The annual Spark Nova Scotia startup competition will be launched on Thursday, beginning the process that will result in $375,000 in prizes being awarded to entrepreneurs outside the Halifax area.

This year, the competition for idea-stage and pre-revenue businesses in the province’s outlying districts will feature greater instruction for all participants, not just the finalists, as well as a strong focus on alleviating business risk.

 “What we’re doing this year is we’re opening up more workshops to all applicants to increase the training – and the training is very good,” said Permjot Valia, a principal of Nava Develop, which is organizing the program for the second year in a row. In previous years, he said, the instructional sessions were only open to semi-finalists. The other change this year is that the curriculum will be offered remotely.

The Spark competition is divided into three zones – South West, North, and Cape Breton – to cover all parts of the province outside the capital. The goal is to find and nurture budding entrepreneurs in the rural locations, medium-sized towns, and the Sydney area by offering them mentorship and funding.

A total of $125,000 in cash will be awarded in each zone, to be allotted at the discretion of the judges with no company receiving more than $50,000. That means there will be at least three winners in each zone.

The organizers are hoping for greater diversity in the pool of entrepreneurs entering the competition.

“We would love to see more Black and Aboriginal entrepreneurs apply to Spark,” said Nava Principal Sandra Goodwin in an interview. “We’re trying to reach out to more community groups and others to encourage applications from those two groups.”

The Spark process begins Thursday at 5 pm with the first workshop, which is open to anyone and available via Zoom. (To register, contact Goodwin at

The title of the workshop is “Big Ideas and Where They Spark” and it will assess participants’ ideas and discuss whether the timing is right for them. Erinn Smith, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Association of CBDCs, and Valia will conduct this workshop.

Subsequent workshops will deal with assessing the risk of launching a startup, the vocabulary of the startup world, and business models.

Applications – which can be found here -- will be open until Sept. 8, and six finalists in each district will receive one-on-one pitch training between Sept. 28 and Oct. 2.

The winners will be announced on Oct. 16. The format of the awards ceremony will depend on social distancing rules at the time.