If you read media coverage of the Canadian tech startup scene, you’re used to seeing the same three regions listed time and time again: Vancouver, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Toronto. But there’s a wealth of incredible tech talent in other cities across Canada and thanks in part to the rise of “demo days” and accelerators, those companies are starting to break through to get attention.
Case in point: London, Ontario’s SmartCamp Pitch Competition happening December 14 will push Canadian tech talent onto an international stage.
Co-hosted by London’s own TechAlliance and IBM Canada, the event provides an opportunity for seven applicants to live-pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. The prize: Winning a top-spot at the SmartCamp Global Finals at San Francisco’s LAUNCH Festival in April, 2017.
“It’s a great opportunity for our local entrepreneurs,” says Marilyn Sinclair, President & CEO of TechAlliance, which will be actively helping competitors craft their pitches, as well as offering support after the event.
Sinclair thinks London’s SmartCamp event is the perfect vehicle to help shine a light on the city’s burgeoning tech community. “We have a very diverse tech sector,” she says.
That diversity is one reason why Sinclair thinks London, Ont. doesn’t always get the attention of tech hubs like Kitchener-Waterloo, an ecosystem that is packaged and branded in a familiar way for the venture capital world.
Nevil Knupp, Client Executive and Sales Transformation Leader at IBM Canada, agrees.
“There is an incredibly deep and diverse pool of talent in London,” he says. “The skilled individuals that graduate from Fanshawe College and Western University are world class and many seek to build new businesses that help solve real problems for today’s consumer and commercial enterprises. With IBM’s support and leadership in projects like SmartCamp, we are helping to make these opportunities possible.”
IBM is supporting SmartCamp competitors with an offering of cloud, cognitive and analytics tools and services — of the seven teams competing, three will win funding through IBM’s Global Entrepreneur Program.
“We’re helping young Canadian companies innovate and be successful in Canada,” says Knupp. “We are enabling these companies to get off the ground and have a chance to be successful by giving them access to all the tools and technology they would need in the IBM Cloud platform.”
Winning a pitch competition takes more than raw talent, however, and Sinclair and Knupp have some advice for London-based entrepreneurs looking to bring their A-game: “We’re looking for solutions to real-world problems,” Knupp says.
And those solutions need to be unique, he points out, warning that founders should be prepared to show that their business “goes above and beyond any run-of-the-mill app.”
The pitch won’t be won on uniqueness alone, Knupp adds, indicating that the founders themselves will be judged too. “We’re looking for people who are extremely bright, capable and ideally have a track record in something else they’ve already done.”
Sinclair takes a similar view: “You could have a good idea but it has to be matched with the right entrepreneur.”
If there’s one thing she thinks founders should keep in mind as they get ready to wow the judges: “Be very clear and concise.”