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Competing for a $10,000 prize: Up-Start 2010

May 14, 2010

Last week, 11 entrepreneurs had the opportunity to pitch their business plans to a panel of judges in the fifth annual Up-Start Competition. Designed as a culmination of CIBC Presents Entrepreneurship 101, entrepreneurs had 10 minutes to pitch their ideas, vying for a $10,000 prize.

The winner was Shape Collage, an online photo-collage application that has experienced remarkable success in the past year with over 1.5 million downloads. Founder Vincent Cheung was also honoured last week as the Student Entrepreneur National Champion in the Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship Expo in Calgary.

“I’m doing my PhD in computer engineering,” Cheung says in a Calgary Herald story. “I had no business background. It’s great to win and I learned a lot about the business side.” Much of that business experience Cheung learned at MaRS through the CIBC Presents Entrepreneurship 101 course and working closely with MaRS Advisors.

Although the limelight is currently shining on Shape Collage, every year the Up-Start Competition launches many other growing businesses.

Janet Markle, CEO of Groundswell Innovations, was recently awarded a grant from the Government of Ontario to continue her work in developing a web platform for companies to crowd-source scientific problems to eager grad students.

In March, Herman Lo from ViewsIQ received $5,000 from the YORKbiotech’s sanofi pasteur Healthcare and Biotechnology Venture Challenge for his system which maps out what a pathologist sees through a microscope in real-time.

The social venture Well of Change has been getting a lot of attention for their web platform where buyers can purchase services from volunteers (everything from knitting lessons to tree-trimming) with all the money going to charity.

One of the strengths of the Up-Start Competition is the wide range of businesses represented. Other highlights included:

  • Daniel Bida’s plan to kick-start biogas co-ops in rural Canada through his company, ReGenerate Biogas;
  • Gopal Valsan’s one-camera motion capture system, perfect for physiotherapy and gaming applications;
  • Armour Therapeutics’ Josh Silvertown is in the process of developing a new class of drugs to slow the development of prostate cancer;
  • United Farms Organic has developed a system to turn the nutrients from your compost scraps into fertilizer for your house-plants;
  • James Standen’s data analysis software nModal seeks to fill a gap in the market between smaller programs like Excel and giant data crunching machines like Oracle.
  • MyWebVine is a system for businesses to manage their referral programs;
  • Reel Work is a web platform for students to explore career options by watching videos and looking at stats from real world workers.

Start on your business plans for next year – the way things are going, the competition is going to be fierce for Up-Start 2011.

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Joseph Wilson @ MaRS

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Joseph is currently an education advisor at MaRS. He also writes on issues of technology and culture for NOW Magazine, the Globe and Mail, Spacing and Yonge Street. He is the Executive Director of the Treehouse Group, dedicated to fostering innovation by hosting cross-disciplinary events.

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