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Column: Who doesn't love a good (pitch) party?

An opinion piece on the recent pitch contest held in Estevan.
Wyatt Thompson and Logan Stewart took top spot for their concept.

I've written about my admiration for innovators in the past.

Sometimes what they're doing comes down to building a better mouse trap – taking an existing product and finding a way to improve upon it, even if that item has been around for decades. Other times they create something new, or they bring something new to the community.

Regardless, they do something that I could never accomplish. And so they deserve our respect for devising something that is beneficial for us.

The Southeast Techhub held its first-ever pitch party on Friday night. Five innovators brought forward their ideas for a panel of judges, with the winner receiving a $22,500 investment from SaskPower and SaskTel.

The show was billed as being similar to the TV shows Dragon's Den and Shark Tank, except the entrepreneurs wouldn't have to give up a portion of their business to get the money, and they didn't have to worry about an investor ridiculing them in an effort to score TV ratings and great video clips.

But the four entrepreneurs still had to stand up in front of the audience, explain their business, product and/or service, and answer questions from the judges. They had to be on their feet and they had to know all their numbers.

There was Steven Hansen, the oilfield worker from Weyburn who came up with StreamTech to reduce paperwork and improve efficiency in the energy sector. Coal miner Rod Cullen promoted his business, Predator Inspections, which uses cameras mounted on drones to assist local businesses.

The business that I know some people thought would win, Keith Hesketh's Long Creek Aquaponics, plans to grow lettuce and have a fish farm. (If I was a judge, a place to purchase trout would be enough to get my vote. But that's one of the reasons why I would have no business being a judge).

And then there were the winners: Wyatt Thompson and Logan Stewart, who are Grade 12 students at the Carnduff Education Complex. Their portable irrigation system might have actually been the easiest for me to comprehend, and you can certainly see how farmers would want to employ it. But it's still in its infancy and it is going to take a lot of time and money to get off the ground.  

At one point, Gord More with the Southeast Techhub asked the crowd about what they were doing in Grade 12. I remember what I was doing. It's not anything worth writing about. And it's certainly not as impressive as potentially changing the way in which farmers water their crops.

The pitch party was a good evening, and it's one that hopefully set the stage for similar events in the future.

It also reflects the ingenuity of people in our different industries in the southeast. Those in attendance heard presentations from farmers, a miner, and an oil and gas worker. It wasn't all middle-age guys trying to force their way into the same sector. Hopefully next year there will be even more entrants, and a few women and a newcomer or two as well.

Innovation is more important than ever in the southeast. We're coming to a crossroads in our economy. We might not like it. I certainly don't. But it's inevitable. Some industries that we've relied on for so long might not be possible; others will have to look different to survive.

So we have choices. We can bury our heads in the sand and pretend it's not going to happen. We can sit on our hands, do nothing and be completely unprepared when it comes. Or we can adapt and have ideas in place so that when the change occurs, we're as ready as possible.

Some people get a little skittish when you talk about change and innovation. Truth is, we've been seeing innovation down here for years. Our farmers, our oilfield workers and so many others have been coming up with ideas to impact our lives since before I was born. We just might not realize it.

There have been so many innovations that have shaped our day-to-day lives. And then you have projects like the carbon capture and storage facility at the Boundary Dam Power Station, which has certainly had a big impact.

The innovators that we had last Friday are an indication that there are some very bright people ready to meet that change.