Lift’Off 2015 sets new benchmark for Manitoba’s startup scene

(L to R) Chris Karasewich, FarmTrack Tech; Matt Doak, BecomeTheGamer; Dustin Refvik, FarmTrack Tech; Gerg Lipschitz, Portray Advertising; Kyle Boult, Portray Advertising; Jan Lederman, Innovate Manitoba; Declan McDonald, Pricerazzi; Robert Keiser, Pricerazzi; Alex Drysdale, Crik Nutrition; Brad Barylski, Crik Nutrition; and Brent Wennekes, Innovate Manitoba (missing Bryce Lobreau, Pristine Prairie Organics).

(L to R) Chris Karasewich, FarmTrack Tech; Matt Doak, BecomeTheGamer; Dustin Refvik, FarmTrack Tech; Gerg Lipschitz, Portray Advertising; Kyle Boult, Portray Advertising; Jan Lederman, Innovate Manitoba; Declan McDonald, Pricerazzi; Robert Keiser, Pricerazzi; Alex Drysdale, Crik Nutrition; Brad Barylski, Crik Nutrition; and Brent Wennekes, Innovate Manitoba (missing Bryce Lobreau, Pristine Prairie Organics).

WINNIPEG, MB – Winnipeg’s startup and innovation community rallied around six of Manitoba’s hottest startups and two world class experts to make Innovate Manitoba’s 2015 Lift’Off event on June 17 Manitoba’s best startup event ever.

The early part of the day was a nail-biter as six local startups, selected from Innovate Manitoba’s Start Up Skills Bootcamp, competed for over $100,000 in cash and prizes.

The competing startup ventures each had 10 minutes plus a Q & A to sway the judges that they were deserving of the top awards: $20,000, $7,500 and $2,500 respectively for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place plus a plethora of in-kind prizes.


Also, see Martin Cash’s article in the Winnipeg Free Press:

Startups impress biz gurus – Venture Challenge pitch event a boot camp to help woo investors


After nearly 45 minutes of deliberation, the panel of esteemed judges, including prolific and internationally recognized startup experts – Randy Smerik and Alistair Croll – selected the winners:

1st Place: Pricerazzi.com Founded by Declan McDonald with Robert Keizer as Senior Developer and Master of Scale, the online company helps consumers take advantage of retailers’ price matching policies, getting them money back on their purchases without having to actually search for better prices. The judges were impressed that the system allows for some “instant feel good” as even if their customers aren’t eligible for rebates, they will be alerted that they already have the best price.

20150617-IMG_5081McDonald said that the team is very excited about the first place win and that questions from the judges validated the Pricerazzi concept. “What we got from them is that if we do this right, any consumer could use this service.” That, along with the company’s plans to launch its first mobile app in a few months, puts it well on track for its sales goal of $100 million by 2018.

2nd Place: Portray Advertising While their pitch was very solid, Portray Advertising co-founders Greg Lipschitz and Kyle Boult may have been the sweethearts of the day. Their 2 year-old company has traction with their food court tray advertising featuring ads by local retailers and other businesses. But it was the tale of 85 straight days spent sweating it out in their beta mall hand cleaning the trays, along with their commitment to helping feed 35,000 hungry school children that cast Portray as more than just another startup.

20150617-IMG_5078“There have been lots of ups and downs but we’ve kept pushing through,” Boult said. The cash prize will help the company execute on mall contracts and fund more inventory for the advertising trays.

3rd Place: BecomeTheGamer Founder Matthew Doak was clearly a little surprised by his 3rd place win. Equating his e-sports training business to athletic training for pro athletes, the startup is clear about his next steps.

20150617-IMG_5077“I’ll finish closing this round of investment and then use that to approach endorsements and start gaining some significant traction.” Endorsements are of critical importance for the gaming sector and Doak already has a few irons in that fire. “The first one I’m working on sees 1.4 million views per month so it gives us instant validation,” he said.

Jan Lederman, President, Innovate Manitoba, was thrilled with the quality of the competitors. “Each year we’re seeing improvement in the depth and quality of the pitches. These entrepreneurs are learning from those who have gone before them as well as from the bootcamp experience so they’re even more prepared to present a winning, investor-ready business concept,” Lederman said.

Farm Track Technologies Inc, Pristine Prairie Organics, and Crik Nutrition rounded out the top six competitors from Bootcamp. All are in various stages of investor-readiness and commercialization.

Judges push competitors to think deeper and bigger

The judge’s panel was an impressive line-up of experienced entrepreneurs and investors who asked some tough questions while giving the presenters invaluable feedback.

20150617-IMG_4620“I’m really impressed by what I saw here today,” said Randy Smerik, a hugely successful startup entrepreneur with exits totaling over $750-million. He is also founder and CEO of Osunatech, owner of Solare Ristorante, and more, “The teams that presented this morning all had their act together and knew what they needed to cover.”

Alistair Croll, Founder at Solve For Interesting, FounderFuel, StartupFestival, author of Lean Analytics and more points to the importance of what he calls cycle time as a key differentiator for startups who may be up against larger, more established incumbents. “The one advantage a small startup has is their ability to adapt. You don’t need anyone’s permission to change your business model every morning,” he said. “That agility, that ability to iterate is the superpower for many of the startups and all of the ones that won.”

Tyler Gompf, Director, The Gomption Group, a previous Venture’Challenge judge, said that he was impressed with what the presenters’ did and didn’t say. “There was less of a focus on how this innovation might work and more about go-to market plans.” 

Yuri Navarro, Executive Director, National Angel Capital Organization added, “In our competitions, we’ve seen winners from the Prairies so it’s been eye-opening to come down here and see some who may be at an earlier stage. Obviously they’re doing the right thing by participating in initiatives like this and getting the support they can get from organizations like Innovate Manitoba, Futurpreneur and others.”

Entrepreneur Power Lunch and I.Q. Forum deliver

The momentum of the day continued at full speed with an informative Entrepreneur Power Lunch and I.Q. Forum.

20150617-IMG_4946Luncheon keynote, Randy Smerik engaged and wowed the audience with a dynamic and surprising look at the importance of considering the venture capitalist’s business model and its likely impact on any successful startup’s eventual exit. It is an often-overlooked premise but Smerik clearly made the case that Having a Business Focus for your Exit Strategy is Healthy and Good for You.

The well-attended and interactive afternoon I.Q. forum continued to deliver value for attendees, with expert-led sessions on building a business with third party apps, featuring Shopify; how startups need to be Just Evil Enough (presented by Alistair Croll); the pain and gains from past Venture’Challenge winners and an on-the-spot mentoring session with a power-packed panel of pros like Alistair Croll, Randy Smerik, Jeff Ryzner (President, Eureka Project) and Randy Thompson (Launch’Pad bootcamp leader). Stay tuned for more detailed coverage of this Forum!

“It was the best startup event I’ve ever been to in Winnipeg,” said Tamara Pound with The Eureka Project. “The competitors and speakers were outstanding.”

It was truly both entertaining and educational for those who attended and for at least one attendee (other than the competitors), it was absolutely game changing.

“I may have saved my business by being here today,” said Joe Rodrigues, President of Dental Access Manitoba. “I can’t wait to get more involved in future programs.”

For more information or an interview, please contact:

Brent Wennekes

Vice President, Programs and Communications | Innovate Manitoba

brentwennekes@innovatemanitoba.com | (204) 631-3323

Check out all the photos:

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