It’s part of our ethos to ask tough questions like investors do,” said NEXT Canada Co-Chair John Kelleher, opening last week’s Venture Preview Night.
As the Next 36, Next Founders and NextAI cohorts reach the final stretch of their respective programs, Venture Preview Night offered some of the top teams the opportunity to pitch to NEXT’s network of investors, advisors, mentors and alumni.
“To make things even more exciting, we’ve integrated a mock investing session,” explained John. “Everyone in the room has received 4 tokens worth $25,000 each, which you can invest in the venture, or ventures, of your choice.”
While real money wasn’t on the line, the audience (in true VC fashion) didn’t shy away from asking hard-hitting questions, and teams pitched like they really had the chance to nab a $100K+ investment.
The team who would collect the most chips would receive not only the new knowledge of their venture’s investment potential; but also win a mentorship session with Scotiabank’s Global Chief Technology Officer, Michael Zerbs.
An advocate for entrepreneurship and innovation in Canada, Michael is a strong supporter of NEXT Canada — particularly NextAI, of which Scotiabank is a Founding Partner.
“We at Scotiabank are passionate about artificial intelligence for three reasons,” he said. “(1) AI is fundamental to the way the banking industry will evolve, among many others; (2) It’s impossible for us to know it all. No matter how well-resourced an organization is, we need to look outside and collaborate with the ideas that others generate; and, (3) It’s critical for Canada’s success to address a key talent shortage in people that understand how the brain theory, innovation, business application, empathy for the customer.”
And with that, the pitches began.
Many of the ventures focused on optimizing user experience through SaaS. Between Nostrato’s AI-assisted customer support platform, Senso.ai’s deep learning technology which empowers positive relationships between mortgage lenders and homebuyers, and LevelJump’s prescriptive exercise program to enable companies to onboard sales reps faster, these pitches demonstrated how the use of data for prediction will continue to factor strongly into the way successful enterprises are run.
Cultura, a productivity platform to assess company culture, was inspired by NextAI entrepreneur Katya Kudashkina’s research on whether Uber’s recent scandals were a result of bad culture or bad decisions. Cultura acts as a “CEO in your pocket”, and functions as a culture-oriented decision-making tool for employees.
Jon Love, a donor and supporter of NEXT Canada, raised an important concern: “People are notorious for selecting what they deem to be right on screen, but their actions in reality may prove otherwise. How will your app bridge the gap between the reality of people’s actions and what they swipe?” Katya clarified that the science behind Cultura ensures the answers given are not final, but rather provide insight into the CEO’s decision-making thought process.
After learning that 98% of the world’s waste ends up in oceans, landfills, and dumps, Vivek Vyas and Hassan Murad combined their knowledge of computer vision, machine learning, and cutting-edge robotics to create Intuitive, Inc., the world’s first smart wastebin.
Not only does Intuitive, Inc.’s product focus on sorting waste to divert unnecessary quantities from landfills, it collects data on geographic consumer trends.
“Presenting at the Venture Preview night has been a tremendously humbling experience and we had not anticipated the amount of positive feedback and validation our idea would receive,” Hassan said. “The event also presented us with the opportunity to meet with key players in the industry and allowed us to garner interest among investors.”
Next up were the Next 36 pitches, where innovative and personalized hardware was the dominant theme.
N36’ers William and Abdurakhman developed Orello, a hearing aid that users can custom fit to their own ear, and tune to their unique frequency loss. This gives people with mild to moderately severe hearing loss an easier, faster, and more affordable experience, and gets rid of the social stigma behind hearing aids.
Meanwhile, Kristina Pearkes and Sean Kaiser are creating a better alternative for counting sheep or taking melatonin, which is Orbityl Labs, providing the first pair of earplugs that monitor brain activity during sleep, and use this information to create a tailored sleep training program to combat insomnia.
“The event was great, having the audience participate in investing made it much more of a conversation than just a pitch,” said Kristina. “It was the first time we’ve presented in public about Orbityl and we were very happy with the positive feedback we received.”
After realizing the calibre of both ideas and products these entrepreneurs are bringing to life, attendees had a tough task ahead of them. They set out for one last round of demos to cast their vote with their investment chips. By a very close margin, three winners rose to the top:
- Orbityl Labs, Next 36
- Intuitive Robotics, NextAI
- Senso.ai, NextAI
But with the invaluable insights the audience had for the entrepreneurs, all of the ventures left the room as winners.