The OKGN Angel Summit is 10 weeks of training and relationship building that has investors and companies expanding their capital-raising potential. Between pitches, networking and due diligence, there is a lot to get through. But, by the end, the investors name one company as the winner with a big investment.
During the finale of the 2021 OKGN Angel Summit, Mike Boudreau’s TechBrew Robotics—a turnkey robotics automation manufacturer for difficult applications, including a system that picks, trims and packages mushrooms—took home the $145K investment.
Nearly a year later, we visited Mike at his office in Salmon Arm, BC, to see how he and the TechBrew Robotics team have grown and how his win has impacted the business.
What changes has TechBrew Robotics seen since last March?
We were less than 20 people back in March, now we’ve grown the team by about 50%. Most recently, we’ve hired a controller; an IT manager; an assistant production manager; a bunch of mechanical, electrical, and software engineers; and we’re in the process of bringing on a CFO. That’s where most of the $145K investment went. We’ve also leased 10,000 square feet of production facility. We’re preparing to launch production as fast as we can once the robots are approved but there’s still some work to be done.
Are there other verticals you’re pursuing?
Before we started building our mushroom picking robots, we found some success automating in food processing, opening rail cars at terminals, projecting layout placements for buildings before concrete is poured and a few others. Those prepared us well for the mushroom industry and that is what we’re focusing our efforts on now. We’re getting calls about other opportunities but the mushroom market is big and we have a first-mover advantage.
What were your favourite aspects of participating in the Summit?
I liked that Accelerate Okanagan was able to pool angel talent and have them mentor and perform due diligence with the competing companies. That’s a marvelous home run idea. The knock-on effect factor has been great, as well. There are so many of the Summit’s angels that continue to reach out about opportunities for us and stop in to see the robots. We even have one as our director helping to open doors with VCs. It’s been great to maintain those relationships and have them in our network.
Even if they don’t write you a cheque, they know somebody that knows somebody and that can make a world of difference.
Having won the Summit, is there any advice for this year’s companies?
Last year, I recommended that companies get a head start on their due diligence checklist. I still think that’s the best advice I could give. But building relationships with investors can be huge. Even if they don’t write you a cheque, they know somebody that knows somebody and that can make a world of difference. The Summit gives you an opportunity to cast a huge net and make a good impression that can lead to investors wanting to help you even after the competition. That’s what we need in our entrepreneurial ecosystem.
What do you think contributed most to your win?
During the Summit, we were able to have the investor due diligence team visit our office and ask hard questions. They met our people and saw where we work, they watched the robots and I feel that was the best way we could represent the business they would be investing in. But not all companies will have that option, so they need to ground their business with real-world experience and present that to investors. With experience comes credibility.
How would you like to see the Okanagan’s angel network grow?
A lot of angels are just looking for a shiny object, and what’s shiny for you isn’t shiny for me. If you can get them collaborating, doing due diligence, looking at deal flows and pooling their money together, you’re already doing exactly what is needed. Just keep building on that. I would recommend not constraining it to just the Okanagan. You can increase your audience of angels and improve the number of women participating if you can deepen the pool of eligible investors.
We live in the closest thing to heaven on earth, as far as I’m concerned, so it would be nice to make time to enjoy it.
Are there opportunities for the OKGNtech community to support TechBrew’s growth?
We’re looking for organizations that can build the parts and pieces we need for the robots. Currently, we’re getting parts from all over the world—the Okanagan, China, Austria, Italy, Japan. One of the parts we’re getting from Japan was requested in June and we have an estimated delivery of February. 8 months. The closer we can get to home, the fewer issues we’ll see in our supply chain.
What are you excited about for TechBrew’s future?
I’ve been building my management team so I’m hoping that all the hats I’ve been wearing won’t stay on my head. We live in the closest thing to heaven on earth, as far as I’m concerned, and it would be nice to make time to enjoy it. We expect to have a significant number of robots operating by the end of 2022 and, beyond that, the constraint we’ll have will be keeping up with the order book, we’ll harvest mushrooms with happy customers, keep having fun and giving back to the community that has supported us. That’s what I’m looking forward to.
Mike continues to be an innovative influence in Salmon Arm and the #OKGNtech community. He’s currently working on additional opportunities for raising capital and being courted by the Dutch and Swiss governments to establish an office overseas.
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