You might call it urban meets rural. A pair of companies, one aiming to help city dwellers furnish their spaces and another that helps farmers produce better milk and healthier cows, emerged as joint winners of the $100,000 Fierce Founders pitch competition Thursday.
Furnishr.com, a Toronto-based home decorating platform, and SomaDetect, a Fredericton, N.B., maker of a sensor that measures two important indicators of milk quality and cow health, each earned a cheque for $50,000 and a guaranteed place in this fall’s Fierce Founders Accelerator.
“It feels incredible to be supported by a community of entrepreneurs like Fierce Founders, and to not only take part in a program like this, but to then get to pitch and to be selected as a winner – is a feeling of joy,” said SomaDetect CEO Bethany Deshpande.
“It does feel good,” said Furnishr CTO and co-founder, Karen Lau. “I didn’t think I would win. I thought everybody was really strong so I didn’t think I’d have a chance. I would have been happy no matter who won.
“But it does feel good.”
The pair emerged from a group of nine companies pitching to an audience of 175 at the Crowne Plaza hotel in downtown Kitchener.
Those nine companies, in turn, were the survivors from a cohort of 20 companies that took part in the just-completed Fierce Founders Bootcamp.
The bootcamp is a six-day, Communitech-run program that helps women tech entrepreneurs build their companies. Sponsors include the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), Thomson Reuters, Google Developers, Bereskin & Parr LLP, FedDev Ontario, Scotiabank, Deloitte and Kognitiv.
“Both [winning companies] had really good potential in terms of growth,” said Deloitte’s Zahra Jivan, who served as one of five judges. Deloitte donated the event’s prize money.
Jivan said the strength of the winners’ products and unique proposition of their respective ideas made them stand out.
“I just thought SomaDetect was amazing, to be able to do real-time reporting on the stats on the antibiotics in the milk – that really was something.
“With Furnishr, it was [a case of me wanting] to use that service.
“Both presenters were amazing.”
Other judges included Michelle McBane of MaRS; Joseph Fung of Kiite Inc.; Nicole LeBlanc of BDC; and Lisa Rowsell of Thomson Reuters.
Their task wasn’t easy. All nine of the companies offered compelling products and delivered strong pitches.
“I’m so glad I’m not a judge,” said Seema Esteves, the Fierce Founders Senior Program Manager.
“The transformation from Day 1 [of the program] to today is as night is to day. They surpassed all our expectations.
“I am so proud of all of them.”
Other companies that made pitches included:
StayBillety, a Cambridge-based online accommodation service connecting like-minded guests and hosts; QuantWave, a Kitchener-based firm that helps drinking water suppliers and food and beverage manufacturers with pathogen and contaminant detection; SWTCH, a Toronto-based startup that upgrades and monetizes chargers for electric vehicles; Tricolops, a Kitchener company that makes hardware that quickly and accurately scans an object and measure its dimensions and weight, providing e-commerce companies with shipping solutions; ShuffleSpace, a Toronto-based storage solution company; RockMass, a Kingston company that makes a handheld data collection tool for geologists; and Healthypets.io, a SaaS platform which connects pet owners with veterinarians for online advice about the health of their pets.
Fierce Founders exists to help women entrepreneurs gain traction. The boot camp exists in concert with the Fierce Founders Accelerator, a six-month program that will welcome a new cohort on Oct. 16 (applications are being accepted until Aug. 27).
Deshpande said the bootcamp made her company stronger and she’s looking forward to the accelerator.
“I think that Fierce Founders is about more than individual workshops. Fierce Founders is about creating a community of practice for women entrepreneurs. I think it’s something that is done very thoughtfully and very effectively by the program creators.”