Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Showing off our startups at TLC 2008

About 400 people are expected to attend the 2008 Technology Leadership Conference this Thursday at Bingemans in Kitchener. Along with being one of the top events of the year for the local tech community, the conference has become the place where you can see some of the top startup companies from the area as they present their companies at the Tech Expo in the main hall.

Exhibitors this year are AideRSS, LoyaltyMatch, Semacode, Tungle, Well.ca, Smartpatterns, Something On, Client Outlook, Aeryon Labs, Ghoti Studios, T-Ray Science, and FOSS Factory. ProductWiki, SuitedMedia, and Crez had tables at last year's event and are expected to be among the attendees this time, as are Primal Fusion and Metranome.

It's great to be able to show off our startups to the community and guests from out of town. Two years ago, I had trouble coming up with more than a handful of names but since then we've had no trouble filling all the available tables. With companies like Primal Fusion, Metranome, ParkVu and Avvasi expected to launch their first products in the coming months, next year's Tech Expo will be another one to look forward to.

Keynote speakers this year are Chris Anderson, editor of WIRED and author of The Long Tail, Chris Sacca, blogger and investor -- 1,800+ Twitter followers -- formerly with Google, and Jeff Taylor, founder and former CEO of Monster. Noted VC and blogger Rick Segal will also be speaking as part of a panel. Should be a great day.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Well.ca raises angel funding

Congratulations to online drugstore Well.ca, which announced today that it has closed a round of funding -- one that has been several months in the making. The size of the round wasn't disclosed, but the investors were Jim Estill and Toronto's Maple Leaf Angels. It's the first external funding for the company and also seems to be the first deal that Maple Leaf Angels has announced.

It's the latest in a string of angel-backed deals for local startups. As I mentioned before, we had six companies raise seven-figure seed rounds in 2007 and every one of them involved angels (although one -- AideRSS -- was led by VC firm Tech Capital Partners).

I first talked to Well.ca founder Ali Asaria late in 2006, and the entire entrepreneur services team -- and I think just about everyone else at Communitech too -- has enjoyed working with Ali and his team ever since.

(See Ali's comments about the investment.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tungle launches

Tungle launched today. You can now download the beta version of the Tungle Outlook plug-in that lets you share calendars and availability across organizations.

The company is headed by Marc Gingras and Fang Yang, who have a long history as a team in Waterloo. I first met Marc eight years ago when he was heading the Kitchener-based development office of Entrade. Marc, Tungle's CEO, is now in Montreal, while Fang, the CTO, is based in Waterloo. Tungle raised $1.5 million last year from JLA Ventures and Desjardins Venture Capital, with additional funding from a U.S. based angel investor.

Marc blogged about the launch earlier today.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Is this the best way to meet potential investors?

The Canadian Innovation Exchange (CIX) is being held in Toronto at the end of this month. If selected, a company looking for early-stage funding pays $600 to give a presentation to an audience that includes several VC firms and other potential investors.

Even though there's a Communitech logo on the site (which I had nothing to do with -- I've had no contact with anyone organizing this event), and my colleague Ron Neumann is a scheduled presenter, I have mixed feelings about these kind of events.

For entrepreneurs, it certainly seems convenient to get your company in front of several investors with just one pitch. I'm sure some would say that the amount of time saved when compared to arranging individual meetings with each investor justifies the fee by itself. And there's no question that there are some good speakers scheduled for CIX.

On the other hand, these events reinforce the myth that companies need to pay intermediaries (in this case, the event organizers) to get in front of VCs, or at least that it's beneficial to do so. It's something I mostly associate with the leeches and hangers-on who try to charge startup entrepreneurs a fee for introducing them to VCs. There aren't as many today as there were back in the bubble era, thankfully, but it still goes on.

Here's a little secret: it's not difficult to get a Canadian VC to look at your business (getting them to invest is, but that's equally true for companies that present at VC events). They aren't hard to find and contact, and it won't cost you anything.

I know people at most Canadian VC firms (including almost all of the firms whose logos appear on the Canadian Innovation Exchange site) and can guarantee you that, if you have a good investment opportunity for them, almost all of them would be happy to come to Waterloo to hear more. You won't have to hope to be selected for some dog-and-pony show in Toronto and pay hundreds of dollars. Introductions certainly help, particularly coming from someone investors believe will filter out the junk, but you don't have to pay for them. If you have a VC-fundable business, every member of Communitech's entrepreneur services team can hook you up with VCs at no cost.

I agree with Alec Saunders, who last week compared the event to a beauty pageant and said he found a lot not to like in the model. If there had been more U.S. investors participating (there are some), I might have found it to be more valuable. There are so many of them, your degrees of separation will likely be greater than one -- which won't be the case for Canadian VCs -- and most will expect you to go to them, which starts getting expensive.

But to get in touch with most of the people scheduled to be at CIX, I can't say that signing up for a beauty pageant would be the way I'd go about it.

Can Windsor use a non-snub to energize a focus on innovation?

OMG, did you hear? There's a new $100 million "Innovation SuperCorridor" initiative from the province introduced in the budget...