Taming the LiONS
There's nothing fantastical to this competition.
All it takes is a little blood, sweat, and tears to be crowned one of the winners in Hamilton's fourth annual LiON'S LAIR competition on Oct. 2.
Jointly presented by Innovation Factory and The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, the competition provides the unique opportunity for ten companies to present their ideas to a panel of local business executives called "Lions." If they can impress the executives with their pitch, companies have the chance to win over $160,000 in cash and business services.
Created in the same vein as the hit Canadian television show "Dragon's Den" and other similar entrepreneurial shows around the world, the gala has brought together the best and brightest new business ideas in the Hamilton area. And with representation from big companies like RBC and KPMG on the panel, there's certainly a level of pomp and circumstance that's present at the event.
But the success goes beyond a partnership with big names, noted Emily Kinread, Marketing and Communications Director at Innovation Factory.
"[We chose] business experts who we think can really evaluate which companies are going to be very successful and give them some constructive feedback where they see some gaps," she said.
"This is our fourth year doing it, so we kind of know what's important, what [finalists] need to go through, so we go through how they should be developing their pitch, what components should be addressed," said Kinread. "We really want them to think about those things and set them up for success for this competition."
Although this year's event is only their fourth go at it, Innovation Factory is no stranger to working with start-ups and entrepreneurs. One of 16 regional innovation centres in Ontario, they receive support from the provincial government in order to help nurture and facilitate the growth of entrepreneurs and their ideas. With a focus on the Hamilton area, the centre works closely with budding companies to provide a strong foundation for them to build on.
"[We provide] the workshop component so we can train them and give them that business background that they may not already have," Kinread explained. "Some of them may have a great idea but have no idea how to commercialize it, so were here to support that and then offer one-on-one mentoring for the people that are maybe a little bit further along and need that type of support as well."
In that spirit, LiON'S LAIR is an opportunity that goes far beyond the cash prize. With over 500 seats already sold for the event, the gala is an opportunity for young companies to learn and network with a diverse share of people. And for a Hamilton competition all about innovation and bright ideas, McMaster has its fair share of proud representation.
For example, Graham Spry, a fifth-year Chemical Engineering and Management student, is one of the co-heads of QHealth, a mobile and web app that lets users streamline their experience at local clinics by allowing them to view the number of patients already there and letting them fill out their required information beforehand.
Along with having some of the youngest company heads in the competition, QHealth is also one of the newest. Stemming from an idea among eight strangers in Hamilton's Startup Weekend back in April 2014, the team is now headfirst in the process of making their concept a reality.
"For the four months of summer, it was a process of validating our business as well as building our pitch, to try and make ourselves a valid contender," Spry explained. "The competition was definitely propelling QHealth much faster and much farther than any of us expected."
"The experience has been invaluable," he continued. "Going into LiONS LAIR, I personally had very little experience as far as starting a business. The people and team at IF were helpful right from the get go, so as soon as we got accepted as a top ten finalist, they were there to help us with our pitch development [...] as well as building a strong business proposal."
That sentiment was echoed by fellow finalist Yousif Hassan, co-founder of Tangobits, and a masters student in the Engineering Entrepreneurship and Innovation program at McMaster.
"The guys at Innovation Factory have been really helpful," Hassan said. "They put us through an intensive program, and the program is really good. It really helps you crystallize your idea, figure out what's the best way to actually communicate it."
The idea behind Tangobits is to allow buyers and sellers in the Ontario housing market the opportunity and know-how to sell their homes, from one, easy to use app.
"When we looked at the market, 45 percent of [first-time] home sellers look at selling it by themselves," Hassan explained. "We developed a mobile app [that] kind of acts like a virtual real-estate agent that's going to guide the seller through the entire process."
With eight other competitors bringing their best pitches for their products, the competition is expected to live up to its grand title.