The annual Discovery industry show
is a busy and bustling affair. Hosted in Toronto by Ontario Centres of Excellence in May, the show attracted thousands of attendees and hundreds of exhibitors who gathered to witness countless innovative ideas and products.
But one of the most interesting bits took place far from the madding crowd, behind the large stage upon which 10 dreamers had just pitched their ideas—their “life’s work” in the words of one—to a mixed crowd of other entrepreneurs, industry veterans and hard-nosed investors.
The live pitch-off event
was the cumulative judging step of the Alpha Exchange Innovation Campaign
. The contest attracted applicants from across Canada, culled that cohort down to the best 10
, and then gave each a scant 10 minutes to convince the judges that their new business was the most deserving of prize money, editorial coverage and ongoing mentoring.
When the final contestant wrapped up, the judges moved behind the curtain at the back of the stage, found chairs around a large table, shuffled their score sheets into order, looked around at each other...and sat in silence for a moment.
It was a telling moment. All 10 finalists
deserved recognition for their respective areas of focus, including: making sense of complex financial data (EidoSearch), helping retailers to “right-price” products (Gazaro), providing the world with a new private communication vehicle (TitanFile), fostering voter engagement (Vote Compass) and reworking virtual clothes shopping (triMirror).
All good ideas; all could form the basis of innovative and successful Canadian companies and all would be interesting to read about for a year in Backbone
But we had to choose one. Behind that curtain, the judges compared notes, made predictions about future business success and argued for their favourites. In the end, we chose EidoSearch
as the winner, with TitanFile
as the runner-up. EidoSearch combined three critical factors: a product people would pay for, a positive track record thus far and a founding team that seemed able to manage the business and technical challenges that await.
In conceiving this contest, we at Backbone
wanted to provide concrete help to bright tech entrepreneurs. It’s gratifying that only weeks after announcing the winners, that has already occurred.
“The publicity from winning has been great,” said EidoSearch’s David Kedmey. “People have reached out to us since we won and we’ve had people demo the software because we won. Getting help finding customers and investors is huge for us.” One prospect is especially promising.
And even the runner-up podium raises a company above the crowd, according to TitanFile’s Milan Vrekic. “We have 20 new clients signed up as a result of the contest.” And the prize money will come in handy: “We’ve prepared a number of patent filings and we will use the cash prize to pay for those, and we will be using the services of (sponsor) Wildeboer to help us do that.”
When I spoke to Vrekic, he and partner Tony Abou-Assaleh were preparing for perhaps their biggest business meeting to date. “The largest potential client that has approached us is the government of the U.K. We have been asked to meet with them—in England, all expenses paid.” It was the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service singing TitanFile’s praises overseas that began the process. “They have been very helpful to us and I have nothing but praise for the department.”
And while working with the Canadian government is “quite a lengthy process,” the government of the U.K. “has told us they have a budget established for this and that they want to move quickly.”
These are but early successes in what we are sure will be an ongoing series of achievements. We will follow the challenges and triumphs of EidoSearch and TitanFile
online and in print over the next year.
Cover Story: Financial Tech Start-up Wins Contest
Building an Innovation Ecosystem
Start Up Innovation Campaign Blog
Innovation Campaign top 10 finalists
Innovation Campaign judges