Ying Tam Takes New PropelICT Role

Tam: 'I want to make a difference.'

Tam: 'I want to make a difference.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


Promoting Fredericton’s Tech Hub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ambition may not be as grandiose as it sounds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


The Launch of Yes Nova Scotia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacAusland Speaking at Volta Tonight

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

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

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

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

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

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

PEI to Host 1st Startup Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phased.io Focuses on Succession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RtTech Wins Frost & Sullivan Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press Release: Kula’s Platinum Status

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

Kula Partners Becomes Canada's First HubSpot Platinum Partner

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

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

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

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

About Kula Partners

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

About HubSpot

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

The Film Industry’s Impact on Startups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Eye on KW: TitanFile Offers Credeon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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





Big Data Vs Privacy Debate at Acadia

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

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

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

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

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

I have the privilege of moderating the debate.

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

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

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

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

LifeRaft Nears $2.5M in VC Funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

KIRA Awards Finalists Announced

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

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

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

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

The finalists are:

Economic Impact

- The oNBoard Award

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

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

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

Innovative New Product or Service

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

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

•Eigen Innovations Inc.

Most Promising Start-Up

•Eigen Innovation Inc. ;

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

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

Innovation in the Public Sector

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

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

River Watch - NB Department of Environment and Local Government

Industry Champion

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

David Alston, Chief Innovation Officer at Introhive;  

•And Chris Mathis, CEO of Springboard Atlantic.



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

Press Release: BioEnterprise in PEI

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

Bioenterprise Corporation Expands into the Maritimes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bioenterprise Corporation's national expansion is supported by the Canadian Accelerator and Incubator Program (CAIP) delivered by the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP). The funding announcement was made in Guelph earlier this year by the Honourable Diane Finley, Minister of Public Works and Government Services.

About Bioenterprise Corporation

Bioenterprise Corporation is a business accelerator offering commercialization services to help promote the creation, growth and expansion of businesses in the agricultural technology sector. Dedicated to transforming cutting-edge ideas into commercial success, Bioenterprise provides business services, scientific and technical expertise, industry knowledge and global connections. http://www.bioenterprise.ca

About Prince Edward Island ADAPT Council

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



ShowBattery Lights Up the Ski Hills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entrepreneurs’ Forum Relaunches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press Release: CBU & Sona

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


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

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

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

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

PEI Seeks Applicants for Ignition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The winners were:

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

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

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

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

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


Gingles Buoyed by Live Streaming Fad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


How Budgets Changed Tax Credits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ETC Preps for Septic Sitter Launch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Sears Moves SageCrowd Forward

Sean Sears: 'We stress active learning.'

Sean Sears: 'We stress active learning.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This worked out well for sageCrowd.

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

Sears is confident sageCrowd is now on the right track.

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

The NS Link to the LinkedIn Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBIF, Innovacorp Fund Propel Grads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


Alston Calls for a Cultural Shift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what seems to be missing?

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

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

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


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


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


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

GetGifted Calls It a Day

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

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

GetGifted has sent out its last gift list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

NS Gives $400K to Brilliant Labs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addo Aims to Grow Across Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Armstrong: Growing Through Failure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hyton was somewhere in the middle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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




Ron Keefe’s 2 Waves of Investment

Ron Keefe: 'Business comes down to people.'

Ron Keefe: 'Business comes down to people.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Origin BioMed in Receivership

Origin BioMed has been placed in receivership.

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

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

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

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

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

No Distrapptions Wins CS Square

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vendeve Wins Funding Roadshow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forerunner Growing in Surge Accelerator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Focusing on Memogain, Neurodyn Raises $1M

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Solace, Boeing Move to 2nd Phase

After successfully proving its wireless power technology can recharge drones, Solace Power is embarking on the second phase of a development project with aircraft manufacturer Boeing.

But Kris McNeil, CEO of the Mount Pearl, NL, company, was quick to point out in an interview last week that the Boeing contract is only one of the projects that Solace is working on. The company is applying its wireless power technology to automobiles and various military and industrial functions.

Without a doubt, Solace Power so far is best known for the project it conducted with Seattle-based Boeing with the support of the federal government’s Industrial and Technological Benefits program.

Boeing reps came to Mount Pearl, a city southwest of St. John’s, to work with Solace on developing the project, then they both attended a demonstration session in Florida with the U.S. military. During the demo, a quadcopter’s battery recharged even though the vehicle was nine to 12 inches from the power source. The results were featured in the Silicon Valley tech publication TechCrunch, which included a video of the test.

“The idea is that the unmanned drone can recharge its battery without a physical connection,” said McNeil. “It means the drone could in theory stay out in the field indefinitely.”

Solace Power was founded in 2007 with the goal of developing a technology to deliver electricity without power cords and batteries. While some in the field choose consumer applications such as recharging cell phones, Solace has focused mainly on industrial and automotive applications with a special emphasis on military uses.

The Solace system can be used to recharge a drone while it’s still in the air. McNeil said the advantage is that if there are windy conditions that could make a landing difficult, the drone would still be able to recharge and continue with its duties.

The technology can be used on mid-sized quadcopters, those weighing as much as five kilograms, which includes some used by the military.

“Solace's wireless power technology can bring real, tangible value to many of Boeing's products, and we look forward to working with them, and other industry-leading companies, to advance their business through technology innovations," Neil Chaulk, Solace’s Vice-President of Business Development, said in a statement.

Solace is less public about some of its other projects, but they’re no less interesting. It is working with a major North American car manufacturer, and with another customer that makes suits for bomb disposal personnel. These suits contain electronic devices, and there is a power cable to the helmet that limits mobility. Solace is working on a solution that would eliminate the cable.

Solace is moving forward on several fronts, and without providing details McNeil said the company this year is bringing in revenues for the first time. It now employs 15 people (all but one in Newfoundland), and will soon raise the staffing to more than 20.

The company, a graduate from the Genesis Centre at Memorial University, raised money from the First Angel Network in late 2012. Last year it raised more capital from existing investors, though McNeil declined to say how much. The company is considering another raise later this year.



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

Build Ventures: A Strong 18 Months

The mood was joyous and full of humour among the two Build Ventures partners the day after the New England Patriots won the Superbowl.

Patrick Keefe, a Patriots fan, was delighted his team had prevailed the night before. And his partner Rob Barbara, a New York Giant supporter, was pleased that there was no longer a sore point that the Pats had lost two Superbowls to his team.

“This has really been the only strain in the relationship and now it’s gone,” joked Barbara over lunch at a Turkish restaurant in Halifax.

Barbara and Keefe are now about 18 months into their venture capital partnership, and so far there have been few problems other than the feud between their football teams. Since five governments and a few private investors came together to launch the fund, the duo have invested in five companies, and none has been a flameout. In fact, all five seem to be performing brilliantly – no mean feat in the chancy game of VC investment.

But the partners are quick to point out that they’re now going through the easy part of developing a VC portfolio.

“As well as things have gone in the first two years, we’re probably going to have bad news before we have good news,” said Keefe, proudly sporting a grey Patriots T-shirt.

Added Barbara: “If the fund is managed properly, the bad news is going to come first because we’re not going to hide behind it.”

Everyone knew there would be bad news at some point when the four Atlantic Canadian provinces and the Business Development Bank of Canada kicked in most of the more than $60 million for the fund. The idea was that there was a crying need for a financial body to provide follow-on funding to the best companies in the region. The best way to meet that need was for all four provinces to back private fund managers to ensure that there was sufficient capital and no political interference. Failures would happen, but they should be outweighed by successes.

So far, things have unfolded as planned.

Based in the Volta startup house in Halifax, the company has invested in five companies: Smart Skin Technologies, and Resson Aerospace, both of Fredericton; Introhive, of Fredericton and Washington, D.C.; Affinio of Halifax; and Celtx, of St. John’s. Though it’s still early days for all these investments, the Build partners are pleased that all five are reporting growing revenue and no major problems.

“That infusion of cash has helped us grow our business and really helped us get into the market,” said Smart Skin CEO Kumaran Thillainadarajah. Since Build and a host of co-investors invested $3.9 million in the company in January, 2014, Smart Skin’s team has grown from seven engineers to 13 and it has opened a sales office in Munich, Germany. The company’s revenues rose 600 percent last year.

Peter Goggin, the CEO of Resson, said his company has benefited from more than just money through the $3 million in funding it received from Build and Rho Ventures Canada. Barbara has joined the board and helped the Fredericton company make connections in Nova Scotia.

Keefe and Barbara are pleased to state that all these companies are doing well, but they know that will not always be the case.

The Build I fund will probably make 12 to 15 investments, and the partners know the nature of the VC trade is such that there’s bound to be a company or two that runs into trouble. And they will likely encounter problems before a member of the portfolio exits. That’s what Keefe and Barbara mean when they say they’ll have bad news before the good. Despite that, the prospect of a second Build fund does come up in discussions with Keefe and Barbara. Raising that fund may prove more challenging than raising the first, because the goal will be to raise money with a greater contribution from the private sector. That would be a challenge given the dearth of VC limited partners in Canada at the moment.

The Build Partners said Build I will have to be performing well when it comes time to raise Build II. That doesn’t mean there will have to be a range of blockbuster exits. But the partners will have to demonstrate that they backed companies that achieved dynamic growth in global markets.

Between now and then, Keefe and Barbara will continue to build out the portfolio of their first fund. They are visible at events around the region, and continue to seek opportunities. They have invested in three of the four provinces, and would like to make a deal or two in P.E.I., whose government invested $2.5 million in the fund.

Build’s most recent funding was its largest to date, and it demonstrates how the group’s roots in Atlantic Canada bring it opportunities before other funds learn of them. Build sank $3 million into the St. John’s pre-production software company Celtx in a deal that closed Christmas Eve. CEO Mark Kennedy said Keefe had been following the company since they met in Halifax in late 2011. “Back in the summer, I told [Keefe and Barbara] that we were taking a serious look at raising some capital,” said Kennedy. “I did an early pitch to get their feedback, and they were interested. Before long, Build agreed to invest.”

Barbara and Keefe are also willing to invest in companies outside the province. About 65 percent of Build’s funding comes from the Atlantic provincial governments, which means Build could invest as much as 35 percent of its capital in other places. Barbara and Keefe almost invested in a Montreal company recently, but were outbid by another fund.

Atlantic Canada will continue to be the focus of the firm’s activities. They perceive a huge amount of opportunity in the region, and are excited by the growth of the ecosystem. They’re also pleased to have developed ties with funds based in other parts of the world that are interested in investing in Atlantic Canadian startups and working with Build. In fact, the Build seal of approval is becoming a factor in outside investors’ investment decisions.

Said Barbara: “What we’re really pleased with is that when firms outside the region are considering an investment here, a lot of them want to know what Build is doing before they make their decision.’’


Full disclosure: Build Ventures is a former sponsor of Entrevestor and now advertises on our site.


This artricle was first published in the most recent Entrevestor Intelligence report.


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

Ecosystem Gains from New Programs

Denis Daigle, right, and Topher Kingsley-Williams at work in the Venn Centre.

Denis Daigle, right, and Topher Kingsley-Williams at work in the Venn Centre.

There’s a theme of community running through the story of Ongozah.

The Moncton startup founded by Topher Kingsley-Williams, Denis Daigle and Dan Gillis is developing a platform that will help community groups crowdsource the various things they need. And to nurture the company, they relied on a new community startup facility in their hometown.

Ongozah – a Swahili word that means everyone moving in the same direction –is one of the startups being groomed in the Vennture Garage, the new program recently opened in the Venn Centre in downtown Moncton to help encourage young entrepreneurs. By working with the staff at the Garage, the Ongozah team has almost completed its product, found 15 customers and bagged a couple of investors.

Vennture Garage’s work with Ongozah is simply one example of a fairly new program that introduces young people to the tasks and philosophies of entrepreneurship. Such programs are springing up all around the region and becoming the farm teams for Propel ITC, the regional accelerator. There are a range of university programs, and there are community-focused pre-accelerator programs developing in Moncton, Sydney, and Prince Edward Island, to name a few.

“The idea for the Vennture Garage came out of the evolving circumstances in the ecosystem in New Brunswick and some excellent new programs,” said Doug Robertson, CEO of Venn Innovation, which operates the program. “But there were concerns about the quantity and quality of applicants to those programs.”

The idea is that society is awash in potential entrepreneurs, but most have been reared on traditional concepts of business that are outdated or just plain inaccurate. So these introductory programs familiarize them with concepts like ideation based on solving pain, customer discovery and the mysteries of the lean canvas. The programs also teach the virtues of failure, especially fast failure – a concept that is counterintuitive to most of us. In short, they are preparing entrepreneurs to apply for a facility like Propel.

On P.E.I., the provincial government has initiated its Ignition Program, which provides mentorship and $25,000 in early-stage capital to entrepreneurs interested in both startups and more traditional businesses.

Innovation PEI launched the program last June, and has so far invested a total of $200,000 in eight companies.

Mark Richardson of Cornwall, for example, got help from Ignition for his company, Skip the Waiting Room. It’s an online product that lets walk-in clinics help patients avoid long waits in a waiting room. The company went through the most recent cohort of the Propel accelerator.

Other startups that have tapped Ignition are Queen Bee Games of Pownal, and BamText Corp. of Charlottetown.

In Sydney, startups are gaining a boost from two recent introductions to the ecosystem – the UIT program at Cape Breton University and the Spark Cape Breton competition. Initiated last year, Spark differs from other startup contests in the region because it aims to give a bit of money ($5,000 to $50,000) to a broad range of winners. In two years, 14 companies have received funding from the award.

UIT, meanwhile, is an experimental tech/entrepreneurship course that will continue, even expand, next year. It has taught 12 students (six of them women) the basics of entrepreneurship, relying heavily on online curriculum.

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

Back at the Vennture Garage in Moncton, Robertson and Entrepreneur-in-Residence Dave Gallant have established a program in which participants can enter and leave at any time and still benefit. It provides co-working space free for the participants, and works hard to encourage young people to learn about entrepreneurship. They focus a lot on what makes a good idea for a business.

“A lot of us never know how to come up with a good idea,” said Gallant. “I have people come in that have a desire to be an entrepreneur . . . but they don’t have a good idea [for a business].” So his instruction focuses on how to test ideas with potential clients and how to plot the stages from idea to development. “I help them come up with an idea that solves a problem.”

Still in its first year, the numbers speak to its success. Twenty-one teams have applied and there are now 10 or 11 active teams working in the Garage. Three have entered Breakthru, and three or four have decided to leave the program.

“To enter the Garage, they have to look at the problems, look at the solutions and they have to go out and validate it,” added Robertson.

“They have to talk to 10 people a week for one month. They need to come back with the results.”


This article originally appeared in the latest Entrevestor Intelligence report.


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

Entrevestor Luncheon Canceled

We’re afraid we have had to cancel the Entrevestor Luncheon, which had been scheduled for Moncton on April 15.

We’d like to thank the people who helped us with the event – especially Sally Ng of Planet Hatch and Doug Robertson of Venn Innovation.  We have reimbursed the money of anyone who bought tickets.

Entrevestor and BDO are now working together on plans for further events and will let the community know once we have decided on our next event. 

Eyeread Unveiled to Public Tomorrow

Eyeread, an online product that helps to teach children to read, will make its first public appearance Saturday at the new Halifax Central Library.

Leah Skerry and Julia Rivard Dexter, the principals the Halifax web-design consultancy Norex, and a team of educators will let children test the product that they have been developing in conjunction with Dalhousie University and University of Moncton.

Eyeread uses the camera facing the reader on a laptop or other device to track the eye as the child reads. By tracking the eye, the software can detect where the child is having trouble in reading a passage. Educators can then use the information to customize a personalized learning routine for the child. At first, that will have to be done manually, but the founders hope the later versions of Eyeread will automatically come up with customized curriculum for each young reader.

“The goal of the technology at this stage is to understand what is valuable to parents, teachers, and children,” said Skerry, the CEO of Eyeread. “In the long-term we will be able to provide a product that diagnoses reading challenges and measures progress over time.”

Eyeread so far has been developed within Norex, and the company is now raising money – a target of about $300,000 – to spin it out into its own company. Though Norex is a service business, it has developed a culture of innovation and has launched Pursu.it, a crowdfunding platform for elite athletes, and Hashpipe, a product that presents hashtags from various social media on a single canvas. Their focus now is on building Eyeread into a successful stand-alone company.

They are working on a pioneering scientific study on how tracking children's eye patterns can pinpoint specific challenges while reading on computers and tablets. They’re therefore looking for testers to help guide the product development. On Saturday, March 28, the team has partnered with the Halifax Central Library, seeking user feedback on their beta product and collecting sample data from young readers.

“Gathering feedback from children is vital to the success of the product. We are excited about collaborating with young readers to make a product that really helps them,” said Rivard Dexter.

The Eyeread team that will be at the library includes reading recovery teachers and researchers available to share and review test results with parents throughout the day.

On the heels of these tests, the Eyeread team has been selected to present at the ASU Global Silicon Valley Summit on April 7, which will showcase some of the world’s leading education technology startups. The Summit is attended by such luminaries as: Vinod Khosla, Managing Partner, Khosla Ventures; Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group; and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

This event will position Eyeread in front of some of the top EdTech investors in the world as it seeks to raise capital.

Skerry also noted that some of the world’s leading influencers understand that self-learning will be a key part of improving education in the coming decades. That is why the Xprize [funders of SpaceShipOne] is sponsoring innovation in education through a $15 million prize for software that will enable more than 250 million children in developing countries to teach themselves basic literacy.

“It offers the opportunity to make a significant dent [in illiteracy among children] and we want to be part of that,” said Skerry. 

Yves Boudreau Is Back In the Sun

Yves Boudreau is so thrilled to be participating in prestigious San Francisco-based accelerator 500 Startups that his voice seems to glow with Californian sunshine. 

Being one of just two Canadian companies to get into the internationally respected accelerator is especially meaningful to the entrepreneur because his first business ended in bankruptcy.

“I’m learning so much I’ll be a wise Buddha when I’m done here in another 12 weeks,” said Boudreau, over the phone.

“Raising money in the Valley is very different. I’m working on a bigger vision for us. They dream of $1 billion companies here,” said the entrepreneur, who is currently CEO and co-founder of Moncton-based online recruitment company Qimple.

Getting into 500 Startups is just the latest success for Qimple, which tracks and rates job seekers to make the hiring process easier for both recruiters and applicants.

For Boudreau, it feels good to be forging ahead after his first venture ended unhappily.

The entrepreneur, now aged 36, began his first business at the age of 19 when he started Halation Studios, a digital creative agency, out of his home town of Bathurst.

Halation quickly became successful and work came in from major record labels and large financial corporations. Boudreau was named a 2003 CBDC Young Entrepreneur of the Year and was nominated as a 2004 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

But problems arose. 

“My first venture had an amazingly talented team,” he recalled. “We were all misfits from New Brunswick Community College in Miramichi. Revenues went up and 2001-2004 were good years. We were racking up accolades and I was buying into our hype.

“Then the reality of me not knowing how to grow the business kicked in. I was naïve about managing my team, our clients, and cash flow. In 2004-2005, we were running up debts.”

Boudreau had to scale down and cut expenses. He began to have trouble sleeping then developed anxiety.

“I knew nothing about anxiety, so one day when I suddenly couldn’t breathe I thought I was having a heart attack at 25. The doctor said I needed to change my lifestyle.

“l didn’t, but my passion did waver and I began to lose my grip. I was breaking down in my banker’s office, pleading for help to make payroll. I feared losing everything.”

Finally, an unfortunate fire damaged his company’s equipment and meant the end of the business. “That was the last straw for me. I knew it was time to move on,” he said.

Boudreau was $250,000 in debt.

“I tried to negotiate deals with creditors and might have avoided bankruptcy but couldn’t make it work in the end.”

He said that after the bankruptcy, he felt directionless and began to hide away at home.

“When you work so hard for something and it doesn’t pan out, it feels like you can’t be successful at anything else,” he said.  

“I couldn’t talk about this for a long time. It felt like a loss. I had to work hard at overcoming the emptiness I felt. The lift began when I went to a Cybersocial event and met old friends whom I hadn’t seen in months.”

Eventually, Boudreau found a job with Enterprise Greater Moncton, as an entrepreneurship development officer.

“I felt I could use my experience to help other entrepreneurs. Over time, the job became rewarding and I regained confidence,” he said.

He attended an event at regional accelerator, Launch36, and, sitting there listening to the entrepreneurs pitching their ideas, he realized he needed to found another startup.

“I saw them on stage and I knew that I was meant to be part of it. I’d spent five years re-building financially. I had a good-paying job, but I knew I was ready to put it all on the line again,” he said.   

Now, as Boudreau builds his second company, he places a greater emphasis on balance and physical and mental health. 

“I’m as driven as I was when I started my first venture,” he said. “But I’m more leveled-headed this time around and handle the highs and the lows better.

“It means so much to be at 500 Startups in San Francisco after the rollercoaster I’ve been through. It feels like I’ve come full circle. I hope my story will inspire others.”   

This article first appeared in the latest edition of Entrevestor Intelligence.




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


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



Verafin Uses Funding to Add to Growth

Jamie King:'Third consecutive year of double-digit revenue growth.'

Jamie King:'Third consecutive year of double-digit revenue growth.'

If there was a Deal of the Year for in the Atlantic Canadian startup community in 2014, it would undoubtedly have gone to Verafin’s $60 million financing by American private equity fund Spectrum Equity.

Rumours of a whopper of an investment began to circulate in Verafin’s home base of St. John’s in the spring, and it lived up to expectations when CEO Jamie King announced it last May. Now Verafin, which makes software that detects money laundering and fraud, says it has continued to grow with the new capital on board.

“With our third consecutive year of double-digit revenue growth, strong new customer growth, and many new enhancements to our product, we had an outstanding year in every part of our business,” said King in a statement in February.

The details of the Spectrum investment were never released, but the Boston- and Silicon Valley-based fund took a substantial minority stake, and some of the $60 million tranche went to buying out existing investors.

In its history, Spectrum has raised $4.7 billion for investment in IT and media companies, and now has more than 50 portfolio companies including AMC Entertainment, SurveyMonkey and Ancestry.com.

No deal announced last year in the Atlantic Canadian startup community had more impact. The exits in 2014 were modest. The Spectrum deal was the largest investment in a high-growth company in Atlantic Canada since Entrevestor began almost four years ago, possibly ever. It was a pure private sector deal, and brought in foreign capital. It allowed Killick Capital to exit its investment in Verafin, and Killick has already begun to redeploy the capital, adding to its funding of Celtx in late 2014.

Most important, it has allowed the continued growth of one of the most successful startups in the region.

Verafin’s revenues continue to storm ahead, with organic revenues rising 45 percent in 2014. At the time of the investment, the company forecast its sales would rise by about half in 2014 to about $30 million. Overall, Verafin said its compound annual growth rate for revenues in the past three years has been 51 percent.

The company has clients in 44 states in the U.S. and its number of customer bookings in the fourth quarter of 2014 was 68 percent higher than the same period a year earlier. The company, which reached its 1,000th customer in May, 2013, added 200 customers in 2014.

“This growth demonstrates the strength of the unique Verafin cloud Putting New Funding to Good Use

Having raised $60 million in private equity in 2014, Verafin recorded organic revenue growth of 45 percent and added 200 clients.

“This growth demonstrates the strength of the unique Verafin cloud solution,” said Vice-President of Sales Jason Quann.

“It’s been an amazing year for growth, and we are very excited to continue this momentum into 2015.”

Founded in 2003 at the Genesis Centre at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Verafin makes enterprise fraud-detection and anti-money laundering solutions for financial institutions across

North America. Its software uses advanced behavior-based analytics that allow banks and credit unions to stay a step ahead of cutting-edge fraud trends.

The company has been growing strongly for several years. Its citation in the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 (the 50 fastest-growing tech companies in Canada) in 2012 revealed its revenues had grown 358 percent in the five years to 2011. In March 2013, the company added the 1,000th financial institution to its list of clients.

Verafin’s other milestones in 2014 included:

• Upgrading its user interface for increased speed and enhanced usability;

• Improving analytics so false alerts were reduced by 50 percent;

• Implementing new data interfaces to bring the total to more than 125;

• Launching a new user community with 6,000 users to enhance the customer experience;

• Surpassing 120 million transactions processed daily;

• and maintaining a leading retention rate of 98 percent.

The company is continuing its growth in 2015. In listing its achievements in the past year, Verafin noted it was listed in the Globe and Mail’s Canada’s Top 100 Employers list for 2015, which should help in its bid to attract new talent.

As it looks forward to 2015, Verafin plans to continue its track record of growth and further penetrate the North American market with its innovative software solution. The company now has weekly product releases to increase its ability to help customers fight fraud and money-laundering.

“We are constantly working to ensure we provide our valued customers with the highest level of service and the best solution for their needs,” said King. “We are proud to have over 1,200 customers benefit from our software and are well on our way to see that reach 3,000 in the next few years.”

This article originally appeared in the latest edition of Entrevestor Intelligence.


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



Booth Eyes Online Meal Delivery

Fresh from a global conference on the new economy, Wesley Booth of Wolfville is putting together plans to launch Feddishes, an online service that arranges the delivery of prepared meals.

For the last year or so, Booth has been working as the communications and events co-ordinator at the Acadia Institute for Data Analytics in Wolfville. And he’s been working on a few ideas that would marry two of his great loves: cooking and tech startups.

He got a chance to research his business plans when he was in California last month to attend the Global Innovation Summit.

Here’s the story: Booth and his co-founder, Sean Williams, are experimenting with services that deliver prepared meals to online clients. The idea is that people in a specific city can use an app to order a nutritious meal, and it will be delivered to their home within a certain time period.

The models are existing services in San Francisco. SpoonRocket is a service that delivers an affordable meal to the door within 15 minutes. Munchery allows people to order a restaurant-standard meal early in the day and have it delivered that evening.

Booth and Williams were researching these sites from afar when, one night, Booth, 23, noticed an ad for the summit, a meeting of business and government leaders from 50 countries discussing the new economy. Organizers were looking for young people to attend.

On a lark, Booth applied and was accepted. He was given a free pass to the event, but he had to cover the travel costs. He crowdfunded the money he’d need and was one of three people under 25 at the summit.

“It was a different experience where these were people in positions of power but they didn’t know how to (implement the tech economy).”

Booth said there was a spirit of openness at the event and he had no difficulty meshing with the older participants and making contacts from around the world.

“The whole concept of being globally connected is amazing, but we can do better. I might be better at connecting with companies in Russia than in my own backyard. There’s a need to help each other out.”

After the event, he returned to San Francisco and stayed at a startup hostel, a combination of living accommodation and work space. He investigated Munchery and SpoonRocket and considered ways to start a similar service in Nova Scotia.

He and Williams are in the planning stage of the project and looking for a chef interested in working with them. Though they haven’t decided where to base the company, they’re hoping for a soft launch this summer and starting the company in earnest when students return to university in the autumn.

They believe these delivery services will eventually replace fast-food outlets, and they want to be part of it.

“The whole purpose of Feddishes is to allow everyone to eat better and to get what they want when they want it,” Booth said.



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

Kolybaba: Seems We Chose Never

Note: Brandon Kolybaba, founder and CEO of Cloud Brewery, posted this blog on his Koly-Blah-Blah’s Raw Blog last weekend. While I don’t agree with all of it, it’s forceful and thought provoking so we’re republishing it here. – Peter Moreira

It's starting to look to me like we chose "Never"

Over a year ago now the Ivany Report came out. In summary, Ray Ivany said "It's now or never". At the time that's all anyone I knew was talking about, but what's actually changed since then? We set up a coalition in Nova Scotia who I'm sure are all fine people with good intentions, but as far as I can tell they have not put a dent in the problem yet (http://onens.ca/about/timeline/). The problem is clearly identified: a lot of talk with little to no action = failure.

Now I know I'm likely going to get some flack for this post. Some people will paint me as a negative jerk while they promote what I would suggest is an overly simplistic view of the world where we all just need to be positive all the time. Well to them I say: just because something isn't good doesn't make it a negative thing, and sometimes you just need to face the reality of a situation to effectively make it better rather than pretending that the problem isn't real. And this problem is very real.

 I think some people get critical perspective too easily confused with negativity. All the people I know who have a critical opinion similar to the main message of the Ivany Report and the news stories on the subject are not anti-Maritimers. Just the opposite, the reason I, and I suspect others, put our thoughts out there is to help people realize that the problem will not go away without significant, dramatic, and painful change. And every day we delay that change it gets worse. Proverbially, the house is on fire! It's precisely because I want to see the region do better that I want people to better understand the problem and as a result TRULY consider the sacrifice required for REAL change. If it's not uncomfortable then we are doing it wrong!

It can actually get worse, you know? It has over the past 8 years since I moved my family here to start and grow tech business in Halifax. "Today I was inspired to write this after reading this article in the Globe & Mail: "How the Maritimes became Canada’s incredible shrinking region".

By the way, no one is coming to our rescue. There is no economic swat team that can magically make it all go away. It will only get better when YOU decide to do your part and en masse the collective whole working together can make REAL change happen.

So what does that mean in tactical terms? Painful sacrifice and having the guts to do what it takes to make things better for the greater community. Here's how:

•BUY LOCAL: Every Dollar you spend counts! Every dollar spent on consumer items, business services, travel, etc. outside of the region means it has to take a long treacherous journey to find it's way back (and all too often, sadly it doesn't make the migration home). When you choose to buy local, you add a drop in the collective bucket of mutual benefit. But be smart about it. The most value for buying local comes from when you stop a dollar from leaving. Remember, if it's an imported good, part of that dollar is gone; if it's a business service, understand how it's being delivered. Are the people doing the work actually here? Is the company that profits from it here? You can reframe your thinking by asking yourself: Who has a job as a result of this purchase I'm making today?

•STOP THE WASTE: If you work in Government (or are in a pseudo government role) and you see someone spending money in a way that isn't beneficial to the greater good of the community, make them stop. Ask them to stop, or blow the whistle! This could be your boss or your drinking buddy. It will be be a very hard thing to do. If at the next Olympics Nova Scotia has a "Pavilion" that they somehow justify flights and accommodations (at astronomical rates) for a dozen or so people we've failed.

•DON'T ACCEPT THE LIES: We do it every day. Someone fudges some stat and no one ever checks the facts to promote a perception that they are doing something good when, in reality, we all know it's bullshit. Call them out. Again, this is likely your friend, someone you trust and who trusts you. Change the culture so it's unacceptable to lie like that.

•DO THE RIGHT THING FOR THE GREATER WHOLE: Every day you are faced with decisions, some big some small, but even the tiny ones matter when we all make them. You can reset your frame of reference to ask yourself: If I do X will it be of net benefit to the region? Do your best to ignore how it will benefit or disadvantage yourself as much as you can afford to do so.

•FORGET THE BULLSHIT: It's disgusting to me how many people don't like X or Y because of somebody who did something at some point in the past. forget it! It's the same with French vs. English, or New Brunswick vs. Nova Scotia. It's a waste of time. We are all people who want to be happy and make life better for our children. If we can't figure out how to work together better, that is never going to happen. Those things will help, but they are not enough on their own.

When I said DRAMATIC, I meant it. Now these ideas will sound absurd to some, even totally ludicrous to others, but desperate times call for desperate measures:

•THE COST OF GOVERNMENT IS OUT OF CONTROL: If you are in government and you needed to choose between getting laid off or taking a 15% pay cut what would you do? That's a serious question that if you were in business you wouldn't think was so crazy. It happens every day. We need a plan to cut government spending (and staff) by at least 10% every year for the next 3+ years..

•LOBBY YOUR UNION: If you think that as a result of collective bargaining you are better off than you were, consider the possibility that it just might be too good to be true. Why not collectively bargain your salary to be twice what it was last year? And then double it again the following year? They would not seriously consider that idea because it's not reasonable or sustainable. The fact is, many situations are unsustainable today and you can look to many recent examples to see what happens as an inevitable conclusion. If that isn't rectified, when the organization (or government) fails the collective labour group loses out big time! You need to think big picture. If the government is going to cut costs, you need to do your part or it just won't happen..

•SHARE THE WEALTH: If you are fortunate enough to have some degree of wealth, consider what will happen if things get worse for a minute. History is full of examples of what happens when the middle class evaporates, it's never a good thing for the wealthy. Consider investing in the future of the region where you and your family plan to live (as some have, but not enough). Yes, tax breaks are good and that is a great incentive for sure, but it should be understood that it's secondary to helping the region improve as a whole for the shared benefit of the greater community. Even if you are not in the 1% club but have moderate wealth, consider how you can fund the creation jobs here. In the best case those jobs are doing something valuable that bring in revenue from outside the region. And in the very best case, you might even get your money back with a return some day.

•FIRE THE GOVERNMENT AGENCIES THAT HAVE FAILED TO GROW THE ECONOMY: This shouldn't be a tough one to figure out. In Nova Scotia alone there are 8+ different agencies all with the same basic objective that is: economic development. Well, if it's not blatantly obvious to everyone I'll say it, they all basically suck at what they try to do, and in the business world they would all be fired. How many of those pseudo government agencies occupy the most expensive real estate at the top of a building in downtown Halifax? (Spoiler Alert: all of them) How many people in total are being paid today to accomplish that goal? Isn't the measure of GDP an indisputable yard stick for how well they have done that job ultimately?  What is the annual budget for all of that? If, instead we were to use that money to provide simple tax breaks for any business (new or old, big or small, without prejudice or favouritism) to create any number of new jobs they can (and maybe give an additional incentive to those locally owned companies that create jobs that generate net revenue from outside the region) would that not be a better plan? Business will drive change, not government, and I can tell you almost every business owner I know thinks these government agencies are in large part a waste of tax payer dollars but they rarely say much about it publicly because it's made very clear that if you are critical of them in any way, you won't receive any benefit from them.


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

Atlantic Motor Nabs $250K in Funding

Halifax-based Atlantic Motor Labs has received a $250,000 equity investment from Innovacorp to help develop its more durable motor for the oil and gas industry.

Founded by Braden Murphy, Atlantic Motor has developed a motor that combines features of piston and turbine motors to improve the efficiency in the drilling head. It offers a simpler, more robust and longer-lasting drill motor than those used in more than 70 per cent of the world's drilling rigs.

Innovacorp said in a statement the innovation should reduce motor-related down-time while drilling by 30 per cent and save the oil and gas industry close to $1 billion per year.  Atlantic Motor will use the money to demonstrate and commercialize the down-hole motor technology.

"Today's standard drill motors frequently break down due to degradation of the rubber seals, and there is growing concern as exploration and production pushes towards more challenging geological formations with deeper, more complex wells," said Murphy in the statement. "Our motor is designed without rubber seals and will extend the period between motor failures and servicing."

Murphy started Atlantic Motor Labs in 2013 as a spin-out of his award-winning undergrad and thesis work at Dalhousie University. He had previously founded a company called Scotia Motors, which aimed to use pneumatic motors in lawnmowers to reduce noise pollution.

Murphy also worked closely with Dalhousie's Industry Liaison and Innovation office to secure funding for patents and prototype development.

Atlantic Motor was the runner-up in the Halifax region of the 1-3 Competition. The company previously raised close to $350,000 from private and public investors to support prototype development, patents and marketing to the drilling industry.

"The innovative hybrid piston-turbine motor design from Atlantic Motor Labs has potential in several different markets, with the global market for drill motors alone estimated at $1.5 billion," said Michael Dennis, investment manager at Innovacorp. "The impact of Atlantic Motor Labs' technology on reducing costs and non-productive rig time could change the entire drilling industry's outlook on using down-hole components. We're looking forward to being a part of their future success."



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

BDC Recognizes Pond’s Leadership

Gerry Pond: 'We need more people, especially young people, to embrace this mindset.'

Gerry Pond: 'We need more people, especially young people, to embrace this mindset.'

Gerry Pond, the driving force behind the East Coast startup community, has received the first-ever BDC Entrepreneurship Champion from the Business Development Bank of Canada.

He received the award during a reception in Toronto last night. Tonight, by coincidence, he will be the first speaker at the Startup Grind Halifax meeting at the McInnes Cooper officee.

The BDC Entrepreneurship Champion is a national award that recognizes the achievement of a Canadian entrepreneur and community leader. It is given to someone who has created and grown one or many successful small or medium-sized businesses while significantly contributing to the prosperity of the Canadian entrepreneurship ecosystem.

“Gerry exemplifies the qualities of the consummate entrepreneur –innovator, visionary and community leader,” said BDC President and CEO Jean-Rene Halde in a statement. “He has demonstrated these qualities throughout the course of his career and has imparted his wealth of knowledge and experience, inspiring other Canadian entrepreneurs to achieve national and international success.”

The former president of New Brunswick Telecom, Pond is chairman and co-founder of Mariner Partners Inc., one of the largest tech companies in the region. He holds the same titles with East Valley Ventures, whose members have invested millions of dollars in dozens of tech startups.

Pond was an early investor in several successful start-ups, including Q1 Labs and Radian6. They exited for a combined value of more than $1 billion in 2011, and some of the proceeds have been reinvested in the Atlantic Canadian economy.

As an advocate for advancing entrepreneurship in Atlantic Canada, Pond co-created Propel ICT, a start-up accelerator. He is also a cofounder of the Pond Deshpande Centre at the University of New Brunswick, which encourages emerging entrepreneurs and innovators in the region to accelerate the creation of sustainable, scalable enterprises.  

“At its core, entrepreneurship is about hard work and determination to make something better,” he said in the statement. “It’s about focusing on the greater good, and collectively making positive change. We need more people, especially young people, to embrace this mindset, tackle difficult issues, and continue the proud tradition of Canadian entrepreneurship.”

Pond recently offered $500,000 to any institution or institutions that can set up a school for international sales. He believes the lack of skill in selling in foreign markets is a key factor holding back the region’s tech companies.

A national selection committee representing the Canadian business community selected the winner.

The BDC Entrepreneurship Awards are presented throughout the year to recognize outstanding contributions in four pillar areas: serial entrepreneurship, mentorship, innovation, and entrepreneurial resiliency. 

Lunch To Focus on International Sales

When Doug Robertson leads a discussion on international sales on April 15, he’ll be dealing with a subject close to his heart.

Robertson, the CEO of Venn Innovation in Moncton, has been preparing companies lately for entering overseas markets. So he’s looking forward to hearing other people’s views on how to improve Atlantic Canadian startups’ ability to sell in foreign locales.

Robertson will moderate a discussion on international sales at the Entrevestor Luncheon, sponsored by BDO, to be held at the Future Inns Moncton, starting at 11 am on April 15. The second discussion, to be led by Planet Hatch CEO Sally Ng, will examine how to get more women into the startup game.

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

Moncton-based Venn Innovation works with young companies in New Brunswick and prepares them for accelerators, investment and the marketplace. And one thing that keeps coming up in Robertson’s work is that companies need to prepare better to meet customers in the U.S. and other foreign markets.

“A lot of the challenges -- and we hear this time and time again from the trade commissioners and others -- is that our companies need to be better prepped to do business in those markets,” said Robertson on Monday. “So we’re working with companies, especially in ITC, to prepare for international markets.”

Robertson said that most ITC companies sell to clients outside the country. And given the wave of ITC companies forming around the region, it is becoming all the more necessary to improve their marketing and salesmanship in foreign markets.

The discussion at the Entrevestor Luncheon will look at such issues as identifying jurisdictions that could be good markets, and understanding the culture of these jurisdictions. Robertson wants to discuss positioning products for new markets and making the right connection in those markets.

“The policy rationale for all this is that growing exports is a priority among  both federal and provincial governments,” said Robertson. “With ITC growing at a pace that is double the rest of the economy, we have to ensure these companies are able to grow in export markets.”

Robertson, Entrevestor and BDO all hope that the audience will include some young companies that can benefit from this discussion. But we also hope some experienced companies that have hard-earned lessons from the marketplace will also come and share their experiences.

BDO, the accountancy and tax advisory consultancy, has agreed to sponsor four Entrevestor Luncheons this year. The luncheons are an opportunity for members of the startup community can come together to discuss ways to improve the regional ecosystem. Tickets for the luncheon are available here

Castaway Grew Throughout Breakthru

To understand why Castaway Golf Technologies won the $287,250 first prize in the 2015 Breakthru competition, it’s best to consider why it changed its name in the middle of the six-month competition.

The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation announced Thursday that the Fredericton company founded by Matt Vance and Josh Ogden had captured top place in the biennial event.

When asked after the announcement what the prize meant, CEO Ogden mentioned coachability and making the changes needed to move forward.

“We’ve pivoted on a few things since we spoke before,” Ogden said Thursday, highlighting how much the company had changed since I had met him and Vance two months earlier.

Castaway started out as a company called Matt’s Got Balls, an irreverent name that suited the jocularity of Matt Vance, who got the whole thing going. Vance, as a boy in Truro, loved finding lost golf balls, and he and his father developed a mechanism for retrieving them from water hazards.

Matt’s Got Balls quickly made links with Maritime golf courses, and they made money retrieving balls and finding markets for them. The team also struck a deal with the Giant Tiger retail chain.

Then they entered the Breakthru competition, began to work with mentors and repositioned the business.

Hence the name change. Ogden and Vance are tapping a huge market, especially in the southern United States, and their customers are largely golf clubs that cherish dignity. The name Castaway Golf Technologies is a better fit for that market, so they adopted it in the middle of the competition.

But that wasn’t all they changed. In January, Ogden and Vance were considering setting up a franchise network and allowing independent operators to use their technology and sales platform. But they want to ensure anyone on a golf course with Castaway products conducts themselves properly. They’re planning to eventually have Castaway employees servicing these courses in distant markets.

Ogden gave an overview of the company’s plans. It is initiating three research and development projects and working on manufacturing deals for its equipment.

Ogden is the lone full-time employee, but the hope is to have three others in the autumn.

In short, he outlined the type of corporate growth that made Castaway Golf a winner. In many respects, it was a surprise.

New Brunswick is known for its digital success stories, yet the judges awarded first prize in its biggest entrepreneurship competition to a company with an automated product for golf courses.

Silver medallist Simptek, which is working on a digital home automation system that saves energy, is a more typically New Brunswick company. Even third place NB Biomatrix, which has developed a solution to remove heavy metals from waste water, rose out of university research, as many of the province’s best startups have.

Castaway is a bit of an outlier but probably won because its founders are aggressive sales people who have demonstrated they can position themselves to grow into something meaningful. They’re innovative, but they also give you the sense they understand the corporate side and will do what’s needed to bring money into New Brunswick.

“The entire community in New Brunswick is why we’re here, and we’d like to thank everybody who’s helped us,” Ogden said.

“We look forward to employing New Brunswickers here in New Brunswick.”



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


Finding Gems in Rural Communities

Andrew Button:

Andrew Button: "Amplified, accelerated, sustainable growth'.

Andrew Button has attended too many meetings about Atlantic Canada’s economic troubles. He has worked in economic development with a specialization in rural communities and found that the region’s economic woes became a hot topic in every discussion.

Yet these constant meetings never found concrete solutions to grow economic development in Atlantic Canada.

“Who was actually going to do this work in these communities to inspire more entrepreneurial activity—that was always left as a question mark for me,” said Button, who spent two years at the Lunenburg Queens Regional Development Agency . “So finally I got fed up and said, hell, I can do something.”

And so, Button created Mashup Lab, holding the first meeting in Mahone Bay in May 2014.

Mashup Lab aims to bring rural and small-town entrepreneurs together in their own communities, rather than forcing them to migrate to urban centres, such as Halifax, Toronto or Montreal.

The organization hosts an event every six weeks so potential entrepreneurs in places like Mahone Bay, Yarmouth or Cape Breton can surround themselves with like-minded people. Past events have been nights devoted to business pitches or lectures by current startup entrepreneurs.

On Sept. 30, Button said he decided to do the most audacious thing he’s ever done in his life: create Mashup Weekend, an event in which people can share ideas and turn them into startups over one weekend. It was audacious because the startup weekend model is usually practised in urban centres, and in one place. Button wanted it happening in several places.

In November, just two months later, Mashup Weekend occurred simultaneously in Yarmouth, Bridgewater and Kentville.

Button said 10 to 20 people showed up. The small number of people at the three locations allowed mentors to work intimately with one team rather than having to manage four teams, as often happens at similar events.

Matt Hall was a mentor at the event, where he helped a team create a feasible plan for a startup by the end of the weekend.

“People come wanting to have a good time and with relatively low expectations of tangible outcomes,” said Hall, who is a cofounder of Agile Geoscience, a geoscience consulting company. He is alsoa co-founder of The Hub South Shore, a co-working space.

“…What blows everybody away is that actually you can get an amazing amount of real work and real insight done over a weekend—especially working with total strangers.”

Hall moved to Mahone Bay after working for a Calgary oil company for 10 years. He said he expected to find a bunch of retirees in Mahone Bay, and was surprised to find people with an entrepreneurial spirit, like Button, living in the community.

“Finding these amazing people living in places like Port Mouton and Blue Rock and Clare -- they had networks like you wouldn’t believe, had done some amazing things,” Button said. “And for whatever reason, [they] found themselves in these small communities in Nova Scotia. It was like this completely untapped resource that was sitting here.” That was what happened to Suman Kalyan, co-founder of customer data analytics company Adroit Vista.

Kalyan moved from Toronto to Mahone Bay because of his wife’s new job.

In Toronto, he had worked as a data analyst for companies like Rogers and Telus.

“I was very comfortable in a big company,” Kalyan said. “Running sales, marketing, that was all taken care of.”

But when starting Adroit Vista, Kalyan realized he had little experience in areas like sales and marketing—he had only analyzed data. And though Kalyan had networks in Toronto and Europe, he didn’t have one on the South Shore of Nova Scotia.

Button and Kalyan met at The Hub South Shore. Button advised Kalyan on creating a feasible business model, and gave him tips on how to manage sales and marketing effectively. Kalyan then attended Mashup Lab events and met other entrepreneurs whom he also asked about running a business.

“Andrew’s been a champion for us,” Kalyan said.

Kalyan’s come so far with Adroit Vista that in March he will be a speaker at a Mashup Lab Lightening Talk, in which Nova Scotian startup founders discuss their experiences in setting up and running businesses.

Though Button has created many successful events, he admits that his business model isn’t ideal. Right now, Mashup Lab depends on corporate sponsorship. The sponsorship money covers event expenses, but Button doesn’t make a profit, despite Mashup Lab being a for-profit company.

However, Button said his goal right now is just to cover the cost of expenses. He makes a living through consulting companies about their economic development.

With Mashup Lab, Button said he not only wants to create many businesses in rural Nova Scotia, but to create ones that are sustainable. He admits that Mashup Lab’s business model of corporate sponsorship isn’t sustainable and is trying to discover a structure that would last.

“I felt like there was a real opportunity for us to understand how we build sustainable business models around this type of activity,” Button said, “because I feel like that’s the only way we’re going to get amplified, accelerated, sustainable growth.”

Button said he wants to expose more Nova Scotians to the feasibility of creating their own startups. Mashup Lab is in talks to collaborate with other Nova Scotian entrepreneurial organizations.

“The more activity we have in this entrepreneurial startup space in rural areas, the better,” Button said. “I can only do so much. … We need to be doing ten times more than what I can do.”

This article first appeared in the latest edition of Entrevestor Intelligence. 


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


Snow Days: Tech Solutions Exist

My column last week suggesting a hackathon to find a home-grown solution to snow days drew a lot of response, which I’d like to share with our readers.

To recap, I suggested that the education departments or school boards hold hackathons to work on a tech solution for the amount of time students miss due to snow storms. Even as I write this, the Halifax Regional School Board, which had a week to sort things out, has canceled classes while it assesses buildings.

I said we need an online platform with which teachers could communicate with students when schools were closed, either individually or in groups. It could increase one-on-one time between teachers and their charges. And of course, some accommodation would have to be made for students who don’t have the necessary hardware.

There were largely two responses to this: a) it’s a good idea (“brilliant”, according to two respondents); and b) the technology already exists.

“I think we could steal or modify a page from the Ontario playbook on this one,” said Andrew Button, the Founder of Mashup Lab. “See Virtual High School, offering fully accredited online high school classes that meet all the Ontario curriculum outcomes.”

Working out of a restored hotel in Bayfield, ON., VHS has online curriculum that students can work on when and how it suits them. There is also a support staff available to help the students.

Button said that rather than just use online platforms to address snow days, why not consider such solutions for students who can’t or choose not to go to a school building to learn.

Other people suggested other pieces of technology, such as Khan Academy or SAS as great tools for distance education.

“A bigger issue is lack of reliable internet in many parts of the province,” said Alexander MacDougall. “That is a significant factor because teachers need to ensure equity of access and when it's beyond their control it makes it very difficult for them to … ensure that those opportunities are available to all.”

Overall, the respondents supported the broad plan to use technology to enhance teaching during school days, and opposed to the idea of making up the days on Saturdays or holidays.

“The "MAKE UP" days idea is sort of silly - what would the children possibly learn having to go to school one day,” said Lisa Stewart. “Give them something to get excited about.”

And the readers overall liked the idea of using the collective brilliance of the tech community (and others in the region) to work out problems together. Again there is a model for this: Brilliant Labs. It started as an experiment in New Brunswick to help educators teach programing, and now it has moved into Nova Scotia as well. It’s an example of public and private sectors working together to improve things across provincial boundaries.

Now it’s time to carry it further with new platforms for learning a fewer missed days due to storms.

“I hope Halifax Regional School Board reads this and sees the opportunity to #makeAmark on education,” said Deb Merry.

Press Release: SubC’s NBIA Win

The Genesis Centre, an incubator affiliated with Memorial University of Newfoundland, has issued the following press release:

Ocean Technology Company SubC Imaging Wins International Business Award

Memorial University’s Genesis Centre is congratulating its graduate company SubC Imaging on winning the Outstanding Incubator Graduate Award from the U.S.-based National Business Incubation Association (NBIA).

Out of six possible award categories, SubC Imaging is the only Canadian company to receive an award. The NBIA Incubation Awards honour the top business incubators, client companies and graduates that exemplify the best in the industry. SubC was recognized for revenue strength and product innovation.

SubC Imaging was started in 2010 by Chad Collett and Adam Rowe when they identified the need for better underwater camera equipment and video management systems. The company was accepted into the Genesis Centre, Memorial University’s business incubator for technology ventures, and graduated in December 2014. SubC Imaging now operates a 5,000-square-foot facility in Clarenville, N.L., designing and manufacturing equipment for marine research, deep-sea mining and the oil and gas industry. 

“We are very excited to have a Newfoundland and Labrador company and one of our graduates recognized on the international stage,” said Keelin O’Leary, vice-president, entrepreneurial support, Genesis Group. “It’s a testament to Mr. Collett, Mr. Rowe and their team, that they can compete anywhere.”

“SubC is honoured to have been selected for this prestigious award among a group of such deserving nominees,” said Ron Collier, vice-president, business development, SubC. “We are delighted to be recognized for the innovative nature of our products and our rapid growth in international markets.”

SubC Imaging will be presented with the award at the NBIA’s International Conference on Business Incubation in Denver, Colo., in April. For more information about SubC Imaging, please visit http://www.subcimaging.com


About the Genesis Centre

The Genesis Centre is Memorial University’s business incubator for technology-based ventures with high-growth potential. It is one of the top ranked incubators in Canada and was named Canadian Incubator of the Year in 2011. Since the Genesis Centre was founded in 2000, it has helped almost 60 startups raise more than $85 million in private equity. Genesis alumni are among the leading start-ups in Atlantic Canada and include Verafin, Rutter Technologies, Avalon Microelectronics (acquired by Altera), Solace Power, SubC Imaging, EMSAT, ClearRisk, Genoa Design and Virtual Marine Technology.

The Genesis Centre is a division of the Genesis Group Inc., a separately incorporated entity of Memorial University. For more information, please visit http://www.genesiscentre.ca


About the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA)

NBIA is the world’s leading organization dedicated to advancing business incubation and entrepreneurship, with 2,100 members in more than 60 countries. It provides thousands of professionals with information, education, advocacy and networking resources to bring excellence to the process of assisting early-stage companies. Approximately 25 per cent of the NBIA membership is from outside the United States. For more information, please visit http://www.nbia.og.  

Castaway Golf Wins Breakthru

Castaway Golf Technologies, a company that grew out of a young boy’s love of retrieving lost golf balls, has won the $287,250 first prize in the 2015 Breakthru competition.

The Fredericton company that is developing an automated system for retrieving, sorting and selling balls lost in water hazards received the news at the Breakthru dinner last night, attended by 540 people.

The first runner-up was Simptek, which is working on home automation systems that save energy. Third place was captured by NB Biomatrix of Saint John, founded by Jeff Jennings and Keith Brunt, who have discovered a nanoparticle solution to remove heavy metals from wastewater. They both received $222,250 in cash and services.

The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, which organized the event, also announced at the dinner that Cathy Simpson, Vice-President Public Sector at T4G, would become the foundation’s new chair. She replaces Bob Hatheway, who had held the position for four years.

Held every second year, Breakthru brings out a new crop of entrepreneurs and introduces them to the fundamentals of growing a business. Calvin Milbury, the CEO of NBIF, noted during the dinner that this year’s event featured an exceptionally strong intake, with 47 companies reaching the stage at which they submitted full business plans.

“We’re very fortunate because we’re going to be looking at a lot of these business plans for consideration for our Startup Investment Fund,” he said. “So this has improved the funnel for NBIF.”

The grand prize winner is a team of contrasting characters that are quickly devising and implementing revenue streams that are growing a solid business. Castaway Golf has devised a mechanized way to retrieve the millions of golf balls that end up in water hazards and then resell them.

It was the brainchild of Matt Vance, a Truro native who invented the first iteration of the device. He teamed up with Josh Ogden, now the company’s CEO, to develop ways to sell the balls and grow the business. They will sell some through the retail chain Giant Tiger beginning this year.

After the win, Ogden was full of praise for the ecosystem that helped the company to win.

“You’ve got a community in New Brunswick that will help anyone,” said Ogden, sitting amid the tables at the emptying Fredericton Convention Centre. “You have to prove you’re coachable. The moment we admitted we didn’t know everything, our business started to move forward.”

The winners will receive a total of $245,000 in cash investments, and the services will bring the total value to $287,250.

Fredericton-based Simptek, which was founded by Keelen Gagnon, Asif Hasan, and Lionel Fernandes, also won the Viewers’ Choice award, voted on by people who viewed CBC news spots on the five finalists. The team will now be flown to Toronto to pitch the product on Dragons’ Den.

There was also a prize for the best video pitch submitted to NBIF as part of the application process. It was captured by Ryan MacDonald, whose team Tempo is developing a music streaming product.

The other two finalists were Fredericton companies that had come together only in the past few months: AutoPulse, founded by Sam Jesso and Kristin Killam, is designing technology that helps auto dealerships monitor their customers’ cars; and Smart Castle Labs, led by Elaheh Biglar and four co-founders, uses sentiment analysis and other functionality to battle cyber-bullying, internet luring and other online evils.


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

Entrevestor Luncheon Set for Moncton

With the support of BDO, Entrevestor will once again this year host a series of Entrevestor Luncheons, beginning with an event in Moncton on April 15.

BDO, the accountancy and tax advisory consultancy, has agreed to sponsor four Entrevestor Luncheons this year. The luncheons are an opportunity for members of the startup community can come together to discuss ways to improve the regional ecosystem.

Last year, partnering with Entrepreneurs’ Forum, we held luncheons or dinners in each provincial capital in the region. The topics we discussed ranged from finding early adopters to mentorship to attracting capital to young companies.

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

“Like many others, we’re impressed by the tremendous growth of startups in Atlantic Canada,” said Dan Jennings, a partner at BDO’s Bedford office. “At BDO, we want to help improve the ecosystem for these companies, so we’ve decided to work with Entrevestor in hosting these conversations about possible enhancements.”

The luncheon in Moncton features two veterans of startup mentorship as moderators:

--  How do we get more women launching startups? Led by Sally Ng. There has been a lot of discussion and analysis – and action, come to think of it – on how to attract women to careers in technology. The ICT segment is a predominantly male enclave and more must be done to encourage women to learn coding and work in this space. But the same could be said about women in startups. Too few women are launching and developing companies. Sally Ng, the Executive Director of Planet Hatch in Fredericton, will discuss the problem, suggest some solutions and ask for the views of the participants.

--  How can we increase international sales? Led by Doug Robertson. East Valley Ventures Co-Founder Gerry Pond has identified problems with international sales as a factor that is preventing startups from scaling. Doug Robertson, the CEO of Venn Innovation in Moncton, will examine what can be done to address the situation. While Pond has called for a sales institute in the region, other solutions might be international mentor networks or local mentorship groups made up of people who have experience in other countries. We hope other suggestions will come out during the discussion.

The Entrevestor Luncheon will be held from 11 am to 2 pm at the Future Inns Moncton. We’ll get started with a brief presentation on the latest data produced by the Entrevestor survey, followed by the two one-hour discussions and lunch. Tickets for the event are available here.

Last year, we found that the Entrevestor events were public opportunities to discuss the matters that usually get attention in private conversations in coffee shops or board rooms.

We hope as many people as possible will join us for the luncheon on April 15.


Building Excellence in Mentorship

Janna Hare: 'We want to build a centre of excellence and mentorship.'

Janna Hare: 'We want to build a centre of excellence and mentorship.'

As Executive Director of The Mentra, Atlantic Canada’s new mentoring organization, Janna Hare expected to be matching mentors and mentees like a dating service. But she’s found that people want to choose who they work with.

So now, The Mentra is establishing MentraConnect, a cloud-based platform that suggests mentors based on an entrepreneur’s profile, but also allows mentees to search for mentors using keywords.  

“I’ve learned there is a lot of chemistry in mentoring relationships,” said Hare who is a certified executive coach with a background in HR (Human Resources) and leadership development.

“If conversation doesn’t flow easily between mentors and mentees that can be a problem,” she said, during an interview from her base at Moncton’s Venn Centre.

The Atlantic region has many great mentors and Hare is looking for more to become part of The Mentra’s new talent pipeline, which, she hopes, will eventually become global.

Those who volunteer will be able to attend a variety of development opportunities to deepen their skills. Hare hopes the strategic partnerships she’s developing with other groups will allow The Mentra to offer in-depth training around the region. 

“We want to build a center of excellence around mentorship,” she said. “I’m working to developing strategic partnerships with similar organizations so that we avoid duplication.”

The beauty of the platform, said Hare, is that it can also link mentors and mentees in different locations. If face-to-face meetings are not important, the network could allow founders to work with mentors elsewhere.

Hare stresses the difference between coaching and mentoring.

“As a coach, I could coach a lawyer but not mentor one,” she said. “Coaching works with more general principles. As a coach I ask questions that help people uncover their answers. A mentor can offer advice because s/he has experience of the same sector.”  

Hare said that some early stage entrepreneurs with unclear goals benefit from working with coaches rather than mentors. When their goals are clarified, they move on to working with mentors.

“Often, mentees expect mentors to be the guide that has all the answers,” she said. “They often forget they need to be clear about their own goals.” 

For the last eight months, Hare has been working alone at the mentoring site. She has just made her first hire—of program co-ordinator, Shelagh Cooney. 

“I’m working on the five-year plan,” Hare said. “It seems really aspirational, but we have our vision. Now we have to work hard to live into it.”

The Mentra began when the New Brunswick Government put out a request for proposals for an organization to mentor entrepreneurs. Seven organizations came together with a single proposal, which won.

The founding members were: The Wallace McCain InstituteBioNB; the New Brunswick Business CouncilPlanet Hatch; the Pond-Deshpande Centre; the Venn Centre; and the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network.

The founding groups will provide the first mentees who will likely be working in tech as tech is central to many businesses.

Hare is passionate about mentorship because she knows from experience what it can do for people.

She began her own career by working for the Co-op College, which offered training for co-ops. It was there that she encountered her own first mentor, Sheelagh Greek.

“Sheelagh ignited my passion and influenced me toward being socially minded. She taught me that learning and development is a process of continuous growth.

“Now, being part of an organization that’s furthering mentorship jazzes me every day.”    

Hare’s work is fuelled partly by concern for her two grown children and eight-month-old grandson, Owen.

“I want my family to have opportunities here so they can stay if they want. I hope building this network will become one way to keep emerging talent in this region and provide a full global perspective.”    



Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support start-up

companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies are featured in this column nor do they have the right to review columns before they are published.



Can Geeks Solve Snow Days?

The tech community can ensure snow days are more productive than this.

The tech community can ensure snow days are more productive than this.

As education departments around Atlantic Canada try to find a solution for the snow day problem, they should consider asking geeks for help.

The pain is obvious. Our students are missing too much time due to the weather, and officials are considering making up the time on Saturdays or holidays.

They might ask tech communities to come up with an online solution that would allow teachers to work with students even when all of them are snowbound at home. It won’t solve things now, but it could be in place by next winter.

Coming up with such a solution is a golden opportunity to act on all the rhetoric we’ve heard about being bold in addressing our myriad problems.

What I’d do if I ran things is host a hackathon with the goal of developing technology that will allow teaching to continue through snow days.

The term is unfortunate because it suggests the participants are hacking into someone else’s website or system. A hackathon is simply a get-together of tech developers at which teams come up with new technology over a few days. Halifax held one in late 2013 at which developers created apps using the city’s open data.

I’d invite programmers and computer science students to such an event. It would be great to also invite a team from the government’s IT staff and some front-line teachers to help develop a product that meets the market need.

The participants would break into teams that would try to come up with the best product to let teaching continue through snow days.

The geeks who show up at these events would have brighter ideas than mine. But what I’d envision is a simple online platform that would allow teachers to work with students while they’re all at their own homes. It could involve Skype or Google Hangout. It could include a scheduling function that would simply line up which students to work with through the day. A simple and pleasing user interface would be essential.

It will also have to account for the greatest hurdle in such a solution, which is the problem of some students not having Internet access or the needed hardware at home. Some students would need to be contacted by phone in this system. Such an endeavour could lead to community drives to buy the necessary hardware for students who can’t afford it.

The upside of such a hackathon is huge. If the solution is implemented, students would get more individual time with their teachers. Students would increase their comfort with online learning. No classes would have to be rescheduled to Saturdays or holidays. Snow days could actually improve the quality of education.

What’s more, if the application has a market in Atlantic Canada, there are likely markets elsewhere. There could be a new company, creating a few jobs in the region.

The best thing about such a plan is it would be a showpiece for the cultural change that the Ivany commission called for. It would require public and private sectors working together for everyone’s benefit. It would draw on the natural inventiveness of the population to solve a problem.

It would teach students that snow days aren’t holidays; they’re just days when you do your work at home.

Nancy Mathis to Chair Invest Atlantic

Nancy Mathis

Nancy Mathis

Invest Atlantic has announced that Nancy Mathis will chair the conference this autumn, and that it will expand its pitching series to include new classes of entrepreneurs.

Now in its sixth year, Invest Atlantic is a pan-regional conference for entrepreneurs and investors in Atlantic Canada. It will be held this year at the World Trade and Convention Centre in Halifax on Sept. 29 and 30.

And experienced entrepreneur and organizer, Nancy Mathis is the founding Executive Director of the Wallace McCain Institute at the University of New Brunswick.

“Nancy is a passionate entrepreneur and has been recognized on a national scale with awards in innovation, entrepreneurship and engineering -- as well as for supporting others in those fields,” said a statement from Invest Atlantic Founder Bob Williamson.

Beginning with her time on the New Brunswick Business Council, Mathis has been a leading advocate on collaborative initiatives for entrepreneurs in the Atlantic Area.

This will be the second time the chair of Invest Atlantic is from New Brunswick. Mariner Chairman Gerry Pond chaired the event in 2011.

Invest Atlantic this year will focus on startups and angel investors with a variety of concurrent sessions for early-to-mid stage and even late stage entrepreneurs.

“I am excited to see the scope of the conference expand,” says Mathis in the statement.

For the past few years, Invest Atlantic has kicked off with a Pitch 101 competition, in which novice entrepreneurs get one minute to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. The idea is to give feedback to people starting out.

This year, the organizers will add Pitch201 for growth stage entrepreneurs. There will also be a Pitch301 event for “seniorpreneurs” – that is, business owners who are ready to retire and sell their business to a new operator.

“There are thousands of business owners facing growth and succession challenges in the next five years, and this is a perfect format to help these entrepreneurs make the right connections,” said Mathis.

Five Teams Vie for Breakthru Bonanza

Three New Brunswick companies tomorrow will receive funding of more than $200,000 each as the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation will announce the winners of the 2015 Breakthru competition.

The Breakthru Awards Dinner will be held Thursday night at the Fredericton Convention Centre, and the highlight of the evening promises to be the announcement of the winner of the biennial competition. That team will go home almost $300,000 richer, but the second- and third-place teams won’t be complaining either.

Breakthru has become part of the landscape in the New Brunswick startup scene, and many of the province’s leading high-growth companies have emerged through the competition. And the gala dinner rates up there with the annual Kira awards as one of the highlights on the startup calendar.

The five companies vying for the top prize this year have all been profiled on Entrevestor, and they are:

--  AutoPulse, Sam Jesso and Kristin Killam, Fredericton. The company is designing technology that helps auto dealerships monitor their customers’ cars. (Previous article: AutoPulse Plans Launch in 2016.)

--  NB BioMatrix, Keith Brunt and Jeff Jennings, Saint John. The winner of the BioInnovation Challenge last year is using nano-technology to develop a biodegradable, anti-bacterial liquid that can remove heavy metals and other pollutants from waste water. (Previous article: NB BioMatrix Prepares for Q4 Launch.)

--  Castaway Golf, Josh Ogden and Matt Vance, Fredericton. Formerly Matt’s Got Balls, the company has developed a retrieval mechanism to fetch golf balls from water hazards and an e-commerce platform on which they can be sold. (Previous article: Matt’s Got Balls – And Great Margins.)

--  SimpTek Technologies, Keelen Gagnon, Asif Hasan, and Lionel Fernandes, Fredericton. This Launch36 alumni team is developing an automated system that helps people control the use of their household appliances with the goal of saving them money. (Previous article: SimpTek Progresses After Pivot.)

--  Smart Castle Labs, Elaheh Biglar and four co-founders, Fredericton. The team of computer science graduate students is developing a device to use sentiment analysis and other functionality to battle cyber-bullying, internet luring and other online evils. (Previous article: Smart Castle: Cyber-Security for Kids.)

The winners will receive cash and in-kind services. The first prize will receive a total of $245,000 in cash investments, and the services will bring the total value to $287,250. The second- and third-place teams will each receive $195,000 in cash, and services that bring their totals to $222,250.

In addition to the official prize, the CBC has been conducting a Viewers' Choice award. Its viewers have been voiting on which of the finalists is its favourite and the winner will be flown to Toronto to appear on Dragon's Den.

Once again, one organization that will feel a special pride regardless of the outcome is the University of New Brunswick.  The university has had a hand in the development of all five finalists.

Two years ago, three of the five Breakthru finalists (CeteX, TotalPave and Black Magic) had founders that have gone through the Technology Management and Entrepreneurship program at UNB, and a fourth, RTV Group, was founded by a graduate student at UNB Saint John.


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


Startup Job Growth Slowed in 2014

When we published our first Entrevestor Intelligence report of 2014, the numbers that leapt from the page were the job creation figures.  But things have changed in the past year.

The Atlantic Canadian startups we surveyed a year ago told us that they increased their staffing by 43 percent in 2013. They intended to increase employment by 50 percent in 2014, and the IT companies planned to double their staff overall.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

Despite the blazing optimism in early 2014, the 139 companies that gave us 2014 data on their staffing overall employ 1,051 full-time staff and 137 part-time staff in the Atlantic Provinces,. Overall, that is 1,119.5 full-time equivalent positions and an increase of 9.4 percent over the previous year.

So what happened? Why did the job growth fall so dramatically short of expectations?

There are a few explanations, but first let’s take a look at the big picture.

Startups in Atlantic Canada had a massive hiring spree in 2013 and it would have been reasonable to expect some sort of contraction afterward.


#Startupeast Employment in 2014
Companies providing jobs data 139
Total staff in Atlantic Canada* 1,119.5
Total staff a year earlier 1023
Employment growth 9.4%
Staff outside Atlantic Canada* 127.5
Total payroll (83 responses) $44.1M
Startups with 10 or more staff 26
Startups with no paid staff 26
Expected hiring in 2015* 476.5
Projected 2015 job growth 43%
*Part-time employees recorded as 0.5.  

Whenever I delivered presentations of the Entrevestor data analysis last year, I said that startups were unlikely to meet their hiring expectations, largely because there weren’t enough qualified people to fill the vacancies.

And it should be remembered that the staffing in this economic segment did not contract. It followed a 43 percent increase with a 9.4 percent increase,  for  a  total  two-year  hike  of  about  56  percent.  It’s also advisable to keep in mind that the Atlantic Canadian economy overall saw employment rise 1 percent in 2014, according to Statistics Canada.

Even in a slow year, the startup job-creation vehicle outpaced the broader economy by a multiple of almost 10.

Having said that, startups in the region failed to hire as many people as they had hoped. Talking to founders, it seems that there are positions that have not yet been filled because they can’t find the right people.

And it also seems that CEOs were more cautious in their hiring – and their spending in general -- than they initially wanted to be. 

Several of the companies that reported a decline in staffing have also told Entrevestor that they did not receive the Scientific Research & Experimental Development, or SR&ED, tax credits that they had been expecting. That shortfall, often amounting to six figures, sometimes affected staffing levels.

Because of all these factors, several companies actually reduced staff even though they had hoped to hire more people.

There were 77 startups that provided us with employment data for both 2013 and 2014. Some 74 of them had expected to hire people in 2014. However, only six met their hiring predictions – three meeting them exactly and another three exceeding them. Thirty-four of these companies actually shrank staff during the year.

So were these companies with declining staff going through a period of distress? Some were, and one actually closed down. But the interesting statistic is that one-third of the companies that shrank staff actually increased revenues last year. Now, a few of these companies had such a low revenue base that it couldn’t support their staffing. But there were others with six-figure revenues that felt compelled to reduce staff.

There were a few other things we looked at this year so we could get a better idea of the quality of jobs being created.  We asked companies to tell us the number of part-time positions (given a weighting of 0.5 of a position in the totals). Almost 90 percent of the positions created in the startup community are full-time positions. In addition to the jobs created in Atlantic Canada, the region’s startups have 106 full-time and 43 part-time positions in other parts of the world.

There  were  83  companies  with  paid  employees  that  gave  us  payroll information, and they reported a total payroll of $44.1 million. All told, these companies had 752 full-time equivalent employees, meaning that on average they paid their staff $58,600 each. As we saw in last year’s surveys, and confirmed by other research, startups create well-paying jobs.

One final observation about the employment survey is that founders have not been dissuaded by the challenges they faced last year in finding and paying talent. The 139 companies that gave us job data told us they expect to hire 476.5 employees in 2015. If they’re successful, their total staff will increase 43 percent. Forgive us, but it’s a forecast we’re taking with a grain of salt.


This article was originally published in the March edition of the Entrevestor Intelligence report.



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

LeadSift Seeks DailyShow Favourite

Known for its verve and creativity, LeadSift has set out to find out which celebrity the world wants to see succeed Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show.

Since Stewart announced last month that he is stepping down, there has been plenty of speculation on who the new host can be. Halifax-based LeadSift, which scans social media to help businesses find sales leads, used its technology to sift through more than 600,000 tweets to find out who people around the world favour.

The Leadsift founders -- Tukan Das, Sreejata Chatterjee, Daniel Allen and Hatem Nassrat – have written a great blog on their findings, which we’ve reproduced below. They also have a tremendous infographic, which you can see here.

Das, the company’s CEO, has always shown an impressive moxie. When I emailed him yesterday and said I was glad he’d lost none of his creativity, he emailed back, saying:  “Creativity and passion are all we've got, Peter smile

Can Twitter Predict Who Will Be Tapped To Replace Jon Stewart?

Twitter has been abuzz with speculation, protestation and debate since the February 10th announcement that Jon Stewart would be retiring from The Daily Show.

And the main question on everyone’s mind: “Who could possibly replace Jon?”

Quinnipiac University conducted a national telephone poll that pointed to Tina Fey and Dennis Miller as top contenders in America’s mind. But we at LeadSift wanted to know what Twitter thought.

As a real-time network with 288 million users around the world, Twitter is an extremely powerful tool for conducting large-scale polls and surveys. The pulse of an audience – whether a small segment of Twitter or the entire Twitterverse – can be measured as events unfold.

Using our data partner Gnip, we explored tweets between February 10th, the day the Stewart announced his retirement, and March 9th, the day the University’s poll was released. There were 654,299 tweets about Stewart’s departure during that period, and 63,347 speculating about his replacement.

Interestingly, we found that Twitter’s speculations differed from the University’s findings in a number of ways.

First and most obvious, the top contenders according to Twitter are Jessica Williams and John Oliver. Nearly a quarter of the tweets we analyzed (23 percent) suggested tapping Williams, while 18 percent wanted to see Oliver give up his new gig and come back as The Daily Show host.

Tina Fey was the sixth most-popular choice for Stewart’s replacement, while Dennis Miller didn’t even make the top 10.

And since our data was global, the top locations with opinions on the future of The Daily Show included not only New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, but also Toronto and London.

Free2Charge Eyes 10 Units a Month

Free2Charge: 'a modern payphone'

Free2Charge: 'a modern payphone'

Pascal deVillers regards the Free2Charge phone-charging stations as a “modern payphone.”

The payphone should have gone the way of the buggy whip, given that most of us carry cellphones. But the batteries tend to go dead in the middle of the day, and finding a place to charge them can be inconvenient, to say the least.

The Halifax company was created to address that problem. Founded by deVillers, Ben Lynds and Ken Leccese, it designs, manufactures and distributes recharging stations that you can use for a buck in public places. Some even refund your loonie.

“Everyone’s phones can die when they’re in public places,” said deVillers in an interview. “A lot of places are getting people asking, ‘Is there anywhere where I can recharge my phone?’ We address that pain.”

DeVillers was standing by his installation in the Student Union Building pub at St. Mary’s University, where he’s a part-time student. The Free2Charge station looks like a series of lockers, except each cubbyhole has three leads, one of which can plug into almost any smartphone. Users can pay a dollar, plug in their phones, lock the doors and know the phones are secure until they return.

The three entrepreneurs realized almost two years ago that smartphone batteries run out of juice quickly because they operate on 4G networks, run a few apps and face a lot of demands. A public place like a pub or hospital can cater to today’s market by offering a place where people can charge their phones without worrying about them being taken.

The founders originally designed and manufactured large standup facilities and installed their first one at Casino Nova Scotia in Halifax last May. They then designed small units that bolt onto a wall, and they’re proving popular with pubs.

So far, Free2Charge has installed three large units and seven small ones. The company either sells the machines to an establishment or installs them and collects revenue from the locker rentals.

Though battery technology is improving, deVillers expects that to help rather than hinder the Free2Charge business. New batteries lose energy just as quickly as old models, they just recharge more quickly. That means phones will recharge more quickly at the stations.

The founders have raised a bit of money from friends and family but largely financed their growth through debt and non-dilutive funding from such organizations as CBDC, Futurpreneur and the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development.

They have plans to keep that growth going. In the long term, they want to research new products and designs, such as bus seats fitted with cellphone rechargers. In the meantime, they want more sales and are beginning to assemble a network for distributors across the country. They soon hope to be putting out as many units each month as they’ve produced in total so far.

“Our goals moving forward are to produce five to 10 a month, at least for the first year,” said deVillers.



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


Startup Grind Launches in Halifax

Startup Grind, an event series designed to help entrepreneurs, has launched a Halifax chapter and will hold its first gathering tomorrow with a livestream by famed tech evangelist and author Guy Kawasaki.

The Halifax group is being led by Oleg Yefymov, a former Israeli venture capital fund manager who moved to Halifax last year. He is now working on his own startup Yomes, a feedback service for tenants and landlords.

Backed by Google for Entrepreneurs, Startup Grind is a global network active in almost 200 cities that aims to link and educate entrepreneurs. It generally features a meeting with a speaker about once a month, some in person and some by video link.

“A month ago I flew to San Francisco to attend Startup Grind's global event and I realized even more what power this community has and how it can benefit Atlantic Canada,” said Yefymov on Monday. “They are very well connected to the legends of the venture capital world, which means that all Startup Grind members in the Halifax chapter will have access to this vast worldwide network in almost 200 cities.”

He added that Google has just extended its contract with Startup Grind for three more years, and that could mean a lot to Halifax, where Google does not have a strong presence.

Yefymov first learned about the power of Startup Grind at Tel Aviv chapter, and he found there was a tremendous spirit of people helping each other.

The first event for Startup Grind Halifax, to be held at 2 pm Wednesday at Volta, will feature a livestream by Guy Kawasaki, who is now marketing his book The Art of the Start 2.0. He is also the author or co-author of such books as The Art of Social Media and APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur.

Yefymov said events such as the Kawasaki livestream will be free. There will also be more formal events with food and networking, and there will be a small charge. The first of these events will be a talk by East Valley Ventures Co-Founder Gerry Pond on March 25 at 6 pm.

“The goal is to interview 10 incredible and inspiring people a year,” said Yefymov. “We are now trying to get one of the top entrepreneurs from Israel.”

He is also working with the Toronto chapter to co-organize an event in Halifax in the summer and bring some Toronto VCs to the city.

Yefymov started his career in Israel, where funded and founded several companies. He owns a digital agency serving clients like the Israeli government, advertising agencies and startups. He also took an active part in founding Tel Aviv University's Entrepreneurship Center.


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

Press Release: ACOA Funds TME

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the University of New Brunswick have issued the following press release:

Government of Canada Supports Dr. J. Herbert Smith Centre for Technology Management and Entrepreneurship at UNB

March 16, 2015 - Fredericton, NB – Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA)

Page Content

The University of New Brunswick’s Dr. J. Herbert Smith Centre will take on two new projects at its Technology Management and Entrepreneurship Centre (TME), thanks to investments by the Government of Canada.

Mike Allen, Member of Parliament for Tobique-Mactaquac, on behalf of the Honourable Rob Moore, Regional Minister for New Brunswick and Minister of State (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency), joined University of New Brunswick and Dr. J. Herbert Smith Centre officials to make the announcement today.

Dr. J. Herbert Smith Centre’s first project will help the Technology Management and Entrepreneurship Centre establish a technology commercialization program (TCP) .This initiative will provide TME students, trained with product development skills, with the opportunity to become entrepreneurs and launch new start-up companies by commercializing and taking new technologies to domestic and international markets.  A second project will assist the TME to develop a needs assessment to establish a Centre of Expertise for rapid prototyping in New Brunswick.  

The Government of Canada, through ACOA’s Business Development Program, is providing contributions totaling $385,800 toward these two initiatives. The Dr. J. Herbert Smith Centre is contributing a total of $72,600 toward the two initiatives.

Quick Facts:

• The Dr. J. Herbert Smith Centre for Technology Management and Entrepreneurship (TME) is located within the Faculty of Engineering at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) Fredericton campus.

• Established in 1988, the Centre was named after Dr. J. Herbert Smith, a graduate of the University of New Brunswick's Faculty of Engineering, whose successful career with General Electric Canada included 15 years as its President and Chief Executive Officer.

• The Centre offers an undergraduate program designed to ensure that students and working professionals with technological background have the necessary business and entrepreneurial skills to succeed.

• Several graduates of the TME program have gone on to launch their own highly successful businesses while others have gone on to rewarding careers at some of the most highly respected companies in the world, including Shell, NB Power, Proctor & Gamble, Bell Canada and Phillips.

• The overall objectives of the TCP are: 1) Create at least four high tech start-ups per year in New Brunswick; 2) Retain highly qualified people in New Brunswick (particularly TME graduates); 3) Develop and build entrepreneurship skills in the province; 4) Promote innovation and commercialize new and existing technologies; and 5) Improve the competitiveness of New Brunswick by developing innovative solutions to industry specific needs.


“Our Government is committed to creating jobs and economic growth, while returning to fiscal balance.  Our support for the Dr. J. Herbert Smith Centre will help the Technology Management and Entrepreneurship Centre establish a technology commercialization program and a centre of expertise for rapid prototyping, thus creating new opportunities for New Brunswick and economic growth through innovation.”

Mike Allen, Member of Parliament for Tobique-Mactaquac, on behalf of the Honourable Rob Moore, Regional Minister for New Brunswick and Minister of State (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency)

“Entrepreneurship is deeply rooted in the lives of New Brunswickers and our institutions. Continually receiving such great support from our community is truly a humbling experience, generating a stronger and more sustainable province. The spirit of collaboration, and entrepreneurship amongst educators, industry, and government is nurturing an innovation culture and resulting in an evolving story on why the Maritimes is the place to be.”

- Dr. Dhirendra Shukla - Chair of the Dr. J. Herbert Smith Centre, Technology Management & Entrepreneurship Program at UNB


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



HeadsUp Wins Business Model Contest

HeadsUp, a startup dedicated to improving tradespeople’s communications with customers, captured the $25,000 first prize at Canada’s Business Model Competition on Saturday, edging out a strong field of finalists.

The university entrepreneurship competition’s winning team, comprising Mike Reid, Jeremy Tupper, and Dimitry Galamiyev, was a bit of a hybrid as its members came from three schools -- University of Waterloo, Dalhousie University, and Ontario College of Art and Design University respectively.

The two other winners were: Ourotech, made up of Duleek Ranatunga and Zain Roohi of the University of Waterloo, which captured the $15,000 second place; and Intelligent Site Innovations, comprising Cole Campbell and Mitchell Hollohan of Dalhousie University, which won the $10,000 third place.

HeadsUp will now proceed to the International Business Model Competition at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, in May. Other teams may also apply to attend the global finals.

Hosted by Dalhousie University’s Starting Lean initiative for the past three years, the Canadian Business Model Competition assesses how well a team of student entrepreneurs applies lean methodology to a business idea.  The important thing isn’t so much the business potential as the rigour with which the students test their theories through interviews with experts and potential clients.

HeadsUp, for example, began with the theory that an app would help plumbers, electricians, retailers and others let customers know precisely when they will be at their home rather than just giving a four-hour window. 

But 85 percent of the homeowners they interviewed said they wouldn’t download an app. Then they had the difficulty in finding something that companies would pay for. They are now focused on an SMS text messaging solution. It would not only notify the homeowner when the tradesperson will arrive, but also deliver a customer satisfaction form that can help a company identify evangelists.

In total, the HeadsUp team has conducted more than 150 interviews, and have lined up five early adopters with a total of more than 400 field reps to test the product. They will continue to hone the project as they go through The Next36 accelerator program this summer.

The runner-up Ourotech uses 3D printers to produce replica body parts for the medical industry. It means med students could practice on printed samples for training purposes.

“We haven’t decided whether to concentrate on heart surgery or brain surgery,” said presenter Duleek Ranatunga, holding up a 3D-printed brain and heart. “We don’t know whether to follow our hearts or listen to our minds.”

Intelligent Site Innovations is developing a solution to improve traffic signals at construction sites. Rather than have a three-person team manning the signs, ISI is working on a system of cameras and stop lights that one person could operate. Campbell and Hollohan are now working on pilot projects with two early adopters in Nova Scotia.

The other three finalists were: Go Grow from St. Mary’s University in Halifax, which is designing a low-cost covering for flowers that uses solar heat to extend the growing season; Local Line from Wilfrid Laurier University in Kitchener, ON, which is developing an online marketplace to link farmers and local chefs; and Scout from MacEwan University in Edmonton, which is developing loyalty cards for small and medium-sized businesses. 

Atlantic Venture Forum Seeks Pitchers

Atlantic Venture Forum, an investor conference that showcases regional startups, is looking for founders to present at this year’s event June 10 and 11 at the Westin Nova Scotian in Halifax.

Critical Path Group, the company that organizes AVF, has released a call for presenting companies and is accepting applications until March 31.

The company said the two-day event will “bring together the best, boldest, most innovative emerging and established IT, Cleantech, and Life Sciences companies in Atlantic Canada.”

Now in its third year, AVF has so far divided the East Coast startup community into early stage and growth categories so investors understand the stage of each company’s development. Last year, DeCell Technologies of Halifax won the 13-member early stage category. And the winner among the 13 growth stage companies was Neurodyn of Charlottetown.

The program includes pitches by about two dozen companies and four keynote speakers.

Critical Pathway is also accepting registration for the event. 

Palotta To Kick Off Startup Week

When Dan Palotta speaks in Fredericton next week, he will make a passionate plea for more liberal operating rules for non-profits, arguing they can do more good with greater flexibility.

Palotta is one of the keynote speakers at the Social Impact Dialogue that will take place Monday and Tuesday to kick off the East Coast Startup Week – the winter entrepreneurship festival in the New Brunswick capital.

The influence of the Pond-Deshpande Centre – whose dual mission is for traditional and social entrepreneurship – is strong in the Startup Week, so there is a heavy emphasis on impact ventures at the week-long festival.  The highlight of the week will be the Breakthru Gala on Thursday evening, and complete agenda is available here.

A native of the Boston area, Palotta is a veteran of the not-for-profit movement and invented the multi-day charitable event industry with the AIDS Rides and Breast Cancer 3-Days. According to his website, these events attracted 182,000 participants in nine years and raised a total of US$582 million.

His most recent crusade, and the subject of his talk in Fredericton, is a liberalization of the rules overseeing not-for profits.

“I’d like to see these organizations and their members running to the wild dreams that brought them into this work in the first place,” he said in a phone interview Thursday.

Palotta contends that non-profits are shackled by rules saying that “overhead”, or the administrative and marketing costs associated with the charity, can only be a certain percentage of the organization’s expenditures. He doesn’t like caps on executive pay in non-profits. He opposes rules preventing non-profits from taking risks or trying innovations.

Non-profits now operate in an “oppressive” web of restrictive regulations, he said. And they need to be freed to pursue new projects that would bring benefits to society and the planet.

Would more liberal regulations lead to a misuse of funds? No, said Palotta. The misuse of funds and fraud are criminal problems, and anyone abusing money given to charity could still face criminal prosecution.

What he wants to see is people and institutions giving money to charities based on their performance, not on their administration costs.

He wants to see innovation in this space. Some could lead to profitable ventures, he said, such as the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation monetizing patents it holds on drugs. But there is also a need for innovation in practices and technology that can benefit society without generating a profit.

The good news is that there is progress in the discussion on non-profit oversight. Palotta noted that both Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau in the U.S. have said overhead is a poor measure of a non-profit’s value and performance is what matters.

“The conversation is in its early stages,” he said. “It was like gay marriage about 30 years ago – no one was talking about it but the good news is the conversation has started.”


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


Leary Journeys from Bigfoot to B Corp

Leary: 'One of the fastest-growing B Corp regions in the world'

Leary: 'One of the fastest-growing B Corp regions in the world'

There’s nothing predictable about inspiration. Frances Leary’s journey toward becoming a socially responsible entrepreneur began with a study of Bigfoot in the swamps of Louisiana.

Halifax-based Leary established Wired Flare, her online communications company, in 2011.

It has become the 13th company in the Maritimes to gain the status of Benefit Corporation, a designation that communicates a company’s social responsibility to the world.

A growing American initiative, B Corp certification requires businesses to prove that they meet high standards in terms of social and environmental practices, accountability and transparency.

As of June 2014, there were around 1,000 B Corps in 60 industries and 34 countries.

“We’re the first company in Canada that specializes in social media to get B Corp designation,” said Leary, the company’s president.

“Twelve of the Maritime certifications happened in the last 12 months. That makes this region one of the fastest-growing B Corp regions, per capita, in the world.”

Social responsibility has always been important to Wired Flare, Leary said. The company’s main office is powered by green energy supplier Bullfrog Power.

Wired Flare is also a certified Women’s Business Enterprise organization, and it values supplier diversity. The company devotes more than 10 per cent of its resources to support non-profit initiatives.

Leary said that B Corp status also improves her company’s competitiveness in an economy that increasingly values sustainability, social accountability and transparency.

“And B Corp allows us to connect with other companies with the same values. It means real accountability, which will encourage us to keep improving in all areas.”

Leary said that studying the marketing of Bigfoot taught her a lot about marketing in general.

The Texan was a graduate student at Memorial University in Newfoundland in 2001 when she visited the Louisiana swamps to research her thesis.

She became fascinated by the myriad ways local people used the legend to make money, from selling Swamp Man T-shirts and giving swamp tours to making plaster casts of a footprint.

“I spent a month in Louisiana getting to know the stories of the Honey Island Swamp Monster and learning how local people commercialized the creature.”

At the time, she did not foresee a career in marketing. She had been a Grade 8 teacher for 10 years and imagined she would remain in teaching.

But when she began doing some online marketing work, she saw the connection between the selling of Bigfoot and selling everything else.

 “I realized that folklore and marketing are much the same thing. Folklore is the process of how cultures communicate their belief systems. Marketing is the way companies communicate their core values and missions.

“Big Foot has influenced my approach to online marketing. For me, it’s become much more about story. I aim to capture the personalities and stories of the people I’m working with.”

Halifax has proven fertile ground for her brand of storytelling.

 “The Halifax business community has supported and opened doors for us. We’ve experienced nothing but opportunities here.”


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


Press Release: CBMC Opens Today

Dalhousie University has issued the following press release:

Canada’s Business Model Competition to host student entrepreneurs from universities across Canada

Halifax - Dalhousie University’s Rowe School of Business is excited to be hosting Canada’s Business Model Competition on March 13 and 14. Thirty teams of student entrepreneurs from more than twenty universities across Canada will compete for $50,000 in prizes presented by Deloitte.  The final competition will take place on Saturday March 14 at 2 pm in the Kenneth C. Rowe Building and is to the public.

Canada’s Business Model Competition is the national qualifier for the International Business Model Competition and is organized by the Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship at Dalhousie University. At the two-day competition teams will showcase their start-ups and their use of Steve Blank’s business model canvas. According to Dr. Ed Leach, director of the Norman Newman Centre, “The business model canvas is a powerful learning tool for companies to test their start-ups in the real world against actual customers. This tool is being used by entrepreneurs from coast to coast including the CBMC qualifying teams and we are excited to be bringing them here to Dalhousie University.” The team best able to use this tool will win $25,000 in cash and in-kind services and will advance to the International Business Model Competition being held at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, in early May.

Brian Black, a senior manager at Deloitte, asserted “It is imperative that the private sector support student entrepreneurship and innovation in order to allow the Canadian economy to grow and compete on the world stage.” In keeping with this philosophy, Deloitte presents the $50,000 Deloitte Smart Launch Award to the business model competition each year. Last year, first place was awarded to Teknically from Wilfrid Laurier University, second place to Sparkgig from the University of Waterloo and third place went to Santé West from the University of British Columbia.

•             Teknically from University of Wilfrid Laurier: Teknically builds software as a service solution that solves problems for small businesses.

•             Sparkgig from the University of Waterloo: Sparkgig is an online marketplace that connects performers to event opportunities or gigs. 

•             Santé West from the University of British Columbia: Santé West has developed a knee brace that uses partial load bearing technology to reduce injury recovery time.

With the help of partners like Deloitte, McInnes Copper and ACOA, the Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship and Dalhousie University are hosting more student startups, providing more learning and having a bigger impact on the Canadian university start-up ecosystem than ever before.

Our Survey Reveals Focus on Sales

Entrevestor Intelligence: An in-depth portrait of #Startupeast in 2014.

Entrevestor Intelligence: An in-depth portrait of #Startupeast in 2014.

Startups in Atlantic Canada focused more on selling than hiring in 2014, and business specialists believe the region’s high-growth companies are better off as a result.

Today, we’re releasing our first Entrevestor Intelligence report of 2015, including the results of our latest survey of the region’s startups.

The companies that shared data with us revealed that their total revenues increased 36.5 per cent over last year. That comes after revenues increased by 30 per cent in 2013.

Meanwhile, employment at startups in the region continues to grow but at a slower pace. Our most recent survey found that employment at the responding startups increased by 9.4 per cent — not bad, but falling far short of the dizzying 43 per cent growth of 2013.

“The startup sector not adding jobs as quickly as it has in the past likely indicates productivity improvements,” said Gary Dinn, who became CEO of the regional accelerator Propel ICT late last year.

“We will therefore not add jobs in lockstep with revenue growth, as with older resource-based industries.”

Several business leaders echoed the sentiments of Saeed El-Darahali, CEO of SimplyCast, who said in an interview that companies are “focusing on a slow burn so you can get to break-even all the quicker.” That, he said, is a healthier process than simply focusing on job growth.

In the first two months of this year, Entrevestor identified 287 startups in the region and surveyed as many as we could. We received 147 responses by the deadline for this report, though some respondents declined to give sensitive information, such as sales or funding details.

Combining this data with our reporting from around the region, our first Entrevestor Intelligence report this year gives a detailed picture of what’s going on in this exciting segment early in 2015. We’ve had help.

Lise Hansen of Bonfire Communications in Saint John produced the magnificent infographic in the middle pages, and David Alston, Chief Innovation Officer at Introhive, weighs in with his vision of a digital society in New Brunswick. And our tremendous intern Sabina Wex has looked into what Mashup Lab is doing in rural Nova Scotia.

It’s difficult to pick out trends from revenue data. But there were more companies moving into the middle band of healthy-if-not-spectacular revenue and out of the pre-revenue band.

In the latest survey, 21 per cent of the respondents were in the $100,000-$1 million revenue band, compared with 18 per cent in 2013. At the lower end of the spectrum, 48 per cent of the companies had revenue below $10,000 this year, down from 53 per cent a year earlier.

Here’s some other good news about revenues: almost four-fifths of the sales come from outside Atlantic Canada. Only 22 per cent of the startup revenue comes from Atlantic Canadian customers. Almost three times that amount (64 per cent) comes from clientele outside Canada. The recent growth of startups in the region would be a hollow victory if the growth were not based on exports.

In funding, the biggest venture capital deal last year was Spectrum Equity’s $60-million investment into Verafin of St. John’s, N.L. (We group private equity deals, such as the Spectrum funding, in with venture capital.)

But it was only part of the story. Overall, 2014 was a record year with $84.4 million of institutional investment into Atlantic Canadian startups, up 170 per cent from a year earlier.

If you strip out the Spectrum funding, the 2014 total falls to $24.4 million. But if we take out that deal, we should also exclude Imperial Capital’s $17 million funding of STI Technologies in 2013, in which case the 2013 total would be $13.8 million. That still means VC funding increased by 77 percent in 2014.

In the ecosystem for startups, the big advance last year was the broadening of the Propel ICT regional accelerator. It went from a cohort of six teams in the spring to a multi-location cohort of more than 20 in the autumn.

There was also a strengthening of the pre-accelerator groups that feed into Propel. The Mashup Lab movement in Nova Scotia, Vennture Garage in Moncton, Ignition in Prince Edward Island and several initiatives in the Sydney area are getting teams ready for accelerators and the market.

Also in this issue, we take a look at the challenges of the startup life. Our whole community is learning, (as if they didn’t know it before) that this startup stuff is hard. If it weren’t, we’d all be listed on Nasdaq by now, or maybe the NYSE. Atlantic Canadian founders are becoming more sober in their judgments, which is probably why they hired fewer people than they’d expected last year.

There were about 43 startups that shut down in the region last year, and we wanted to look at the issue of failure. So we talked with Nathan Armstrong, who closed down Hyton Innovation last summer. And we profiled Yves Boudreau, whose first company went bankrupt. Boudreau is now in 500 Startups in San Francisco with his second.


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

Singh: Founders Are Economic Leaders

Paul Singh: 'Tech Companies have to be on top.'

Paul Singh: 'Tech Companies have to be on top.'

A group of high-growth entrepreneurs heard last night that the economic development of their city, region and country depends on their own success because tech is the engine for modern growth.

Paul Singh, the founder and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based Disruption Corp., told a Tech Cocktail Halifax event that modern economic growth depends on high growth companies, and their success or failure will determine how Halifax will grow in the future.

“You choose to live here and what happens to your company will affect your life, your children’s life, your community’s life,” said Singh. “Like it or not, you are economic developers.”

Singh is renowned internationally in the startup world as an investor, mentor and speaker, largely because he travels endlessly around the world to deliver talks and find the best investment opportunities. At 34, he and the funds he has worked for have invested in about 1000 companies in 40 countries, and he has deployed about US$130 million in investments.

His ties to Nova Scotia were strengthened recently when Innovacorp became the Canadian conduit for the country’s companies entering the Disruption Corp. space in the D.C. area. So far QRA Corp. of Halifax is working at the space, and Innovacorp investment officer Dawn Umlah said last night they are in the process of selecting more.

Singh has now made several trips to Halifax, and his message Wednesday night is that the city’s future will be shaped by people developing high-growth companies. It’s a message that can apply to any city because of the low costs in developing tech companies.

One term he does not apply to such companies is “startups”, because he says everyone knows that most startups fail. These ventures must be thought of as “high-growth companies” because then decision makers will start to take them seriously.

Tech companies generally do not become high-employment businesses, he said, because the whole idea of technology is to do as much as possible with few people. But the growth of a tech hub in an area underpins economic growth, leading to a range of employment across the economy.

Singh cited the example the Crystal City district near Washington. He initiated a campaign in which banners with photos of founders and funders are placed around the community. It delivered the message that these people were shaping the city.

The average wage in D.C. is about $90,000 but tech employees on average make about $125,000, said Singh. So the growing tech community in Crystal City has led a revival of the city. “Tech companies have to be at the top,” he said. 

Smart Castle: Cyber-Security for Kids

When a group of graduate computer science students in Fredericton sat around discussing cyber-security last year, two voices that carried the most weight were those belonging to the parents of young children.

The group understood the dangers the internet poses for kids, and Smart Castle Labs was born.

This young startup is developing a device that will help protect children when they use the internet and do more than simply filter out inappropriate websites. It will use sentiment analysis and other functionality to battle cyber-bullying, internet luring and other online evils.

“Our team members all have network security backgrounds and we have these brainstorming sessions with each other,” said Smart Castle Labs CEO Elaheh Biglar in an interview. “Two team members have children and they shared their concerns with us.”

She later added that the type of security tool they are developing is “now used only in network-based technology but we want to bring it to the home.”

Six months into its development, the Fredericton startup is one of five finalists for the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation’s Breakthru competition. The results of the contest – which will award a total prize pot of $750,000 to the top three finalists – will be announced at the Breakthru Gala dinner in Fredericton on March 19.

Formed by five University of New Brunswick students, Smart Castle is in the early stages of developing a hardware device called DrawBridge. Parents can plug it in at home so all the family’s internet-based devices work off it. The team is taking a layered approach to developing the product, so it will rely on a powerful filtering system, natural learning techniques, sentiment analysis and image analysis to protect children.

The goal is to understand how kids are is interacting with the world online so parents can feel sure their children are protected from the array of dangers that lurk in cyberspace.

Biglar said the team decided on a hardware solution because a pure software product would have to be installed on a range of devices – phones, tablets, desktops, game consoles – with a variety of operating systems. By having a single device for the household, the parents plug it in and know that all devices are covered.

The Smart Castle team, which includes three PhDs, has completed its research into the product, which was an extensive process. Team members have also been speaking at schools about cybersecurity, which has helped to gain an understanding of what devices children use.

Biglar said the team is now working on the software for the device, and all five members are committed to proceeding with the company. She estimates it will need about $1 million in funding to finance the company for about two years. By that time, they hope to put out a basic product that would protect the child from harmful websites. One or two years after that, they hope for a more advanced product that would target threats like cyberbullying.

The team is also continuing to research the field of online threats to children, said Biglar. “It’s a process that will go on forever because of the nature of the problem.”


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



Spot Interactive’s Sales Explosion

Less than a year after Spot Interactive took on the Discovery Centre in Halifax as its first client, the video-based e-commerce company has quickly amassed a customer base of 600.

The young Charlottetown and Montreal company’s growth is seen in the fact that it recently doubled its staff to 12 and took on investment from private backers. But the strongest evidence is that Spot Interactive had impressive revenue in 2014, considering it was its first year of sales. But in the first 10 weeks of 2015, its sales have been 25 times those of all 2014.

The reason for such astonishing growth is a combination of technology that is both cool and easy to use and a truly imaginative and effective sales strategy.

What Spot Interactive does is allow people to execute an interactive function while they’re watching an online video, with virtually no interruption in the film. So far the focus has been to make an online purchase, but the user could be tweeting, sharing, submitting applications or downloading files, all while a video is playing.

As the viewer watches, a small circle appears on screen. When viewers click on it, a small box appears with descriptive content and forms that allow a sale or other action. It means viewers could watch a video of a beach in Brazil, decide they like it and book a flight without any interruption in the video.

 “At the moment the audience is engaged and ready to buy, the point of sale is right in front of them,” CEO Andrew Murray said in an interview last week. “When we developed the capacity to do this last spring, it was very powerful and we got some great feedback.”

Murray first developed the product for some Halifax art galleries he was working with. They had video of their space and he developed a program that let people click on paintings to purchase them. After developing the product further, Spot Interactive made its first sale last spring when the Discovery Centre hired the company to make an online video campaign for it. The resulting video is due to be released this month.

After the Discovery Centre sale, the company developed the product into a software-as-a-service offering that clients could use themselves to add a sales function to any video. It has sold the product to major corporations in Canada, the United States and Japan, and about 600 startups are using Spot Interactive to augment their marketing.

Murray, whose background is in neither technology nor sales but neuroscience, landed these blue-chip customers by being “really creative with our sales procedure.” All these companies have free videos on YouTube as part of their marketing effort. Murray and his collaborators took these videos and embedded point-of-sale devices in them.

If they got a meeting with anyone in a marketing department, they’d use the company’s own video to show the power of the Spot Interactive functionality. As often as not, it led to quick sales.

The growth has been so successful that Murray was able to grow the company mainly through revenue. In December, it attracted funding from Real Ventures in Montreal and members of the East Valley Ventures investment group in Saint John.




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

Glitch Wizard Eyes Greater Usage

Glitch Wizard: Distort your photos.

Glitch Wizard: Distort your photos.

After wowing the audience at DemoCamp last autumn, Halifax-based Glitch Wizard is now hoping users upload more images on to social media using the app.  

Founded by developers Connor Bell and Allan Lavell, Glitch Wizard is an app that uses filters to distort images, GIFs and videos to give them a computer-crash aesthetic. Glitch Wizard allows the user to have fun with their images rather than post exactly what the camera captures.

The Halifax-based duo broke even the first day they launched Glitch Wizard on the Canadian and American Apple app stores last September. For every sale, they take 70 percent of the $2.29 that the app sells for on the Canadian app store; then, Bell and Lavell each receive half of that money. They said their daily earnings from the app is enough to buy both of them a fancy lunch.

In the time they aren’t working on Glitch Wizard, Lavell works as a freelance developer, and Bell is completing his bachelor of science in computer science and mathematics from Dalhousie University. They also work at Halifax programming company Twisted Oak.

Bell and Lavell drew huge applause from the crowd at Halifax’s Democamp last autumn, where they pitched Glitch Wizard in under five minutes.

Lavell said that he’s more interested in buyers’ engagement with Glitch Wizard at this stage than with the numbers of downloads. When they made the app free for two days, they saw 8,500 downloads. He added he wants to see users uploading more pictures on the app on a frequent basis, then uploading those pictures to Twitter with #glitchwizard.

In the 2.0 version the duo released in October, they added a “submit to feature” button to the app. This means that once users upload their photos to the app, they can press the “submit to feature” button, which sends the photo to Lavell and Bell. The duo pick the best glitched photos and feature them on the homepage of the app. They said that this has been a huge success.

“It’s a complex enough tool that there’s a lot of diverse ways to approach using it,” Lavell said, “and there’s guaranteed that there’s someone’s going to come up with something that we haven’t thought of.”

Glitch Wizard finds its biggest successes in the social media realm. Lavell said he’ll often glitch artwork and tweet it to the artist, who often will retweet the Glitch. Bell said that he hopes to create more filters for the app, including a double exposure one, in which two images are blended together and then glitched.

“This is a sweet art-making tool,” Lavell said. “If you’re cool, go get it.”


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


Conlon Brings Nautel Touch to LED

Peter Conlon: 'Now I'm glad I'm vanilla.'

Peter Conlon: 'Now I'm glad I'm vanilla.'

Peter Conlon, CEO of LED Roadway Lighting, had just received the greatest compliment of his career.

“Yesterday, I bumped into a former colleague from the days when I was CEO of Nautel,” he said.

“She told me that everything is fine at Nautel. She said, ‘You made us so confident in ourselves we know we can do it.’

“That felt great. Now I can sit back and say, ‘I didn’t mess that up.’”

Conlon was president and CEO of Nautel for nine years, before leaving to become LED CEO last August.

Nautel is based in sleepy Hacketts Cove, near Peggys Cove, but has become a global leader in the manufacture of radio broadcast transmitters.

The company has projects in 177 countries, and NASA features on its client list.

Conlon led the organization to its global position after being headhunted for the role.

“Nautel was a beautiful company but it needed a spark. I thought it was a diamond in the rough,” he said, remembering the early days.

When he took over at Nautel, there was never any reason to fear that Conlon, who had experience managing businesses of all sizes around the world, would mess up.

But Conlon had been falling prey to mid-life self-doubt. He was unhappy that he’d dropped out of university without completing his math degree, although he later managed to persuade George Mason University in Virginia to allow him to gain an MBA.

Over the years, he’d become a generalist in business. He had tried many different roles, including sales, finance, marketing and manufacturing, without excelling at any of them.

“I’d become a generalist because I am easily bored and because I see life as series of puzzles. I love Sudoku. Puzzles keep the brain active and allow the subconscious to work on other problems.

“But I woke one day feeling terribly stressed. I asked myself, ‘What am I?’ I realized that because of a career path that wended like a drunken butterfly, I wasn’t anyone. They wouldn’t know what to put on my epitaph.

“I realized that I’d better become a very good generalist. Now I’m glad I’m vanilla. At Nautel, I realized that not being anything in particular could be valuable.”

Conlon said generalists are valuable because they see how things fit together.

“We understand the impact of decisions on other parts of an organization. I have actual experience of the day jobs of everyone who works for me and understand their roles.

“Everyone’s work improves when they learn to assess their decisions in a company-wide context.”

Conlon said he learned about leadership from working for Terry Matthews, founder of Ottawa startup Mitel Networks, a company with strong similarities to Nautel.

“Terry allowed me to see what inspirational leadership can do. People would follow Terry into what appeared to be an abyss because he made them believe the bridge was there.”

Conlon’s dislike of boredom means he has moved 17 times since leaving his parents’ Ottawa home.

He has been in Nova Scotia since 2006, after his P.E.I.-born wife expressed a desire to return to the Atlantic coast.

These days, boredom is less of a problem.

“Each of my recent jobs has been complex, and it takes longer to get to that point.”

Now, he aims to repeat his Nautel success story at LED. The Bayers Lake-headquartered company specializes in the design and manufacturing of LED-based street lighting and control systems.

Increasing global sales is a key objective.

“At the heart of a business is a team. You have to get them all to believe and to move in the same direction.

“Confidence means working to create a global market for Nova Scotia technology. Doing business in your own community is wonderful, but the same money is being circulated. It’s exports that bring new wealth to the region.”


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

Dragons Vet Sage, Hold Auditions

The CBC’s Dragons' Den is looking for Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs just as it airs a pitch from a team that  cut their teeth in the region.

Auditions for The Dragon’s Den are being held around the region this week, and Sage Mixology, a company that grew out of Dalhousie University’s Starting Lean Program, will appear on the show next Wednesday.

Sage, which markets premixed drinks through a bottle-within-a-bottle system, will appear on the show Wednesday, March 11. CEO Cam McDonald said the team is on the first seven minutes of the show.

Dragon’s Den contestants follow the laws of Omerta, so McDonald declined to say whether the team got funding.

SageMixology developed in the first Dal Starting Lean cohort more than two years, with the idea that premixed drinks would be better if the alcohol and the mix were separated until they were poured into a glass. The company’s Elderberry and Pink Lemon products are now being sold by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, the world’s largest liquor retailer.

Meanwhile, the show’s annual auditions in Atlantic Canada began yesterday in Saint John. (Apologies to New Brunswickers that we didn’t see the announcement until after it had been held.)

The auditions will continue in Charlottetown tomorrow (Friday) at 10 am to 5 am at the CBC office on University Ave.

There will be concurrent auditions Saturday.

In Halifax, they will take place at the Centre For Entrepreneurship Education and Development, or CEED, or the Halifax Shopping Centre from 11 am to 6 pm.

“We are excited to host the Halifax auditions on the CBC Dragons’ Den national audition tour for the fifth time,” said Laurie Cameron, President and CEO, CEED. “Dragons’ Den is a natural fit for CEED given our extensive experience working with business start-ups. Once again this year, we are proud to offer a unique component to the Halifax auditions, providing entrepreneurs with the opportunity to practice and perfect their pitch with CEED.”

In St. John’s, the auditions will take place 10 am to 5 pm Saturday at the Sheraton Hotel. 

Briefs: Densitas, RtTech, Smart Skin

Vienna, Austria , March 4 – A new research technology was profiled today during scientific sessions at the European Congress of Radiology (ECR) in Vienna, Austria. Densitas Research Edition assesses mammographic breast density using ‘for presentation’ digital mammography images.

In a presentation focused specifically on the technology itself, study results using 1,823 images showed excellent agreement between Densitas Research Edition density measures and radiologists’ visual assessment. This concept is also known as ‘face validity’. The research also confirmed the internal reliability of Densitas Research Edition, or its ability to consistently generate the same, valid results repeatedly.

“Densitas Research Edition provides consistent, reliable and reproducible results,” said Mohamed Abdolell, CEO of Densitas and a biostatistician. “This gives us the ability to address a key challenge for radiologists who visually assess mammographic density: inter and intra-operator variability.”

Currently, the standard way to assess mammographic density is a radiologist’s visual assessment. Such subjective evaluation is prone to poor reproducibility between two radiologists reading the same image. As well, even the same radiologist could assess an image at different times and report a different result. Densitas Research Edition standardizes the assessment of mammographic density.

* * *

Moncton, March 3 -- RtTech is proud to announce the release of a new, cloud-based version of its award-winning real-time KPI Calculator software, RtDuet. Offered on a monthly subscription basis, RtDuet Cloud is primarily directed towards small to medium manufacturers.

RtDuet Cloud allows smaller manufacturing companies to compete on the same level as larger corporations by implementing the robust software solution as an operating expense, rather than waiting to incorporate into future capital expenditures.

"We wanted to help all companies improve their plant efficiencies, not just the large and wealthy ones," says RtTech Software CEO Pablo Asiron. We took a proven solution and adapted it into a subscription-based service to allow smaller companies to reap the rewards. This is the way all software is moving. We needed to adapt in order to compete, and we're happy to have been first out of the gate."

RtDuet Cloud offers manufacturers the same features and benefits as its namesake, RtDuet. The significant differences are reduced installation time and subscription-based pricing.

* * *

Moncton, March 3 -- Smart Skin Technologies is excited to announce the appointment of Mr. Andreas Liebl as a partner for key account customers. Mr. Liebl has more than 25 years experience in the industry and has held several senior positions in the brewing, malting, flavour and machinery industries in Europe and Africa. He studied in Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, holding a Brewmaster degree from the Technical University Munich in Weihenstephan and an MBA degree from the University of Missouri Kansas City.

"I am excited to show our customers how the benefits of the Smart Skin technology will contribute to their success in filling beverages more efficiently." says Mr. Liebl. "Joining a company early in its life is a new path for me and an incredible growth opportunity. I am looking forward to helping the company grow and succeed."

Smart Skin Technologies CEO Kumaran Thillainadarajah adds “Smart Skin Technologies is very excited to welcome Mr. Liebl. We are on a mission to improve the bottom lines of our customers. Mr Liebl shares this vision and will help Smart Skin Technologies in reaching our goal of helping every plant in the world.”

Mr. Liebl is formerly Vice President of Sales for Krones AG, where he was responsible for all sales activities in Sub-Saharan Africa.


This column of briefs is verbatim text taken from press releases issued by the subject companies. 

After Pivot, Dash Hudson Raises $1M

Dash Hudson: Linking e-commerce and Instagram ads.

Dash Hudson: Linking e-commerce and Instagram ads.

Dash Hudson, a Halifax company that helps shoppers purchase clothes they see on Instagram ads, has raised $1 million, including funding from two of the province’s leading tech entrepreneurs, Jevon MacDonald and Gavin Uhma.

While the money is significant to help the company grow, the Dash Hudson statement Tuesday reveals how the company has secured a network of leading advisers and investors in both the technology and fashion worlds.

Innovacorp contributed $350,000 to the round raised by CEO Thomas Rankin, who worked for the provincial innovation agency from 2011 to 2013. The other new investors include MacDonald and Uhma, who co-founded GoInstant in 2011 and sold out to Salesforce for a reported price of more than $70 million a year later.

Dash Hudson may add to the round if other investors come in.

“Obviously, I had knowledge of Thomas by working with him previously here,” said Charles Baxter, Innovacorp vice-president of investment, in an interview.

“One thing I liked about Thomas is he’s a guy who sought out top-notch advice.”

Rankin and chief technical officer Tomek Niewiarowski launched Dash Hudson in late 2013 as an e-commerce fashion site for men. Last summer, they changed their model so they work more closely with fashion houses or retailers advertising products on the photo-based social network.

Dash Hudson allows brands’ creative talent to place photos on Instagram of models wearing their clothes with relevant descriptions. With an elegant model and a visually pleasing photo, the seller can make sure the clothes are presented in the best light. And using Instagram, the ads can be sent out to a vast range of potential shoppers.

People who have registered with Dash Hudson can then “like” the image and are taken instantly to the Dash Hudson site, where they can buy the product online. Dash Hudson handles order processing with the product provider and bundles items, when possible.

Dash Hudson is available on the iPhone, and the company plans to have an Android version later this year. The goal is that the entire social media and shopping experience will be carried out on the user’s phone or mobile device.

 “For our audience, Instagram is their stage, their glossy mag and their shopping mall,” said Rankin in a statement. “With brands spending over $1 billion per year on Instagram marketing, with no (return on investment), there’s a big opportunity for us to help turn that spend into meaningful results.”

Since the new service was launched in December, the ads linked to Dash Hudson have reached about 3 million people. Baxter said the company now has in “the low tens of thousands” of users.

What’s impressive about the company is the people Rankin has surrounded himself with. As well as MacDonald and Uhma, local investors include Patrick Hankinson, who sold Compilr last year. Investors in Dash Hudson’s previous $400,000 funding round included former Groupon chief technology officer Paul Gauthier and DHX Media co-founder and Academy Award-winning producer Charles Bishop.

Baxter said Innovacorp was comfortable investing in the former employee’s company because of its rising user base and because of the quality of investor it attracted and continues to work with.

The company’s advisers include Daniel Burka, design partner at Google Ventures; Erik Lautier, executive vice-president and chief digital officer at the fashion boutique bebe; David Alston, chief innovation officer at Introhive; and John Jannuzzi, senior digital editor at GQ.


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


Press Release: Teen Event in Sydney

The UIT program at Cape Breton University issued the following press release:

High School Hackathon hosted by UIT Startup Immersion

UIT Startup Immersion at Cape Breton University is hosting a free, day-long hackathon for high school students. The event takes place at the New Dawn Center for Social Innovation on Saturday, March 7 from 8am to 9pm.

The event -- which is free for high school-aged students -- aims to boost interest in technology, computer programming, and entrepreneurship.  Beginning with a brainstorming session, participants will be paired with UIT students and mentors from the local tech community. Teams will spend the next 12 hours bringing their ideas to life. Participants' parents are invited to attend from 7-9pm to witness the results.

Breakfast, lunch, snacks and supper are provided.

“We are really looking forward to seeing what these high school students and UIT students come up with together. Not just in the way of new tech or business apps, but also to use technology to help the community,” said Danielle Patterson, spokesperson for UIT Startup Immersion.

“Business and information technology are inseparable nowadays,” said Patterson. “With an understanding of both, students would be ready to step right into some of the best career paths out there, whether as entrepreneurs or as employees at leading organizations in just about every industry."

Participants needn’t have prior software experience, but they do need to register in advance. For more information visit: uithackathon.eventbrite.ca

UIT is an 11-month immersion program that teaches the methods behind the world’s most successful startups. Students learn technology and business skills leading up to the launch of their own product. UIT is founded by Gavin Uhma, in a partnership with Cape Breton University’s Shannon School of Business.

Applications are being accepted for September 2015. Applicants can register at UITstartup.org

AutoPulse Plans Launch in 2016

A few months after musing with his father about new technologies for the automotive industry, Sam Jesso is one step away from capturing more than $200,000 in seed funding and services to develop such a product.

Jesso heads AutoPulse, a Fredericton startup designing technology that helps auto dealerships monitor their customers’ cars.

Last week, the University of New Brunswick software engineering student found out AutoPulse was a finalist for the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation’s Breakthru competition. The top three finalists, who will be named March 19, will divide a prize pot worth about $750,000.

“When we were working on our first business plan, we started before we’d even heard of the Breakthru competition,” Jesso said in an interview Sunday, together with his co-founder Kristin Killam.

“We plan on going forward regardless of the outcome, but winning would help because it would reduce the need for money.”

The story of AutoPulse began when Jesso did a few work terms in his co-op program with Blue Spurs Consulting in Fredericton, and he became intrigued with the startup world. Then in October, he and his father, Reg, a portfolio manager with an auto dealership, began to discuss the opportunities for new technology in the auto trade.

They teamed up with Killam, a business administration student at UNB, and soon devised a data-based product.

AutoPulse works off existing hardware that is simple to install and operates with the onboard computer in most cars on the road. The system automatically monitors the workings of the car and can detect early signs that problems may arise. AutoPulse transmits the information to a mobile or desktop dashboard at the dealership.

The idea is to provide the dealership with data so it can initiate a service call, rather than wait for a car owner to get around to it. That means the dealership can contact car owners before they even know there is something wrong, thus improving service. It also means a dealership can order parts before a car even arrives at the shop.

That reduces “unsold service capacity,” or having parts sitting around the dealership in case they’re needed. And it facilitates scheduling an appointment by putting the two parties in touch.

“From a competitive standpoint, there are multiple (customer relationship management devices) for dealerships, and what a lot of them focus on is lead conversion for sales,” said Jesso.

“But these are, for the most part, manual entry databases or, at best, they’re estimations. We think there is some value in that information being real-time.”

Though they’re still a few years away from graduation, Jesso and Killam plan to launch the first version of their product in early 2016. They already have four dealerships signed up to test it.

And they believe the cost of developing the software will only be about $25,000, meaning they can proceed regardless of how they do in the Breakthru event.


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

Press Release: Local Prosperity Event

The Centre for Local Prosperity has issued the following press release:

Regional Economics Conference planned for April 2015

(Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia) March 2, 2015.    It is widely known that small rural communities in Atlantic Canada are struggling.  A regional conference has been organized to address these issues with fresh ideas.  The conference is entitled “Local Prosperity: New Economics for Rural Canada” (localprosperity.ca), and is taking place April 9-12, 2015, in Annapolis County.

One of the organizers, Gregory Heming, an Annapolis County municipal councilor and President of the Centre for Local Prosperity, says, “Finding solutions to the increasing economic, social and ecological disintegration of small rural communities may seem difficult, but practical and achievable solutions are possible. There are many examples from which we can draw inspiration.”

Heming is part of a group of individuals from several Nova Scotia communities that have banded together to create the non-profit organization Centre for Local Prosperity, located in Annapolis County. The mission of the Centre is to assist rural Atlantic Canadian communities in initiating self-empowering projects and activities that result in the creation of more prosperous and enlightened communities.

Conference organizers have been keeping abreast of many new projects and ideas initiated in small communities in the region and elsewhere in Canada, the U.S. and internationally. Robert Cervelli, a resident of St. Margarets Bay and one of the conference organizers, says many innovative communities have been successful in meeting the rural challenge. Cervelli says, “The conference will focus on how individuals, businesses and communities can design and then implement a future that is cooperative, compassionate and long-term.  We intend to provide an innovative and full tool-box of ideas.”

The conference brings together more than 35 local, national, and international speakers with expertise in new models for community economic development. 

Conference working sessions highlight innovative approaches, such as local investment in new community enterprises, shared community resources, community enterprise hubs, complementary currencies, innovative ways to rejuvenate a town’s “main street,” small farms as economic drivers, development of local food infrastructure, adding value to fisheries, rebuilding value from our forests, the importance of arts and culture economy, and new models of municipal governance.

The conference is being held in an innovative mix of venues in Annapolis County and the town of Annapolis Royal, including the Annapolis Royal Regional Academy, recently vacated and seeking a new purpose, and the successfully converted Pearson Peacekeeping Centre in Cornwallis now serving as the Annapolis Basin Conference Centre.

 “The conference is intended for anyone inspired to revitalize their community,” says Heming, who goes on to list farmers, fishermen, foresters, community leaders, elected representatives, business and industry leaders, small business owners, students, start-up entrepreneurs, agency and association representatives, and local residents.

Organizers of the conference on rural economic development are encouraging early registration. For more information about the conference visit links below.

For more information, contact:




Gregory Heming                               902-955-1267                     gregoryaheming@gmail.com

Robert Cervelli                  902-222-4391                     robert.cervelli@gmail.com

Press Release: Next Propel Cohort

Propel ICT, Atlantic Canada’s startup accelerator, has issued the following press release:

Propel ICT Opens Up Applications For Next Round of Startup Programs

Programs Offered for New Startups or Established Early-Stage Companies.

St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador – Propel ICT, Atlantic Canada’s startup accelerator, today opened up applications for companies to take part in its next round of accelerator programs. Propel ICT’s Launch program is for new companies just getting started, while its ¬Build program is for more established early-stage companies. Applications will be available until 5 p.m. on May 1st, 2015.

“We are seeing steady growth and maturation of the startup ecosystem in Atlantic Canada. More companies are forming and finding success in attracting investment and customers,” said Gary Dinn, Propel ICT CEO. “With Propel ICT’s Launch and Build programs, we want to continue that trend and provide meaningful guidance to the entrepreneurs that will transform our economy.”

Propel ICT is a private-sector led initiative that helps companies take ideas to market and build successful businesses. Working with partner organizations, Propel ICT and its volunteer coaches and mentors support entrepreneurs as they build innovative solutions, create jobs and drive new opportunities throughout Atlantic Canada. Propel ICT helped launch 75 companies since it was founded a decade ago.

Propel ICT’s Launch program, formerly known as Start, helps entrepreneurs get started with a new or pre-revenue business, creating strong teams that take good ideas and turn them into market ready products or services. Launch programming is delivered by Propel ICT at the offices of Community Partners throughout Atlantic Canada, including Planet Hatch in Fredericton, Volta in Halifax and Common Ground and StartupNL in St. John’s.

Propel ICT’s intensive Build program helps early-stage, revenue-generating companies gain traction, find needed funding and grow. Build participants then work directly with mentors, coaches and peers to learn how best to build their business, refining product offerings, opening up new markets and generating more revenue. Startups in this program are eligible for BDC’s $150,000 convertible note program.  

“Propel ICT was an extraordinary experience. We learned from top tier mentors that built successful companies, and also from our peers that are facing similar challenges. Taking part in Propel ICT’s program allowed us to move faster in building our company and it gave us a huge leap forward,” said Sarah Murphy of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Sentinel Alert, a company that provides innovative workplace safety solutions.

Participation in the Launch or Build programs is available to all entrepreneurs based in Atlantic Canada. Space in each program is limited. To learn more or to apply, visit http://www.propelict.com



Venture for Canada Deadline Sunday

The final Fellow application deadline for this year's Venture4Canada cohort is March 1st, 2015.  

Venture for Canada is a career accelerator for recent grads, who want to learn how to build a business, while making an impact. 

Fellows join a cohort that includes a former Apple engineer, alumni of The Next 36, and a Top 20 Under 20 recipient.  Fellows have the opportunity of working at one of Venture for Canada's 90 Partner Startups, and receive five weeks of training at Queen's University.

The applications are available here.

Zed’s Entrepreneurship Education

Robert Zed: 'Entrepreneurs are born, but the skills can be taught and fine-tuned.'

Robert Zed: 'Entrepreneurs are born, but the skills can be taught and fine-tuned.'

After five years of volunteering as a high school entrepreneurship teacher, Robert Zed is working on a new venture of his own, one that will bring entrepreneurship education to many.

Zed, chairman of Triangle Strategies of Halifax, helps a teacher at Citadel High School teach an entrepreneurship program to Grade 12 students.

“It started when one of my sons took me into school for a show and tell session,” said Zed.

“The school program is very practical. We examine launching, growing and sustaining a business. We have a module called Food for Thought, where we look at one kind of food, such as Oreo cookies, and examine how they are marketed, distributed or packaged, etc.

“We also have icebreaker thought-starters. Each student in the class makes a brief presentation or answers a question or reports on a current news flash. Presentation skills are vital in entrepreneurship.”

The students create their own businesses, and the year concludes with the Phoenix Nest Competition sponsored by Scotiabank and local companies, while local entrepreneurs act as judges.

Zed said that some former students and interns that he has mentored have gone on to start businesses, notably Alex MacLean, founder of East Coast Lifestyle Clothing.

The classroom experience has inspired Zed to create Prime 101, which will launch across Canada by September 2016 and offer a curriculum in entrepreneurship.

“We are working on the curriculum now,” said Zed.

“It will have an online component. We will roll it out to school boards, First Nations and others that want to learn about entrepreneurship.”

Zed hopes Prime 101 will play an important role in increasing knowledge about entrepreneurship, something he thinks particularly important in this region.

“We need people trained and ready to start, grow and sustain businesses. I believe entrepreneurs are born, but the skills can be taught and fine-tuned.”

Prime 101 will be just the latest in a varied group of businesses for Zed who, early in his career, established Crothall Services Canada, which provides out-sourced management solutions for hospitals and schools. He sold Crothall after leading the company to nearly $30 million in annual revenue.

Today, he heads Triangle Strategies, which is the umbrella organization for a group of companies that cover health-care strategy and navigation, hospitality and event production.

Zed said there is no secret to success, believing it stems from hard work, focus and accountability.

He has had many mentors since his own entrepreneurial career began when he was young.

“My first business was a Kool-Aid stand when I was four. Then I had candy and hot dog ventures and a clothing venture with my brother.”

He gained degrees in health administration, public administration and hospital management, later becoming an administrator at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

“Then I felt the return of that childhood entrepreneurial spirit and bought a company. I’d missed the fun.”

Zed has recently launched an event called FANfit Challenge with Dartmouth’s Olympic paddler Andrew Russell. It will benefit Canada’s Olympians, and the two have just partnered with the Canadian Olympic Foundation.

Zed said he finds the time to mentor and run varied ventures because he is able to rely on his teams.

“I think great teams are the basis of entrepreneurship. I believe in giving someone responsibility and opportunity and letting them make mistakes.”

He said mentors should ask questions and give support and advice. The questions help entrepreneurs clarify their vision.

“In today’s competitive world, where young entrepreneurs are starting up around the globe, good mentors can mean the difference between success and failure.”





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

A Look at Failures in 2014

Entrevestor recently completed its second survey of Atlantic Canadian startups, and one of the striking figures was the number of companies that vanished in 2014.

Here are the basics. Of the 290 companies we surveyed last year, eight were acquired or merged with other startups. Nine moved outside the region. There were 43 that either went out of business or never really moved beyond a group of dreamers with an idea.

So the headline number is that about 15 per cent of the startups we were tracking at the end of 2013 went under or never got going. But the deeper truth is more complicated, nuanced by the makeup of the startup community and by its attitude toward failure.

In many respects, the startup community is a pyramid, with a clutch of strong companies at the top and a broad range of the weak and experimental at the bottom. The bottom tier includes teams that intend to develop into companies but in actual fact are just a few people coming together to work on an idea. We include them in our dataset because some do morph into robust companies, and it’s impossible at the early stage to tell who will survive.

The strength of any startup community is that you have this mishmash of talent and ambition at the bottom. They come together and try something. If it doesn’t work, they break apart and try something else.

One of the catchphrases heard frequently is “fail fast, fail often.” The community operates off lean methodology, under which you come up with an idea and ask several potential clients what they think. If you find problems, you adjust your business model to fix them. If you find lots of problems, you abandon your idea promptly before you spend too much time and money on a fruitless venture. Then you try something else.

It’s a model that works, as some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the community went through failures. And the startup types frequently talk about “celebrating failure” because persevering is a badge of honour.

Again, the truth is more complex than getting giddy about failure. Startups are hard work, and people can give up too soon if failure is too viable an option.

What’s more, these ventures often accept government money. The departments that write these cheques understand that some businesses will fail, but taxpayers rightfully want to be assured that the number will be kept to a minimum.

And people suffer when bona fide companies go bankrupt. The 43 that failed last year had employed 58 people on a full- or part-time basis at the end of 2013.

That actually understates the pain, as one had laid off more than 20 people a few months before it collapsed.

In total, about four of these startups were bona fide companies that six or more people depended on for their livelihoods. Obviously, dozens of people suffered from the closures.

Meanwhile, 26 of the failed companies had no paid employees.

Startup failure is indeed a complicated subject. But one more metric produced from the survey is that about 63 startups launched in Atlantic Canada in 2014.

Startups open. Startups close. And some linger to become big.


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

WaitShare Aims at Clinic Wait Times

Fredericton-based VeroSource Solutions, a tech startup that incorporated last year, has launched its first product WaitShare, a free app that aims to inform the public about wait times at walk-in clinics and emergency rooms.

Though several startups have tried to tackle the problem of people spending too long to wait to see a doctor, WaitShare relies on crowdsourcing to build up information on wait times. The idea is to give a patients an idea which facilities near them would offer the fastest service so they can choose the most efficient option.

“As a mother, I’ve been in the situation of having a sick child and not know which ER would give us the quickest attention, and sometimes had trouble finding out when the local after hours clinic opened,” said Christina Taylor, VeroSource’s spokesperson. “That’s why we developed this app, to help parents and other patients get access to that information, so that they could get the quickest health care available to them.”

A nine-member team with a background in healthcare has been working on WaitShare since 2012, either as investors, workers or a combination of the two. Taylor said that a core of six people did most of the work.

The team launched WaitShare in late January and received coverage in the Fredericton Gleaner and CBC, which gave an instant boost to the product. The team had been hoping to get 500 users by the end of February, but by last week the number had already reached 800. They hope to reach 2500 users by the end of March. Most of the users are now concentrated in New Brunswick, but the team hopes to roll it out across Canada and then beyond the country’s borders.

WaitShare works by asking members to report on the app the wait times in the facilities they’re using. That means that other people can consult the app to see which facility in their vicinity offers the fastest service. Users can sort the information by the service they need, and the app tells them the fastest combination of driving time and wait time.

It also tells users where the nearest health facilities to them and gives information like operating hours and services offered.

Taylor said in an interview the target market is largely mothers of children, and VeroSource believes mothers’ customary willingness to help one another should ensure the app is populated with useful information.  

The app is free and available on the App Store and Google Play. Taylor declined to reveal the team’s plan to monetize the product. WaitShare can operate independently of the health authorities, but the team would like to work with clinics and hospitals to get their information on the app.

“WaitShare is about the local community taking control of the information that you and your neighbors need about your local health facilities,” said Mark McAllister, VeroSource’s CTO. “Information that your local health facilities can’t provide on an ongoing real time basis.  Along the way, friends, strangers and visitors to your area using WaitShare are all helped by the community’s acts of caring.”



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


Press Release: CBMC Deadline

The Rowe School of Business at Dalhousie University has issued the following press release:

Call for Student Startups: Canada’s Business Model Competition

Dalhousie University’s Rowe School of Business is hosting Canada’s Business Model Competition (CBMC) on March 13th and 14th. The event gives student entrepreneurs from across Canada an opportunity to showcase their startups, expand their networks, and compete for prizes. This is the last week for students to submit an application before the deadline on February 28th at midnight AST.

The organizers are expecting 25-30 applications from top ranked universities from across Canada to compete for a share of the $50,000 Deloitte Smart Launch Award. Last year Teknically from Wilfrid Laurier University received the first prize of $25,000 in cash and in-kind services from Deloitte. Sparkgig from the University of Waterloo captured the $15,000 second prize package, and Santé West from the University of British Columbia won the $10,000 third-place prize package

Canada’s Business Model Competition is sanctioned as the national qualifier competition for the International Business Model Competition (IBMC). The first place team will win $25,000 in cash and in-kind services and will advance to the IBMC at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, in early May.

The event is organized by the Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship at the Rowe School of Business.

The Centre’s Director, Dr. Ed Leach says, “Canada’s Business Model Competition is a truly national event; we have teams applying from coast to coast. It’s a great opportunity for student entrepreneurs and innovators. And the event showcases the capacity of our region to be the go-to venue for a national event like this. ”

The Newman Centre and Dalhousie University – along with their partners, Deloitte and McInnes Cooper -- are looking to host more student startups, provide more learning and have a bigger impact on the Canadian university start-up ecosystem than last year.

For more information, visit our website: http://www.bmccanada.ca/ Appli.cations are open until February 28th, 2015 and you can apply here: http://www.bmccanada.ca/apply-now/ And i.f you have any questions, please contact one of our event organizers using the contact information listed below!

Information Contact:

Akram Al-Otumi

Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship

Dalhousie University Akram-Alotumi@Dal.ca


Kathleen Heymans

Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship

Dalhousie University



McRock, NBIF in $3M RtTech Deal

RtTech Software, whose state-of-the-art automation helps industrial companies improve manufacturing processes, will announce Tuesday that it has closed a $3-million venture capital round led by the world’s leading industrial Internet of things fund.

McRock Capital's new McRock iNFund LP will invest as much as $2.5 million in the Moncton company, while the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation will contribute $500,000.

The fund is backed by major institutions, such as Cisco Investments, Teralys Capital Innovation LP and BDC Capital, and will be worth about $65 million when funding closes this year. Co-founder Scott MacDonald said it is the world’s only fund investing exclusively in the industrial Internet of things, which uses software and sensors to automate industrial processes more quickly and precisely than a group of humans could.

“It’s an honour and a privilege that they’ve invested in us,” said RtTech CEO Pablo Asiron in an interview. “They’ve been looking at a lot of companies, and they had a lot of other options where they could have put their money. For me, it’s a sign that they believe in the things we’re doing.”

MacDonald echoed the comments in a separate interview, saying he and his partner, Whitney Rockley, have been examining companies from across North America and were most impressed by RtTech’s plan to release a software-as-a-service product in the coming months.

RtTech was spun out of ADM Systems Engineering of Moncton four years ago. Its main products are RtEMIS, which can pinpoint when and where part of a system is using excess energy, and RtDUET, which allows companies to examine specific processes to find the cause of downtime and poor utilization issues.

MacDonald said RtTech makes what he calls “industrial software apps,” meaning it takes data an industrial company already has and uses it in automated systems that improve performance.

Now the company is preparing to release its cloud-based product, which will allow easier distribution and reduce the customer’s implementation cost.

“It opens a bigger market than the one we are currently serving because it requires less capital investment,” said Asiron.

MacDonald said it is one of the first cloud-based products in the industrial Internet of things segment, and it will make these processes more affordable. Older forms of software would have required the manufacturer to have its own servers and information technology staff dedicated to the project, but cloud-based products remove such expenses.

“There are a lot of medium-sized manufacturing companies that don’t have the budget for this,” said MacDonald.

“But when you go into the cloud, you can get the same functionality as a massive company like Michelin without buying monolithic software.”

With the new product and funding, RtTech will build up its sales and marketing staff. It has 11 employees, mostly in product development, and plans to hire about 10 sales and marketing specialists in the coming year.

Up to now, Asiron has handled the lion’s share of sales, with considerable success. RtTech has clients in 14 countries and its sales increased about 20 per cent last year. Asiron and his new backer both expect stronger results with the new product.

“RtTech is one of the unique companies pushing into it, and Pablo has sales with the cloud-based product,” said MacDonald. “He’s not just dreaming about it. He’s already doing it.”

Press Release: Breakthru Finalists

The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation has issued the following press release:


After months of work for our five finalist teams, the idea of becoming entrepreneurs remains a dream. But three of them will become exactly that, receiving over $750,000 in investments and professional services from our partners to start their own company—and a new life.

Breakthru tickets are already selling fast. Get yours now before we sell out! Breakthru LIVE - March 19th at the Fredericton Convention Centre - is one of the most anticipated events of the season. In addition to a cocktail reception and dinner, the audience will get to see each finalist pitch onstage, enjoy a live band, and special musical performances by the Calithumpians Theatre Troupe.

The five finalists are:


Team leader: Samuel Jesso

Autopulse’s technology communicates vehicle problems and warnings to the dealership or service center of your choice, in real time. Service center staff will receive an alert about your vehicle’s issue along with all of the data from the onboard computer. Equipped with this information, the service center can reach out to the customer, give a general explanation of the problem, the time, effort and estimated cost of the repair, and book an appointment—increasing customer retention while reducing unsold service capacity.


Team leader: Keith Brunt

BioMatrix’s product, Naqua-Pure, is a magnetic compound that provides cost effective removal of heavy metals in waste water, and is simple to use. It is non-toxic, non-corrosive and safe to handle. An adsorbent, Naqua-Pure increases the density and facilitates the drying of post-treatment wastewater sludge to the extent that it can be used in bio, or plasma reactors for energy generation. Finally, the leftover heavy metals, now ultra dense (vitrified) can be forever removed from the environment.

Castaway Golf Technologies

Team leader: Josh Ogden

Castaway Golf has developed a new machine that will dredge and clean almost all the balls at the bottom of the bog. Additional technology sorts the balls into the 200 different models so they can be repackaged and resold by brand and kind. Castaway’s system will increase major ball makers’ revenues on resold balls while saving millions dollars per year in manual sorting costs. Finding lost golf balls, repackaging and selling them is a big business, a $400 million business.

SimpTek Technologies

Team leader: Keelen Gagnon

SimpTek Technologies provides customers with the ability to control and understand how energy is being consumed in their homes using innovative artificial intelligence technology. As many jurisdictions move towards “Smart Grids” and “Smart Homes”, SimpTek’s solution has the ability to understand consumers’ energy usage behaviours, while making predictions and providing actionable recommendations. At the same time, the system will allow utilities reduce their peak loads and base loads with in a more precise and predictable way.

Smart Castle Labs

Team leader: Elaheh Biglar

Today’s children are exposed to the Internet at a very early age. They play with tablets, smartphones and all sorts of digital devices, but the safety measures of most are far from adequate.  Smart Castle Lab’s product, DrawBridge, is a hardware device that once plugged into a home network, will help protect children by filtering content they receive through their browser or apps, including inappropriate content, cyber bullying and child luring—including an alert to their caregivers. 

NB BioMatrix Prepares for Q4 Launch

NB BioMatrix, the New Brunswick cleantech company that won the BioInnovation Challenge last autumn, is developing into a bona fide business by adding staff and planning to launch late this year.

The Saint John company is using nano-technology to develop a biodegradable, anti-bacterial liquid that can remove heavy metals and other pollutants from waste water. The product, called Naqua-Pure, binds with water-soluble particles such as heavy metals and non-soluble components such as oil. It then uses electromagnetic forces to remove the material from water.

Founded by CEO Jeff Jennings and Chief Science Officer Keith Brunt, the company is now expanding by hiring a researcher, Kim Clarke, to help with the development of the product. The hiring is being carried out in collaboration with the Health and Environments Research Centre Laboratory at Dalhousie University, and Mitacs, a program that encourages research partnerships between academia and industry. The University of New Brunswick has also been a partner with the company.

“I really like involving co-op students and interns in the company,” said Brunt, an assistant professor at Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick. “They are so bright and open to possibility – it’s like a booster-shot of energy when they are around. Engaging our first full time staff adds to that magic and accelerates NBBM towards commercialization."

NB BioMatrix – whose tagline is “Solutions for Contaminated Solutions” -- said in a statement that Brewer will be focused on supporting the advancement of Naqua-Pure. With a PhD in chemical engineering, she will work on the scale-up of the manufacturing process and establish quality assurance protocols for the end consumer.

“We’ve got some early product prototypes and are working on the manufacturing and the chemistry in order to ramp it up,” said Jennings in an interview last week.

He and Brunt hope to launch Naqua-Pure in the fourth quarter by bringing an initial product to market and then ramping up the manufacturing as revenues come in. Jennings said the target market for the early product will be industrial manufacturing and the pulp and paper industry in Atlantic Canada, though they hope to eventually target a number of industrial processes.  

They have been working on a model that calls for initial equity funding of $225,000, but that total could be supplemented by revenues in the early production runs.

The founders have also entered NB BioMatrix in the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation’s Breakthru competition. The top three companies in the contest will receive funding and in-kind services of more than $200,000 each, so a strong showing in Breakthru would help the company a lot.

At the BioInnovation Challenge, a competition for Atlantic Canadian biotech and cleantech companies, Brunt told the judges that Naqua-Pure is a cost-effective product that can remove 98 percent of heavy metals from water within 10 minutes.


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

Pond Offers $500K for Sales School

Gerry Pond has offered $500,000 to any university or other body in Atlantic Canada that establishes an academy to teach international sales.

The Co-Founder of Mariner and East Valley Ventures was the 15th panelist to speak on educational reform at an Association of Atlantic Universities symposium on Thursday. After several speakers had called for action and urgency, Pond brought the room to life by announcing he would contribute half a million bucks to any group that sets up an institute to teach curriculum in sales. (He said the winner can add the words “and marketing” if it likes, but the goal has to be the training of sales people.)

The focus on international sales – especially tech sales – is nothing new for Pond. He was an early investor in Q1 Labs and Radian6, the two most successful tech companies in the region. Since they announced exits in 2011, he has devoted his energy to funding and mentoring a succession of startups in the region. East Valley Ventures, of which he is a key member, has invested $10 million in about 30 startups. He is also a co-founder of the Pond-Deshpande Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of New Brunswick. 

He’s long held that the innovation in the region is tremendous, but there is a dire need for people who can sell technology in the global market place. Atlantic Canadian companies simply can’t scale to significant size without greater expertise in selling to international customers. He says the need is pervasive in Canada and acute in Atlantic Canada, and he called for some institute to remedy the shortfall.

“It will take an international sales academy that will produce competencies in these skill sets,” Pond told the Atlantic Leaders Summit. “I will put $500,000 into that institute today.”

The mid-afternoon announcement roused the crowd. Christine Hamblin of the Masters of Technology, Entrepreneurship and Innovation program at St. Mary’s University rose to say her program would offer a sales course in the coming year. Before she could tell him where to mail the cheque, Pond pointed out that his plan would take more than a single course because the skill sets that must be taught are quite complicated.

They include:

-  Cross-cultural communications;

-  Basic communications skills, including listening;

-  Clarity of messaging;

-  Negotiations;

-  And problem-solving.

Pond said the final point is critical because good sales people find ways to solve their customers’ problems. That, he added, is why engineers make great salesmen.

Pond indicated that he’s willing to be flexible on the fine points of the program, but he envisions a university initiating a dean of sales position and a complete curriculum in collaboration with the private sector.

Atlantic Canadian tend to think of sales people as being slick and sleazy, he said, but developing a professional, effective sales force is essential to building good businesses.

It’s a huge absence in the ecosystem now.

“I know enough to know that’s what is inhibiting Canadian companies, Atlantic Canadian companies, from scaling,” he said. “That’s where the problems are.”

Jutla Uses Startup Boom to Lure Talent

Dawn Jutla: 'Today, the hub ecosystem in Nova Scotia keeps growing.'

Dawn Jutla: 'Today, the hub ecosystem in Nova Scotia keeps growing.'

Halifax is gaining such a reputation for entrepreneurship that the buzz is helping Dawn Jutla attract mature students to the program she runs at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University.

Now in its second year, the master of technology, entrepreneurship and innovation program offers graduate students the chance to gain their master’s in just eight months of part-time study, followed by an eight-month work placement or work on their own startup.

The course offers eight short modules on vital subjects like marketing and finance to students who may already be tackling these issues in their lives.

“Most of our students want to start a business and many have already done so,” said Jutla, the program director and an award-winning researcher and professor in the fields of business and computer science.

“Some have developed their own technology and they’re looking to develop or commercialize it. They are studying and running their businesses simultaneously.”

Jutla said the program was created partly in response to the good things occurring locally.

“When we started creating this program in 2011, we were encouraged by things that were happening in Nova Scotia.

“These included the growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and culture, and the $25-billion naval vessel building contract being awarded to Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax. Things got even better when the Atlantic provinces established Build Ventures, the regional venture capital fund.

“Today, the hub ecosystem in Nova Scotia keeps growing, with ever more groups, mentors and events for entrepreneurs. It helps us sell the program — people want to be part of that.”

Jutla said the program is receiving more applications, including from overseas students who make up a third of the intake.

Jutla was born in England but raised in Trinidad and can empathize with the experiences of many of her students. Halifax has been her home for 25 years, ever since she came to Nova Scotia to study as a 23-year-old graduate student.

She had already completed business and computer science courses as part of her natural sciences degree and was working in marketing in her home country when she made the decision that changed her life.

“My first winter here was hard,” she recalled with a laugh.

“Three years later, I was doing my PhD in computer science at the Technical University of Nova Scotia, when Saint Mary’s needed a person to teach an intro to computers in its business school.

“I had the right work experience and academic qualifications. Soon my foot was in the door.”

She joined the university full time five years later.

One of the things she most enjoys about academia is the opportunity to form teams with colleagues and students from around the world.

“This makes you feel like you are doing meaningful work that positively impacts societies.”

She has achieved a lot of success with her research into online privacy, and her PhD work on multi-view access control has been cited in patents. She also co-chairs an international technical committee of the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards.

“Without security and privacy, electronic commerce is at risk,” she said. “And without privacy, you don’t have democracy. There are huge social implications.”

Jutla said entrepreneurs in Halifax are fortunate in many ways, but she and the school’s career services are struggling to find work placements for her international students.

“We must work from many angles to create intern positions for international students. It would help if the provincial government extended their employer co-op subsidization programs to interns.

“It depresses me when we attract highly qualified people to Nova Scotia but then advise them to apply for jobs in Toronto or elsewhere.”


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

Summit Urges Entrepreneurial Teaching

Academic, business and political leaders came together in Halifax on Thursday to call for reform in post-secondary education, and including a greater emphasis on teaching entrepreneurship.

The speakers at the Atlantic Leaders Summit organized by the Atlantic Association of Universities voiced a near unanimous message that the region’s institutes of high education need reform, or at least improvement. They have the potential to be an economic boon, to spur innovation and to train the work force for the modern economy. But there is an urgent need for improvement in various areas, they said. Though there were several points of view, several speakers called for the university system to increase its training of entrepreneurship to better prepare student for the workplace of today and tomorrow.

“Universities should have the goal of getting everyone into that entrepreneurial experience,” said businessman and philanthropist Gururaj Deshpande, one of the keynote speakers, adding such experience teaches students to solve problems that impact society. “When you have a society of problem solvers, you live in a very healthy society.

A native of India, Deshpande is a graduate of University of New Brunswick who moved to Boston and launched four tech businesses that were listed on the Nasdaq. He is the founder of the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Co-Founder of the Pond-Deshpande Centre for Entrepreneurship in Fredericton.

He and several other speakers said that by teaching student entrepreneurial skills, universities are teaching them to create enterprises that have impact on society, the planets and their communities.

Various themes recurred through the day, such as a need to retain more international students, and to develop a sense of urgency. Saying he was optimistic things will improve, SimplyCast CEO Saeed El-Darahali said these are matters that should have addressed long ago.

Throughout the day, speakers returned frequently to the need to give all students more entrepreneurial training.

Kevin Lynch, the Chair of the Board of Governors of the University of Waterloo, noted that Harvard Business School professor Bill Solomon  has noted that entrepreneurship is not an inherent trait. It can be “taught and untaught” and our university system spends too much time “unteaching” entrepreneurship.

“Why don’t we make it a hallmark [of Atlantic Canadian universities] that everyone who comes here will have some entrepreneurial experience?” asked Martha Crago, Vice President of Research at Dalhousie University

Deshpande urged the educators to give their students knowledge that has an impact on the wider world. He also urged experiential learning because it shows students that they can apply their knowledge to solve problems, and that leads to entrepreneurship.


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

Nova Scotia’s Next VC Fund

One of the overlooked segments of Premier Stephen McNeil’s State of the Province speech last week was his revelation that Nova Scotia will soon proceed with a new public-private venture capital fund.

On Feb. 11, McNeil delivered his address to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, and the focus was on the need for change, reinforcing the theme of the Ivany report.

But he also noted that the province would soon release a request for proposals for a private-sector venture capital partner to manage a fund that would be financed in part by the province. The announcement is a followup to the statement last July by Michel Samson, the minister responsible for economic development, that the province hoped to seed a new venture capital fund based in the province.

What we’re witnessing is the evolution of a three-pronged approach to funding high-growth companies by the Nova Scotia government.

Last summer, Samson decreed that Innovacorp would be the provincial agency making venture capital investments, with a special emphasis on simplified seed-funding rounds of less than about $250,000. Nova Scotia Business Inc. would not make new venture capital investments, though its previous investments have remained housed under the NSBI umbrella.

The second pillar is Build Ventures, the privately managed $60-million fund that has drawn most of its funding from the four Atlantic provinces. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have each invested $15 million.

The fund invests in more developed companies, so far in increments of $1.5 million to $3 million.

The third pillar will be the fund that will result from the request for proposals, which should be released within weeks. What it will look like will depend on the wording of the request and the responses it draws.

Judging from the premier’s and Samson’s remarks, it appears that the wording will be broad enough that responding firms can show some creativity in submitting proposals. The considerations will probably include what sectors will be the focus of the fund, how it will expand investment expertise in the region and what international networks the private-sector partner brings.

The government has mentioned a private-public collaboration, so it seems likely that a key factor will be how much money the venture capital manager puts into the fund. This will probably be subject to some negotiation because private investors would want the fund to be able to invest beyond Nova Scotia.

Samson has said he’s interested in the recent model of the Venture Newfoundland and Labrador fund, in which the provincial government and the Newfoundland and Labrador Angels Network together put money in a fund managed by GrowthWorks Atlantic.

McNeil seemed to suggest the request for proposals will leave the door open for venture capitalists in the region to compete for the contract. It makes sense, given the heightened interest of international funds in companies in the region.

Rho Canada Ventures, based in Boston and Montreal, has invested in four Atlantic Canadian companies in the last two years. And last year, Intel Capital sank money into Reno Sub-Systems, whose global headquarters is in Nova Scotia.

The thinking is that the array of high-growth companies in the region is diverse enough for a new funding vehicle.



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

Pond Tells Students: Dream Big

Gerry Pond: 'Think about making a difference while making a living.'

Gerry Pond: 'Think about making a difference while making a living.'

The following is the text of an address by Gerry Pond given at the recent Saint Mary’s University convocation, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate:

As you graduate from this fine university and begin the next stage in your journey, you will receive considerable amounts of advice, all well intentioned, and much of it useful. Let me add my voice to the chorus with some thoughts on how you can take what you’ve learned here at Saint Mary’s and use it to create a rewarding life.

There is a world of opportunity before you. You have talents, insights and passions that can create positive change in the world. Advances in technology have created a time of disruption unequalled in history. That disruption sets the stage for change.

Individuals can, and do, create tremendous change. You can too. Every single one of you can harness your energy and focus it on creating real change in the world.

Dream big. Think globally. Think about making a difference while making a living. Certainly, the world needs you. There are many challenges facing us – economic, social and environmental. You can help solve them.

Don’t be modest, don’t be timid, and don’t be afraid to get started.

I want to go beyond this simple exhortation. I want to offer three direct suggestions to you as you consider what you will do next.

Rise to the challenge of entrepreneurship

I want to encourage you to consider charting your own path by becoming an entrepreneur. This is not a new idea for you – entrepreneurial teaching runs deep at SMU. Entrepreneurship is a great way to use your educational investment by changing the status quo in almost any field.

Entrepreneurs are smart and nimble. They work hard to find a better way. Entrepreneurs aren’t limited to business. It’s about a mindset. Entrepreneurs are vital to helping not-for-profit or social enterprises tackle difficult issues like poverty or environmental degradation. Entrepreneurs are also needed – quite badly – in the public sector. It’s no secret that governments need to find better and more cost effective ways of delivering services.

At its core, entrepreneurship is about improving upon the status quo, about determination, about starting with nothing, about managing assets wisely, and about delivering an impact locally and globally. In fairness, it could also be about creating a better coffee, hamburger, or mousetrap.

Entrepreneurship is often surrounded in layers of mystery and intrigue. It can seem glamorous and exciting, and it often is. But remember that the “Social Network” was a movie. In most cases, entrepreneurship is about plain hard work and a powerful determination to make something better, and in turn, reap the personal and/or financial rewards.

Stay in Atlantic Canada

Most of you graduating today are from Atlantic Canada; others have come to Halifax from other parts of Canada or the world. I want all of you to recognize that this region is a great place to launch and grow a new company. The start-up or new business formation ecosystem is maturing throughout our region and is now better enable to assist with early stage growth.

This ecosystem for entrepreneurs is composed of a network of mentors attached to accelerators such as Propel ICT, and incubators like Volta in Halifax, along with university-based programs such as the Wallace McCain Institute, and capital funding sources both private, like First Angel Network and Brightspark East, and public, like lnnovacorp, NBIF, and Build Ventures. Over the last 10 years a rich, interconnected support structure has emerged for early stage entrepreneurs.

So as you consider taking the entrepreneurial step, know that you won’t be alone. There are many organizations in place that will support you and help you succeed.

What’s more, many of our existing businesses have become “early adopters” of the region’s start-ups’ products or services and many professional organizations are gearing their practices to support entrepreneurs’ needs as well. Atlantic Canada’s ecosystem is ready to support local or immigrant entrepreneurs in a meaningful way.

Do it Soon

Timing, some say, is everything.

There is a consensus building in Atlantic Canada that we need to boost our economy with new businesses. Some would say the economy is in a crisis.

We have deep roots in starting world-class businesses from this region with iconic names like Sobey, Irving, Bragg, Rowe, McCain, and Dobbin leading the way. However, the growth in our economy has slowed compared to the demand for public services in health and education, in particular. We need to renew our entrepreneurial capacity. It needs to happen now.

So how will you add your name to the list of extraordinary entrepreneurs that have come out of Atlantic Canada?

Again, technology is helping drive new opportunities. There are many options open to you to build the next “Sobey’s” of medical devices, Internet security, robotic manufacturing, green cars, aquaculture or senior care.

What’s stopping you? Remember, entrepreneurs just like you are creating the future. Atlantic Canada is a wonderful place to build a world-class company or social enterprise. There is a growing and vibrant ecosystem here to support you.

I urge you to get started and be a positive force for change. And I wish you well in all your future endeavours.


Gerry Pond is the Co-Founder and Chairman of Mariner Partners and Co-Founder of East Valley Ventures. He lives in Saint John.


Kurzweil Coming to Big Data Congress

The third annual Big Data Congress, to be held in Halifax this October, will feature as its keynote speaker Google’s Director of Engineering Ray Kurzweil.

The brainchild of T4G CEO Geoff Flood, the first two Congresses were held in Saint John and both attracted more than 600 delegates even though they were held in the depth of winter. The event is designed to promote the use of data analytics to generate economic growth and improve the performance of all organizations.

This year, the event will shift to Halifax and to the autumn, and it will have a special emphasis on how Big Data is improving productivity. The event will be held in conjunction with the World Confederation of Productivity Science, which will also be meeting in Halifax.

The other themes of this year's Congress will be the internet of everything, smart cities and industrial efficiency.

"Big Data is having an incredible impact on productivity in government and industry,” said Co-Chair Peter Watkins, president of the World Network of Productivity Organizations. “We believe this may be one of the most important Big Data conferences in 2015."

The main organizers of the event are T4G, Digital Nova Scotia, Dalhousie University and the World Network of Productivity Organizations. (Full disclosure:  Some of these organizations have sponsored or advertised in Entrevestor publications and we continue to seek them as clients.)

The organizers announced Tuesday that Kurzweil will be the keynote speaker. He is primarily an inventor and futurist, having created the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, and several other inventions.

Inc. magazine described him as the “rightful heir to Thomas Edison”, while PBS selected him as one of the “sixteen revolutionaries who made America.”

The other speakers include Dave Kasik, Boeing’s Senior Technical Fellow in visualization and interactive techniques, and Hilary Mason, the Data Scientist in Residence at Accel Partners, a leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

"The past two years saw this event grow in importance,” said Co-Chair Michael Shepherd, the Dean of Computer Science at Dal. “Big Data is having a profound effect on our world and this year we are delighted to be partnering with the World Confederation of Productivity Science to expand the event across three days."



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

Press Release: Startup Week in NB

The organizers of East Coast Startup Week in Fredericton have issued the following press release:

A Week of Innovation and Entrepreneurship with Something for Everyone! Press Release:

FREDERICTON, NB – The blossoming East Coast start-up scene will get a major boost with the second iteration of East Coast Startup Week, a series of events being held on March 16 to 22 in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Brought to you by organizing partners Planet Hatch, the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and the Pond-Deshpande Centre, East Coast Startup Week is a series of events bringing entrepreneurs and local leaders together to build momentum and opportunity. This annual event exists to connect Atlantic Canada’s growing entrepreneurial community with fellow market driven and socially driven entrepreneurs and changemakers.

“East Coast Startup Week gives our region the critical mass needed to support our growing community of entrepreneurs and attract investors and mentors from both inside the region and around the world.” states Karina LeBlanc, Executive Director of the Pond-Deshpande Centre. “Startup week is a catalyst. When you bring entrepreneurs with good ideas together with mentors and investors, good things are going to happen.”

There will be eight major events put on by a variety of community leaders including:

● The Social Impact Development Dialogue by the Pond-Deshpande Centre

● Speaker Series by Planet Hatch

● Startup Sleigh Ride by Planet Hatch

● 20 Mentor Minutes by the Pond-Deshpande Centre

● Fullsail 2015 (Raising Capital and Exit Strategies) by FCNB

● New Brunswick Innovation Foundation’s Breakthru LIVE Awards Dinner

● Youth Entrepreneurship Summit Atlantic by the Pond-Deshpande Centre

● Startup Weekend New Brunswick

● UNB Lunch & Learns and much more

Venues will include the Fredericton Convention Centre, the University of New Brunswick campus and Planet Hatch. The first East Coast Startup Week took place two years ago and is one of many Startup Weeks happening around the world. Registration is now open online. More details will be released as the week approaches.

About Global Startup Week

Startup Week celebrates the achievements of entrepreneurial communities in cities across the globe. Our mission is to develop and support thriving communities wherever they may exist. The best way to do this is to bring entrepreneurs together in a way that they can connect, share and bond.


SimplyCast Launches ‘Game Changer’

SimplyCast, the Dartmouth multi-channel marketing company, has announced the release of its new Agency365 product, its first that allows several people in the same organization to collaborate on a messaging campaign.

CEO and founder Saeed El-Darahali started the company six years ago, with the aim of establishing a platform that allows users to communicate simultaneously through a range of channels, such as email, fax, Twitter, etc. Last year, it introduced its 360 Automation Manager, which allows incredible ease of use in these campaigns.

Now the company has increased the functionality with Agency365, which allows several people to work on and approve each piece of communication issued by a company or organization. El-Darahali said the flexibility it brings to the SimplyCast offering is something akin to Microsoft advancing from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 two decades ago.

“Agency365 is a major game changer,” El-Darahali said in an interview Friday. “Now the whole process of disseminating information has a centralized point for brand consistency, and it gives access to people who would never have had this (access) before.”

The new product allows groups of people within an organization to collaborate on each message. They can work on it together, share it with people in the department affected by the announcement and get decision-makers to authorize it quickly.

The organizations can create as many as 10 user logins for employees working on various client projects. The master account holder can control what each user can do on the platform. The organization can use the new product for its own campaigns, and agencies can sell its service to their clients.

The staff at SimplyCast, which has grown to 36 people, have been working on the new product for about four years. It has already sold Agency365 to a local recreation facility and is working on other sales.

Meanwhile, SimplyCast has continued to grow, and El-Darahali said 2014 was a record year in terms of sales. Sales of 360 Automation Manager are still doubling monthly. The company aims this year to convert all of the users of its original product over to 360 Automation Manager and retire the legacy product.

SimplyCast was recently rated in the top five or six multi-channel marketing outfits in the world in a study by Raab Associates of Swarthmore, Penn. The study rated the product fit and vendor fit of 26 players in the space, and SimplyCast was rated near the top, along with its well-known American competitors HubSpot, Infusionsoft and SharpSpring.

The Dartmouth company raised money in the past year by selling equity to two new external investors and to SimplyCast employees. All the company’s shareholders remain Nova Scotians, and the total raised in 2014 was less than $1 million.

El-Dahahali, a former investment manager at Innovacorp, has always emphasized that, so far, all his investors are from Nova Scotia. He has also said he will eventually raise money from venture capital investors, likely based outside the province.

“It will happen in a matter of months or years.”


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

Corbett’s Passion Born in Frustration

Rivers Corbett: 'Entrepreneurs will save the world.'

Rivers Corbett: 'Entrepreneurs will save the world.'

People give many reasons for assisting others. Frustration isn’t usually among them, although that helps motivate New Brunswick entrepreneur Rivers Corbett.

Corbett, the co-founder of Relish Gourmet Burgers, spends a lot of time mentoring young entrepreneurs and speaking to high school students.

He strives to make youngsters realize that they can become entrepreneurs.

“I’m focused and passionate about mentoring because I’m frustrated,” he explained.

“I believe entrepreneurs will save the world, but the social value of innovation isn’t recognized.

“When I speak in schools, I ask the kids if doctors work for free. They say, ‘No.’ I say, ‘If not for entrepreneurs creating the tax base, doctors wouldn’t get paid.’

“Why are doctors held in high esteem but entrepreneurs are regarded as greedy? Entrepreneurs are just as important as doctors and one step below moms.”

Corbett is a member of Startup Canada’s National Advisory Council, and he helped found StartUP Fredericton. Most recently, he was the entrepreneur in residence at the University of New Brunswick.

He’s been named entrepreneur of the year and made Canada’s hottest startups list, as well as Canada’s fastest growing companies list.

Relish Gourmet Burgers began in Fredericton in 2009, when Corbett and chef Ray Henry opened their first store.

Relish now has franchises across Canada and one in the United States. The company also runs several corporate stores, with another soon to open in Halifax.

“For us, it’s all about the taste and being original,” Corbett said. “I’ve been successful when I’ve zagged when others zigged. We try to be different. We just got investment from a European group attracted by that philosophy.”

Corbett also runs the Chef Group, an agency that allows event organizers to hire Atlantic Canadian chefs.

“I’m a chef pimp,” he said with a laugh. “I hate to cook.”

Another of his ventures is The StartUP CEO, which allows him to work with emerging entrepreneurs.

He holds business degrees from several regional universities and initially worked in marketing. When he began to feel the urge to own his own venture, he bought the businesses started by his dad, Robert.

“My dad started various traditional ventures in the Fredericton area, including a construction company, a nursing home and a marina. I thought his businesses would be a way for me to do my own thing, but I soon realized that what really interests me is the ideas stage.

“I want to build businesses, not manage them. I’m not a good manager. I’m a cloud guy. The details drive me nuts.”

Corbett is the author of several books, including 13 Fears of Entrepreneurs, and is a lively and sought-after event host.

But he makes no secret of his struggle with depression, which hit him about seven years ago.

“It knocked me on my back. It’s ugly. It was brought on by a perfect storm of stressors, including work.

“I went to the doctor for something and he said, ‘How are you doing?’ I broke down. It was like a wave hit me.

“The doctor recommended medicine. Part of the journey back was exercise. Exercise remains part of staying well. And, in winter, when I feel worse, I sleep a ton.”

He said he considers his illness a blessing, as he now prioritizes health.

“Richard Branson said, ‘The biggest thing you can do for your business is look after your health.’”

Entrepreneurs are known for relishing the adrenaline rush of their high-stakes lifestyles, but Corbett said stress must be controlled.

“There’s a difference between the rush caused by the thrill and challenge of business and constant stress. But stress is part of the game and you have to learn how to handle it.”

Corbett is looking at starting a web-focused business.

“I’ll never be fully retired. I’ll always be looking to start stuff.”


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

Thanks for Aiding our Survey Campaign

We’ve almost reached our target of getting surveys submitted by about half of the Atlantic Canadian startup community.

The response has been fantastic and I want to thank everyone who completed the survey. I especially want to thank those who were patient with my persistent nagging.

We’d still like to get more surveys in, so if you haven’t completed one, please do so today. It only takes three minutes and all the material is completely confidential.  You can find the survey form here.

I’m already starting to see a few patterns emerging. I will be writing about them first in our Entrevestor Intelligence report that will come out in mid-March. There will be some interesting stuff in there.

Again thanks to all, and please get those late surveys in. 

TopLog Strikes Deal with Bitnami

Halifax’s topLog announced Wednesday its new product for application developers will soon be available on the Bitnami platform, which should help increase its distribution.

For the last two years, topLog has been developing software that helps notify developers and system administrators if there is a problem on their system and to sort out any troubles quickly.

The company will soon launch a “freemium” version, meaning that users can download a basic product for free and pay for additional functionality.

It is partnering with San Francisco’s Bitnami, which has a platform that offers more than 100 technical tools to software developers and other information technology personnel, including the growing segment of so-called DevOps teams.

It’s difficult to define their jobs, but they tend to span development and operations.

Users can access the tools with a single click, and Bitnami deploys more than one million programs a month.

“For us, it will mean that we will be getting in front of more than one million DevOps users and software developers,” said Ozge Yeloglu, CEO of topLog, in an interview.

She first met with the Bitnami team in May, and the two companies began to discuss a partnership seriously in October.

Yeloglu said topLog’s freemium product is available, and a paid version with analysis features will be available on Bitnami in less than two months.

Growing out of the computer science program at Dalhousie University, topLog began life with the goal of providing system administrators for corporations and large organizations with a tool that would help them prevent system failure.

The team, which now comprises six full-time and two part-time employees, is producing the freemium product so it can be used by a broader range of clients.

In particular, topLog is marketing more to developers of applications, or those who Yeloglu says work on the outward-facing parts of companies, especially software-as-a-service enterprises.

he said the freemium product can serve as an alternative to an increasingly popular trio of open-source tools called Elastic Search, Logstash and Kibana.

The so-called ELK stack is being used by developers who don’t want to pay for software, but it can take a long time to configure them to a developer’s needs. The topLog product will serve the same function and can be downloaded easily, she said.

“This is a great free resource for engineers and developers who want to maintain ownership of their logs and for those who cannot ship their logs to our cloud solution,” said Yeloglu.

A lot of these processes are automated by topLog, solving major problems in this $1.5-billion global industry.

Even before systems and applications collapse, topLog analyzes events that take place over the applications and learns what are normal and anomalous events on the system.

This knowledge can prevent applications from going down and alert teams when anything out of the ordinary happens.

The company, which graduated from the Volta startup house in Halifax in October, has received funding in the past from Innovacorp and BDC Capital. Yeloglu said the company is raising more capital, though she declined to reveal details.


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

The Next36 Seeks Post-Uni Startups

The Next36, an entrepreneurship non-profit based in Toronto, wants Atlantic Canadian startup founders to apply to join this year’s cohort of 20 founders for The Next Founders, a program to accelerate startup growth.

The Next36 has been around for five years, but for the first three years it’s been solely focused on growing undergraduates’ startups. The program allows undergraduates to take courses with business experts from across North America, as well as meet The Next36’s network of more than 300 of the top business influencers in Canada.

The participants in The Next Founders have finished their undergraduate degree, but are in the early stages of creating their own startups. They can benefit from the business training and large network from The Next36.

For example, after completing The Next Founders last year, Toronto-based cardio rhythm tracking tool company Bionym raised $15 million in its early stages of funding.

“There are hotbeds of innovation across the country, and a few of them in Atlantic Canada,” The Next36’s director of marketing and events Jon French said. “If there’s someone who can scale their company and really increase their chances as an entrepreneur with access to our program, it doesn’t matter for us where they are.”

This is the second year of The Next Founders. Last year, the companies participating were almost all in southwestern Ontario. But with a grant from the Canada Accelerator and Incubator Program, The Next36 will pay for founders to fly out and stay in Toronto to complete the program.

The Next Founders requires that participants be in Toronto four times throughout May to August for three-day crash courses in business-related topics, such as financing.

In its program for undergraduates, The Next36 provides funding for the startups and takes equity once the company gets started. For The Next Founders, no money is given or taken from the startup. It is expected that companies entering The Next Founders already have investors.

The Next36 receives its funding from its giving board, the government and its national partners, including companies like Toronto-Dominion Bank, Rogers and MasterCard.

The application for The Next Founders program is on its website and is due on March 3.

“Our organization’s mission is to increase national prosperity by identifying a small number of high potential entrepreneurs and proving them with all of these resources,” French said. “We’re looking for the real game-changers, the ones that are successful, that will disrupt industries, that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and tens of millions—if not billions—of value for the country.”