Recap: TEC VenturePrize 2015

TEC Edmonton held its 13th annual VenturePrize Awards this evening at the Shaw Conference Centre. A total of $150,000 in prizes was handed out to three deserving companies. TEC Edmonton says the competition is a win for all of the participating companies, as they receive mentorship, publicity, possibly new investors, but it’s also a win for Alberta:

“Nine new technology-based companies, creating new wealth. Companies on the leading-edge of their sector, companies hiring highly educated individuals, companies using the knowledge of our post-secondary institutions and their graduates, companies paying corporate taxes, companies fulfilling Alberta’s desire to be less dependent on the energy sector alone.”

There are three different competitions that make up VenturePrize now. The Fast Growth category is for general high-growth businesses, the TELUS ICT category is for technology-focused enteprises, and the Student category is for businesses started by post-secondary students from throughout the province. In each category, there are three finalists but only one winner.

VenturePrize 2015

Here were the finalists for 2015:

Fast Growth

  • Alieo Games is an educational technology company that recently launched COW, a writing app for students and teachers from kindergarten to Gr. 12. COW provides a safe and fun space for students to practice writing (building writing fluency and vocabulary) and to share their work with classmates. For teachers, COW uses text analysis to provide useful feedback that they can use to customize their lesson plans to meet the specific needs of their students.
  • Pogo CarShare is Edmonton’s first car sharing service. Founded and managed locally, Pogo provides members 24/7 access to a pool of vehicles located within a central zone in our city on a simple pay-as-you-go basis. Cars can be located, reserved and opened using the Pogo app.
  • Sensassure is a wearable technology sensor solution for the incontinent – alerting nursing staff in extended care homes to the need to change incontinence underwear. Sensassure helps restore dignity to those who suffer from incontinence by automating existing manual care processes, leading to timely changes that prevent secondary conditions from developing.

VenturePrize 2015

TELUS ICT

  • OMx is accelerating the development of advanced molecular diagnostics with technologies to analyze and combine data about the chemicals, proteins and DNA in the body. Their first product helps improve and optimize diet and lifestyle with a urine test that measures indicators for diet and wellness.
  • MasV is a software company within the oil and gas sector, MASV has a new way to benefit both rental companies and renters of oil and gas equipment. By connecting renters to the rental companies that have the relevant items, they reduce downtime stress while increasing profit for both parties.
  • Advancing Edge Technologies addresses technology deficiencies with diagnosis reporting in anatomical pathology (providing patients with the final diagnosis from tissue biopsies and body fluids). Their state-of-the-art touchscreen-based examination software delivers a more streamlined, accurate, and consistent pathology diagnostic report while also saving money and time.

VenturePrize 2015

Student

  • Alberta Craft Malting – Olds College: Alberta Craft Malting uses Alberta barley to develop specialty made-in-Alberta malts – a crucial ingredient in the making of beer. The use of local grains means brewers can now access specialty malts made from local barley considered among the world’s best, rather than depending on out-of-province suppliers.
  • Scout – University of Alberta: Scout is a marketing platform for small and medium businesses that incorporates a smartphone based loyalty program. The Scout app replaces traditional punch cards and allows merchants to create a loyalty program tailored specifically to them, allowing them to truly interact with their customers.
  • NoLemon Automotive Inc. – University of Alberta: By offering an online classified platform providing third-party vehicle inspections, NoLemon helps buyers and sellers more effectively navigate the vehicle transaction process. NoLemon provides the comfort and confidence individuals seek in making their vehicle purchasing decisions.

VenturePrize 2015

Some of these companies were familiar to me and it’s great to see them continuing to grow and evolve. Alieo Games was of course the winner of last year’s student category and they presented at Launch Party 5 back in October along with fellow Fast Growth competitor Pogo CarShare and MASV and OMx from the TELUS ICT category (and OMx was at DemoCamp earlier this month) And in the Student category, I have seen Scout at a previous VMS event and around town at various retail locations such as Earth’s General Store and Remedy Cafe. It’s an encouraging sign that companies are moving through the pipeline, from hackathon to business plan and beyond.

VenturePrize 2015

Here are your 2015 winners:

Screeners Award of Merit
Physio4D

Edmonton Journal People’s Choice Award
Alieo Games

Student VenturePrize Competition
Alberta Craft Malting

TELUS ICT Competition
OMx

Fast Growth Competition
Sensassure

Congratulations!

Our host for the evening was Ryan Jespersen and while he always brings an energetic approach to his emcee duties, I think he deserves a special shoutout tonight for dealing with a challenging room.

VenturePrize 2015

This year TEC Edmonton wanted to change the format to see if they could encourage more networking. That meant using more of Hall D and getting rid of the round tables in favor of cocktail tables and theatre-style seating. The program started on the west stage and then moved to the east stage. In terms of networking, it was a big success! But I suspect the format will be changed for next year as no one was paying attention to the speakers and presentations for the first half of the show.

There were a couple of other awards handed out this evening too. The inaugural Ross & Verna Tate Science Entrepreneurship Award was awarded to Alieo Games. The other award was the Peace Country Regional Science Fair Award, which went to Michael Fyfe from Glenmary School in Peace River. Science fairs sound like they’re becoming more interesting – the PCRSF now includes an entrepreneurial event called Bear Cave (inspired by Dragons Den). Michael was the 2015 Bear Cave Grand Prize winner.

Congratulations to all of the participants in this year’s competition and especially to this year’s winners. Thanks to TEC Edmonton for providing me with a seat tonight to capture the action. You can see a few more photos here.

Recap: Launch Party Edmonton 5

Last night Startup Edmonton hosted its fifth Launch Party, “the city’s flagship startup event that celebrates and showcases the hottest startups in town.” Hundreds of Edmontonians attended to learn more about ten new local companies. A short program at the start included an overview from Startup’s Tiffany, remarks from presenting partner QUALICO Commercial, remarks from EEDC, and greetings from Mayor Don Iveson.

Mayor Don Iveson

Mayor Iveson said that startups are another reason that Edmonton is getting noticed. He shared a thought that he heard recently, which is that your city isn’t on the map when someone opens a branch office there, it’s on the map when a company from your city opens a branch office somewhere else! Citing the recent news that 40% of all new jobs in Canada last year were generated in Edmonton, he told the presenting companies, “you’re going to create a lot more!”

This was one of the first public events at which EEDC acknowledged the acquisition of Startup Edmonton, a relationship highlighted by the recently relaunched Ignite Edmonton website. Chief Operating Officer Derek Hudson talked about Startup being part of the EEDC family, and highlighted the strengthening startup ecosystem in our city.

Edmonton Launch Party 5

The ten presenting companies represented a range of industries and opportunities, including education, HR, oil & gas, and home automation. They were:

I spent some time checking out Alieo Games and their creative learning product called COW (Creative Online Writing). Alieo’s Kit Chen explained the idea to me, which is that kids don’t practice writing enough and through gamification, there’s an opportunity to change that. We co-wrote a short story that I very creatively called “the monkey by the river” to get sense of how the tool works. Kids can choose between a blank page or a prompt to help them start writing. As they write, they’re presented with bonus words that they are meant to incorporate. If they do, they earn Alieo dollars that they can spend on their avatar. When they’re done, the system presents some statistics of their writing to help them improve.

Edmonton Launch Party 5

The plan is to try to get schools to adopt the tool, but they are also pricing it so that a single teacher could use it with his or her own class with discretionary funds. The three primary people behind the company are all PhD candidates at the University of Alberta, so they’re building this company alongside that already ambitious endeavour! Alieo Games is an eHUB Startup, and won first place in the TEC VenturePrize Student Competition last year. You can follow them on Twitter for updates.

I also spoke with Alexis Alchorn from Pogo CarShare. They were probably the most high profile of the participating companies, given they had just done a big reveal earlier in the day. Pogo is similar to other carsharing services like Car2Go, but it is created by Edmontonians for Edmontonians. Basically you use a mobile app or the website to see where the cars are currently parked, you go and pick one up using your membership card and PIN code, take your trip, then park the car somewhere within the zone when you’re done and it becomes available for another member to use. It really could enable two car households to drop down to one, or maybe even allow some people to go without a car altogether!

Pogo CarShare

It costs just $35 to sign up, and after that you only pay for what you use – $0.47 per minute, $14.99 per hour, or $69.99 per day, and those costs are inclusive of gas, insurance, etc. You can even take the car out of the city for the weekend, and you pay $0.30 per km after 200km. Pogo is starting with just 20 vehicles but they hope to expand that number pretty quickly (down in Calgary, Car2Go has more than 500 vehicles). You probably have more questions, so fortunately they have an extensive FAQ page.

Given that Calgary is one of the fastest growing markets for Car2Go, I have long wondered why we didn’t have a carsharing service here in Edmonton. Now that Pogo is here, I hope to see them succeed. That said, it won’t be easy. They’ve done the heavy lifting of getting the right parking permit created in Edmonton, so in theory a competitor could more easily come to our city now. And one disadvantage as I see it is that if you’re a Car2Go member, you can use the service in any of the more than 30 locations they operate in. In practice I’m not sure how often that happens, but it’s a nice perk of being a member if you travel a lot, and at least for now, Pogo is Edmonton-only. Anyway, I wish them well!

I was intrigued by the name MASV and the “cloud communications” subtitle, so I spent a bit of time talking to co-founder Manson about the idea. Basically MASV is a tool to connect oil & gas companies with equipment rentals over the phone. The unique thing is that the automated phone system uses cloud-based voice recognition and proprietary filtering algorithms to connect renters with the right company. The problem they solve is that out in the field, a phone is often the only tool an oil & gas company can rely on, and they need to source equipment quickly.

Edmonton Launch Party 5

They’re using Node.js and Twilio to power the system. The business model is to have the rental companies pay a fee to be included in the directory and thus available to be connected with renters. MASV is also an eHUB Startup. They anticipate launching early next year.

I thought TwoFold’s Alison McMahon had a great elevator pitch, so I talked to her to learn more about the tools TwoFold has built to create better managers. She said “people usually quit their managers, not their jobs”. Alison is an HR consultant who has been working with companies to implement best practices and develop their managers, so she has lots of experience in the industry. After seeing the same problems again and again, the idea for TwoFold was born.

Twofold

TwoFold provides managers with tools and processes they can follow without being HR experts. Employee surveys, coaching plans, orientation schedules, training history, and performance conversations are all examples. The interface looks pretty clean and is something I could have seen myself greatly benefiting from when I first became a manager. Pricing ranges from $25 per month for up to 15 employees, to $1,200 per month or more for more than 100 employees.

Edmonton Launch Party 5

I didn’t spend as much time at the other companies, but all were interesting. I remember talking to Jason Suriano about his product Trajectory about three years ago, so it was neat to see that it has come to fruition and has customers already. TeachMe is also tackling education through gaming, but instead of writing they focus on math. Otto is a “system-in-a-box” that enables home automation, targeted at builders and renovators rather than end consumers. Instacoins enables you to buy Bitcoin with your bank account using Interac Online, simple as that. OMx is in the health space, and they have a dashboard that aims to give you better information about your body. And MADSOFT Games is focused on browser-based gaming.

The event took place at EPCOR Tower, in the expansive main floor space. As my friend Jeff remarked, the location nicely reflected the Startup Edmonton mantra that was visible on stage: “whatever you’re thinking, think bigger.” It was a very different feel than last year’s launch party, which took place at Startup Edmonton itself. Bigger, bolder, and more polished.

Edmonton Launch Party 5

Launch Party took place on day four of Startup Week, which saw a number of entrepreneurship-oriented events take part all across the city. Kudos to Ken, Cam, and the entire Startup Edmonton crew on a great event and a successful week of celebrating startups in Edmonton!

You can see the rest of my photos from the event here. You can see my previous posts about Launch Party here: #1, #2, #3, #4.

DemoCamp Edmonton 24 is on Thursday!

Looking to connect with local entrepreneurs, investors, and other creative Edmontonians? Look no further than the next DemoCamp, taking place at the U of A on Thursday.

DemoCamp is an event that brings together developers, creatives, entrepreneurs and investors to share what they’ve been working on and to find others in the community interested in similar topics. For presenters, it’s a great way to get feedback on what you’re building from peers and the community, all in an informal setting. Started back in 2008, DemoCamp Edmonton has steadily grown into one of the largest in the country, with 200-300 people attending each event.

If you’ve never been to a DemoCamp, I think you’ll enjoy the format. The reason it is called DemoCamp is because you have to actually demo something!

The rules for DemoCamp are simple: 7 minutes to demo real, working products, followed by a few minutes for questions, and no slides allowed.

Following the demos, a large group usually heads to a local pub for drinks. It’s a great opportunity to ask the demoers about their stuff and to meet some new people.

BarCamp coming soon!
Photo of Edmonton’s first DemoCamp in March 2008

You don’t need to be a programmer to appreciate DemoCamp. The demos are approachable and don’t usually dwell on any technical details. There are plenty of people in the room who are not developers, so you won’t be in the minority if code scares you! Come and get inspired by what others have applied their talents to.

Here are the details for Thursday’s event:

WHEN: Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 6:45pm
WHERE: TELUS Centre 150, University of Alberta

The demos this time will include:

Here’s a teaser on CTV Edmonton!

Don’t miss it! You can RSVP on Meetup here. If you can’t make it, follow along on Twitter using the #democampyeg hashtag.

If you’d like to read about previous DemoCamps, you can see my recaps here. Here’s my recap of DemoCamp Edmonton 23, which took place in November. Thinking you might want to demo in the future? You can apply here.

See you Thursday!

Preview: Launch Party Edmonton 4

Tomorrow evening is Edmonton’s fourth Launch Party, an event which “celebrates and showcases the hottest startups in town.” These are companies that have recently launched and which are ready to pursue the next level of growth.

Launch Party isn’t your typical networking event or trade show. It’s a party designed to celebrate and showcase the rockstar entrepreneurs in our community. Drinks, DJs, and great company all await you at Launch Party!

Launch Party is for everyone in the community – students, media, investors, entrepreneurs, designers, consumers – if you’re interested in starting, growing and supporting local startups, then Launch Party is the place to be!

There’s an impressive list of Launch Party alumni in Edmonton, including Mover, Yardstick, Poppy Barley, and Jobber. Now we get an opportunity to see another ten grow and hopefully succeed!

presenting companies

Here are the presenting companies for Launch Party 4:


AccentFree

FOUNDED: April 2013
TWO WORDS: Linguistics Training
WHAT: “People have difficulty speaking new languages because their mouths have been trained to move in a different way. AccentFree is a personal linguistics engine to help retrain how people speak. Our products level the playing field for ESL speakers, giving them equal career and social opportunities, and turn smartphones into personal linguistic tutors.”
KEY PEOPLE: Michael Brougham
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: I’m personally unfamiliar with AccentFree, though it’s clear that founder Michael has a passion for the beauty of the human voice. ESL itself is a large industry here in Alberta, and with a large and growing influx of newcomers, there’s a lot of demand for services and solutions to support them.

Cinder

FOUNDED: May 2011
TWO WORDS: Game Platform
WHAT: “Cinder.io is an independent focused, games development platform that connects dedicated producers with passionate players. The diverse system allows audiences to enjoy products online and contribute to the evolution games through feedback, collaboration and funding. This provides the producer with a richer and more flexible environment in which to validate, fund and promote their products with the most relevant audience.”
KEY PEOPLE: Pieter Parker, Sean Kopen
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: DemoCamp Edmonton 14 (Pieter, with Bit Shift Games)
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Despite both Sony & Microsoft launching new consoles this month, the gaming industry remains in flux. We’re gaming more, but in different ways, and the likelihood that aspiring game developers can make something is ever-increasing. Cinder will be entering an already competitive market, but there’s lots of potential.

DriveWyze

FOUNDED: 2012
TWO WORDS: Weigh-Station Bypass
WHAT: “Drivewyze Inc., provider of the leading electronic weigh station bypass service, Drivewyze PreClear, enables commercial vehicle operators to maximize cost savings by reducing weigh station pull-ins and increases road safety by enabling law enforcement agencies to focus on non-compliant commercial vehicles. Drivewyze partners with industry leaders including Electronic Logging Device manufacturers, trucking associations and government stakeholders to deliver the next generation of weigh station bypass solutions.”
KEY PEOPLE: Doug Johnson, Brian Heath, Jason Ding
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: AlwaysOn Global 250 Winner
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Can we still call Drivewyze a startup? A subsidiary of Intelligent Imaging Systems, Drivewyze already has more than 230 sites and numerous partnerships. In August 2013, the company raised $7.5 million in funding from Emergence Capital Partners and iNovia Capital. The company has hit upon a cost-effective solution in a big, big market.

Dryrun

FOUNDED: January 2012
TWO WORDS: Financial Forecasts
WHAT: “Dryrun is a software as a service (SaaS) product built for small businesses to forecast their cash flow, compare their options and understand their business. Improving on the familiar spreadsheet, it’s fast, easy, clear and collaborative.”
KEY PEOPLE: Blaine Bertsch
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: DemoCamp Edmonton 23
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Dryrun is gearing up to launch later this year, and already it’s a highly functional, attractive service. Blaine’s background in design has served him well in the creation of what could be a fairly boring tool. I think the key to success will be integrations, with services like FreshBooks.

Localize

FOUNDED: June 2011
TWO WORDS: Local Labels
WHAT: “Localize makes it easy for grocery stores to launch and maintain highly credible local food campaigns. Our shelf-labelling service identifies local and regional products right on the store shelf, and provides customers with an easy way to find more information about where each product has come from when they scan the QR code that is found on each label. We have launched the Localize service into over 50 grocery stores in Alberta, partnered with over 300 food producers, and have profiled over 3500 food products. We are currently growing the program into BC and Saskatchewan.”
KEY PEOPLE: Meghan Dear
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Semi-Finalist in VenturePrize, Social Enterprise World Forum
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Fresh off a $20,000 win in the Good Deals Venture Pitch Competition, Localize has some momentum at the moment. With a growing network of grocery stores and a really impressive number of producers, Localize is well-positioned to capitalize on the incredible interest in local food in Alberta and beyond.

Pinshape

TWO WORDS: 3D Printing
WHAT: “pinshape is a 3D printing community marketplace for 3D printable models. Users can explore models from the world’s leading 3D designers to learn, share, download, and order physical 3D prints through pinshape’s professional 3D print service. Designers can upload their work and share it for free or sell it for profit. With a fluid pinboard interface, life-like 3D rendering, and individually tailored content, pinshape is organizing the world’s 3D designs, and changing how we explore 3D creativity.”
KEY PEOPLE: Nick Schwinghamer
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: DemoCamp Edmonton 23, TEC Edmonton/Fundica Funding Roadshow
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: I’m positive that one day we’ll all have 3D printers in our homes, just as inkjets are so ubiquitous today. Part community and part app store, pinshape is the kind of service that will bridge the gap between experts and designers and those of us that just want access to this amazing technology.

SAM

FOUNDED: March 2013
TWO WORDS: Asset Management
WHAT: “SAM is an online social asset management platform for news and media professionals. We’re building the most powerful search tools to empower journalists to intentionally find meaningful content from social networks and constructing an asset management platform to make it easy to work with these social assets throughout the media lifecycle (newsgathering to broadcast and publish). To put it another way, SAM is a CMS for Tweets, Instagrams, Youtube Videos and any other social content that is essential to News Coverage, Content Production and Journalism.”
KEY PEOPLE: James Neufeld
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: DemoCamp Edmonton 22, News Xchange Startup Alley
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Social media is here to stay, with tweets, photos, and other posts already integral to the news gathering and sharing process. They’re not very integrated though, and that’s the problem SAM is looking to solve. There’s a lot of interest in new approaches to media, and SAM could have an angle that not many have considered yet.

Scope Technologies

FOUNDED: November 2010
TWO WORDS: Augmented Reality
WHAT: “Scope Technologies develops user-guided Augmented Reality Solution with focus in Industrial markets including mining, oil and gas, military, aerospace, and manufacturing. Our solution is primarily developed for the purpose of training and maintenance. Essentially, our solution is an extension of any manual or document, and creates a “see-it, do-it” process. Our process involves a full understanding of the challenges of the client, whether it entails and unskilled labor force, trying to minimize mistakes in maintaining equipment, or saving time. We ensure that our solution is practical for the customer, which could significantly impact the hardware that the solution is deployed on – including tablets, glasses, or a combination.”
KEY PEOPLE: David Nedohin, Scott Montgomerie, Graham Melley, Reg Cheramy
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: DemoCamp Edmonton 21
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: There’s a ton of interest right now in wearable computing as well as augmented reality (and some predict that gadgets in the category could save companies $1 billion within 3-5 years) . Their demo back in April focused on using augmented reality for training, an already large and growing market with a lot of potential, especially here in industrial Alberta. They’ve got a talented team and an important supporter is Epson who makes the Moverio glasses they use.

SportingCharts

FOUNDED: September 2011
TWO WORDS: Sports Analytics
WHAT: “SportingCharts is enhancing the way people view and understand sports. We are dedicated to improving the analytics of sports by providing tools, resources and visuals, to better arm teams, fantasy players and bettors in their decision making and produce more informed fans.”
KEY PEOPLE: Cory Wagner, Chad Langager
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Make Something Edmonton
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: People love their sports. Chad and Cory were previously with Investopedia, so they know a thing or two about data analysis! I regularly see people linking to the charts at SportingCharts.com, which is why it’s so interesting to me – there’s a lot of people interested in the data but they don’t necessarily know what to do with it. Their new ChartBuilder tool is a look at things to come. In addition to data and analytical tools, SportingCharts has expanded into opinion articles with more than 20 contributors.

Visio Media

FOUNDED: July 2011
TWO WORDS: Elevator Advertising
WHAT: “Visio Media tenders digital elevator advertising space in commercial and residential properties by installing Android based tablets. Visio tablets are equipped with state of the art technology that provides exact impressions and accurate demographics like age, gender and duration of stare. As well as NFC (Near Field Communication) technology that allows the audience to simply tap their smartphones on the elevator tablets to engage with advertisements.”
KEY PEOPLE: Fouad El-Masri, Nicolette Leonardis, Sami Al Askari
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Alberta Venture
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: They’ve installed screens in elevators in more than a dozen locations since February, and have even provided screens to Southgate Mall and Mill Woods Town Centre. They’ve signed up dozens of advertisers, and just recently launched support for NFC to enable some interesting new scenarios. We’ve had the screens in my condo building since the summer, and I can definitely see the potential.


The event gets underway at 6:45pm at Startup Edmonton. Unfortunately the event is already sold out, but keep an eye on social media for details about all the companies!

You can see my previous Launch Party previews here: #1, #2 Recap, #3.

Recap: DemoCamp Edmonton 23

democampEdmonton’s 23rd DemoCamp took place last night at the Telus Centre on the University of Alberta campus. DemoCamp is “an event that brings together developers, creatives, entrepreneurs and investors to share what they’ve been working on and to find others in the community interested in similar topics.” You can read my recap of our last DemoCamp here. Despite the cooler weather, we had a strong turnout for both the first half (demos) and second half (beer) of the event.

We had five demos. In order of appearance:

  • Shawn and Zeshan kicked things off with a demo of SelfieText. “If SnapChat and Instagram had a baby, this app would be it,” they told us. The app lets you take a photo and send it to contacts, but the unique thing is that the photo “self destructs” after 12 seconds. They’ve decided to go with the closed network approach, and though you can take a photo of anything, they found the app was popular among people taking selfies.
  • Next up was Nathan, Forrest, Ben, and Donald who showed us Project Quest, a fun project management app that they built for Rails Rumble 2013. The idea is that instead of creating and working on tickets, you instead create and complete quests. Each quest also gets added to a game map. They had different types of quests too, representing by a unicorn or a yak that needs to be shaved. It looked like a really fun project to create!
  • Our third demo came from Nick and Andre who showed us PinShape. Described as a cross between Pinterest and the App Store, PinShape is a community for 3D printing. Designers can use the site to share and even sell their 3D models, while the public can use it to download, buy, and print the objects that others have designed. It definitely seems like 3D printing will be rapidly moving from commercial/industrial applications to consumer ones soon, so the project seems well-timed.
  • Our fourth and quickest demo of the evening came from students Grant and Motiejus who showed us SilentZone. The app runs on Android phones and allows you to have your phone switch to vibrate or silent mode automatically based on your location. There are other apps that provide similar functionality, but SilentZone is focused on having a simple user interface. They have plans to add more features though the app already seems highly useful.
  • Our final demo came from Blaine who showed us DryRun. It’s a web-based tool that helps you forecast your cash flow and create different financial scenarios with a few clicks. The interface looks great and very simple-to-use. Blaine has plans to integrate it with financial services like FreshBooks, though he feels already that you can get a lot of mileage out of the app. There are tools for sharing and exporting your scenarios and projections too.

I think the crowd-pleaser was probably Project Quest, just because it was such a fun way to look at a fairly boring problem (issue/project management). Though the team had lots of ideas for new features and other things to add, there’s no word on whether they’ll pursue it further. I would say that DryRun was probably the demo that I can see being most successful. It’s polished and highly functional, and it solves a problem nicely that a lot of people have (sure you can use spreadsheets, but the possibilities with DryRun are appealing). Of course, the SilentZone guys sort of stole the show with their Q&A. It was the right mix of humor, indifference, and seriousness.

Great job to all the demoers!

Here are the upcoming events and other announcements that were highlighted at DemoCamp:

Keep an eye on the Startup Edmonton Meetup group for more upcoming tech events.

See you at DemoCamp Edmonton 24!

Mover is making cloud storage solutions in Edmonton

moverCan you build a successful, scalable technology company in Edmonton? Local startup Mover thinks so, and yesterday they received validation of that goal in the form of $1 million in seed financing from an impressive list of American and Canadian investors.

“Absolutely” was Mover CEO Eric Warnke‘s response when I asked if he thought he could find the necessary talent and other resources to grow the company here in Edmonton. The tech landscape is a lot different today than it was five or six years ago when Eric was at Nexopia, the hot local startup at the time. “Realistically we’d have to double salaries if we relocated to the valley,” he told me. Not that Mover isn’t paying a fair wage, it’s just that the cost of living there is much higher and the competition for talent is much fiercer. “A lot of people ask us if we’re going to move, but there are good incentives to stay here.” The footer of Mover’s website carries the message “proudly made in Edmonton.”

Mover is barely a year old, but it certainly doesn’t lack history. Walk around the office on the second floor of the revitalized Mercer Warehouse building and little reminders of the past consistently pop-up. A Free Wi-Fi magnet on a metal divider, a Firenest coffee tumbler on top of the fridge, a Mesh Canada brochure hanging on one of the beautiful wooden beams. Even the Launch Party sign front-and-centre as you walk across the creaky floors offers insight into how the growing local tech scene made it possible for Mover to go from idea to reality.

Mover Office

In 2004, Eric was employee number four at Nexopia and wore a number of hats there over the years, everything from customer service to ad management. A few years later, while working full-time at the social networking site and also going to school, Eric found time to start and run an Internet café on Whyte Avenue. It was the Internet café that sparked an interest in wireless networks and led to the creation of the Free Wi-Fi Project. Through that initiative Eric met Mark Fossen, a former partner at ThinkTel Communications. The two decided to join forces and launched Mesh Canada in 2009. They sold it to a Calgary company last year.

In January 2012, Eric & Mark decided to participate in Startup Edmonton’s Startup Hackathon. They built a utility called Backup Box that helped users move files from one place to another (such as an FTP server to Dropbox), and eventually showed it off at DemoCamp in March. A few months later, they were part of GrowLab‘s spring 2012 cohort in Vancouver. Renamed as Mover, they refined the product and when they got back to Edmonton, realized they needed to grow. That’s when Ben Zittlau joined as a partner and the VP of Technology. He had previously worked on Firenest, a web-based tool for non-profits, and for a short time worked at Yardstick Software too.

In the space of a year the team has grown from four to ten. They’ve mostly hired people they know, and that was a deliberate decision. “Slowly but surely we’re putting Nexopia back together,” Eric half-joked. He stressed how important it is to hire strong people. “They had a lot of great people working at Nexopia.” Mover plans to stay in the Mercer Warehouse as long as possible, and already have their eye on some additional space on the second floor. “It’s walkable for almost everyone on the team,” Eric said. “There are great amenities here, and being downtown and close to Startup Edmonton is really great.”

Mover Office

I asked Eric to describe the culture at Mover. “Pretty awesome” was his response. The fridge is stocked with groceries in addition to beer, so that everyone on the team can have a healthy lunch at the office if they choose to (today the team had a craving for Oodle Noodle). The company is flexible on working hours and vacation, and employees get ownership options. Eric cited Box, Dropbox, and Singly as companies he admires with Jobber and Granify as local examples. “One day we’ll be the example others mention,” he added.

Mover has a strong technical team. Greg Bell, Graham Batty, and Sean Healy are all former Nexopia employees. Derek Dowling was a programmer for The Gateway. Jacob Straszynski worked at Mediashaker. Eric thinks they’ll add a few more technology folks, but where the new funding will really help Mover is with marketing and business development. Aside from Eric and Mark, there’s just marketing intern Aidan McColl at the moment.

Mover Office

Mover has quickly become a leader in the growing world of cloud storage migration and backup. With support for about a dozen popular services like Dropbox, Google Drive, and SkyDrive, Mover is carving out a unique middleware position for itself in a rapidly growing market. Steve Jobs famously said Dropbox was just a feature, not a product, but today the company has more than 100 million users who collectively save more than 1 billion files each and every day. And they’re just one of many options available to consumers and enterprises. Back in 2010 a series of Microsoft commercials featured the refrain “to the cloud!” Today more than ever, that’s exactly what’s happening, and Mover is hoping to play a key role in the space.

The plan was always to raise money. But like many technology startups, Mover was probably too ambitious last year in trying to build an impressive technical solution to a problem that not enough people have yet. The lesson was to focus on the areas in which they already had traction, Eric told me. “We’ve got this really interesting thing here, and we need some money to figure that out so that we can get to the next stage.” That approach, combined with a realization that it’s okay to say “I don’t know” to certain questions, led to the new investment.

Mover currently thinks about two primary categories of customers. There are individuals who are mostly self-service but have a wide range of needs. Then there’s enterprises, with lots of users and fairly well-defined problems. Both offer lots of opportunities and are expected grow significantly in the years ahead. Balancing the feature set between them is one of the challenges Mover will face. “We’ve got a fantastic backend,” Eric said, “but we need to make some improvements to the user experience.”

The team is well aware there is lots of work to be done. Every Friday afternoon they meet in the “conference room” for a retrospective led by Ben. Each person has the opportunity to share something positive from the past week as well as something that needs to be improved. The admin dashboard they’ve built is displayed on a large television and allows the team to monitor performance, identify potential bugs, and highlight areas of improvement.

Mover Office

Eric and Mark took part today and used the opportunity to talk about the new investment, thanking everyone for their hard work. “It was a team effort,” Eric said. “Each of you have played an important role in getting us to this point.” Mark added some thoughts about what the investment means for the company, and there were smiles all around. But that was the extent of the celebration. Minutes later they were back to discussing some workloads that had been flagged on the display. The message was clear: the investment helps a great deal, but it’s not the endgame. Mover has lofty goals and there’s a lot of work to be done to achieve them.

AccelerateAB 2013: The Next Billion Users with Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs

In less than a month, Alberta’s tech entrepreneurs and investors will descend upon Calgary for AccelerateAB. Now in its third year, AccelerateAB is an initiative of the A100 focused on “connecting, educating and showcasing the incredible tech companies that proudly call Alberta home.” It’s not just locals you can expect to see there, but also mentors and investors from around the country and across the continent.

This event is a true melting pot that brings together Alberta’s seasoned veterans, young punks, quality mentors, whip-smart investors and keen students, all with the goal of building Alberta’s tech ecosystem. With speakers, mentors and investors jetting in from Silicon Valley and all across Canada, this isn’t just a great tech event for Alberta, it’s a great tech event. Period.

Here’s a promo video for the event:

This year’s opening keynote features Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs who will be speaking about The Next Billion Users:

The next billion users: the global opportunity of wireless. As mobile technology spreads throughout the developing world, everything we know about mobile communication, commerce and information is about to change.

I had the opportunity to talk with Gary back in April about his keynote.

Born in Toronto, Gary completed his BComm and MBA at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business throughout the 90s. Though now located in California, he does make it back to Calgary a couple of times a year. Given that AccelerateAB is taking place during the Stampede, Gary said he was looking forward to returning with his family. Beyond that, he relishes the opportunity to connect with Alberta-based entrepreneurs. “I want to bring my mistakes and lessons back to people who are working hard in Alberta,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to speak one-to-many, not just one-to-one.”

Gary has talked about the next billion users before. He spoke at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona back in February, and I encourage you to check out his blog post about the topic. “It took 22 years for the first billion users to come online, and everything changed,” Gary started. “The next two billion will come online over the next five years.” It’s that dramatic pace that has Gary most excited. “If we thought we were moving fast before, we can’t even understand this change.”

The interesting thing about the next billion users is that they aren’t tied down. “They won’t be constrained by any existing process,” Gary said. “They can start something new.” Sending money using a phone might be a shift in habit for someone from Canada used to visiting a bank, but for the next billion that will be just the way you do things. I mentioned that students in Africa often receive test scores via text message, whereas I had to wait for a piece of paper when I was in high school. Being free of the context of paper is part of what makes the coming shift so exciting to Gary. “To anyone who has never had a test score delivered via a sheet of paper, they don’t even have that in mind.”

Something that Gary has focused a lot of energy on during his time at Mozilla is privacy. “It’s a concern mostly because there’s no transparency,” he told me, which in the context of the recent NSA and PRISM news is quite accurate. The challenge around privacy in bringing the next billion users online is to enable them to have control. “Tools are being developed, and there will be ways for them to have a much better privacy experience from the start,” Gary said.

gary kovacs
Gary Kovacs at Mobile World Congress

Another topic we discussed was the open web. “It must be open and available for all to participate,” he said. “The next two billion people can’t be forced to go online in a way that advantages one commercial organization over another.” Gary mentioned the history we’ve been through with AOL, and noted that in the world of mobile today we’re forced to essentially choose one of two centrally planned economies. “One or two organizations cannot possibly keep up with the millions of requests of human innovation,” he said.

Lastly, I wanted to ask Gary what advice he’d give to startups. “Big organizations innovate at the centre of the bell curve,” he said. “Startups are magically placed to innovate at the edges.” For Gary, the next two billion people coming online is an incredible opportunity for startups. “Look beyond the boundaries of where you live,” he advised. Startups are able to have an impact in areas that simply cannot be contemplated by larger organizations. “Also think in terms of systems,” he added. “We should no longer think of mobile as a device or an app, that wave of innovation has occurred; the next wave is when anything is connected.”

Very exciting times ahead indeed! This is just a small snapshot of the things you’ll hear discussed at AccelerateAB in Calgary next month. The conference takes place on July 11, and tickets are just $30. You’ve got until July 2 to register, so get on it! You can check out the schedule here.

The other thing happening in conjunction with AccelerateAB is Alberta Tech Week. All week long there will be interesting tech events taking place, and you can submit your own if you’d like to get involved. It’s going to be a great week to connect with tech entrepreneurs from across the province!

Preview: Launch Party Edmonton 3

startup edmontonNext Thursday evening, Edmonton’s third Launch Party will take place at Startup Edmonton. It’s an opportunity to mix and mingle with some of the city’s most interesting entrepreneurs, creators, and developers. The focus is on ten startups that have risen up over the last year or so and are now ready for the next stage. There are no formal presentations or panels, but there will be drinks, demos, and DJs! You can see my recap of Launch Party 2 here.

Here’s what you need to know about each startup.

GeniePad
TWO WORDS: Condo Communication
WHAT: “GeniePad is a communication portal for condominiums, condo boards, homeowners associations, and property management companies. With GeniePad you can simply and easily deliver news, share documents, buy and sell goods within your building’s community, provide your residents with a tool to communicate with the condo board, homeowners association, property management and other residents electronically, making it quick and efficient.”
KEY PEOPLE: Rafal Dyrda of Flame360 Inc., also co-founded PartsBazaar.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 15.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: I’m a big fan of the product (my condo building uses it). GeniePad solves problems that all large residential buildings have, and it does so with an attractive, easy-to-use, cost-effective web app. With 130 properties already using the product (which they found largely through word-of-mouth), GeniePad is off to a great start.

Granify
TWO WORDS: Shopping Analytics
WHAT: “Granify is an Edmonton-based company backed by several of the strongest venture capital firms in Canada and the US. We’re at the intersection of artificial intelligence and e-commerce, providing a SaaS solution that enables online retailers to maximize their sales by using cutting edge big data and machine learning technologies. We’re a small but growing team of eager entrepreneurial individuals that enjoy working in a fun, creative, and agile environment.”
KEY PEOPLE: Jeff Lawrence, founder of Bloro Games and Precision Targeting; Lihang Ying, architect at the City of Edmonton working on 311 and Open Data; and Shawn Wan, formerly of Tynt.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Member of Extreme Startups’ first cohort earlier this year.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Granify has already received a significant amount of investment from some very seasoned investors, so that’s a good sign. Big data is an increasingly growing area of interest for many people, and Granify seems well-positioned to make a play in the e-commerce segment of that space.

Jobber
TWO WORDS: Business Management
WHAT: “Jobber is a cloud based mobile-capable business management system for field service companies. Landscapers, painters, cleaning companies, contractors and many other service professionals are getting organized, saving time and earning more using Jobber to power their administrative back end, and to close the information loop with their employees in the field.”
KEY PEOPLE: Sam Pillar and Forrest Zeisler.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 15.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: I ran a painting franchise one summer and I could definitely have used Jobber back then! With a rich set of features, competitive pricing, and a giant market of small service companies, it’s no surprise that Jobber has attracted Boris Wertz and Point Nine Capital as investors.

LoginRadius
TWO WORDS: Social Login
WHAT: “LoginRadius is Software as a Service (SaaS) that provides social infrastructure to help businesses grow through the power of social media, improving the ease and efficiency of online identity management. Using LoginRadius, website owners can allow their users to log in with existing accounts on Live, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and over 20 more providers. Social Login eliminates the annoying registration process that all online users have come to dread and not only attracts more traffic to a website but also boosts its user base.”
KEY PEOPLE: Rakesh Soni, who did his MSc in Engineering at the University of Alberta.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 19.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: LoginRadius has partnerships with Mozilla, Microsoft’s BizSpark, DynDNS, and X-Card, and already has 22,000 customers according to Business in Edmonton magazine. Social plugins are all the rage, and LoginRadius makes it easy to add them to your website with the added bonus of gathering data for social analytics.

Monogram
TWO WORDS: Instagram Profiles
WHAT: “Monogram is a web service that helps users create simple online profiles. We create custom plugins that use API’s from popular tools and social networks to give users a deep amount of customization with little effort. We currently only offer profiles for Instagram – but we plan to roll out new profiles in the new year.”
KEY PEOPLE: Brandon Webber, Tim Fletcher, and Adrian Gyuricska, all from Lift Interactive.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 19.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: During the demo back in September, Brandon and Tim emphasized that supporting services beyond Instagram was important. Well three days ago Instagram launched their own web profiles. Monogram plans to support SoundCloud, Vimeo, and Etsy among other services. While there’s definitely a market for beautifully designed, premium profiles, it is a busy space with about.me and many others. They’ll have to focus on quality and service.

Mover
TWO WORDS: Cloud Storage
WHAT: “These days most consumers are using, or starting to use, cloud storage. This means that files are now in Dropbox, or Google, or somewhere other than their computers. Mover uncomplicates the process for software developers to work with cloud storage. Using Mover, any app, product, or service can easily interact with cloud storage providers like Box, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Microsoft SkyDrive. Mover provides a great application programming interface (API) for software developers. The process of authorizing, downloading, and uploading files from any cloud storage provider is identical using Mover, whereas the old way of doing things was a long and arduous process.”
KEY PEOPLE: Eric Warnke, co-founder of Mesh Canada, former Nexopia employee; Mark Fossen, co-founder of Mesh Canada, former ThinkTel employee; and Ben Zittlau, creator of Alertzy and co-founder of Firenest.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 18 as Backup Box.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Dropbox is the poster child of cloud storage, but it is just one of many options. SkyDrive (my favorite), Box, Amazon S3, Windows Azure, and Google Drive are just a few of the other big players. Moving data from one to another is going to become increasingly important, and Mover helps make it easy. Their slogan of “one API for the cloud” is a lofty but potentially lucrative promise.

PlanHero
TWO WORDS: Event Planning
WHAT: “PlanHero makes planning social group trips easy and stress free. We take the chaos out of planning group trips while making sure everyone pays the planner on time. PlanHero makes communicating efficient, allow you to poll your friends to help decide what, when and where to go and help everyone book their trip like a pro. Planners set up basic trip information and any questions they want the group to decide on in no time, meaning less time arguing and reading email chains and more time getting the trip of a lifetime happening.”
KEY PEOPLE: Dave Chmiel; Kyle Huberman, CEO of Pixel Designs; and Richard Aberefa.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 18.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Even with an ever-growing list of online tools, coordinating group events (especially those that require payment) is still a pain. That’s the problem that PlanHero hopes to address, utilizing Facebook for easy social connectivity. They may need to focus on a specific niche to start (ski trips, for instance) but the service is slick and easy-to-use.

Poppy Barley
TWO WORDS: Custom Boots
WHAT: “Poppy Barley will revolutionize the way women buy footwear. Mass-manufactured footwear only considers one measurement – foot length and as a result over 60% of women struggle to find boots that fit. Motivated by the promise of fit and brilliance of bespoke, Poppy Barley makes it possible for women to design their ideal pair of boots and self-measure their feet, ankles and legs in 5 minutes. Poppy Barley makes the luxury of made to measure boots attainable for the first time by a business model delivered entirely online with no middlemen and layers of markups.” 
KEY PEOPLE: Justine Barber and her sister Kendall Barber, editor & founder of City & Dale.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Featured in the Edmonton Journal on September 13.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Purchasing clothing or shoes online is always difficult because of the sizing issue. Will it fit? You never know. Add to that the fact that everyone’s fit is slightly different, and you have a solid use case for Poppy Barley (it also seems more likely to take off than something like Pedpad, which requires a hardware device to measure). The sisters have done their homework and they’ve already inked a number of key partnerships. Oh, and they definitely know fashion!

Sendioso
TWO WORDS: Gift Certificates
WHAT: “Sendioso is an online community where people share their favourite local shops and buy and send gift certificates immediately via email or mobile phone. Anyone can visit Sendioso.com, view their friends’ favourite places, buy a gift certificate from any Sendioso merchant, and then send it to anyone, at any time. We want our audience to have fun gifting, sharing and visiting Sendioso stores — maybe for the first time.”
KEY PEOPLE: Jeremy Payne and Lisa Hryniw.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: I’ll admit I don’t know much about Sendioso, but the idea of getting gift cards for places I actually like is appealing. The services seems to have an interesting discovery angle too.

Showbie
TWO WORDS: Paperless Homework
WHAT: “Showbie unlocks the creative potential of classroom iPads with easy document sharing right from everyone’s favorite apps. Showbie makes workflow easily manageable, effective and secure. The best way to go paperless. Students, parents and teachers are thrilled with the simple but effective way of sharing assignment, projects and homework.”
KEY PEOPLE: Colin Bramm, President of Bramm Technologies and long-time entrepreneur in the education technology space. Demoed SelfChecker at DemoCamp Edmonton 9 in November 2009.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Launched on June 12, 2012 at Launch Education & Kids in Mountain View, CA.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Colin has been dabbling in the ed tech space for a while so has quite a bit of experience to draw from. The product has already been used by 400 schools around the world. Many districts are investing in iPads for schools, so the addressable market does seem to be growing.

Tickets for Launch Party 3 are $25 or $15 for students. You can get yours here.

Launch Party is just one of many exciting events celebrating entrepreneurship in Edmonton next week. Global Entrepreneurship Week 2012 kicks off on Tuesday at Startup Edmonton, and there are events planned all week long.

See you there!

Recap: DemoCamp Edmonton 19

It has been so long since our last DemoCamp – number eighteen took place way back in March! A lot has happened in the interim, most notably that Startup Edmonton has completely moved into the Mercer Warehouse and it has definitely become the home of startups in our city. It’s really great to see the energy and momentum continually building! Even with all of that activity however, DemoCamp remains an important part of the ecosystem. It’s a great opportunity to see what local entrepreneurs are building and to connect with lots of people in the community.

DemoCamp Edmonton 19
Cam introducing the evening

Tonight’s event was back at the Telus Centre on the University of Alberta campus, and featured five demos (in order of appearance):

  • Patrick Pilarski from the Alberta Innovates Centre for Machine Learning (AICML) kicked things off with a very cool demo that involved a robot! He leads the organization’s Adaptive Prosthetics Project, which is focused on creating intelligent artificial limbs for amputees. In the demo he used sensors on his own arm to control the arms of a small robot, but also to train the algorithm. This video probably explains it better than I can – it’s so great that we have stuff like this happening in Edmonton:

  • Tim Tuxworth was up next to show us Go-Taxi. This was the first demo that I can remember to feature a live Skype video call as Tim called a taxi driver to help with the demo! Unfortunately he ran into some technical issues, but I think everyone got the idea. The app helps taxi companies manage requests, and helps clients book a taxi and see its current location on a map. It’s a neat idea!
  • Next up we had Brandon Webber and Tim Fletcher who demoed Monogram. Essentially it provides a public profile on the web for Instagram users, but that’s just the start. Eventually Monogram will support other services like Vimeo, SoundCloud, and Etsy. It’s a very beautifully designed tool! With Instagram working on a web presence though, they’ll need to get some other services supported quickly.
  • Our penultimate demo was by Rakesh Soni who showed us LoginRadius. It’s a suite of products that help businesses integrate “social infrastructure” such as login, analytics, and sharing. The idea is that LoginRadius is easier to integrate than all of the various social networking APIs, so you as the developer only have to learn one thing. I was happy to hear it was built with .NET and runs on Azure!
  • The duo of Sean Solbak and Shawn Sidoruk had the final demo of the evening, DibsIn. It’s a mobile app that allows shoppers to view a list of deals in the area. So if you’re downtown, you might see a deal at That Hat. When you redeem a deal, you get to spin a virtual “Price is Right” wheel to determine the exact amount of the discount. It’s pretty slick, and they have over 20 local merchants participating already!

I’m a fan of diving straight into the demo, so I could have done without some of the preamble and intro video stuff that went on tonight, but I think the demos went pretty well for the most part. Kudos to the audience for asking some great questions tonight! I also want to give props to Monogram and DibsIn because both feature “Made in Edmonton” on their websites!

DemoCamp Edmonton 19DemoCamp Edmonton 19

There were a bunch of announcements throughout the evening about some cool stuff coming up:

  • Startup Edmonton has a number of courses coming up. Everybody Can Code runs on Monday evenings throughout October, for instance. Check out the full list here.
  • Edmonton Girl Geek Dinners will have another event coming up soon – stay tuned to their Twitter feed for details!
  • The fall session of Preflight for Tech Startups begins on October 1st.
  • TEDxEdmonton Education takes place on October 13 at the Winspear Centre. It’s going to be an amazing day full of discussion about how learning is impacting our schools, workplaces and industries.
  • Registration is now open for WordCamp Edmonton 2012! This year’s event runs November 16-17.
  • It seems like there’s always something interesting happening in the Startup Edmonton space. Check the calendar for more events!

See you at DemoCamp Edmonton 20!

Recap: TEC VenturePrize 2012

tec ventureprizeLast 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.

TEC VenturePrize 2012

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.

TEC VenturePrize 2012

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.

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 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!

TEC VenturePrize 2012

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.

TEC VenturePrize 2012

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.