One of the highlights of my summer is always the International Startup Festival held in beautiful Montreal, Canada. Their world class event was designed to give up-and-coming startups the opportunity to hobnob with industry elite, fast-tracking the opportunity for feedback, serendipitous connections and – ultimately – awareness.
For the second year in a row I had the privilege to be asked to MC the event, meaning I got a front row seat for the best the festival had to offer.
While in the greenroom and during my downtime, I surveyed notable entrepreneurs, accelerator leads and investors like Dave McClure (500Startups), Matt Roberts (BDC), Mike Kirkup (VeloCity, Waterloo), David Crow (Omers), Dan Martell (Clarity) and asked a simple question: “Who would you bet on?”
The answers were varied, but one things for sure – the festival was booming with talent.
Here are our picks for the 7 Startups to watch from this years festival in no particular order:
1. Majik Systems
I have to admit, when I first met these guys my first reaction was: “4 founders? Yikes. And that name? Really?”
(I teased them relentlessly about the name – sorry again guys…)
That said, once I got to know co-founders Mike, Adam, Jared and Kamal from Majik Systems, they had my vote of confidence. The team is tackling the extremely unsexy world of machine efficiency, but all eyes are on them as a standout team from Waterloo’s VeloCity. I spent some quality time hearing their pitch on Thursday afternoon and after hearing what’s ahead for them – and I can safely say they’ve got me firmly rooted in their corner. And I’m not alone – they were one of the ten teams selected to pitch for the festivals $100K prize. While they didn’t take home the big money, they did take home a lot of respect from a very influential (and critical) crowd.
Hiring is tough enough as it is without the added drama involved in managing the application process. Human resources standout Qimple (disclosure: they’re a client) were extremely well received at the event and specifically recognized for their clean, smart user interface and functional design. Despite my obvious bias, their name came up over and over when I was seeking input from others. (I warned they weren’t getting a mention in the post unless I heard it from several others! Mean, right?) Perhaps more importantly – these guys signed up multiple new customers during the event. Way to hustle, team.
It wasn’t their first year at the festival (I met Lauren last year) but this year felt… different. (In a good way.) Ycombinator alum Flightfox aims to solve complicated air travel woes by connecting those looking to book international flights with experts who know all of the things. They’ve tweaked their positioning over the last year and have really dialed up their focus on creating an expert niche marketplace. What I loved most about Lauren? Her hustle. Instead of pitching her product, she asked for advice. As a result, she earned the ears and hearts of a handful of influencers. I have no doubt she’ll turn those connections into dollars.
What better opportunity to announce a new $9MM of funding than the day before StartupFest? While I’m assured it was a complete coincidence, I had the opportunity to meet Busbud founder (and extreme great guy) LP Maurice and hear a bit about their big plans to completely change the way people look at bus travel all over the world. A true global company, Busbud makes it easy to search, compare, and book bus tickets in 89 countries (and counting.) In the last year they’ve helped more than a million people find and purchase a bus ticket. I’d say that’s traction deserving of a big raise… Seems like Omers and Revolution Ventures agreed when they led this latest big round.
As a fitness enthusiast and all-around health nut, these guys really impressed me. But what’s more important: they impressed a ton of investors during last weeks event. Gymtrack’s suite of hardware and software products for fitness facilities gives gym goers the ability to track their workouts and get real-time personal training tips. What I think I was most impressed about was their B2B approach. Instead of producing just another wearable, these guys are approaching the facilities offering tricked out additions to their gym equipment portfolio like smart weight stack selectors and grips that communicate with their software.
As a dog lover, these guys got my immediate attention. Why? #1 – they brought an adorable dog (hi Winston!) to Startupfest, but #2 – because they’re trying to help streamline pet care for owners through a simple task management app. Great for busy people, DogSync has created a way for owners to keep track of the tasks associated with pet ownership. A few simple use cases: Notify other members of your pack (erm, family) when you feed the dog so they don’t get double-fed. Does your pooch need a walk but you’re going to be home late? Send a push notification to your spouse or neighbour to ask them to spring to duty. While my husband and I have been getting along fine using SMS for these tasks to date, I’m downloading the app in hopes it’ll add additional value over time.
The winners of the $100K judges prize, Blynk is a mobile personal stylist. And while I’ve seen several apps vying for the same position in the fashion ecosystem, these guys do stand out. What the Houzz app is for home decor, Blynk is for fashion. What I like about these guys is that you can tell they’ve thought ahead to monetization. In all of their go-to-market positioning, they reference being able to buy what you see. I’m hoping that the majority of the experience is e-commerce enabled. (To date that’s still my only beef with Houzz – I want to be able to source everything!)
And while not ‘new’ to the Festival, I’d be a jerk not to mention a few amazing Canadian startups who shared significant milestones this year:
- Breather just announced more funding and is expanding like crazy,
- Shoplocket was acquired by PCH International and is off to the races in an effort to help hardware startups sell their products,
- Clarity announced Clarity Live - a Q&A service that connect up-and-coming entrepreneurs with game-changing business leaders,
- PasswordBox is growing like crazy – they’re now at 40 people and are doubling in size over the next 9 months.
It’s been a huge year. There were a ton of amazing new companies at Startupfest this year, but these ones did stand out.
Who did I miss? If I didn’t get a chance to meet you, please hit up the comments. I’d love to hear what you’re working on.
Image source: Dominick Gravel (c)