From left, Labora founders Jaspal Brar, Rene Blanco and Ryan Klatt. Labora's AgTech platform provides a secure payroll service that enables seasonal agricultural workers to transfer money home. (Photo taken pre-COVID-19)

Seasonal worker payroll startup Labora wins SFU’s largest entrepreneurship competition

April 22, 2021
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By Vivien Lee

Labora Consulting Services Corp. has won the top prize in SFU’s 10th annual Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize competition, taking home a $35,000-prize package. Labora’s AgTech platform provides a simple and secure digital payroll service to farmers enabling their seasonal agricultural workers to transfer remittances back home.

The founders, Rene Blanco, Jaspal Brar and Ryan Klatt developed the idea for Labora while completing the executive MBA program at SFU Beedie. In 2019, Labora won the Top Idea Prize at the Venture Prize competition and then joined SFU’s incubator program to benefit from its mentorship and startup resources. In 2021, the team competed in two rounds of pitch-offs to win the Top Venture Prize.

Company co-founder Rene Blanco says, “Along the journey, the Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection team and mentors helped us to mature our idea and implement the steps to become a solid company. Being incubated by Venture Connection allowed us to focus on initial metrics, pilots and customer acquisition. We plan to invest the $10 000 cash prize in software development.”

In 2019, Labora won the Top Idea Prize at the Venture Prize and joined SFU's incubator program. (Photo taken pre-COVID-19).

For the second year in a row, the competition has had to pivot to an online format, but enthusiasm for entrepreneurship and innovation at SFU is stronger than ever. There was a 35 per cent increase in application numbers with competitors from all eight SFU faculties and representing students, staff, alumni and faculty members.

The 2021 competitors are diverse in their missions, from youth life education to detecting unpredictable diseases. The competition sorts teams into the Idea Stream and the Venture Stream. The former celebrates ventures in the ideation stage and the latter is for launched startups. Competitors are provided workshop and mentoring opportunities, and pitch in front of industry judges to compete for the Top Venture and Top Idea Prizes respectively.

Livshows, a startup launched by School of Interactive Arts and Technology alumnus Bassam Mirghani, took the Top Idea Prize. The platform allows users to instantly create and publish immersive augmented reality experiences without knowing how to code.

“Accessibility is a driving force in our work. We want to make the creation of AR experiences effortless and intuitive. The $5 000 prize will further support our product development and unlock more creative control for our users,” says Mirghani.

Livshows, a startup launched by School of Interactive Arts and Technology alumnus Bassam Mirghani, took the Top Idea Prize. The platform lets users instantly create and publish augmented reality experiences.

Since 2008, Coast Capital Savings has been a key partner of Venture Connection in supporting entrepreneurial excellence at SFU.

“Coast Capital’s vision is to unlock financial opportunities that positively impact people and communities and this long-standing partnership with Simon Fraser University fits that bill perfectly,” says Derek Turner, senior vice president, business banking, for Coast Capital. “After a decade, we look back with pride at the accomplishments of the Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize competition and also look forward with optimism to the promise that these investments will yield in the future.”

“Thank you to all the teams who competed this year – it’s a delight to see such talented and passionate entrepreneurs from every faculty at SFU. Congratulations to the winners of the Top Venture Prize, the Top Idea Prize and the category prizes,” says Elicia Maine, Special Advisor on Innovation to SFU’s Vice-President, Research and International and the VanDusen Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at SFU’s Beedie School of Business. “Coast Capital’s ongoing commitment has enabled the development of a thriving early-stage entrepreneurial ecosystem here at SFU, and the ideas and ventures showcased at the competition exemplify SFU’s commitment to helping our students, alumni and researchers from across the university move their ideas into impact."

The awards were announced April 21, 2021 at an online ceremony with more than 100 attendees, and with presenters and speakers representing partners and supporters from throughout the SFU community, including SFU President and Vice-Chancellor Joy Johnson.

WINNERS OF THE VENTURE PRIZE AWARDS ARE:

Top Venture Prize: Labora Consulting Services Corp.

Top Idea Prize: Livshows

Local Impact Category Prize: BAK’D Cookies

Digital Platform Category Prize: Streamline Athletes

Research & Development Category Prize: Fibrilex Canada Inc.

Female Founder Award: Mirjam Mai from Fibrilex Canada Inc.

Social Impact Award: Moment Energy

SFU Alumni Founder Awards: Ryan McKee from Elemeno and Gabriel Soares, Edward Chiang, Sumreen Rattan, Gurmesh Sidhu from Moment Energy

This story was originally published on SFU News. It was also featured in T-Net, Techcouver, Van Tech Journal.