Plug and Play Alberta grads get ready to execute

· The Pulse

The 50 companies that were part of Plug and Play Alberta's second batch have made their pitches and had their conversations with potential customers. Now it's time for the real work to begin, says director Kevin Dahl.

"The next big step for a lot of them is just getting to work now," he told Taproot after this week's expo in Banff showcasing what the companies have to offer. "You've made the connection. You've got the interest of one of our corporate partners, and now as a startup founder, you need to execute on those pilots."

Plug and Play Alberta helps later-stage startups and scaleups connect with corporations that are "looking to supercharge their innovation," Dahl said. Partners include TD Bank, EECOL Electric, Boehringer Ingelheim, Pathways Alliance, and now WestJet, which joined to leverage AI and machine learning across its business. Those partners identify the challenges they want to address, "and we go out and source startups around the world that are solving that problem," Dahl said.

Seven of the startups chosen this time around were from Edmonton: DrugBank in the health stream; Aurora Hydrogen, Swift Charge, and element 4 in the sustainability stream; and AlignVR, Trust Science, and Spontivly in the sector-agnostic stream.

"These seven companies from Edmonton all stood shoulder-to-shoulder with peers around the world," Dahl said.

The oldest of those businesses is Trust Science, Evan Chrapko's fintech company that helps lenders identify creditworthy borrowers who are screened out by the traditional credit bureau system. Given that Trust Science made this year's list of Canada's top-growing companies, it may not seem like a candidate for an accelerator program. But Dahl said it's precisely the kind of company Plug and Play wants in its global network of scaleups ready to offer solutions to problems that its corporate partners face.

"For us, Trust Science is a company that has really done a great job of building out their customer base. They are growing, they have a team, they're not just an idea," Dahl said. "They're at that point where they're looking to grow and scale globally."

Most of the accelerators that started under the Alberta Scaleup and Growth Accelerator Program (Scaleup GAP) wouldn't be a good fit for a company the size of Trust Science, but Plug and Play was, said Colin Tran, the company's vice-president of corporate affairs.

"An enticing piece of joining the Plug and Play accelerator for us (was) being able to connect with not only the Alberta ecosystem, but also the broader corporate ecosystem across Canada and across North America," he told Taproot.

Two smiling men stand in front of a stage with a banner and giant letters reading Plug and Play

Ismail Khalil of Plug and Play Alberta and Evan Chrapko of Trust Science were in Banff this week for the accelerator's expo days in Banff. (LinkedIn

More than 30 technology-focused venture capital firms also attended Plug and Play's Expo Days in Banff on Nov. 29 and 30. Dahl would not disclose any deals that may be in the works, but he expects some investment to emerge, even though most VCs are expecting a recession.

Investment dried up in previous downturns in 2000 and 2008, but that won't necessarily be the case this time, Dahl said.

"There's a lot of new venture capital funds that have closed their funding. So they've got money in the bank, and they need to deploy it," he said, noting that Plug and Play itself is a VC and "we are definitely still looking to deploy capital."

That said, where Plug and Play Alberta differentiates itself is by playing matchmaker between corporations that have a problem and scaleups that have a solution, Dahl said.

"It creates a new opportunity in Alberta for us to get those large established enterprises engaged in the innovation community."

While Batch 2's companies work to make sure their new connections with customers and investors go on to bear fruit, Dahl's team will be gathering information on their corporate partners' needs in December and January. Then they'll source companies both in Alberta and globally for Batch 3, which the partners will vote on in February for a cohort that will begin meeting in March.

Dahl encourages later-stage startups and scaleups to apply to the Alberta program, which not only gets them considered for Batch 3 but creates the opportunity to join a network of 50,000+ vetted startups around the world and be considered by any of Plug and Play's 50+ offices.

"It's our Rolodex," Dahl said. "So when a WestJet says, 'We have this challenge,' that's where we go first to start looking for startups."