Advolve Media is the latest Winnipeg startup to help confirm that this city has become a hotbed of new company activity.
The makers of custom displays that offers brand advertising through their proprietary Mirage Mirrors has qualified as a finalist for Get in the Ring Canada.
It’s one of five Canadian startups that will head to Kansas City on Nov. 6, 2014 to compete for a chance to pitch at a global competition in the Netherlands with all expenses paid.
Futurpreneur Canada (formerly Canada Youth Business Foundation) is the Canadian sponsor of this program based out of the Netherlands.
Advolve’s partners Bryce North and Kris Luinenburg also recently competed against 15 other startups from across Canada for the title of Canada’s Most Promising Startup and narrowly missed making it to the top five.
That honour was taken by another Manitoba startup, Chris Johnson’s Permission Click, which won the overall competition.
Get in the Ring refers to itself as “the Olympics for Startups.” The event give startups a global podium from which to connect with investors and create a fan base.
A new addition to the 2014 Small Business Challenge was the regional winner category. We wanted to recognize more of the amazing businesses that apply for the $100,000 grant. Each year it’s harder and harder for our judges to select just one winner, so we let them also select 10 more small businesses to recognize and award a technology prize pack. We’re so very proud to reveal this year’s 10 regional winners and introduce you to their diverse businesses. We look forward to reading all of the entries that 2015 will bring, and to see the new finalist, semi-finalists, and regional winners that will come out of the competition.
Nothing makes Bryce North, founder of Winnipeg-based Advolve Media, happier than when he learns people have been sprinting out of the washroom yelling, “Oh my God, come inside, you have to see what I just saw. It’s fantastic!”
What they just saw is one of his interactive advertising mirrors, in the washroom of a restaurant or nightclubs. When you stand in front of it, the mirror transforms and you see digital ads. This modern-day “mirror on the wall” doesn’t tell you who is the fairest of them all, but it will display a cheerful beer commercial, or show you models in luxury suits, or talk about a new restaurant. The mirrors have been custom-made and tested at six venues in Winnipeg.
“People have been taking selfies in front of the mirror and posting them on social media,” says North.
His plan is to expand across Canada. The challenge is securing funding to improve the technology so the mirrors can ‘communicate’ with smartphones. And Advolve needs a larger design team. After just one year in business their revenue was $100,000. North says he’s trying to raise funds locally and will head to Silicon Valley in late October to talk to investors. “This is just beginning,” he says.
People often envision lobsters and red houses when they think of Nova Scotia. Rebecca Taylor, president of Pearl & Daisy Natural Soap Co. Inc. in Londonderry, N.S., wanted to add handmade soaps to the list of things associated with her home province, so she created a line of products inspired by the forests, mountains and seashores of the East Coast.
When she found out recently that her company was among 10 regional winners in the Small Business Challenge Contest sponsored by The Globe and Mail and Telus Corp., Ms. Taylor felt she had just been given a big push toward her goal.
“It gives me a great sense of regional pride, a sense of excitement, because what we are building in this company is something that represents our region,” says Ms. Taylor, whose five-year-old firm sells made-in-Nova-Scotia soaps through more than 170 retailers across Canada and the United States.
It’s also an impressive accomplishment. The Challenge contest, now in its fourth year, received more than 1,000 entries from across the country in 2014. Four semi-finalists were selected from this large pool of contenders, and one company – Vancouver Island Salt Co. – took the top spot to win a grand prize of $100,000.
“There were so many great entries to choose from,” says Suzanne Trusdale, a Challenge judge who leads the small business solutions sales channel at Telus. “There’s amazing innovation happening among small business in Canada, a lot of great stories from entrepreneurs who are really passionate about their businesses.”
This year for the first time, the Challenge is also giving regional recognition to 10 businesses from the country’s Atlantic, North, West and Central regions. Each regional winner receives a prize of three business devices.
“I’m excited about the phones because I have an old smartphone that doesn’t give me the capability to do all the things I want to do on social media,” says Ms. Taylor, whose company recently won an innovation award for a natural insect repellent that it developed and is now commercializing.
In addition to representing different parts of Canada, the regional winners cover a vast spectrum of businesses that ranges from a sled-dog ranch and coffee roaster to plastics fabrication and loudspeaker manufacturing.
Ian Hill, president of Dilts Piston Hydraulics Inc. in St. Catharines, Ont., says he threw his hat into the Challenge ring with hopes of winning money to fund a technology upgrade that will merge Dilts’s back-end office system with software used by a hose and fitting supply store he recently acquired.
“With the new company’s software, you can run a [request for quotation], put in a work order and invoice in two minutes – it’s amazing,” says Mr. Hill, whose company produces winches used in ships that ply the Great Lakes Waterway. “The Dilts software package, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired in quoting and work orders but it’s the best I’ve seen post-invoicing.”
While Dilts missed out on the grand prize, Mr. Hill says entering the Challenge contest provided a valuable exercise in defining what his business really needs. “It made me write down our concerns,” he says. “It brought to light the deficiencies and what we need to do to address them.”
For Denise Gagné, senior managing editor at Themes & Variations, based in Red Deer, Alta., being chosen as a Challenge regional winner confirms that her idea to deliver her company’s products online is a good one.
Themes & Variations publishes curriculum material for teaching elementary music classes in Canada, for kids in kindergarten to Grade 6. With the current delivery model, schools order CDs of the songs they want to teach from the company’s website. Ms. Gagné’s plan is to allow teachers to download the songs and other teaching material right from her site.
“Teachers and children will be able to interact with the material once it’s online,” says Ms. Gagné, whose long-term vision is to make music lessons accessible to all young children in the country. “And we know that anything that is more interactive and visual will have more appeal to children.”
Web delivery of its products will also make it easier for Themes & Variations to sell to markets abroad, says Ms. Gagné. Even without the $100,000 she had hoped to win from the contest, she is forging ahead with her plan. Themes & Variations recently received a grant from National Research Council Canada. Not enough to cover the entire cost of building a new website, says Ms. Gagné, but enough to get started.
“We’re self-funding the project, which I think is a necessity for us to remain competitive,” she says. “And next year we might enter the Challenge again and win the grand prize.”
And the Challenge contest regional winners are:
Muktuk Adventures Ltd.,Whitehorse, Y.T.: This sled-dog ranch and bed and breakfast offers sledding expeditions and tours that explore Canada’s North.
Peregrine Plastics Ltd.,Vancouver: Serving clients such as Lululemon and Aritzia, Peregrine is a plastics fabricating business that makes custom displays and merchandising fixtures.
Dog Quality Enterprises,Canim Lake, B.C.: Helps improve the quality of life for older dogs with products such as dog diapers, traction socks and strollers.
PK Sound,Calgary: Makes high-performance loudspeakers and provides services such as sound engineering, equipment installation and rentals.
Themes & Variations,Red Deer, Alta.: It’s one of Canada’s largest publishers of curriculum material for teaching music to kids from kindergarten to Grade 6.
Dilts Piston Hydraulics Inc.,St. Catharines, Ont.: Focusing on the Chinese shipbuilding market, Dilts manufactures winches used in ships that travel the Great Lakes Waterway.
Crate Designs Ltd.,Chesley, Ont.: Family-owned business makes high quality, sturdy wood furniture using only sustainably harvested wood and natural finishes.
Las Chicas del Cafe,London, Ont.: Wholesale specialty roaster of Nicaraguan coffee was founded by two women who come from four generations of coffee growers.
Pearl & Daisy Natural Soap Co. Inc.,Londonderry, N.S.: Its handmade natural artisan soap and personal care products are inspired by the East Coast.
Advolve Media Inc.,Winnipeg: Advertising firm develops promotions using interactive mirror technology backed by software that quantifies ad results.
“Win or lose, the competition provides these emerging startups with invaluable exposure to many of the country’s top angel investors,” said Jan Lederman, president, Innovate Manitoba. Only five of the 15 startups invited to attend will be shortlisted to pitch to over 200 investors, venture capitalists and industry leaders for the grand prize title.
Permission Click is a cloud-based application that enables schools to build digital permission slips, which are sent electronically to parents to be approved. Any associated fees can also be collected and returned to the school through their online process.
Advolve is a custom displays company that offers brand advertising through its proprietary Mirage Mirrors that are placed in high-traffic venues, such as restaurants, bars, sports stadiums and airports. They focus on customer engagement and analytics.
Innovate Manitoba submitted the Advolve and Permission Click nominations. Lederman said that while it’s always difficult to choose which startups to nominate, the timing is right for both considering where they are at in terms of innovation and growth.
“Advolve and Permission Click are excellent examples of the work we do to support entrepreneurs and startups. They have scalable business models with fast-growth potential,” said Lederman. “This competition is precisely the type of opportunity they need to help them raise the risk capital that can fully support this growth.”
HARD WORK, DEDICATION, AND TIMING
The nomination was a welcome surprise for both company’s CEO’s.
“We’ve been completely focused on signing up new schools so this opportunity wouldn’t have even been on our radar if it weren’t for Innovate Manitoba,” said Chris Johnson, CEO and co-founder of Permission Click. “We’re just finishing up raising our first round of seed capital investment, but any additional funding we can acquire will help speed up our growth.”
Johnson indicates that Permission Click already has thousands of users and expects to make a major announcement of how the company is accelerating growth into new markets in the coming months. Other co-founders include Kevin Buckner, a chartered accountant, and Scott MacAulay, an entrepreneurship educator at Red River College.
Bryce North, CEO and co-founder of Advolve was also thrilled to receive the nomination. “We’re on the cusp of breaking out into larger markets as well as ramping up our operations and scalability. This opportunity to get in front of qualified investors comes at the right time.”
North views Winnipeg as Advolve’s test market but plans to keep headquarters here. He said, “This is such a great community for innovators and entrepreneurs.” He attributes much of this to the work of Innovate Manitoba. Advolve’s management team includes North and partners Kris Luinenburg, who is also a co-founder and COO, and Dave Noel, CTO.
Permission Click recently finished second at Innovate Manitoba’s Venture’Challenge, taking home over $20,000 in cash and in-kind prizes.
Advolve Media came through Innovate Manitoba’s startup cycle in 2012-2013, winning Best Technology Pitch at Pitch’Day and finishing just outside the money at Venture’Challenge 2013. They also recently took top spot at the Winnipeg stop of Fundica’s Roadshow, which earned North an expense-paid trip to pitch to investors in Silicon Valley this month.
Both CEOs recommend Innovate Manitoba’s programs to other entrepreneurs and startups looking to rapidly grow their businesses.
FIRST BIG WINS
When asked about their greatest milestones so far, North replies, “Everything that’s happened!” He adds that signing Winnipeg’s Investor’s Group Field as one of Advolve’s first vendors was definitely a high point. Many more are in the cue to support sales objectives.
Johnson shares, “For us the most memorable milestone was the day we started watching permission slips being signed for our first school. The next day we had a handful of emails from the school and parents saying how cool they thought it was!” The accomplishment of securing great first-round investors was also big. “We’ve been able to sign on invested advisors. These are people that are more than financial investors. They are passionate about what we’re doing and aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves to help.”
The National Angel Summit is on now until October 3 with the pitch competition taking place on October 2. Watch for updates in our next eNews or check our Twitter feed @InnovateMB.
For entrepreneurs looking to make their next step or established businesses looking to launch a new business idea, Innovate Manitoba’s next opportunity is Pitch’Day, which takes place on Nov. 12, 2014 – registration to compete is now open here.
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