Startup pitch marathon expands across the Prairies

· The Pulse

Since 2020, Alberta's premier pitch marathon has brought startups and entrepreneurs together to market their ideas and meet peers and investors. Now rebranded as the Great Prairies Pitch Marathon, organizers aim to showcase 200 startups from Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

The event gives participants three minutes each to pitch their company, and serves as a "State of the Union" for the innovation community, service organizations, and community partners, said Zack Storms, founder of Startup TNT, which is the lead organizer of the Great Prairies Pitch Marathon.

"When you read about what makes for a strong, resilient startup ecosystem, one of the key factors is having both strong relationships among the players internally in the ecosystem, but also connections, relationships with other startup communities," Storms said. "(It) just kind of makes for a more robust, resilient community long-term."

The marathon will be hosted on Zoom and live-streamed on YouTube on Aug. 18, with after-parties scheduled in Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg. The deadline to apply to pitch is midnight on Aug. 16.

In its first year, the pitch marathon drew around 100 participants. The event has since become a platform for companies ranging from the "ideas on paper" stage of development to well-funded startups with 50-person teams. This year, there are 30 co-hosts lined up, and the organizers hope to have 200 presenters signed up to pitch during the day-long event.

A screenshot of Zack Storms, wearing a Startup TNT T-shirt, at the Great Alberta Pitch Competition in 2021

The evolution of the pitch marathon has mirrored the development of Startup TNT itself, says founder Zack Storms as his organization prepares for a day-long, Prairies-wide event on Aug. 18. (Startup TNT/YouTube)

"The expansion of the pitch marathon kind of parallels the expansion of our own organization," said Storms. The inaugural Great Alberta Pitch Marathon in 2020 represented an expansion for Startup TNT from being just Edmonton-based to an Alberta-based organization. "And then, as an organization, we've grown to thinking more of ourselves as a Prairie-based organization, not just an Alberta-based organization."

Branching out beyond Edmonton is also a reflection of the geographic spread of industry innovation, Storms suggested. For example, Saskatchewan is positioned to become a global leader in agtech, according to industry experts, and the global agri-food investment platform THRIVE by SVG Ventures established its Canadian headquarters in Calgary in 2021.

There are no judges, no winners, and no cash prizes awarded for the marathon, but the attention garnered at the summer gathering has helped presenters connect with a community to grow their ideas and gain high-quality referrals, Storms said, noting that several companies have gone on to find funding at Startup TNT's Investment Summits. It also exposes entrepreneurs from varied sectors to innovation and work going on outside their local bubbles.

"It's honestly one of the unique and rare occurrences where entrepreneurs from all those sectors and all those stages are all in one location pitching as part of a bigger community," Storms said.