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Contractor tech support wins at VentureChallenge

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Justin Kathan (from left) and Brendon Sedo, co-founders of Joist, and Dustin Refvik, founder of Scheduleaide participate in the Manitoba VentureChallenge  at the Fort Garry Hotel Wednesday.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Justin Kathan (from left) and Brendon Sedo, co-founders of Joist, and Dustin Refvik, founder of Scheduleaide participate in the Manitoba VentureChallenge at the Fort Garry Hotel Wednesday. Photo Store

The top team at this year's VentureChallenge is happy to cash the winner's cheque but they picked up something even more valuable than money at the one-day competition -- validation.

Justin Kathan and Brendon Sedo beat out representatives from six other startup companies Wednesday at the Fort Garry Hotel with their pitch for Joist, a company that enables contractors to create estimates, print invoices, manage projects and order materials using a smartphone, tablet or computer instead of a pen and a piece of paper.

But while it's one thing to think you have a good idea, it's quite another when experienced venture capitalists and entrepreneurs believe you're onto something.

"It's great to have high-quality judges, such as Lane (Becker) validate what we're doing. They're highly respected and it's cool when they see (Joist) as relevant to customers," Kathan said.

'I know the frustration of toiling away in a little office and not knowing what to do next'

Winnipeg-born Becker built Measure Map, a blog-analytics tool he sold to a little company called Google in 2005. He also gave one of two keynote addresses to the 150 in attendance at the luncheon. Kip Fyfe, founder of Dynastream, which developed speed and distance sensors for runners under the Nike banner, gave the other.

Sedo said the prize money doesn't hurt, either. Especially when you're trying to hire new members to your team.

"The money will go a long way. (VentureChallenge) is great to build awareness for our company and startups in general. This is a growing community and there's money for these companies, which is really important when you're living on a shoestring budget," he said, noting a third Joist partner, Michael Gauthier, was holding down the fort at the office.

Some companies make so much sense you want to whack yourself on the forehead for not coming up with the idea first. Scheduleaide, which came third, is a good example. It has developed a system that helps schedule-based professionals, ranging from dentists to hairstylists, minimize gaps in their schedules from cancellations. This inactivity results in nearly $20 billion in lost value per year in North America, said Dustin Refvik.

Scheduleaide's technology looks through the business's calendar and begins to automatically market open slots to the patient or client base, first with texts and emails and then through social media. If a slot is still open, it will contact people who are due to come in the following week. If it still hasn't found somebody, it can even buy an ad on Facebook to hit the maximum number of people. The less time there is to fill it, the more the system will offer incentives to keep the slot from going unclaimed.

"It's about leveraging that last-minute inventory," Refvik said.

Second place went to Dr. Anuraag Shrivastav and Dr. Shailly Varma Shrivistav who founded Vastcon, a biomedical company that is commercializing the blood test that screens for colorectal cancer.

Brent Wennekes, research and programs manager at Innovate Manitoba, now in its third year of sponsoring VentureChallenge, said creating a culture of innovation is crucial to convincing Winnipeg's young people to remain in the province.

"They'll go to Silicon Valley, where they have both the culture and the resources. They can produce your app there in days or hours," he said.

Tyler Gompf wishes more competitions like VentureChallenge were around when he was co-founding Tell Us About Us, a Winnipeg-based customer feedback company, in the late 1990s. (He was at Wednesday's event as an adviser to one of the startup entrepreneurs, Sean Sylvestre of Eyewear Evolution.)

"I know the frustration of toiling away in a little office and not knowing what to do next. I've gone through the pitfalls, I've lived the life," he said.

"When you're focused on trying to gain as much momentum as you can, being able to get in front of an audience like this and have your ideas validated is invaluable."

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 20, 2013 B8

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Updated on Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 5:53 AM CDT: replaces photo, changes cutline

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