Halifax Innovation Challenge Addresses Critical Issues for the City

Posted: February 15, 2023

This has already been a busy year for Allison Murray as her company Acuicy prepares to finalize its basic product and get feedback on it from potential customers.

And the young company has had help from several members of Halifax’s startup ecosystem, including the Halifax Innovation Challenge – a program for early-stage startups overseen by the Halifax Innovation Outpost.

The Challenge, several editions of which have been held in the past few years, grew out of the desire by the municipal government and Halifax Partnership to support startups that address acute problems in the city. They identified two pressing problems as food insecurity and climate change. By providing a bit of financial support and plenty of coaching, the Innovation Challenge helps young companies advance their business models and mitigate these persistent problems.

“In partnership with the City of Halifax, the goal of the Halifax Innovation Outpost Challenge is to support complex social, environmental, and civic solutions by fostering early-stage innovation with new or existing Halifax business owners and the municipal government,” said Patrick Farrar, Director of Innovation Halifax.

“It’s important because it enables businesses to prototype new revenue generating projects with a social lens, strengthening, and catalyzing a community’s capacity for economic and social impact. Whether it’s additional funding, training, or connections, there’s lots of great projects out there – they might just need a bit of support.”

Over the past three years, the Innovation Outpost – in collaboration with the city’s JustFOOD and HalifACT teams – has hosted five Innovation Challenges, which are pitching competitions for companies or organizations addressing the two highlighted problems. The winners each received $5,000 in development funds and joined a program that helped them to develop their business and helped the entrepreneurs make more contacts within the community.

These groups have gone on to secure over $1 million in follow-up investment.

Some of the winners are known to many people – such as Easy Platter and Hope Blooms, which both were successful in raising investment on the CBC reality TV show Dragons’ Den. One winner Drinkable Water Solutions has won several pitching events in Nova Scotia, including the $30,000 BioInnovation Challenge, which is the top competition for early-stage life sciences companies in the region.

Other winners are just beyond the idea stage and have been flying below most people’s radar.

One of the early-stage companies is Acuicy, which Murray and Co-Founder Dawne Skinner launched in 2022. They are developing a digital platform that helps companies or organizations reduce their carbon emissions by understanding the carbon production of their supply chain and adjusting their operations as needed.

In November, Acuicy was accepted into Invest Nova Scotia’s AI Cohort program, for which it received $14,000 in funding. That has allowed Murray and Skinner to develop their minimum viable product, or MVP, and to begin soliciting opinions from potential clients – a process known as customer discovery.

“We've had a busy start to the year at Acuicy,” said Murray in an email. “With the funding we've received through the Volta Scale AI program we're working . . . on our MVP build, which will be completed by the end of March. We're starting to set up customer discovery sessions, so it will be really exciting to start getting feedback and then the many rounds of iteration will begin.”

On the food insecurity front, one of the winners was Easy Platter, which went on to gain a $150,000 funding deal on the CBC show Dragons Den.

Founded by CEO Madhir Singh, Easy Platter is an online platform that lets personal chefs prepare weekly meals at affordable prices for middle-income families. The company has recently added a feature that helps users to calculate how much they have reduced food waste and cooking time by using the Easy Platter platform.

Another food security winner is Hope Blooms – possibly the best known of the winners as its flagship salad dressing can already be found in supermarkets. This non-profit social enterprise has developed innovative agricultural and culinary programs that engage youth so they work on projects for the betterment of their community.

Last year, Hope Blooms received a substantial grant from the HCi3 Grant Program, which provides grants of up to $50,000 for projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Hope Blooms won the grant for its Solar Awnings and Experiential Education Systems, in collaboration with Solar Schools Canada, which will design a two-kilowatt solar awning that serves as multi-use public infrastructure at Hope Blooms’ Global Kitchen for Social Change.

Another Innovation Challenge winner that benefited from the HCi3 program is the ReCover Initiative, which received its HCi3 grant in collaboration with One North End. ReCover is a social venture that helps low-income families refurbish their homes to make their heating more efficient. They carry out this task by adding a layer of protection on a home’s exterior, meaning the work can be completed without the family having to move out.

One North End and ReCover Initiative are working together on a project called Deep Retrofit Training and Capacity Building for African Nova Scotians, which aims to grow the green work force and bridge the employment gap for African Nova Scotians through job shadowing on retrofit of the Harrietsfield-Williamswood Community. Their goal is to replicate this training in African Nova Scotian communities across greater Halifax. It’s the type of innovative solution to local challenges that drives the Innovation Challenge.

Asked what’s next for the Innovation Challenge, Farrar said: “Another challenge is what we’re working towards. [We’re] currently determining the right needs and areas to support.”



This website uses cookies
This website uses cookies to improve user experience and analyse website traffic. By using our website without adjusting your cookie settings you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.