March 2, 2017

Entrepreneurs win almost $140,000 in pitch contest

Six of 12 teams bring home cash from Energy New Venture Competition

There were big cheques and even bigger grins as six teams of entrepreneurs collected their winnings at the Energy New Venture Competition Tuesday afternoon. The entrepreneurs — including an art school dropout, a UCalgary grad student in mathematics, and 35-year oil and gas veterans — spent the day pitching their ventures at the fourth annual competition hosted by the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and Innovate Calgary.

One entrepreneur’s remediation idea was born when she wondered how dandelions grow in asphalt. Others came from trying to solve problems servicing clients in the oilpatch.

“This competition is focused on energy but because the industry is so broad we get to see incredible diversity in the entrepreneur’s pitches,” says Kimberley Neutens, director of the Hunter Centre at the Haskayne School of Business. “Some focus on equipment innovations and process innovations, others on enhanced technology to support decision-making and of course, innovative solutions to problems that positively impact the environment. All of our competitors showcased their concepts or businesses well and showed us, the audience, some real opportunities for innovation in the energy space.”

The 12 teams, shortlisted from 69 global applicants, competed in two categories — "concept" for very early stage and "venture" for those further along. They received coaching and support in developing their presentations and had 10 minutes each to present and four minutes to answer questions from the judges in the front row. A giant red clock counted down the time on the 54th floor of The Bow as the teams took turns in front of 250 investors, other entrepreneurs and sponsors.

The winners, which for the first time included an audience favourite, were announced at the end of the day.

Concept stream winners

1. MycoRemedy, Calgary, Kelcie Miller-Anderson, $7,500 (and audience favourite winner)

“To be able to say that I won a competition of this prestige is really valuable and is only going to help push everything forward,” says first-place winner Kelcie Miller, who founded MycoRemedy after wondering about a dandelion growing in the alley and figuring out they have fungi in their roots that let them grow in pavement. The University of Alberta environmental sciences student developed a natural method of remediation that uses fungi.

2. Pursuit Technologies Ltd. Calgary, Steve Fitzel, Dave Jellett, $5,000

Steve Fitzel and Dave Jellett of Pursuit Technologies won second place. They’re veteran oilpatch engineers who developed a downhole evaluation tool to report the health of the well to the client. The competition “has been really exciting for us,” says Jellett, the CEO.  “Winning is a big plus that will provide credibility for what we’re doing and open doors for us.”

3. Geometric Energy Corporation  Calgary, Scott Dooley, Timothy Bjorndahl, Samuel Reid, $2,500

Geometric Energy Corporation came in third place. “It’s super cool because just last year we were both walking around the halls at UCalgary,” says Scott Dooley, who graduated with a BSc in chemistry and cofounded the company with Samuel Reid, who is doing his master's in mathematics. The two, along with Timothy Bjorndahl, are developing a safe solid state sodium ion battery to store renewable energy. “It’s definitely a bit of a race but we believe that we are ahead of the curve.”

Venture stream winners

1. Cold Bore Technology Calgary, Jamie Clarke, Brett Chell, Tyler Sanden, $25,000 and a pitch at PROPEL Energy Tech Forum

Cold Bore Technology, which provides digital downhole acoustic monitoring, won first prize. “I think it’s great,” says Brett Chell, the company’s managing director who quit art school to work in the oilpatch. “We’re in the operational phase right now and exposure is key because we’re trying to be first to market and capture market share, so this type of exposure with this type of credibility with all of these people here, it’s fantastic.”

2. Vintri Technologies  Calgary, Jeff Boyle, Brendan Boyle, Phil Roberts, $15,000

“It’s validation that the technology we developed is starting to get adopted by the market,” says Phil Roberts, president and CEO of second-place winner, Vintri Technologies, which developed a suite of software to streamline and audit pipeline asset data. “This gives us momentum,” says the Haskayne alumni (BComm ‘99). “It’s all about momentum right now. It’s building on the successes and learning from your failures and this is a success so it builds the momentum for us to get to the next stage.”

3. WattBox Solar Calgary, Patrick Leslie, Frank Laxshimalla, $10,000 (and audience favourite winner)

“It’s a lot of recognition from an industry that is critical to strategy and the publicity will help us attract high quality team members,” says Pat Leslie, cofounder of WattBox Solar, the third-place winner. The company has developed a modular system to provide solar power for remote industrial operations and communities. “We’ve had conversations about selling the first units, so that’s pretty phenomenal.  Everybody we talk to is super excited about the idea.”

As well as cash prizes, the venture winners will share $40,000 of in-kind support from a number of sponsors, Bennett Jones Kickstart, Collins Barrow, GLJ Petroleum Consultants William Joseph Communications and VA Angels.

While only half of the teams that competed walked away with a prize, the other six teams won by meeting people and making connections. After the event, while taking the elevator down from the top of The Bow, a seasoned and successful entrepreneur encouraged younger ones who didn’t get a cheque to “keep at it.” 

From left: University of Calgary President Elizabeth Cannon; Kelcie Miller-Anderson, founder of MycroRemedy and winner of the Concept Stream; Doug Hunter, president, Bluesky Equities Ltd.; and Jim Dewald, dean of the Haskayne School of Business.

From left: Elizabeth Cannon; Kelcie Miller-Anderson, Doug Hunter and Jim Dewald