Three more N.L. tech startups attract Silicon Valley attention

Three more N.L. tech startups attract Silicon Valley attention

How do you prepare to pitch your company to what is arguably the world’s leading tech accelerator in Silicon Valley?

With days and days of rehearsing, quizzing and hitting the gym, says Scott Stevenson, CEO and co-founder of Rally, a St. John’s based company looking to change the legal profession with software that makes legal contracts and documents understandable to computers.

“The interview is only 10 minutes long. We just spent days quizzing each other, preparing responses, thinking of every question imaginable,” Stevenson says.

He even did a few squats right before he went into the meeting, he says. “I’m not some gym bro, but it helps you feel good.”

Rally was one of three startups in the emerging St. John’s tech sector to get some love from Silicon Valley powerhouses in the past few weeks. Stevenson was flown to Mountain View, California, last week to pitch Rally to the Y Combinator accelerator. Companies like Dropbox and AirBnB are among its graduates.

Rally wasn’t ultimately accepted into the Y Combinator program, but Stevenson said just being there was a big deal. 

“You meet cool people just waiting there.”

Brett Vokey, CEO and founder of BreatheSuite, agrees.

Brett Vokey is just 23 (!). He built BreatheSuite as he finished his engineering degree at MUN.

He was invited there, too, and pitched BreatheSuite’s device for inhalers which, coupled with an app, can let users know if they’re getting the medication they’ve been prescribed. BreatheSuite also wasn’t accepted into the accelerator, but Vokey says he’s glad he went. 

Read more about BreatheSuite: N.L. medical tech company raises $550,000

“It was intense and fast-paced, but [we] got some really good feedback that we’ll be taking into account over the next few months as we continue to grow,” Vokey said.

St. John’s-based CoLab Software announced this spring it was the first Atlantic Canadian company to be accepted into the Y Combinator program. Sequence Bio, also based in St. John’s announced its acceptance into the program shortly thereafter.

Safa part of Plug and Play network

As Vokey and Stevenson pitches their companies at Y Combinator, Mandy Woodland got word that Safa, a St. John’s-based company she recently co-founded with well-known entrepreneur Jason Trask, had been accepted into the Plug and Play network, which puts them in the running to be a part of a Plug and Play accelerator.

Mandy Woodland and Jason Trask are co-founders of Safa.

Plug and Play is based in Sunnyvale, California and was an early investor in Google, Dropbox and PayPal.

“It’s really motivating to be able to be part of such an experienced organization. They offer so much support and mentorship,” Woodland says

They also offer office space for a few months, and major connections that could set Safa up with key partners, investors and suppliers, she says.

Safa has just released an artificial intelligence-driven employee retention platform, called Safa Insight, that uses industrial-organizational psychology to help employers method to measure the likelihood of turnover.

Using data from sources like a company’s HR files and review questionnaires, as well as publicly-available labour market information, Safa Insight can help employers identify retention problems and prescribe solutions.

“We want it to be useful for the employer, but also protect the privacy of the employees,” Woodland said.

Woodland says she’s gunning to have Safa accepted into Plug and Play’s spring 2020 accelerator program. She’ll also be pitching Safa later this month the Volta Cohort pitch event, and at the 2020 Americas Lodging Investment Summit in Los Angeles in January.

The latest report from online news outlet Entrevestor shows the startup community is thriving in St. John’s. In 2018, 24 new companies set up shop in the city, making it the second-hottest growth spot in Atlantic Canada. Halifax was first, with 40 new companies that year.

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