No better time to start a company

By Francis Moran

There is no better time than now to start a technology company in Canada, Montreal-based serial entrepreneur Austin Hill told a sold-out crowd at last night’s inaugural Ottawa Founders and Funders dinner.

Hill told the entrepreneurs and various investors gathered at the Velvet Room how he raised US$25 million on a US$100-million pre-revenue valuation of his company Zero-Knowledge Systems Inc. (now called RadialPoint) just as the whole tech sector was going kaflooie at the beginning of this decade. The tough times that followed taught him very difficult lessons about being an entrepreneur as he was obliged to lay off employees he had personally recruited and induced to move to Montreal.

RadialPoint emerged from the meltdown as a much stronger company, Hill said, because of this focus on creating value. And the same opportunity exists today, he insisted.

“People who understand technology and people who have money and know how to make it work effectively have never existed together in Canada like they do today,” he said, making this “a great time for Canadian startups.”

Hill got chuckles from at least the founders in the room when he asked what you get when “you cross a lemming with a sheep?” The answer, of course, is a venture capitalist, and the current economic meltdown means only the truly committed risk-takers will be left standing. Tough times have a way of “washing out some of the people who weren’t serious about our sector in the first place,” he said.

I managed a brief aside with Hill that I used to ask him about his latest venture, Akoha. I have been curious ever since I signed on to the game whether it was purely a philanthropic undertaking or whether there was a revenue model behind it somewhere. “A very powerful revenue model,” Hill assured me before going into some fascinating details I won’t spill here since I neglected to get his permission to do so. But go take a look at the site for yourself.

Curiously, I was just this morning able to personally experience a sharp contradiction to one of Hill’s contentions, although I suspect he’d be happy to hear about it. Ottawa and other tech-heavy Canadians cities lack the kind of meeting places, like coffee shops, where you can wander in and be sure to run into people you need to meet, he suggested, saying that was his common experience in California. Well, for what it’s worth, I wandered into my friendly neighbourhood Bridgehead this morning only to run into Scott Lake. We spent a good 40 minutes chatting about his newest venture, ThinkSM. While we were doing so, I pointed out the head of one of Ottawa’s largest integrated communications agencies who wandered in while Scott recognised some major investor who was also at Bridgehead having a meeting over coffee. So maybe we do have some of that gravitational pull Hill was pining for.

The dinner itself was a good room and full kudos need to go to Allan Isfan of FaveQuest who pulled it together.

So here’s the bad news…

By Danny Sullivan

Over on TechCrunch yesterday, Michael Arrington hit back at those who have condemned his site and others for their policy of reporting on tech companies that are failing in the downturn.

Arrington states: “Reporting on layoffs or a dead company isn’t tabloid journalism. We do not take pleasure in seeing companies fail. But it’s inevitable that most will. And not only is it news, but readers have a right to know about it.”

And, while no self-respecting PR person wishes to see the details of their company’s demise being covered in the news, I have to support Arrington’s position on this.

Every day, I awake to the early business news on BBC radio and, for the past couple of months, every story has been filled with doom and gloom: companies and banks going to wall, layoffs, falling house prices, and so on. And yet I don’t expect the Beeb to ignore the facts of the downturn and to focus only on positive stories, so why should we expect anything different from a blog like TechCrunch?

As consumers of news, we expect the media (and bloggers) to bring us the important facts about the world we live in, and it just so happens that the business world is going through some major turmoil right now. No one likes the current situation, but facing up to reality is the only way companies will come through this successfully. News covers both the good and the bad, and we should not condemn the media for reporting on the uglier facts, just because we don’t feel like hearing them.

Mole hills can build mountains

By Leo Valiquette

Labarge Weinstein hosted yet another well-attended and informative Startup Drop-in event last night for The Ottawa Network, and the theme of the evening demonstrated how seemingly innocuous things can have a most profound impact when duplicated on a large scale.

The theme was cleantech, featuring Ron Dizy of Sempa Power Systems, a Vancouver firm that specializes in hybrid power systems that help cut utility bills for commercial and industrial buildings. Ron talked about how customers can cut their power bills by 10 to 30 per cent by switching to electrical heating during off-peak hours and back to fossil fuel-based heating when the demand for, and the cost of, electricity is at its highest.

The evening also featured three of Ottawa’s rising stars in the cleantech sphere.

Energate, which helps consumers and utilities manage and reduce energy use in the home, was represented by chairman and CEO Niraj Bhargava. He emphasized the simple truth that we’re all creatures of habit unlikely to adopt methods of energy conservation if they mean curbing our use of the domestic comforts we’ve all come to take for granted, such as heating and air-conditioning. Energate’s speciality is managing energy use in ways we can bear to live with.

Dave Gerwing, president of Menova Energy, talked about how much power there is untapped in the rays of the sun. (I believe he said enough sunlight strikes the earth in one minute to power the planet for six months. Any error in that statement is entirely mine). But the trick is to capture it. Menova has developed a high-efficiency solar concentrator that captures this clean power source for electrical power, heating and lighting, hundreds of times more efficiently and at a fraction of the cost of traditional solar power technology.

But the most profound illustration of how the little things can add up to monumental proportions came from Scott Feagan, CEO of TireStamp. His company is in the business of making devices that allow corporate fleets to monitor and manage tire pressure and condition. Sounds like a practical enough solution, but not much of a “Wow” factor, is there?

Well, then Scott started talking about how quickly an under-inflated tire wears out, how under-inflation impacts fuel efficiency, how many gallons of oil are needed to make a replacement tire, the highway fatalities attributed every year to blowouts on commercial vehicles, and the billions some of the big parcel companies pay each year in fuel, no one in that room was left with any doubt that proper tire inflation and maintenance is a huge factor in reducing global pollution and resource consumption.

As individuals, we often wonder what we can do to make a difference. The truth is, there is no magic bullet to cure our environmental challenges. But, as last night’s event demonstrated, all those little things we can do, either at home, on the road or in the workplace, can add up in a big way.

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September roundup: Memorable road trips and a new arrival

By inmedia

In case you missed them, here’s a roundup of our posts from September.

Francis:

Sept. 4: We regularly go to Chicago…
Sept. 8: The littlest inmedianaut
Sept. 11: BBC shipping container about to set sail
Sept. 15: Waterloo’s VeloCity launches
Sept. 19: Highlights from Red Herring Canada 08
Sept. 26: From doldrums to trade winds

Danny:

Sept. 5: 10 years of Google – a technology triumph
Sept. 15: Eventful PR
Sept. 19: Positive signs for CRM at Call Centre Expo
Sept. 24: Sage advice

Leo:

Sept. 8: Web 2.0 is a PR expansion pack
Sept. 12: The odd underbelly of media monitoring
Sept. 22: A great place to go brain picking
Sept. 25: How to become ‘a force to be reckoned with’

From doldrums to trade winds

By Francis Moran

We’ve written a couple of posts about the wisdom of continuing marketing activities through the summer months when, it is broadly assumed, everyone is on vacation and so not paying attention to such things. Our consistent counsel has been to maintain a steady level of activity since not everyone is on holiday at the same time, mind share is a highly perishable commodity that needs constant refreshing and you might even gain a leg up on the competition that put its marketing on a summer hiatus.

One area where this does not apply seems to be our own business development activities, which are largely based on networking and getting out where we know we’ll meet technology companies. There are precious few such events during the summer months and this isn’t entirely a bad thing since it vastly reduces the time I need to spend, especially in the evening hours, doing the networking thing.

But man, I tell you, come Labour Day and the whole tune changes, and this year seems to be even more pronounced than usual. I don’t know whose hand was on the dial this year but the volume has been cranked way up.

Here in our home town, The Ottawa Network has introduced a new schedule of events that gives us somewhere to go every Wednesday evening. Judging from the numbers turning out so far, they’ve hit on topics and approaches that are drawing a good crowd.

OCRI, of course, greeted September with a new season of programming and we’re regular attendees at many of these. On the private-sector side, Ian Graham of The Code Factory — and a client of inmedia‘s — has a pretty full calendar of activities at his downtown business incubator.

The start-up community here in Ottawa and elsewhere is also newly galvanized. We’re looking forward to Ottawa’s first DemoCamp of the season, the city’s 10th edition of the wonderfully grassroots event that sees six new companies show off their product or application and get feedback from a room of their peers.

On a somewhat larger scale, the superb Toronto-based blog startupnorth.ca is organizing a two-day conference it has grandly titled Startup Empire. Featuring two days of workshops, speakers and networking “by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs,” the event takes place November 13 and 14 at The Diesel Playhouse in Toronto.

I don’t know if I’ll make it to Startup Empire but I’ll seize any good reason to go to Montreal if only because it provides the opportunity to tuck into the best smoked meat on the planet at Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen. On November 27, there’ll be a lot more than good brisket bringing me to town, however. inmedia has singed on as sponsors of StartupCampMontreal3, which will see scores of new companies compete to be one of five that will formally present to what organizers hope will be hundreds of attendees. This is our first interaction with the Montreal startup community and I’m very much looking forward to it.

Also on the list of firsts for inmedia was the foray I made down to Waterloo a couple of weeks ago to attend the official launch of the University of Waterloo’s VeloCity residence and to also drop in on the exciting and so-successful-it’s-bursting-at-the-seams Accelerator Centre. I blogged about this visit and will keep you up to date as I return to VeloCity October 16 for a presentation on public relations.

And, last but not least, my time at the Red Herring Canada Conference 08 at the beginning of last week yielded not only a well-read blog post on the antics of organizer Alex Vieux but also introductions to a couple of dozen new companies.

Bottom line: We’re less than a month into the new networking season and this PR guy has one full dance card. Let’s hope these trade winds steer me into some high-value ports.

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