A transformational experience through LaunchPad

In his welcoming remarks at Mount Royal University’s first LaunchPad Pitch Competition on April 4, Ray DePaul gave a pitch of his own.

“Tonight we want to give six students an experience that’s truly transformational,” said DePaul, who is the director of the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The four Mount Royal students who were awarded cash prizes (middle) Ian Drake, Dan Gyorffy, Stephen Guppy, Aislinn Grant.

Then he went on to justify his pitch to the approximately 100 students, faculty and entrepreneurs gathered in the Ross Glen Hall.

“If any of you have tried starting a company, you know you come out of it far different from when you went in,” DePaul told the audience.

“Hopefully you come out better, but regardless of the results, you’ll have learned a few lessons. That’s what we’re trying to do here tonight.”

With that, the six competition finalists took to the stage, each making a five-minute pitch in front of a panel of five judges.

Nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit

The pitch competition is part of the JMH Venture LaunchPad Program, created through a donation of $250,000 over five years from JMH&Co., one of Alberta's largest independent chartered accounting firms.

Offered through the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, LaunchPad has two components. The first is a $2,500 readiness grant that enables students with a solid idea for a business venture to work towards launching their own company while continuing their studies at Mount Royal.

“Our goal is to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit,” DePaul says, explaining that the program provides mentorship and support from entrepreneurs both inside and outside university walls.

The second component is the pitch competition, where students can win up to $10,000 in cash to move their business idea forward.

Both components are open to students from every Mount Royal faculty.

“An entrepreneurial spirit comes from anywhere — it’s not just a business thing,” DePaul says. “You need entrepreneurial scientists; entrepreneurial people in the arts; entrepreneurial people in government.

“We had a lot of applicants for the pitch competition and selected six that we believe are at a stage where funding could help them launch their own ventures.

“A few have been working on their ideas in our Entrepreneurship courses, getting advice and support from professors and the community to flesh out their ideas. But we also had a few that frankly I was surprised to see — students with business ideas we had never heard before,” DePaul says.

“I think that just shows there’s a little bit of entrepreneurial spirit in all of us.”

Bachelor of Business Administration student, Ian Drake, has always had that spirit.

“Other kids say they want to be a cop or a fireman when they grow up; I said I wanted to be an inventor,” Drake says.

He was one of the finalists at the LaunchPad Pitch Competition and one of four students who were awarded cash at the end of the evening.

Supporting student success

Drake says he will use the $7,500 he received to expand his fledging business, The Lube Dude Inc. — featuring pop-up oil change tents that offer car owners convenient oil changes while they shop at a local mall.

Aislinn Grant, a second-year Health Sciences student, received a $7,500 investment towards Aisycakes, her line of all-natural therapeutic bath products.

“The money is helpful, but what’s just as important is for the judges to validate me and say my business is worth the investment,” Grant says.

Dan Gyorffy, a student working towards his Bachelor of Applied Business and Entrepreneurship in Sport and Recreation, received a $10,000 award to help his company, Cage Recreation, build a prototype of an enclosed turf field for soccer and other sports.

“This competition was important because of the exposure it gives to Cage Recreation and to me,” Gyorffy says.

And Stephen Guppy received $10,000 towards GNS3, an open-source training software company.

“My business partner, Jeremy Grossmann, and I have worked on this company over the past seven years, so to know that these investors see value in our software and want to help us succeed means so much,” says Guppy, who is in his final year of the Mount Royal BBA.

“I feel a real connection to Mount Royal and, now that I’m finishing my degree, part of me wants Mount Royal to come with me on my next step,” Guppy says.

“So many professors have been helping me and mentoring me through this process. I really feel Mount Royal is not just a school any more — it’s a community.”

Passing judgment

Sharon McIntyre served as one of the LaunchPad Pitch Competition judges. Chief Operating Officer with Chaordix, McIntyre is also a part-time Marketing professor at Mount Royal, and she says the judges were impressed with the variety of presentations.

“There were older students and brand new students; high tech [business ideas] and low tech; natural and synthetic — it was a little bit of everything,” McIntyre says, before confessing that the judges had a hard time deciding which students to give the money to.

“The business ideas were all really well polished and each one was so unique,” McIntyre says.

Her fellow judges included Randy Thompson, Chief Executive Officer of VA Angels;
Guillaume Bedard, founder of Alberta Winestein; Laurie Jensen, Assistant Chair, Entrepreneurship with the Bissett School of Business, and Ray DePaul.

McIntyre says the judges’ final decisions were based on a range of considerations.

“With some people, it was the technology; with others it was just the passion and the idea and the experience that they have that was so great,” she says.

Audience participation

According to DePaul, one final group had an important role to play during the pitch competition, and that was the audience.

“Part of our goal for the competition was to showcase our great students and to give them financial support, but part of it was to let an audience of 100-plus start to wonder, ‘How can I help this person? Is there a partner or a customer or an investor I could introduce to these students to really give them a leg up in trying to fulfill their dreams?’”

At the end of the night, after all the awards were presented, DePaul had one more announcement to make.

“For the students in the room, we do this all again in the fall,” he said. “The $2,500 readiness grants will be available so I encourage you all to apply.

“I couldn’t be more proud of tonight’s group of students, and I hope you all share that enthusiasm.”

— Nancy Cope, April 18, 2013