Last night was the tenth annual TEC VenturePrize awards celebration and to mark the milestone, an evening dinner format was selected instead of the usual luncheon. Hundreds of people packed Hall D at the Shaw Conference Centre to see some of Alberta’s most inspiring entrepreneurs battle it out in three different categories: student, fast growth, and for the first time ever, nano. Over $300,000 in prizes was handed out this year! For those of you who are new to the competition here’s a brief description:
A program of TEC Edmonton, TEC VenturePrize is an Alberta-wide program providing training, professional support and financial incentives to help people build or enhance a viable business. Now celebrating its 10th year, TEC VenturePrize is open to individuals such as aspiring entrepreneurs and faculty and students of post-secondary institutions, or new companies entering the marketplace.
Mayor Mandel kicked things off by welcoming everyone to the event and bringing greetings on behalf of the City. He was followed by the University of Alberta’s Lorne Babiuk and EEDC’s Ron Gilbertson who shared introductory remarks as presenting partners. As he has done for the last few years, Ryan Jespersen emceed the event. Ryan encouraged everyone to participate using the #VenturePrize hashtag on Twitter, and participate they did! It was great to see all of the positive comments about the companies competing. Throughout the evening there were videos featuring participants from the last ten years talking about their experiences with VenturePrize and the impact it had on them as entrepreneurs and on their companies.
Being the tenth year, time was reserved in the program to honor the organizations and individuals that have been a part of the competition since the beginning. The Edmonton Journal, Field Law, FMC Law, novaNAIT, PWC, and the TSX Venture Exchange have all been sponsors since 2002. Volunteers who have contributed their time and expertise since the start include Colin Christensen, Brian Goheen, Ted Heidrick, Van Konrad, Gord Meeberg, Dennis Pommen, Lloyd Steier, Sam Soliman, and Ted Yoo.
Just like last year, representatives from each of the finalists in the student category participated in a sit-down interview on stage with Ryan. It was a neat way to learn a bit more about each of the companies! The three finalists were:
Founded by 27-year-old Calgary surgical resident Dr. Breanne Everett, Orpyx is behind two highly innovative planar sensory replacement systems, the SurroSense Rx and the SurroGait Rx, that use pressure sensor-embedded shoe insoles to determine force exerted over the bottom of the feet, and wirelessly transmit collected information to a back pad, mobile device or wristwatch worn by the user. Employing the phenomenon of neuroplasticity – the potential of the human brain to rewire itself – the patient is able to interpret the sensory stimulus felt on the back as that from the feet, and positively adjust their gait, balance, mobility and overall health as a result.
Enercal is building CALTrack – intelligent data software for the oil & gas industry. CALTrack provides easy-to-use, intelligent tools to manage critical calibration processes, allowing companies to meet increasing regulation and measurement quality requirements. Enercal was a finalist in Calgary’s STIC competition.
CitizenBridge is a not-for-profit civic engagement organization creating an online platform that will directly connect Canadians and government by facilitating conversations between citizens and their representatives. Capitalizing on the movement of Gov 2.0 in Canada, CitizenBridge’s purpose is to create a much more accessible, transparent and engaging government by using technology to connect constituents with their elected representatives in an effort to strength the overall well-being of our communities.
There were two finalists in the nanoVenturePrize category, and we got to hear a short pitch from each of them in addition to a video. I think the addition of a nano category is great and will help to cement Edmonton’s role as a key research and development centre for nanotechnology. The products the finalists have created sound really impressive (and way over my head):
Aquila Diagnostics uses the Domino nanotechnology platform developed at the University of Alberta to provide on-site, easy-to-use genetic testing that can quickly test for infectious diseases and pathogens in livestock. The mobile diagnostic platform is portable, low-cost, fast and easy to use.
Parvus Therapeutics’ breakthrough nanomedicines may hold the cure for difficult-to-treat autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease. Parvus’ new Navacim medicines are nanoparticles coated with immune system proteins that can target specific autoimmune conditions.
There have been a lot of really unique and successful competitors in the fast growth category over the last ten years, so I’m sure the two finalists were feeling the pressure. Neither showed it up on stage though, delivering great elevator pitches before we got to see their videos.
- Innovative Trauma Care Inc. (Edmonton)
As a combat trauma surgeon, ITC founder and CEO Dr. Dennis Filips was a firsthand witness to bleeding as a leading cause of battlefield deaths. Now a civilian surgeon and entrepreneur, he is committed to inventing point of injury solutions. ITC’s first product, the ITClamp, is a hand-held device that stops bleeding and saves live by instantly sealing a wound until surgical repair.
- Pedpad Inc. (Calgary)
Pedpad solves a pervasive challenge faced by consumers in the footwear industry: finding shoes that fit. The process of trying on different sizes across different brands and returning online purchases that don’t fit is frustrating for customers and retailers alike. Pedpad solves this problem with a multi-axis, digital shoe-sizing platform. By stepping on the Pedpad device in-store, consumers can immediately determine their shoe size for a given brand. Through a personal Pedpad account, consumers can access their measurements online, obtain precise sizing recommendations across brands, and shop online with confidence.
The keynote speaker for the event was the Honourable A. Anne McLellan, who spoke about the spirit of innovation in Alberta. After attending a bunch of big events in the last week or two where speakers have not been shy about celebrating the positive economic outlook for Edmonton and the province, it was refreshing to hear Anne McLellan take a more measured approach. She said that we can and must do better in this province, that while energy is our traditional industry, it won’t always be enough. “Complacency is the biggest threat facing Alberta,” she told us. Her remarks covered a lot of ground, including the role that government should play in economic development. “Government should pick the races we’re in, not the winning horses,” she said. I wasn’t sure at first if McLellan was the right fit for a VenturePrize keynote, but I’m glad the organizers picked her!
While I enjoyed the longer dinner format for the special 10th anniversary, I do think the program was a bit too long. It was well after 9pm by the time we got to the winners! The first award was the Screeners’ Award of Merit, presented by the Alberta Business Family Institute’s Shauna Feth. The award, which recognizes a business plan submission that shows excellent promise, went to Raw-Bitz.
Stephen Lougheed from Alberta Innovates Technology Futures presented the award to the winner of the student category, Orpyx Medical Technologies.
Dan Djukich from Alberta Innovates Technology Futures presented the inaugural nanoVenturePrize award, which went to Parvus Therapeutics.
The two finalists in the fast growth category could not have been more different. I think Pedpad is on to something interesting, though as Sharon remarked to me when I told her about the company, you really have to try shoes on to see how they fit, because materials and other factors all play a role. Still, companies and products that mix the physical and online worlds are intriguing to me. As for ITC, I still can’t quite believe that their product doesn’t already exist. It looks and operates just like a hair clamp, and doesn’t look very complicated to my untrained eye (though I’m sure there’s more to it). But it obviously works and works well, so I hope it catches on!
TEC Edmonton CEO Chris Lumb had the honor of presenting the award to the winner of the fast growth category: Innovative Trauma Care.
Congratulations to all of the participants, finalists, and winners! Thanks also to TEC Edmonton for saving me a spot at the media table – much appreciated! You can see more photos from the evening here.