Startup Weekend invades Toronto: Day 2 Coverage

Stepping off the elevator onto the third floor of the Burroughes building this morning was akin to stepping into battle. The scene was chaotic; the kind of organized chaos that you would only find at an event attended by developers hacking away at HTML5, discussing their customer development findings, or building high-level social media strategies to create buzz around their product.

The 2nd iteration of Startup Weekend continues today as the teams worked towards building their startups. To recap from yesterday’s coverage, 20 teams were selected by the attendees through the use of an online voting tool. During the course of the night, two teams merged as they had similar ideas, bringing the total number of teams down to 18. ProfessorPass and StudyGig, pitched as online education and studying tools for college and university students, were the first and only mergers of the event thus far.

We took a tour of the working space to meet with a few of the startups being built, and met up with Alison Gibbins, a professional marketer for the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. “I’m here to hopefully kick-start a new business for myself and work with some great people to build that. The idea we’ve come up with is BabySimplify; it’s a website to help you determine what kinds of things you’re going to need if you’re having a baby or have already had a baby. Help figure out which items you need and which items you don’t.” One of the biggest problems with shopping websites that cater to new and expectant mothers is that they try to sell you everything. As an expecting parent myself, I agree with Allison’s statement. What’s interesting about this site is that the site tracks and measures how their users behave and which products they purchase. As more user behaviour data is gathered over time, the predictive engine will tailor recommendations based on users with similar qualities. “The long term goal of this site is to give users the ability to share product reviews, build a baby registry, and create a community around parenting and product recommendations”, said Allison. When asked about how they’re going to generate revenue, Allison said they intend revenue though affiliate marketing. “If a user purchases a product we recommend on our site, we’ll take a percentage of that sale.”

Another interesting startup being developed right now is StartupFuel, a platform that democratized crowd-funding for startups through a Kickstarter type model. Their offering allows entrepreneurs to create a project, choose the incentive levels and describe their project through the use of text, images and video. Geared towards Canadian startups, StartupFuel services the void and market for entrepreneurs looking to generate capital for their business idea. We interviewed Trevor Guy and Max Meilleur who joined together with Matt Skilly and Aron Jones (formerly from Connectsy), as well as a few other entrepreneurs to build out the platform. “If you think of Extreme Venture Partners, Mantella, Velocity, GrowLab, all these things that are happening territorially around Canada, there isn’t a platform that allows entrepreneurs to promote their projects and attract funding from public backers, instead of private investors and venture capital firms. Our platform would give local entrepreneurs an idea as to what’s coming out of Toronto and other Canadian cities and what people are working on”, said Trevor. “There are other companies out there doing what we do, like ProFunder; this reconciles the difference between the donation aspect versus the private investment aspect, and the legal or business implications that comes with that type of funding. One of the things we’re talking about internally is how a user would structure those offers that bridge both the public donation and private investment worlds.” (Disclosure: Pixel to Product is an ecosystem partner at StartupFuel.)

Ali Asaria, arguably one of Canada’s most well-known entrepreneurs and the CEO of Ali kicked off his presentation by speaking about his career at RIM, where he developed BrickBreaker, a paddle-and-ball genre game where the player hits a ball towards bricks on a wall with the intent of destroying them before time runs out. Ali left his job at RIM and started because he “wanted to be excited about going into work everyday.” He shared insights into his company’s culture, a culture based on kindness, caring, exceptional service, integrity, honesty, transparency, trust, and other important core values. Ali summarized his presentation with this: “For the first time in my life, I get to do something I love, and that’s kind of amazing.”

Andrew Angus, founder of SwitchVideo was up next and spoke to the crowd about the challenges of building a business in the heart of rural Ontario. SwitchVideo, based in Collingwood, is a video animation company that creates “explainer videos that explain what you do.” While his presentation didn’t feature any pictures of his cat, Andrew did share a few things he’s learned about building a business. “Start in a small town, sell to the world, and don’t be constrained by borders. Never have 7-19 employees. Never fail, and always remember that it is really hard to finance success.”

The last presentation of the evening was Mark Reale, co-founder of BNOTIONS and the Yorkville Media Center. Mark spoke of the importance of collaboration (“Everything we do at @BNOTIONS is about collaboration”) about how people reacted to their idea of inviting clients to their office to watch their collaborative work in action (“People thought we were nuts when we said we wanted to invite our clients to come and see what we do”). He also spoke about the risks of collaboration (“The person you’re working with not up to par, might harbour suspicious motives, or simply be in it for the quick grab”) and the importance of transparency in any partnership. Mark wrapped up his presentation with a few tips about collaboration, one of which really stuck with me: “Have a strategy in place for dealing with any new surprises in a partnership.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. (View Mark’s presentation on collaboration)

With the end of these presentations, the 18 teams quickly went back to work; a number of them working till 2am at the Burroughes building, or at local coffee shops. One thing that has struck us over the past 24 hours is the enthusiasm, passion and energy participants have for their ideas. We’ve spoken to a few participants who’ve each stated the competition will be tight this year, and that each team will have to create a solid pitch to win over the judges and bring home first place. Our live coverage continues tomorrow evening with the final presentations and the awards show.