A day before delivering the winning pitch at Innovate Manitoba's annual Pitch Day event this week, Peter Wheatley cobbled together a patent application for his company's wireless tire-monitor technology.
"I'm not sure how well done it was, but our patent lawyer said we should do it before telling 150 people how it works," Wheatley said.
Regardless of whether anybody would have tried to rip Wheatley off, the patent-protection process is an important element Innovate Manitoba wants to help young entrepreneurs learn to deal with in addition to the pressures of a two-minute pitch to potential investors.
Wheatley's company, called Don't Be Skiddish Inc., won the top prize, which included $7,500 cash, free banking services from RBC, consulting services from Catapult Group valued at $2,500 and entry into Innovate Manitoba's LaunchPad startup skills camp.
It also won the People's Choice award, which includes another $1,000 prize.
The company has devised a wireless sensor with in-cab indicators to detect a regularly occurring and costly problem for commercial truckers operating in winter weather -- tire lockup.
Wheatley, one of four partners in the startup, said wheel skids, caused by moisture freeze-up in brake assemblies, cost the industry about $117 million a year.
The company was formed as part of the master's of business administration program at the University of Manitoba's Asper School of Business.
Wheatley, a mechanical engineer, his brother, Matt Wheatley, a computer engineer, Angela Simpson, a certified accountant and Gillian Kirby, a supply-chain professional were acquaintances with full-time jobs before becoming MBA students together.
Peter Wheatley works at StandardAero and Kirby works at E.H. Price Ltd. They have a personal connection with a former trucking-fleet manager.
The idea started as a business-plan exercise, a component of the MBA program, and will become an entry representing the Asper School's Stu Clark Centre for Entrepreneurship in international business-plan competitions.
Tire lockup is a challenge the trucking industry has to deal with all the time.
Bob Dolyniuk, general manager of the Manitoba Trucking Association, said tires locking in cold weather is a real issue.
"It does happen, and if this company has a real solution that is tested and works, then there very well might be interest," Dolyniuk said.
Twenty companies participated in the annual Innovate Manitoba event, in which they give a two-minute "elevator" pitch and compete for more than $20,000 in cash and prizes as well as recognition as one of Manitoba's top up-and-coming startups.
In addition to Don't Be Skiddish, there were several other winners:
-- Intrinsic Analytics Inc., second prize. Waylon Hunt, Ryan Mitchell and Jon-Jon Santiago bill their company as Manitoba's first and only bio-information services provider, employing a number of innovative scientific technologies to analyze physical and biological health aspects.
The partners, all current or prospective PhDs, already have an occupational-health practice and are developing a testing protocol in the area of metabolomics for vitamins, minerals and omega fatty acids.
-- Silicon Dynamics, best student pitch. Kalidh Mohamed intends to build a career in the lucrative electronic-gaming business, creating a mobile app that will allow gamers to export in-game data to a hand-held device, freeing screen space for actual game action.
-- Applied Biocides, best research pitch. Another Asper School business-plan competition team, Song Liu, Patty Rosher and their partners have developed antimicrobial molecules they believe will be an ideal application for hospital garments, drapes and other equipment plagued with hard-to-contain bacteria.
-- Train Yard Studios, best technology pitch. Lesley Klassen was inspired to create a biofeedback virtual-reality therapeutic experience to provide some relief for his ailing mother. The virtual-reality environment is navigated through breath and heart-rate control.
-- Digiplus, best new product pitch. Nicholas Danzinger has developed an online automated system for custom laser etching on any kind of surface.
Danzinger intends to target operators with laser engravers for a monthly subscription fee to access a large library of design possibilities via remote servers.
Winners of past Pitch Day events have gone on to successful first and second rounds of financing.
Judges for the event were Keith Bilous, Tyler Gompf, Pascal Bisson and this reporter, Martin Cash.