Taking to the stage and making a pitch in front of room full of investors is daunting for the most seasoned of CEOs.

But members of the first Fierce Founders cohort aren’t called fierce by accident.

Seven determined women, founders and co-founders of up-and-coming Waterloo Region startups, braved the spotlight and laid out their companies’ wares Wednesday morning at Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District, leading off Communitech’s third Rev Demo Day.

Rev Demo Day is an opportunity for companies from Communitech’s Rev program – an accelerator for established and growing tech companies – to attract venture capital and compete for a share of a $100,000 prize. Six Rev companies made pitches Wednesday. AlertLabs, a Waterloo Region startup that reduces risk for insurance companies with easy-to-install sensors that monitor water usage and predict leaks and floods in homes and businesses, was the winner of the big cheque.

“I was amazed by the quality of all the pitches,” said Fierce Founders member Mallory McKewen, CEO and founder of BridesMade.

The Fierce Founders companies are at a more nascent stage in their development than their Rev counterparts. The aim of including them Wednesday was to piggyback on the Rev event, provide an opportunity to present to investors and to gain exposure and experience leading to the day when they’ll make their own pitches aimed at attracting capital.

“It is a bit stressful knowing that someone might be in that room who will be the person I’ll be pitching to next,” said McKewen.

McKewen’s firm rents dresses to bridesmaids, much as a menswear shop rents tuxedos. It set out to solve the problem faced by bridesmaids who need an expensive dress but don’t want to pay for something they’ll likely wear only once.

McKewen’s task Wednesday, and that of the other Fierce Founders, was complicated by having just 90 seconds to make her pitch. Short and sweet was the order of the day.

“Often it’s harder to do a 90-second pitch than a 10-minute pitch,” said Janet Bannister, one of the event’s three judges and General Partner with Real Ventures. Bannister has also volunteered time to kick off the Fierce Founders program.

“They were all very good at describing their business, why each exists and the value proposition each represents. That’s not necessarily an easy thing to do.”

Bannister said she was particularly impressed with Fierce Founders company Borealis Wind, which sells a heating product designed to be retrofit into the blades of wind turbines, preventing ice buildup and reducing turbine downtime.

“I really like Borealis Wind,” said Bannister. “They’re tackling a huge problem. They’ve got lots of hustle.”

Other Fierce Founders companies that made pitches Wednesday included Binary Tattoo, Navi, Oneiric, Squiggle Park and This Space Works.

George Tsintzouras, President and co-founder of Alert Labs, and Ruth Casselman, the company’s Vice-President and co-founder, accepted the $100,000 Rev winner’s prize, which was donated by Deloitte and Google.

“We’re super thrilled [by the win],” said Tsintzouras. “We worked very hard over the six months of the program, as did the others. This is a select group of over-achieving, high-performing startups that we’re amongst.

“We love the Rev program and everything it’s done for us. It helped us get to the next stage.

“But winning this doesn’t change the amount of work we have ahead of us. We’re very humbled by the mountain we’re climbing.”

Other Rev companies on stage were Chalk, LiveGauge, Pitstop, reebee and LMN, or Landscape Management Network.

LMN’s co-founder, Mark Bradley, made the magnanimous decision in the wake of his presentation to pull out of the competition for Wednesday’s big prize in order to give other startups a better chance at winning.

“We already have an excess in revenue,” explained Bradley. “The other companies are a little earlier in revenue generation and it’s a better opportunity for them to get the $100K and leverage it to accelerate their growth.”

The Fierce Founders accelerator accepted its cohort of companies in mid-September. Navi co-founder Marylin Ma said she appreciated the experience gained at Wednesday’s event knowing her company will take part in its own demo day in May.

“I was really impressed with the way everyone had their own story,” she said. “The quality of the companies continues to impress me.

“We’re all at different stages [of growth but the Fierce Founders] team did a great job of setting expectations,” she said. “Working with the advisors keeps you on track.”

Tsintzouras, a physics graduate of the University of Waterloo and the recipient of an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University, watched the Fierce Founders presentations with memories of the early stages of his own company’s growth. He said a program that advances opportunities for women is needed more than ever given the unfolding of recent political events in the U.S., as a foil against any potential resurgence in discrimination against women in particular.

“Communitech took a very serious look at funding female-led startups,” said Tsintzouras. “To be a leader, and recognize the need, to break down the barriers faced by female tech entrepreneurs, especially in the climate and culture we have today, with what happened in U.S. politics, is to be applauded. I’m only incredibly impressed and supportive of what they’re doing.”

About The Author

Craig Daniels
Senior Journalist

Craig Daniels is a veteran reporter, columnist and editor who has joined Communitech’s editorial team as senior journalist. He worked most recently at Postmedia in Hamilton, where he led the team that produced the National Post, and before that at the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Sun, Financial Post, the Montreal Daily News and the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John, N.B. He has an abiding interest in the transformational power and promise of tech and startup ecosystems, is a commercially licensed pilot, and has a debilitating wrist-watch fetish.