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Most tech conferences have pitch competitions; here’s how Elevate’s was different

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Despite headlines advertising Martha Stewart, Chris Hadfield, and Michelle Obama as speakers, Elevate Tech Festival was not only about the celebrity names. Out of the around 200 speakers and presenters, only a handful were household names. What some lacked in celebrity status, though, they made up in practical business experience.

The pitch competition, ElevateR Pitch, is one area where business acumen ruled over social media following. Split over two days and conducted March Madness style, 32 startups competed against each other in head-to-head battles.

Startups competed for $10,000 in Amazon Web Services credits and automatic entry into the Nitro startup accelerator program by law firm Blakes, Cassels, and Graydon. The prize could be life-changing for the entrepreneurs, since the accelerator program would introduce them not just to education but also additional networks, fundraising opportunities, and clients.


March Madness, startup edition

On day one, there were two stages. Each had 16 startups set up in head to head battles. In most pitch competitions, everyone pitches and then judges choose the winners from the lot. If there are multiple rounds, the judges may choose the top 5 who go head-to-head in the finals where judges select the ultimate winner.

March Madness style, taken from the world-famous basketball tournament, uses a head-to-head model. In this structure, two startups pitch and then a winner is immediately select.

The winning startup goes onto the next round, which contains half as many startups as before. The structure continues in this way until there are only two startups left. Those two go head-to-head on the mainstage for the title of champion. At each step, judges are looking for a variety of topics including market viability, team strengths, and more.

With this model, there’s a “winner” every 10 minutes throughout the competition. Further, every startup at the competition is already a winner of previous competitions and programs – that was a prerequisite of entry – so the audience got to see startups that have raised millions, attracted Fortune 500 clients, and more.

In this competition, startups could be from any industry. The only criteria for entry is that they must be Canadian and not have more than $5,000,000 in combined revenue or funding.

This meant the competition saw everything from social networks to satellite technologies. From legal tech to health tech.

What mattered was how well the companies could communicate their mission, their work, and their success to date – all to a panel of judges from the venture capital and investing world.


To the main stage

After day one, 16 startups had “won” the day and got to move onto the final rounds. They ranged from accessibility-focused to legal tech, and all were companies the judges saw huge potential in.

By the time the competition was down to its final two companies – Village Technologies and Exact Technologies – the audience came to the main stage of Elevate.

On the main stage, Village Technologies pitched Babbly, their product that uses AI to analyze speech patterns in babies with the hope of early diagnosis of autism or other learning challenges that may impact babies as they grow.

The company started when Village Technologies’ founder had a baby diagnosed with autism. Early identification meant that her baby could get treatment and therapy, which significantly increased his learning abilities as an infant.

But the process, said founder Maryam Nabavi, is archaic. Brain tests are recorded on paper and faxed to doctors – Babbly hopes to change that forever with technology.

Facing a similar challenge of important problems being addressed manually, Exact Technologies focuses on real-time data access in the construction industry.

When Exact’s founder was pitching, he noted that, for example, the difference between a crane swinging into another crane during construction was a matter of the crane operators calling each other.

Or the difference between concrete exploding or not when building a bridge was a function of experienced construction workers estimating how long it should settle for. Exact Technologies uses real-time data analysis to keep track of all these things with a much lower margin of error than human minds will ever have.

In the end, it was not the judges who selected the winner but the audience. Using the Elevate app, the audience selected Village Technologies as the winner – awarding the company all the prizes and the title of ElevateR Pitch Champion.