Canadian entrepreneurship may be synonymous with dragons, but another creature is stealing the spotlight in Southern Ontario.
The annual Lion’s Lair competition is now underway in the city of Hamilton. Currently in its third year, the event is hosted by the city’s chamber of commerce and regional innovation centre, called Innovation Factory. For local entrepreneurs with a great business idea, there’s a maximum of $100,000 up for grabs.
Keanin Loomis, the COO of Innovation Factory, talked to Techvibes about the history of the competition, which began roughly two and a half years ago when the centre was looking to do a signature event. “We really wanted to do something that highlighted entrepreneurship and was engaging for the community,” Loomis said.
Hamilton is a very different place compared to Toronto, but that’s a good thing, said Loomis. There are many benefits of launching a startup in a smaller city, like lower overhead costs.
“People here understand what happens when you spend your money locally,” he noted. “It’s a tight community that is always thinking about what’s best for Hamilton. It’s easy to support local businesses.”
The importance of community-based entrepreneurship hasn’t been lost on past winners. Weever Apps, which took the top prize in 2011, has gone on to develop software with a local focus, like the MyHamilton app. Last year, Weever Apps also collaborated with Mohawk College to create a web-based mobile app for local students.
The competition judges, called the “lions,” are regional entrepreneurs and business experts with ties to the community. Last year's panel included Sophia Aggelonitis, a former MPP and Ontario Cabinet Minister, as well as Dr. Nick Bontis, a professor at the DeGroote School of Business in Hamilton.
Recently, Dr. Bontis spoke to the Hamilton Spectator about his experience with Lion’s Lair.
"Of all of the great events that happen in Hamilton, I have to say Lion’s Lair is one of my favourites. It not only showcases some of the great startups in our community, but also awards the best of the best in much-needed investment and in-kind services. Lion’s Lair is an event you walk away from feeling proud to be a Hamiltonian."
Another way that Lion’s Lair connects with the community is through television. Like Dragon’s Den, the competition will be broadcast on a local news station. Ten finalists will record their pitches on camera, and the lions will decide which pitch is most deserving of the funds.
Televising the competition is an important part of the business-building process since it helps entrepreneurs land in the "consciousness of the community." And based on past experience, local startups tend to leave a mark well after the competition is over. “Everyone in the community has an opinion on who should have won," said Loomis.
Applicants in the Hamilton area have until April 30 to submit their business plans for the 2013 competition. The final results of Lion’s Lair will be announced this autumn at an annual gala.