There were more than enough hay jokes to go around Thursday night at the Lion's Lair gala. But it was the local agricultural-based business that took the top prize.

Hamilton's Dunlea Farms won the gold medal for Tidy Feeder, a packaged box filled with hay for rabbits and guinea pigs. Michale Trauttsmansdorff accepted the $50,000 prize for his family-run business.

In second place came REfficient founded by Stephanie McLarty, a Hamilton-based company that allows businesses to purchase unused or almost new technical equipment from another buisness's inventory, with a $35,000 prize.

McMaster students Mohamed El-Mahallawy, Bilal Husain and Shawn McTigue took the $15,000 third prize for Nervu, an online start-up that delivers custom deal alerts to a user's phone via text message.

Take a look at all of the very impressive Lion's Lair contestants here


CBC Hamilton got to interview each winner first. Here is an exerpt:

Tidy Feeder: Michael Trauttsmansdorff

What were you thinking when you heard Tidy Feeder won?

When I finally clued in I was just over the moon. Thrilled and honoured that they would choose us and see the potential that we see in our products and our teams. I think it's just an amazing thing that the community comes together to support entrepreneurs and that they would choose us and bet on us to succeed and grow and become a Hamilton success.

Your competition, about half, were tech companies and the winning prize went back to Hamilton root's, to agriculture.

Everyone was deserving to win some support here. We're really thrilled that an innovation that was so far from technology which really gets so much of the attention in media and business cycles that we were able to break through and build something valuable and show that you can create something with something as simple and as unnoticed as agriculture. Hamilton has become such an incredible agricultural economy and we want to inspire others and really gain the support form local agriculture and local farming, we have wonderful natural resources and climate and soil here. We have a lot to offer the world.

When we met during your media training, I asked you 'What does your business mean to Hamilton?' Now that you've won, what is the answer to that question?

Now that we've won, it really gives us a leg up in order to promote our business and hopefully accelerate growth. Our goal here is to build a pet food brand that's going to become a known pet food brand in stores all around the world. We're in Jerseyville, just west of Hamilton, and we're going to stay there and we look forward to having this extra fuel to go and succeed and get the word out about our hay innovations. Let people know that they should buy their hay from here.

What will your first investments be?

There are two areas that we're going to quickly do something about and one is investing in stronger legal protection, trademarks and the like, and the branding and marketing support will be great. We've done well with distribution, we've proven that we can get our product out there and now we can let more people know that Tidy Feeder exists as a more convenient and fun way to feed hay to your animals. They feed their pets and want to keep them healthy and should have a chance to learn about us.

REfficient: Stephanie McLarty

How are you feeling?

Crazy, excited, this whole night has been a mixture of emotions, just meeting people and being on stage,

Nick [Bontis] said on stage 'green is sexy' and green companies are the future. Keeping that in mind, what is your answer now to 'What does your company mean to Hamilton?'

I really think that our business can help bring a new image to Hamilton in terms of the sustainability side so apart from helping divert waste and creating jobs there is definitely that side of it where green is good and it's good for Hamilton to brand itself that way. It is sexy and Hamilton could use some sex appeal.

What were some of the biggest things you took away from Lion's Lair?

One of them was actually solidifying the market opportunity and who are the competitors. Also really understanding that this really is a billion dollar opportunity and to be able to articulate it. One of the biggest things was for us to raise money from investors, we have to have all those answers nailed anyways, I used this process to refine what it the market opportunity and all that so now we can go to investors and say this is it, and it is a billion dollar opportunity and here's how.

Nervu: Bilal Husain

You are the youngest competitors in Lion's Lair yet. What does it mean to you being so young and getting an investment this size and the recognition you got?

It shows that it doesn't matter how old you are, if you have something and you peruse it and put 100 per cent into it, you can do it. This investment is huge for us. It'll let us go to the next level in terms of marketing, legal, accounting. We will be able to take Nervu to the next level to where we want it to be, to where we see it can be. This is a substantial amount, this is the biggest stepping stone we've had thus far and I believe that it's what's going to get Nervu out there and it's what's going to make us one of the top competitor not only in Hamilton, in North America.

When we first met, I asked 'What does your business mean to Hamilton?' Now what is the answer to that question?

It's an opportunity not only for Hamiltonians, but also for Hamilton businesses to market themselves. Hamilton was the Steel Town and it still has some punch and it's not dead. Hamilton has business and it's a place to be if you want to grow as an entrepreneur and as a start-up. What Nervu means to Hamilton is the opportunity to put Hamilton back on the map.