The Next 36’s Venture Day: Eight Student-Backed Start-ups ask Venture Capitalists for Funding

Give nine teams of students a chance to become great mobile entrepreneurs and you get what is called the The Next 36, Canada’s Entrepreneurial Initiative. A student spin off of the provincially and corporately backed MaRS Centre for Innovation, if you will, which backs over 1200 startups, 140 of which are mobile according to MaRS’ Senior Advisor Mark Zimmerman.

The Next 36 is backed by high-profile big business, entrepreneurs and academics, and ideas were given thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding. On Venture Day Monday, the teams were asking for even more from venture capitalists in attendance. The students were from universities all across Canada.

The burning question was though: were the ideas worthy of venture capitalists’ time and money? Were these ideas good enough to turn a profit in what is already a ridiculously competitive mobile app market? The event wasn’t a Dragon’s Den format, where would-be entrepreneurs are grilled by iconic Canadian business figures, but rather anyone in the audience could ask a difficult question.

There are hundreds of thousands of mobile apps, so which ideas were scalable? I’ll go through eight of the nine student backed mobile ventures that were presented in front of a live audience. 

The Startups

The ideas ranged from apparel shopping using sophisticated 3D modeling technology, flirting at an event through your phone, dining with friends via a restaurant app, exercise virtual rewards, a permission-based marketing filter, a location-based transportation app, a photo bidding site for news organizations, a mobile marketplace that allows for safe trading/buying of items, and an app that allows real feedback from real guests in real time.

Of those, Tradyo was selected as the winner at the graduation ceremony — a mobile marketplace that allows for safe trading and buying of items at designated “traydo” spots which could be a café or a pub. They aim to revolutionize exchange and won because it already had an existing membership base derived from just $50,000 in funding and solves a problem that classifieds like Craigslist and Kijiji fail to address—where to safely meet. 

Befitting uses revolutionary 3D technology to create a photorealistic model of the shopper to purchase online apparel. The 3D solution stems from the fact that 40% of online apparel purchased is returned due to improper fit. They say 45% of all smartphone purchases in the past year were apparel, and the idea did seem sound and has a great chance to take off based on these numbers alone.

Electric Courage, where people can go from shy to fly, a location-based mobile dating application has lots of indirect and direct competitors given that there are lots of places to meet online and existing social networks. However, the more people spend online, the less confident they are socially in the real world, so this does provide a niche opportunity at large parties and gatherings of people. Mobile dating was said by the company to be a 1.3 billion dollar industry by 2013.

DineWithMe just wants to give you and your friends an opportunity to search over 600 restaurants and find one to your liking while allowing restaurants to advertise to you reasons why you should dine there. Socially integrated, you can get a special invitation indicating that someone has invited you to the restaurant tonight. Dining out is a rather large industry in the billions, so with a couple of big corporate contracts, there’s no reason this couldn’t succeed.

Perhaps one of the more interesting ideas was PlayFit Mobile, which drives exercise participating by offering users tangible rewards for exercising, with the company charging a flexible small fee for every reward claimed.

Push Pal Mobile is an interesting idea- offering small and medium sized businesses a platform in which they can facilitate their permission-based marketing. Every company has a junk mail account, and if you can set it up so that those e-mails go to the proper people, this could be very beneficial and then companies wouldn’t have to spend so much time going through hundreds of e-mails. The company also includes in-app advertising.

Perhaps the most useful idea, at least in my opinion, as I’ve been victim of many cold nights after last call shivering in minus thirty windchill, is Winston, a transportation mobile application that wants to redefine car service. Winston allows you to request cab fares using mobile location technology, and allows for automatic payments. For cab drivers, perhaps a chance to make more money in wake of soaring gas prices.

For news organizations, Posterboard, a photo reporting mobile app where citizen journalists post photos to be bid on. With little to no money to spare in media already, it’s difficult to see how this idea would take off- and especially online where images are widely free and accessible. I can see a video application of this taking off, however- if someone can manage to get a good quality video taken!

Last but not least, Whadyathink? allows for real feedback from real guests in real-time. Customers get a small token of appreciation for participating, and then customer service departments can use the information to make future experiences a better. It’s a great idea that’s already attracted the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Ontario Science Centre among others.

You can see the wide variety of ideas The Next 36 came up with, which gave students a chance to show off entrepreneurial skills at a young age- but the students are walking down a dangerous tightrope with venture capitalists- who can both make or break businesses. Still, being thrown to the sharks is a great learning experience, and we’ll have to see if these businesses can overcome much adversity to succeed.

Regardless, The Next 36 was an experience you could clearly tell the students will never forget based on one standing ovation after another at the graduation ceremony, and perhaps inspire many more in years to come as the program is set to continue- and there are simply very few organizations that could parallel what The Next 36 has tried to do.

The students put on a show, and even the venture capitalists cracked a smile or two.