Canada’s ‘most innovative’ start-ups announced

Start-up tech companies being recognized for their innovative products say the past year’s grinding economy actually helped sharpen their competitive edge.

The Canadian Innovation Exchange (CIX) announced its Top 20 list of nominees for this year’s most innovative tech start-up.

The annual event scours Canadian small businesses for entrepreneurs with winning ideas. Included in the finalists this year are social media developers, green technology engineers, and multimedia cross-platform developers.

An event showcasing the finalists Dec. 2 aims to connect entrepreneurs with venture capitalists looking to make an investment and larger corporations looking for partners.

Think of it like Dragon’s Den with a higher chance of success for the entrepreneur.

“We’re really impressed with the quality of the applications we’re seeing,” says CIX co-chair Rick Nathan. “Even though the markets have been through a really tough period, and it’s really hard to raise money, the quality of entrepreneurs and the quality of the products they’re putting out continues to develop really well.”

The global economic meltdown that hit world markets last fall has no shortage of victims. It has caused large corporations to go bankrupt, put world governments into large deficits, devoured the pensions of retirees and virtually dried up any investment capital available for start-ups.

But it hasn’t hurt Philip Poulidis.

“Operating a business in this type of environment has been a blessing in disguise,” the president and CEO of Morega Systems Inc. says.

The Mississauga, Ont.-based firm is on the verge of launching a product that allows TV subscribers to tap into their set-top boxes while on the go. Creating deals with satellite and cable TV providers who sell digital set-top boxes that provide storage, Morega’s Qew product makes that content available in more places than just the living room.

Users will be able to download or stream video from their set-top boxes to a variety of other devices including iPhones, BlackBerrys, USB drives, SD cards, and other PCs. The product will go live in the U.S. in the New Year.

“We’re entering a space that we think the world is moving into,” Poulidis. “I think that un-tethering of TV from the living room to portable devices is becoming prevalent in society.”

This entrepreneur’s experience probably is rare in an economy that leaves few lenders and investors willing to take risks. The worst of the storm may now be past, but many entrepreneurs are still having trouble finding investors.

The CIX didn’t have any issues attracting interest from venture capitalists, says co-chair Robb Montgomery. Investors are flocking to the great ideas on display.

“These companies have a need for capital to grow and develop,” he says. “Having said that, it’s never cost less to start and test a company.”

Nominee GlassBox Television Inc. is a multi-platform broadcaster that produces its own HD content for TV, Internet and mobile devices. The stamp of confidence it has received from the CIX is sure to help things, says president Raja Khanna.

Not that the recession scared this company either. It closed its first round of fund raising about two months before the economy crashed.

“We have nowhere to go but up,” Khanna says. “There was no down for us to go, because we were just getting going. Now we can kind of come in and really innovate and capture some marketshare.”

The broadcaster appeals to a young audience and has a young team producing its content. Instead of a traditional TV production model, GlassBox hires 20-somethings to produce video edited on personal laptops who are looking for a start in the media industry.

CIX nominees are judged by a panel of industry experts. Austin Hill is one of those experts this year. At last year’s CIX, his start-up company Akoha Inc. – a social networking game that prompted real-world good deeds – won runner-up standing.

The 20 finalists each get an opportunity to give an elevator pitch to executives and investors Dec. 2 at a Toronto event. One company will be declared “Canadian Innovation Leader”.

Top 20 CIX companies

The 2009 list of CIX nominees in alphabetical order:

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