Launch Academy Pitch Day Celebrates Year of Canadian Startup Success

The Vancouver Public Library’s Alice MacKay Room was the host of Launch Academy’s Pitch Day on Monday night, an event meant to foster the local startup community and provide the entrepreneurs under their umbrella with an opportunity to practice pitching, and compete for high-level mentorship and public exposure.

Twenty startups had a minute each to pitch the bare bones of their project; after all of the startups had pitched, the evening’s 250 attendees had a chance to mingle and submit their votes via text. Pitches were flying, but it was up to the judges to decide which had the potential to become home runs. The judges’ panel was comprised of Jason Bailey (CEO of East Side Games, Founder of GrowLab), Meredith Powell (three-­time serial entrepreneur and Launch Academy mentor), Peter Smyrniotis, (Enterprise IT Sales Director at ARP Technologies), Igor Faletski (CEO at Mobify), and Tomica Divic (Development Manager at BCIC.)

The five finalists contained a broad range of viable business models. A few of the finalists had been finalists before.

Monday night was not the first rodeo for Thinkific, myBestHelper, or WealthBar—in fact, this was the third time that Thinkific had taken part. Neither Mobipay nor Change Heroes had taken part before. And not only did they make the finals, but the winners’ circle too.

The lack of philanthropic rivals in the finals all but guaranteed Change Heroes’ victory; Change Heroes’ combination of practical thinking and humanitarian vision made it something of a ringer. Thinkific made second place, winning a prize at long last. Mobipay landed itself in third.

Each of the winners will be heading to metabridge, one of the most anticipated tech events of the year. Metabridge is an annual retreat in Kelowna, BC that connects senior tech leaders from the Silicon Valley with leading Canadian startups.

The night was significant for the contestants, but Launch Academy had—and still has—some celebrating of its own to do. April 1 marks the first anniversary of Launch Academy itself; whether or not Launch Academy intends to have a proper anniversary bash is still undecided.

Monday also marked the first public screening of GROW Inc., a locally produced documentary which highlighted many startups featured in the room. Director Bradley Shende was on hand to present, but the presentation of the film itself left something to be desired. The timing of the documentary coincided with the cellular voting time—the lights were on, and the din of eager voters enjoying pizza and beer made for a distracting screening environment.

At the end of the night, Ray Walia stood proud of both the winners and Launch Academy itself.

“The final results represent what Launch Academy is all about,” he said. “You have Change Heroes, really trying to change the world, being progressive but still looking from a business perspective. You have Thinkific, and while it’s their third time presenting they’ve demonstrated real growth each time. And then we have Mobipay, which is at the heart of Launch Academy: collaboration and joining forces and making each other better.”

“And here we are,” he continued. “We didn’t know if we’d make it past month two, and we’ve just been growing and growing.  At the end of the day, Launch Academy is about the community, and it’s the community that’s grown Launch Academy. It’s not the management, or the sponsors: if it wasn’t for the community that kept building upon itself, we’d be nothing. Thankfully, the community’s just growing and growing, and now we’ve got 70 companies helping us grow. It’s been amazing.”

The next Pitch Day hasn’t been posted to the calendar. One hopes that a new year will bring new talent, or at least the subject of the evening’s opening toast:  “To $#!%-tons of money!”

Here are the Winners of Launch Academy’s Second Demo Day

Vancouver’s pre-accelerator Launch Academy provided the stage for 21 entrepreneurs to make their pitch last night. An intriguing mix of the city’s technology startups earned a 60-second opportunity to impress a crowd of more than 250 enthusiasts, supporters, and reputedly even and handful of potential check writers.

Winning over an Angel or two was a slightly higher motivation to pitch than coming in third and enjoying an evening noshing down all you can eat tacos with Ray Walia, (Executive Director and Co-founder of Launch Academy).

There was a seriously palpable buzz to the whole evening. News such as the City ranking ninth in the recently announced Startup Ecosystem Index was good for a collective pat on the back.

There are other strong indicators that the Vancouver startup community is continuing to grow up: for example, drawing the support and interest from the likes of Microsoft, SAP, Cisco and Apple. Then add in attendees such as managing partners and directors from Canada’s top venture capital firms like Rho Ventures, iNovia Capital, and BDC Venture Capital. The evening proved to leaps and bounds ahead of July’s demo day.

It is also worth noting that, as the hub for innovation and creative breakthroughs Launch Academy is now housing more than 55 startups in an impressive new Gastown home. With 9,000 square feet of newly renovated office space, Vancouver’s largest accelerator – GrowLab – Microsoft’s new Windows Apps Lab, and Garibaldi Capital also add a dynamic presence.

While the evening showed off the community spirit, and a collective thirst for networking and beer, it was the chance to pick the top pitch that really got the crowd going. With the top five startups chosen, they each had five minutes to impress the panel of judges: Kevin Swan, principal at iNovia Capital; Leonard Brody, GrowLab Founder and president of Clarity Digital; Jon Cartwright, founder and CEO of; Kimberly Kaplan, CEO of Offeron; and Kristina Simmons, emerging products and concepts manager at Lululemon).

 Here are the top five finalists and winners:

  • Nanu Interactive (First Place): develops applications that add sharing and magic to family activities.
  • myBestHelper (Second Place): helps families find, book and pay trusted childcare that best meets their needs on demand and on the go.
  • Thinkific (Third Place): offers online and mobile courses for professionals.
  • Spokal (Finalist): an inbound marketing platform for micro businesses that allows them to effectively market themselves online to get customers without a developer, SEO or a social media consultant.
  • WealthBar (Finalist): provides online investment advice and financial services.

The three winners received a cash prize of $1,500 and a free ticket for The Cascadia Summit in Seattle, a joint initiative organized by GrowLab and Launch Academy to connect startup communities across BC, Washington, and Oregon.

Doing well at a pitch competition is good for the founders, good for team confidence, and makes for a feel good story; but ultimately is doesn’t validate the business, or serve as a predictor of future success. The best validation for any start-up is earning paying customers.

Leonard Brody delivered what was perhaps the evening’s best observation, saying “the Vancouver community needs to learn some serious lessons about distribution” – really think about your customer acquisition costs and strategy.