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Startup seed fund has $1M to spread around

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'We're really excited about this, and there is more to come': Eureka Project CEO Gary Brownstone

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'We're really excited about this, and there is more to come': Eureka Project CEO Gary Brownstone Photo Store

The finishing touches are being put on a $1-million seed capital fund that could help alleviate some of the pent-up demand for investment dollars to help early-stage Manitoba startups.

The fund will be a partnership between the Eureka Project -- the business incubator/accelerator at the U of M's Smartpark -- and the local chapter of VA Angels, an angel investor group based out of Calgary that started a group in Winnipeg 11/2 years ago.

Gary Brownstone, the CEO of the Eureka Project, said the funds have been committed by a number of investors, and they are now going through the legal machinations so the newly created entity can accept the money.

"We're really excited about this, and there is more to come," Brownstone said.

There has been a much-discussed lack of funding for early-stage startups in Manitoba for a long time. The dearth of funding has been blamed on more than a couple of growing companies leaving the city to access small amounts of capital.

"In Manitoba, we do a good job to fund research and development but a lousy jobs in helping them fund the commercialization piece," said Brownstone.

Sean Burns, the president of VA Angels in Winnipeg, said his group and the Eureka Project are natural partners.

"Gary and I got our heads together and realized we were on the same page about many things," Burns said. "We started talking about the fund and decided to build a partnership and jointly launch it. It will get more attention and more traction. It's a natural fit."

Burns said it's not been determined just how much each group will contribute to the fund.

"It will initially be $1 million, which is not really a lot of money but is a respectable amount of money," he said.

"We do not have a commitment on how much VA will kick in versus Eureka. I know both of us have members who could sign a cheque for the whole thing."

Brownstone and the Eureka team will manage the fund, but he said it has not been designed to favour Eureka Project companies.

There are many seed funds that function by making micro-investments of as little as $25,000, and Brownstone said it's a model that may work here.

He said the buzzword today is minimally viable product, which is something that is almost ready to go to market.

"One of the challenges our guys run into is that they see the world from the perspective of technology push rather than market pull," Brownstone said. "We want to get to them when there is still time to do product shaping and development to more precisely meet the needs of market."

The creation of the fund was announced after a high-level idea pitch to about 25 members of the VA Angels and other angel investors at the Eureka Project.

Three Winnipeg companies and one from Vancouver made 10-minute presentations to potential investors.

"This was absolutely one of the best I have ever seen -- 10 out of 10." Burns said. "The investors responded well. There was a good vibe in the room."

The three Manitoba companies that pitched to the investors were:

  • PermissionClick, a web-based application takes the time and trouble out the school permission-slip problem for parents, students and administrators.
  •  ReclaimIO allows service-based businesses to capitalize on cancelled appointments by essentially reselling that appointment time (inventory) to customers on wait-lists or notifying customers via SMS.
  •  MedLinx by Koronis Inc. is designed to capture the nearly 70 per cent of hospital-patient information that currently is not recorded in the patient files.
martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 29, 2014 B6

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