Venture capital investments are heating up in Saskatchewan, and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon. Of these announcements includes Cultivator GROW company, Prairie Robotics, who recently announced the close of a $690,000 seed round, led by Conexus Venture Capital Inc. (CVC)., with participation from Max Schmeiser, Kerry Lumbard, and Dan Cugnet. This is the second Cultivator company to receive CVC funding.
We recently sat down with co-founder Sam Dietrich to chat more about Prairie Robotics, it’s recent seed round close, and his experiences and advice on navigating through the startup world. Check out what he had to say below.
Welcome Sam + congrats on your recent milestone! For those that may be hearing about Prairie Robotics for the first time, can you tell us a bit more about the company including who you are, who’s involved and what you do?
Thanks, we’re super excited to finally be able to share this great news!
Prairie Robotics is a clean-tech startup headquartered in Regina, Saskatchewan, focused on making recycling simple. Specifically, we work with municipalities to install an Internet of Things (IoT) solution onboard recycling collection vehicles which includes both cameras and high-precision GPS to take images of recycling. Through proprietary technology, we’re able to help municipalities identify contamination right at the household level enabling targeted education.
My co-founder, Stevan Mikha, and I started Prairie Robotics as part of a solution we presented at the 2019 Innovation Challenge put on by Innovation Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Environment. Our company has since grown to 6 full-time employees covering areas of software development, machine learning, hardware engineering and business and marketing.
How did you come up with the idea for Prairie Robotics? And what journey did Prairie Robotics go through to get where it is today?
Both Stevan and I have experience in the waste industry. Stevan previously worked at the Regina landfill and I previously worked with Regina-based waste hauler To-D-Dump.
Building on this experience it was a natural fit to work with Innovation Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment when they put out the call for proposals for its Innovation Challenge looking to use technology to “understand the amount of waste disposed of and diverted in Saskatchewan”. Through this project, we worked with the Ministry of Environment and several southern Saskatchewan municipalities to commercialize a landfill management application capable of identifying the type of waste being received at the landfill and sharing data from numerous landfill sites in real time.
We ended up winning the Innovation Challenge, which included $10,000 towards product development and even more importantly a 16-week residency to implement our technology with the Ministry of Environment. While we went through this residency we were also going through the Cultivator’s START program, ultimately winning Demo Day and receiving another $10,000 which we put towards development.
We’ve since taken this technology and have applied it directly at the source (households) rather than at landfills. We’re currently working with municipalities and waste haulers across Western Canada with projects ranging from single vehicle to fleet wide installations.
Wow, your team has been busy! What has the support been like from Saskatchewan’s tech ecosystem?
The entire Saskatchewan ecosystem has been incredible to us. Going through the Innovation Challenge and Cultivator’s programming has helped our team refine our development and equipped us with a framework for sourcing feedback from early users while rapidly iterating the product. Through Cultivator’s START programming, we were able to connect with different mentors and investors, many of which we still communicate with today.
Pitching your company is a big part of being a startup. Having won the Innovation Challenge + Cultivator START Cohort 1 Demo Day, securing this venture capital funding, and from what I’ve heard you also pitched the winning idea at Cultivator’s 1st Birthday 24 Hour Startup, you’re obviously doing something right! What is your secret? Any tips for others when pitching their company to customers, investors, etc?
One of the most important skills any leader needs is communication. It’s critical to articulate a big vision while at the same time describe the simple steps required to reach it.
Helping me to build my confidence and comfort when communicating is stand up comedy. This is something I’ve been doing for the past four years and it’s the best method I’ve found to help me improve my public speaking, ability to connect with an audience and adapt to changes on the fly.
If stand up comedy may not be your thing – though I highly recommend you try it before discounting it – other options to help you build your communication skills are joining an improv team or participating in Toastmasters.
That’s great advice! When it comes to your recent seed round raise, what has the experience been like working with Sean O’Connor and the Conexus Venture Capital Inc. (CVC) Team? Any advice you have for a founder looking to raise money for the first time?
Sean and the CVC Team have been truly amazing and are the best investors you can have backing you. They’ve been a part of the scale up of numerous Saskatchewan success stories and readily add value wherever they find possible.
We were able to make the connection with CVC through Cultivator programming, and started with us connecting with the CVC Team every three months, showing them the goals we were setting and executing on. My advice to founders looking to raise money is to find investors you enjoy working with, build a relationship and allow them to see you execute. With this established when it comes time to raise money you’ll be well equipped to meet your fundraising goals.
More great advice for founders! Sam, thanks so much for joining us and answering our questions today. One last question to wrap the interview up – if someone would like to know more about Prairie Robotics or get in touch with you, where should they go?
This was fun, thanks for having me!
To learn more about Prairie Robotics, or get in touch with someone from the team, visit www.prairierobotics.com.