TiECon Canada’s conference ‘slingshots’ Ottawa entrepreneur to success

“TiECon’s goal is to connect Ottawa entrepreneurs to what’s happening in the world,” says Bharat Rudra, president of TiE Ottawa. And you can’t put it much simpler than that.

Now in its fourth year, TiECon Canada is an annual conference featuring keynote talks and panels by entrepreneurs, investors and other business leaders. Among the heavyweights this year is Divya Narendra, who is not only the CEO and founder of SumZero – a collaborative platform for investors – but is also the former Harvard roommate of the Winklevoss twins at the time of Facebook’s inception.

What speakers like Mr. Narendra bring to the conference are insights into the technologies, developments and disruptions that are making a global impact, according to Mr. Rudra. He says what separates TiECon from other conferences is the benefit for entrepreneurs at any stage and in any industry.

“SaaS North is all about SaaS. GTEC is all about government. We’re all about entrepreneurship.”

TiECon Canada is the flagship conference for this country’s chapters of The Indus Entrepreneurs organization, a global business network involved in mentoring, networking, education, incubating and funding. TiE was founded in 1992 in Silicon Valley by several entrepreneurs, executives and professionals with South Asian roots.

Mr. Rudra says the benefit to TiECon Canada being in Ottawa is the chance for local entrepreneurs to showcase themselves to the global audience.

The event includes a PitchFest, which is an opportunity to attract investors and customers, as well as earn some funding. While the PitchFest prize started as a small fund raised from TiE leaders, Mr. Rudra says it is now entirely funded by external investors, a sign of conference’s growth and investor confidence in TiECon’s candidates.

Last year, MindBridge AI – then called Squanto – took top prize at the TiECon PitchFest. A few days after the successful pitch, the company secured a friends and family investment round, brought in entrepreneur Eli Fathi as CEO and began building a management team around him. Shortly after, the company raised a seed round of more than $1.5 million, according to founder Solon Angel. He says that without TiECon as a jumping off point, much of that success may not have happened.

“Winning TiECon Canada was the first slingshot. Then we kept it going,” he says. “We might not have made it without it. We would have burnt all our cash way faster.”

The benefits of winning PitchFest extend beyond the prizes of $25,000 in cash investment and $100,000 worth of in-kind services from contributing companies. Mr. Angel says the investment committee’s advice in preparing their pitchdeck and the exposure to potential clients and investors was invaluable.

“TiECon really was our coming-out party,” he says. “It allowed us to put our name on the Canadian scene.”

When investors ask Mr. Angel about how he has achieved such rapid growth in a short period of time, he says leveraging community support has made all the difference.

“TiECon is one of those great assets. It’s a trampoline for entrepreneurs … It will take you higher if you know how to use it right,” he says, including organizations like Invest Ottawa among those that have taken MindBridge to the next level.

The focus of this year’s conference is on disruptive entrepreneurship and how attendees can best align themselves with emerging technology and business models. Mr. Rudra adds that another focus of this year’s conference is on young entrepreneurs. TiECon is taking attendees from the city’s four post-secondary schools and running sessions directed at successfully launching their startup ideas.

TiECon Canada 2016 runs at the Brookstreet Hotel from Nov. 3-4.