Startup Fest Gives Companies a Chance to Pitch

Cascadia Startup Day | BCBusiness
Angie Schick, program manager at New Ventures BC, talks at Cascadia Startup Day.

Entrepreneurs pitch and learn lessons in fundraising at inaugural Cascadia Startup Day

On a monitor, Maryam Sadeghi, the CEO of health tech startup MetaOptima, is displaying pictures of moles: some cancerous, others benign. Her company’s patented app and hardware helps doctors figure out which is which. They launch in the fall, or so they hope.

MetapOptima is one of dozens of fledgling companies from B.C., Washington and Oregon at the first-ever Cascadia Startup Day, held Thursday at a community center in Yaletown. Believed to be the most investment-ready, they were picked from local startup accelerators in Vancouver including GrowLab, Invoke Labs, Wavefront, Launch Academy and Spring. Rather than being a forum for startups to actually raise capital, the event was an opportunity for entrepreneurs to try their hand at pitching potential investors.

As for Sadeghi and her team, they’re hoping to woo investors like Matthew Moore and Richard Osborn, partners at ReCap Health Ventures. After a brief presentation for Metaoptima, Osbon and Moore are impressed. But it will take a lot more to decide if an investment would be worthwhile. “You’re not expecting to get a comprehensive view of the company,” says Osborn. Moore agrees: “We would look at that and want to do a lot more due diligence.”

“Eighty per cent [of entrepreneurs], are unable to zero in on the heart of what’s important,” said Osborn. The ability to speak clearly about the product or service the startup can offer – and more importantly, how it solves a particular problem–is what sets a few entrepreneurs apart.

The ability to pitch is vital in the pressure of Vancouver’s limited angel investment scene, says Peter Hudson, founder of BitLit, a startup that allows users to get e-books for the print copies they already own. He credits his salesmanship to his session with GrowLab: “You start to see the patterns–what they want to hear, what they don’t want to hear. That’s the advantage that the accelerators offer.” 

Sure enough, his pitch won the evening’s pitch competition, sending BitLit to the prestigious Metabridge startup conference this summer.

Jérôme Nycz, Executive Vice President of BDC Venture Capital, is a strong believer in the role that the startup accelerators play in the startup world. “It gives [startups] breathing room to develop their concept and test it in a safe environment,” he said. “Events like this are a good occasion for cohorts to have exposure to investors and to learn from peers.”

Valuing a startup is “really more an art than a science” said Mark Longo of LaBarge Weinstein LLP, in a talk on financing for early-stage companies. He recommended that startups value their businesses based on comparisons with other similar companies, rather than revenue projections, which he argued are “not worth the paper they’re printed on.”

Bonnie Foley-Wong, co-founder of Spring and of the new venture capital firm Pique Ventures, agrees. “Investors want to know how you’re going to build your business,” she says. And it’s not always about convincing the investor of the value of the product. “The investor may not be a customer; they just need to know that people will be customers.”