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Pitch perfect

Ramp Up Weekend gives entrepreneurs time to shine

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Chris Johnson is CEO of Permission Click, a Ramp Up Weekend success.</p></p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Chris Johnson is CEO of Permission Click, a Ramp Up Weekend success.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/6/2017 (1235 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

On Sunday evening, more than a dozen new businesses created over the course of the previous 55 hours will make their final pitch to judges in the 10th iteration of Ramp Up Weekend and it will be open to the public for the first time.

North Forge Technology Exchange, the business incubator that’s become the engine behind the Winnipeg startup scene, organizes the Ramp Up Weekend events. The way it works is attendees — developers, designers, makers and entrepreneurs — form into ad hoc "teams" to build a minimum viable product over the course of the weekend.

For the $100 participation fee (which includes all the pizza you can eat), it’s the perfect place for a budding entrepreneur to try out an idea or see what intense business collaboration feels like.

In the larger context, it’s a proving ground for the newest wave of entrepreneurs and maybe even an important way to turn up the temperature of the city’s business climate.

About 3,000 of these startup blitzes have been held across North America in the past few years. The phenomenon is part of startup culture. In Winnipeg, the event isn’t about getting ahead of the curve — it’s about keeping up.

Chris Johnson, head of the North Forge organizing steering committee, said they are capping participants at 75, which will make it the largest yet.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Bryce North (right) and Dustin Refvik won the Ramp Up Weekend competition in 2015.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Bryce North (right) and Dustin Refvik won the Ramp Up Weekend competition in 2015.

"It’s hard to believe we have done it 10 times," he said.

Johnson’s own company, Permission Click, started as a Ramp Up Weekend idea. Last year, Permission Click raised close to $2 million from investors, now has a staff of about 20 people and is a business with promising growth potential.

But, Johnson said, as exciting as it is for actual businesses to emerge from Ramp Up Weekend — the top teams win office space and access to a broad suite of technical and professional support to get their business going — it’s also an amazing opportunity to develop skills and get experience.

"Yes, we are helping the teams that are going to make it by giving them a pathway to get established," Johnson said. "But the real focus is on the rest — to get them more visibility as entrepreneurs and innovators."

One of the reasons to open up the Sunday evening judging to the public was "not to toot our own horn, but to get meaningful people exposed to some of the best talent in the city," he said.

"So the next time they go to meet an investor (who might happen to be there) for a pitch with that company or another company, they already have an impression," he said. "Even that little bit of brand impression is critical."

Dean Schinkel, the managing partner of Winnipeg’s Deloitte office, is a sponsor and big fan of the event. These are likely not the most lucrative of prospective clients for Deloitte, but Schinkel said Deloitte staffers who attend and act as mentors do it because they, too, have a passion to support budding entrepreneurs.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Chris Karasewich didn’t win with his Ramp Up pitch a couple of years ago, but he still started his livestock-management business — FarmTrack — and is raising funds with a solid business case already established.</p></p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Chris Karasewich didn’t win with his Ramp Up pitch a couple of years ago, but he still started his livestock-management business — FarmTrack — and is raising funds with a solid business case already established.

"It’s really great for the city," he said. "If you look at the startup community today compared to a number of years ago, it’s dramatically different. There are a number of great things happening. And from an economic development perspective, the city needs it. That’s why we support it. We see the effort and the tangible benefits that come out of it."

Bryce North may be the poster child for Ramp Up Weekend. His TrapTap idea won the event in 2015. It’s a device that alerts drivers to red light cameras, school zones and speed traps.

His company now employs six people and did about $600,000 in business in its first year. A couple of weeks ago, he pitched the business on CBC’s Dragon’s Den (in an episode that will air in October) looking to close his latest round of financing.

He loves the Ramp Up Weekend.

"There’s something about being in the ecosystem with other entrepreneurs that just motivates you," he said.

"The whole purpose of the weekend is to see how much validation and traction you can get in three days. What happens in the weekend usually takes the average person a couple of months to do."

His winnings in 2015 helped provide the resources to make the business a reality.

Chris Karasewich didn’t win with his Ramp Up pitch a couple of years ago, but he still started his livestock-management business — FarmTrack — and is raising funds with a solid business case already established. He’s in the process of installing a pilot project at Hamiota Feedlot, the largest cattle feedlot in the province.

"Ramp Up actually forced me to think of a scalable tech idea," he said. "It forced me to think if I could start a business that can help solve a problem."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

   Read full biography

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History

Updated on Friday, June 9, 2017 at 7:38 AM CDT: Adds photos

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