A Toronto-based software-as-a-service company that helps businesses test-drive the accessibility of their online products for people with disabilities emerged as the winner of the lion’s share of $100,000 in prize money at the seventh incarnation of the Fierce Founders Pitch Competition Thursday afternoon.

Fable Tech Labs, which employs a diverse roster of people trained in web accessibility quality assessment – each of whom lives with a disability and uses assistive technology every day – earned first-place honours and  $75,000 after four judges heard pitches from eight companies at a packed Tannery Event Centre.

“This is going to be huge for us,” said Fable Tech CEO Alwar Pillai, holding her ceremonial cheque.

The judges awarded a second-place prize of $25,000 to Lauren Smith of  PolyGone Technologies, a Velocity startup working on a filtering solution designed to protect the water system by capturing plastic microfibres created by the washing and drying of synthetic clothing.

Third place and honourable mention went to IntelliMED Solutions, an Ottawa-based startup focused on the use of wearable bands to help hospital emergency rooms and medical clinics quickly collect vital patient data, helping overburdened medical staff to “smart triage” patients.

All three companies gain an automatic berth in the Fierce Founders Accelerator in October, a six-month program designed to spur growth.

“It feels great and amazing,” said Pillai. “I’m totally surprised.”

Picking a winner proved to be a challenge for the judges, one of whom said deliberations initially involved five of the eight companies taking part Thursday.

“We had to have a really good discussion about the top five and then narrow it down and think about where we had alignment in terms of what kind of solutions they had, and how they thought through their problem,” said Zahra Jivan, a Senior Manager with Deloitte.

And why did Fable Tech ultimately emerge as winner?

“It was a great, great concept in terms of what they’re trying to do,” said Jivan. “I think it’s the giving back to the community, as well – being able to work with people that have disabilities and being able to tap into that market. I think the philosophy of the company is what really helped us make our decision.

“Because a lot of good companies presented today. And a lot of good business problems are being solved.”

Helping Jivan with the judging was Aaron Bast of MaRS IAF; Graham Toppin with ROSS Intelligence; and Kimberly Yeung of BDC Capital.

The eight companies that pitched Thursday were chosen from a cohort of 21 companies that took part in the latest Fierce Founders Bootcamp, a two-part, six-day, Communitech-run program that helps women tech entrepreneurs improve their companies. The bootcamp traditionally winds up with a pitch competition for $100,000 on the final day.

Pillai said the bootcamp gave her needed skills in sales, marketing and leadership. But she said the program also connected her with a network of women entrepreneurs that she described as “amazing.”

“It’s so hard to find other female founders and get a support network,” she said. “From Day 1 it felt like everyone had each other’s back. Everyone [was] sharing their resources, and just having people to talk to and share with [was crucial].”

Other companies that pitched on Thursday included: Intuitive Shipping, the St. Catharines-based maker of an advanced shipping calculation app for Shopify merchants; HELM, which connects busy parents with tools, services and information they need to make family life run smoother; Zabu a Waterloo-based cyber-security company that makes it easier for non-technical executives of small and medium enterprises to make proactive decisions that protect their business and customer data; Baysil Inc., a Waterloo-based company that is building an electronic records and notation platform for health practitioners; and STMNT, a London, Ont., maker of a peer-to-peer clothing rental app.

A keynote discussion prior to the pitches was delivered by Martha van Berkel, co-founder and CEO of Schema, based in Guelph. Schema is a software-as-a-service company that makes automated tools for digital marketers. Van Berkel is a former participant in both the Fierce Founders Bootcamp and the Fierce Founders Accelerator.

Sponsors of the Fierce Founders Bootcamp program include TD Bank, Deloitte, BDC, Google Developers, Thomson Reuters, the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE, which is funded by the Government of Ontario) and the Government of Canada

The three winners of the fierce founders pitch competition speaking onstage

The three winners from Thursday's Fierce Founders pitch competition, left to right: Alwar Pillai of Fable Tech Labs (first place), Lauren Smith of PolyGone (second place) and Suzana Vukovi? of IntelliMEDSolutions (third place). (Communitech photo: Sara Jalali)