Archive for 'competitions'

IRAP’S VC Pitchfest and What It Means for Ottawa

Below is a guest post by friend and local entrepreneur Kyle McInnes, co-founder of Pretzil, who was a participant at the IRAP “PitchFest”.  The views are entirely his own and I exercised massive restraint by not changing some of his comments (but couldn’t resist the picture).

The IRAP pitchfest happened recently on Wednesday, February 8th at the new OCRI (now “Invest Ottawa”) building at 80 Aberdeen in Little Italy. I thought I’d summarise the event for those that couldn’t make it and provide a little insight into how I think the event could be improved.

When Scott first blogged on StartupOttawa about IRAP’s VC pitchfest, it obviously touched a nerve with IRAP and the Invest Ottawa crowd. During the whole application process and through the event, I probably heard it indirectly and directly referenced at least a few times. The post brings up some really valid criticisms of the pitchfest idea including the fact that there was zero transparency on the part of IRAP as to how they went about selecting companies to present. Scott’s criticism that IRAP’s mandate doesn’t include this kind of work is something I’d have to disagree with. IRAP’s explicit mandate is to “Help you grow stronger, grow faster, grow bigger through innovation and technology.” I would argue that IRAP bringing VCs to Ottawa is a clear way to fulfill its mandate.

Overall, the VC pitchfest was a fun event, but I take issue with the way it was managed. It was clear that IRAP is still figuring out how best to connect companies and investors, and as someone who went through the whole event, I can think of a few ways that it could have been run more effectively.

1. Selecting Companies – At the event, I spoke to one of the VCs in attendance to get his impression on the selection process. The VC told me that he hadn’t even been asked by IRAP or Invest Ottawa as to what kind of companies his fund was looking to invest in. Personally, I think it would have made far more sense for IRAP to ask the VCs what kind of companies they want to invest in, and then search Ottawa to connect those companies to the interested VCs.

2. Focus – The IRAP pitchfest had a wide variety of companies pitching. The pitchfest included companies pitching everything from intelligent video hardware to an online wedding registry service. It’s great to see the breadth of companies and talent here in Ottawa, but companies are more likely to get funded if you focus on an industry. IRAP needs to put hardware companies in front of investors who fund hardware companies and mobile companies in front of mobile-focused funds. This will surely increase the likelihood of someone getting funded.

3. Keep it private – The whole event was a little too public. Companies were expected to pitch to a group of investors in a room filled with other startups, IRAP representatives and Invest Ottawa employees. I’ve heard from numerous startups that have raised money that the most effective use of your time is to carefully handpick investors and meet with them to set milestones and expectations. Openly pitching to a group of investors that are possibly interested feels too much like a “spray and pray” versus “sniping” approach.

4. Feedback – IRAP was very eager to help the startups perfect their pitch. During the process, I had to do 2 mock presentations in front of a small IRAP committee as well as an IRAP rep came to my office before pitch day for a private consultation. It’s good to see IRAP so keen on helping but I would have liked to get feedback from real entrepreneurs rather than a panel of government employees. IRAP did a great job of bringing VCs into this pitchfest and it would have been helpful for them to bring in entrepreneurs with experience raising money to help the startups who were about to pitch.

The IRAP pitchfest addressed a clear issue that Ottawa has a hard time attracting VC funds to the city. IRAP proved that it can entice those investors to come to the city, but we need to make sure these investors are meeting talent they’re looking for. In the end, IRAP managed to bring almost a billion dollars to the city. IRAP should continue to work to bring this type of money to the city, but make better use of everyone’s time. For those looking to raise money, the following funds were present and worth researching:

Tandem Expansion Fund ($300M)
SummerHill Venture Partners ($200M)
Real Ventures ($25M)
Ontario Investment Accelerator Fund ($30M)
OMERS Ventures ($180M)
Extreme Venture Partners ($50)
BDC ($190M)

The next time Invest Ottawa and IRAP get involved in bringing companies and investors together, I’d like to see them connect investors and companies in a more structured, transparent and focused approach. The most important thing is that somebody gets funded, because it will send a message to other funds that Ottawa talent can’t be ignored. With enough investments, hopefully these funds will open Ottawa offices and create a strong investment community. That’s when we all win.

By Scott Annan

Why can’t we make apps as good as fucking weekend hackers?

This past Friday I had the opportunity to see fifteen apps that were developed in 6 hours at HackOTT.

And they were almost all really good.

The rules were that the teams had to be 1-3 people.  They had to use local APIs (Shopify, Tineye, Freshbooks, YellowPages.ca, Pretzil, Zip.ca) to build their apps, and they had to be cool (not sure this is official, but sure seemed like it).

As best as I can tell, the event attracted awesome, talented programmers who wanted to spend their Saturday coding – which is what most of them do for a “day job” – to see what kind of cool things they could create.

And cool things were definitely created!

So what the hell?  How can programmers build such awesome iPhone and web apps in such a short time and yet companies take months and a lot of money (if they ever actually build something) to make mediocre apps?

Here are some examples (just for fun):

1. Reservely (Brad and Jevin):

An application that allows users to select a restaurant nearby and make a reservation.  The system calls the restaurants and lets them accept or decline with a push of a button, or connect with the requestor.  (won first prize)

reservely

2. MoodVee (SelectStart Studios):

An app that lets you select from the Zip.ca library based on your “mood” (select a color and they’ll pull back the most popular movies that have that color predominantly on their DVD cover)

3. DateShake (SelectStart Studios):

An app that randomly selects a friend (from twitter), a restaurant (from YellowPages.ca), and a movie (from Zip.ca) by shaking your phone.

If I had more screen shots I would post them here.  But the point is… how awesomely talented are these people and why can’t we use this model to make more awesome stuff?  I think we can.

Oh, and don’t go all “it takes a lot more than a good app to build a business” on me.  Come on.  6 hours and pure awesome.

Congrats to all who participated, and especially the sponsors and coordinators (special cred to yellowpages.ca who are late to the location-based business directory party but seem to be connecting with the community in an awesome way).

By Scott Annan

Hey Entrepreneurs: Win a golden boot!

What do Erin Blaskie and I have in common?  Well, we’re both very good looking, modest, shy, reserved… and we both have a golden boot!  We won them last year at the OCRI Bootstrap awards.  It was a great event hosted by OCRI and local celebrity Entrepreneur Bruce Firestone.

Last year recognized a lot of recognizable, and fast-growing startups including:

Network Hippo (just awesome)
Steward Supreme Vending
Wedding Republic
CrowdWave Games
UCreate Media
BSETC
MartSmart Shopping Network
Social Mention
Shopify

The Bootstrap awards are a great way to celebrate local entrepreneurs who battle it out daily to build their businesses.  If you know an entrepreneur, you would be doing a great honour to them by nominating them for an award.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you should nominate yourself.  It’s a great event and you’ll likely get some of the great benefits that I received by being a part of the event.  Here’s some of the benefits that I received from the event:

  • A golden boot!
  • Free legal advice that helped us get a cool office space (thanks to Steve Sheppard from Brazeau Seller!)
  • A new CFO (met at the event)
  • Some great leads (and a couple of new clients)
  • Press and social media shout outs
  • Helped develop relationships with some great leaders in Ottawa
  • Breakfast with Erin Blaskie and Trina Lamarche (no guarantee that you’ll have this opportunity!)

It’s hard running a startup and you deserve to get some recognition.  So take 5 minutes to nominate yourself (or another startup).  It’s worth it.

(Photo credit to Trina Lamarche’s iPhone!)

By Scott Annan

Network Hippo is heading to Silicon Valley…

C100: 48 hours in the Valley

But only for 48 hours…

Last Friday I was notified that Network Hippo was selected as one of twenty top Canadian startups to spend two days in Silicon Valley receiving mentorship from successful local (but Canadian) VC’s and entrepreneurs, pitching executives at Microsoft, Cisco, and EA, and the opportunity to pitch at the famous Plug & Play Expo.  The event is sponsored by the C100 and the Canadian Consulate General in Silicon Valley.

The event is next week and we’re looking forward to being able to show just how “hip” an Ottawa-based startup can be!

About the C100

The C100 is comprised of a select group of Canadians based primarily in Silicon Valley, including executives of leading technology companies, experienced startup entrepreneurs and venture capital investors. C100 members are passionate about leveraging their collective experience, expertise and relationships to help mentor and grow a new generation of successful Canadian-led technology companies.

By Scott Annan

Try to be Funny, Win a Shirt

I am sure everyone’s already heard about our "almost famous" t-shirt caption contest through our blog: Mercury Rising.

In case you haven’t, we are looking for witty captions we can place on t-shirts, mugs, posters, billboards, airplane banners, baseball game megatrons, etc…

You, being one of my wittiest friends, have a better than average chance of submitting the best caption!

So if you could take just a minute to read the blog post, and offer your best one-liner in the comments section below, I’ll send you one of the very first dex t-shirts(!)

Here is the site: http://mercurygrove.com/blog/160

And if you have other funny friends who love to compete and could use more classic shirts, please send them the link.

Thanks a lot for your help – and best of luck!

By Scott Annan

Canada’s Top 10 Companies Competition

If your startup is at a point where visibility is key to attract new partners, customers, or even investors, one of the more interesting things that you can do is participate in a few competitions. Canada’s Top 10 is one of the up and coming competitions that you can take part in. In the words of the competition website:

"It’s Simple. Whether you focus on Life Sciences, Cleantech or Technology, the Canada’s Top 10 Competition puts you in front of investors and potential partners."

If you’re interested, make sure to visit their website: http://www.topcanadiancompanies.com/

By Aydin Mirzaee