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Companies run by John Brinkman, left, Neil Lane and Stephen Jones finished as runners-up in the Small Business Challenge contest.

4DEEP INWATER IMAGING

4Deep Inwater Imaging boasts cutting-edge, 3-D microscope technology with no moving parts – no lenses, and no focusing to adjust. It's also completely submersible and has been used in depths as low as 6,000 metres. Stephen Jones, chief executive officer of the Halifax company, says his company's microscope is an invaluable tool in monitoring water quality and oil spill cleanups. Numerous groups, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have requested product demonstrations and trials. But 4Deep does not have enough demonstration units and needs funds to build more demo units. Mr. Jones says 4Deep could get volume discounts on components if it built at least five microscopes at a time.

What the judges said

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Katherine Scarrow, small business editor at The Globe and Mail, says 4Deep needs to find a way to build its demonstration units at a lower cost and faster production cycle. But before it starts spending this money, it needs to figure out if demos do, in fact, translate into sales.

"My advice is two-fold: Consider hiring a consultant to determine how to build these units in a more cost-effective way, whether by teaming up with a different manufacturer or redesigning the unit itself," Ms. Scarrow says. "Hopefully this will not only help them shorten the development cycle, but also capture higher margins on the final products."

Ms. Scarrow also suggests looking at the selling price of the units. How much would customers pay for this technology? It's a worthwhile question, she says.

IMBIBITIVE TECHNOLOGIES

John Brinkman, president and CEO of Imbibitive Technologies in St. Catharines, Ont., believes his company's products – called imbiber beads – offer the most effective way to clean up oil and hazardous chemical spills. Certified as super-absorbent polymers, the tiny plastic spheres can absorb more than 1,000 types of organic chemicals, swelling up to 27 times their original volume. But imbiber beads are significantly more expensive than sand or clay, and Mr. Brinkman has found it tough to get companies and governments to use the beads as a first line of defence in an oil or chemical spill. He wants to organize product demonstrations and trials for prospective government and industry customers, but these require a considerable cash investment.

What the judges said

Suzanne Trusdale, vice-president of small business solutions at Telus, says Imbibitive Technologies needs to continue telling its story – to governments, grant agencies, environmental groups and to the oil industry. She agrees that the company needs to create opportunities to demonstrate its products.

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"They've got an amazing technology," she says. "They need to be able to show why this should be the gold standard in oil spill cleanups."

Ms. Scarrow at The Globe says Imbibitive is grappling with a true marketing challenge: What do you do when you have a revolutionary product, but no one's buying it? Her advice to Imbibitive: Take a hard look at your current market segments and make sure you've prioritized them accordingly. She also suggests reviewing the marketing budget to ensure it's enough. Imbibitive may need to raise the ante, but the results could be worth it.

STATHLETES

Since it was founded four years ago, Stathletes Inc., in St. Catharines, Ont., has been working to bring rich statistics to the sport of hockey. Stathletes gathers thousands of data points a game and analyzes this information to help team owners and coaches choose and develop their players. To compile this data, Stathletes analysts watch game videos in slow motion and log countless bits of information. Neil Lane, Stathletes co-founder and CEO, wants to make this process more efficient by installing cameras at hockey arenas and supporting these devices with software that can analyze and translate images into meaningful data. Stathletes will need about $200,000 to develop this technology, which Mr. Lane says will help the company boost its sales to as much as $15-million over the next five to 10 years.

What the judges said

Got National Hockey League teams on your client roster? That's a pretty cool feat, Ms. Scarrow says. She was certainly impressed when she learned that Stathletes won clients in the NHL. She also found it promising that the company has grown steadily over the past year. But as data analytics in sports becomes more mainstream, the field is only going to get more crowded and Stathletes needs to find a way to stand out.

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"How is this company going to differentiate itself?" Ms. Scarrow asks. "If the data shows that developing a camera for hockey arenas will give them a true competitive advantage, the company will have to find the money and take a short-term hit, whether through debt financing or equity."

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Interviews have been edited and condensed.

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