The annual TEC VenturePrize awards luncheon was held at the Westin Edmonton today, and I was fortunate enough to attend as a guest of TEC Edmonton. The Alberta-wide business plan competition is one of the ways that TEC Edmonton helps entrepreneurs access mentorship, networking, and exposure opportunities in our province. Some of the recent success stories from VenturePrize include Yardstick Software and Seek Your Own Proof.
The competition is broken into two categories: fast growth, and student. Finalists in the fast growth category compete for over $150,000 in cash and in-kind services, while finalists in the student competition compete for $10,000 cash.
Ryan Jespersen once again hosted the festivities, and I thought he did a really great job of incorporating tweets into the program. Lots of people in the audience were tweeting about the event and their favorite companies using the #ventureprize hashtag. Part of that online interest might have been due to the fact that the awards luncheon was streamed online for the first time this year.
Ryan kicked things off with a sit-down interview on stage with the three finalists in the student category:
- GizmoBooks.com (Gezim Hoxha, University of Lethbridge)
Website offering students an easy way to buy and sell textbooks and save money.
- Nougat Software Entertainment (Tyrel Schick, University of Lethbridge) (archive)
Video game development company designing/creating innovative, full scale games for a wide range of platforms.
- AltaCap Energy Solutions (Trina Salvisberg & team, University of Alberta) (archive)
Focused on the development, production, and marketing of ultracapacitors that feature cutting edge electrode technology.
I don’t think the interview approach has ever been done before, and I thought it worked well. It was great to feature the students more prominently in the program.
Next we had introductory remarks from TEC Edmonton CEO Chris Lumb and Mayor Stephen Mandel, and then it was time to meet the finalists in the fast growth category. Each finalist had the opportunity to deliver a one minute elevator pitch, followed by a three minute video describing their product and/or business.
- CAD Crowd (Calgary)
CAD Crowd helps firms hire CAD staff globally enabling the effective sourcing of CAD work through their relationships with quality-certified partners and an enterprise project management software tailored specifically to manage and facilitate CAD projects.
- lightPower (Edmonton)
lightPower builds flexible plastic solar panels with long-term stability which can be integrated in consumer electronic products or used as stand-alone battery chargers. Flexible plastic solar panels are fabricated through roll-to-roll printing techniques, enabling high throughout, low-cost manufacturing.
- VibeDX (Edmonton)
VibeDX is a patent-pending medical device for diagnosis of injuries, pathologies and fitness of the back and spine. With a 99+% accuracy in diagnosing disc damage that holds promise to improve long term outcomes and quality of life for millions of back pain sufferers.
Rant: You’ll note that CAD Crowd and GizmoBooks are the only two with links to actual company websites. If the others have websites, I can’t find them. You would think that in 2011 this wouldn’t be an issue, but it is. If I can’t type your name into Google and find you, you’re doing something wrong, I don’t care what industry you’re in. And yes, I recognize that these entrepreneurs are focusing on product development, but seriously, not even a simple landing page?! Come on.
After all the pitches were complete, Ryan quickly described how the judging process works, and the judges made a show of leaving the room for their final deliberations. I was surprised to see them return just a few minutes later – usually it takes longer, so I figured they must really have had a favorite! Judges in the fast growth category included Warren Bergen from Webbco International Inc., Rod Charko from Alberta Enterprise Fund, Roy Homyshin from TSX Venture Exchange, Mike Scarth from Alberta WaterSMART, and Shawn Abbott from iNovia Capital. Judges in the student category included Colin Christensen from Signa Venture Development, Troy Deck from Meyers Norris Penny, Don Riep from Yardstick Software Inc., and Jim Spiers from Right Field Marketing. In addition to the judges there were twelve screeners, whose job it was to select the finalists from the many resume submissions. This year, the Screeners’ Award of Merit went to Inspectacar, for their business focused on delivering “nothing but accurate vehicle inspections”.
Our keynote speaker was up next – Evan Chrapko, an entrepreneur currently focused on Highmark Renewables. Evan shared a few stories from his experiences as an entrepreneur, and hammered home the theme of “persistence pays”. I wrote about Evan’s transition into Highmark back in 2007, and he’s still at it, so he obviously practices what he preaches. Evan left the audience with five pieces of advice:
- Know thyself, and know your timespan (how much time you can actually devote).
- Know thy business partner (consider legal advice up front, even if it seems costly).
- Trust your instincts.
- Network with others (he encouraged everyone to leave with ten other business cards).
- Persistence pays.
Finally, it was time for the announcement of the winners. Annette Trimbee from Alberta Advanced Education & Technology presented the awards for the student category, with Trina’s team at AltaCap taking the top prize!
Chris Lumb presented the awards for the fast growth competition, with the win going to VibeDX!
It definitely seemed like VibeDX was the favorite. I have to admit that I really love the concept behind their technology – taking an approach used in other industries (such as stress-testing an airplane wing) and applying it to the human body. Their video was also quite impressive, as it had at least five doctors offering either testimonials or rosy predictions for the technology. Here’s a video describing how VibeDX works:
Congrats to all of the participants and finalists this year, and of course to the winners! You can see more photos from today’s event here.