“We save the insurance industry millions per year in preventable leak-and-flood payouts,” George Tsintzouras, founder of Alert Labs, proudly declares as I struggle to finish my breakfast in time to write some notes.
I arrived “food-late” to Communitech’s Rev Demo Day at MaRS in Toronto, meaning that I was early for the pitches but too late to eat before the show began. Rev, Communitech’s sales operations accelerator out of Waterloo, focuses on companies who have already achieved product- market fit and are ready to scale to $25 million in annual recurring revenue. Plasticity Labs founder Jim Moss emceed the day, noting that judging is based on five criteria: team credibility, market opportunity, accomplishments in the Rev program, analysis of their sales engine for quality, and their 12-month growth plans.
Moss introduces the esteemed judges – Matt Golden of Golden Ventures, Roger Chabra of Rho Ventures, and Janet Bannister of Real Ventures – and the pitches got underway.
Communitech Rev Demo Day winner Alert Labs was the second pitch of the Rev Demo Day, but the ninth pitch overall; prior to Rev Demo Day pitches, Fierce Founders, Canada’s first accelerator for women-led tech companies, debuted its inaugural class. The seven founders do lightning pitches (90 seconds each) to introduce themselves and their company prior to starting the official Demo Day competition.
#day3 of #CIX16 starting with pitches from @Communitech #FierceFounders and #RevDemoDay #startups #WomenInTech @MaRSDD pic.twitter.com/9O6wW1pQwb
— Byron Thom (@bmthom) November 23, 2016
The Fierce Founders pitches included Oneiric, a hockey apparel company for youth players; Borealis Wind, which is developing a heating retrofit for wind turbines; BridesMade, a marketplace to help bridesmaids rent and share dresses instead of purchasing one every wedding (men have always been able to rent their tuxes); This Space Works, an inspirational meeting room marketplace; Navi an online newspaper-reader engagement platform; Binary Tattoo, a company that helps parents teach their kids – and companies teach their employees – about online reputation management; and Squiggle Park, a startup focused on bridging the literacy gap in toddlers and young children.
All of the women in Fierce Founders have seen great early success and traction, including securing pre-seed funding or pitching on Dragons’ Den.
The Rev Demo Day itself was a competition of seven companies vying for $100,000. A huge cheque for any small startup, and even more crucial to these companies who have just redeveloped all their sales engines and are seeking funds to make that engine work.
Except for one company.
“You only get cheques this big a few times in your life. Enjoy it.”
Landscape Management Network (LMN), a company that “turns great contractors into great business owners” heartily pitched their stunning progress through the Rev program, which founder Mark Bradley said added a huge amount of value to the company. But at the end of the pitch, Bradley got to his ask: zero dollars.
The company is profitable and Bradley’s goal with the Rev accelerator was not to raise money, but to learn how to spend profits more intelligently.
“I don’t believe in sitting on capital,” said Bradley, shortly before he excused himself from the competition, to the surprise of the audience.
Before emcee Moss officially announced that Bradley and LMN had bowed out of the competition, judge Chabra cheekily said, “You know by saying you aren’t looking for money, you just got every VC in the room to pay attention to you, right?”
The other formidable companies that pitched – it was a tough competition, to be sure – work in a variety of spaces and are slowly becoming titans in their industry. LiveGauge allows vehicle dealerships to directly track the ROI of experiential marketing, offering huge insight for a more traditional industry to become robust, data-driven marketers.
Led by a Forbes 30 under 30 recipient, Chalk.com is changing the face of education, empowering teachers to lesson plan, mark assignments, and gain leading strategic indicators on how to better teaching in elementary and high schools. Their platform tackles the massive issue in education that decisions can take over two years to see any real impact due to lagging indicators.
Congratulations to the team @alertlabsinfo on their #communitechrev demo day win!! Wow!
— Heather Galt (@headinoz) November 23, 2016
Pitstop is a predictive vehicle maintenance startup – it helps drivers better understand their technologically-enabled cars and helps dealerships better engage with customers around vehicle care and service. Pitstop’s impressive list of investors and contracts with large auto distributors wowed the judges, who were impressed with the traction on such a young company.
Perhaps the most well-known startup in terms of consumer brand recognition, reebee is a retail discount flyer app that went from 500,000 flyers viewed per month to over 30 million views per month, thanks to organic traction in Canada and a little help from Y Combinator in the Valley. The company now boasts over 3 million downloads and “five star reviews across the board,” says founder Tobiasz Dawnkiewicz. His impressive pitch led one of the judges to comment that they liked reebee’s UI more than Flipp, the incumbent player in the retail flyer space that just closed $60 million USD in funding.
A powerful pitch on the future of automotive maintenance from Pitstop's CEO Shiva Bhardwaj today at the #REV demo day! @Communitech @MaRSDD pic.twitter.com/eshbE58o9e
— Pitstop (@Pitstopconnect) November 23, 2016
All of these companies know their market, have bright futures, and growing their monthly recurring revenues. So why did Alert Labs win? The judges didn’t offer direct feedback, but one element of Tsintzouras’ pitch stuck out.
Beyond being the “Fitbit for your basement,” a term that made everyone at once comfortable with the product yet eager to learn more, Alert Labs might actually change the face of insurance.
Tsintzouras noted how discounts on insurance are common in the residential space; if you do something that makes your house more secure (a common example is adding a carbon monoxide detector), then the insurance company will give you a discount.
This has yet to happen in the commercial space, says Tsintzouras, where issues are much larger and costs astronomically higher – until Alert Labs. One of Alert Labs’ initial commercial customers received a discount on their flood and leak insurance because they installed Alert Labs, a strong signal of how Alert Labs could help the insurance market change towards prevention and rewarding those that take preventative measures.
After the win, Tsintzouras was humbled and the judges took time to acknowledge the strong mentors available at Rev.
“You only get cheques this big (monetarily and physically, as the cheque was almost as tall as Tsintzouras himself) a few times in your life,” Moss joked as he welcomed the AlertLabs and Rev teams onto the stage for a picture, “Enjoy it.”