When Nancy Mathis agreed to be the 2015 Chair of Invest Atlantic, the largest networking event in the region for startups, entrepreneurs and investors, she had two conditions: one, the conference needed to scale itself, like the entrepreneurs it attracts; and two, Invest Atlantic needed to be regional, not just a Halifax event.
Conference Founder Bob Williamson agreed to Mathis’ conditions—and the 2015 Invest Atlantic’s pitching event was three times bigger than in previous years. The sixth annual conference took place over Tuesday and Wednesday at the Halifax World Trade and Convention Centre.
Invest Atlantic has previously hosted a Pitch 101 session, in which about 12 entrepreneurs have one minute to pitch their early-stage startups to a panel of investor judges, who respond with questions and feedback.
This year, Invest Atlantic added two extra pitch sessions: Pitch 201, a two-minute pitching event for eight companies with market traction that are moving into investment rounds; and Pitch 301, a five-minute pitch session for three seasoned companies that want to acquire more for their business or sell their business.
For both Pitch 101 and Pitch 201, Invest Atlantic attendees voted on their favourite pitch. The winners received no prizes. Pitch 301 wasn’t a competition because the entrepreneurs presenting already had functioning companies.
Halifax-based Site 2020, a networked traffic management solution to increase the safety of road construction flaggers, won Pitch 101. In second place was powerWHYS of Halifax, a mobile app that saves energy during building renovations. A third place was captured by St. John’s-based Agile Sensor Technologies, which makes sensors for unmanned vehicles.
The winners in Pitch 201 were: Dartmouth-based Spring Loaded Technology, which creates compact bionic knee braces, followed by Fundmetric of Halifax, which uses artificial intelligence and predicative models to help charities raise more money, and Halifax-based Swell Advantage, a mobile app that is both a navigational tool and social network for boaters.
Invest Atlantic devoted the entirety of Tuesday to pitching-related events. The pitching events were held and Francis McGuire, former CEO and president of Major Drilling, a specialized drilling company, delivered a keynote on the theatrical nature of pitching.
“You’re on stage, you’re acting, be an actor,” McGuire said. “A good CEO, a good leader is a good storyteller.”
On Wednesday, the event switched its focus to how to grow and scale a company. There were panels about topics such as investors’ desires, the use of post-secondary institutions in startups, and exit strategies. Gerry Pond, Co-Founder of East Valley Ventures, and John Risley, Chairman of Clearwater Fine Foods Inc., engaged in a keynote discussion on how to find investors in Atlantic Canada.
“If you can’t find [angel investor] money,” Risley said, “either you’re no good or your idea is no good.”
Keeping with Pond and Risley’s theme, Digital Nova Scotia, the association for the province’s tech sector, announced that it found money: its largest-ever private-sector donation. The not-for-profit received US$10,000 (C$13,300) from Lockheed Martin Canada, a security and aerospace company, for education initiatives within science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics.
“This funding provides us with the opportunity to provide greater investment in STEAM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] education initiatives to positively impact the next generation of tech talent in our region and our members,” Ulrike Bahr-Gedalia, Digital Nova Scotia President and CEO, said in a press release.
Williamson even fulfilled all of Mathis’ conditions: next year’s Invest Atlantic will take place in Moncton.