An Ottawa-based Canadian startup accelerator designed to help entrepreneurs grow their great ideas into thriving tech companies celebrated the graduation of its ninth cohort Thursday.
There were no caps, gowns and diplomas, nor tearful hugs and long goodbyes at the SaaS Showcase presented by L-Spark at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park. Rather, the six founders got to pitch their startups on stage in front of a 300-person audience of investors, mentors and community partners before heading next door to Jack Astor’s Bar & Grill for the after-party sponsored by Dentons LLP.
L-Spark is led by executive managing director Leo Lax, who’s devoted more than 40 years of his career to advancing Ottawa’s technology sector. An engineer by profession, Lax studied at the Royal Military College and got his start at Mitel and Newbridge Networks, working closely with tech giant Terry Matthews, founder and chairman of Wesley Clover International.
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“Standing in front of you this evening brings back many memories,” Lax told his audience of the journey the accelerator and incubator program began nearly 10 years ago.
“We took our first steps not knowing where it would lead, but with hope and faith that we can create a nurturing environment that will foster the growth of a few unicorns right here in Canada,” said Lax. He wasn’t referring to the long-horned mythical creatures but to the ultimate dream that private startups have to reach a value of $1 billion. “We are not there yet, but we live in hope.”
Among those in attendance were Capital Angel Network executive director Suzanne Grant and her board chair, Jennifer Francis, who’s also co-founder with fellow leader, mentor and investor Julia Elvidge of the SheBoot program for women-led tech companies.
Also spotted from the business community were: Veronica Farmer, new vice-president of marketing for Wesley Clover; BDO Canada partner Jeff Johnson; Chase Irwin, a partner in the corporate, securities and venture technology and emerging growth companies practice groups of Dentons’ Ottawa office; Boast.ai director and QuickFund lead Chikei Yeung; Nick Quain, vice-president of venture development at Invest Ottawa; Maxime Page from National Bank; and Ray Rashed, director of RBCx Ottawa.
The six graduates of the SaaS Accelerator program received six months of mentoring and technical support tailored to their business from L-Spark’s network of experts and advisers.
The pitch presentations featured Ryan Peatt, co-founder and CEO of Proxi.id, a user verification service provider that helps businesses verify the affiliation of their customers and users through a secure and user-friendly process. Peatt launched his fully bootstrapped company just over 18 months ago.
CEO and founder Marcelo Bursztein brought everyone up to speed, in seven minutes or less, on NovaceneAI. It automates the process of turning raw unstructured data into analytics-ready data. The platform, which integrates with existing cloud data ecosystems and uses artificial intelligence, is designed for both business analysts and data engineers, said Bursztein, who has 20 years’ experience building SaaS products and 10 years’ experience in market research.
As well, the room heard from Phil Alexandre, CEO of Goodly Cloud, a SaaS platform through which businesses can manage the complete hardware lifecycle events of mobile devices, such as phones, tablets and laptops.
There were also pitches from Toronto firms Formic.ai (Benji Christie) and Shippie (Jax Zheng), as well as Montreal-based Oxia Initiative (Emmanuelle Tavernier).
In his closing remarks, Lax spoke of the “sea of change” that’s occurred in the technology industry over the last 10 years.
“Today, we live in a world that is always accessible. It’s everywhere at any time and, for some of us, that’s good; for some, not so good. We are all very busy.”
COVID taught businesses that they have to embrace change in order to survive, said Lax, who touched on Open.ai and the way its ChatGPT, a natural language processing tool that allows for human-like conversations, as driving AI’s popularity.
Artificial intelligence has evolved from being a “technology curiosity” to the future as it “seeps into almost every aspect of our daily activities,” said Lax while pulling out his cellphone as an example of how technology has become so accessible.
“We are carrying in our hands the computing power of a mainframe from just a few years ago,” he said.
Our technology, he added, provides the public with a co-pilot.
“And who doesn’t need a co-pilot? Which brings me back to L-Spark and why we started L-Spark, to provide a co-pilot for our emerging entrepreneurs.
“We dared to dream when we started L-Spark, and I challenge you today to dream with us, going forward. Let’s co-pilot the future together.”