Building Bridges To Investment Opportunities

In the fall of 2017, Springboard Atlantic announced the launch of a pilot Investment Opportunities Program focused on attracting more start-up investment to the Atlantic region. The idea of the pilot program, funded by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and in partnership with Halifax-based Jameson Group, was to develop an investor attraction pilot program for early stage high growth companies in Atlantic Canada. The program matches investors living outside of Atlantic Canada and investment ready start-ups looking for their first seed or angel investment. The magic of the program is in the work done by the Jameson group and Springboard to identify investors who are particularly interested in Atlantic Canadian companies and the training companies received to be ready to work with these investors. “We were looking for Atlantic Canadian companies that showed the capacity to scale,” says Jameson Group Partner Bob Williamson. “In doing so we wanted them to have the ability to be funded so we needed to see they were fundable and that they had a certain level of validation/customer discovery already done and that they were market ready.” Working with experts from each of the Atlantic provinces, Springboard chose 16 companies from a number of applicants to go through a boot camp weekend to determine who would participate in the Toronto pitching mission.  The boot camp covered key topics including session readiness and how to pitch. In the end, 12 companies were chosen to participate in the mission. “When we met with them for the first time most of them were fairly comfortable with what they knew and their approach to investors,” says Williamson.  “Fifty-four hours later they were all in awe saying “we didn’t know what we didn’t know.”” During the mission itself, the companies were able to pitch at two separate events – one organized by the National Angel Capital Organization (NACO Canada) and the other by the Ontario Angels Network. James Stewart with EhEye Inc, one of the 12 companies who participated in the mission, says the learnings from the pilot program changed the way they now pitch the company. “It definitely changed my pitch and my story”, says Stewart. “Even our one liner changed, going from being a company that automates video surveillance to a company that protects people.”  “What I also liked about it is that it connected a number of entrepreneurs across multiple sectors and regions,” says Stewart. “Now this group is being supportive of each other, helping to break down barriers between provinces and sectors that may have unintentionally grown over the past few years – we need more of this.” Sizwe Dhlamini with PHV Energy agrees.  “We went and listened and learned a whole lot,” says Dhlamini.  PHV, who develops efficient and smart transformer bushings, had just wrapped up testing and was in the first stages of its investor journey. “We knew that we would get some nos before we got yeses,” says Dhlamini.  “This program prepared us for what to expect and the feedback and direction from people in the industry.  Some were interested and some just gave us feedback, but it has been very helpful.  We’ve also been able to learn so much from the other companies including the questions they asked.” Williamson says that the event couldn’t have gone better. A number of the companies, including EhEye and PHV are now in ongoing discussions with potential investors and there are expectations that potential investment for a number of the companies is imminent. Springboard CEO Daryl Genge says the program reinforces the need for continued mentoring and investment in our Atlantic companies. “The early reaction and positive feedback on this pilot shows that we have amazing ideas in Atlantic Canada that can compete for funds and opportunity on a national stage,” says Genge. For Williamson, he’s convinced that continuing the program will foster even more opportunity for Atlantic-based companies that will expand and grow which, in turn, will help our region and our economy grow. “Ideally what will happen is to bring investors from outside Atlantic Canada into the region to grow the total pool of investors but to do it in syndication with Atlantic Canadian angels,” says Williamson. “Wouldn’t it be great to see two angel groups come together so that when one invests the other one will also invest.  It will help to grow the pool, spread the wealth and allow us to help more start-ups in Atlantic Canada.”