Over the course of a weekend, startups got the chance to pitch and showcase their products in a venue not commonly associated with tech: the opening weekend at the CNE.
With an expected 200,000 in attendance, the CNE Innovation Garage featured local startups in the PayPal Startup Zone, while also hosting the first-ever Emerging Innovators Pitch Competition. Over the course of three days, five startups across three verticals (like social innovation, VR, and lifestyle innovation) pitched to judges before the final five startups from each vertical were invited to the grand finals.
“It was just nine months ago that I went down to a pitch competition at the University of Waterloo, and I’d never been to a pitch competition so I thought I was going to see substandard science projects. I was thrilled when I walked in and I saw the caliber of work that these students were doing,” said Virgina Ludy, general manager of the CNE. “I said, ‘we gotta have this’. The CNE used to be the showcase of the nation where you used to come and see new products and innovations and inventions, and we’ve gone away from that in the last few decades, but it’s back.”
Just like the startups, the crowd for the pitch competition came from all walks of life — they included, of course, the typical startup crowd, but also older people and families with young children, who were eager to ask the startups questions about their work. The judges were also diverse in their career backgrounds, including Canadian Space Agency astronaut Jeremy Hansen; MAKO Invent president James Chalmers; HP Canada country marketing manager for Printing and Solutions Esteban D. Davila; Compass Digital Labs CEO Humza Teherany; and Pycap Corporation founder Stuart Browne; and Kevin Zemnicki, who works in market development and mobile at PayPal Canada.
“The positive is that you get a spectrum of people,” said Zemnickis. “This is the real world at its best, from people who are techies, to those who have no idea. I think that’s a positive because you get companies in PayPal startup zone exposed to this broad subset of people who may or may not have come across these products.”
The final five startups included Axis, which is motorizing window shades; iMerciv, BabylonVR, a platform for condo developers to showcase pre-built condominium units; HelpWear, which is developing a HeartWatch capable of 24/7 at-home heart monitoring with an embedded emergency contact system; and Wastenot Worm Farms, an earthworm hatchery selling earthworms and producing castings as a natural substitute for synthetic fertilizers.
For reaching the final stage, all five of the startups received $5,000, as well as in-kind services from Ryerson University, Futurpreneur, BDO, BHOLE IP Law, and Enterprise Canada. In the end, Helpwear won the grand prize of $25,000, bringing their total win for the weekend to $30,000.
“Any product or service that is, at its core, helping people is always positive. The concept of Helpwear is also positive with our aging population in Canada,” said Zemnickis.
For Helpwear CEO André Bertram — who points out that he often attends similar pitch competitions — the Emerging Innovators competition was high-caliber. “We do a lot of these competitions and it was high tier, because of the filtration and the large application pool whittled down to five finalists in each section, so you get high-quality pitches and entrepreneurs,” said Bertram.
Helpwear, which is currently incubated in St. Michael’s Hospital and Ryerson University’s Biomedical Zone, plans to use the money primarily on research and development and clinical trials.
“It’s great to talk to a new audience, and here at the CNE, it was mixed. Some people were six-year-olds who want to know what were doing, and some were 85 or 90-year-olds who had run businesses or had heart conditions.