Earlier this week over 150 startup founders, NEXT Canada supporters, industry partners and honourable guests gathered at Scotiabank Centre to participate in NEXT Canada Prototype Day.
Known as the official launch of the entrepreneurial rollercoaster ride that is the Summer Entrepreneurship Institute, Prototype Day represents an opportunity for NEXT entrepreneurs to pitch their ventures and receive early feedback. The morning started off with greetings from Michael Zerbs, Chief Technology Officer at Scotiabank and NextAI founding partner. Shortly afterwards John Kelleher, NEXT Canada Co-Chair and McKinsey & Company Partner, set the stage by thanking sponsors and partners and reminding guests that, “we are all here to change the face of Canadian prosperity on the global stage.”
Next 36'ers Kicking Off the Summer Strong
From there, 18 founders selected from the Next 36, Next Founders and NextAI programs pitched to a panel of esteemed industry leaders including Christian Lassonde (Founder & Managing Partner, Impression Ventures), Dubie Cunningham (Vice President, Enterprise Innovation, Digital Banking, Scotiabank) and Janet Bannister (General Partner, Real Ventures and Next 36 mentor). The panelists asked challenging questions while providing the presenting ventures with valuable feedback that even the guests furiously noted down as takeaways!
After four months of remotely building out their ventures, Next 36'ers traveled from all over the country and arrived in Toronto this month to work full-time, attend exclusive networking events and spend over 100 hours in founder development workshops and classes. For these founders, Prototype Day officially kicked off the summer.
Next 36 participant, Emily Bland shared her venture SucSeed’s mission to re-connect Canadians with food, while highlighting successes including their ability to install hydroponic systems into over 200 classrooms nationwide in partnership with Tim Hortons. When asked what her greatest takeaway was from the panelists Emily stated that, “It’s important to think bigger than the first one million dollars. Start thinking about the next one hundred million instead”.
Founder of EcoPackers (a venture that creates 100% biodegradable and eco-friendly packages) and fellow Next 36'er, Nuha Siddiqui then chimed in and said, “It’s just as important to think beyond Canada; think global!”
Breaking Records With Next Founders
Prototype Day was also a chance for NEXT Canada to announce record breaking news about the Next Founders program. This year, Next Founders received nearly 200 applications and announced its largest cohort of 22 ventures!
Emma Harris, founder of Healthy Pets used the power of story telling to share her journey on why she started her venture. She explained how she is a pet parent herself and created Healthy Pets to seamlessly connect pet owners to veterinarians on demand through video chat.
Flash Food, founded by Josh Domingues, is a startup that connects food supply and demand to reduce the amount of green house emissions through conscious consumption. Along with this mission, Josh mentioned the company’s recent expansion to Detroit in partnership with Tyson Foods Inc. to continue on their mission to reduce food waste.
Vacation Fund, founded by Erica Pearson, is a travel savings program where employers match 50% of their employees’ vacation contributions up to $500 per year. After mentioning a pilot partnership with Eighty-Eight Agency, NEXT Co-founder and Academic Director, Ajay Agrawal noted that this kind of support from established companies is something we don’t see enough of in Canada and is an advantage that our southern neighbours have over us. He encouraged leaders of SMEs and corporations within the audience to take the risk to pilot these startups and become customers in order to help them grow. Becoming an early adopter and establishing partnerships with startups is what will lead to a prosperous Canadian economy.
NextAI Shaping the Future of AI in Canada
NextAI ventures were the last startups to present, leaving the audience and panelists very impressed and hopeful for the future of AI in Canada. Liscena, co-founded by Kyle Bimm, is a startup that is on a mission to advance society towards the future of mobility with the use of AI. Using computer vision, their aim is to cut down auto insurance claims from 2.5 days to 2.5 seconds.
Aerialytic is simplifying solar adoption by using AI to instantly tell homeowners the financial returns and environmental benefits of going solar. When asked for one piece of panelist advice they will take on their startup journey, Aerialytic co-founders Veronica Malinski and Omar Padierna agreed on “the importance of explaining the technology behind the AI while also relaying the company’s story in a way that resonates with the audience.” Many teams — especially those whose pitches used heavy technical jargon — agreed that this is an important piece of advice that they will keep at the back of their minds for future pitches.
Nargiz Mammadova, NextAI entrepreneur and co-founder of Destin AI, pitched her company’s emotionally intelligent virtual immigration advisor. Similar to the other presenters, the advice that stuck out to her was to think bigger: “Right now, our AI bot acts as a virtual immigration advisor to those who are looking to settle in Canada. However, by thinking globally, we can easily apply the same technology in other countries to make our business scalable”.
While some feedback was very specific to the presenting ventures, the resounding words of wisdom delivered to the entire group can be summed up in one phrase: “Know your audience, have global ambition, and drive home why you’re the team to make it happen!”
Over the next four months, NEXT mentors, faculty members and advisors will work with the founders to implement the feedback they have received, push them to take risks and just as importantly, learn from their failures in order to succeed.
You can find the full Prototype Day gallery here.