Breakthru competition ups purse for entrepreneurs

Breakthru competition ups purse for entrepreneurs

By Rebecca Penty, Telegraph Journal | link to original article

The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation is ponying up the most cash ever in its contest to turn entrepreneurial ideas into companies.More than $285,000 in cash investments and professional services will be awarded to three of the six finalists who will participate in the annual Breakthru business competition on March 16 at the Fredericton Convention Centre. The foundation will officially announce the six candidates today.

In an interview Tuesday, foundation president and CEO Calvin Milbury said his organization was able to attract 30 high-calibre entrants to compete with the promise of investment.

Cash-strapped entrepreneurs need to see there's enough money and resources to give them a shot of success, Milbury said.

“It acts as a carrot, almost,” he said. “You'll attract them out of their comfort zone. They'll take the risk and enter the competition.”

Last year, the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation committed just over $250,000 and, in 2009, spent about $245,000.

“To our knowledge, it's the largest business plan competition ever in Canada,” Milbury said.

Breakthru is the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation's program that takes the early-stage ideas of fledgling entrepreneurs and helps shape them into companies.

Milbury brands the awards package as a “company-in-a-box,” since the organization – with the help of its professional services partners – helps entrepreneurs create their companies, incorporate, do legal work and more.

Five out of six pitches selected are technology-based concepts and the last is an environmentally friendly agricultural product idea.

The finalists are Fredericton's AirMe, New Maryland's CyberPsyc Software Solutions; Saint John's Enovex; Moncton's Gingle; Fredericton's Scene Sharp; and Sackville's SustainaChem.

“There's technical innovation as well as some business model innovation,” Milbury said. “We saw some people doing old things in new ways.”

Barry Bisson, the president of Waterloo, Ont.-based Shad Valley International, said he told the entrants at a one-day boot camp hosted by the foundation late last month that their current ideas for companies might morph into different concepts down the road.

“As I told them, it's a process,” Bisson said. “And the idea that you have in your head right now that you're working on, there's a very good possibility you'll migrate somewhere else. But it's what you learn along the way.”

Bisson said he was impressed with the enthusiasm and curiosity of the contestants and he emphasized the need to foster innovation.

“If you look at the challenge that Canada has as a nation, much has been said in the last year or two about some very prominent economists and business people about our lagging innovation and productivity relative to other developed economies,” he said.

“It's so, so important that we get technology out of the labs and into the marketplace where it can create value and wealth.”

Peter Forestell, managing partner of law firm Cox and Palmer in New Brunswick – which is donating money and legal advice in kind to the contest – said his firm is keen to help entrepreneurs by offering legal services at a time when the aspiring business people need them the most, but cannot afford to shell out.

Forestell, a practising lawyer for more than three decades, said Breakthru helps create an environment of entrepreneurship in New Brunswick that's “vital” to the economy.


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