As a showcase for enterprising Manitoba startup companies, the annual Manitoba Venture Challenge was always good exposure for the companies.
But by all accounts the quality and potential of the presenters in this year's version has significantly upped the stakes for startups in the years to come.
As well as some public awareness for the companies, those lucky enough to take in the presentations from the six young companies at Wednesday's event organized by Innovate Manitoba were exposed to the kind of intense enterprise currently churning around the startup ecosystem in Manitoba.
Although they were all ostensibly pitching to win the top prize -- $20,000 in cash as well as business development services -- many of them will likely get plenty of experience in the future pitching to angel investors and venture capitalists, some of whom have already been queuing up to invest in these promising ventures.
- Carly Shuler, the first-place winner for her interactive mobile app for kids called Kindoma, said the part of the prize package she was most looking forward to winning was the free entry to pitch to the VA Angels super-angel network.
Shuler, a transplanted Calgarian by way of New York, has star-quality connections having formerly worked at the Sesame Street think-tank developing interactive technology for kids. Her business partner resides in Palo Alto, Calif., and Kindoma has already landed $300,000 in Silicon Valley funding. But Shuler said the company will be building up its team in Manitoba, home of some of the most attractive digital-media tax credits around.
With 90,000 mobile app downloads and a featured kids app in the Apple App Store, Shuler describes Kindoma as "Skype for kids with an interactive twist."
The interactivity part is, like Skype, both parties can see the person they're talking with (a child and parent or grandparent) and both can see and read a book together.
She and her partner started developing the idea as a tool for U.S. military personnel to communicate with their kids.
More applications such as a drawing module are about to be released.
- Chris Johnson, Kevin Buckner and Scott MacAulay took second place for PermissionClick, a cloud-based application enabling schools to build digital permission slips that are sent home to parents to be approved. Associated fees can also be collected and returned to the school in seconds, and the company makes money on every transaction.
These three young veterans of the digital startup world clearly believe they have a winner. A pilot project with 18 Manitoba schools has been so successful one parent has become an early investor in the business.
They're on the verge of signing with a B.C. reseller that does business with 25,000 schools. It is not hard to imagine schools around the world will be using an online permission slip platform for all those incidental field trip and equipment fees.
The idea is so good, Permission Click is all about speed to market before the copycats start moving in.
- Zach Wolff, Sheri Governo and Javier Nudler took third place for Exigence Technologies. The company has patented antimicrobial technology targeted at hospital privacy curtains and other hospital environments to protect them for the lifetime of the product against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The three partners, all of whom have complementary professional careers, came together at the Asper School where they were all doing their MBAs.
The technology they are commercializing was made available to them through the University of Manitoba's Technology Transfer Office under a new program where university-developed technology is made freely available to companies willing to undertake the development work necessary to get the product to market.
It may not be as close to market-ready as the top two, but Exigence has a massive market potential since health care-associated infections cost the North American health-care system as much as $48 billion annually.
The final three presenters may not have won, but they may very well have just as much chance for commercial success.
- Phil Unger of Element Life Science, a medical device company developing a modified radio frequency coil that is the part of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment that produces the image.
Unger is one of the city's many experts in the field that has already produced companies such as Monteris Medical and Imris.
The development of sSecond-generation MRI technology that combines patient therapy with image guidance and real-time treatment monitoring in an MRI setting is the market Element Life Science is going after.
- The father-and-son team of Alan and Daniel Kathan did not win for their Konex Wake Parks business, but they are very optimistic about their own prospects.
The younger Kathan is a self-described expert in wake parks. Their newly designed cable system and distinct obstacle course additions is one-tenth the cost of current wake-park cable systems.
With the number of wake parks doubling every year, there is huge market potential.
They already have $500,000 in pre-orders before the first prototype has been installed, and they signed another letter of intent at the Venture Challenge event.
- Heather Daymond of Shut Ur Pie Hole is well on her way to achieving her goal of becoming "the Pie Queen of Canada."
After only a couple of months in business, word of mouth and social-media marketing have her scrambling to keep up with demand for her made from-scratch pies served in full-size and single-serving portions.
Without any real marketing, the pies are already available in Marble Slab Creamery outlets.