The Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship will hold the Mel Woodward Cup pitching competition on June 16 – a virtual presentation of the biggest event on its calendar.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the St. John's-based MCE postponed the Woodward Cup from the winter to June, and it will be a virtual event when it’s staged next Tuesday afternoon.  You can register to view it here.

While working at home for the past few months, Director Florian Villaumé has been beavering away on new initiatives to make the centre more inclusive and diverse. In the process, he has increased participation in its programming.

“It’s a society issue and we all have a role to play,” said Villaumé in discussing the need to increase diversity in startup programs. “We don’t have to be experts to start contributing.”

The MCE was founded in 2016 to harness the entrepreneurial energy of students at the region’s largest university and help them launch new businesses. Its graduates include Mysa Smart Thermostats, Colab Software, BreatheSuite, and InspectAR, which collectively have raised more than $9.6 million in equity funding.

The Woodward Cup has been a cornerstone of the centre’s work from Day 1, awarding development capital to the strongest companies in the MCE programs. The competition previously gave $10,000 each to three top companies and smaller awards to other entries. For the 2020 version, the first-place entrant will receive $25,000 and the runner-up $15,000.

Five finalists will pitch at the Woodward Cup. They are:

  • Audyse Technology – Robin Murphy, Joel Hatcher, Clark Payne, and Keeley Flynn;
  • Kute Lab – Navid Eskandari and Sepideh Mehrani;
  • Nucliq Biologics – Purvikalyan Pallegar and Nikitha Kendyala;
  • Prospre – Jonathan Young and Colin Hunt;
  • And Report Mate – Holly Hill and Jeremie Larouche.

Read About Kute Lab's Recent $25K Win at Volta Cohort

As well as the Woodward Cup, the MCE has been drawing greater numbers to its programming and is bringing in new initiatives that could help attract more women and minority entrepreneurs.

For example, acting on feedback from members of the community, Villaumé has been instituting a child-care service so mothers can attend programs.  The centre has contracted a child-minding service that offers online services, so parents can be attending an online course in one room while their kids are engaged with a remote child-minder in the next room. As social distancing requirements are loosened, parents could bring their children to MCE events knowing there will be daycare services available.

“We want to free up the time of parents to attend our workshop,” said Villaumé. “The kids will be engaged with things like crafts. We are trying it. It won’t be perfect, but maybe it will work. The worst case scenario is that when we come back in person we can provide child care then. And it helps to send the message that we embrace diversity in entrepreneurship, and that is important.”

In encouraging more diversity, the MCE has brought in female and minority mentors in a bid to reach out to groups that may be under-represented in the startup community. For example, the new mentors include Sahand Seifi, the CTO & Co-Founder of Get Coding Bootcamp, and Emily Bland, the Founder and CEO of SucSeed.

During the COVID-19 crisis, the MCE has offered its curriculum online and experienced strong growth in attendance. It holds a cohort each semester, usually attracting six to eight student entrepreneurs in each. Twenty people are attending the summer cohort, and Villaumé said applications are strong for the autumn course.