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Winners of the VentureLab HardTech pitch competition are innovating amid ongoing chip shortages

Winners of the VentureLab HardTech pitch competition are innovating amid ongoing chip shortages

VentureLAB's hardtech pitch competition ended at the end of June, with prizes awarded to three Canadian tech startups.

The competition, in which eight finalists went face-to-face for victory, hosted entrepreneurs from across the tech spectrum as they presented their best pitches to a panel of judges for more than $100,000 in prizes.

Winners of the competition included Toronto-based mining technology company Rockmass Technologies, as well as second place Titan Haptics, a haptics company that manufactures "HD motors" for use in gaming, automotive and more. Cyberworks Robotics took third place.

Rockmass, represented in the competition by Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient and CEO Shelby Yee, presented its winning Axis Mapper device. Digital tools are already used in mines around the world to help quickly and accurately gather critical information on ore deposits to allow more economical decision making.

"The core technology of Axis Mapper is based on a PhD thesis that we commercialized from Queen's University through the Queen's Innovation Center. What Mapper does is it provides data to geologists and engineers and [organizations that manage] underground mines." and enables us to capture more quickly and accurately, while also being able to seamlessly integrate it with industry-standard software analytics tools,” Yi said.

Yee explained that the hardtech pitch competition marked the first time Rockmas had touched base with VentureLab, which provided them with an opportunity they could not pass up.

“We heard about [VentureLAB] several years ago. We wanted to get involved and pitch competition seemed like a great way to start… the fact that VentureLab has such a background in hardware, I think That it can really help us accelerate our scale-up efforts, especially within manufacturing.

With its grand prize win of $20,000, $15,000 in product services and $5,000 in manufacturing services, among other such prizes, Yee explained that the group hopes to create a scalable manufacturing process. They would also like to build some prototypes for the new hardware development that Rockmass is planning.

Finishing in second place was TITAN Haptics, represented by Tim Szato. Szeto's presentation to the judges explored the role of haptic technology in diverse fields and shed light on the company's proprietary magnet-powered technology behind its haptic devices. Szeto spoke at length with Titan Haptics teammate Ashley Huffman about how important it is to not only carve a niche for yourself in the tech ecosystem, but to do so as a Canadian company.

“I think it allows us to embed more into the Canadian tech ecosystem,” Szeto said. "We've had a lot of engagement in Silicon Valley before, and being Canadian, it's really refreshing and awesome to tap even more into the Canadian ecosystem, and hardtech in particular."

Jamie Dinsmore, Vice President and Canadian Country Manager for VentureLab partner Siemens Digital Industries Software, sees Titan Haptics as significantly impacting Canada's technology sector.

“Given their [Titan Haptics] influence…became important because what they are doing has wide commercial applications. They are starting out with consumer devices with regards to cell phones, but they move into gaming . . . It's a unique way to interface with technology," Dinsmore said.

Both Szeto and Huffman said they hope to use their winnings of $1,000 in cash and the additional rewards of a free membership to the Siemens Accelerator platform to help grow the business.

Huffman specifically highlighted the doors that access to the Siemens platform will open for Titan Haptics. He said the ability to access the tools the accelerator platform provides is the "most exciting thing" for engineers.

According to Dinsmore, Siemens is always looking to accelerate and support the work of Canadian tech startups.

"We know companies can get there, but they need help. They don't have the resources of Siemens. So we can supply that," he said.

tackling chip shortage

The competition also sought to encourage innovation in semiconductor technology. Dinsmore noted that recent progress in this area has been remarkable, and described the latest acceleration as "mind-blowing" and "disruptive" despite the ongoing chip shortage.

The teams at both Rockmass and TITAN Haptics acknowledge that recent COVID-related hiccups in the supply chain have forced them to adjust and innovate.

"I think what the supply chain has enabled us to do is really look at risk mitigation and forecasting. So it's kind of highlighted that 'we're going through a sustainable and scalable manufacturing process from 10 to 100' You're about to leave. How do you make it up?'" Yi said.

He further said that the reduction of the chip not only helped strengthen Rockmas's already existing relationship with its supply chain, but also allowed the company to focus on efficient manufacturing efforts.

TITAN Haptics echoed a similar sentiment, noting that the lack of a chip had affected it in an unexpected way.

Szeto said, "For a new technology company that is introducing new technologies, it is more challenging to factor new product introductions with our customers ... and even more difficult to buy chips for those products and basically Much more expensive than we thought we had planned."

Tech startups are the future

Despite these short-term obstacles, winners expressed optimism for the future and acknowledged that the Canadian tech sector will be critical to the global technology market for years to come.

“We are seeing a really strong ecosystem that, I think, is helping to retain talent in Canada, which has been a problem in the past… there are some really unprecedented opportunities that contribute to our economy. Do. Give up," Yi said.

Huffman gives a lot of credit to incubators like VentureLab for helping the wave of Canadian tech companies survive and thrive more than ever before.

Dinsmore expressed similar admiration for the brightest Canadian tech minds of tomorrow.

“I see a bright future, we are developing incredibly smart talent out of university,” he said. "And these incubators, and their ability to assist, just accelerate the journey."

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