, but it may be difficult if it is trying to launch its program on the West Coast.

Three BioInnovation Finalists Chosen

Three Nova Scotian biotech companies will compete today for $45,000 in prizes in the BioInnovation Challenge.

The finalists, selected from a final round of six competitors, are Biofix Medical Technologies, Help Method and RetiCAD.

The fifth annual BIC competition is organized by BioNova, BioNB and PEI BioAlliance and is the pitching component of BioPort Atlantic, the annual life sciences conference in Halifax.

The winner of the BioInnovation Challenge will take home $15,000 in a cash investment to cover development costs and $30,000 in in-kind services.

Read about last year's BIC

The finalists are:

Biofix Medical Technologies, Halifax, Caitlin Pierlot, CEO – Biofix is developing a non-toxic bone cement that can be injected into the vertebrae of osteoporosis patients who have suffered a fracture. Pierlot and CTO Brett Dickey have produced the cement and are now doing clinical studies. They are seeking $1.3 million in equity investment, with the goal of gaining Federal Drug Administration approval for the product by the second quarter of 2018. They would then hope to gain regulatory approval in the EU and Canada.

Help Method, Halifax, James Drage, Acting CEO – Help Method analyzes brain patterns to diagnose mental illness, and is focusing at first on treating soldiers suffering on post-traumatic stress disorder. The company recently conducted tests on 50 veterans and was able to determine which suffered from PTSD as opposed to other afflictions. Once PTSD is diagnosed, Help Method can help therapists choose the proper treatment for the patient’s particular problem. The company is trying to raise $1 million in equity funding (which it can leverage with a further $2 million in non-dilutive funds, largely from the military) which will help among other things to conduct further tests on 300 more soldiers. 

RetiCAD, Halifax, Lyn Kamintsky, CTO – The company uses imaging technology to fight diseases caused by leaky blood vessels, such as dementia, epilepsy and – the initial focus of the company – blindness caused by diabetes. Kamintsky said physicians now diagnose blindness caused by diabetes by personally studying a series of images of the retina. RetiCAD amalgamates all the data contained in these images to produce a map of the retina, and uses technology to detect leaks that are too small for the human eye to detect. The company has laid out a budget totaling $1.7 million over the next three years and hopes eventually to sell its technology to a large camera maker.

The other semi-finalists were:

ChimieCell, Halifax, Azadeh Kermenshahipour, Acting CEO – The company is developing a sustainable product that can break down KDO, one of the building blocks of gram-negative bacteria, which is responsible for 70 percent of the infections in the U.S. ChimieCell produces KDO at $5 a milligram, one-tenth of the cost of existing processes. The company is looking for $800,000, which could help it to attain a licensing agreement with a major pharmaceutical company within two years.

Heterogenous Nanosystems Ltd., Halifax and Charlottetown, Clarke MacDonald, President –  The company is working on a cancer treatment that involves opening up cells to what are known as polar molecules.

IOBio Inc., Halifax, Guy Earle, Head of R&D – IOBio is developing a software product that will create a development environment for researchers. The company is seeking $140 000 to take its product, the BioBox, from prototype to the market.

NBIF Doubles VC Totals in 2 Years

The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation invested a record $4.2 million in startups in the 2015 fiscal year, more than twice the figure two years earlier, the not-for-profit agency said in the annual report released Tuesday.

NBIF said it made six investments from its Startup Investment Fund totaling $610,000 and 12 Venture Capital Fund investments totaling $3.23 million. In the previous year, it had invested $2.8 million in 15 companies, and in the year before that $1.95 million.

The report also said that the companies that received the investment in 2014-15 also raised about $16 million from other investors.

“Today, more than ever we are seeing increasingly more researchers and entrepreneurs who are thinking big and globally from day one,” said CEO Calvin Milbury in the report. “This mindset represents a marked shift. A culture of innovation has evolved, and it is having a tremendous impact on our province – and we at NBIF are witnessing that first-hand.”

Read the details of NBIF's previous annual report.

NBIF – which advertises on Entrevestor -- has been growing in recent years largely because of two major factors. First, in 2011 it cashed in for $9.25 million, or a gain of 28 times, when its portfolio company Radian6 was bought by And successive New Brunswick governments have identified innovation as a key focus of economic strategy and asked NBIF to handle much of the work.

One interesting piece of information included in the report is that the value of the foundation’s exits since 2003 is $11 million.  It has had two exits of note – Radian 6 and the 2014 exit of Fredericton-based UserEvents, the value of which was never revealed. By subtracting the $9.25 million Radian6 value from the $11 million total, it’s possible to conclude that NBIF received $1.75 million from the UserEvents exit. That figure is seven times its $250,000 investments, which is pretty darn good considering there was only one year from investment to exit.

Other information in the report showed that NBIF invested $7 million in research projects, which found an additional $16 million from other sources. And its portfolio companies attain 76 percent of their revenues through exports.  The jobs created by the companies and research projects it funds produced an average salary of $70,000 and generated over $53 million in labour income.

The following are the details of the NBIF equity investments in the year to March 31, 2015:

Investments from the Startup Investment Fund

Timbre Cases                                     $110,000

Castaway Golf                                   $100,000

Fiddlehead Technology                 $100,000

ITAVIO                                                  $100,000

Qimple                                                 $100,000

NB Biomatrix                                      $50,000

SimpTek Technologies                   $50,000

Total                                                      $610,000

Investments from the Venture Capital Fund:

 RtTech Software                             $500,000

MycoDev                                             $500,000

Gemba Software                             $500,000

Smartpods                                          $500,000

Sentrant Security                             $250,000

Resson Aerospace                           $250,000

Eigen Innovations                            $150,000

Food Tender                                      $150,000

SceneSharp Technologies            $150,000

Inversa Systems                               $125,000

Atlantic Hydrogen                            $100,000

Enovex                                                 $50,000

Total                                                      $3,225,000

In the Venture Capital Fund, MycoDev, Gemba, Sentra and Resson are new investments. Once they reach certain milestones, Gemba Software and Sentrant Security are pre-approved for additional investments of $250,000 and $125,000 respectfully, said the report.

Comparing Costs With Silicon Valley

When Sunil Sharma, managing partner of Extreme Venture Partners in Toronto, attended the Atlantic Venture Forum in Halifax in June, one thing that caught his attention was how “capital efficient” Atlantic Canadian companies are.

In other words, he perceived they can do more with less capital investment than their peers in other locations.

Aside from the non-dilutive financing available to Atlantic Canadian startups, Sharma noted commercial leases and core business expenses are less than in a market like Toronto, and wages for technical people tend to be lower.

That’s the impression, but is there data to support the notion that it’s cheaper to establish a startup on the East Coast of Canada? EY, the global business services consultancy, and Entrevestor have teamed up to do a comparison.

We’ve created a hypothetical company that we’ll call TechCorp. This five-year-old enterprise has a Software-as-a-Service product that is attracting global clients, achieving C$3 million in revenue in calendar 2015. It has 10 employees, and one exec must attend meetings events in San Francisco four times a year and twice annually in New York.

We wanted to estimate TechCorp’s annual costs if it were based in Halifax, Toronto or SiliconValley. So, on the facing page you will see the three respective income statements. We’ve assumed that the company accrues $3 million in revenues in 2015 regardless of location, based on the theory that a SaaS company can access customers around the world regardless of where it’s based. But our research has shown that on the cost side, there are definite advantages to being in Atlantic Canada. The total costs are 15 percent less in Halifax than in Toronto and 46 percent less than Silicon Valley.

Read the Full Entrevestor Intelligence Report

“While there are benefits to locating a business close to capital, mentors and customers, we’ve found that companies can hold costs down by being based in a smaller center,” said Pamela Achenbach from EY Halifax. “The talent pool and talent cost in the East Coast of Canada is an advantage and it’s not just entrepreneurs who benefit from this. The more businesses choose to do business from our region and invest capital, the greater the collective gains to our communities and economy.”

The big factor in the cost analysis is payroll. TechCorp (CEO, CFO, CTO, two sales people, four developers and a support person) pays about 80 percent of its annual expenditures to its staff. And the biggest difference is in developers. According to PayService data secured by Nova Scotia Business Inc. and the Halifax Partnership, a software developer with five years’ experience makes approximately $58,000 in Halifax – which is about 42 percent less than in Silicon Valley and 14 percent less than in Toronto.

Across the company, the payroll in Halifax is about $682,000 – a saving of almost half from the payroll in Silicon Valley and 15 percent from Toronto, clearly a significant opportunity to save funds.

Those sorts of savings are also seen in professional services like lawyers and accountants. You pay about 10 percent more for these services in Toronto and a whopping two-and-a-half times as much in Silicon Valley.

The final result is that annual costs in Halifax are $834,900, in Toronto $981,900 and in Silicon Valley $1.56 million. These cost savings give Halifax a small advantage in pre-tax profit over Toronto, though the profit is largely the same once taxes are taken into consideration. The profit in both Toronto and Halifax is about 75 percent higher than in Silicon Valley.

The complete income statement shows a breakdown of all costs, and we should highlight that travel costs from Halifax are the highest. So if a company has to travel a lot to the U.S., the cost advantages would be eroded. This could be an important factor as the company scales and sales calls (even for a SaaS company) become more important.

And one final factor that we admit freely is that there are definitely huge intangible benefits to being in Silicon Valley. You’re closer to thought leaders and to mentors who have built companies that changed the global industry.

And of course there is far, far more capital in northern California than in the other two centres. Certainly there are strong benefits for locating a business in Northern California, but the big question is how much the entrepreneurs are willing to pay for that advantage. In the growth stage, companies like TechCorp will likely find that better capital retention is also a critical factor for success, and that can strengthen the decision to locate to a smaller centre.

TechCorp Projected 2015 Income Statement

Dec. 31, 2015 (C$)        
  Notes Halifax Toronto Silicon Valley
Revenue 2 3,000,000 3,000,000 3,000,000
Salaries & employee benefits 3 681,700 803,100 1,289,500
Rent 4 67,700 82,700 100,000
Travel 5 12,600 11,600 5,300
Utilities 6 12,900 16,900 22,800
Professional fees (accounting & legal) 7 50,000 57,600 127,300
Misc. (supplies, insurance, marketing) 8 10,000 10,000 10,000
    834,900 981,900 1,554,900
Income before income taxes   2,165,100 2,018,100 1,445,100
Provision for income taxes 9 571,000 438,000 534,000
Net Income for the Year   1,594,100 1,580,100 911,100

See accompanying notes

Note 1: USD converted into CAD at a rate of 1.31 based on December 31, 2015 forward rate curve

Note 2: Assume global market and global buyer - no revenue differential

Note 3: Assume common equity holdings at CEO and CTO level with a market based salary (Source: PayScale August 2015

Note 4: Based on 2000 sq. ft. grade A space (data source: Cushman Wakefield)

Halifax: $33.85 psf/year

Toronto: $41.35 psf/year

Silicon Valley: $38.16 USD psf/year

Note 5: Assume one trip per qtr. to Silicon Valley (4 trips per year), two trips to NYC. $100/day for taxi, food etc. duration 5 days

Note 6: Midsized office, heated by electricity. Servers running 24/7 with extra workload during working hours.

Note 7: Fees determined based on industry rate cards by geographical region

Note 8: Assume negligible cost differential by region

Note 9: R&D incentives for 2 developers are netted against tax expense

This article was originally published in our latest Entrevestor Intellignce report. 



Crate’s Launch Exceeds Expectations

Ross Simmonds: Marketing and entrepreneurship are key passions.

Ross Simmonds: Marketing and entrepreneurship are key passions.

Ross Simmonds, a mainstay of the online marketing community in Halifax, has launched a tool to help individuals and companies find the content they need to reach a broader community.

Best known for his consulting and blogging work, Simmonds opened Crate for public use last week, and the rapid growth in the first week has him considering whether to raise funding to help grow the business.

“There are a lot of gaps missing from content marketing,” said Simmonds in an interview.

“People focus too much on distribution and not enough on creating high-quality content.”

What Crate does is allow users to quickly search for content they can distribute on social media, thus finding new contacts and increasing their network.

The product is simple — the user simply enters an email address at and starts by creating a “crate” for online content. The user enters keywords, email addresses or Twitter handles that could locate content. Every time the user opens the crate, it contains the latest content adhering to the search so it can be shared on social media.

Simmonds has funded the product through revenue from his two-and-a-half-year-old consulting business, whose clients include such successful Atlantic Canadian startups as Proposify, LeadSift, Introhive and The Rounds.

Read the Latest on Simmonds' Client The Rounds 

“Consulting has been smooth sailing, but I’ve always wanted to get back into products,” he said.

Simmonds and his chief technology officer, David Fudge, tested the waters with Crate this year with a two-month test, which included 150 users. The feedback was positive so, after a bit of tinkering with the software, he launched last week.

As of Friday, 825 people were using the product and created more than 1,000 crates. There had been 8,000 click-throughs of the content distributed using Crate.

Crate is free. Simmonds plans to add pay features as its customer base grows.

It is one of two businesses Simmonds has launched recently. He and his friend, Findlay Hilchie, started Hustle & Grind, a business that celebrates entrepreneurship and features an e-commerce site that sells coffee to business people. The company is achieving sales, both of coffee and posters related to entrepreneurship.

The launch of these companies is the latest chapter in Simmonds’s fascinating entrepreneurial story that began with a love of fantasy football. When Simmonds was a sophomore at Saint Mary’s University, he began a blog on fantasy football that was so successful he was soon being interviewed about it by American sports reporters. But when his grades began to suffer, his mother put the kibosh on the fantasy blog and told her son to focus on academics.

Simmonds' Client Introhive Rasies Money

When he graduated, he began producing content again, this time on the theme of content marketing. After stints with the CBC and the marketing firm Colour, he began consulting and working with private clients on using content and social media to increase their customer base.

Simmonds said his one abiding passion is entrepreneurship. He and Findlay have decided to ask all Hustle & Grind subscribers to vote for a group that encourages youth or minorities to become entrepreneurs, and the company will donate 10 per cent of its profits to the winner.

“I’ve maintained my focus on content marketing and entrepreneurship — those are both key passions of mine. I believe entrepreneurship is how you can escape a bad situation in life.”

Linkett To Triple Customers in 2016

Douglas Lusted: 'We're looking to triple our customer base.'

Douglas Lusted: 'We're looking to triple our customer base.'

As it prepares to close a new round of funding, Linkett has set the ambitious goal of tripling the number of its enterprise clients in 2016.

Waterloo- and Toronto-based Linkett is growth-stage company that helps marketers to assess and improve the performance of TV monitor-based ads within retail outlets. It uses heat and motion sensors to analyze traffic in front of monitors, and provides a communication link between video screens and consumers’ smartphones.

The company now has 15 enterprise clients, as well as several smaller and medium-sized companies. In an interview last week, CEO Douglas Lusted said the goal for 2016 is two raise the number of large corporate clients to 45.

“We’re just trying to grow the business as efficiently as possible,” said Lusted, having just returned from working with a client in Indiana. “We’re looking to triple our customer base in the next year. Right now its divided 50 percent to 50 percent between Canada and the U.S., but in the next two years we want to focus more on the U.S.”

BitHound Plans to Close Round in 2015

To help achieve this growth, Lusted, 22, said the company is now nearing the close of a funding round and has signed term sheets with some investors. He declined to reveal the details of this round, and of the company’s previous funding, which included investments from BDC Capital and Toronto-based XDL Capital Group.

Though he was equally coy about Linkett’s sales, he said the company’s revenue bookings have increased by 10 times in each of the last three years.  Linkett now has six employees and plans to increase staff, especially in sales and marketing, once its funding round closes.

The company’s product enhances the performance of what’s known as out-of-home advertising, especially video displays within retail locations. Linkett offers an integrated solution that uses heat and motion sensors to determine how long people linger in front of a monitor during which add. It also uses automated programs that let the consumer download a coupon from in-store TV monitor, and that can ping the client days later if they haven’t used the coupon.

All this interaction produces a range of data that allows the retailer or marketer to assess the most successful ads. The Linkett product features a dashboard linked to the cloud, so the user can easily see which ads are having the greatest impact with consumers. For example, Lusted said customers have seen one ad can have 400 percent more sales power than another, and assessing this is more effective than just throwing up an ad and hoping it works.

The market is becoming crowded with marketing analytics tools, but Lusted said Linkett has an advantage over it competitors. All of its interactions are anonymous and it uses no facial recognition software – a new craze in the space that come shoppers disapprove of due to privacy concerns.

At its foundation, he said the company is growing because of a culture of meeting clients and responding to what they say.

“There’s always room to improve but one of the most important things for us is listening to customers,” said Lusted. “Rather than worrying about what other players are in the market are doing, we try to focus on what our customers want. My entire day is spent with clients and figuring out what they really want.”

With $35M, TRS Plans Implant Lead

Natasha Hope-Simpson: A huge artistic challenge

Natasha Hope-Simpson: A huge artistic challenge

Thinking Robot Studios is thinking big.

The Dartmouth 3D printing concern is developing a multi-faceted plant that promises to become a North American leader in the manufacture of medical implants. It has lined up $35 million in financing for the project and plans to develop a state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing facility that will house what may become the largest, concentration of diversified manufacturing equipment in North America. It is expected to eventually employ about 700 people and greatly improve the treatment of people with devastating injuries.

“What we’re doing is the most difficult corner of this industry,” said Thinking Robot CEO Kendall Joudrie in a recent interview. “Right now, the industry is tooled toward the generic manufacture of implants.”

Over a lengthy discussion, Joudrie and Director of Global Projects Gregor Ash outlined their plans to develop a plant that will have one of the most sophisticated and diversified manufacturing operations on the continent. It will include large-scale 3D printers operating 24 hours a day beside nano-printers that can make products too small for the eye to see.

At the time of the interview, Joudrie was close to deciding on and signing a development agreement for a Nova Scotia site on which the first 55,000-square-foot plant will be located. But that will just be the first phase and eventually Joudrie envisions a total factory space of 500,000 square feet and a huge range of equipment.

The selection of industrial-grade machines will include a dedicated metal printer, powder-based printers and resin-based printers as well as printers specializing in nano-technology. The printers will be housed in a facility with strict environmental control systems.

“We could be printing out a jet turbine blade right next to a heart pump at the same time,” said Ash. The primary purpose of the plant will be to produce customized implants for patients needing, for example, hip or knee replacements or those suffering from trauma or deformity. There will also be ancillary operations such as the prototype support and manufacture of prosthetics.

Up to now, Thinking Robot was best known for its work with Natasha Hope-Simpson, a young artist who lost a leg two years ago after being hit by a speeding car in her hometown of Wolfville, N.S. She has described the tragic event as creating a huge “artistic challenge,” for she wanted to design something beautiful to replace the lost leg. So she worked with Thinking Robot Studios to fulfill her vision of a stylized prosthetic limb.

Hope-Simpson now works  as a 3D designer with Thinking Robot, which is focusing largely on medical implants.

These implants are currently produced en masse and ordered by doctors with the hopes that a certain size will fit a patient. Thinking Robot wants to work with pairs of doctors and engineers through a practice already being used in Europe. The Thinking Robot team already has access to considerable expertise given that Dr. Vladislov Raikov of the Department of Orthopaedics and Trauma Surgery at Bethanien Hospital in Germany is a core medical collaborator. And Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer Jourdan Dakov, a Bulgarian engineer, recently immigrated to Nova Scotia to work more closely with the team.

Raikov and Dakov are experts in a procedure in which a surgeon uses 3D imaging to obtain a precise measurement of a joint, and an engineer uses advanced 3D printing equipment to quickly produce the implant. Joudrie said this method can speed up the procedure to about three days from the current four to six months, and it can do so at one-tenth of the current cost.

“This is where the integration of this technology comes in,” said Joudrie. “When you think about work place accidents or car crashes, the more specific we can be with the engineering, the better our chances are of returning that person to full productivity.”

The first market that Thinking Robot will target is revisions – that is, replacement implants that are needed after the first hip or knee replacement wears out. Revisions tend to be far more complicated than the first operation because the deterioration of the original implant can damage bone and muscles. The screws and components of the implant can break apart, and there can be debris in the surrounding tissue. It’s a critical and specialized market, and it’s expected to double in size in the next 15 years.

Thinking Robot contracted the American market research firm Dymedex to assess the market for these products, and the result was one of the highest market scores the firm had ever seen, said Ash. That helped convince the investors to come on board.

Joudrie said there are companies involved in producing implants now, but the major companies involved in the space are mass producing a generic product. “We’re shifting the paradigm,” he said.

As well as the direct economic benefit of developing a state-of-the-art manufacturing operation in the province, the principals believe the project will enhance research and development opportunities. They have already received interest from such institutions as Pennsylvania State University and University of Massachusetts at Lowell. And the facility should be good news for maker projects in Atlantic Canada because of the sophistication of the equipment they can use in prototyping.

“You have a plant here in Nova Scotia that has all the equipment to do all your prototyping,” said Joudrie. “Our goal is to actively support R&D as much as we can.”

Thinking Robot plans to have the initial factory operational in the spring of 2016, and its first product will be fairing systems – that is, the covers for prosthetic limbs.

Once the factory is operational, the company will begin to seek approval for its manufacturing processes from the healthcare regulators in the U.S., the European Union and Canada. Ash said the approval process should be completed by late 2016.

The company plans to have about 30 employees working at the plant in 2016, and increase the staffing to between 60 and 90 the following year.


Disclosure: The author’s daughter is working with Thinking Robot Studios.

Aeryon Raises $60M from Summit

Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs Inc. has closed a $60 million funding round from American investment firm Summit Partners, which will help to accelerate the company’s already impressive growth.

Aeryon is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of small unmanned aerial systems, or sUAS, and mission control software. The company has sold its drones to customers in 35 companies. Last year it placed No. 7 in the Deloitte Fast 50 list of the top high-growth companies in Canada and No. 14 in the North American Technology Fast 500 ranking. The announcement from Deloitte, which requires that entrants have at least $5 million in revenue, said Aeryon’s revenues had increased 10,670 percent over the five years to 2014.

Boston-based Summit Partners, which has offices in Silicon Valley and London, was the only participant in the funding round.

“This is a significant milestone for Aeryon Labs,” said Aeryon President and CEO Dave Kroetsch in a statement. “It validates our technical lead in the market and our ’aviation not recreation‘ approach to building sUAS, which is quickly making Aeryon a first choice for utility inspectors, first responders and soldiers in the most demanding operational environments.”

In its seven years of existence, Aeryon has focused on practical commercial applications of unmanned vehicles, such as those listed by Kroetsch. Its applications include monitoring utility installations, search and rescue and environmental cleanups. It said it will use the money from Summit to extend its lead in manufacturing entreprise-grade vehicles. 

In taking funding from Summit, it is partnering with a backer that is now investing more than $6.5 billion in debt and equity. It has invested in more than 400 companies in IT, healthcare and other growth sectors, and more than 135 of these companies have completed initial public offering. Its past and present portfolio companies include E-TEK Dynamics, Casa Systems, FleetCor, Hittite Microwave, Uber, Ubiquiti Networks and Welltec International.

“Much of the Summit portfolio is comprised of founder-led companies, poised to take commanding positions in high-growth industries,” said Summit Managing Director Len Ferrington, who will join the Aeryon board. “We believe Aeryon exemplifies these characteristics. The market for sUAS is rapidly expanding, and we believe that Aeryon is a best-of-breed provider that is well positioned to capitalize on those opportunities.”

The Aeryon website mentions no previous funding rounds, and the only Aeryon investor listed on AngelList is the MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund, which invests up to $500,000 in its portfolio companies. In June, 2012, the company received $985,000 in funding from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

B4Checkin’s Sales Surge 70%

Saar Fabrikant

Saar Fabrikant

With new products and a recent sales-boosting partnership, B4Checkin, a site that creates hotel reservation systems, is feeling good about the future and crediting its Halifax location with enabling its success.

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.

Saar Fabrikant, the company’s Israeli-born president and CEO, said it is reaping the results of two years of research and development.

“We have just launched a new platform called Chameleon,” said Fabrikant. “We’ve overhauled our core product to launch a new platform that will be the backbone of our suite of products. Chameleon allows a hotel to customize the look of its reservation system and modify it as they wish.”

B4Checkin is also boosted by the fact its products are being resold by Agilysys Inc., a publicly traded company and a provider of innovative information technology and hospitality software and services.

That partnership, forged last November, has fuelled year-over-year sales growth by 70 per cent.

“Agilysys has been a huge stepping stone for us,” Fabrikant said.

B4Checkin began in 2006 when Fabrikant and chief financial officer Martin MacKinnon teamed up to produce a reservation system for hotels overlooked by larger providers. They financed the company first with their own money, then with contributions from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and a group of angel investors.

In 2013, B4Checkin received certification from the TripAdvisor website.

“We’ve grown here in Halifax thanks to help from ACOA and Nova Scotia Business Inc.,” Fabrikant said.

“The first money other than our own came from government programs. They were instrumental in our original growth.

“We’ve been very fortunate to get to where we are. (This) has been our biggest year, and we’re aiming at some aggressive growth next year.”

B4Checkin's TripAdvisor Certification

Fabrikant said all the company’s main competitors are large players.

“The challenge we’ve had is to create brand recognition. We’ve spent the last few years building our brand so we can compete. ACOA and NSBI trade missions helped fund our marketing activities.

“We feel absolutely certain we wouldn’t have been as successful anywhere else. We worked with local hotels at first, and our growth has been due to local support. I’m a fan of being here.”

The company has been successful at gaining global sales.

“We’re focusing on North America and the Caribbean for now,” Fabrikant said.

“It’s been an advantage to grow here, but we’re not really selling here. Ninety per cent of our revenue now comes from outside Canada. We have hotels as far away as Africa and Papua New Guinea.”

Fabrikant moved to Halifax in 2008 to attend Eastern College.

“I followed a girl here. I love Nova Scotia. I started another IT company after school and the work snowballed. I’ve always had enough work.”

He said B4Checkin’s new products have been driven by clients’ requests.

Other new offerings include integrated casino and hotel online reservations. The company has tied the two together, allowing casino players to input their player number and, if they’re entitled to a free hotel room, use the reservation system to book it.

“We call that product B4YouBet,” Fabrikant said.

“Our next products will involve spa services and golf teeing times.”

The new offerings are being built around Chameleon, which can change looks and colours.

“Users can click a few buttons and completely change the look of their online booking engine,” Fabrikant said.

“Websites can be too sophisticated or not sophisticated enough and deter clients. With Chameleon, hotels can play with their site until it is optimal.”


B4Checkin Sales Surge 70%

Saar Fabrikant

Saar Fabrikant

With new products and a recent sales-boosting partnership, B4Checkin, a site that creates hotel reservation systems, is feeling good about the future and crediting its Halifax location with enabling its success.

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.

Saar Fabrikant, the company’s Israeli-born president and CEO, said it is reaping the results of two years of research and development.

“We have just launched a new platform called Chameleon,” said Fabrikant. “We’ve overhauled our core product to launch a new platform that will be the backbone of our suite of products. Chameleon allows a hotel to customize the look of its reservation system and modify it as they wish.”

B4Checkin is also boosted by the fact its products are being resold by Agilysys Inc., a publicly traded company and a provider of innovative information technology and hospitality software and services.

That partnership, forged last November, has fuelled year-over-year sales growth by 70 per cent.

“Agilysys has been a huge stepping stone for us,” Fabrikant said.

B4Checkin began in 2006 when Fabrikant and chief financial officer Martin MacKinnon teamed up to produce a reservation system for hotels overlooked by larger providers. They financed the company first with their own money, then with contributions from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and a group of angel investors.

In 2013, B4Checkin received certification from the TripAdvisor website.

“We’ve grown here in Halifax thanks to help from ACOA and Nova Scotia Business Inc.,” Fabrikant said.

“The first money other than our own came from government programs. They were instrumental in our original growth.

“We’ve been very fortunate to get to where we are. (This) has been our biggest year, and we’re aiming at some aggressive growth next year.”

B4Checkin's TripAdvisor Certification

Fabrikant said all the company’s main competitors are large players.

“The challenge we’ve had is to create brand recognition. We’ve spent the last few years building our brand so we can compete. ACOA and NSBI trade missions helped fund our marketing activities.

“We feel absolutely certain we wouldn’t have been as successful anywhere else. We worked with local hotels at first, and our growth has been due to local support. I’m a fan of being here.”

The company has been successful at gaining global sales.

“We’re focusing on North America and the Caribbean for now,” Fabrikant said.

“It’s been an advantage to grow here, but we’re not really selling here. Ninety per cent of our revenue now comes from outside Canada. We have hotels as far away as Africa and Papua New Guinea.”

Fabrikant moved to Halifax in 2008 to attend Eastern College.

“I followed a girl here. I love Nova Scotia. I started another IT company after school and the work snowballed. I’ve always had enough work.”

He said B4Checkin’s new products have been driven by clients’ requests.

Other new offerings include integrated casino and hotel online reservations. The company has tied the two together, allowing casino players to input their player number and, if they’re entitled to a free hotel room, use the reservation system to book it.

“We call that product B4YouBet,” Fabrikant said.

“Our next products will involve spa services and golf teeing times.”

The new offerings are being built around Chameleon, which can change looks and colours.

“Users can click a few buttons and completely change the look of their online booking engine,” Fabrikant said.

“Websites can be too sophisticated or not sophisticated enough and deter clients. With Chameleon, hotels can play with their site until it is optimal.”


Innovacorp Invests $250K in Densitas

Halifax medical device company Densitas has raised $250,000 in venture capital funding from Innovacorp as part of a funding round including private angel investors.

The company will use the funds to finance the launch of its first product, which enhances breast screening by assessing the density of the breast being examined. Breast density is a key determinant in a patient’s risk of contracting breast cancer, so Densitas helps doctors understand a patient’s risk profile.

"The investment Innovacorp has made in Densitas is timely," said CEO Mohamed Abdolell said in a statement. "We're on the cusp of delivering our first commercial product, DM-Density, and at the same time developing follow-on products. This investment will give us added financial assurance on our path to commercialization."

The provincial innovation agency announced the funding in a statement Wednesday. In an interview, Abdolell declined to state how much money the company has raised in total in this round.

Innovacorp's I-3 Draws 188 Submissions

DM-Density is pretty well the product that Abdolell envisaged when he began the company four years ago. He began to develop an automated system to generate real-time breast density measurements each time a woman receives a screening mammogram.

Women with very dense breasts can be as much as six times more likely to contract breast cancer than those with fatty breasts. So, a timely, accurate reading of density can help women and their doctors determine risk levels and how regularly a woman should have follow-up screening mammograms or if she should be directed to diagnostic mammography.

“When we started, it was focused on solving one particular problem and that was a clinical problem,” said Abdolell in an interview Thursday. “It has become clear that breast density is a problem throughout mammography.”

The company is now planning to launch a suite of products with DM-Density forming the foundation of the group. The company’s website details a few of the coming iterations – DM-Dose, a radiation dose-reporting solution for mammography; DM-Analytics, which processes the vast amount of data generated by mammography; DM-Workflow, which is a mammography workflow solution; and DM-Research, which helps to process digital mammograms used in research.

“There is a whole suite of products that will come later,” said Abdollel, adding there are some projects he’s not ready to discuss publicly. He highlighted the potential of analyzing the data generated through mammograms. 

In May, Densitas received certification from the International Standards Organization, or ISO, which means customers in international markets are assured that Densitas products meet national standards throughout their lifespan.

Densitas plans to sell its products in Europe, Canada and the U.S. and sees Europe as a key market. The company has yet to announce regulatory approval in any of these markets, though Abdolell said he hopes to have announcements on “our ability to sell” soon.

"At Innovacorp, we foster innovative startups in our province that have the potential to change the world," said Lidija Marušić, life sciences investment manager at Innovacorp. "Densitas is developing unique technologies that have the potential to impact millions of women, in Nova Scotia and worldwide. This home-grown innovation promises to have a significant impact on clinical outcomes and appropriateness of care.”


Disclaimer: Innovacorp is a customer of Entrevestor. 

UHWK Launches Kickstarter Campaign

Shea Kewin with a UHWK camera on his helmet

Shea Kewin with a UHWK camera on his helmet

UHWK, the maker of a lightweight video camera that athletes can wear during their games, launched a Kickstarter campaign for its initial project this week and has already raised more than half its target.

Founded by hockey players Shea Kewin and Tim Priamo, Kitchener-based UHWK has developed a camera that fits on the forehead of an athlete. The core market is hockey players, so it can snap on to a hockey helmet with ease. But it also comes with a headstrap so that it can be applied to any sport.

On Tuesday, Kewin and Priamo launched a Kickstarter campaign for the product with a goal of selling $40,000. As of this morning, 143 backers had signed on accounting for sales of $26,544. Two different backers have pledged $1,240, for which they will each receive 10 of the devices. There are still 27 days to go in the campaign.

“I am pleased to see that our most inner community has stepped behind us to back our campaign,” said Kewin in an email. “It shows a great wealth of validation of the work we have done to build that rapport with them.”

Kewin and Priamo, who played hockey together as kids growing up in Guelph, have been working on UHWK for about two years. They conceived a wearable device that lets players record what they see as they play a game or practice. They can then review it later on a mobile or computer device, and share it with coaches or other players. For hockey players, it can instantly tell them whether they have their heads down when they’re stick-handling and how they view the rink.

The device weighs only 1.5 ounces, switches on and off easily and stores up to 10 hours of video.

Foundry Member Ansik Attends Techstars in Detroit

A former member of the Dalhousie University varsity team, Kewin had already been working on one startup in Halifax, Spring Loaded Technology. (The company has continued and will soon launch its flagship product, a knee brace that strengthens as well as stabilizes the joint.)

Two years ago, Kewin left Halifax to study in Fredericton, and he and Priamo started the latest company, then called HWKI. After working with the Planet Hatch accelerator in Fredericton, they were accepted into the Velocity Foundry, the University of Waterloo’s accelerator for startups producing hardware. So they took the company to southern Ontario, to benefit from the tech segment in Kitchener-Waterloo and to be in the heart of the largest amateur hockey community in the world.

“Hockey is definitely where our roots are,” said Kewin. “We have a particular focus on engaging the hockey community from the outset, but recognize we have ended up making a better camera for everyone.”

The various iterations of the hardware have produced a product that can be used in a range of sports, even those without helmets such as basketball, soccer and golf. In fact, the company’s “flagship athlete” is the top lacrosse player in the world right now, Ryan Benesch.

“Our goal is to be recognized as the No. 1 choice for athletes and not just hockey players,” said Kewin. “Athletes immediately are drawn to its appeal and the value than can get be seeing the game from their vantage point.”


The Meaning of SimplyCast’s 3Q Results

Saeed El-Darahali

Saeed El-Darahali

SimplyCast, the Dartmouth multi-channel marketing company, released a statement on its third-quarter results this week, basically showing that its business doubled from the summer of 2014 to the summer of 2015.

But the fact that the company has been releasing quarterly statements is more interesting than what the statement said. When startups begin to release quarterly statements, it’s usually an indication that they are preparing their organizations for the public markets.

When I asked SimplyCast CEO Saeed El-Darahali whether I’m right to assume this is a sign the company is preparing for a public listing, he gave a positive response.

“You are absolutely correct,” El-Darahali replied by email. “We are in the process of training our staff to get ready for reporting structure that will be required when we make a decision to go that route.”

SimplyCast Launches 'Game-Changer'

Just to be clear, SimplyCast is not announcing an initial public offering or anything close to it. It is simply imposing on its staff the disciplines that come with a public listing. The best practice when preparing to list practice is to start operating as if you’re already listed, in terms of governance, reporting, and structure.

For example, Hootsuite Media Inc., the Vancouver-based social media analytics company widely expected to announce an IPO before too long, has been releasing quarterly statements for a few years.

El-Dalahari referred me to an article I wrote on SimplyCast for Progress Magazine two years ago in which he discussed funding in vague terms.  He said at the time he was wary of U.S. venture capitalist funds that wanted the company to move its base from Nova Scotia.  “When we do raise money, we want to raise it within Canada so we can keep our headquarters in Nova Scotia,” he said.

SimplyCast raised an initial funding round of $758,000 when it launched in 2009, and last year the company raised less than $1 million in another funding round. All the investors are based in Nova Scotia.

The third-quarter statement said sales increased 105 from the same period a year earlier, and that it experienced a 99 percent retention rate among its customers.

“We’re experiencing great growth across many industries,” said El-Darahali in the statement. “Much to our surprise, we are seeing great results with restaurant marketing, pharmaceuticals, and telecoms. We take pride in making our platform adaptable to different industries and it is very rewarding to see all of that hard work and attention to detail paying off.”

IIoT Is A Huge Opportunity for Canada

Scott MacDonald: Canadian business is making progress in IIoT.

Scott MacDonald: Canadian business is making progress in IIoT.

It’s incredible to think that Aug. 9 was the 20th anniversary of Netscape’s IPO. That listing symbolized the launch of the internet, and it’s amazing to realize how the online world has invaded and enriched so many facets of our lives in just two decades.

The reason this resonates so strongly with me is I believe the Internet of Things (or machines communicating with one another over the internet) is now at about the same point the Internet of people was when Netscape went public. We’re in the infancy of this movement, and it’s mind-blowing to think what might come about in the next 20 years.

This revolution in connectivity offers a huge opportunity for Canadian industry, if only we choose to seize it.

It will be tough for Canada to make huge waves in the Consumer Internet of Things – there are just too many huge players in the western U.S. too far ahead of us. But the Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT, is another story. There’s a lot Canada can do in IIoT largely because we have software specialists who understand the inner working of our industries.

Think of some of our traditional industries like manufacturing, pulp and paper, mining and oil and gas. The companies within these sectors employ software developers with intimate knowledge of how these industries work. These developers – and those working at startups that are the partners of these industrial giants – could spearhead Canada’s move into IIoT.

McRock Leads $3M Funding of RtTech

You may ask whether corporate Canada is gearing up to grasp this opportunity. My answer is we could and should be doing more, but you can see evidence that we’re making progress in three segments of the industrial community.

First, the Canadian subsidiaries of major multinationals certainly understand the opportunity. We work closely with companies like Cisco Canada and GE Canada. They are moving into the IIoT realm because their parent companies are attacking it so aggressively.

Second, there are major Canadian corporations, and we’re seeing more and more indications that they are at the very least researching the segment. At our most recent McRock IIoT Symposium, there were numerous executives from CN Rail. The major telecom companies are also making moves into this space. There are still too many senior executives in Canadian industry that are suspicious of emerging technologies like cloud computing, but corporate Canada is slowly moving in the right direction.

In stark contrast, companies like Netflix have already moved 100 per cent to a public cloud infrastructure and are scaling their business rapidly by adopting technology.

And third, there are the startups that can produce new technologies that analyze the data generated by machines and respond to it in real time.

In February, our new $65 million fund McRock iNFund LP led a $3 million investment in RtTech Software of Moncton because we believe it is an exemplar of these young companies. RtTech’s products can pinpoint when and where part of a system is using excess energy and adjust it accordingly. They can also examine specific processes to find the cause of downtime and poor utilization issues.

We were really impressed with the quality of the development team at RtTech and by how well they worked with the engineers at the nearby Michelin plant.

RtTech was the first investment by McRock iNFund. In May, we made our second investment, joining in a $6 million financing of Montreal-based mnubo, an IoT realtime data analytics startup. What we like about mnubo is that it helps industries figure out what their data means and how they can use it to improve performance and create new high-margin revenue streams.

We’re looking at other Canadian startups that are making waves in the IIoT world. What we like about

Canadian companies in particular is the quality, cost and loyalty of talent in these companies. When we say loyalty, we mean that staff tends to stay with these companies as they grow. That means our portfolio companies have a good chance of continuing to innovate because they will be working with top-flight development teams over the long haul.

Let me emphasize again that IIoT represents an absolutely massive opportunity for the Canadian economy. There are estimates that the segment will be worth $19 trillion by the end of the decade and that 50 billion devices will be connected to each other. There is an economic opportunity in developing companies that produce the technology that connects machines and creates value from that new intelligence. There’s also an economic benefit when our traditional industries use this technology

to improve profitability and capture more global market share. We need to start seizing this opportunity.


Scott MacDonald is the co-founder of McRock Capital, a Toronto-based venture capital firm focused exclusively on the Industrial Internet.

Island Abbey: Strong Growth in Exports

John Rowe: Soaring exports

John Rowe: Soaring exports

Island Abbey Foods, the Charlottetown-based maker of Honibe lozenges, has successfully grown into export markets enough that four-fifths of its sales this years will come from outside the country.

Founder and President John Rowe said recently that the company made three-quarters of its money in Canada in its first five years to 2013. Last year there was a balance between domestic and export sales. And this year 80 percent of the company’s sales will come from export markets, even though sales continue to grow within Canada. He attributes the growth to the company’s sales culture.

“You have to get out there in person,” he said as he accepted the regional Start Canada Award for Exporting at a ceremony in Halifax this month. “You’re able to create lasting relationships. More important, you’re able to do your own due diligence on [the buyers] and learn whether you want to do business with these people.”

Rowe and his wife Susan began the company in 2008 with proprietary products made from pure dried honey. Its Honibe Honey Drop is an individual serving (one teaspoon) of 100 percent pure dried honey and has won many awards, including the prestigious Global SIAL d’Or in 2010, which recognized the Honibe Honey Drop as the best new food product in the world.

Profile: John Rowe Moves Upmarket

Rowe takes the pride in the fact that his products had distribution in a national retail chain within two years of their launch, even though it can take established food companies five years to get their product on supermarket shelves.

The company now exports to 35 to 40 countries, and this past summer had to increase production at its Charlottetown plant to 24-hours-a-day due to strong overseas sales. Island Abbey now employs 70 to 75 people and has not needed to raise capital since 2012.

As it grows, Island Abbey has continued to release new products.

In September, Island Abbey said it is expanding into the vitamin and mineral supplement category with the launch of four new products under the brand of Honibe Honey Gummies.

“After years of extensive research and product development, we are thrilled to be the first to market with an all-natural honey-based line of vitamins and supplements for both children and adults,” said Rowe. “Staying true to our promise, pure Canadian honey is the No. 1 ingredient in our vitamins, thus cutting refined sugar by 50 percent versus leading brands.”

And this month, the company unveiled two new Honibe honey lozenges – one with cherry flavour and the other with Immune Boost. Island Abbey is selling the product through Shoppers Drug Mart outlets across the country.

The Immune Boost lozenges contain Echinacea, Vitamin C, Zinc and Citrus, which the company says will help fight off a cold in the early stages before it gets worse.


Ooka Island Launches Mobile App

Charlottetown-based Ooka Island on Wednesday released the mobile application for its game-based reading program.

Kay MacPhee, a literacy researcher, and Jim Barber, a children’s author and teacher, created Ooka Island. Barber wrote 85 levelled eBooks based on MacPhee’s research. They and integrated these books into an online game that is personalized for the child playing to teach him or her  the foundational reading skills at his own pace.

The Ooka Island website recommends that children play Ooka Island three times a week for 30 minutes in order to cap screen time. At that pace, most children finish within a year.

The reading levels of almost half of Canadians between the ages of 16- and 65 fall under the minimum level to function properly at work, according to Statistics Canada. After a year with Ooka Island, a five-year-old can graduate with a grade two reading level.

“We believe in building a reading foundation early,” said Joelle MacPhee, Ooka Island’s Director of Marketing. “[Reading] has nothing to do with intelligence, it has to do with opportunity.”

Fighting Illiteracy Is in her Genes

Originally, Ooka Island was created for classrooms. After appearing on an episode of Dragons’ Den, Ooka Island received many positive responses from parents, and realized that it could help kids not only to read in school, but also at home.

Joelle MacPhee spoke with more than 600 parents across Canada. She discovered that many parents aren’t sure the teachers with 30 kids in classroom can teach their child to read properly, but also don’t know how they can teach their child to read.

Ooka Island sends weekly progress reports to parents about their children’s reading skills to keep them involved in the learning process.

The online version of Ooka Island takes up two gigabytes on a tablet, but the new Ooka Island iOs app won’t take up much space. The Ooka Island app is available for purchase in the App Store. With Ooka Island now available on all devices, as well as in 200 school districts across North America, MacPhee hopes to see many children’s reading levels as possible benefitting from the game.

“It is $99 for the year, for the full 80-hour course,” she said. “But deep down, I still know that’s unreachable for many folks. So I think the solution is the schools.”

With sales to schools and some parents, Ooka Island is revenue positive, but not yet profitable. Joelle MacPhee said that the company hopes to be profitable in the next six month, bringing in more money from app sales.

She said the main focus will now be selling to parents, but Ooka Island will always continue selling to schools to reach more kids.

 “At the end of the day, it does not matter how much money you make or how educated you are,” she said. “You want the best for your child and you want to use everything you possibly can to make sure they have a good education.”

Kurzweil on the End of Life Expectancy

Ray Kurzweil

Ray Kurzweil

Famed futurist Ray Kurzweil detailed the effects of his law of accelerated returns for a Halifax audience on Tuesday, showing how the exponential gains in technological capacity will change our lives sooner than we might think.

As the keynote speaker at the Big Data for Productivity Congress, the Director of Engineering at Google told more than 500 delegates that we are about 10 to 15 years away from life expectancy gaining by a year every year. That means that as we age, the likely age of our death will get farther away with each passing year.

He said that in the 2030s, healthcare and technology will merge so millions of microscopic robots will swim in our bloodstream, hunting out and destroying any diseases.

He said in the 2020s, 3D printing will reach a level of sophistication at which we will all print out our clothes, produced by open source design.

“The exponential growth in price performance and capacity applies to all technology,” said Kurzweil in his speech.

The author of five bestselling books, Kurzweil holds 20 doctorates and is known as one of America’s leading inventors, who Forbes magazine labeled the “ultimate thinking machine.” The foundation of all his thought is the belief that technology – all technology, whether it’s genetic, digital, or other – increases exponentially and decreases in price.

The problem is that the human brain thinks in a linear way and so most of us have trouble comprehending the ramifications of such leaps in technological achievement. As evidence, he said, we simply have to look at recent history. He noted that his cell phone has several billion times the power per dollar that the computer he used as an undergraduate had.

“If you start at one with a linear progression, 30 steps will get you to 30,” he said in an earlier interview with Entrevestor. “With exponential growth, 30 steps gets you to 1 billion.”

Kurzweil said the exponential growth of technology extends back before Moore’s Law was revealed, and he charted the development of computing power back to 1900. The history of computing, he said clearly shows the capacity doubles every year and a half or so, and this growth is seen not only in hardware but also in software.

What’s more, he said the cost of technology is falling by about a half each year.

These trends will greatly change human life in the next few decades, especially in the intersection of information technology and biotechnology.

In particular, he said technology is growing smaller and smaller and we are about two decades away from microscopic robots, or nanobots, being introduced into the human blood stream. They will be able to identify and attack diseases and repair the broken-down parts of the human body. Kurzweil said human genes are simply strings of data and the goal is to rebuild an outdated piece of bio-software.

Because of this and other advances, Kurzweil believes immortality is within the grasp of humanity. In fact, in the middle of the next decade he believes human life expectancy will grow by at least a year every year, so it will fade into the distance as we age.

In information technology itself, Kurzweil is especially excited by the potential of 3D printing, and said the real revolution in this segment will come in the 2020s as the printers drop in price and offer greater precision. A decade from now, we could all be printing our clothes at home, using open-source designs, he said. And the fashion industry? It will thrive because there will still be demand for high-end designs, just as the movie industry hasn’t been hurt by free online video.

In spite of the repeated new reports of wars and environmental blight, Kurzweil believes technological gains will continue to alleviate suffering and poverty. His greatest concern is bio-terrorism, in which terrorists could increase the lethality or contagion of diseases by tempering with the genetic makeup. But even here, there are steps that society can take to prevent such an occurrence, he said.

“Fundamentally, I think information technology will overcome poverty, disease, aging – many of the things that have challenged humanity throughout history.”

BitHound Aims to Close Round in 2015

Now that it has attracted thousands of users and is growing rapidly,  bitHound aims to soon close a funding round to continue this growth.

Operating out of a heritage house in downtown Kitchener, bitHound is a two-year-old company that helps development teams to monitor and assess the code they’re importing to use in their project.

Given that its founders had experience in successfully launching and exiting startups, the company was able to land $515,000 in angel financing when it started in 2013. A year ago, it brought in about $800,000 from BDC Capital and noted Toronto investor Michael Wekerle, so it has raised a total of $1.3 million so far.

“Now we’re targeting another $1.3 to $1.5 million and hope to close by the end of the year,” said Co-Founder and CEO Dan Silivestru in an interview this week.

Silivestru was previously the Co-Founder and CTO of tinyHippos, which was bought by BlackBerry in 2011, and he spent time as the Executive-in-Residence at Communitech. Then in 2013 he teamed up with his tinyHippos Co-Founder Pj Lowe-Silivestru and tech veteran Gord Tanner to found bitHound.

The idea behind the company is that teams developing software projects are under constant pressure, with deadlines, the coordination of team members, and the demands of customers. And as much as 90 percent of the software in any project is imported and it needs to be stable and compatible with the overall project. By ensuring the stability of imported software, bitHound can speed up development and save customers time and grief.

BitHound helps management and JavaScript developers understand what is going into a project and check to make sure all the software packages are stable and compatible. For managers, it gives them a “40,000-foot view” of the entire project. And for developers, it provides a detailed assessment of the code they are using right down to the line of code.

The team spent their first year developing the project, then undertook a closed beta-test with about 300 users. This past May, it expanded to an open beta with about 800 users. The user-base, some of whom are paying customers, has since grown strongly and is currently more than doubling  month-over-month.

The large number of users is providing a broad base of feedback, and Silivestru said the response has been overwhelmingly positive, because of bitHound’s ease of use and the clarity it provides. He added that the company’s competitors tend to give a broad assessment of all languages whereas bitHound from the outset has focused on a deep analysis of JavaScript.

BitHound now has a team of eight toiling in the restored home (which is known around town for its team meetings on the deck on sunny summer days). The team is examining new sales channels and continuing to develop new features to improve the product.

“We want to make sure that our inserts aren’t just noise that gets ignored but are things that are actionable,” said Silivestru. 

Building a Digital Society in NB

Cathy Simpson: 'We want a digital city.'

Cathy Simpson: 'We want a digital city.'

Dual movements have begun in New Brunswick and its largest city to improve the quality of life by encouraging people to develop projects with government and private data.

Cathy Simpson, a veteran of the New Brunswick tech community, told a session at the Big Data for Productivity Congress on Tuesday that different levels of government in the province are working with the public to understand how the data can be used to improve services for citizens.

The Vice-President Public Sector for the tech consultancy T4G said her company won a contract from Enterprise Saint John to develop a digital strategy for the city. And she revealed that the recently announced program to develop a digital government at the provincial level has been branded NB+. It is seeking ideas from the public on using data and digital technologies to improve services.

Building a Digital Government

“Success is creating a centre of excellence in the city,” said Simpson, who is also the Chair of the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation. “We’re putting a stake in the ground that data is … to fuel for the digital economy. We’re going to diversify the economy as a result and we’re going to accelerate the startup more project.”

In Saint John, T4G has partnered with such organizations as the global business services consultancy EY, Bell Aliant and the Cisco Systems Chair for Big Data at the University of New Brunswick to form the True Growth network. It aims to explore social and economic opportunities in the city using data. She added the other bodies such as the port and airport are willing to join the project.

“We are creating a vision for the city -- we want a digital city,” said Simpson. “We want to be generating new data and we want to know what people are doing and how we can make life better for them.”

At the provincial level, the government recently announced that it would form a partnership with TechImpact (formerly the New Brunswick Information Technology Council) to enhance citizen interaction with the government online.

The organization is called NB+ and it is now looking for proposals from the public on possible projects that would use data to enhance life in the province. The end goal is to get government and citizens working together to deliver the best and most cost-effective government services.

“We believe there is so much opportunity in our public sector that we are all in,” she said. “The companies of TechImpact are all in on developing a digital society.”

Sequence Raises $500K from Killick

Sequence Bio, the St. John’s company that analyzes genetic data to improve medical outcomes, raised an additional $500,000 in equity funding from Killick Capital, bringing the total of its seed round to $1 million.

The company released the news in a statement Tuesday, days after it announced a major initiative with the Newfoundland and Labrador government to apply genetic research to healthcare in the province.  

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

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

Dobbin Looks Ahead After Strong Year

Its latest investor, Killick, is the family investment fund of the Dobbin family of St. John’s and has benefited from two exits in the last two years.

Its Carrollton, Texas-based unit Killick Aerospace sold four of its six divisions earlier this year to Alexandria, Va.-based transport support company VSE Corp. The sale grossed the Newfoundland investment firm about US$229 million.

And last year Killick successfully exited its investment in financial software company Verafin. California private equity company Spectrum Equity invested $60 million in Verafin and bought out several early investors including Killick.

“We invest in companies with the potential for substantial growth, long-term value creation and capital appreciation,” said Killick Founder and President Mark Dobbin in the statement. “Sequence Bio presents such an opportunity combined with the opportunity to positively impact lives and communities in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador through an innovative focus on data, life sciences and precision medicine.”

Dobbin has recently said he was considering new investments, and Killick is his first in Atlantic Canada in several years. He said in an email he has not made any other investments lately.

In June and July, Sequence Bio said it had raised $300,000 from the Venture Newfoundland and Labrador, a new fund backed by the provincial government and BDC Capital, and managed by Pelorus Venture Capital. The other $200,000 came from Klister Credit Corp.

Sequence Bio recently completed the Canadian Technology Accelerator program at the Cambridge Innovation Centre in Boston in August. The program provides accelerator space and mentorship to Canadian companies with high potential.

Tidal Project Gets $10.5M in PE Funds

Black Rock Tidal Power, a subsidiary of German energy company Schottel Hydro,  has raised $15 million in equity and debt to install its first tidal power platform in the Bay of Fundy off Parrsboro, N.S.

The company said in a press release it has raised $10.5 million in private equity from a  group of investors led by Montreal-based Inerjys Ventures, an investment company that specializes in clean energy. The other investors are the Singapore-based cleantech investor Envirotek and shareholders of the Schottel Group.

As well as the $10.5 million in private equity, Black Rock Tidal has secured $4.5 million in debt for the project.

More Private Equity in #startupeast

“The successful closing of the equity finance in our project sets the path for further Triton projects in the Bay of Fundy and globally,” Black Rock General Manager Sue Molloy said in the statement. “This is good news for the tidal industry in Nova Scotia and an important step towards proving the commercial viability of our technology and of tidal energy in general.”

The Black Rock statement said the company will use the funds to install a Triton energy platform, a floating structure that carries a number of Schottel Instream Turbines that can generate up to 2.5 MW from tidal currents. It plans to install the device in the autumn of 2016 at the Black Rock berth at the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy, or FORCE, in Parrsboro. FORCE comprises a substation, grid connection, sea cables and four berths for turbine facilities.

Black Rock has also been granted the developmental tidal feed-in tariff and the respective power purchase agreement, which means it can sell electricity to Nova Scotia Power at a predetermined rate. The electricity generated will be fed into the North American power supply system over a 15-year period.

“Inerjys is convinced that Schottel Hydro and Black Rock Tidal Power offer the most cost-effective tidal energy technology at a growth stage and for future large-scale projects,” said Stephan Ouaknine, Managing Partner at Inerjys.

Schottel Hydro Managing Director Niels A. Lange added: “We are proud that we have raised 70 percent private equity investment for this project, which we consider to be the first project in the tidal industry at this scale financed under purely commercial terms.”

The statement said Schottel Hydro and Black Rock will soon begin to seek backers for the second 2.5 MW project, which already have agreements to sell electricity to Nova Scotia Power. 

Our Latest Report: Trends in B2B

Jordan Kyriakidis doesn’t just think his company, QRA Corp., will benefit from the Industrial Internet of Things. The CEO believes it will benefit from his company.

QRA has developed software that helps large manufacturers detect flaws in products early in the design stage. Kyriakidis said the technology will prove invaluable to the Internet of Things, in which machines communicate with one another and respond in real time.

“In the not too distant future, the Internet of Things is going to be a big deal,” said Kyriakidis in an interview.

“But I don’t think they realize the problem that they’re going to have. People are talking about standards, but there’ll still be a world of hurt when they start connecting all these devices because they will have the mother of all integration problems.”

QRA is just one of the Atlantic Canadian startups capitalizing on growing trends in industrial technology, including data analytics or robotics. Grouped together as a single sector, we get a cluster of some of the most exciting startups in the region.

Read our latest Entrevestor Intelligence report

This week in Halifax, specialists in these applications will gather for the Big Data for Productivity Congress, a conference on the potential of data analytics.

Entrevestor is marking the conference by releasing the fourth Entrevestor Intelligence report of the year, examining trends in business-to-business enterprise.

Some leading regional examples attracting capital include Fredericton- and Washington-based Introhive raising $9.2 million, Bedford-based Reno Sub-Systems bringing in $8 million and the $3.9 million raised by Smart Skin Technologies of Fredericton.

There’s a slight paradox in all this given the industrial sector in Atlantic Canada is wafer thin compared with larger jurisdictions. So why is the harvest so bountiful?

The reasons lie in the ecosystem for data analytics, the research conducted at educational institutions, the quality of university research and the increasing ambition among startups in the region.

For the last few years, there have been concerted efforts to make Atlantic Canada a centre for excellence in Big Data, the description coined by the leader in the movement, Geoff Flood, CEO of the tech consultancy T4G and the prime mover of the first Big Data Congress in 2013.

Academic institutions have taken up the cause. Dalhousie University in Halifax opened its Institute for Big Data Analytics in 2013. Acadia University in Wolfville followed suit with its Acadia Institute of Data Analytics, and the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton announced its Cisco Chair of Big Data in 2014.

Major businesses have played their part. IBM established a Global Delivery Centre in Halifax.

And the global accounting and businesses services consultancy EY has established its Canadian Centre for Advanced Analytics in Halifax. It comprises a team of about 30 specialized advisory professionals who work with major clients across Canada and around the world. EY is working to examine the data they have and find ways to use it to cut costs or improve performance.

Steven Maynard, a partner and EY Canada analytics leader based in Halifax, said the year-old team will grow as more clients realize the benefits of understanding their data and using it to make decisions.

“This isn’t the future we’re talking about, this is actually underway,” said Maynard. “But yes, there is a lot of untapped potential that companies can act on.”

Some major corporations are also getting more interested in using data to improve their bottom line, even partnering with the region’s startups to do so. The global food giant McCain Foods has become the first customer of two promising New Brunswick companies that analyze data. Resson Aerospace of Fredericton has developed software that can analyze a range of data gathered on farms to improve crop yields. And Moncton-based Fiddlehead Technology, founded by tech veterans David Baxter and Shawn Carver, helps large food producers better predict demand so they make neither too much nor too little food.

These are just a handful of the Atlantic Canadian startups that are developing products that analyze data for corporate users.

Some are aiding small business. Brownie Points of St. John’s, which attended the FounderFuel accelerator in Montreal, has developed reward cards for retail businesses that help the owners monitor their traffic and attract customers. Expanding aggressively in the U.S., Hotspot Merchant Solutions of Fredericton lets shoppers in downtown locations pay for parking on their payphones, but it also helps local merchants monitor customer traffic and advertise with clients.

And of course others are for enterprise customers, such as Analyze Re, a Halifax company that has devised risk analytics software for the reinsurance industry.

Another Halifax company, Swell Advantage, is now a business-to-consumer company but plans to develop an enterprise product for maritime industries. The first iteration, now available on Apple’s App Store, provides recreational sailors with a social network and navigation tools. The next phase, to be tested soon, will use sensors in smart phones to collect data on the boats’ environment and surroundings. The longer term strategy is to analyze the data to develop a product for nautical industries.

“The strategy is to be B2C at the start,” said CEO Iaian Archibald. “What comes from all of that is the data we’re pulling in. We can develop datasets with that from which we can build products for industry, government and academia.”

Of course, analyzing data is only part of the story on industry-focused startups. There are also the companies involved in other facets of the segment, including advanced manufacturing and the Industrial Internet of Things, or IIot.

RtTech Software, exemplifies the progress being made in IIoT in the region. Its 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.

It is just one of the IIot companies making waves in New Brunswick.  Others include Fredericton-based Eigen Innovation. Eigen’s CTO Scott Everett has developed algorithms to automate manufacturing processes with the food processing industry as its first target market. The product uses thermal cameras to make sure food is processed as thoroughly and efficiently as possible.

Another New Brunswick company finding traction with customers is Shift Energy of Saint John, which offers automated environmental controls to large complexes with a range of levels and spaces. Its customers include the Rogers Arena, the home of the Vancouver Canucks.

And as we mentioned earlier, Halifax’s QRA believes the development of the IIoT industry will be a key component in its growth.

As an example, CEO Kyriakidis cited the case of self-driving automobiles, currently a hot topic of conversation. Though some companies are discussing how close these cars are to being rolled out, Kyriakidis noted that the data demands of these vehicles are far more onerous than most people understand. For example, Atlantic Monthly has reported the Google Car operates so well in Mountain View, Calif., because the car has been pre-loaded with a very precise digitization of that city, right down to the height of the curbs. With its current technology, it wouldn’t be assured the same flawless performance in other locations.

“They’re going to get behavior you can’t predict with current systems,” said Kyriakidis. “They’re seeing it in aerospace right now and they’re going to see it in IIoT.” 

Ansik Lands Partners After Techstars

Shiva Bhardwaj, left, and Yashin Shah

Shiva Bhardwaj, left, and Yashin Shah

Yashin Shah and Shiva Bhardwaj want to bring the predictive capabilities of airplane systems to your car, and they’ve been working with the Techstars accelerator in Detroit to fulfil that dream.

Shah and Bhardwaj are the co-founders of Ansik, a Waterloo-based startup developing products that help the auto servicing industry. Starting two years ago, they have developed an income stream with ShockLock, a clamp that keeps the hood open while mechanics work on the engine. And now they’re working on PitStop and predictive diagnostic system for car engines.

“When an issue in a vehicle occurs, it’s already too late [to fix on the spot],” said Bhardwaj, the company’s CEO, in a recent interview. “We had to bring predictive diagnostics to it. By the 1990s, the aerospace already had predictive diagnostics in their systems. … Now that there is connectivity in vehicles, we want to leverage on that.”

PitStop uses a diagnostic plugin and a smartphone app to link a car, the car owner and the service station. The hardware in the car can predict a problem is about to happen so the owner and service station can address it immediately rather than when the car breaks down. It also allows service stations to send out maintenance notices, quotes and coupons to their customers.

The two University of Waterloo grads had been working on the project at the Velocity Foundry, and in May they took advantage of an extraordinary opportunity. TechStars, the global network of accelerators, had established a program in Detroit for startups involved in the auto industry, and Ansik was in the first cohort.

The program benefited from about 150 mentors, as well as the cooperation of such blue-chip companies as Ford, Magna International, Verizon Telematics, Dana Holding, and Honda R&D Americas.

Having gone through TechStars Detroit, Ansik emerged with a product that can pull together data and use machine learning to diagnose three main problems with a car: failed head gaskets, failed air bag modules and failed O2 sensors.

The company is now running a pilot program with four large auto dealerships, and is working with fleet managers and two original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs, based in Michigan:  Roush Performance and Danlaw. The goal is that as autos become smarter, such predictive tools as PitStop will become standard features.

Meanwhile, Ansik continues to sell ShockLock. This product grew out of Bhardwaj observing at his family’s service centre that mechanics are frequently in jeopardy because there’s nothing to hold the hood open while they service an engine. “We’re competing against broomsticks holding the engine open,” he said.

Ansik has so far sold more than 1,000 units of ShockLock, which keeps the company going while they develop PitStop. They’re now producing 1,000 to 2,000 more units to keep the sales going.

But the focus of the company is clearing on PitStop and developing predictive systems for connected cars. As well as the US$120,000 in funding it received from TechStars, the company is raising money with a target of about $500,000. 

Paul Singh: The Guy with the Jet Fuel

Paul Singh: 'I'm the guy with the jet fuel.'

Paul Singh: 'I'm the guy with the jet fuel.'

Paul Singh spent half of his childhood in Ashburn, Va., better known as Cashburn, thanks to the AOL headquartering there until 2009. Though Singh did work at AOL—as well as a used car dealership—he gave Ashburn another reason for its nickname: he now invests in high-growth companies.

Singh was previously a partner at 500 Startups, which partners individuals to invest in startups, where he oversaw investments in over 525 startups in over 35 countries. He then founded Disruption, which provides tools for investors to examine the potential success of a startup, but sold it in April to 1776, a global startup incubator and seed fund. Singh is currently an investor, as well as Entrepreneur in Residence with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. His newsletter is available here

Last Thursday, Singh spoke in Halifax at a Startup Grind Halifax event. Startup Grind is a global startup community to help those in the startup world learn from and connect with each other.

Singh: Founders are economic leaders

Singh has seen a lot of startups. In 2010, both Uber and Airbnb asked him for investment and he turned them down.

“I’m the guy with the jet fuel,” Singh said. “I have no idea if the plane is going up or down, and it’s scary.”

Singh wants to see notable companies—ones that are different. He doesn’t necessarily mean the greatest idea or the cheapest thing, but something different. He gave an example of his father, who would build patios for residents in Ashburn. Singh told his father that he should charge less per brick and his father replied that he wasn’t just selling people a patio—he’s selling them a “place to make memories.”

Singh credits his notability to his credibility. He’s invested in over 1200 companies, three of which were unicorns and 85 of which made over $1 million.

“Build to the market, and the investors will come,” he said. “You’re only as good as your last deal.”

Singh has watched as startup culture has become more well-known. The media’s startup hype has made it less sexy for founders to talk about—or event want—money. However, Singh sees this as a crucial mistake: a founder needs to understand where his money comes from to make his product better. A founder who understands that venture capitalists and angel investors don’t want to invest in his company will know that he needs to change his brand approach.

The Power Law looms large in Singh’s world. A power law in statistics explains that when there are two quantities, and one changes, the other will change proportionally in reaction to the first quantity. He wants entrepreneurs to think in terms of the Power Law: aim to increase their business in some way by 10x before they enter each funding round.

“If you’re not growing, you’re dead,” Singh said. “We don’t invest in ideas anymore. It’s 2015, you should be able to get a customer first.”

Though there are more people in the space, it’s easier than ever to start a company and find customers. Singh said it took 75 years for 100 million people to have a telephone in their home, but it only took a year for Candy Crush Saga, a mobile game, to reach that number.

But as Singh said, stagnancy is the worst thing for a company. He said that once one wakes up and is the biggest fish in Halifax, it’s time to move elsewhere and continue growing.

So how do you become notable, become the biggest fish in Halifax, and continue to grow? Singh only has another question for you: “How do you become that group of guys that everyone wants to talk to?”


Grasp Advances at Hax in China

The Grasp team in China.

The Grasp team in China.

To learn how to manufacture a keyless bicycle lock, the team from Grasp traveled 13,000 kilometres to the electronics manufacturing capital of the world.

Grasp is a Waterloo-based company that has prototyped a bike lock that opens by recognizing your fingerprints, rather than requiring keys or combinations. All you have to do is grasp the handle and the lock springs open – offering convenience and adding security as only the bike owner can open the lock.

Led by Co-Founders Sarbjeet Singh and Samson Berhane, the team was developing the product at the Velocity Foundry, the University of Waterloo’s hardware accelerator. But they decided they needed to learn more about mass-producing their product, so they traveled to Shenzhen, China, to attend Hax, one of the world’s leading hardware accelerators. They are among 80 companies from around the world working at the Chinese facility.

“The experience is pretty crazy,” said Singh in a recent phone interview from Shenzhen. “It’s given us the ability to iterate quickly. What Hax does is really help you to connect with mentors that can accelerate your pace of development.”

 The story of Grasp began just months ago when Singh and Berhane were senior electrical engineering students at U of W. They both commuted to school on bike, and got sick of the hassle of constantly fiddling with their locks, especially during quick stops.

So for their fourth-year design project, they focused on creating a simple fingerprint-enabled mechanical lock. It is shaped the same as a U-Lock but uses a hinged arm that the rider grabs and moves to open the lock.

They conducted their customer discovery with other cyclists and they learned that their peers loved the convenience of the Grasp product.

When they graduated in the spring, they stuck with the project and worked on it at the Velocity Foundry. The difference in Shenzhen (a special economic zone adjacent to Hong Kong) was the speed with which the team can redesign, produce and test each new iteration of the lock.

“People greatly underestimate the amount of work required to make a product that could be mass manufactured,” said Singh. “There are many details outside of engineering that have to be ironed out, such as where all the components going to come from, how to get them to the factory, how do you assemble them, how do you ship to customers.”

The four team members of Grasp are nearing the end of their four-month stint at Hax. In the near future, they intend to launch their product through a Kickstarter campaign. But before that, the next big event for them is to pitch at the Hax demo day, which will take place in San Francisco on Nov. 10.  

“This is where we will unveil the Grasp Lock and we’ll get our first real chance to see what the world thinks of the technology we have developed,” said Singh. 

I-3 Contest Draws 188 Submissions

Innovacorp’s I-3 Technology Start-Up Competition has received 188 submissions for its 2015-16 event. Though it was fewer applications than the last time the contest was held, the organizers said they’re pleased with the number – and especially the quality – of the applications.

Innovacorp, the Nova Scotia innovation agency, holds the competition every second year with the goal of encouraging aspiring entrepreneurs to develop their ideas into businesses as they go through the contest. The process includes feedback from Innovacorp and a range of judges, various mentoring events and a challenging program to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The agency said in a statement received 228 submissions in 2013-14, and it said the emphasis this year is on quality. Innovacorp this year allowed people to make preliminary submissions a week before the Oct. 15 deadline to receive feedback and 90 people took advantage of it.

“We’d much rather have the quality we’re seeing this year than a higher number (of submissions),” said CEO Stephen Duff in an interview.

The I-3 competition is divided into five regions and the only region that showed an increase in entrants was the South Shore, where the number rose to 23 from 22. (It’s a strong showing, given there were only six entrants in the region in 2011-12.)

The Halifax area once again accounted for the largest intake with 103 submissions, down from 110 two years ago.

In the other regions, the number of submissions in the Annapolis Valley was 22 (compared with 45 in 2013-14), in Northern Mainland was 14 (compared with 23) and in Cape Breton was 26 (compared with 28).

The next announcement in the competition will come on Nov. 2, when the shortlists for each region and the six sectoral competitions are announced. 

Sequence, NL Govt Sign Agreement

Sequence Bio, the St. John’s company that analyzes genetic data to improve medical outcomes, has signed a partnership agreement with the government of Newfoundland and Labrador to conduct research in the province.

The parties last week announced the partnership in a statement, saying it will support commercial research and development opportunities in precision medicine.

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

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

Sequence Bio Raised $300K from Venture NL

“Our government continues to explore opportunities to foster the development of a strong life sciences sector in the province, and this agreement is a step forward in positioning Newfoundland and Labrador as a world leader in precision medicine,” Steve Kent, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health and Community Services, said in the statement.

The statement said Sequence Bio will lead the initiative to collect and analyze genetic data in the province for drug discovery and improved patient outcomes. The results of the research will help improve health care decision-making through a more personalized approach, said the release.

“We are uniquely positioned to become a global player in this industry and are focused on ensuring families and patients in our province, together with their health care teams, have improved patient outcomes and enhanced care,” said Wish.


Please Get Out and Vote Today

Please, please, please, get out and vote today.

While all citizens should vote, we feel it’s especially important for members of the startup community to exercise their franchise for two main reasons.

First, there’s a movement afoot for the startup community to be more active in economic policy. John Ruffolo of OMERS Ventures and BlackBerry Co-Founder Jam Balsillie are urging mature companies to speak out with a stronger voice. Having credibility in a national discussion starts with having members who get out and vote.

Second, startup founders tend to be young and the country desperately needs young people to vote. There’s a massive under-representation of young people in choosing our government, and it’s affecting the outcome of elections. Some 61 percent of Entrevestor’s readers are under 35 years of age. So we hope we can encourage more of our readers to vote.

Need another reason to vote? Remember this: if you don’t vote, you double the influence of someone who disagrees with you.


Thriving in Place-Based Marketing

Mark Hemphill: Streaming devices for businesses.

Mark Hemphill: Streaming devices for businesses.

Just as consumers are purchasing streaming devices to control their home entertainment, businesses are turning to Internet technology to control screens inside their places of business.

Brand marketers and retail networks are among those using the technology to publish digital content on screens inside their stores in the hopes of engaging and entertaining visitors. It’s part of a technology arena called place-based media that is turning screens outside the home into location-specific media channels.

And it’s proving lucrative for Charlottetown’s ScreenScape Networks, which allows businesses across North America to distribute branded content to TVs inside businesses.

“We’re seeing trends in place-based media and in business that in many ways are similar to what is occurring in the consumer world of home entertainment,” said CEO and founder Mark Hemphill.

“While it was technically possible five or 10 years ago, hardly anyone bothered to hook up a computer to their television at home.

“Now everyone is moving to Internet-based streaming devices like Apple TV and Google Chromecast, and consumers have more freedom in their choice of media content.”

Hemphill said the new devices make the streaming process simpler and more cost-effective.

“And that’s what we’re doing for businesses. We are giving businesses the opportunity to use Internet technology … to connect and control screens. That allows them to control the message inside their own stores and align the programming with their sales and marketing objectives.”

Screenscape Simplifying Digital Signage

Hemphill said that by reducing the cost and complexity of getting started with place-based media, his company has broadened its market. Sales have more than doubled since the advent of the company’s new ScreenScape Connect, launched in late 2014 with partner Dell providing the hardware.

The Connect device resembles a standard flash drive. It plugs into an HDMI port, allowing operators to manage their advertising and content.

Users can upload their own videos and images, and also stream content from sources such as YouTube, CBC and SportStation, a video-on-demand service offered by syndication company SendtoNews.

“Before ScreenScape Connect, it cost several thousand (dollars) to get started with digital signage,” Hemphill said.

“But ScreenScape Connect means businesses can choose a system to create their own programming for less than the cost of a typical monthly cable bill.”

The product has also attracted new partners like CBC and Telus.

ScreenScape’s clients include Costco, Hyundai, Canadian Blood Services and Eileen Fisher.

Hemphill said ScreenScape has hundreds of competitors, but its technology is highly engineered.

“We’ve experienced upticks in various sectors, including retail, financial services, credit unions, universities and libraries,” said Hemphill, who worked for companies like German software giant SAP and business-to-business e-commerce leader Ariba.

In 2003, he returned to his native Prince Edward Island, where he became a professor of media and communications at the University of Prince Edward Island.

In the four years since its inception, ScreenScape has received guidance and angel financing from Gerry Pond, chairman of Saint John’s East Valley Ventures. He has sat on the company’s board since 2012.

New board members include Bernd Petak, principal at Bernd Petak Consulting, and Mark Healy, chief marketing officer at Tennis Canada.

The company recently updated ScreenScape for Groups, aimed at content managers and operators of large-scale digital signage networks. It allows managers to move content around using a drag-and-drop feature.

“We’ve put a lot of work in to make it easier for our customers to get started with place-based media, and that work is now paying dividends,” Hemphill said.

“And it’s a coming of age for this industry. There is more growth and acceptance for businesses to create their own media channels and make the best use of their time with their clients.”

SMU MTEI Lands $1.5M Donation

Dawn Jutla

Dawn Jutla

The Masters of Technology Entrepreneurship and Innovation program at St. Mary’s University has received a $1.5 million donation from Scotiabank and two Nova Scotian natives with strong ties to both the university and the bank.

Mike and Catherine Durland first met when they were studying business at SMU in the 1980s, and Mike Durland went on to become and Group Head and CEO, Global Banking and Markets at Scotiabank. Together they teamed up with Mike’s employer to enhance the program that is aiding the growth of entrepreneurship in the region.

“It’s hard to imagine the pride that donors have in giving back to the place that has been so special for them,” said Mike Durland in a ceremony at the university’s Sobey School of Business on Thursday.

The MTEI graduate program is positioned to close the gaps in existing business practices and educate students for cutting- edge technology, said the university. To that end, Scotiabank’s gift has created the Scotiabank Professorship in Technology Entrepreneurship and Innovation, who will support the leadership of MTEI’s founder and designer Dawn Jutla.

“This donation will help us to keep the curriculum current,” said Jutla in an interview. She explained that a course focused on technical innovation has to keep abreast of developments in technology. The funding will help the academic team develop strategy and to determine which technologies will be the programs areas of strength.

Dawn Jutla: New Paradigms Merit Bold Moves

MTEI is a 16-month program that started three years ago. It is designed to strip an MBA program down to the essentials that are needed to develop modern entrepreneurial enterprises – whether the candidate is starting his or her own business or is involved in a project for an existing business.

In the first year, the program had seven students, and that number more than doubled to 15 last year. The cohort that began in September comprises 22 students.

“Saint Mary’s Sobey School of Business has a vision to increase the number of technology start-ups in Canada and drive innovation and entrepreneurial activity,” said Saint Mary’s president Robert Summerby-Murray in a statement. “With the support of Scotiabank and Mike and Catherine Durland, the MTEI program will prepare our next generation of leaders for new technologies and transformative opportunities, contributing the growth of the economy in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada.”

Concluded Durland:  “I hope to see this program grow. And I hope the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation will flourish throughout the university.”


Feunekes Honoured by Startup Canada

Andrea Feunekes, right, in discussion with Marissa McTasney of Moxie Trades

Andrea Feunekes, right, in discussion with Marissa McTasney of Moxie Trades

In receiving the Adam Chowaniec Lifetime Achievement award from Startup Canada on Wednesday night, Andrea Feunekes noted that building Remsoft into a global leader in natural resources land management hasn’t always been easy.

Feunekes received the award, presented by Wolf Blass, at the regional awards for Atlantic Canada, which recognized nine entrepreneurs or groups from the region.

As Co-Founder and CEO, Feunekes has built Remsoft over 23 years into a leader in collecting and analyzing data on forests and woodlots. It now has customers in 21 countries and is being used to manage almost three-quarters of a billion acres of land.

But she stressed that it’s been challenging. She and her husband, CTO Ugo Feunekes started the company after they had tried a few other startups with little to show for it. They had two children and $175 in the bank.

“The failures are an awesome part of growing a business,” she said. “Everyone one of them teaches you something.”

A Look Back at the 2014 Winners

The other major winner of the evening was David Alston, CIO of Fredericton-based Introhive, as Entrepreneur of the Year.

Startup Canada Founder and CEO Victoria Lennox announced that the awards ceremony next year will be held in Fredericton – a fitting location given that New Brunswick claimed the lion’s share of the awards this year.

I was honoured to be named as a co-winner with Alston of the Award for Enterprise Promotion, presented by TruShield Insurance.

The other winners of the regional awards were:

Startup Canada Award for Entrepreneurship Support, presented by BDC:   Ignite Fredericton.

Startup Canada Senior Entrepreneur of the Year Award, presented by Gerry Pond:   John Hamblin, founder of Startup Halifax.

Startup Canada Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, presented by MNP LLP:   Alex Gillis, founder of Bitness, Halifax.

Startup Canada Award for International Trade:   Honibe, Charlottetown.

Startup Canada Award for Innovation, presented by Intuit Canada:   RtTech Software Inc, Moncton.

Startup Canada Award for Sustainable Development, presented by TELUS:   Wear Your Label, Fredericton.



3 Takeaways from a Month in KW

The Hub

The Hub

A month immersed in the Kitchener-Waterloo tech community is an exhilarating and educational experience. Here are three things I learned from spending the last month among the greatest concentration of startups in the country.

•Twenty-five million is the new hundred thousand.

I was interviewing the founder of a six-month-old startup last week when he mentioned he would apply for the Rev accelerator, which operates out of the Communitech, the largest startup complex in Kitchener. Rev takes companies with sales and teaches them structured sales processes so they can accelerate revenue growth. When they graduate from the six-month program, they have to outline publicly how they plan to achieve $25 million in revenue in four years.

Rev will soon announce its next cohort of five companies, and with overlapping cohorts it will mentor 20 companies a year. But already its impact is extending beyond the companies that will be accepted. A lot of the young companies I spoke to want to get into Rev, so they’re already thinking about the strategy to get to $25 million in sales by Year 4.

The takeaway: To be taken seriously nowadays, startups are going to have to gain better customers more quickly than they did a few years ago.

•Corporations are fundamental to startup ecosystems.

One of the remarkable things about the Communitech hub is the corporate presence right at the heart of the facility. Google, Canadian Tire, Deloitte, TD Financial and Thomson Reuters have full-time staff on site. Let me repeat: They don’t just have banners saying they sponsor Communitech; they have people working there with the startups.

That means the founders and innovators in the complex learn the real problems of these companies and their corporate clients. That helps immeasurably as the startups develop products because they have customers there to test and shape the product.

Meanwhile, Kitchener-Waterloo is a short drive — assuming traffic isn’t a problem — from the corporate capital of Canada in Toronto.

The corporate presence is one of the great strengths of the Kitchener-Waterloo startup community.

•Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto form the Canadian startup portal to the wider world.

Kitchener-Waterloo has incredible links with the global corporate and technology world — astonishing links when you consider the region has a population of less than 500,000.

Google is expanding its presence there, and other major multinationals are active. What’s often forgotten is that many of the programs and facilities in Kitchener-Waterloo are open to startups in other parts of the country.

Hack the North, the massive hardware hackathon sponsored by about 60 corporations, had participants from around the continent. Women from across Canada participated in the Women Entrepreneurs’ Bootcamp.

Before they ask “How can we catch up with Kitchener-Waterloo?” startup organizations across the country should be asking, “How can our startups benefit from the things that already exist in Kitchener-Waterloo?”

The overall lesson of the trip is that there is a tremendous national resource that can help startups from other parts of the country. It is an open, engaging community. Startups can benefit from what it has to offer even without moving to southwestern Ontario.

Spinzo Inks Deal with Arizona Coyotes

Emmanuel Elmajian: 'A big step forward'.

Emmanuel Elmajian: 'A big step forward'.

Spinzo, the Saint John-based developer of a crowdsourcing platform, has signed on the Arizona Coyotes of the National Hockey League as its first professional sports client, and is in talks with other teams.

The Coyotes released a statement Tuesday saying the team will use the Spinzo platform, which combines pricing discounts and social media to stimulate ticket sales, for its private and public group sales. The deal is effective immediately.

Launched in 2011, Spinzo developed a platform that could encouraged people to join a buying group by offering a larger and larger discount the more people signed up. After trying to get the product used by bigbox retailers, CEO Emmanuel Elmajian found that service companies (especially those holding events) were the best niche for the platform.

“This is a big step forward for us because this is our first NHL platform,” said Elmajian in a phone interview Wednesday. “Any success we have with the Coyotes will be a path forward to reaching deals with other NHL teams, and NBA teams, and other sports teams.”

Kinduct Signs Up 7 Sports Teams

He said he pitched the platform to the Coyotes last year, and Executive Vice-President of Ticket Sales and Strategy Jeff Morander instantly loved the idea. But there was a catch: any deal about selling tickets would require a partnership with Ticketmaster, the ticket-sales giant that works with most professional sports teams.

So Elmajian spent about six months negotiating with Ticketmaster, and then spent another six months integrating his platform with that of the larger company. The result is that Spinzo is now a full partner of Ticketmaster, which is helping greatly in the talks with the other teams.

The Coyotes platform will carry the team’s brand name, and will be used in two ways. The first is public promotions, in which the general public is invited to join a buying group. The second is private promotions, in which such groups as schools, community groups or corporations can invite their members to buy tickets.

“The concept is straightforward,” said Morander in the statement. “The final ticket price depends on the overall number of buyers. As ticket buyers tell their friends and colleagues about the promotion, the price drops for everyone. We set all of the pricing parameters to optimize the savings based on group size.”

The Spinzo concept helps move blocks of seats and it gives excellent value to fans.

“An unsold seat is lost revenue that can never be recovered,” said Elmajian. “Our goal has always been to help organizations use the power of social media to become more profitable.”

Spinzo now consists of a four-member team working in Saint John. With the momentum building from the Coyotes deal, Elmajian plans to add about three people, focused in sales and corporate development. He will soon close a funding round from some of the company’s existing investors.

The previous investors in the company have been GrowthWorks Atlantic, New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and members of East Valley Ventures

LeadSift, RtTech, SkySquirrel in CIX

Three Atlantic Canadian companies – LeadSift, RtTech Software, and SkySquirrel Technologies– have been named to the prestigious Canadian Innovation Exchange Top 20 for 2015.

The CIX website says the selected companies are “the hottest, most innovative Canadian technology companies selected by a selection committee of investors and professionals in the finance and technology industries.”

The 20 companies will present their products at CIX 2015 on November 17 at the MaRS facility in Toronto.

It was the most entries that the region has ever sent to the CIX. Since 2008, the only Atlantic Canadian companies that have made the list have been ClearRisk of St. John’s in 2011; Celtx of St. Johns and LiveLenz of Halifax in 2012; and SmartSkin Technologies of Fredericton in 2013. Atlantic Canada was shut out last year.

Halifax-based Leadsift’s software scans social media posts and identify people who want to buy a certain product. The scanning allows businesses to reach those people and generate sales.

SkySquirrel, also of Halifax, has developed a drone-based product that can help farmers and vineyard owners improve growing conditions.

RtTech of Moncton has produced state-of-the-art automation software that helps industrial companies improve manufacturing processes. The company on Wednesday night received the Atlantic Canadian Startup Canada Award for Innovation, and in May was named the BDC Innovation Award winner for 2015.

The other entries into the Top 20 are: Aislelabs Inc.; Beagle Inc.; Control; Miovision; PiinPoint; Plooto;; Q4 Web Systems; Redtree Robotics; Rubikloud Technologies; SilkStart Technology; Statflo Inc.; Synbiota Inc.; Thalmic Labs; ThinkData Works Inc.; Trulioo; and Venzee Inc.

Dozr Eases Contractors’ Pain

The Dozr team: Tim Forestell, left, Erin Stephenson and Kevin Forestell.

The Dozr team: Tim Forestell, left, Erin Stephenson and Kevin Forestell.

Construction equipment is expensive, capital intensive and can sit idle much of the time, especially in a northern environment. But a fast-growing startup based in Guelph believes it has found a way to alleviate the financial pain of owning such gear.

Dozr launched in March as an online marketplace in which construction, landscaping and related companies can rent heavy equipment from each other. It makes money for the owner of the equipment and can save money for the borrower.

“There’s a big problem that we’re trying to solve for the construction industry – the under-utilization of equipment,” said Co-Founder Erin Stephenson in an interview in the Communitech Hub in Kitchener last week. “Most contractors have equipment that is underutilized.”

FunnelCake's Client List Growing

Like many startup founders, Stephenson, her husband Tim Forestell and brother-in-law Kevin Forestell established their business as a result of their own pain. For several years, they have operated Forestell Designed Landscapes in Guelph, and had to finance several pieces of equipment, even when they were sitting idle. So they came up with a second company that would solve the pain for themselves and many in their industry.

Dozr is an online peer-to-peer marketplace in which a contractor needing a certain piece of equipment can rent it from another contractor, who’s not using it at the time. The two parties agree on the price and Dozr gets a commission. As well as providing the platform, Dozr helps the parties by providing contracts that nail down the length and terms of the rental, and taking care of the payment process. There is also a rating system so customers can see evaluations of people on both sides of the transaction.

Until now, contractors usually have had to either rent equipment (which Stephenson said is an expensive option) or borrow it from a friend (which she said can lead to misunderstandings and unpleasant situations).

Stephenson and the Forestells began to work on Dozr in March. In August, they launched their pilot project with a group of paying customers, which included competitors to Forestell Designed Landscapes.

“We took on competitors to our existing landscape business because we didn’t want to get just positive feedback,” said Stephenson. “We wanted people who would challenge us.”

The response was positive and led to referrals, and before long the size of the pilot group doubled.

In September, Dozr was accepted into the Google for Entrepreneurs program at Communitech.

Most of the customers now are in the region southwest of Toronto. The team has plans to expand, first into the rest of Ontario, then the rest of Canada and the U.S. It’s hoping to be able to arrange cross-border rentals.

“The feedback from our peer group is overwhelmingly positive,” said Stephenson. “People have been looking for something like this for some time.”

Wheeler Aims to Clone more Gavins

David Wheeler: 'Another positive sign for the Cape Breton Island community.'

David Wheeler: 'Another positive sign for the Cape Breton Island community.'

One night in July, the dozen members of the first UIT program from Cape Breton University gathered at a restaurant in Sydney and held a mock graduation.

Even though the tech and entrepreneurship program does not grant degrees, they wore academic gowns. Family and mentors were there to congratulate them on completing the 10-month program. They were off to pursue entrepreneurial ventures.

“It was an informal setting but we treated the students like CBU grads and it was just a lovely event,” said CBU President David Wheeler, looking back on the faux-commencement a few weeks later.

“It’s another positive signal for the Cape Breton Island community that this kind of activity is important for CBU.”

When Wheeler speaks of this kind of activity, he’s referring to all that UIT stands for and its role in transforming education and the economy on Cape Breton Island.

Wheeler had been at the helm of the university for about a year when a notable alumnus Gavin Uhma proposed a new program to teach young people how to build a startup. Uhma had co-founded GoInstant, one of Nova Scotia’s most successful startups, and he wanted to give young Cape Bretoners the opportunity to enjoy the type of success he had. (UIT actually stands for the Uhma Institute of Technology.)

Navigate set to open in Sydney 

“It’s a very good development for many reasons, not the least of which is we do need to clone more Gavins,” said Wheeler, who has retained the gentle accent of his native England. “It was clearly a great fit for CBU and where we’re headed. I was a big supporter from the get-go.”

Under Wheeler’s stewardship, CBU is working on ‘cloning more Gavins.’ With a background in business and sustainability, Wheeler gets innovation and entrepreneurship.

Before becoming president of the Sydney university two years ago, the microbiologist held such posts as the Chair of Business and Sustainability at York University and the Executive Director of Social and Environmental Policy at international beauty enterprise, The Body Shop.

As well as UIT, the university is home to the Shannon Business School and the Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy & the Environment. And it is a pillar of the burgeoning IT community growing in what was once known as industrial Cape Breton.

“We’re a university that was founded specifically to meet the economic and social needs of the island, and that has always been part of the DNA of the institution,” said Wheeler.

He said these needs are changing as the global economy is now relying more on individual enterprise rather than the traditional employer-employee relationship. To nurture – indeed benefit from – this change, CBU and its surrounding community must encourage more and more students to understand how to start their own businesses and to make these businesses succeed.

“But for the future, when the traditional way of thinking about where graduates of higher educational institutions go may no longer be valid, more and more they will be starting their own businesses,” he said. “We have to update for 2015 and begin foregrounding entrepreneurial pursuits in all programs.”

The university is now looking at re-launching its business and technology program to teach more IT. And now that the first cohort of UIT has graduated, the program has begun a second year. It`s becoming part of the fabric of the bustling tech sector in the Sydney region. So far, the experiment is proving a success.

``Year 2 will be important because if you can pull it off twice and you’re still growing and developing, then you’re on to something,” said Wheeler. “We’re very, very positive it will continue to thrive and grow. It could even be exported to other parts of the region, or elsewhere.”

Karma Gaming Launches FrontRow

Karma Gaming, the Halifax startup that develops online games for regulated lotteries, has released FrontRow, the world’s first mobile fantasy sports product built for the lottery industry.

Fantasy sports — in which a fan builds a team from players across a league and sees how they perform each week — has become a huge business. The two top fantasy sites, DraftKings and FanDuel, are both valued at more than $1 billion. But most regulated lotteries have missed out on the craze.

FrontRow is designed to let regulated lotteries, mostly government-owned bodies, get into the fantasy game through their customary sales channel of retail outlets. And it also gives casual fans a shot at winning. That’s a key, as Bloomberg has reported that 0.5 per cent of fantasy players (known as sharks) account for 98.5 per cent of the winnings in mainstream fantasy betting.

“This product announcement is our first step into the lottery retail channel, which still drives over 95 per cent of global lottery revenues,” Jay Aird, Karma’s co-founder and chief information officer, said Friday.

 “Focusing on integrating mobile technology into the retail channel is an exciting move for Karma, as it opens up the North American market considerably.”

Related: The Many Roles of Paul LeBlanc

Karma, which has launched online gaming products with lotteries in Canada, Europe and the United States, designed FrontRow so all the exchange of money occurs at a retail outlet. That means the lotteries can use the product whether or not their jurisdiction has passed online gambling legislation.

The system lets customers download the FrontRow app on their mobile device, and then go out and buy FrontRow tickets from their local lottery retailer. They use their smartphone to scan the code on the ticket, and can pick from a variety of sports and games.

Rather than pick individual players, the customer picks his or her favourite teams, and the app automatically assigns a roster based on the choices.

During the game, the app lets the customers follow the performance of the players they have been assigned. If they win, the customers take their ticket back to the retail outlet to collect their winnings.

Because the ticket holder does not pick individual players, the system allows a greater emphasis on enjoyment rather than having casual players lose money to sharks week after week.

“The fantasy sports industry is exploding around the world right now, and lotteries don’t want to find themselves in the same position they did when online poker took off,” Adam Caughill, director of new business development for Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., said in a statement released by Karma.

“We need a seat at the table fast.”

Aird said the response from the lottery industry has been strong and the company is now in discussions with “a number of” North American lotteries for adoption.

“FrontRow offers lotteries an exciting opportunity to incorporate deeper customer learning into the retail channel for the first time,” Karma CEO Paul LeBlanc said in the statement. “Lotteries will benefit from the FrontRow analytics dashboard, which provides real-time sales updates, engagement rates as well as additional insights.”

In 2013, Karma Gaming received $5 million in funding from: Rho Canada Ventures, the Canadian arm of Rho Capital Partners, which has offices in Palo Alto, Calif., New York City and Montreal; Innovacorp, the Nova Scotia innovation agency; and Vanedge Capital of Vancouver. 

FunnelCake’s Client List Growing

Andrew Lawton, left, and Marko Savic

Andrew Lawton, left, and Marko Savic

Marko Savic believes he has found a missing component from marketing analysis – the ability to track the client’s relationship with your company.

Savic is a co-founder of FunnelCake, a Kitchener-based startup that helps marketing teams to track their interaction with potential clients with the goal of closing sales.

He and Co-Founder Andrew Lawton have just graduated from the Google for Entrepreneurs program at Communitech and currently have five paying clients in a pilot program.

“FunnelCake arose from a problem I solved for myself,” said Savic in an interview last week. “I was working in marketing at a B2B SaaS company, and to track track how marketing influenced customers. I had to work on an Excel spread sheet and it took about 10 hours a week.”

This time last year, both Savic and Lawton were working for another Kitchener tech company, intranet provider Igloo Software. Last winter they began to work on their idea for a product that would help marketing teams track clients.

They went full time with FunnelCake in March, raised a bit of money from friends and family, and were immediately accepted into Google for Entrepreneurs. To research their market, they interviewed 150 marketing teams. They also created their own advisory board of eight local startups, five of whom are now the paying clients in the pilot project. These include such successful Kitchener-Waterloo companies as Vidyard, Auvik Networks and Axonify. Savic said he is working on converting the other three.

Related: New Google for Entrepreneurs Cohort

What FunnelCake does is is show relationships between the online and in-person interactions of a marketing team and potential clients by connecting data from systems like Salesforce, Hubspot, and Google Analytics. As soon as someone becomes a lead for the marketing or sales team, FunnelCake opens a stream for him or her and tracks the relationship through the various phases of the sales cycle. It starts with the lead, then the marketing-qualified lead, the sales-marketing lead – all the way up to closing sale. It automatically charts all online interactions, and the marketing team can input any meetings that took place in person or by phone. It can break down the data for each potential client, and for each sales person.

FunnelCake can plot all these streams on a single page so the team can identify where the leads vanish from the marketing stream. And it can provide a written report on the sequence of events with each client.

“Rather than giving you a bunch of charts and graphs, we give you a report that’s written in plain English,” said Savic, who began his career in design. “It’s like having an analyst in the room explaining it to you.”

He added the software can analyze the success of posts in which the marketing team is broadcasting a message, and the more social interactions, in which there’s a discussion with the client. It can tell you which interactions were successful, and help you bring leads back into the process if you lose contact with them.

The company is also developing a feature that will tell the marketing team the cost of securing each client. 

Donovan Named Entrepreneur of Year

Michael Donovan, second from left, with EY's Jim Lutz, left, Colleen McMorrow and Derek Purchase

Michael Donovan, second from left, with EY's Jim Lutz, left, Colleen McMorrow and Derek Purchase

Michael Donovan, Executive Chairman of film and television company DHX Media Ltd., has won this year's Entrepreneur Of The Year Atlantic, presented by global consultancy EY at a ceremony in St. John’s on Thursday.

Donovan has been a pioneer in Canadian film and television for more than 30 years, founding Halifax-based Salter Street Films and winning an Academy Award for Bowling for Columbine.  Today, DHX employs more than 1,300 people and holds the world's largest independent library of children's and family content.

"Michael is a shining example of visionary leadership," Ian Cavanagh, EY's Atlantic Entrepreneur Of The Year program director, said in a statement. "Under Michael's direction – despite a market that told him content was dead – DHX has become Canada's leading producer and distributor of entertainment content for children and families, and one of the top companies in the sector globally."

As the Atlantic region's EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2015, Donovan will compete to become Canada's EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2015, to be presented Nov. 24 in Toronto.

EY this year also honoured Jeff Schnurr of Community Forests International, who received a special citation award for social entrepreneurship.

The other EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Atlantic 2015 were:

·         Business-to-Business Products and Services -- Peter Toombs, Diversified Metal Engineering Ltd., Charlottetown, P.E.I.;

·         Business-to-Consumer Products and Services -- Laurie Jennings, Masstown Market Ltd., Debert, N.S.;

·         Emerging Entrepreneur -- Alex MacLean, East Coast Lifestyle, Halifax;

·         Information technology -- Jamie King, Raymond Pretty and Brendan Brothers, Verafin, St. John's;

·          Media and Entertainment – Michael Donovan, DHX Media;

·         Professional/financial services -- Jonathan Lewis, Eastport Financial Group Inc., Halifax

·         Real estate/construction -- Kevin King, KMK Capital Group of Companies, St. John's;

·         Technology and Communications -- Shawn Kersey, DWS Data Wiring Solutions, Halifax.

Disclaimer: EY is a client of Entrevestor

Startup Canada in NS Wednesday

Startup Canada on Wednesday will host a pair of events in Halifax, kicking off its cross-country Every Entrepreneur tour.

The Every Entrepreneur event begins tomorrow morning at 9 am at the McInnes Room at Dalhousie University’s Student Union Building. It will continue through the day, and the regional Startup Canada awards will be presented tomorrow evening.

The national tour, according to the Startup Canada website, is designed “to provide on-site inspiration, mentorship, training and new opportunities to thousands of Canadian entrepreneurs as they start and grow their companies.”

The speakers in Halifax include entrepreneurs like Second Cup Co-Founder Frank O’Dea and Moxie Trades CEO Marissa McTasney. Tickets are available here.

Entrepreneurs can also participate in bootcamp-style training sessions in areas such as finance, scaling, marketing and going global. Experts will also be on-hand for one-on-one mentorship.

Related: Atlantic Canadian Award Winners

The awards ceremony will also be held in the McInnes Room, beginning with a reception at 5:30 pm. Tickets for the awards ceremony are available here.



Howe Wins by Losing Bet to Martell

David Howe

David Howe

In the hope of making his sales targets a reality, young entrepreneur David Howe accepted a bet from his mentor, Dan Martell. Howe lost but furthered his career in ways he couldn’t have imagined.

Howe met Martell, a serial entrepreneur and angel investor he has long admired, early last year when Martell tweeted that he was in Halifax and looking for entrepreneurs to have lunch with.

“I jumped at the opportunity,” said Howe, who was trying to grow his business,

The e-commerce site automatically mailed customers new toothbrushes every three months so people could change them as dentists recommend.

Over lunch, Howe told Martell he was aiming to grow his customer base 10 per cent weekly.

“Dan said it’s important to be accountable to someone as an entrepreneur and came back to me with a … bet,” Howe said.

“Bearing in mind that I needed to hire a team, he suggested I aim to reach $15,000 net profit within six months.”

Howe took the bet. Martell immediately gave him $1,000. If Howe hit the target, he would get to keep the $1,000. If not, he had to return Martell’s money plus $1,000 of his own.

“Dan told me these bets are not about money. They’re about holding entrepreneurs accountable for making their business dreams a reality,” Howe said.

Over the next few months, Howe felt more stressed than he’d ever been, but he was also motivated.

“The bet made me look at my business objectively. I released a marketing video, raised prices, added more products, studied growth and marketing, all with the aim of reaching $15,000 in net profit.”

But he realized he wasn’t going to get there and, more importantly, that the toothbrush business wasn’t right for him.

“I wanted a high-growth business. I wanted something more significant.”

Still, admitting defeat was hard.

“My business wasn’t what I thought it was. I was going to owe Dan $2,000 and my company was going to be a failure.

“So I reached out to our main competitor, GoodMouth, and we struck a deal. GoodMouth acquired my company in September last year.

“Then RetailKit, the e-commerce platform that Toothbrush Subscriptions was built on, heard about the sale. They’re a small startup in Silicon Valley, and they offered me the chance to head up sales for them. I jumped on it.”

Howe is now back in Halifax and working remotely for Tend, the company that acquired RetailKit. Tend is based in Santa Cruz, where it builds software for organic farmers.

Howe said he is learning a lot about marketing and sales, and working in the San Francisco area allowed him to benefit from proximity to the region’s large entrepreneurial community.

The Fall River native, who recently turned 25, said he will probably start another business of his own.

The toothbrush venture was Howe’s second company. He began his first, a landscaping business, while studying marketing and management at Mount Saint Vincent University.

It became so successful he dropped out of school to focus on it.

Howe has always been entrepreneurial.

“I was selling candy in Grade 6. In high school, I burned CDs and DVDs and sold them. I also sold clothing.”

Martell’s bet was a valuable lesson.

“Who knows how long I would have kept going with TBS if not for the bet? Dan told me that 98 per cent of the people he makes these bets with actually fail, and it’s a good thing they do.

“For me, the bet led to a new opportunity and another chance to grow as an entrepreneur.”

Dal’s Collider Opens its Doors

Dalhousie University’s Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship on Thursday launched the Collider, a space on the second floor of the Killam Library to promote entrepreneurship within the university and the entrepreneur community.

The Collider is branded as a “space for the serendipitous collision of ideas.” Though not officially called the Collider until Thursday, the room has been used since 2012 for Mary Kilfoil’s Starting Lean class, where students learn about and develop startups. The Collider has already been booked for events, such as a marine hack-a-thon and Startup Weekend, to promote its mission for idea dispersion.

Kilfoil and Norman Newman Centre Entrepreneurship Director Ed Leach were the ones who pushed to officially make the space the Collider.

Several teams from the Starting Lean class spoke about the importance of the Collider to them. Some teams’ businesses are already making progress after completing Starting Lean this past April. Site2020, which makes automated construction flaggers, is one of these teams. The startup recently won the Pitch 101 contest at Invest Atlantic and plans to release its product next spring.

“The amount of innovation that goes into this class is obscene,” Site2020 Co-Founder Cole Campbell said.

Some of this semester’s Staring Lean teams were also there. A student in that cohort presented his team’s idea for a device to make scuba diving safer.

The three teams that were there from the 2012 Starting Lean cohort have all transformed into growth-stage companies. Sage Mixology provided the Collider launch with its new ginger and apple flavoured beers for its alcohol line, Crazy Beard. Analyze Re, which helps insurance and reinsurance companies analyze big data, is making great headway in the industry. Spring Loaded Technologies, which creates bionic knee braces, is going to soon start manufacturing 8000 knee braces a year, potentially bringing in $12 million in revenue.

“We need programs like this to build new companies, small business with technology that is built and has the potential to be global,” said Chris Cowper-Smith, CEO and Co-Founder of Spring Loaded. ”And that’s exactly what this program is doing.”

Dalhousie President Richard Florizone and University Librarian Donna Bourne-Tyson also spoke at the launch. Kilfoil said that Bourne-Tyson was very instrumental in locking down the Collider.

“This is a bit of a skunkwork project, to make things go Dal, to make things go across the Nova Scotia universities, to go across the province,” Florizone said. “I’m so excited, I’m incoherent.”

There were also presentations about student entrepreneurship outside the Starting Lean class from organizations such as Enactus, a social entrepreneurship network, and the Entrepreneurship Society.

“Welcome home, welcome to the Collider,” Leach said. “And welcome to where much of it has started and where much of it’s going to grow.”

Techtoberfest Set for Next Week

Techtoberfest, the annual tech conference put on by Communitech, returns Oct. 13 and 14 with events that will connect startups with venture capitalists and feature Oktoberfest trimmings and festivities.

The two-day event is set to draw 250 startups and 40 venture capital investors from across North America to the Waterloo region. The discussions will cover topics such as crowdfunding, Canadian investment, and Q&As with attendees. The attending companies include Miovision, Auvik Networks, Twenty-one Toys, and Plasticity Labs. The investors will include 500 Startups of Silicon Valley. John Dimatos of Kickstarter will lead a breakout session on crowdfunding.

The event kicks off Tuesday with an opening party at Maxwell’s Music House in Waterloo, and the launch of Thomson Reuters Labs at the Communitech Hub.

The conference will continue the next morning at the Tannery Event Center with opening remarks and a session by author, angel investor and CEO of VaynerMedia Gary Vaynerchuk.

At 1 pm, there will be a series of speakers at the Tannery Center, starting with a session on venture capital advice by Vast Ventures partner Nikhil Kalghati. Following Kalghati is a crowdfunding story by Kickstarter success story Twenty-One Toys, and a talk about Canadian investment by traffic data collection solution Miovision Technologies. Finally WattPad will share a story on Series A funding before a panelist Q&A.

The closing keynote address will be given by Business Rockstars Co-Founder Ken Rutkowski before closing remarks and heading to Okberfest festivities at the Communitech Hub.

Tickets for the conference are sold out but there are tickets available to the kickoff party on the 13th" target="_blank">here.

Livingston Justifies Kik’s Valuation

Ted Livingston: 'We view them as a killer demographic.'

Ted Livingston: 'We view them as a killer demographic.'

If you ask Ted Livingston what makes Kik Interactive worth a billion dollars – which someone did during a discussion at University of Waterloo Wednesday night – the answer eventually comes down to its “killer demographic.”

Waterloo-based Kik created headlines around the world in August when it received a US$50 million (C$65.2 million) strategic investment from Chinese tech giant Tencent, valuing the maker of the popular North American chat network at US$1 billion. Tencent is creator of the chat app Weixin, or WeChat, which is extremely popular with young people in China. In fact, more Chinese use chat than the internet, and it has become an essential tool in many everyday commercial transactions.

“WeChat has become so dominant in society that you have to have WeChat to function,” Livingston, the Kik CEO,  said on Wednesday night. He added that the Tencent execs told him during the negotiations: “We think there are only two companies in the West who can do this in the U.S., Facebook and you, and we like you.”

Related: Kik Interactive Raises US$50B

About 200 people attended the talk titled “How to Build a Unicorn” (a unicorn is a company valued at $1 billion) in which Livingston discussed the company’s past, present and future with Velocity Director Mike Kirkup.

A relaxed and witty personality in his grey hoodie, Livingston amused the audience with the tales of building up the company to the point where it has 240 million users in 230 countries. But the really fascinating part of the discussion was the insight it provided into the direction in which this unicorn is pointing its pretty little horn.

Founded in 2009, Kik is a chat service that is now used by about 40 percent of the teens in the U.S., and about 70 percent of its users are aged between 13 and 24 years. These teens now use Kik mainly for its chat function, but Livingston aspires to add functionality so his clients – who will grow in spending power as they age – will use Kik for a range of tasks. The company said when it announced the funding round that it would use the money to double its size.

One question that arose during the discussion was how Kik will make money, and Livingston said the company now makes some revenue. But he admitted there were skeptics out there who wondered whether Kik will convert those users into paying customers.

In answering, Livingston referred to the “killer demographic” of U.S. teens, who are getting older every year and will require more commercial and financial services as they enter adulthood.

One reason chat has done so well in China, he said, is that millions of people got smartphones before they were on the internet, so it made sense that the first service they would use was chat. From there, it was logical that they would use chat to carry out such tasks as ordering food or transferring money.

That, of course, is not the case in North America, where the general population is used to doing business online. However, Livingston said his young customers are just learning about doing these transactions, and it’s logical they will choose to do them with chat rather than on the internet.

When he was asked what company he admired most, Livingston answered Facebook, the company that is his main competitor. Most U.S. tech companies don’t understand the potential of chat, but Facebook does, he said. He added Facebook is excellent at executing and its staff outnumbers Kik 90 to 1.

“I still think we can [succeed in the long-term] but I feel like we’re up against the best company in the world,” he said.

In financing this grand expansion, he said an initial public offering may be an option but he is uncomfortable with the thought of exiting Kik through a sale.

“Maybe one day we’ll sell but I don’t know,” he said. “To me, selling your company is like selling your child. … I think emotionally it would be very difficult to do.”

Laforge Builds Farm of the Future

Rock Laforge, left, receives the award from BioNB Chair Greg Kealey. (Photo by John MacDermid, Eh to Zed)

Rock Laforge, left, receives the award from BioNB Chair Greg Kealey. (Photo by John MacDermid, Eh to Zed)

You could say Rock Laforge operates the dairy farm of the future, and that’s why he received the 2015 New Brunswick Bioscience Achievement Award from BioNB.

A fourth-generation farmer from Saint-Andre (50 kilometres southeast of Edmundston), Laforge heads Laforge Bioenvironmental, which powers his farm by burning the gas produced by waste products. The residue is then used as fertilizer. The facility even produces enough electricity that it sells some to NB Power’s grid.

“We can only supply 1,000 kilowatts to the grid now … but eventually we may bring it up to 1,500 kilowatts,” Laforge said in a phone interview Wednesday.

The biogas facility represents a $7-million investment in two plants and together they generate clean, renewable energy.

The system comprises two anaerobic digesters that take waste such as manure and other residues from the Laforge farm and other neighbouring food producers. The waste is mixed and fed into the digesters so that it produces methane as the organic material breaks down. Each digester comprises a lagoon covered by a flexible membrane that captures the methane as it escapes the mixture. The methane — a form of natural gas — is then burned to power an electrical generator.

Related: In Praise of NB's Biotech Community

Laforge said he set up his first digester, with a 1,500-cubic-metre capacity, about seven years ago, and it was so successful that it led to the recent construction of a second digester with a capacity of 10,000 cubic metres.

The two plants generate enough energy to power the entire dairy operation and 1,000 homes in the area.

Once the mixture is completely broken down, the residue is a rich organic compost that Laforge uses as fertilizer.

“The Laforge facility is a compelling example of true New Brunswick resourcefulness, transforming residuals from local agriculture and food processors into sustainable, high-value products,” BioNB said in the news release that announced the award. “The Laforge family has a true entrepreneurial spirit, and they use the expertise learned from their own operations to help other farmers build similar projects.”

Laforge said he has worked closely on the project with the New Brunswick Community College Biorefinery Technology Scale-up Centre, whose researchers have helped in determining the optimum blend to produce the most methane possible.

He said he receives a payback for the capital investment over a 10-year period, so within three years from now the initial tank will have paid for itself. In addition to reducing his heating and electricity costs, he does not have to buy fertilizer, which further reduces his operating expenditures.

Laforge envisages expanding the operation in the future as other farms become more familiar with the operation. His farm is a 400-hectare operation, but the total farmland that could be using such an operation in his vicinity amounts to 3,200 hectares.

BioNB said the other finalists for its annual award were: Mycodev Group of Fredericton, which developed a new method of producing chitosan, a material that has numerous commercial applications in such fields as medicine, agriculture, wine or industry; and Erik Scheme, the NB Innovation Research Chair in Medical Devices, who is active in the medical technologies industry in Atlantic Canada.

Second ProductCamp Set for Oct. 24

ProductCamp Atlantic, the one-day networking and mentoring session for product managers, will return for a second year on Saturday, Oct. 24.

ProductCamp is a loosely organized get-together in which product managers, marketing professionals and people interested in product management can meet up, find areas of common interest and mentor one another on best practices.

ProductCamp Atlantic will be held at the Innovacorp Enterprise Centre, 1344 Summer Street, Halifax. Admission is free and registration is available here.

“ProductCamp is an unconference, which means that it is free to you,” says the website for the get together. “Your only cost is your participation, so bring your ideas, lead a session, facilitate a discussion, network, or volunteer.”

If the structure of the conference is difficult to pin down, so is the group it’s targeting because there is no clear definition for “product manager.” The job description tends to vary from industry to industry and from company to company.

The event is being organized by Megann and Steve Willson, who together operate the Panoptika business consultancy, and John Whyte, the head of marketing at Nautel. Whyte has taken notice of the ProductCamp movement in the U.S. and believed that Atlantic Canada could use such an event. All three are organizing the event on a volunteer basis.

ProductCamp Atlantic is targeting anyone who is involved in defining, measuring, messaging, or marketing the customer-facing aspects of any kind of product or service.

The organizers stress that the smaller the organization, the more likely that the participant’s title is not “product manager”. But anyone who participates in the above activities will acquire new skills and learn from other people’s war stories at ProductCamp.

Ruffolo Sees Startup Group In Months

John Ruffolo is leading an active drive to start an association for growth-stage startups in Canada and expects the body will be up and running in a few months.

After floating the idea online recently, the CEO of OMERS Ventures has identified a core of about 12 companies committed to funding and organizing such an association. He hopes to attract about eight more backers to launch the group so there are about 20 major Canadian startups as founding companies.

“I haven’t yet found that organization at can speak for the startup community,” said Ruffolo in a phone conversation on Tuesday. “I’m going to complete my various discussions in the next four to six weeks, and if there’s not a group out there then I think we need one.”

Ruffolo emphasized that by “startup” he is not referring to seed-stage companies with a few people. He more accurately means high-growth innovators that have moved beyond the seed stage and are now scaling into significant corporations. He also said the purpose is not to seek government funding for such companies but to ensure they have a single voice that can present their case in policy discussions with government.

The absence of a group to represent the interests of startups came to light in the past two weeks in the response to the New Democratic Party’s campaign promise to change the taxation of stock options.  The measure, aimed at curbing the take-home pay of senior managers in corporations, could also impact the ability of startups to attract talent. Ruffolo raised the matter on the Startup North Facebook page, and CEOs Ryan Holmes of Vancouver-based Hootsuite Media Inc. and Tobi Lutke of Ottawa-based Shopify Inc. wrote the NDP to oppose the move. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair replied there would be an exemption for early-stage companies.

Ruffolo again took up the cause, calling on the startup community in an editorial on the OMERS website and in Betakit to speak with a single voice when dealing with government. Governments want to aid startups, he said, but civil servants and politicians usually don’t know what the community wants.

What was the response? “I was completely overwhelmed with people generally and passionately agreeing with me,” he said. “The thing is a few years ago no one really cared about what startups thought but now they’re extremely interested.”

The Globe and Mail reported today that at one meeting last week BlackBerry Co-Founder Jim Ballsilie warned startup founders that they had to begin to lobby government or get trampled by their larger foreign competitors.

The campaign has led to discussions with several people and the commitments to back such an organization. Ruffolo said there are now a range of programs across the country to help early-stage companies, and they should be maintained. But there is a growing band of companies with significant revenue streams and these companies need to grow into global corporations. The problem, he said, is finding programs and policies that can help these companies to reach global customers, and mounting a lobbying effort to support such policies.

“There is no organization that fits that bill,” he said.

He believes such an organization should not be financed by government, because such a funding arrangement would make it difficult to lobby governments and would over time change its mandate to meet the needs of governments.

Ruffolo declined to name the companies that have already committed to back the organization. He expects before too long it will be looking for an office and searching for an executive director. 

An Irish View of St. John’s Startups

Ed Fidgeon-Kavanagh: 'I'll be back in the near future.'

Ed Fidgeon-Kavanagh: 'I'll be back in the near future.'

When you work around startups, you sometimes get the chance to go to an event in a far-flung city. So when Roger Power of Startup Newfoundland and Labrador invited me to be a pitch mentor at a Startup Weekend in St. John’s in June, I decided that it would be hard to stop me and that I’d take a few weeks to check the place out.

St. John’s is the eastern-most point of North America. In fact, once you head east out of St. John’s harbour, the next place you’ll land is the Blasket Islands off the coast of Kerry.

I had heard Newfoundland’s culture was heavily influenced by the influx of Irish migrants as early as the 1600s. I certainly found those Irish influences. The “unofficial” Newfoundland flag is similar to the Irish, only green white and pink. And the accent is at times nearly unbelievably Irish. I’ve described it as sounding like an Irish person trying to put on a fake Canadian accent.

In my two weeks there, I found a city that fits my own personality. I experienced a sea voyage in search of whales and icebergs (we found neither in the 15-foot seas), found a great deal through AirBNB, and learned the strengths of developing a startup community in a small, remote city. 

For example, the Startup Weekend in St. John’s was obviously a smaller affair than what we’d seen in Dublin. But the smaller events are more intimate, less stressful, yet still manage to achieve everything that needs to be achieved. Ultimately the deserved winner was an idea pitched by Robert Byrne (pretty Irish name) called “Du Jour” that aimed to take the hassle out of recipe discovery.

“My father and grandfather had their own businesses and I grew up watching the hard work they put in and the freedom and happiness it allowed them,” said Byrne.

Two days after the infamous boat ride, I met up with Sarah Murphy (pretty Irish name), Co-Founder of Sentinel Alert. The business specialises in worker safety solutions and has the very humane goal of “helping bring workers home safe”.

Sarah stated what I had heard frequently, that the bedrock of the ecosystem was the vibrant and growing community of about 250 people. “Our startup community is new, growing and starting to take off,” she said. “We regularly pack the house at startup mixers.”

One problem that startups the world over face is a war for tech talent, especially when you’re 6,000-plus kilometres from San Francisco, with the hub cities like Toronto hoovering up most of the regional talent. For startups in smaller cities like St. John’s this means they have to adopt a more flexible approach.

The first part of Murphy’s approach to finding talent is to proactively look for it.

“Ask about the people you meet, get to know their passions and offer to help them out. It takes some patience and time. There are basement warriors in every small place, but they want to get to know you. If they commit to jumping in they’re betting on you, the person, not the business.”

Part two of her approach is to realise that in a lot of cases, having everyone under the same roof just isn’t necessary: “We’ll build a remote team (from around the world!). It’s important to be open to that in small/remote places.”

It seems like literally every person I speak to who is doing something interesting has arrived at that point through a series of events that could never really have been planned in advance. Mark Kennedy (pretty Irish name) of Celtx exemplifies this point well.

A former chemistry students and lawyer, he was won over by the challenge of creating a big business solving a big problem. Celtx is that aspiring big business and it’s worked with some household name TV production companies.

“Newfoundland is where I’m from, and you get a lot of personal strength from this place,” he said.

Rather than upping roots and moving to TV production hubs like New York or Los Angeles, Kennedy is determined to make his business a success from St. John’s.  “Living in a remote place is not the impediment it once was,” he said.

According to Kennedy the main challenges faced by startups are 1) distribution, 2) finance and 3) a need for talent.

Distribution is relatively easy: “If you’re building an export oriented business selling ones and zeroes, which we are, then the Internet solves the distribution problem for you.”

Finance was admittedly tough to come by, but Mark and Co. have managed to raise a strong round from investors in the nearby city of Halifax. And as for talent?

“We ignored the prevailing wisdom on what an employer was supposed to do,” he said. He was advised to pay on the low side because St. John’s wasn’t a competitive landscape for hires, to look for talent close to home, not to grant options because no one understood what they were.

“We, instead, decided to act as if we were in a war for talent,” he said. “We pay at the top of the scale. We looked far and wide for developers. And we made sure everyone knew they would share in any success.”

Mark and Celtx look to have a really bright future, and I love the fact they are bucking normal conventions and doing it all from home.

Roger Power (pretty Irish name), and Startup Newfoundland and Labrador aim to be a catalyst for the relatively new and (until now) fragmented startup scene in the region.

“StartupNL grew out of a need for the new generation of startups to connect with one another and share their talent, knowledge and experiences. “Call it a community, group or tribe, it is just people connecting with the currency of ideas and action.”

Roger and his Startup NL partner in crime, Jason Janes, certainly have the passion. So much so that they organized an entire “startup week” as well as the Startup Weekend.

“You know, it wasn’t tough at all,” said Power. “Like many other startup communities and groups, we treat this as a startup and if you don’t do what the market wants and quickly then that’s a missed opportunity. I hate missing opportunities.”

Power believes there are great synergies to be had in the startup communities found either side of the Atlantic and he has a great vision for a “North Atlantic Startup Arc” made up of Newfoundland and Labrador, Iceland and Ireland.

“Something amazing happens when the startup tribe gets together. We get excited and that is infectious. Ed, you’ve been in NL and I’ve been in Ireland. I’m sure we see the greater potential. Now as we do more together, the community takes on a different character. It is bigger, bolder and anxious to get to work to take advantage of new connections. Just as no founder should be working in isolation, nor should a startup tribe.”

I loved my time in St. John’s and I’ll be back in the near future, there’s no doubt about that. And I’m really glad I spent a good chunk of time to check out the city properly. The next time you’re heading to an event, consider turning up early, or staying late, even if it’s just a day or half a day, it’s too easy to fall into the “airport to conference center” trap of going somewhere, but never really being there.


Ed Fidgeon-Kavanagh is a frequent tweeter, occasional blogger and Chief Presentationist at Clear Presentation Design in Dublin. This blog is an abridged version of a blog he posted his own site. 

CollegeMix Gains its First 500 Users

Ashkan Radmand: 'A safe way for students to engage.'

Ashkan Radmand: 'A safe way for students to engage.'

CollegeMix has gained 500 users for its app to connect students after launching on Sept. 6 during the University of New Brunswick’s orientation week.

Fredericton-based CollegeMix aims to act as a virtual bulletin board for university and college campuses. There are five categories for students to post and peruse on the mobile app: Vent, Spotted, Overheard, Meetup, and Ask. . The app gives students the option to post anonymously or under their own name.

Co-Founder Ashkan Radmand said that he and his cofounders created CollegeMix because they couldn’t find social networks that were tailored specifically to students. Though many students and student groups interact through Facebook and Twitter, users don’t exclusively engage with their classmates on these platforms.

“[CollegeMix] is a safe way for students to engage with their campus community without having to know anyone or engaging in uncomfortable social behaviors,” Radmand said.

Radmand and his two other co-founders, Arash Mansouri and Ali Bagherpour, are all PhD students in engineering at the University of New Brunswick. Another cofounder, Matthew Code, was added to the team in the summer. 

The three original co-founders have been students for the past 12 years, which inspired them to create CollegeMix. After nine months of customer validation they decided last December to build the app.

“You need and want to share information and have conversations with the people around,” Radmand said, “especially when you left a … community and you want to be part of a new community.”

Once they released CollegeMix to UNB’s Fredericton and Saint John campuses and St. Thomas University, they continued to receive customer feedback. CollegeMix has three campus representatives to not only tell students about the product, but also to ask them about their experiences with it. The CollegeMix team also sends out feedback questions to its user via the app.

Yik Yak, the anonymous discussion app, is CollegeMix’s main competitor. The app wasn’t created for students, but that population is its main user. The CollegeMix team has asked users of both Yik Yak and CollegeMix about their experiences with both apps, and discovered that because of CollegeMix’s strict focus on students and ability to post with a name, it doesn’t lose out to Yik Yak.

CollegeMix has a team of moderators and an in-app reporting system in case of user abuse. All users—posting anonymously or not—signed up for CollegeMix with a university email address, so if comments get out-of-hand, the user can be banned.

“I really hope we can make CollegeMix successful,” Radmand said, “not only to be successful entrepreneurs, but also to make a positive change in the students’ lives.”

Radmand hopes that through word-of-mouth—their main marketing tool—the app can garner 10,000 users by the end of the year. The team wants to expand CollegeMix outside Atlantic Canada, and hit all Canadian universities by next year. After that, CollegeMix can move into the U.S.

CollegeMix is focusing more on generating users rather than monetization. Once it starts getting high numbers of engaged users, Radmand said CollegeMix could be monetized through targeted, local ads or data analysis of their users, which they could sell to universities.

The CollegeMix team has already raised $50,000 in funds, of which $20,000 came from the co-founders. The remaining $30,000 comes from New Brunswick programs, NRC-IRAP, the Technology Management and Entrepreneurship program at UNB and the Pond Deshpande Centre at UNB.

By the time they reach 1,000 users, Radmand said the team will start its new round of funding.

CollegeMix is available for iOS and Android. It can be downloaded in the App Store.

Selectbidder Lands First US Client

Sean Liptay: `We can be inserted into any market.`

Sean Liptay: `We can be inserted into any market.`

Moncton automotive technology company Selectbidder last week secured its first customer in the United States, Space Coast Auto Auction of Melbourne, Fla., after recently launching its new platform.

The company said getting its latest auction partner is validation for its new business model.

Selectbidder is a web and mobile app that helps accelerate and simplify the process of auctioning off automobiles when they are traded in.

“The pain that we solve is that if the dealer takes in a trade-in they don’t want, the sales process to be long and complicated,” said co-founder and CEO Sean Liptay.

The Liptay family has been involved in auto trade-ins for decades, and Sean is an expert in the process of reselling a used car. After the auto is traded in at a dealership, an independent party called an auction conducts bidding among dealerships to get the best price for the car. The auction has to send photos of the car to a range of dealerships, then arrange the transfer and delivery.

About four years ago, Liptay envisaged an electronic platform that could replace a lot of the functions of the auction so the sales process could be conducted online. He took Selectbidder through the first cohort of what’s now the Propel ICT accelerator and enjoyed some success. In 2013, he raised some funding, including a $200,000 investment from the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation.

But his team, which now amounts to 10 people, realized they would do better working with auctions as clients rather than trying to replace them. So the new platform is a tool that auctions can use to conduct their sales.

Selectbidder lets a selling dealer post pictures of the car along with a quick condition report and send a notification to select dealers in the auto auction’s network. Dealers then bid on the vehicle in real time, allowing them to know the true market value of the vehicle. The selling dealer can also show this to the person trading in the car during negotiations so the customer knows they are getting a fair deal.

“Auctions continue to do what they do best — connect buyers and sellers — while dealers know the true value of a trade-in and consumers feel treated fairly,” said Liptay.

Selectbidder has been working on a pilot project with a Canadian client, and securing Space Coast Auto gives the startup a second customer.

Liptay said he is working on rolling it out across the network of 400 auto auctions across North America.

“The beauty of what we’re doing is we can be inserted into any market in North America because (the auctions) already have the existing network.”

Thomson Reuters Lab Opens in Hub

Brian Zubert: Forrmer EiR at Communitech

Brian Zubert: Forrmer EiR at Communitech

Thomson Reuters, the global news and data company, recently opened its second Thomson Reuters Lab and it is located in the heart of the Communitech hub in downtown Kitchener.

Though the official opening is not until Techtoberfest next week, the Thomson Reuters Lab is already operating in the corporate innovation zone, joining such blue chip partners as Canadian Tire, TD Financial, Google, Deloitte and Manulife Financial.

The Thomson Reuters team is focusing mainly on linking up clients (largely in the financial and legal segments) with startups or innovators that might be able to provide solutions to specific problems.

“The ideal situation would be a Thomson Reuters client has a problem that fits the expertise and product of one of our startups,” said Brian Zubert, Director of the Thomson Reuters Labs – Waterloo Region, in an interview last week. He added that the company had already managed to link up three clients with innovators from the region.

The innovators could be researchers at the region’s universities, who Zubert described as people that corporations “just can’t hire” because they have expertise and are linked to research facilities that only exist in institutions.

A former executive with Blackberry, Zubert spent more than a year as Executive-in-Residence at Communitech.

Related: Communitech Accepting New Rev Applications

Toronto-based Thomson Reuters said in a statement the lab has the duel objective of innovation and partnership. “Innovation will come through applied research and experimentation on Thomson Reuters vast and unique data sets, helping to produce solutions for Thomson Reuters’ customers,” said the statement. “Partnership involves collaboration with academics, students and startups to put new technologies into practice, and meeting the business challenges faced by Thomson Reuters’ customers.”

The multinational formed its first Data Innovation Lab last year in Boston, and the program was successful enough that it expanded with a second facility in Kitchener.

Thomson Reuters is also partnering with the University of Waterloo, which has been named the most innovative university in Canada and has one the world’s largest concentrations of mathematical and computer science talent.

The Communitech corporate innovation program lets some of the country’s and world’s leading companies locate offices right in the Hub complex so they have access to the innovation talent that prowls the facility. The programs on offer range from Google For Entrepreneurs, an accelerator for idea-stage companies, to Deloitte’s innovation lab for rapid prototyping.

The idea is to get startup founders working with corporations so they can understand the problems faced by large businesses and their customers.

“Where there’s a business opportunity, startups will find a way to benefit from it,” said Zubert.

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