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Rockcliff Metals: CEO Alistair Ross is bullish on copper as everything goes electric

Rockcliff Metals (CSE:RCLF) is a Canadian near-term copper producer and active explorer in the Snow Lake greenstone belt of Manitoba.

The company has one of the largest land parcels in the Snow Lake mining belt, a region home to copper, zinc, gold, and silver deposits – the portfolio spans more than 4,500 square kilometres. Also key to the plan is the Bucko Mill, a facility that Rockliff will convert to process copper (it was originally built to handle nickel).

Rockcliff’s growth outlook is simple to grasp, with near-term annual copper production projected at 20,000 tonnes and rising gradually to over 50,000 tonnes.

Chief Executive Officer Alistair Ross spoke with Public Entrepreneur about the realities of taking a mine into production in the current environment, and what shareholders can expect from his team in 2020.

You are a seasoned mining veteran who has lived in many different parts of the world, including England and Africa. What drew you to Rockcliff’s project in Manitoba?

The opportunity to build a mining company from scratch was something I had been contemplating for a while. When the Rockcliff opportunity presented itself, I was asked to take the company from an explorer to a producer, from essentially a one-person company directing exploration activities to a company that would find its way into the mid-tier ranks of copper producers.

I jumped out of my second retirement when I saw the resource base it already had. The fact that some of the heavy lifting had already been done with Greenstone Resources providing the capital to get us through the study phase, and Norvista providing the cornerstone asset of the Bucko Mill lease as well as an important mineral resource in the Tower project, is really important.

Rockcliff’s portfolio of properties is extensive.  Walk us through the highlights.

The bulk of the properties are similar in a couple of ways. One, the deposits are at or near surface, and that would allow for rapid access via ramp and portal rather than shaft. Secondly, they are typically narrow veins and steeply dipping in nature. This has allowed us to focus on designing a mining method that could fit multiple ore bodies and allow the transfer of capital equipment from one mine to the next.

Tell us how you transform a junior explorer into a high-grade copper-zinc producer.

Our strategy is to focus on our copper-rich deposits initially due to our belief that, of all metals needed for the next phase of greening our planet, copper is virtually a core part of almost all solutions currently being contemplated and pursued.

Battery-powered electric vehicles, renewable power generation, storage of energy – all of these require copper in differing amounts. BHP put out a forecast in May 2019 suggesting that at the mid-point of forecast EV penetration, approximately 1 million tonnes per annum of extra copper would be required.

How we are aiming to position ourselves to deliver some of that extra production is by selecting three of our more promising projects (Rail, Tower, and Talbot) for drilling with an eye to preliminary economic analyses. We would then select the best looking project to advance to a bankable feasibility study (BFS) that would include defining the work required to recommission the Bucko Mill.

We would concurrently permit the mining property and the mill to become a copper producer and have a financing plan in place so that – upon board approval of a construction decision at the end of 2020 – we could begin to mobilize in early 2021. That would all be with a view to producing our first concentrate for sale in early to mid 2022.

Outline your work program for 2020 and tell us if you expect it to be a busy summer.

The whole year will be busy. We intend on having updated resource statements for Tower, Rail, and Talbot by the end of February, and our preliminary economic analyses of those three properties should be ready by early May.

From there, we would go into a bankable feasibility study on the chosen property for completion by year-end. In parallel, our permitting for the mine property and the mill will be proceeding, and our financing plan will be completed based on the preliminary economics.

While we are waiting for the BFS project selection, we are drilling our secondary properties at Copperman, Free Beth and Tramping. As soon as we have made our decision for the BFS property, we will then launch an intensive drill program to further upgrade our knowledge and allow for BFS-level work on the resource, mining, and metallurgical factors.

Can you shed some light on Rockcliff’s status regarding production permits, environmental permits, and road access to the Snow Lake properties?

We have taken all the samples and completed our studies on the Tower and Talbot properties. At Rail, we are just short of our spring study samples to be in a similar position.

We have completed our studies on the implications of placing copper tailings in the tailing area at Bucko and found no impact. We are therefore ready to file for a Notice of Alteration for the mill once we have completed our mining studies to understand what throughput may be required to match the mine output.

Roads are only contemplated for the Talbot and Rail properties, and studies are underway to assess both environmental permit applications and engineering design implications.

How much cash do you have on hand and how far does it get you?

We currently have sufficient funding to complete our required exploration program with approximately $12 million in our flow-through account, and we are on track to complete our studies for a board construction decision in December. We have about $5 million in our hard dollar account to support us until then. We would require a raise to begin construction in 2021.

What are the prospects for subsidiary Goldpath Resources, which has five highly prospective lode-gold properties within the Snow Lake area?

We are pleased that Kinross Gold has agreed to continue its earn-in option at Laguna and Lucky Jack, and we look forward to seeing their continued success. The rest of the properties are of secondary interest at the moment and we will be undertaking a strategic review of their role in our company during 2020.

Given your advanced work, has the company signed any preliminary offtake agreements?

We have not signed any offtake agreements but we have been approached with expressions of interest to talk as our studies develop. Our very early review of the ores suggests that our concentrate will be clean and of reasonable to high grade. So with current knowledge, I do not anticipate any issues placing these concentrates on the market at competitive rates.

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Rockcliff Metals Corp. at https://rockcliffmetals.com/.

Cerro de Pasco Resources: A new generation breathes life into an old mine with benefits that reach far and wide

Cerro de Pasco is a centuries-old community nestled high in the Andes Mountains of Peru, but after nearly 400 years, a local mine that once brought prosperity must rethink a path forward in alliance with the nearly 50,000 people who now live there.

What began as an underground operation became an open pit at the centre of a growing population of miners and their families. Outdated mining technology resulted in inefficient yields. Tailings and stockpiles grew, and contaminated dust and water crept into surrounding areas.

There’s a huge economic opportunity in the tailings and stockpile at the site, though, not to mention known in-situ resources, 11,000 hectares of concessions, and unexplored areas.

But Cerro de Pasco Resources (CSE:CDPR) wants to do more than make money.

Chief Executive Officer Guy Goulet and Executive Chairman Steven Zadka have a vision that, if everything goes right, will see parts of the population relocate away from certain areas to new locations with clean drinking water, heat in their homes, and well-paying jobs – for the benefit of all stakeholders.

The company bought the mineral rights to the tailings and stockpile in 2012 and in November, inked a deal to acquire the mine itself and all accompanying infrastructure. Public Entrepreneur caught up with Goulet and Zadka as they began transitioning the company into production, initiating a multi-decade plan to revitalize a mine and restore a city.

Tell me about your background in the mining industry and how Cerro de Pasco came to be.

Zadka: In 2011, through my capacity as an investment banker, I came across the opportunity to buy the mineral rights on the tailings and stockpile in Cerro de Pasco and decided to jump on it.

Guy was running a company called Maya Gold & Silver in the early 2010s, and I was one of the bankers. He closed a very difficult client of mine and had incredible energy, so I said, “This guy knows how to do things.” He left that company in 2017 and I reached out.

Goulet: I was working in Morocco, and Steven approached me while I was on my way out, following the restart of a silver mine there.

We teamed up to accelerate the development of the project and list the company on the Canadian Securities Exchange.

I’m also attracted to pro-environmental projects. In 2000, I co-founded H2O Innovation, which is the largest water treatment company in Canada as of today.

What are we looking at here in terms of metals? What’s the game plan on the mining side?

Zadka: I knew that there was silver, lead, and zinc. And I discovered that there was also copper and gold in the tailings. The grades are pretty good, both because they’re old and they come from one of the richest mines in the world.

You’ve got material, metals literally sitting on top of the ground, which is much less expensive than traditional exploration.

We’re buying two subsidiaries that are producing and permitted. For 2019, we estimate their revenues were about $120 million combined.

Permitted capacity is about 20,000 tonnes per day on sulfides and right now, it’s doing 7,000 tonnes a day, and once we bring these tailings into production, the annual revenue starts getting into the $250 million to $300 million range.

With all the resources we have and what we’re acquiring, we have a 17 year mine life. But the reality is that the mine is going to go for much longer because there’s 11,000 hectares of concessions and areas that are largely unexplored.

Goulet: Post-acquisition combined, Cerro de Pasco will be the largest holder of silver in one single site. There is a need to increase the current production capacity up to its permitted level of 20,000 tonnes per day.  We estimate this will require about $35 million of capital. Once production levels are up, cash flow will start to generate rapidly.

We’re in the process of raising the capital required for the first phase, which is $65 million USD.

You’ve called Cerro de Pasco a resource management company. What does that mean?

Zadka: A traditional mining company is only focused on extracting metals from the ground. That’s what mining is; it’s going into the ground, digging up dirt, and putting the waste somewhere.

We call ourselves a resource management company because we plan to do more than just mining. There are some aspects of mining at Cerro, but there’s other aspects involved.

For one, we’re reprocessing the materials that are sitting on top of the ground, which is not theoretically mining. There’s also storage of waste.

If you can return clean water to the environment, you’re managing a resource. If you can turn your waste into building products, or turn pyrite into heat to generate hot water, you’re managing a resource.

With that in mind, how is resource management going to help the people of Cerro de Pasco?

Zadka: We’ve been completely open and transparent with the community and the local government. We’ve told them the truth, and the truth is that this is a mess that can be turned into an opportunity with some reorganization, planning, and support from the local authorities and community.

The government acknowledges that Cerro de Pasco is laden with lead, and they have a plan to relocate sections of the city 30 kilometres away from the mine. What they need in order to do that, amongst other important factors, is support from the most important economic driver in town. That’s us.

Peru has a program called “Obras por Impuestos,” or taxes for works, that enables a company to use taxes generated from operations to fund infrastructure projects for the benefit of society. You can fund roads, sewer lines, hospitals, and schools.  One of our main objectives is to do just that.

We also want to take it a step further. None of the cities in the Andes Mountains have heat, and it’s freezing every night. We have so much pyrite, which produces heat on its own, that we can harness to produce hot water and we could pump that hot water through the city.

Goulet: We want to do more water treatment systems and educate the young people to wash their hands before they eat. We want them to play in parks where we’re going to renew the topsoil.

I come from Thetford Mines in Quebec, which was the world capital of asbestos. You know what I was doing as a kid? I was going with my bike and playing in the dumps. In Cerro de Pasco, we want to avoid that.

There is a problem of contamination in Cerro de Pasco, but just as important is the problem of poverty. That mine used to employ 7,000 people.  Some 1,200 work there now in some capacity. In an area that is 4,400 metres high, what else is there to do for work besides mining?

Let’s recall that the problem of contamination is not mainly due to mining activities. The old city is located on a geological natural accident: a massive intrusion of lead, zinc, copper, silver, and gold. A “mine” is what it’s called today! And the population has been living from that operation over the past 400 years.

We want to help solve that problem of poverty and restore prosperity in the community.

The company is listed in North America, but what does your management team look like in Peru?

Zadka: I’m based in New York, and Guy’s based in Canada, but the heart of the management team is in Lima and Cerro de Pasco.

We employ several Spanish speaking expat VPs, who are specialists in different areas like mining, geology, metallurgy, environment, health, and safety.

Everybody that works with us has a very special drive, and I don’t think you find that at other mining companies because this isn’t only about making money. Here, we’re trying to make a difference.

Goulet: We’re going to spend $58 million over the next four years on HSEC (Health, Environmental, Social and Communities). We have a social license, which is essentially a vote of confidence from a key component of the population that agrees with our business plan. That’s an important asset in Peru. We received positive signals from the Minister of Energy and Mines, the local government, and the President himself.

Can an environmental restoration project like this also be profitable?

Zadka: There are multiple benefits to the local population and the environment, but at the end of the day we believe this is a very compelling investment.

Not surprisingly, investors are cautious about tailings and stockpiles because they tend to be a finite resource. They would not normally offer the opportunity to find something above and beyond expectation that could make the stock go up by 10 times overnight.

However, Cerro de Pasco not only has 170 million tonnes of reserves in the tailings and stockpiles, but also 140 million tonnes of material in the ground and 11,000 hectares of concessions in one of the most prolific mining districts in the world, which has never been properly explored.

We’re talking about almost 1.6 billion ounces of silver equivalent.  That would be the biggest amount of silver in one location on the entire planet. Nobody else has that.

What does the long-term picture look like?

Seventeen years from now, a large portion of the population won’t be living in Cerro de Pasco anymore. They’ll no longer be affected by the hazards of the area.  They’ll have access to clean water and live in proper homes.

There are still two approaches to mining. There are companies that try to skirt ESG-related issues, and there are those that see the opportunity to deal with these issues head on.

We aspire to be a leading example of why you shouldn’t run away from these problems. If you’re innovative and you’re willing to go the extra mile, you’re going to have a much better impact on the outcome. Cerro de Pasco needs that outcome.

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Cerro de Pasco Resources Inc. at https://pascoresources.com/.

Blue Lagoon Resources: One of 2019’s hottest exploration stocks has quite the entrepreneur at its helm

What is the profile of a “typical CEO” in the mineral exploration industry?  There isn’t one really, though you often find a mix of geology and public markets experience that covers most of the bases.  Rana Vig, President and Chief Executive Officer of Blue Lagoon Resources (CSE:BLLG), is cut from a somewhat different cloth, though. He’s listed some of the biggest names in cannabis and runs a highly successful magazine, and that’s just scratching the surface of a very impressive entrepreneurial resumé.

Mining exploration is the outlier in Vig’s career. It’s the one and only sector where commitment and hard work has not resulted in major business success. He plans to do something about that with Blue Lagoon and is off to a good start, with shares in the company gaining 573 percent in 2019, following a July 4th trading debut. Public Entrepreneur shared lunch with Vig in Vancouver recently to learn about the company’s progress so far and what lies ahead.

Let’s begin with a little bit about your background. What brought you into the mining business? And what are some of the career experiences that led to the creation of Blue Lagoon?

Basically, I am an entrepreneur.  I have been in business for almost 35 years, and in those years I had five start-ups in different verticals – all private businesses and all family businesses. Around 2010, I connected with a very successful businessman who had made most of his money in mining. He recommended I try something different from the private business world and work with him in capital markets.

I was looking for a change. That 2008/2009 period had just happened when everything was collapsing. It was a dismal time in the business world. So, I got involved with him, invested well over $1 million, and in about six months, it was worth around $10,000, because the mining industry imploded.

Long story short, I don’t know all there is to know about mining, but my goal in every business I enter is to be the dumbest guy in the room, so to speak. I want to surround myself with very, very bright people.

I have a couple of strengths and one of them is executing plans.  When everything was collapsing in the public companies I’d become involved with, I took over as CEO and spent several years rebuilding them. Business doesn’t change. Business is business, whether you’re running a restaurant or a magazine, or whatever you are running. The fundamentals are the same. It’s a matter of assembling very smart people who are good at what they do.

I’ve been a CEO, a chairman; I’ve been on boards. To be honest, I’ve met some not so great people in the public company realm, which is something I wasn’t used to in my private business life, but I’ve also met some very good people and developed some meaningful relationships, and they are who I work with.

We will get into your projects in a moment, but first, take us through the concept behind Blue Lagoon. What is the strategy for building the company and creating value for shareholders? What makes Blue Lagoon different?

A couple of years ago, once I’d cleaned up the companies I was involved with, I decided to start fresh. I was very fortunate the last couple of years and brought two of the largest cannabis deals to market. I did a company called Curaleaf, taking them public, and it was the largest cannabis raise in history, at $520 million. I also did Harvest Health & Recreation, which at $300 million was the third largest.

I then had to consider what to do next, and cannabis was retracting.  I’ve had nothing but bad experiences in mining since I started in this business. But it has to come back at some point. I concluded that gold has to be the one, the safest place to start. And I launched an exploration company, and that’s Blue Lagoon.

I’m not a geologist or a mining engineer. First and foremost, always bring together real experts in their fields. Then, go out and find undervalued assets, something where I have the opportunity to add value, because that’s how you build value for your shareholders.

We listed Blue Lagoon on July 4th of 2019 at a little over $1 million in market cap, and here we are, seven months later, trading at over $50 million in market cap.

You have a deal with Mag One Products, whereby Blue Lagoon can earn as much as 70 percent in a joint venture by investing $5.25 million in stages. It is an interesting business and an interesting deal structure. Tell us more about how it benefits Blue Lagoon’s value creation effort.

Mag One has great technology that they can rapidly advance. All they need is the money. It is an attractive value proposition for me and my shareholders.

Why magnesium? People have pointed out that we are a gold company, so what are we doing in magnesium?  Well, that is the entrepreneur in me. I’m not necessarily trying to build a gold company. I am trying to build a mining exploration company and advance shareholder value. My first and foremost job as a CEO is to create value and make my shareholders happy, because they are coming along for the ride with me.

Magnesium is a great metal. It’s 35 percent lighter than aluminum and over 70 percent lighter than steel. With Tesla and all these electric cars, they want to get lighter. Same thing with planes.

The issue is that magnesium can’t compete with aluminum on price.  Enter Mag One. Their technology will compete with aluminum, and even more important is the environmental side. Right now, over 90 percent of the magnesium in the world is produced in China from something called the “Pidgeon process,” which is highly pollutive.  But Mag One is zero-emission. All that’s missing is the capital, and $5 million is not a lot of money. If we can supply them with that, it will advance the project.

I believe gold is going to do really well this year, but if it isn’t quite ready to break out yet, then I have this incredible technology that we can help advance. This company has access to 110 million tons of tailings with 23 percent magnesium, so there is no drilling involved. All we need to do is help them advance the science, and we could potentially change the world.

Gordon Lake is a property you optioned in the Northwest Territories. High-grade gold was found over significant widths by previous owners, and you recently announced steps toward conducting your own drilling. Tell us more about the plans and the timeline.

The reason we like the Gordon Lake property so much is that it is in an area known for gold production. The Discovery Mine did over 1 million ounces, the Con Mine did about 5 million ounces, and the Giant Mine did about 7 million ounces.

Being an entrepreneur, the deal is great. It made sense to acquire that to balance our portfolio for summer as well as winter. As for when we are going to start, we have already engaged local experts in the area, Aurora Geosciences. When it freezes, it gives you access to ice roads, which makes it very economical, as you don’t need helicopters. We hope to get started there later in February or early March.

A 43-101 report was released on your Pellaire project in December. There is no resource yet, but there was historical production in the area. Why do you like this one so much and what is the game plan?

Pellaire is a beautiful property a couple of hours southwest of Williams Lake, also in an area known for gold. It has 10 high-grade veins identified. The owners have been at it for years and circumstances brought it available for sale.

We took JDS Engineering, one of the best in what they do, and had them fly up with us and do some analysis.

One of the things that really attracted me to Pellaire is that there is 25,000 tons of crushed rock sitting right by the Number 3 vein. I had JDS help me with a back-of-the-envelope estimation and we believe there is significant value to be had from that, just by trucking it out. That, along with drilling, presents a great upside opportunity.

The precious metals sector has made a measured but undeniable comeback in the last few quarters. What is your outlook for the metals, and what are you hearing that those outside the business don’t know?

I don’t know if there is anything I hear other than what everyone is talking about. Many of these countries are in trouble and there’s currency problems. We know that, at some stage, gold is always the safe haven that people turn to.

If you look at the Indian community, it is a big consumer of gold.  I am Indian, and I can tell you that in India, a village will pool its money to buy a gram of gold – not an ounce but a gram. My point is that even the poorest of the poor must somehow acquire gold. That tells me something. It gives me insight about a very large country and its desire to own the metal. That has to come into play at some point, as these deposits are becoming harder and harder to find.

Blue Lagoon closed a financing last year at $1.00, and you just completed another at $1.50 in January.  A lot of CEOs would like to be in your shoes. What is the financing environment like for exploration companies? And have you had any feedback from existing or new shareholders that stands out in your mind?

The financing environment is still very tough. I was fortunate to be coming off of two big deals with a solid following of people who believe in me. People believe I have the ability to find the right projects and the right professionals to advance those projects.

We announced $1 million at $1.00 per share and closed $1.1 million – $300,000 of it from me, to show that I am right alongside everyone. The January financing was for $1 million as well, at $1.50.

I never want to be in a position where I am waiting to look for money. I wanted to make sure we had the money secured to advance our projects. We are sitting around $1.5 million in cash.

I also never want to be in a position where my geologist is looking at me and asking if I am going to advance the money to the drillers or not. Being an entrepreneur, one of my principles is that you must always pay your bills. My word is my bond. You can take it to the bank. If I don’t have the money in the bank, I am not going to contract you. I think that is one reason, actually, that I have a good following. Even if things are bad, it is not going to get better if I lie to you.

Let’s close with one of the indispensable lessons you’ve learned in your business career.

It is extremely important to look at who you are investing with.  You must believe that person has the ability to take your hard-earned money and grow it. I think you significantly reduce your risk if you sit with the person you are banking on. There are lots of people around the world with great ideas, but we never hear about them because they don’t have the ability to execute. I have the ability to listen, understand, and use my business skills to advance any project. If you are looking at a company to invest in, Blue Lagoon was one of the best performing companies in 2019 and we should at least be on your radar. I believe we have a lot of runway to execute what we are working on now, and what we may acquire in the future.

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Blue Lagoon Resources at https://www.bluelagoonresources.com/.

BevCanna Enterprises: Building a brand in a nascent category as Cannabis 2.0 takes hold in Canada

How do you build a brand – and a company – in a completely new consumer product category?

It’s a question that Vancouver-based BevCanna Enterprises (CSE:BEV) is addressing as it prepares to launch a premium line of CBD- and THC-infused beverages in Canada, just months after the federal government legalized the sale of cannabis edibles and drinks.

The team behind BevCanna includes beverage and bottling experts who played integral roles with iconic brand portfolios such as Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Vega, the plant-based drink. Led by Chief Executive Officer Marcello Leone, Chief Brand and Innovation Manager Don Chisholm, and Chief Commercialization Officer Emma Andrews, BevCanna’s management is full of entrepreneurial minds with deep expertise coming together to create a vision for a nascent category.

“There isn’t really a rulebook ahead of us, but we have a lot of intel and insights and inspirations from our past industries that we can apply to this space,” Andrews explains.

A nutritionist by training, Andrews built an impressive career in the health and wellness space, most notably with Vega. She was drawn to the cannabis space after working in the natural products industry helping to build emerging companies in disruptive categories, and felt an organic transition to the cannabis business.

As Andrews herself will tell you, she’s a longtime cannabis consumer with knowledge of the entire value chain and various form factors. But it was the emerging beverages category that attracted her interest – and her extensive expertise.

“I’m all about making sure cannabis experiences are accessible,” she says. “Beverages offer the best of both worlds – it’s a very approachable product category for new consumers and something that is easily adopted into our day-to-day routine because we’re used to consuming them.”

Part of Andrews’ job is keeping her finger on the pulse of consumer trends. Understanding consumer needs, desires, and drivers helps the company shape its products and manage the go-to-market strategy. It can be a challenging task for any consumer packaged goods company launching new products, but when the category is almost entirely new to users, statistics and hard facts are difficult to come by.

With that in mind, BevCanna commissioned an independent research group to survey over 2,000 adults of legal drinking age in the US and Canada on their interests and preferences in current and potential cannabis products.

The study found that more Canadians are aware of THC-based cannabis products, with smokable or otherwise combustible forms of cannabis currently the most common methods of consumption.

But it was CBD-based beverages that had the highest future purchase intent – 70% among consumers. The study also found that consumers across all regions see CBD-infused beverages as contributing to a healthy lifestyle.

Among 25 product concepts, the top performing ones included ready-to-drink spring water-based beverages, which consumers see as complementary to their quality of life and contributing to their well-being.

The survey also noted that while Canadian consumers would consider THC beverages as a means to relax and unwind, they tend to associate THC with consumption occasions such as hanging out with friends or social gatherings.

“New consumers and lower tolerance consumers are both big markets for us,” Andrews says. “Part of that is because of the potency limitations in Canada being 10mg THC, so for someone with a really high tolerance it’s probably cost prohibitive for a regular user to exclusively consume cannabis beverages to get the outcome they are seeking. But it will be beneficial for a new consumer or a lower tolerance consumer, or the social drinker who might have a few beverages just to relax and unwind, and that’s exactly what THC-infused beverages can offer.”

BevCanna’s first brand, Anarchist Mountain Beverages, was inspired by the site of its bottling operations on Anarchist Mountain. Products will include a range of THC-dominant, ready-to-drink beverages, shots, and powdered drink mixes, with a flavour nod to the plants found throughout the Pacific Northwest.

BevCanna’s second cannabis-infused beverage brand to hit the market in Canada is called Grüv Beverages, featuring iced tea with a 1:1 ratio of CBD and THC. BevCanna also intends to launch a third brand mid-2020 called LEV, a CBD-dominant mixture of fruit flavours with an alkaline spring water base.

But the products are only one component of building a brand. To be successful, the company has to create repeat consumers.

Andrews contemplates the challenge ahead as the novelty of seeing infused beverages on shelves wears off. “Formulation is important,” she says. “I think it impacts how someone builds a lifestyle habit around consuming these beverages. We want to put out products that have a wide appeal and don’t seem too gimmicky.”

Grüv’s iced teas are familiar taste profiles in easy-to-drink bottles. Potency, too, is important. Grüv has 5mg THC and 5mg CBD. “You can sip these while gardening or hanging out with friends so it’s very easy to fit into your lifestyle and not have it be this one-off indulgence,” notes Andrews.

BevCanna is looking at 2020 to roll out multiple products and brands. Each province must approve the beverages for sale, and the company is already talking to regulators in BC and Ontario. “For us it’s all about planning throughout 2020 to make sure we get the right consumer awareness and retail adoption,” Andrews explains. “There’s a number of different stage gates we have to pass through in order to become a national brand. The larger provinces are our initial focus and then national rollout as time goes on.”

The rollout is also taking place amidst what some investors would term a challenging time for the cannabis industry. Just over one year after the legalization of flower and cultivation, sales figures and returns have been dismal for most companies. Will it be the same for edibles and beverages?

Andrews looks at the two segments very differently. “The first wave was set around flower, which is still easy to procure illicitly. There’s a lot of competitiveness for that product category.”

There are some key differences between the first and second waves, according to Andrews. “Derivative products are processed, bottled and manufactured – it’s a much more complex production, so I don’t anticipate that there will be as much competition,” she says. “Buyers will look to the legal market because there’s a much wider selection of products than they’ve ever been able to experience before. The product selection is going to be unlike anyone’s ever seen.”

On the profit side, BevCanna has multiple revenue streams, including house brands and white label bottling, a joint venture to bring multistate cannabis vape brand Bloom to Canada, a 130 acre outdoor cultivation site, plus an active push for additional joint ventures, licensing, and acquisitions of technology and brands.

Andrews envisions both the house brands and white label business being a global play down the road. BevCanna is in the process of obtaining EU GMP certification which is on their radar for mid to late 2020. Additionally, BevCanna is entering the California market with their house brands as well as white label services come early 2020.

However the industry takes shape, BevCanna appears set to become a key player in Cannabis 2.0. The task at hand for the company is to retain its own identity while growing into a major brand in the infused beverages market.

“I think the word that really captures the essence of what we’re doing is ‘innovation’,” Andrews says. “A lot of what the cannabis business is doing is pushing at the periphery and forging a new path, but it can be subtle instead of aggressive. Innovation can come down to things like sustainability in the form factors or packaging. For us, it’s about finding opportunities that lead to a better consumer experience or a better legacy for our planet.”

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about BevCanna Enterprises at https://www.bevcanna.com/.

AMPD Ventures: Meeting the need for digital speed when every millisecond counts

AMPD Ventures (CSE:AMPD) Chief Executive Officer Anthony Brown has declared war on computing latency.

For the digital layman, latency is deterioration in the speed (measured in milliseconds) at which a signal arrives, gets processed and is sent back to the requesting computer. The lower the latency, the faster the processing time.

Latency is a big deal with online gamers. Any lag, jitter or other performance issue with a video game can ruin the player experience. For professional gamers, latency is a livelihood issue because money is at stake – a lag or glitch means rival players are able to move and react faster to score more points.

“Those milliseconds can add up,” Brown says. “The more interactive an application is – like any esport where they’re continually pressing buttons and moving and doing things, and you’re in communication between the client and the server – the more it counts. Even though you’re dealing with milliseconds, the resulting impact on the application can be quite noticeable.”

Brown has been confronting the latency problem since his days two decades ago when he co-founded the Seven Group, providing high-performance computing for banks and engineering firms and then working with the likes of Disney Interactive on video games. Brown’s passion eventually morphed into AMPD Technologies, which he co-founded in 2015.

Besides video games and esports, AMPD helps other companies bring their dreams to life through data visualization, video rendering, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality, and high-level academic research.

Brown and his management team listed AMPD Technologies’ AMPD Ventures unit on the Canadian Securities Exchange in October, to both raise capital and increase AMPD’s profile. The move secured the company $3 million in new funding.

To minimize latency in our increasingly connected digital world, AMPD develops and employs a method called edge computing, which entails placing nodes, which is where the data and content resides, as close as possible to the end-user.

Brown says edge computing represents the fourth stage of the digital revolution, which started with cable television and then the Internet, followed by the cloud.

“It’s the next generation of digital infrastructure. It’s the next Internet, if you like,” he explains.

The cloud is the matrix of “virtual” machines spread out across the globe that Amazon, Google, Microsoft and others maintain to store vast sums of data and perform distributed computing. It might be the heart and soul of e-commerce and video streaming, but the cloud is also seriously flawed.

Remember, it’s partly about distance. For one, sending and requesting data from the cloud adds to the latency lag. Because of this, the cloud and its distributed computing architecture servers can’t adequately handle the emerging data-heavy technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality that need high-performing computing to function properly.

“What we do is hardware-switched, hardware-firewalled, array-based storage. That means that the storage is separate from the servers and all the servers can access it directly at superfast speeds. And then we put that at the edge, in the urban centre where the data is being used. So that last-mile latency is mitigated as well,” explains Brown.

The company recently opened its first data centre in Vancouver, not far from its headquarters. Besides offering clients high-performance computing solutions, the centre is designed to capture the heat generated by the servers and distribute it to the building, and produce clean drinking water via the condensing systems in the air conditioners.

AMPD is currently onboarding clients and expects to max out the data centre’s capacity before too long. Halfway through November, the company announced its first client, Bardel Entertainment, which works on the popular cartoon series Rick and Morty.

In a deal expected to generate more than $1.2 million in revenue over three years, Bardel will utilize the AMPD Remote Render Service that enables studios to access thousands of cores of processing power without having to build their own costly data centres. When rendering for animated content, two-dimensional or three-dimensional images are generated for the screen from a computer, using huge amounts of processing power.

Importantly, the render service is not hooked up to the Internet but rather connected via direct fibre access to AMPD’s servers in the company’s data centre. That means minimal latency issues by avoiding the cloud.

AMPD has also started a partnership with Myesports Ventures, which runs the online gaming stadiums where players compete in esport tournaments with live audiences. Myesports currently has one live stadium and three more planned in 2020, and has tapped AMPD to supply the computing infrastructure for players and onsite gaming hosting.

In addition to supplying the backbone for players at the stadium, AMPD will be able to let players access the platform from home, giving people in the local area an ability to play an esport with the same low latency experience as esports athletes competing in the stadium itself.

AMPD also is involved with the Digital Technology Supercluster Learning Factory project, a consortium financed by the Canadian government to provide digital solutions for the manufacturing industry. The project will leverage AMPD’s high-performance computing platform to create digital twins of production lines for advanced aircraft parts. The project goes live in December for both simulation and virtual reality visualization.

“Eventually we’ll hit critical mass where we just need to proliferate and get ahead of the curve to be able to build out as many data centres and as many high-performance computing nodes as we can,” Brown concludes. “To be able to handle the load of all those super cool applications coming down the pipe that people can’t even use yet is what we are gearing up for.”

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about AMPD Ventures at https://www.ampd.tech/.

Versus Systems: Clever technology increases advertising engagement to extraordinary levels

Versus Systems (CSE:VS) is disrupting the conventional advertising landscape with an innovative choice/reward model. The company’s main focus is the esports sector, where game developers use its WINFINITE platform to create competitions that provide players the chance to win a variety of attractive prizes.

The platform can be accessed via mobile, console, PC games and streaming media, and thanks to that reach some half a million prizes have been awarded already. WINFINITE is used for games in the US and Canada right now, with a UK launch slated for December. Plans call for making it available in continental Europe in the first half of 2020, and in China around mid-year.

In August of 2019, Versus struck a licensing deal with hardware giant HP that will see its technology used in a variety of HP products and services. Public Entrepreneur caught up with Versus Chief Executive Officer Matthew Pierce last month to learn more about the company and its considerable potential.

How is the advertising landscape changing and how does Versus fit into that?

I think media is changing but that advertising is changing more slowly. People in general don’t care for old systems of advertising, or paid ads. We measure videos not by whether they were watched but by how many seconds they were watched before someone hits X to escape. People don’t care for banner ads or interstitials or pre-roll or any of those kinds of things.

And as content, as media, as games, as shows and all those things become more interactive, and more choice-based and more tailored to the viewer or the player, so too does the advertising. The advertising needs to be just as thoughtful. And for us, the marriage of choice and reward, which is to say that when you get to choose what you want to play for or you get to choose what you’re trying to win, it introduces the idea of earning it, so it no longer feels like an ad, but rather a prize. It feels like something you’ve earned and that makes all the difference.

Can you explain how WINFINITE works and how you came up with the idea?

In any Versus-enabled content, whether it’s a show, a fitness app or a video game, when you enter into the experience, when you’re about to load up the game or when you’re about to watch your show, there’s a menu that asks what you want to play for. You can choose anything from downloadable content in a video game to trips, to apparel, to food, to electronics. There’s a huge number of things that we’ve given away, from tickets to BlizzCon to hats and shirts.

Users see a win condition that says, “If you do this then you will get this, or if you do that then you will be entered into a sweepstakes to get that.” People try to win the race or crush the right amount of candy and then you get sent a message saying that you either won it or you didn’t. If you didn’t, you try again or try to win something else. It doesn’t interrupt the show or the game. It’s there to enhance the experience.

The company came out of an incubator whose limited partners included a large software development firm, a large law firm, and people with strong media backgrounds. The idea was to create something that’s in a really thorny regulatory space that is also difficult to achieve technically.

People love winning things and people love earning things. How can we make that real? We’ve been filing IP on it for years now. We’ve been granted patents covering how to do it and how to do it at scale.

Is it fair to say you’re focused mainly on the gaming space?

We very much like the gaming side of things. We also like things that look like games. Games are already made such that there’s what we call a “win condition,” and the win condition is very clear inside of a game – save this town, crush this candy, find the loot. That’s a really rich environment for us. But I also keep bringing up fitness because fitness looks a lot like a game as you try to run a certain distance or achieve specific goals.

What sort of feedback do you get from players?

Ninety seven percent of players interviewed that have used the platform say it makes the game more fun. And that is not true of most advertising, right? We did a huge survey with UCLA last year to talk about user behaviour and how people interact with media and it confirmed that people don’t care for ads. But 97% of people who play for rewards say rewards make the game more engaging. Once introduced to prizes, people play more and there’s not an ad unit anywhere that makes people consume the content more frequently.

How do you make money from this?

The business model works in classic advertising fashion, which is that the brands that want to reach these players pay to place their products inside of the content, the difference being that our engagement rates are minutes rather than seconds, and the transaction rates are measured in whole percents, rather than hundredths of a percent.

We are much, much, much more effective with respect to getting people to do something. Do they go into the store, or do they go to the website? It’s much more effective when you introduce these ideas of choice and reward. The brands pay for that because it’s just a more effective ad unit.

We split the revenue with the content owner, so in the case of HP we’re in all the HP Omen computers and we split the revenue with HP. When we are in a game we split the revenue with the game developer and the publisher. So, we make our revenue on a transactions basis. Every time someone makes an attempt to win a prize, the company who put up that prize pays for that engagement.

You’ve struck a number of partnership agreements. Is there one deal you are particularly proud of?

The HP deal is massive. HP is a US$50billion company and we have a multi-year deal. They are well known for being safe and secure, and conservative and thoughtful and the idea that they would partner with us, I think, suggests that we’ve worked very hard to be a credible, trustworthy, thoughtful, capable company. HP sells tens of millions of computers a year and they’re one of the most highly respected hardware manufacturers on earth. They have access to not just gamers, but to anything you can do on a computer that you want to encourage or incentivize. We can put rewards around things other than games. The platform also works extremely well for fitness apps and certain business applications.

What would you say to potential investors about the group’s future targets?

Now’s a great time. You start talking about tens of millions of machines from the HP deal and then you also start talking about the opportunities that we’ve got when we grow into some of these other markets, particularly in Asia. You have access to a lot of people playing a lot of games or a lot of people engaging with these apps. And they want to win. It’s perfect for us.

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Versus Systems at https://www.versussystems.com/.

New Wave Esports: Esports investments are the latest thing and this CEO is at the top of his game

Esports in North America is undergoing a metamorphosis. Video games like Fortnite and Overwatch have taken the world by storm, viewership at tournaments is bigger than ever and capital is flowing into the industry from sources that had never considered it before.

New Wave Esports (CSE:NWES) provides the spark for organizations looking for oxygen in the space, whether it’s esports teams, platforms, tournament organizers or technology innovators. If you have a great moneymaking idea in this industry, New Wave Esports is the type of company you turn to for the capital to make your dream a reality.

And it has not taken long for the company’s investments to begin paying off. In July, Lazarus Esports, a competitive team in which New Wave owns a minority stake, took home US$3.5 million at the Fortnite World Cup.

At the helm is Chief Executive Officer Daniel Mitre, who perfectly fits the profile of an esports CEO. He’s fresh-faced – young enough to have spent his whole life growing up around video games, but old enough to remember carrying a roll of quarters to the arcade. With a beard, gauges in his ears and a sleeve of tattoos down each arm, he looks the part.

New Wave Esports went public in October and Public Entrepreneur caught up with Mitre in the midst of a road show to talk about where his company, and the industry as a whole, goes from here.

Tell me about your background in the gaming industry and how New Wave Esports came to be.

I’ve been in gaming for over 17 years. I started off testing video games way back in the early 2000s, where I learned the fundamentals of game development and gained an understanding of what motivates players to keep coming back.

I went on to do community management, and eventually started doing global marketing campaigns. I’ve worked at Electronic Arts (EA), THQ, Sega, Sierra Online, and various music and toy companies.

The past five years I’ve been at EA, and I got to work on the Battlefield franchise, as well as some other competitive titles like FIFA, Madden, NBA Live, and Need for Speed. And esports has always been a common thread in the sustain/retention models of those games, so I’m able to bring my gaming network and my expertise to New Wave Esports.

Then, I met with Trumbull Fisher. He’s a 15-year finance industry expert who’s raised capital across Canada for industries like cannabis and mining, and he brings capital markets experience as New Wave Esports’ president. Between my gaming and his finance, we bring the investment vehicle that is New Wave Esports.

How does your investment process work?

We set up the company in two pillars, the first of which is the acquisition arm. We’re looking for companies that we can fold into the New Wave Esports family. They benefit from the performance of our shares as well as the ancillary services we provide, and their revenues are directly turned into our revenues.

The second pillar is the traditional holdings arm. We’ve built a phenomenal portfolio of minority investments, and as we go forward, I expect to see a shift in our investment approach toward majority stake investment.

We‘re unlike a traditional investment group that just puts in a bunch of money and checks in every quarter. We place investment capital and take stock options in companies, and we sweeten the deal with financial advisory services and new revenue streams.

We facilitate new sponsorships for teams and collaborations with big franchises like Fortnite or Battlefield, as examples, and that’s where teams thrive.

What do you look for when considering a potential investment?

We look at the esports industry in four verticals. The first one is teams and organizations – that’s Lazarus.

We also look at tournament organizers, whether an event is in your local hometown or a big arena – that’s Even Matchup Gaming.

The third is platforms and networks. This is anywhere gamers congregate online, such as online tournaments or an esports gambling platform – that’s PlayLine.

Fourthly, we target technology and tools, which is really the backbone of the industry. A lot of this is behind the scenes, including data insight and business intelligence for esports companies to better know their audience or build a better experience for gamers coming in – that’s Thunderbolt CDG.

We look at the esports industry as an ecosystem. First and foremost, we look for ethical teams that share the same vision as us. Secondly, we ask if these companies are led by executives that have run businesses before, and if not, how we can help. Thirdly, we consider whether these companies are positioned to thrive in a space that may be saturated or may not have any competition.

Speaking of Lazarus, congratulations are in order after the team won $3.5 million at the Fortnite World Cup this summer. What was your involvement there?

Lazarus is owned and operated by an organization called Tiidal. We came in and invested a sizeable chunk into Lazarus in March.

Not many people knew about Lazarus before the Fortnite World Cup, but the tournament came around and Lazarus took second in the duos and fourth in the singles, which led to that $3.5 million revenue into Tiidal. That put Lazarus on the map as one of the highest grossing esports teams in the world.

I was at the airport and I got a call from one of our advisors who said, “Dude, Lazarus just took home $3.5 million! Their athletes are like rock stars now!” I love calls like that.

Why did you decide to take New Wave Esports public?

We see the public vehicle as an opportunity for the esports community as well as other investors and brokers to invest in the industry. We are the first esports investment company to be traded publicly on the Canadian Securities Exchange, and we wear that with a badge of pride.

We went live on October 28, and so far it has been phenomenal. This generates exposure for us and opens up new opportunities worldwide. Not only are we listed on the CSE, but we also just listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in Germany, where we know esports is massive.

How do you see esports evolving in North America?

The esports industry is still very much growing in North America. Asia is 20 years ahead of us, so we look to them as an opportunity to replicate those tried and true models. That’s why we opened up the New Wave Esports Asia department.

But with North America as an economic stronghold, everyone’s looking to see what we do to push esports forward. You’ve got celebrities like Will Smith putting sizeable money into a team called Gen G, and Drake took an ownership stake in gaming group 100 Thieves.

It’s just starting in North America, so the revenue multipliers have yet to hit. So, if you’re at the ground level, you’ll see that coming through.

Look, gaming has been around for 40 years, and it’s always been entertaining to watch someone play who’s better than us. I remember swarms of people at arcades watching someone play Street Fighter, and that’s why Twitch exists today.

As a video game player, how does it feel to be running your own esports company?

If you were going to tell 15-year-old Dan that he would have a career built on video games and ultimately become the CEO of an esports company, he’d be saying, “Get out of here, that’s insane.”

Back in the 90s, video games were still kind of for nerds. You didn’t have Internet connectivity, a mass audience and mobile games that make gaming accessible to everybody.

It’s phenomenal to see gaming grow, and it has created a community that I absolutely identify with. I’ve been able to build a sustainable life from it, and this is an opportunity for me as a CEO to grow the video game industry.

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about New Wave Esports at https://newwaveesports.com/.

HeyBryan Media: Home maintenance should be easy, safe and a few app-clicks away

HeyBryan Media (CSE:HEY) has its sights set on becoming to the home maintenance industry what Uber Technologies is to the transportation industry – a genuine disrupter.

In 2018, technologist and entrepreneur Lance Montgomery created the HeyBryan app, which seamlessly pairs homeowners and tradespeople. In short, the handyman app gives harried homeowners instant access to reliable experts in their zip code who can handle everything from electrical repairs to plumbing, and more.

Every expert undergoes a background check to ensure a safe experience. Montgomery, who has a strong track record of taking companies public, has done a good job of propelling HeyBryan’s user base, with the company recently announcing average monthly customer growth of some 115% since the beginning of 2019. Having contractor and TV personality Bryan Baeumler playing a key role in the business has certainly helped to drive that growth.

Public Entrepreneur caught up with Montgomery recently to talk about how he is creating a carpe diem moment for the company by tapping Canada’s $50 billion home maintenance market, while eyeing the even larger US market.

Can you share the story about how HeyBryan Media started?

HeyBryan started from a personal experience, as do most successful startups. One day, I came home and the dishwasher was broken. I did what everyone does and googled “dishwasher repair Vancouver” and got served with paid ads. Frustrated, I tried Craigslist and wasn’t comfortable with what I found. I didn’t feel confident about who would come, and what I would be charged. Are they vetted? Will they even show up? These are things homeowners deal with every day; it’s the small tasks that we all need done and it’s hard to find help.

So, I decided to research the space and really didn’t find anything that worked in Canada. That’s how HeyBryan Media was born.

Tell us about your marketplace app and what it does.

HeyBryan connects homeowners to home maintenance experts in your area, on your schedule. All experts are vetted and verified. It’s really an end-to-end solution that brings the connection together. Everything happens in-app – scheduling, payment, chat, ratings, reviews and rescheduling.

On the expert side, we provide the opportunity to work when you want and where you want. They set their own rates and get paid fast through the app, with money deposited in their account. We bring the business to them and allow both sides of the marketplace to rate and review each other. This gives us great data on the quality of the work and where experts rank in our system.

How long did it take the company to develop the app and line up reliable experts?

The app started slowly with just our CTO and me working on it in our spare time. But as we raised money, we were able to get additional support to speed up the process. To go live in Vancouver, we did a 30-day recruitment, so all in all it was 12 months from idea to first city launch.

Typically, does the tradesperson vetting process take a lot of time?

We partnered with Certn, an AI-based company that does ID/criminal and background checks in real time. We then have our customer success team onboard them, so it’s fairly quick. We currently have around 600 experts on the platform.

What are your key markets and how do you expect them to shape up?

We are currently live in Vancouver and Toronto with plans to expand across Canada in 2020. Our marketing efforts are showing growth in both markets and the focus is now on repeat customers, referrals and new customer acquisition, but the growth is solid. Future plans call for entering the United States.

What are the hallmarks of an innovative company and does HeyBryan fit the bill?

I think innovation is solving or disrupting an industry. This small task space has been painted with a negative brush and our goal is to change this perception. We are adding technology to a very outdated industry and bringing value to both the homeowner and the experts — this is highly innovative.

How important is it to have a company like HeyBryan with an aging Canadian population?

Peoples’ homes are their biggest asset and research shows that people are staying in their homes longer and home maintenance is a massive market. As the population ages, it’s important to have a trusted solution for this demographic so they can get help around the house with no worry.

Is the HeyBryan app the number 1 app for averting DIY (do it yourself) mishaps?

Yes, with a trusted brand like Bryan Baeumler, we feel we are number 1. There’s always competition, but we share the same values as Bryan and want to be the go-to home maintenance solution. We focus on the small tasks, so we are not looking to get into large renos, but if you maintain your home properly, you can avert larger disasters. Take a car – if you maintain it, the car will last longer, and you can avoid the engine blowing up.

Talk to us about the business model for the company.

Everything is done in-house, and we have a full team looking after technology, creative, design, development, data, marketing, sales and customer service. Everything has been built in-house, which allows us to grow and scale as well as pivot when needed.

The revenue model is two-sided. We take 20% of every completed task from the expert and a 7.5% trust and support fee from the customer. The customer fee takes care of our hard costs such as insurance/payment processing fees. All in, our margin is 27.5%.

HeyBryan is already disrupting the home maintenance industry, but do you have plans for new products?

Yes, we are exploring many avenues both in strategic partnerships and complementary new revenue streams. The opportunities in the gig economy are endless and we’re excited about the future of the overall company.

You were successful in getting Bryan Baeumler to sign on as the name brand and face of your company. How does the celebrity endorsement help keep marketing costs in check?

Securing a celebrity endorsement was a massive win. Trying to build brand awareness and consumer confidence is expensive and time-consuming. Bryan brought that reputation, as well as awareness and trust. We can leverage Bryan’s following and his massive reach allows us to spend money in other areas to evolve and grow the business.

You have the entrepreneurial DNA to take your idea and build it into a business. What is one of the important lessons that you’ve learnt?

Be patient and don’t try to rush to market with a sub-par product. Do your research, plan and always expect delays. The other major thing I learnt was how critical it is to have the right people in the right roles. Surround yourself with the right people in the right roles and allow them to shine. We have built an amazing team and I couldn’t be prouder.

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about HeyBryan Media at https://heybryan.com/.

Public Entrepreneur Magazine: The Inspiration Issue – Now Live!

Welcome to the latest issue of Public Entrepreneur Magazine, your source for in-depth stories of entrepreneurs from a wealth of varying industries.

The first issue of the new decade shares captivating entrepreneurial stories, offering exclusive insights into how the featured business undertakers have harnessed the power of innovation to become genuine disruptors in their respective industries.

This magazine installment also takes a look back and reviews the many milestones achieved during the previous year, and provides an exciting outlook on what you can expect for 2020.

CSE-listed companies featured in this issue include:

HeyBryan Media Inc. (CSE:HEY)
New Wave Esports Corp. (CSE:NWES)
Versus Systems Inc. (CSE:VS)
AMPD Ventures Inc. (CSE:AMPD)
BevCanna Enterprises Inc. (CSE:BEV)

Check out the most recent edition of Public Entrepreneur below.

ICEsoft Technologies Canada: Modern elements key to engineering broader acceptance of life-saving community alerts

When a small-cap company launches a new product line, having an established legacy business in the background is a dream scenario. Count ICEsoft Technologies Canada (CSE:ISFT) amongst those lucky few. The company is already a leading global provider of critical enterprise software solutions for desktop and mobile enterprise, its rich Internet application products being used by more than 20,000 enterprises and 150,000 developers, with a subscriber base spanning more than 400 corporations.

Eager to do more with its mobile technology expertise, the company, which went public on the Canadian Securities Exchange in June, developed an affordable smart communication platform called Voyent Alert!.

Designed specifically for local and regional governments to alert and communicate with the public during both emergencies and non-critical events, Voyent Alert! is a great example of technology being used to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives…perhaps even saving them.

Public Entrepreneur spoke with ICEsoft President and Chief Executive Officer Brian McKinney recently about the Voyent Alert! platform and the company’s plans going forward.

Voyent Alert! sounds like something quite different for ICEsoft. What compelled you to develop a multi-purpose, mass-notification system? 

Our legacy business is profitable and it’s a very interesting business, but it’s also hyper-technical and certainly a maturing market. About 18 to 20 months ago we were tapped on the shoulder by some of our west coast clients and asked if we could repurpose some of our mobile technologies into a new kind of community-alerting system. That’s kind of the genesis of the pivot we undertook. It really represented the kind of next-generation platform that we wanted to go after.

What makes Voyent Alert! different from other mass-notification systems like the Emergency Alert System or AMBER alerts?  

Conventionally speaking, information tends to be issued in a very text-centric format. The text looks like a bunch of words kind of jumbled together. And one of the things we felt strongly about was that a lot of people won’t process that information, or they’ll read the first two lines of a bunch of text and then they’ll move on.

We felt that if we could make it more visual and provide a lot more context to the user, the alert would be far more valuable to them. It would allow them to process things faster and make better, more informed decisions more quickly. It’s one thing to know that there’s a fire on 6th and Main. It’s another to get a picture on your phone that shows you on a map here’s the fire, here’s your mother’s house, and it’s 500 metres south of the fire so she’s subject to an evacuation order. That’s very specific to you and very visual. And it’s our contention that that kind of alert would drive a higher level of community engagement.

Day-to-day communications with citizens are also leveraged through the service. It’s not just for emergencies. Our community clients can advise about snow removal plans, targeting specific communities and advising “you have to get your cars off the street, or they will be subject to tow.” Waste recycling pickup schedules have changed. Here are the city council meeting minutes. That sort of thing. If people learn to trust it at a municipal level, they’ll pay attention to it when it’s a real emergency.

Who is the target market for Voyent Alert!?

There are a number of players in the market right now, but the vast majority of them are focusing on large urban deployments. They’re looking to the Bostons, the New Yorks and Torontos to develop solutions for. And they tend to be larger more complex systems, heavy on the back end to accommodate system infrastructure integration.

Fifty percent of North Americans, for example, live in communities of less than 50,000 people. And conventional wisdom alone tells you that a solution that works for New York generally isn’t going to work for a community with a population of 50,000. As a result, a lot of these smaller communities weren’t being serviced very effectively or efficiently by the solutions that were available.

We decided we wanted to move forward with rich, personalized messaging and really focus on targeting smaller communities and more rural regional districts. Strategically, we want to dominate the smaller communities, as our peers basically target large urban deployments. We want to carve out for ourselves that dominant position in the small to medium-sized communities.

Our product is engineered for that service. It’s simpler and easier to use at a lower cost. It’s not like it’s a trivial market. We are focusing exclusively on building up a subscription base. This is a software-as-a-service play with a large recurring revenue stream. One of the advantages of these smaller markets is that they’re very sticky. You know when you get a client, you’re likely to have that client for six or seven years.

That’s a sticky client base indeed. How would you describe the typical entity that subscribes for Voyent Alert!? 

We basically sell to governments – cities, towns, regional districts, and counties. Those organizations purchase it on behalf of their citizens and then the citizens can download the mobile app and register for the service for free. We’re providing coverage to about 55 different communities in Canada that we’ve onboarded in the last 14 months. Since we launched, the number of communities that we’re servicing has been doubling quarter over quarter. We’re anticipating a launch into the US by the end of this year.

There are several competitors in the mass-notification alert sector. Who is your biggest rival and how does ICEsoft stack up against the competition? 

Roughly speaking, about 30-40% of the communities with less than 50,000 population have no solution whatsoever. The rest might have an older kind of solution that might be an e-mail alert system or something that’s a little bit more dated. Our primary competition comes from the market leader, which is a company called Everbridge out of the US east coast. One of the things we find gratifying is that probably the last seven or eight deals where we’ve been up against other competitors, Everbridge primarily, we’ve been winning those deals. It’s been well over a year since we’ve lost a deal to Everbridge. That says that something we’re doing is resonating with the client.

To wrap up, what’s the strategy for Voyent Alert! for the balance of 2019 and into next year?

We are looking very aggressively at other vertical opportunities that face similar challenges to the ones we are solving for our municipal clients. The residential home construction market is one of those opportunities. Residential builders and trades have a big problem keeping track of their people and ensuring their safety status as well as that of the worksite. There is a significant and clear value proposition here that makes the opportunity very attractive.

In addition to expanding into new market verticals we are also looking to broaden the market footprint for Voyent Alert!. This activity sees us focusing on expanding our presence across Canada between now and the end-of-year timeframe. We will then use that presence as a launching pad into the US market.

We’ll be selective about the markets we want to target in the US. We want to make sure they are the ones that would resonate with the value proposition we’re offering. It’s unlikely we’d go out and target eastern seaboard, high-density urban centers. The Midwest and the western states are the more likely candidates that we’re going to launch into. They are more rural and are faced with the kinds of challenges where we can make the biggest difference.

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about ICEsoft Technologies Canada at https://www.icesoft.com/.