Caption: Jeff Hart (left) and Jacques Bernier (right). Photo courtesy of Dave Gordon.
The next technological breakthrough in mitigating the climate change crisis may very well come from a start-up, armed with a dream and a pitch presented at the annual Tech Shuk.
Produced by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), it’s a live Shark Tank-style competition, with start-ups pitching to a panel of well-known VCs and investors. They judged presentations from Medialpha, CAP Solar, Carbon Neutral Club, Altiro Energy, DeCap, and Bello Water, all of which in some way reflecting the event’s theme of innovation as a solution to climate change.
Taking place at the evo Montreal centre in late April with 500 attendees, Tech Shuk raised funds for the Climate Solutions Prize, which supports research and development for climate change solutions. Up to four researchers will split the $1M USD prize that is given to Israeli start-ups, concurrent with a $100,000 annual prize to Quebec-based innovators.
The judging panel at Tech Shuk were Mitch Garber (Mitch Garber Investments), Jacques Bernier (managing partner at Teralys Capital), Thomas Park (Partner Lead at BDC Deep Tech Fund), Stephan Ouaknine (President and CEO at Inerjys Ventures), and Erin Zipes (Backbone Angels).
“One of the best things was the combination of charity, entrepreneurship, and helping young business people,” said Garber. He is a member of the Order of Canada, a minority owner and board member of the NHL, and co-investor and board member of Shutterfly, among scores of other affiliations.
“I had walked in without any expectations and [was] impressed by what was done,” said Park. “Montreal’s a small community, but in the tech sector, it punches above its weight. The event highlighted its tech potential.”
“The most impressive thing was the energy of the entrepreneurs,” said Bernier. “On the one hand, it’s the business people, the marketing people, and the technology people. But at the end of the day, it’s the entrepreneur’s energy that makes all the difference.”
Altiro Energy was the judges’ winner. They built a chemical-induced engine, which would mean less reliance on fossil fuels and less unfriendly material output.
“I think the fact that they had identified a serious problem — energy efficiencies in buildings — and they had a simple solution that you could copy…” said Park. “That’s a business opportunity right there. No one else was coming up with a solution, and they had a strategic and scientific answer.”
Carbon Neutral Club won the People’s Choice Award. Their concept centres on a service that estimates clients’ carbon footprints and funds endeavours that fight climate change. Users are rewarded with various brand discounts — including those from Frank and Oak, Village Juicery, and KOTN.
They have already worked with the likes of Capital One and the Kraft Heinz Company. “The support at the event was incredible,” said co-founder Jack Bruner. “We are building a solution for people — anybody, you and me — to take climate action. The fact that it resonated with everyone in the event showed that people are ready, keen to engage.”
Two start-ups came with product prototypes. Decap showed off a receptacle to safely dispose of syringe needles. Bello Water demonstrated a countertop device that, according to its CEO, Marc Schaal, filters tap water 18 times more thoroughly than supermarket filters.
At 2019’s Tech Shuk, the weighted blanket company Hush was the top winner of the event, subsequently going on to appear on CBC’s Dragons’ Den and scoring a deal. In October 2021, they sold majority stake to Sleep Country for a reported $25 million.
When asked what kind of advice he offers to new start-ups — like the ones who presented earlier — Park noted: “Look for a problem big enough that you can make money [from]. Just because you care about a problem, it may not be big enough to profit from,” he said.
“Second, get yourself out of the way. If the market signals that they’re not interested in what you’re providing, accept that signal and move on,” said Park. “All the big, great tech companies aren’t what they were in the beginning. They took advice and took a pivot. Don’t be too committed to the dream; be committed to being a successful entrepreneur.”
Dave Gordon | Contributing Writer