Five hundred people attending Tech Shuk in Montreal may very well have been first to publicly see the next big innovation that could change the planet for the better.
A production of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), the annual event is a live “Shark Tank”-style competition, with start-ups pitching their product to a panel of renowned investors. They reviewed presentations from Medialpha, Capsolar, Carbon Neutral Club, Altiro Energy, Decap and Bello Water, all in some way reflecting the event theme of using technology to tackle climate change.
Taking place in late April, the event raised funds for the Climate Solutions Prize, which supports research and development for breakthrough climate change solutions. Up to four researchers will split the $1M USD prize – doled out annually in Israel, concurrent to a $100,000 annual prize to Quebec-based innovators. High-level judges will evaluate pitches, and the winners will be announced at a live competition in Israel.
The judging panel at Tech Shuk were Mitch Garber (Mitch Garber Investments), Jacques Bernier (managing partner, Teralys Capital), Thomas Park (Partner Lead, BDC Deep Tech Fund), Stephan Ouaknine (President and CEO Inerjys Ventures), and Erin Zipes (Backbone Angels).
“One of the best things here is the combination of charity, entrepreneurship, and helping young business people,” said Garber, a minority owner and board member of the NHL, and co-investor and board member of Shutterfly, among scores of other affiliations.
Added Bernier: “The most impressive thing was the energy of the entrepreneurs. 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, whose technology has significantly less pollutants than carbon-burning fuels.
“It was amazing, and we got to meet and network with many people who were interested,” said Nic Pinkerton, co-founder of Altiro Energy. “We were ultimately very happy to get the validation and recognition.”
Carbon Neutral Club won the People’s Choice Award, a vote tallied by audience members.
Their concept centres around a subscription service that estimates clients’ carbon footprints, and sends monies to certain endeavours that fight climate change. Meanwhile, users are rewarded with various brand discounts – including Frank and Oak, Village Juicery and KOTN.
Jack Bruner, co-founder, says that in under a year, they have already worked with the likes of Capital One and the Kraft Heinz Company.
Amongst startup presenters, two came with tangible prototypes that judges could examine. Representatives from Decap showed off a device that fits in a person’s hand. It’s a receptacle to safely dispose of syringe needles after an injection. According to Jamie Magrill, CEO of Decap, it is revolutionary, as no such item has previously existed on the market that completely eliminates the risk of a doctor or nurse accidentally poking themselves.
Bello Water demonstrated a countertop device that, according to its CEO, Marc Schaal, filters tap water eighteen times more thoroughly than commercially available filters, and priced at $200, is significantly more budget-conscious – and less intrusive – than under-sink filters. He’s also included the option of inserting propreitary flavour pods into the water after filtration.
This year’s was the third edition of Tech Shuk, the first after a two-year absence due to the pandemic. At 2019’s Tech Shuk, the weighted blanket company Hush was the top winner of the event, and subsequently went on to appear on CBC’s Dragons’ Den, scoring a deal; and in Oct. 2021, sold majority stake to Sleep Country for a reported $25 million.
When asked what kind of advice he offers to new startups, like the ones who presented, Garber noted: “I usually feel that a lot of entrepreneurs should find a strategic partner or a strategic investor – someone who can really help the business. Usually you’re the founder, and it was your idea, and you actually need another partner. It should be a strategic partner to accelerate the business.”