HQP find value at Banff Venture Forum

Ali Ebrahimi (left) and Marina Freire-Gormaly

Over the summer of 2012, CMC held a competition to send six HQP to the Banff Venture forum in October. One of the winners, Marina Freire-Gormaly, M.Sc. student, Mechanical Engineering, University of Toronto, wrote a blog about their experiences (see below).

Other winners were:
Hossein Fadaei, PDF, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, University of Toronto
SiRim Kim, PhD student, Chemistry, University of Calgary
Thomas Oldenburg, PDF, Geosciences, University of Calgary
Ali Ebrahimi, PhD candidate, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, University of Toronto
Sonja Bhatia, PhD candidate, Earth Sciences, Dalhousie University

By Marina Freire-Gormaly

The Entrepreneur Bootcamp and the Banff Venture Forum  (Oct. 3-5, 2012) was a fast-paced introduction to the world of venture capitalists and funding mechanisms for entrepreneurs. There was a good turnout of entrepreneurs from across the cleantech, biomedical and IT spectrum.  At first, we six HQP felt a bit out of place among all of the later-stage entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, but we soon found kindred spirits who were very supportive, highlighting the necessity for fundamental research as part of the innovation pipeline.

I found the experience to be very stimulating. Learning about the plethora of funding opportunities for start-ups within Canada and the start-up incubators to support Canadian entrepreneurs gave me a sense of the current innovation landscape in Canada and how our research fits in and can bridge into an entrepreneurial venture.

Sonja Bhatia, a PhD candidate at Dalhousie University,  told me this experience will be most useful. “If and when we commercialize our sensors I have an idea of what type of funding to seek out,” she said adding that she also learned, “[that] clear and open lines of communication with funders is essential to having a good business relationship.”

When asked about his experience, Ali Ebrahimi, from Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto, said, “It was great to get to see the people working on the business side and getting to know the commercialization process.”

CMC well-represented

CMC had the largest contingency from a single organization at the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp. Dave Thomas, partner at Rocketbuilders, had us combine our practice pitches into a single cohesive presentation. We quickly brainstormed our pitch and I gave the brief talk on behalf of the CMC representatives present.

I outlined the need for the work done by CMC from a climate change perspective and how the projects that we six HQP work on cover a range of activities for carbon capture and storage. Thomas Oldenburg, PhD, works on converting coal directly to methane using methanogenic bacteria. SiRim Kim works on designing innovative nano-materials to separate the flue gases from a CO2 source to a pure CO2 stream for injection underground. Hossein Fadaei, PhD, works on designing a “Petroleum Lab on a chip” for the rapid analysis of oil, rock and CO2 interactions. Ali Ebrahimi and I work on modeling and simulating the flow of CO2 in saline aquifers to determine long-term security of injected CO2. Sonja Bhatia works on developing a fibre optic carbon dioxide sensor for CCS site monitoring, measurement and verification.

Networking opportunities at forum

The Banff Venture Forum, which began the day after the Entrepreneur Bootcamp, gave us an opportunity to interact with business leaders from across the energy sector. There were representatives from the MaRS Cleantech Fund, NSERC, Cenovus, Sustainable Development Technology Canada, Alberta Innovates, Alberta Deal Generator and many more. There was also an engaging talk on the history and future of the Cleantech industry by Nicholas Parker and Greg Neichin of the Cleantech Group LLC.

Randy Smerik, Osunatech serial entrepreneur and angel investor, gave an excellent presentation on “Your Company is Your Product. Be Prepared!” A variation of his presentation is available on the web. Sonja Bhatia found this presentation to be most interesting “because Randy Smerik spoke openly about the lessons he learned along the way [of running multiple start-ups]. He has accomplished a great deal, so it was valuable to learn the approach he takes to business.”

Three key takeaways

The 3 key takeaways I took from the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp and Banff Venture Forum were as follows:

  1. Differentiating your type of business
    A venture capitalist is interested in game-changing scalable innovation. They will support its growth and at some point you will need to divest, turn the reins to someone else;
    You may have a great business idea and plan that can make a good income for yourself, but if the business does not have large growth potential a VC won’t be interested.
  2. Sources of Funding
    Family, Friends and Fools:
    These are typically the first supporters of a business. They have the lowest requirements and exert minimal control over your company. Jodi Bagyinka, Director of Operations for Chaordix, gave an interesting account of how their company used crowdsource funding to start the fundraising process.
    Angel Investment:
    This funding is provided by angel investors investing their own capital, on the order of $500,000 – $2M. They have expectations for growth, but since they are investing their own money they do not have as much due diligence as a venture capitalist.
    Venture Capital (VC):
    Provided by venture capitalists who are managing partners of a fund. They invest in a large number of companies expecting that only 1 in 10 or even 1 in 20 will be a success. Therefore, they have large expectations for how the company progresses and they exert a large amount of control over the company.
  3. Develop a succinct and targeted pitch for potential investors
    Business Overview:
    What does your business do? How does it accomplish its goals? Why is it important?
    Who is on your team? What experiences give them the expertise and credibility to work on this business? Business Model:How does your company generate revenue and provide value to the customers? Are there competitors?
    Outline the financial state of the company, explaining the cash flows.
    Cash Raise:
    What is your ask? Have an audacious ask, you never know exactly who is in the audience.

Panels and pitches

We had the occasion to interact and learn from the other attendees, through a series of thought provoking panel discussions, presentations and pitches. As well, we were able to present our work at the CMC booth to interested companies. These connections will hopefully spur new ideas and fruitful collaborations for years to come as we advance Canada’s innovations in carbon management technologies and processes.