BDO Launches First Montreal Pitch Day – With a Twist

Those of you who attend a lot of startup demo nights, networking cocktails and other community events have probably bumped into Matthew Harrison from BDO at some point. He’s essentially the accounting firm’s face towards Montreal’s startup and tech community. He’s been a big part of the firm’s participation in various community events and the support they’ve shown towards community builders over the years. And now he’s also the driving force behind bringing BDO’s latest startup initiative, VC Pitch Day, to Montreal. Now in its 3rd year, the 2019 edition of this event is taking place in 5 Canadian cities, offering selected startups the chance to pitch VCs for up to 30 minutes. The idea being that startups will get more than just a pitch, they get a conversation, interaction and genuine feedback from seasoned equity investors. Only a handful are chosen for the opportunity. An independent panel consisting of Ilias Benjelloun from Desjardins Lab and Montreal NewTech, and Naoufel Testaouni from Local Logic and Queer Tech MTL was brought in to select the participants. “I wanted to make sure those we selected could get good feedback from the panel, so we tried to pick companies which are aligned with the panelists expertise” said Harrison, who is BDO’s Partner for Emerging Company Leader Technology. He later added “Diversity is also an important element, we wanted to include LGBT and female led companies to make sure we have a good mix of individuals taking part.” He explains that many of the applicants were merely hoping to go through the exercise and learn from a panel of Quebec’s leading VC experts. While others were just hoping to get face time to hopefully get on their radar for opportunities down the road. One of the companies selected to pitch was Micropredictome, a startup aiming to provide disease prediction based on analyzing a combination a person’s genetic background and intestinal microbial profile to improve diagnostics. For Alexis Nolin-Lapalme, the company’s CTO, the feedback from the panel is the most attractive thing about BDO’s Pitch Day. “Every pitch is very different. Every pitch allows you to confront your own ideals with someone else’s possibly more rational approach. You’re stuck in a little bubble sometimes. Especially as the CTO, I code, I designed the software… sometimes I get stuck in a kind of loop, optimizing the same thing all the time. Then you get into these confrontations, which of course are designed to help us, and they do help us to grow a lot. Judges have seen different ideas and different companies throughout the years, so their comments help us a lot and can even identify different avenues we can take.” “We’re actually raising a round” says Mathieu Lavoie, CEO at Flare Systems, another company selected to pitch. He told MTLinTech before his pitch “The profile of BDO and the profiles of the investors on the panel is a good match for us. The visibility is important too.” As for the VC panel itself, it’s an all star cast of some of the most active players in the city.
  • Steve Abrams from BDC
  • Sophie Forest of Brightspark
  • Bruno Morency with Techstars
  • Laviva Mazhar at Luge Capital
  • David Dufresne from Panache Ventures
  • John Stokes from Real Ventures
For Mazhar, who is now working at her second FinTech focussed operation, it was important to participate in something a little different. “I’m working in FinTech and I participate a lot in fintech related activities. This initiative gave me the opportunity to contribute to the broader startup ecosystem.” Whether a deal comes out of this is almost secondary in many cases. This is an opportunity for some important actors in the community to give some time to a handful of promising startups who have the potential to help the ecosystem grow over the long term. In turn, it’s a great opportunity for those startups to engage with seasoned VCs, learn, and possibly make some adjustments to better prepare for what await them on their journey. “The discussion was very genuine. A lot of good back and forth between us and the VCs. Of course, they have a much more global view of the market, they’ve seen a lot more companies and how things evolve. They talked about a lot of things that for us were new, like that fact that we’re 5 co-founders which is a lot for a company and that’s going to dilute our shares.” said Nolin-Lapalme after emerging from his company’s pitch. “Now we’ll need to discuss multiple things internally following this morning’s exchange. There could be many slight changes, not enormous things to alter, but small changes multiplied by 10 or 20 will lead us in new, different and great directions. And also, we may have to begin tailoring our pitch to different types of clients to better target our market.” “I like this format better, with 6 people in a closed room versus a pitch battle in front of everyone, because people can be more open. We can be more open about our product and our plan, giving more insight. I also like that there wasn’t any investment in play, only them giving their honest feedback.” Lavoie told Montreal in Tech after pitching, adding “We have different products for financial institutions.  Our main takeaway from this morning was to focus on one product as our flagship, and to keep that one front and centre.” For his part, BDO’s Harrison hopes this exercise is delivering value for local founders, some of whom have no business training at this stage. “We hope at least a handful of companies each year will find it useful. Instead of an award or some kind of a top 50 list we are offering expert input from a panel of top VCs, who also see the value in offering their time for something like this.”

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