Five hundred people attending Tech Shuk in Montreal may very well have been first to publicly see the next big innovation that could change the planet for the better.
A brainchild of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), the annual event is a live “Dragons’ Den”-style competition, with start-ups pitching their products to a panel of renowned investors, referred to as “Lions”, who reviewed presentations from Medialpha, Capsolar, Carbon Neutral Club, Altiro Energy, Decap and Bello Water, all in some way reflecting the event theme of using technology to tackle climate change.
Taking place in late April, the event raised funds for the Climate Solutions Prize, which organizers say supports research and development for breakthrough climate change solutions. Up to four researchers will split the US$1M prize – doled out annually in Israel, concurrent to a C$100,000 annual prize to Quebec-based innovators. High-level judges will evaluate pitches, and the winners will be announced at a live competition in Israel.
This year’s was the third edition of Tech Shuk, the first after a two-year absence due to the pandemic.
The judging panel at Tech Shuk was composed of Mitch Garber (Mitch Garber Investments), Jacques Bernier (managing partner, Teralys Capital), Thomas Park (Partner Lead, BDC Deep Tech Fund), Stephan Ouaknine (President and CEO Inerjys Ventures), and Erin Zipes (Backbone Angels).
“It’s great because people in the audience can learn something from the presenters,” Garber said. “Maybe they want to invest in the pitch. One of the best things here is the combination of charity, entrepreneurship, and helping young business people.
“It was a really interesting evening, especially given how much entrepreneurship there is around climate.”
Park, from his end, added: “Montreal’s a small community, but in the tech sector, it punches above its weight. It highlighted its tech potential.”
Altiro Energy was the judges’ winner. It uses chemical compounds to create electricity, instead of the usual gas, coal, or nuclear fuels. Its purpose is to make residential and commercial buildings less reliant on conventional fossil fuels, and generate less negative output.
“We felt that Altiro, even if very early stage, would have the most impact, and could be the biggest company, if they executed on their innovation,” said Garber.
Park added: “I think the fact that they had identified a serious problem – energy efficiencies in buildings – and they had a simple solution that you could copy. That’s a business opportunity right there. No one else was coming up with a solution, and they had a strategic and scientific answer.”
Carbon Neutral Club won the People’s Choice Award, in a vote tallied from audience members.
Its concept centres around a subscription service that estimates clients’ carbon footprints, and sends monies to certain endeavours that fight climate change. Financially supported projects include Chinchiná Reforestation, Crow Lake Wind Power, and Siam Solar Power, each verified by third party climate specialists, and each following the Gold Standard, or Verified Carbon Standard certifications. The cherry on top: users are rewarded with various brand discounts – including Frank and Oak, Village Juicery and KOTN.
Jack Bruner, co-founder, says that in under a year, they have already worked with the likes of Capital One and the Kraft Heinz Company. “The support at the event was incredible. We are building a solution for people – anybody, you and me – to take climate action. The fact that it resonated with everyone in the event showed that people are ready, keen to engage.”
After the event, he said that many audience members and investors approached him to find out how they too could sign on. “Something else that happened that was a little bit unexpected, was people just coming up wanting to learn more about the business – just curious. I think that’s another layer of validation, that it’s just something that people realize is an accessible bar for people to learn, grow, during their climate journey,” he said.
“This concept (for us) of rewarding individuals for measuring and offsetting their footprint with these sustainable businesses was that ‘ah ha moment’. It turned what was a disincentive into an incentive model – financially incentive model – for individuals to create change in their lives, and companies to benefit. So, that was the final piece of the puzzle and completes the value chain.”
Amongst startup presenters, two came with prototypes that judges could examine. Representatives from Decap showed off a receptacle that fits in a person’s hand, used to safely dispose of syringe needles after an injection. According to Jamie Magrill, CEO of Decap, it is revolutionary, as no such item has previously existed on the market that completely eliminates the risk of a doctor or nurse accidentally poking themselves.
Bello Water demonstrated a countertop device that, according to its CEO, Marc Schaal, filters tap water eighteen times more thoroughly than commercially available filters, and, priced at C$200, is significantly more budget-conscious – and less intrusive – than under-sink filters. He’s also included the option of inserting proprietary flavour pods into the water after filtration.
At 2019’s Tech Shuk, the weighted blanket company Hush was the top winner of the event, and subsequently went on to appear on CBC’s Dragons’ Den, scoring a deal; in Oct. 2021, it sold a majority stake to Sleep Country for a reported C$25 million.
When asked what kind of advice he offers to startups like the ones who presented, Garber noted: “I usually feel that a lot of entrepreneurs should find a strategic partner or a strategic investor – someone who can really help the business. Usually you’re the founder, and it was your idea, and you actually need another partner. It should be a strategic partner to accelerate the business.”
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