Four local entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to present their business ideas to investors at last week’s Pitch Sault Ste. Marie event, held at Quattro Hotel and Conference Centre on Thursday evening.
One of these hopeful business owners was Jerry Lemieux, the CEO and founder of Tunndra, a multi-discipline design company in Sault Ste. Marie that handles everything from medical, digital, to cosmetic. Tunndra offers product design, industrial design, graphic design, and web design.
Lemieux’s design company has been in business for the past 10 years, started up after he returned to the Sault after college.
“There was great opportunity here in Sault Ste. Marie to actually start a company backed by NOHFC that really gave me a head start in trying to develop and building the infrastructure here in Sault Ste. Marie,” he said.
Since it’s inception, Tunndra has acquired clients from both Canada and the United States, but Lemieux said he’s hoping to get an investor to boost it via “venture funding” – investment funds that manage the money of investors who seek private equity stakes in startup and small- to medium-sized enterprises with strong growth potential.
These investors were brought together by Northern Ontario Angels – a member-based not-for-profit organization that facilitates the connection between entrepreneurs and investors in Northern Ontario. NOA represents over 476 accredited investors who live and work throughout Northern Ontario. NOA helps push projects forward and bring them to market faster.
“The benefit to an event like this to a Northern Ontario business is that it really gives you an audience which you would never have otherwise,” said Lemieux. “In Northern Ontario, we typically have government agencies where you can seek funding for your ideas and for your companies. And there’s really nothing else like this in the market.”
Northern Ontario Angels Executive Director Mary Long-Irwin told SaultOnline that NOA has been the number one Angel group across the country for the past six years, having done the most deals. She said, since 2009, NOA has done almost 250 deals, investing just over $1 million so far in businesses from technology to medical technology to software development and more.
“We have investors that are very keen on supporting Northern Ontario,” she said. “They have made their money here in the North, and they want to encourage other business owners to start a business here. That way it creates more jobs, and that way their kids and their grand kids will have jobs, and it strengthens the economy.”
Long-Irwin went on to explain that the Angel investors provide investment into a company, and the company pays the investment back, or they take a percentage of the company.
She said partnering businesses with investors is an important way to create and grow the economy in the North, making it easier for new businesses to apply for loans and lines of credit.
“Without that investor, it becomes very difficult, because there are no tangible assets when you have a brand new invention that you’re developing,” she said. “And the Angel investors help with that.”
Long-Irwin explained that the investors look for a number of qualifications before deciding to invest in a company. These include making sure a business will scale up quickly, getting returns fairly quickly, and looking for one that is innovative, but also solves a current issue. She said they always see a plethora of ideas.
“It’s amazing to see how many great ideas we have coming out of Northern Ontario,” she said. “And I’m always surprised, not just at the amount, but the quality of the ones that come right out of the North.”