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: TEC VenturePrize 2014

Local entrepreneurs were celebrated tonight at the 12th annual TEC VenturePrize awards celebration in Hall D at the Shaw Conference Centre. More than $200,000 in prizes were handed out to the nine finalists across three competitions!

TEC VenturePrize 2014

Here’s what VenturePrize is all about:

“You have a business idea, but don’t necessarily have the business training to launch your company. The more you brainstorm about transforming your vision into a venture, the more questions you have. What are the legal issues with creating a company? Where is the financing going to come from? Am I targeting the right market? Find out by participating in the TEC VenturePrize business plan competition.”

It’s a great opportunity for participants to make connections with investors and other entrepreneurs, to learn more about what it takes to run a business, and to gain valuable insight from experienced mentors.

TEC VenturePrize 2014

Our host for the evening was Ryan Jespersen from BT Edmonton. Premier Dave Hancock opened the event bringing greetings on behalf of the Province, followed by TEC Edmonton CEO Chris Lumb who brought opening remarks and also presented the Recognition Award to Bob Teskey. His acceptance speech was about twelve seconds long, which helped to contribute to a timely program that finished slightly ahead of schedule.

“Bob envisioned and designed the TEC Edmonton structure: an unincorporated Joint Venture to create strong commitment among Joint Venture partners, enable the University and City ti work together in unique ways, and build linkages between university and community.

This award is presented in recognition of Bob’s role in growing a strong Edmonton, through his outstanding ability to forge institutional partnerships.”

Mayor Iveson was the next speaker. He talked about the changing energy in Edmonton, and said “it’s getting easier to make an idea reality in this city.” Mayor Iveson stayed on stage to help interview the three student competition finalists: AlieoGames, Livi Design, and Smart Count Health. All three were from the University of Alberta!

TEC VenturePrize 2014

This year TELUS came on board to sponsor the first ever ICT Competition at VenturePrize. We heard pitches from the three finalists: It’s Date Night, MyMenu, and Zayfti. You can learn more about each one at TEC Edmonton. Given the ridiculous state of online restaurant menus, I really hope that Edmonton-based MyMenu is successful in its quest to help diners with dietary restrictions. It’ll be tough to get restaurants to upload menus though when so many don’t even keep their own sites up-to-date!

TEC VenturePrize 2014

Since 2002, the Fast Growth competition has awarded more than $1.5 million to Alberta-based entrepreneurs to help them grow their companies, an impressive number of which are still operating! The finalists in this year’s competition were:

Belgravia Tech Inc.

“BTI has created a safe, reliable, and cost effective alternative to a nuclear reactor-generated medical isotope vital for timely diagnosis and management of patient treatment for many major health issues, including cancer and heart problems. BTI’s unique technology is well positioned to fill this critical need and provide healthcare organizations with the means to offer quality care for heart and cancer patients worldwide.”

Localize Services Inc.

“Localize in an Edmonton-based company that helps tell the stories behind the foods we all love. Their unique grocery-shelf labeling service rapidly collects and conveys product information to consumers, making it easy for grocers anywhere to launch local, regional, and domestic food campaigns in their stores. These smartphone-enabled tags and unique “Localize scores” empower shoppers to quickly learn the who, what, where, and how behind thousands of products on grocery shelves across Canada.”

Tactalis

“Tactalis develops amazing tactile tablet computer systems that help people who are blind or visually impaired to explore, create and share images and digital media that they cannot see. Each of their award winning products has a unique touch sensitive interface and embedded tactile display that lets users touch and feel physical representations of features, symbols and graphics on an LCD screen.”

All very interesting companies with great elevator pitches! I think the work that Localize is doing is really important and they delivered a really clear message to the audience this evening. Tactalis has such an interesting product – think of it like braille for the digital era. I can see a huge market for what they’re doing!

TEC VenturePrize 2014

Up next was the keynote speaker, Dianne Buckner. She spoke about the art of the pitch, giving the judges an opportunity to leave the room to make their final deliberations. As the host of CBC’s Dragon’s Den and as a member of the Business Team at CBC News, Dianne knows a thing or two about pitching. Her advice tonight? Do tell a story, don’t let a “dragon” discourage you, do align your goals with those of the person you’re pitching, and don’t be afraid to talk about your weaknesses. She also said to keep in mind that the first thing you’re pitching is always yourself – if they aren’t interested in you or don’t think you’re competent, why would they be interested in your product or service?

TEC VenturePrize 2014

Finally, it was time to find out the winners!

Edmonton Journal People’s Choice Award
Localize Services Inc., with 59.5% of the vote

TEC VenturePrize Student Business Plan Award
AlieoGames

VenturePrize TELUS Information & Communication Technology Award
MyMenu

TEC VenturePrize Fast Growth Grand Prize Award
Localize Services Inc.

It was a big night for Startup Edmonton, as all of the winners and many of the finalists had a connection in some form or another to the organization. It’s great to see the continued positive momentum behind entrepreneurship in Edmonton!

TEC VenturePrize 2014

Congratulations to Localize and to all of the participants, finalists, and winners! Thanks to TEC Edmonton for providing me with a seat tonight to capture the action. You can see more photos from the evening here.

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.

Recap: TEC VenturePrize 2011

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.

2011 TEC VenturePrize Awards Luncheon

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 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 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”.

2011 TEC VenturePrize Awards Luncheon

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:

  1. Know thyself, and know your timespan (how much time you can actually devote).
  2. Know thy business partner (consider legal advice up front, even if it seems costly).
  3. Trust your instincts.
  4. Network with others (he encouraged everyone to leave with ten other business cards).
  5. 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!

2011 TEC VenturePrize Awards Luncheon

Chris Lumb presented the awards for the fast growth competition, with the win going to VibeDX!

2011 TEC VenturePrize Awards Luncheon

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.

If you’re interested in participating in next year’s VenturePrize, check the website this fall for registration details. You can also follow @TECVenturePrize on Twitter.

Edmonton IT Community: What are your top 5 needs?

Along with a few other usual suspects I’ve been invited to take part in an informal IT Circle later this week. The goal is to come to some consensus about what the top 5 or 10 needs of local startups and growing IT companies are, so that we can start trying to address them. I feel very strongly that we need to be doing more for the tech community in Edmonton, particularly the part of the community that is often overlooked – web & software. I’ve written about this in the past, most notably here.

The meeting is being hosted by EEDC, who I openly criticized in that post. I’m encouraged by the progress I’ve seen them make over the last six months – I think they’re really making an effort to listen, to learn, and slowly to participate in the community. I hope to see that trend continue, through this meeting and other initiatives.

So now I need your help. If you’re a member of the local IT community, whether it’s biotech, public sector, startups, or something else, what are your top needs? What’s on your wishlist? How can we make the tech community in Edmonton better? Let me know, and I’ll bring that to the table this week. Thanks!

FWIW, here are a few on my list:

  • Micro/seed funding. Small amounts of money to enable entrepreneurs to try things out.
  • Exposure to external experience. How can we connect with people who in other places that could teach us a lot?
  • Storytelling. I talk about this a lot…how can we do a better job of telling local success stories to others?

Recap: TEC VenturePrize 2010

Today was the awards luncheon for the 2010 edition of TEC VenturePrize, an Alberta-wide business plan competition. The competition is a great way for entrepreneurs to access professional mentorship, networking, and also provides an opportunity to get some exposure. And speaking as a participant (back in 2006) I can honestly say that you learn so much in such a short period of time!

Today’s host was Ryan Jespersen of Citytv, and our special guests included Annette Trimbee, Deputy Minister, Alberta Advanced Education and Technology, and Mayor Stephen Mandel. Chris Lumb, CEO of TEC Edmonton, also brought greetings. In a statement he said:

“Innovators come first at TEC Edmonton. The cailbre of talent that was showcased today is a reflection of the creativity taking place in our province. The determination to build strong business plans through training, mentoring and finally pitching is what makes Alberta’s entrepreneurs stand above the rest.”

We also heard from Duncan Stewart from Deloitte, and last year’s fast growth winner, Ken Bautista of Seek Your Own Proof. Duncan shared some technology predictions and trends with us, while Ken provided an update on the success that his company has had since winning the competition.

TEC VenturePrize 2010TEC VenturePrize 2010

Dozens of entrepreneurs and students from around the province participated, and it was up to the judges to narrow the field down to three finalists in each category (Fast Growth and Student). The finalists in the fast growth category were:

And in the student category:

  • Alberta Carbon
  • E² Technologies
  • Molecular Tetris Inc.

The winner of the Screeners’ Award of Merit, for a business plan that shows excellent promise, was Innovequity Inc. The winner of the Student Business Plan Award was Alberta Carbon. And the grand prize winner of the Fast Growth Award was Biolithic Corporation. You can read the official announcement of the winners here.

TEC VenturePrize 2010

I had the opportunity to work with Firenest a little on their presentation and elevator pitch, so I was definitely cheering for them. I still think they did a fantastic job. Congratulations to the winners and to all the participants!

You can see the rest of my photos from the event here.

2010 TEC VenturePrize Awards Luncheon

As longtime readers will know, I was one of the finalists in the VenturePrize business plan competition back in 2006 (along with Yardstick Software). It was a great experience, and I learned a lot. I also know how much effort goes into it, so I have great respect for all the competitors who came after me!

I’ve been able to attend the awards luncheon the last few years thanks to Chris & Don from Yardstick, which has allowed me to meet some really interesting individuals and companies. I’ll be attending again this year, thanks to TEC Edmonton. I’m really excited, for a few reasons:

  • I know a couple of the teams competing this year quite well, and was able to act as an advisor/mentor a little bit. I’m pulling for them!
  • There’s always an interesting keynote speaker and lots of great people to meet.
  • Ken Bautista will be there!

Here’s the description for this year’s luncheon:

Now in its 8th year, this province-wide business plan competition provides budding entrepreneurs with training and guidance as well as an opportunity to win a share of over $150,000 in prizes!

The keynote speaker will be Duncan Stewart, currently Director of Deloitte Canada Research: Technology, Media & Telecommunications, Life Sciences and GreenTech. He has over 20 years experience working in capital markets, helping raise and invest more than $2 billion.

In addition, Ken Bautista will provide an update on the successes of his startup, CIE: Seek Your Own Proof, since winning the grand prize in last year’s TEC VenturePrize Business Plan Competition!

The event takes place at the Westin Hotel on Thursday, April 15 from 11:30am until 2:00pm (on ShareEdmonton). As of last week, tickets were already 60% sold, so if you want to attend you better get yours soon. Hope to see you there!

Recap: Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally Open House

Last night was the open house for the City’s new Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally (LTEL) initiative (you can read my previous coverage here). The event was meant to provide more details to the community, and to introduce the people behind the scenes. David Faber from the Deputy City Managers Office, Kamren Farr from TEC Edmonton, Keith Chorley from CoE IT, Bruce Beecher from CoE IT/Transit, and Cam Linke were all on hand to introduce the idea and answer questions. Roughly 25 people attended.

Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally

David began by giving the pitch, essentially providing the same information he shared with me last week. He stressed that this is a pilot program, and that it’s okay to fail. The City of Edmonton is hoping to learn from the experience, and will be reporting back to Executive Committee with the results. David highlighted the intent of LTEL:

  • To communicate the services that the City of Edmonton provides.
  • To build bridges with the local community, to enable small tech companies to use the City of Edmonton as a sandbox.

Next up was Bruce, who provided some information on the challenge – creating a replacement for Edmonton Transit’s Lost & Found system. The current database was built with Access 97, and the IT branch is keen to replace it with something more modern. A few details on the system:

  • Roughly 1700 items are tracked per month
  • Items are stored for 30 days, and if not retrieved are then donated, auctioned, or otherwise disposed of. Passports, for example, are returned to the government, and cell phones are returned to the carrier.
  • Items are stored tagged in bins in a storage room that is roughly 20 feet x 20 feet.
  • Most wallets, cell phones, backpacks, and purses are collected within 2 days.

The basic business processes are:

  1. Enter articles – start tracking lost items
  2. Search articles – when someone calls with a description
  3. Claim articles – individual signs the tag upon retrieving the item
  4. Purge articles – items removed from database after retrieval or 30 days

Some of the opportunities identified include:

  • Improved security and access control
  • Multiple item search (currently you can only search one item at a time)
  • Track people inquiring about items
  • Enhance reporting
  • Potentially something generic enough that other CoE departments could use it

Kamren was up next, to provide the preliminary market assessment. He talked about the “lost and found” industry, and highlighted solutions at TransLink and the New York transit authority as best-of-breed. There are four existing types of lost and found systems:

  1. Public – transit, etc.
  2. Private – hotels, etc.
  3. Return service – you pay for tags or some incentive to return
  4. Online classifieds – lost and found posters, basically

He went on to talk about market segments, and highlighted some of the market drivers, opportunities, and challenges.

The challenge was eventually described as:

Use technology to reduce costs for the customer (City of Edmonton) and increase recovery rates for users (people who have lost things).

All of this information will be made available on the LTEL page. The only other pertinent detail is that the upper limit for the budget is $75,000. Technical requirements and other details will also be posted on the website.

Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally

My Thoughts

I talked with a number of people after the session to get their perspective. Most folks seemed excited about the idea. Andrew from dub5, in particular, said he was impressed that the City of Edmonton took the time to get this pilot started, and suggested that it was a big step in the right direction. Bruce Winter echoed that sentiment, but like me, was hoping for something a little more visual.

Here are my thoughts on the open house:

  • The City needs to do a much better job of spreading the word. I realize they wanted to manage expectations, but I don’t think enough people knew about last night’s event.
  • I would have loved to have seen the format of the event mimic DemoCamp. Instead of slides full of bullet points, why not demo what they currently have?
  • I get that a lost and found database isn’t particularly exciting, but that doesn’t mean that the presentation can’t be. Instead of telling us there’s a 20×20 room packed with items, why not show a photo?
  • This is going to sound harsh, but Kamren’s presentation wasn’t much more than a Google search. Very basic business concepts (competition, market segments, opportunities, challenges) and nothing more than the names of some other lost and found systems. I’m still wondering what exactly TEC Edmonton and EEDC bring to the table, besides a couple more names?

My biggest concern however, is related to the very first question I asked. I wanted to know if there were any technical requirements, and specifically, if the application had to be on-premise (meaning the City of Edmonton hosts and manages it). Keith answered yes, tech requirements would be provided, and that yes, the solution needs to run in the City of Edmonton’s existing infrastructure. One of the stated goals of LTEL is to expose the City of Edmonton to some of the innovative ideas of the local tech community, so this seems like a big step in the wrong direction. Maybe there’s a good reason for this particular solution, but if so it was not made clear. I think putting up big restrictions like that right from the start limits the potential solutions the City could learn about. (Also, I was under the impression the City wanted to get out of the tech business, by not doing custom development and reducing the burden of hosting and managing systems.)

This criticism is meant to be constructive. Overall I think LTEL is a good thing, and I want to see it succeed. I look forward to the rest of the process!

Stay tuned to the website for updates and an application form. Companies interested in developing a solution have until December 15 to express interest.

Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally – Open House on November 17

As you may have heard by now, the City of Edmonton is hosting an open house on Tuesday, November 17 (on ShareEdmonton) at City Hall to present a pilot project to interested members of the local tech community. The initiative is known as Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally (LTEL), and the open house follows on the report that was presented to Executive Committee back in August. I’ll get to some of the event details in a second, but first I want to offer some background.

I heard about the open house late on Monday afternoon, and immediately posted a tweet. You might think that the City’s IT department would be behind it, but many of them only learned about it because of my tweet! And that’s where things get interesting.

I had the opportunity this week to sit down with David Faber, one of the folks making this initiative happen. David is the Executive Director of Enterprise Strategic Management in the Deputy City Managers Office. His involvement means that this initiative is happening at a level slightly above IT, as David is (along with his team) charged with strategy, direction, accountability, and stewardship for the entire City of Edmonton, not just IT. David’s job is to bring the City’s Vision and Strategic Plan to life, and LTEL is just one of the ways in which he’s doing that.

As you might expect, David oozes passion for Edmonton. He’s been with the City of Edmonton for 12 years now, and even spent some time working in IT, so he has some experience in the field. For David, the LTEL initiative is about innovation and economic development, as well as the opportunity to simply connect with startups and other small tech firms in Edmonton. He outlined a few key goals of the initiative:

  • To bring the community together with the City, and to open the door at CoE for smaller companies.
  • To build shared learning by using the City as a sandbox and by not being afraid to fail.
  • To be supportive of the City Vision, which is to say that the LTEL pilot must be repeatable and sustainable.

I agree with Chris LaBossiere – this sounds like we’re on the right track.

I did explain to David that I was highly critical of the original report, and that I along with others in the tech community are concerned about EEDC and TEC Edmonton’s involvement. Unfortunately, David didn’t say much to alleviate my concerns when I asked how specifically those organizations would be involved, suggesting only that they would provide resources. I’m willing to wait and see how things turn out, because it certainly sounds like TEC Edmonton is less central to the pilot than was suggested in the original report.

We’ll learn more about the project at Tuesday’s event, but here’s what we know already:

  • The problem is to come up with a replacement for Edmonton Transit’s current electronic Lost and Found system.
  • Prospective participants must be incorporated companies by February 3, 2010, must have annual revenue of $2 million or less, and must be located within the City of Edmonton’s boundaries.
  • Prospective participants have until December 15, 2009 to express interest.
  • Potential solutions will be presented on January 28, 2010.
  • A selection announcement will occur on February 3, 2010 with the pilot project starting March 1, 2010.

The Lost and Found system was selected for two important reasons: it’s tangible, and already has funding attached. Representatives from IT, DCMO, ETS, and TEC Edmonton will be on hand to provide more information.

I’ll be there on Tuesday to learn more about it, and I hope you’ll consider attending as well.

Taking Edmonton’s Technology Community to the Next Level

I’m always thinking about the technology community in Edmonton. Some very positive things have happened in recent years, and I want to see that trend continue and even accelerate. To take our tech community to the next level however, we’re going to need everyone to bring their unique strengths and abilities to the table. Community organizers, researchers, investors, public policy makers, educational institutions, small and large enterprises, and most importantly, entrepreneurs, all have a role to play.

For a while now I’ve felt that something is holding us back, something that we can change. That’s what this post is about.

Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally

There were two interesting items at the top of the City of Edmonton Executive Committee meeting yesterday. The first was the TEC Edmonton 2008 Annual Report (PDF). The second was a report entitled Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally (Word).

I read the second report with great interest. It is based on a consultation with TEC Edmonton, Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC), and City Administration and is in response to the following motion from the May 6, 2009 Executive Committee meeting:

That Administration consult with TEC Edmonton, Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, and the general technical community on opportunities to facilitate and better capitalize on incorporating work and research done via the City’s purchasing, standards and business practices, and report back to Executive Committee.

The report is relatively short at just two and a half pages, so I encourage you to read it for yourself. Here’s my summary:

  • One of the four principles of the City of Edmonton Strategic Plan is innovation, loosely defined as “exploration in the adoption of new techniques, technologies, products and ways of operating in order to improve results and lead progressive change.”
  • With that in mind, EEDC, TEC Edmonton, and City Administration want to challenge the status quo with a pilot project that connects them with one another and the “general technical community”.
  • The pilot project would provide benefits to local technology firms (such as opportunities to use the City as a reference customer) and to City Administration (including exposure and access to technologies that previously had not been realized).
  • The pilot project would leverage concepts similar to “the University of Alberta Idea-Fest or local technology Demo Camps” and would consist of two sessions.

It’s nice to see DemoCamp and IDEAfest both get mentioned. Kudos to Cam Linke, Michael Janz, and everyone else who makes those and other events successful.

The above points seem logical enough and if that’s all I had read, I’d happily support the recommended pilot project (which sounds like a couple of events). Unfortunately I kept reading, and as the saying goes, the devil is in the details.

First, the scope of the pilot project is defined as:

  • Small entrepreneurial organizations
  • Prototype the approach – keep it simple
  • TEC Edmonton would identify potential attendees and review with Administration
  • Products must be usable and available for testing

If by “small entrepreneurial organizations” they mean “startups” then I think the first point is spot on. There are so many local startups that could use a leg up with the City. The second point makes sense also – simplicity and iteration are key. The fourth point is similar to the rules of DemoCamp – we’d like to see action rather than talk. I’ll come back to the third point.

Next, the two sessions are defined as follows:

The first session, held in Q3 of 2009, would focus on the City of Edmonton identifying business problems and communication of priorities to TEC Edmonton associated companies.

A second session would be held approximately four weeks later with TEC Edmonton members presenting possible solutions to opportunities identified.

Can you spot the pattern? It continues in the report’s final remarks:

This pilot also supports the concept of the knowledge economy and leverages the capability of local educational institutions.

It focuses on retaining and accelerating the success of high-impact innovation-based start up companies in the Edmonton area by strengthening the partnership between TEC Edmonton and the City of Edmonton. This in turn promotes the development of an entrepreneurial culture and the infrastructure to nurture and sustain scientific and technology-based enterprises.

What started out as a promising attempt by the City to leverage and work with the wonderful technology community we have here in Edmonton quickly became all about TEC Edmonton. According to the recommendation, TEC Edmonton would be responsible for picking the attendees and for driving the dialogue.

This is bad for two reasons:

  1. TEC Edmonton does not represent the whole of the technology community in Edmonton.
  2. TEC Edmonton has a very poor track record when it comes to “promoting the development of an entrepreneurial culture” in Edmonton.

TEC Edmonton Background

Formed in 2000 and ratified in 2006, TEC Edmonton is a joint venture between the University of Alberta and EEDC. It’s mandate is to “help navigate the commercialization process – transitioning science solutions into business opportunities” in the greater Edmonton region. A few highlights from the annual report I mentioned above:

  • TEC Edmonton received 98 reports of inventions in 2008. A total of 77 patent applications were filed and 48 patents were granted. A total of 23 technologies were licensed.
  • TEC Source provided free business advice to 70 entrepreneurs in 2008.
  • A total of 160 entrepreneurs participated in TEC VenturePrize in 2008.
  • The TEC Centre is home to 22 tenants.

TEC Edmonton represents the Information and Communications Technology, Physical Sciences, Life Sciences and Agri-Value industry sectors. There’s absolutely a need for an organization to facilitate the commercialization of research coming out of the University of Alberta. TEC Edmonton needs to continue that work – they’re good at it and they’ve proven they can get results.

The Problem With TEC Edmonton

TEC Edmonton automatically gets a seat at the technology table in Edmonton, whether it deserves one or not. The City of Edmonton and EEDC cannot pursue their objectives in the technology space without involving TEC Edmonton, which is a problem because TEC Edmonton isn’t interested in much of what it would take for those organizations to achieve their objectives.

Startups have little to no interaction with TEC Edmonton and are very rarely impacted by TEC Edmonton programs. Software-based startups are even further removed from TEC Edmonton’s activities. The organization is completely geared toward monetizing expensive high tech research from the University of Alberta, not helping local startups.

  • Patents are meaningless in the world of software, but are at the heart of nearly every deal that TEC Edmonton does. The very first question mentioned on the TEC Source page is: “Do you have intellectual property or a business plan?”
  • The TEC Centre is an incubation facility for TEC Edmonton companies, not technology companies in general. You can’t just drop in.
  • Alberta Deal Generator doesn’t help startup companies prepare for investment, it helps later stage companies. And the private sector does a better job of that anyway.

Quite simply, TEC Edmonton has been ignoring software startups for nearly a decade now. Why does this matter? If we want to move beyond our current energy-based economy to nurture and capitalize on the incredibly smart and talented people we have in Edmonton and Alberta, we need to start paying more attention to software. That’s where innovation is happening and value is being created.

What We Really Need

We don’t need two events to talk about business and communication problems for TEC Edmonton associated companies, nor do we need an organization filtering communication between the City and the technology community. What we really need is for TEC Edmonton or an organization like it to help software startups by doing the things the community can’t.

Easy exchange of knowledge and ideas is something the community has proven it can do well with events like DemoCamp and BarCamp. The ability to get started without a lot of initial investment is another thing the community is addressing through initiatives such as ENTS (you can read more about ENTS here).

Something the community can’t do is provide smart seed funding. I’m talking about YCombinator and TechStars. Tiny amounts of money to get entrepreneurs going, with ongoing mentorship and other networking opportunities. These programs likely aren’t going to make anyone rich, but that’s not the point anyway. The point is to invest in people, to encourage entrepreneurship. TEC Edmonton could do this right away if they really wanted to by scrapping Alberta Deal Generator and taking a fraction of the money spent on that program and putting it into a local YCombinator. I’ve heard about some members of the community working towards this, but I think it would be a great opportunity for TEC Edmonton.

Final Thoughts

If we want to take the technology community in Edmonton to the next level, we need the City of Edmonton and EEDC to recognize that as it currently exists, TEC Edmonton is holding the community back, not helping it move forward. TEC Edmonton certainly has a role to play, but it’s not the catch-all they’ve been given. We need to focus more attention and energy on software startups, an area that TEC Edmonton has historically ignored.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend or listen to the meeting yesterday, so I’m not sure what the Executive Committee did with the report. I’m hopeful that the right people will read this however, so that we can start down the path to positive change.

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who provided me with context and thoughts on this topic over the last few months – you know who you are.