Ownr Grants Recipients

In May 2020, Ownr launched Ownr Grants, a $25,000 fund sponsored by RBC Ventures in our continued support of entrepreneurs in Canada, facing challenges due to COVID-19.

Our team was humbled by the overwhelming response, receiving over 2,000 high-quality applications for this initiative. We are proud to see entrepreneurship thrive during a time of much uncertainty and change.

Applications for Ownr Grants are now closed, but we are continuing to provide tools and resources to help entrepreneurs start and grow their business. Learn more

We are proud to share the stories of the incredible businesses that we’ve been able to help during this time. Check out the list below for spotlight features on the Ownr Grants recipients.

(List will continue to be updated)


Kite

Michelle Tirmandi & Claudia Marion, Co-Founders, Kite

Kite makes sparkling infusions using organic tea and botanicals. Our products are thoughtfully crafted to provide function and flavour through the use of “adaptogenic” herbs that help to restore inner balance and adapt to stress. We source our ingredients from sustainable organic farms and we’re committed to formulating products that don’t require compromise (no sugar, additives, artificial colours or flavours). We strongly value community, authenticity and sustainability.

Tell us about how your entrepreneurial journey began.

Claudia & I have been friends for years. We realized we shared a lot of passion around well-being and had similar struggles around figuring out ways to find balance in our busy lives. We both had our own businesses separate from Kite along with varying experiences and work backgrounds before beginning to work on this project together.

What first inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

Michelle: I had always known that I wanted to help people in my work but I went a more traditional path with becoming a teacher and a nutritionist. Becoming an entrepreneur wasn’t something I thought much about until I met my (entrepreneur) husband. He is a huge dreamer and definitely sparked something in me to pursue my passions. Once I realized I too could use my skills to create something I just trusted and kept taking the steps.

Claudia: I’ve always been pragmatic and solutions driven and by the time I was a teenager I’d realized that I could monetize this. Early on I did not know what an entrepreneur was but I knew how to bake & sew and began making and selling my creations to friends and neighbours. After university, I headed to Europe, working in restaurant management and I soon came to understand supply chain. My introduction to distributors was pivotal and I went on to start my first business venture sourcing quality organic ingredients from across Europe. Within a few years I moved on to my own branded products after realizing that branding added quality mark and perceived value.

What are some lessons that starting this business has taught you?

Michelle: You need to be nimble, go with the flow and live by ‘done is better than perfect’. I have so much of a desire to do everything to 100% but the secret for myself is figuring out the 80% that actually matters and giving only 100% to that. Also to build on that, make sure that the things you are focusing on are the things you are good at and have other people do the things they are good at. It’s not as simple as that at the beginning, but not wasting time trying to do everything yourself is an important lesson too.

Claudia: I’ve learned so many lessons in business but the one that I fall back on the most is the lesson of customer experience. A great example I have often used is the customer dropping their fork – such a seemingly trivial thing illustrates the disparate timing & urgency had by that customer & the staff of the restaurant. Another important lesson that every ‘trep needs to remember is that there will be tough days or weeks or even months & these will be countered with awesomeness (remember that!)

What is the most rewarding aspect of doing what you do every day?

Michelle: I would say the personal growth and working to overcome feelings of impostor syndrome. Looking back even two years ago I was overwhelmed and had a hard time articulating the business, what we were building and why. Now I am so beyond proud of what we have been able to accomplish and realize a lot of that has to do with my own confidence in myself and my skills. A lot of this change has come down to trusting myself and my intuition, as well as owning my gifts as well as any mistakes.

Claudia: Seeing the brand emerge from a word in my head with a tagline, into our design on paper and then on Kite’s beautiful packaging and across the platform has been exceptionally rewarding. A brand is like a child and nurturing it and seeing it strive, take firsts steps and win hearts is the gold standard!

Any future plans for Kite that you’d like to share?

Michelle: We have big plans for Kite! We’re expanding our distribution across the West Coast as we speak and also are working to launch our direct to consumer business in the USA. We’ve very recently brought on an amazing COO helping to lead this growth.

Claudia: We see Kite as being an iconic brand in North America and beyond and it’s our mission to nurture and grow it to this and beyond. I’m also very excited at the new R&D and what’s next on the label!

Where can we learn more about Kite?

Website: www.drinkkite.com

Social Media Handles (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn): @drinkkite

Neurofit VR Inc.

Alexander Theodorou, Founder, Neurofit VR Inc.

Neurofit is the FitBit for the brain. We connect the dots in healthcare using virtual reality to bring together patient and practitioner to inspire, motivate, and personalize your recovery. We use AI to personalize your care according to mood and abilities adjusting your unique needs in care.

Tell us about how you got started and the inspiration behind Neurofit VR Inc. 

My own personal experience as a caregiver, researcher, and rehabilitation therapist has provided me with deep insights as an entrepreneur as my background explored brain injury, neuroplasticity, and the role of technology in supporting care. With my father having suffered an acquired brain injury, I had seen his struggles and these challenges from both a personal level and working in the healthcare industry. I noticed the barriers that exist and how we receive care and knew there had to be a better way. This has provided me with a deeper perspective into this problem that Neurofit is solving.

While doing my MSc degree, I was staring at my computer reading countless publications and articles, and realized that much of this research only exists within a small community of domain experts and that its broader impact for change was lacking. Wanting to change this, I developed a proposal for a local pitch competition for $50,000 with nothing more than an idea, based on my research to take this from the lab to reality, finding a way to leverage technology to help those with brain disorders. Just like that, I was accepted as a finalist and it was at that moment, I knew this was not only something that I alone viewed as worthwhile but others in the world and decided to pursue this entirely with all my effort.

What are some key lessons you’ve learned in starting this venture?

Always remain resilient, resourceful, and responsive in all aspects of starting a business. These traits have helped me overcome, recognize challenges, and build something that solves a problem in the world. Adopting this mindset has allowed me to find opportunities in the most unconventional areas of life, recognize and adapt to the evolving needs of your customer, team, and community, and learn what to do when you are beaten down by the seemingly endless rejections you receive along the way. Use this to fuel your passion and build something better and impactful- without this, I wouldn’t be where I am today with Neurofit.

What is the most rewarding aspect of doing what you do every day?

Watching how your vision, and passion materializes and how the outcome improves lives for others. Maintaining focus and clarity in your vision and continually improving your own skills, abilities, and your messaging. Witnessing the breakthrough moment, when people learn about your product as something that may help and transforming their perspective to it being something they can’t live without. Collectively, these small rewards make all the hard work, and tireless effort all the more worthwhile.

Do you have any future plans for Neurofit VR Inc that you want to share?

Our goal is to tackle the multifaceted world of improving brain health and wellness for all. By using virtual reality technology to better connect people at a more human level, personalize care, and empower people. I anticipate Neurofit to be a widely recognized name that connects not only patients to professionals, but also brings together other wellness applications through our engagement algorithms and integrations to enrich and enhance our understanding of each person’s personalized needs in care.

Where can we learn more about Neurofit VR Inc?

Website: http://www.neurofit.ca/

Social Media Handles (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn): @neurofitvr

Backcountry Wok Inc.

Melanie Ang, CEO, Backcountry Wok Inc.

Backcountry Wok Inc. makes dried vegan meals in 100% compostable packaging. Just add hot water into the heat-resistant bag, wait 15 minutes and they’re ready to enjoy. Compost bag when done for an eco-friendly meal. Our Backcountry Wok line is made for camping and our Wok Fresh line is a popular option for schools, offices and most recently as delicious and nutritious lunches and in emergency food kits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tell us about the inspiration behind Backcountry Wok Inc. and how you got started.

In 2017, I participated in a week-long entrepreneurship program and I left feeling truly inspired and connected to a larger community. The thing I love about entrepreneurs is that they are so passionate and driven about what they do. You rarely find an entrepreneur who’s in it because it was the easier option. That week solidified for me that I always want to surround myself and work with like-minded people who are excited for Mondays!

I am a marine biologist turned food entrepreneur. During graduate school, I spent a lot of time outdoors for research (and for fun!) and I discovered that the dehydrated meals on the market were packaged in plastic and aluminum waste. I wanted to eat camping meals that were sustainable, nutritious, diverse and delicious, so I started creating my own meals and shared them on the trails. People love my food and idea, and that was how Backcountry Wok started. Today, we make dehydrated vegan meals in 100% compostable packaging.

What are some lessons you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?

It’s all about teamwork, collaboration and community! Embracing that I do not have all the answers, that I cannot do it all myself and that it is okay to ask for help were some of the biggest break-throughs for me. Today, I am thankful to have an amazing team and a supportive network of peer entrepreneurs and mentors. Likewise, I believe in paying it forward and I am always happy to chat with new entrepreneurs.

What has been your favourite part of running Backcountry Wok Inc. since you launched?

Meeting and hearing from customers. There is nothing more rewarding than to hear that a customer enjoyed our food and appreciates our sustainable packaging and processes. It’s also cool to know that our food has traveled to some of the most remote places of the world (like the Falkland Islands and Antarctica!) and that we are enabling more sustainable outdoor adventures.

Do you have future plans or goals for your business that you’d like to share?

Definitely! Our environmental and social missions drive what we do at Backcountry Wok. Which is why, I am proud to share that in summer 2020, we will be donating a portion of our profits from every bag to funding and launching our very own zero-waste and outdoor education program for youth. We want to provide youth with the knowledge to explore the outdoors in a sustainable way.

Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

The further I get into running my business and meeting other entrepreneurs, the more I realize that there isn’t just one typical path to entrepreneurship! We need entrepreneurs from all walks of life because unique perspectives create innovative solutions. To aspiring entrepreneurs, especially ones who don’t come from a business background (like myself!), I’d say embrace your past experiences and let that propel you forward.

Where can we learn more about Backcountry Wok Inc.?

Website: http://www.backcountrywok.com/ & http://www.wokfresh.ca/

Social Media Handles: @backcountry_wok, @wok.fresh

Volund

Nick Koss, Founder & Director, Volund

Prior to the pandemic, Volund designed and produced high end jewellery using sophisticated digital technology. This included Computer Aided / Parametric Design (CAD and PD) and modern techniques of production, such as laser welding, microscope setting, new metal alloys, and computer gem faceting.

During COVID-19, we applied our skills to create algorithms to solve social, civic and health issues, such as social distancing. For example, one of our recent systems takes in any architectural space and determines the optimal route through it, while adhering to social distancing rules and safe occupation (i.e. spatial optimization).

Tell us about yourself and how you got started in this business.

I come from an artistic family with ties to the nobility of Imperial Russia. However, my official education is not in art but in science, finance, and business. After working for nearly a decade in the finance sector, I had a transformative experience that led me to the art world in the form of a jewellery designer and sculptor. Now, I create unique pieces for the royal families and ultra affluent patrons around the world.

What first inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

Once, standing alone in the desert during a solar eclipse, I saw the ephemeral nature of my life. I wished for longevity, not by living longer but through creating something that would outlive me. Contributing to the lasting beauty of the world while braving the unknown is how I attain to this goal.

What is the most rewarding aspect of doing what you do everyday?

Life full of adventure and experience inaccessible by any other means. To be able to stand in the palaces of princes and sheiks, to create new treasures that will look captivating thousands of years from now, and to amass enough stories for many lifetimes.

What is an important lesson you’ve learned in founding Volund?

Perseverance is the quintessence of success, provided you have even the smallest grain of talent and passion. Many are passionate and full of ideas. The successful ones will fail innumerable times and still keep trying.

Lastly, any advice you’d like to share with aspiring entrepreneurs?

To talk little and do more, to embrace failure as a teacher rather than an opponent, and to dream big.

Where can people learn more about Volund?

Website: https://www.volund.ca/

Social Media Handles (Instagram): @volundjewelry

EarthPup

Lucy Cullen, Founder & CEO, EarthPup

EarthPup is an eco-conscious dog treat business based in Toronto. Each bag of EarthPup treats rescues nearly half a pound of vegetables from going to landfill, and a portion of proceeds goes towards re-homing rescue dogs. To date, EarthPup has rescued over 750 pounds of vegetables from going to landfill!

How did your journey as an entrepreneur begin?

I’m a born and raised Torontonian, serial entrepreneur and environmentalist. When I was in university, I worked in restaurants. Every day I saw so much food thrown out, and nobody was doing anything to address it. So I took it upon myself.

My first company, Terus helped restaurants reduce waste and save money. I’m very proud of the fact that we diverted over 200,000 pounds of waste from landfill, but I wanted to do something to further address the issue of perfectly good food going to landfill. Combined with the fact that I’ve always wanted to do something that would help rehome rescue pups, dog treats seemed like the perfect fit! So EarthPup was born with a mission to save delicious organic veg from going to landfill, and rehome rescue dogs.

What first inspired you to start EarthPup?

I would say it was actually one person who inspired me to become an environmentalist. Which then turned into me becoming an entrepreneur. When I was 16, I saw the documentary, Sharkwater by Rob Stewart. It exposed the shark finning industry, and showed the world how important the health of our oceans is. That documentary, and Rob Stewart’s work changed my life. I still remember the exact moment while watching that documentary that I decided I was going to be an environmentalist and be part of the change I wanted to see. Rob Stewart’s dedication to protecting the environment has inspired my entire career. I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to meet him and thank him before his tragic passing in 2017 while filming Sharkwater Extinction.

What is one key lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?

I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned has been to work on the business, not in the business. It’s easy to fall into the trap of pouring hours into tasks like bookkeeping, packaging and shipping. But a big lesson I’ve definitely learned recently, is to work smarter. So whenever I work on my to-do lists, I ask myself “Is this this the best use of my time?” For example, bookkeeping is important, but it makes more sense to outsource that task, and free up that time for myself to focus on tasks that grow the business not just maintain it.

What is the most rewarding aspect of running EarthPup since you launched?

The most rewarding aspect since launching EarthPup would definitely be seeing the numbers continuously increase of pounds of vegetables diverted from landfill, and donations to dog rescue organizations. It’s crazy to think we’ve already diverted over 750 pounds of vegetables from going to landfill, and we’re not even a year old! This goes hand-in-hand with seeing dogs go crazy over our treats. That never gets old.

What goals do you have for EarthPup in the future?

Our biggest goals are to rescue 10 million pounds of vegetables from going to landfill, and re-home 1 million rescue dogs.

Lastly, where can people learn more about EarthPup?

Website: www.earthpup.co

Social Media Handles (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook): @earthpupco

FETTCH Technologies Inc.

Amanda Dias, CEO, FETTCH Technologies Inc.

FETTCH Technologies is a dynamic, forward focused company transforming the possibilities for omni-channel retailers with FETTCH. FETTCH is the first mobile marketplace which allows users in busy cities to shop from their favourite local retailers via the FETTCH app with instant delivery. The FETTCH app features on-demand delivery, integrated payments, and real time inventory selection allowing retailers the ability to provide instant gratification to customers. 

Give us some background on FETTCH Technologies and how you got started as an entrepreneur.

FETTCH Technologies inc. is a retail technology company with FETTCH the first mobile marketplace which allows users in cities to shop from local brick and mortar retailers via the FETTCH app with instant delivery. I came up with the concept for FETTCH when I was finishing my degree at the University of Toronto. I initially planned  to continue with law with my sights set on criminal and international human rights law. However, I had always been fascinated with business and tech. I completed an internship at CIBC while completing my degree and began thinking of potential ventures. The year I sat for my LSAT and received my acceptances into law school coincided with the ideation of FETTCH.  I kept hearing from my colleagues that they didn’t have the time to shop for the items they want and need. Whether it was buying clothes, re-filling weekly personal care products or, in one memorable, case buying a calculator for an exam and a pair of shoes for the next day, my peers didn’t have time to commute to the nearest mall or store to spend hours trying things on and purchase. I saw how inconvenience was a deterrent among my peers and which I myself faced, affecting the frequency and ways in which consumers shop from their favourite stores. 

I began to notice that there were true problems with both brick and mortar and online delivery. I had heard endlessly about “the death of brick and mortar”. I myself refused to shop online because of extended wait times, the waste incurred by online delivery, inefficiencies involved in tracking an order, and navigating from website to website. I knew that brick and mortar would in fact not die out . I cared about the integrity of brands and I cared about the enormous environmental waste that was incurred by online delivery.  Rather than die out, brick and mortar retailers needed to evolve alongside technology, become mobile first, and satisfy the immediate gratification shoppers require.  Customers need the ability to connect to brands and stores so that these companies can outcompete disruptive marketplaces like Amazon. I wondered why there isn’t a centralized mobile marketplace for brick and mortar retailers which provide instant delivery and decided to leverage technology to create a mobile solution for omni channel retailers to engage, satisfy, and delight mobile users to redefine the shopping experience. I realized that I had a solution that was not only transformative but time sensitive. The vision I had for the company and its intrinsic potential caused a huge shift in my focus. I knew I wanted to put my name behind FETTCH and if it wasn’t me that would come up with the product it would be someone else.  I wanted to create a disruptive piece of technology and create a product that would transform the way people live and re-define expectations. While I have pivoted from law to FETTCH, my goal of transforming people’s lives has remained the same.

 What are some of the lessons you’ve learned in starting a business?

The most valuable lesson I’ve learning how to see a solution through from idea to prototype to MVP that was dependent upon multiple externalities. My background had been in law and a win or loss in a given case is dependent upon the strength of your own argument, your own skill, and acumen.  I knew I wanted to find a solution for omni-channel retailers and to create the next mobile marketplace. I worked hard to produce a company that would continuously re-write standards, not stop once it created a product people wanted. However, at every turn there had been hiccups whether it had been delays in development, pivots to push certain features to the second iteration of the app, or investments at the cost of far too much equity. At the end of the day it’s very easy to say I want something done in a specific way, but when you are relying on multiple people and don’t have the resources or control in the very beginning, the challenge is in retaining that ownership. That lack of control is a problem any CEO will face in the beginning but the silver lining is in being able to gain more as the startup progresses  At the end of the day, that attitude still remains. Everything with respect to the company reflects upon my own capabilities. The key for me was in managing those externalities and making sure that I was never vulnerable and somehow retained control.  I made sure I hired the right people, found the right partners,  and surrounded myself with individuals that not only shared my vision and values but took pride in the work they did. I spent countless hours documenting every foreseeable possibility and creating a game plan. I adapted to find ways to mitigate risk and retain ownership.

What is the most rewarding aspect of running a business since you first launched?

The most rewarding aspect of running a business has been in finding the right co-founders, selecting our first hires, and seeing the output of a team that runs like a well-oiled machine. In my academic and professional career, historically, I have thrived on the ability to rely on myself to produce a positive outcome. However, with this venture, while I may be CEO, it is truly in seeing the value that’s added to our company by my co-founders and by our first hires, that I find the most rewarding. In building out this idea, I sought to find the right partners who shared my vision, complimented my strengths, filled in any gaps I have  and who were brilliant and creative in their own respects to create a truly solid company. I met James and Vamsi and we all chose to work on FETTCH as its co-founding team. Working with my co-founders has been a seamless experience. I take pride in our partnership and the way the strength of each co-founder reflects in the quality of work that is done and the trajectory for FETTCH.  In addition, we have just taken on our first hires. In seeing our employees exceed my own expectations and propel the vision for FETTCH and its trajectory, I feel incredibly well rewarded.

Do you have future plans or goals for your business that you’d like to share?

FETTCH is constantly evolving our marketplace. We value the strength of our product and technology and we have really taken on the burden to make our features more complex and more evolved to ultimately provide the most simple experience for our consumers. FETTCH is  in the business of making shopping smarter and more seamless. We’re currently partnering with some incredible technology companies and are building technologies in house to make purchasing anything from your a dress from your favourite brand to your vitamins  more predictive, more instant, more exciting and more seamless.  We are setting up infrastructure in key locations outside of Canada, so shoppers outside the GTA can soon expect to get FETTCH in their hands very soon.

Lastly, any advice or tips you’d like to share with aspiring entrepreneurs?

My advice is that once you have identified a problem and have done your diligence to ensure your solution is not only viable but timely, proceed with the mindset that once you build it they will come. Validate your hypothesis and build your MVP. Pursue the idea with full force. I was not used to the amount of pushback I faced nor the red tape.  My advice is to recognize the difficulties, anticipate them and maintain a confidence which allows you to rely on your own due diligence, your own aptitude, and the strength of your solution and your company’s mission at every turn in the process. I’ve been a part of projects that are simply too easy. Doing anything that isn’t challenging or can be done without some form of true difficulty is something I never wanted.

Where can people learn more about FETTCH Technologies?

Website: www.fettchtech.com

Social Media Handles: @getfettch or FETTCH on Linkedin

Contact: info@fettchtech.com or amandadias@fettchtech.com

Farm2Door

Bart Nagel, General Manager, Farm2Door

Farm2Door is a local food delivery service in North Simcoe. Founded by farmers and local entrepreneurs, Farm2Door recognizes the importance of keeping local food in our community. Farm2Door now supports almost 30 local producers by restoring the fragile connection in local food between growers and consumers.

Give us some background on how your journey as an entrepreneur began.

I started as an entrepreneur many years ago as a freelance business writer. I have founded a handful of businesses, always more inspired to work for myself instead of for somebody else. 

Starting with a web platform for Dutch immigrants, to food and farming businesses, one of them being Bulbs of Fire. Farm2Door was born out of a local farmer partnership when the COVID-19 shutdowns cut off the business outlook for the 2020 season.

Farm2Door makes local food more accessible and more convenient than it’s ever been. Open 24/7 and delivered three times per week, as opposed to once a week for only four hours (during the weekend) at a market location.

If you could attribute your inspiration to start a business to one person, place, thing or experience, what would it be?

When we moved to Canada from Europe, we also moved away from steady jobs and a corporate career. Quickly learning that wage levels in Canada are much lower, we strongly felt that building a financial future here would require our own business ventures. The move to Canada is that one event that was live changing. Starting from scratch is liberating and the freedom we felt looking to fill that blank sheet with crazy ideas and endless possibilities is what fuels the drive to be an entrepreneur to this day.

What is the most rewarded aspect of being an entrepreneur?

The freedom of filling in your day to day schedule, and to make creative moves to improve both business and personal life is what keeps us going. I find that once you get over the hump of financial stability, financials are merely a performance indicator. The money is not what drives me really, it’s the adventure, the journey to discover and capitalize on new opportunities.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to anyone looking to start a business?

The best way to find out if you have a business case, is to start selling it. Doing always gets you further than planning and dreaming.

Do you have future plans or goals for your business that you’d like to share?

We’d like to grow Farm2Door into an enterprise with many locations. Talks are underway to open hub #2 in the Orilla region.

Where can people learn more about Farm2Door?

Website: www.farm2door.ca

Social Media Handles (Instagram, Facebook): @farm2doorcanada

Chatting to Wellness

Mahad Shahzad, Founder & President, Chatting to Wellness

Chatting to Wellness is a nonprofit organization that combats senior isolation through youth companionship. We visit retirement homes across Southern Ontario and speak 1-on-1 with isolated and lonely seniors who need a friend and someone to speak with. These 1-on-1’s are called Chatting Sessions and they are designed to engage a senior in meaningful conversation about them, that does not follow a script or a predetermined end goal in mind, the conversations are genuine and personal. Chatting Sessions have been shown to increase senior engagement in their community and increase mood significantly, across 3,000+ Chatting Sessions. 

Since COVID-19, Chatting to Wellness has created an online offering, Online Chatting Sessions. Online Chatting Sessions are free, available every weekday night, are available in multiple languages, and are open to any senior (50+). Isolation has been shown to be worse for seniors than smoking 15 cigarettes a day and has shown a 60% increase in the risk of dementia, Chatting to Wellness provides meaningful engagement and stimulation to seniors, to combat these problems.

Mahad, tell us about how you got started as an entrepreneur.

I’m a 4th year business graduate from the Schulich School of Business, York University (BBA). I am passionate about startups, marketing, and making an impact through businesses, products, and scale. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a doctor, to help those who could not help themselves. When I was 16, I put on a fundraiser for Syrian refugees and through selling my vision to numerous people and leading them effectively, we were able to make a significant impact, without being front of line and helping the refugees directly. This got me on the path of business and entrepreneurship. 

The idea for Chatting to Wellness came from a trip I took back home to Pakistan in 2016, I was 18 at the time and it was the summer of my first year of university. I noticed that even though my grandparents lived with my family, they were still isolated and alone; eating by themselves, watching tv by themselves, doing everything on their own. When I came back to Toronto, later that summer, I thought, if that’s the case back home, where family values are such a big deal, what’s it like here? I did some research and found that there was a huge amount of senior isolation and abandonment in retirement residences in Canada, this was coupled by an alarmingly high suicide rate, almost 4 times as much for seniors than for youth. I noticed there was nothing dedicated for seniors suffering like this or for their mental health, so I said ‘I’ll make something for this’.

What is one important lesson starting this business has taught you?

There are so many things I’ve learned. One of the biggest things is the value of people and how to get the most out of those that support you. I put a lot of time and effort into understanding my team and my volunteers. I spend a lot of time and energy on being empathetic and thinking about things from their perspectives. This lets me understand when they need time off, when I can support them more, how I can help them as individuals, and so on. Also, I try my best to support my team by giving them opportunities to learn and grow, in line with what they want to do in their careers. I also connect my team with a lot of my network to help them grow, even beyond Chatting to Wellness.

What is the most rewarding aspect of running Chatting to Wellness since you first launched?

The most rewarding aspect is hearing the impact we make on seniors and on our volunteers. Hearing the change that our program has on the lives of those who need it most, is the most motivating and heartwarming thing. The same goes for hearing how much volunteers like being part of Chatting to Wellness and how much they trust in my leadership. Our volunteers stay with us for a long time and I like to think this is because of the focus we have on caring for our people and helping them as much as we can.

Lastly, any future plans for Chatting to Wellness that you’d like to share?

I look to establish Chatting to Wellness as a charity that can be run full time. What we’re doing is important and deserves full time attention. This can be achieved through corporate partners/sponsorship and through the donations of individuals who believe in what we’re doing and care about the well being of our seniors.

Where can we learn more about Chatting to Wellness?

Website: www.chattingtowellness.ca 
www.chattingtowellness.ca/phonechats
(to register for a Chatting Session)
www.chattingtowellness.ca/help
(to get involved, volunteer, donate, etc.)

Social Media Handles: https://linktr.ee/chattingtowellness

MedEssist

Michael Do (right), Founder, MedEssist

MedEssist allows you to simply scan your pharmacy receipt with their app to be guided through your treatments and stay connected with your pharmacy for refills.

MedEssist is completely free and so easy to use that there’s no typing or account required. MedEssist is supported by 3 hospitals and over 120 pharmacies but can be used with any pharmacy.

Tell us about how you got started as an entrepreneur.

Having been a pharmacist for over 8 years, I was able to design a solution to solve problems that I saw daily at my pharmacy. The vision I have for MedEssist is that it will be a healthcare tool that anyone can use for free regardless of where they live or which pharmacy they utilize.

What first inspired you to start MedEssist?

I realized that it didn’t matter how hard we worked at the pharmacy, we still had patients end up in the hospital or passing away because they didn’t take their medications properly at home. It’s a problem that is addressable & I knew there needed to be a better way for us to support people.

What is one key lesson you’ve learned from this venture?

I learned that it takes more than just a great idea or product to be successful. You need to be open to learning everyday otherwise you will miss opportunities.

If your business is going to have a big impact, you will need help. Find people that care about the problem you’re solving as much as you do and ask for their help.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a part of MedEssist, since you first launched?

It is so rewarding to see people’s reaction to MedEssist, its ability to scan pharmacy receipts and how accessible it is to all demographics.It’s extremely motivating knowing that people are using your product everyday to manage their health.

Do you have any future plans for MedEssist that you’d like to share?

The platform that we’ve built for MedEssist which connects every pharmacy together can be used to help people receive the COVID-19 vaccines from pharmacies in a safe, efficient, and organized way. We are excited to use our platform to solve this critical COVID-19 problem.

Lastly, any advice or tips you’d give to someone wanting to start a business?

Try to be a problem focused business, not a product focused business. You will be successful if you solve problems that people are struggling through in the simplest and most efficient way. Do not build and push a dream solution the world is not ready for.

Where can we learn more about MedEssist?

Website: www.MedEssist.ca

Social Media Handles: Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/medessist/), Twitter (https://twitter.com/medessist), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/MedEssistApp/)

The STEAM Project

Huron Chu, Owner/Operations Director, The STEAM Project

We are a science, technology and design program provider for children and youth aged 4-16.  Our participants are encouraged to use their skills to improve the lives of others through hands-on experiences with technology and tools such as 3D printers, while focusing on empathy and designing with purpose.

Our mission is to make children & teens think about the future, including new improvements and inventions to better the lives of others through a human-centered approach to thinking & creating. We give innovative and inspired young people the opportunity to experiment in ways often unavailable at school with the technology often unavailable at home.  We create a specific environment where new ways of thinking, learning, and imagining are valued & celebrated.

Give us some background as to how your entrepreneurial journey began.

I met my partners Jay and Ann while teaching science in the same high school.  From our frequent chats about school and realizing the limitations of teaching in a structured school setting and a curriculum that makes cross discipline learning challenging, we felt compelled to develop programs that could supplement school learning in a meaningful way and which offer a deeper exploration and interaction between the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. From what was a lunchtime conversation became what is now The STEAM Project.

Tell us about what inspired you to become an entrepreneur.

As an educator first, the idea of being able to create a program without restrictions was extremely exciting.  The dream was to be able to give kids an opportunity to turn their ideas into reality by learning hands-on, relevant skills.  Entrepreneurship has allowed our idea to become reality.

What is one key lesson you’ve learned in starting this business?

Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been so important in staying flexible and being ready to adapt to the unexpected. When we could no longer have students join us in person, we pivoted to virtual classes.  When our 3D printers, laser cutter and workshop tools sat stagnant we fired them up to produce PPE for frontline workers.  We never planned for these things, but taking a chance has opened us up to new people and experiences.  Things can change quickly and by being willing to adjust and charting a different course, we are hoping to weather any storms that may lie ahead.

What is the most rewarding aspect of doing what you do everyday?

On top of seeing the excitement and engagement of the kids that participate in our programs, the most rewarding part of the business has been seeing the relationships that have been built.  From our students, staff and parents, we have seen strangers enter our program and leave with lifelong friendships.  Our priority is always creating a safe, welcoming environment where new ways of thinking, learning, and imagining are valued & celebrated.

Any future plans or goals for The STEAM Project that you’d like to share?

Our goal is always to give kids awesome experiences and we would like to continue to grow our capacity to serve more kids.  One of ways for us to reach this goal is to establish additional sites across the GTA.  We are looking forward to welcoming more families from various neighborhoods to the STEAM Project family!

Lastly, what advice would you share to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Pursue a project that you believe in wholeheartedly.  Starting a business comes with a lot of personal sacrifice.  You want to make sure that your endeavor is worth the trials and tribulations that comes with entrepreneurship.

Where can we learn more about The STEAM Project?

Website: http://www.thesteamproject.ca/

Social Media Handles: Instagram (@steamproject), Facebook (@thesteamproject), Twitter (@steamprojx)

Urban Minimalist

Max Mak and Curtis Nemechek, Co-Founders, Urban Minimalist

We’re a small Canadian company based in Toronto, ON. All of the products are inspired by our love for minimalism, gardening, modern design, and urban living. Each product starts with one of us starting a home project or hobby based on something we can’t find in the marketplace. Oftentimes, they’re so niche and random that no one sells them—so we create it ourselves.

We aim to create products that provide an experience—whether it be through indoor gardens that you can then use in your own cooking or by telling a story with concrete and leather of masculinity, modern design, and craftsmanship. We want to share these experiences and projects with others who have the same passion.

Give us some background on how you both started out in this business.

Both of us started our careers in a shared startup/ecommerce environment and have been working together already for a few years. Together, our core competencies consist of Operations, Supply Chain Management, Sales Operations, Marketing, and Product Development.

Urban Minimalist originally started as a way for us to create the products and projects based on our own personal interests that didn’t already exist in the marketplace. So we decided to create them ourselves and believed that if we had been searching for these items, then others were likely searching for a product to fulfill that need as well.

What first inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

I don’t think that there’s one specific person or experience for either of us that inspired us to become entrepreneurs. Instead, it’s been a combination of having the opportunity to work alongside and meet a bunch of really amazing and talented people who already own their own ecommerce companies. It’s also the incredibly hardworking but fun and informal culture that makes working in or having your own startup so appealing—working somewhat against the odds to create something that you’re proud of and learning lots along the way.

Can you share one of the key learnings you’ve had as a business owner?

There is always going to be a new problem or obstacle that emerges. At the end of the day, no one else is going to solve that problem for you and push your company forward but yourself, so just do it. Find a way to figure it out and learn a new skill or insight along the way.

What is the most rewarding part of being apart of Urban Minimalist?

Being able to funnel our creativity and passions into products and sharing them with others who have the same interests and passions.

Any future plans for Urban Minimalist you’d like to share?

Our three main product lines consist of Grow Your Own Microgreen Kits, Handmade Home Décor, and Curated Gift Sets. We’re currently building out our catalog across these 3 categories to add lots of new products for people with varying interests—whether it be Indoor Gardening, crafting the perfect Old Fashioned Cocktail, or decorating your home with handmade concrete or leather goods, we’re always adding items that provide an experience.

Where can we learn more about Urban Minimalist?

Website: www.uminimalist.com

Social Media Handles: Facebook (www.facebook.com/urbanminimalistco/), Instagram (www.instagram.com/urbanminimalistco/)

SAHO Ventures

Steven Ho, Founder, SAHO Ventures

SAHO Ventures is an engineering firm that specializes in Immersive technologies. We are utilizing our curiosity and technical expertise to introduce innovative solutions to complacent industries. Our goal is to simply become different.

Give us some background on your business, and how you got started.

Before I started my own business, I was just an employee. Early in my career, I lost my sense of satisfaction. It felt like all my creativity and motivation was being sapped out of me. I needed to change course and pursuing something that made me happy. SAHO Ventures was created as an outlet for me to express and share what I was passionate about.

If you could pinpoint one thing, person, or experience that inspired you to want to become an entrepreneur, what would it be, and why?

Garrett Camp was the person that inspired me to become an entrepreneur. His stories about co-founding StumbleUpon and Uber made me believe that it is possible to create something from the ground up.

What is one key learning you’ve taken from starting this business?

The lesson I learned in starting a business is to be persistent. It’s easy to become discouraged in the beginning, but with persistence, you can overcome the initial hurdles.

What is the most rewarding aspect of doing what you do every day?

The most rewarding aspect of running a business for me is the fact that it doesn’t feel like a job.  It feels like I’m just sharing my passion with others.

Where can people learn more about your business?

Website: https://saho.ventures/

Odyssey3D Inc.

Jimmy Chan, Managing Director & Co-Founder, Odyssey3D Inc.

Odyssey3D uses leading-edge technology to showcase properties in the most realistic way possible online and through virtual reality – so that buyers can walk through a home without an appointment. They help realtors win listing presentations, stand out from the competition, and engage more people through 3D Showcasing. Odyssey3D has serviced thousands of real estate properties and worked with agents from various brokerages in the GTA. They are ranked Top 1% in their field in Canada (Matterport 3D Tours Ranking 2018, 2019).

This start-up was named the winner of The Schulich School of Business at York University’s 2016 Start-Up Day, 2016 LaunchYU Fellow, and a part of the BEST Lab Startup Accelerator in York University.

Background:

Jimmy is the CEO and CoFounder of Odyssey3D – a Toronto Based Real Estate Marketing Company.  His vision for Odyssey3D began on a trip to Israel to study technology entrepreneurship. He was the winner of Schulich’s 2016 Start-Up Day and has since brought his project to the market to launch the award-winning real estate startup Odyssey3D. 

At work, Jimmy is the optimizer. He spends time ensuring that each employee at the company is reaching their fullest potential, implementing productivity frameworks, developing strategies, managing high-stake relationships, and above all: helping realtors become “Digitally Enabled”.

Before starting Odyssey3D, Jimmy pioneered experiential learning initiatives while studying at the Schulich School of Business. Jimmy coordinated with faculty, admin, and students to develop a for-credit field course to explore the supply chain of coffee while backpacking Guatemala.  He pioneered this course with 6 of his classmates and then pursued a 16 month expedition descending Latin America.  During this journey, Jimmy had an opportunity to learn Spanish, interview the past Guatemalan president about Coffee Politics, help launch ASUS Computers in Chile, and summit Huayna Potosi: a 6,088M mountain in the Bolivian Andes.  During his time abroad, he realized that he could not relate to his corporate-bound classmates and that the only career path that suited his aspirations lies in entrepreneurship.

What first inspired you to become an entrepreneur and start Odyssey3D?

Mountain climbing taught me what it means to be an entrepreneur. 

I always like to think that being a part of Odyssey3D is like climbing a mountain with a group of friends.  There is pain and hardship on the way up; sometimes we rest to catch your breaths, sometimes we break out to have some meaningful conversations, sometimes we nurture our injured friends, and sometimes we worry that we don’t have what it takes to summit.  

Some of us walk faster, some can carry more weight, some are better going uphill, and some can sprint downhill.  Every climber is unique in their own ways, and each one of us are motivated by different reasons for why we climb.  

What is magical is that we, as odd-ball members of society, are all united in one goal and we are there to support one to get there.

Once we summit:

We look down and are proud of our accomplishments, the grind, the sweat, and the pain is all worth it.  We would do it all over again anyday!

So as members of Odyssey3D, we remind ourselves daily to enjoy the climb up – because that summit is only going to be as rewarding as the work it took getting there.

We don’t postpone our happiness for the summit, but rather we live for the climb.  The path ahead is our Northern Star that compels us to action.  As Type A Drivers – it is important for us to continue enjoying our life’s work and do things not for deferred happiness, but because we are learning, working, and growing with amazing people daily! 

This is what it means to be a part of Odyssey3D.

What are some key learnings you’ve taken from being a business owner?

  • Fail fast, fail often, but never fail at the same thing twice!
  • I am either confident that I am right, or confident that I am wrong. I am never unsure.  This is what it means to be a leader that instills courage in those with the heart to follow.
  • Never bask in the glory of your own success.  Rather, once you succeed, put all those who have helped you onto the pedestal of fame and admiration.  Leadership done right is when people believe you’ve done nothing at all.  Become the catalyst that enables everyone around you to succeed.

What is the most rewarding aspect of doing what you do everyday?

At Odyssey3D, we challenge the status-quo in the name of innovation.

Our ability to think differently permeates through all that we do.  Whether it is how we serve our clients, the way we refine new and existing services, or the very culture that we embody. 

At Odyssey3D, we work virtually – outside a typical brick and mortar setup.  This allows us to employ talents and work from anywhere around the world; and we take full advantage of that. 

We started 2019 working in Medellin, Colombia. Our entire administrative team moved our “office” to a 1500 SF loft in the centre of Medellin.  During this time, we reinvisioned our company mission, planned our strategy, and developed the company faster than we could have while living apart in Canada.  We were productive, lived frugally (actually saving more money than if we lived in Toronto), and served a record-breaking number of real estate shoots in Canada for that month. 

We took this idea further and adopted a “work anywhere around the globe” policy for 9-months a year.  As long as the country has cell phone reception and a strong internet speed (50mbps+), our admin team can work there. In total, here are the places that  members of O3D visited in the past 12 months: Colombia, Mexico, India, Hawaii, Spain, New York, Chicago, NewFoundland, Portugal, and Spain.  As millenials interested in personal growth, experiential learning, and leadership development, it is important for us to develop a workplace culture that we LOVE being a part of.  This is how we can sustain the motivation, energy, and creative insights to serve our clients in the best way possible!

At Odyssey3D, we unabashedly venture into the unknown.  Sometimes we fail and sometimes it hurts us,  but we are determined to pick ourselves back up and do it all over again  – because this is what it means to innovate.  We do what we do, so that we can live the life that we are all inspired to live. 

Any future plans for Odyssey3D that you’d like to share?

I started Odyssey3D because I believed that people deserved better. During 2015, I was in the process of buying my first home.  I spoke to my realtor and together, we must have visited 15+ homes until finally settling on one that passed our criteria. Before visiting, my girlfriend and I searched online, on realtor.ca and other websites.  We reviewed the photos, read the descriptions, and watched the videos.

I can still remember to this day how disappointed I felt upon entering our first property visit. The house that I viewed online was nothing like the one I saw in person. The photos were taken at deceptive angles and with poor quality and lighting. And the videos were simply photo slideshows of the same pictures.  

I felt frustrated and betrayed, because this experience happened to me time and time again.  After spending countless hours reviewing online, wasting time commuting during traffic, taking time off work, and going on long drives during the weekend – I ventured to over 15 homes that I did not want to see.

People deserve better.  My realtor deserved a better marketing solution so that he can help provide a better service and ultimately win more listing business.  Sellers deserved better marketing to showcase their home in the best light possible.  And buyers deserve to walk through properties online as if they were there in person – so that they can save on meaningless time in in-personal showings. And this is why we’ve started Odyssey3D.

We aim to become the foremost real estate marketing solution that puts any for-sale home online in the most effective and authentic way possible.  We want everyone to know that if they aren’t using Odyssey3D to market your home, then they aren’t doing all that you can to maximize their marketing efforts.

Finally, do you have any advice or tips for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Just do it. Stop speculating on when is the best time to start.Stop wasting time “learning” in a corporate environment as an excuse for non-action.  Stop overthinking your idea and finding excuses to delay the process.

Have a bias for action – you will learn along the way and fail A LOT before any form of success.  Get used to it and learn to enjoy the grind, because if you don’t’ – then you will surely lose momentum going forward.  See entrepreneurship is an infinite-game, with an everlasting timeline.  Prioritize sustainability before making progress at the risk of burnout.  Build your company to last forever and to contribute in a meaningful way to humanities progression.

As an entrepreneur, your #1 responsibility is to yourself.  If you can’t manage your own energy, you will surely let everyone else down who depends on you.  Know who you are and what compels you forward.  Engineer your consciousness to thrive in ambiguity, to challenge status quo, and to idealize a brighter future for future generations.  Once you can tap into your internal wellspring of energy, you can achieve potentials beyond your imagination.

Where can people learn more about Odyssey3D?

Website: https://www.odyssey3d.ca/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Odyssey3D/?ref=br_rs
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/odyssey3d/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/10889967/admin/

ODYSSEY3D INC IS HIRING! Apply today: https://www.odyssey3d.ca/apply/


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