Innovators Compete for cash, exposure

January 19, 2012
Author: Martin Cash

On Wednesday afternoon, five Winnipeg technology companies showed off the scope of innovation and enterprise that exists in Winnipeg.

The fact most of them need additional capital and other strategic assistance to survive does not detract from the excellence of the work they're doing.

At the annual event, called WinnOvation, the five entrepreneurs presented their business ideas in hopes of winning a $5,000 prize. It was organized by Marshall Ring of BCC (Biomedical Commercialization Canada), the private sector, not-for-profit business incubator that was formed several years ago as a way to help germinate technology enterprises that might rise out of work being done at the National Research Council in Winnipeg.

While no one would turn down $5,000, the money was not the motivation for the event.

In attendance was a group of local angel investors (and some from as far away as China) and professionals who know how to add value and manage technology commercialization.

The purpose was both to provide exposure to the companies and give them experience in making public presentations.

Part of the mandate for both BCC and the co-sponsor of WinnOvation, the Life Sciences Association of Manitoba (LSAM), is to help these kinds of companies find the pieces they need to make a go of it.

"I really believe there is a technology commercialization subculture growing in this community," Ring said.

That's the way wealth is generated, jobs are created and the economy of a province like Manitoba -- that has to rely on internal development -- grows.

The five presenters -- Po-Motion Interactive Floor and Wall Software; Solara; Digital Safety Innovations; Cardio Vox; and MCB Ingenuity -- were spread out along a broad spectrum of development. Some are not even at the stage where they could accept venture capital, if it were available.

For instance, Tom Tessier's company, Solara, already has more than 1,000 units of his specialized remote data delivery satellite communication devices in the market. He needs help marketing his niche product -- which is built entirely in Winnipeg -- around the world, even as he is in negotiations for multimillion-dollar contracts.

Henry Floreal is trying to set up operations of Cardio Vox in Winnipeg after the company that conceived the technology to aid patients waiting for a heart transplant began in the United States.

Designed to replace the bulky, complex devices that keep patients' hearts pumping while they wait for transplants, the development of something like Cardio Vox could solidify Winnipeg's reputation as a medical device development centre.

Meaghan Athavale of Po-Motion Interactive also has many users of her company's interactive software and a growing revenue base from online downloads -- from $40 a month less than two year ago to about $2,000 now.

But Athavale makes no bones about it -- the young Winnipeg visual artist realizes she and her software developer-partner and the couple of programmers who work with them need marketing help.

Mike Boileau of MCB Ingenuity also needs help getting the word out for the important water-filtration technology he's developed. It's so sensitive it will trap pharmaceutical byproducts, contaminants that are starting to raise concerns about the integrity of water supplies around the world.

Alex Scott's Digital Safety Innovations (the presentation was made by partner John Wiebe) has developed a weatherproof, lockable bracelet worn by vulnerable people or anyone with mental or physical disabilities such as children or the elderly. The bracelet is then accessed via a QR code by any smartphone utilizing software developed by Digital Safety Innovations.

"The common thread with these companies is that they have interesting technology, but they have not yet figured out their market space, yet." Ring said.

The high-powered volunteer judges -- Gord Froelich, Wadood Ibrahim, Harry Ethans (all accomplished local entrepreneurs and business executives) and Jim Carlson, a North Dakota venture capitalist -- selected Po-Motion as the winner of the $5,000 prize.

MCB Ingenuity won the people's choice award and will receive $1,000 and some free services from members of the Certified Management Consultants.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca
 

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"I really believe there is a technology commercialization subculture growing in this community," Ring said.