FREDERICTON – The shortlist for the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation (NBIF) Breakthru Competition is often so strong that even the runners-up win in the end too.
Two years ago, Fredericton’s Stash Energy finished in the top 10, but not high enough to receive prize money. Since then the company has continued to grow and received a total of $450,000 from the NBIF for its innovative solution to capture and store wind energy for future use.
In the same year, the companies that finished fourth and fifth, and therefore ineligible for the cash prizes, went on to achieve great success. Moncton-based Quber has received $200,000 in investment from the NBIF and Saint John-based EhEye has received $300,000 and was recently bought out by a Toronto-based security technology company.
“All of the top five companies got investment from us that year, regardless of whether or not they won the Breakthru Competition, and even companies that weren’t in the top five that we got to know through Breakthru got investment from us as well,” said Raymond Fitzpatrick, director of investments at the NBIF.
This year’s Breakthru Competition is in its final stages. The five finalists will be honoured at the Breakthru LIVE Awards Dinner March 21 at the Fredericton Convention Centre where the winners of the cash and in-kind prizes will be announced. There will also be prizes in the form of professional services from contributing sponsors like Deloitte, Cox & Palmer, Symplicity Designs, Momentum, Bonfire Communications and Amy Parrill.
The first-place winner receives a $200,000 investment from the NBIF; the second-place finisher receives $100,000; and there is also a CBC Viewers Choice award for $50,000. The first- and second-place winners are eligible for Viewer’s Choice award, and Opportunities NB (ONB) is contributing 50 cents for each dollar invested by the NBIF ($100,000 for the first-place winner, $50,000 for second, and $25,000 for the Viewers Choice award).
The CBC Viewers’ Choice voting process began earlier this week. Each finalist had a two-three minute segment on the 6 pm news with Harry Forestell (one per evening). Once the final interview airs March 15, each segment will be uploaded to the CBC New Brunswick Facebook page, where the public can engage with the video. Each engagement (like, share, comment, et cetera) counts as a vote. The voting will end March 20, the day before the live event.
So it’s a high-stakes, yet friendly competition for the top prizes, though Fitzpatrick says all of the companies could win in the end, as happened in 2017 (the competition is held every two years).
“We really do see this crop of startups that we worked with this year as potentially the same,” said Fitzpatrick. “It really does create a pipeline of companies for us to work with [in the future].”
The NBIF received 36 business plan submissions this year. The organization hosted two “entrepreneurship bootcamps” that offered teams advice, mentoring and support from successful founders and operators of local and national businesses. In February, they selected a shortlist of 10 and then picked five finalists earlier this month:
- Better Than Reality has developed a virtual reality training platform for nuclear facilities and utility operators. The team members are Daniel Kane, Esther Sangodoyin, and Harpreet Kohli.
- Canum Nanomaterials Inc. has developed a nanomaterial manufacturing technology that produces fullerenes, which are often used in flexible organic solar cells and as an anti-oxidant in health supplements. The team members are Kyle Woods, Alex Clarkin, Francois Michaud, Jayson Brown, and Felipe Chibante.
- Punch Review has developed a web application that helps farmers capture food safety compliance and maintenance records more efficiently. Entrepreneur Ross Culberson is behind this venture.
- RIDDL has developed cloud-based software that provides investment foundations with the information and data needed to make the right investment decisions. The team members are Jenelle Sobey, Vanessa Paesani, and Jess Peters.
- Sensory Friendly Solutions has created a mobile app that allows people with sensory sensitivities to find, share and rate sensory friendly spaces. Christel Seeberger is the entrepreneur behind this company.
All of these companies are in the early stages of development, and the NBIF hopes the cash investments will enable the winners to take their businesses to the next level.
“Breakthru is the time, once every two years, where we invest in an idea,” he says. “They’re generally [companies run by] entrepreneurs that haven’t quit their full-time jobs yet. To spur some of them to jump into the ring full time we offer this competition. If they’re one of the winners, we can actually provide the financial support up front that makes it much less risky for them to pursue it full time.”
Daniel Kane, CEO of Better Than Reality, says he and his team have developed a prototype and done customer validation, but winning one of the top prizes would allow them to take their product to the next level.
Kane, who has worked in the nuclear industry for 20 years as a training software developer, event investigator and project manager, says there’s a great opportunity for a company to market virtual and augmented reality training for employees in high-risk industries.
Kane says the Breakthru process has helped them move their business forward. In the months since they first applied, they’ve done a lot of work on the business model with the help of mentors and researchers connected to the NBIF competition. He also says they can get their product to market faster with the financial support of the NBIF and ONB.
“As part of the Breakthru process, we’ve had to develop business plans and financials. We’ve really been pushed to meet those deadlines, so we’ve been accessing different resources that are available through the university and different companies to get the information that they need.
“And of course winnings from the competition would allow us to hire the developers to really get this off the ground.”
This story was sponsored by the NBIF. Anyone hoping to attend the awards dinner March 21 can purchase tickets on Eventbrite for $100 + tax for an individual ticket, and $750 + tax for a table of 8. Table tickets can also be purchased directly from the NBIF by contacting Joanne Johnson at [email protected] or 506-452-2884.
Banner photo: The participants in the second boot camp for the NBIF Breakthru Competition. Image: Stephen MacGillivray Photography.