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Start-Ups Snapshot 2016

Three new ventures launched by Smith School of Business alumni are profiled below. Many others are showcased in our Start-ups gallery, above, where you can also submit your new venture to be profiled.
Shelley Pleiter
Bram Warshafsky & Rachel Zimmer
Bram Warshafsky & Rachel Zimmer

5Crowd Inc.

Our company, 5Crowd, is an ad agency with no creative or production employees on staff. Instead, we have curated a global network of freelance professionals, which we call our Crowd. We collaborate with them on a project-by-project basis using a proprietary digital platform. Freelance professionals in more than 150 cities partner with 5Crowd to land assignments from big-brands. To date, 5Crowd has completed more than 1,000 projects for such companies as Labatt, Pepsi, Hershey, Twitter and CIBC. 

Why we started the company: As Brand Managers in consumer packaged goods, we noticed that marketers were being asked to do more with less. Demands were for more content, more often, for more channels, while using less resources, including dollars and time. In working with freelance professionals, we were impressed by their passion, their responsiveness and their low overhead. 

Our ‘aha’ moment came when we saw an opportunity to solve an industry problem by launching a technology-enabled marketing production agency. Since then, we’ve been on a mission to build the business partner we wish we’d had when we were on the client side.

The most fun we’ve had so far has been seeing the social impact of our venture. We’ve made more than 1,000 payments to freelancers around the world, connecting great talent with rewarding work opportunities, regardless of gender, race, geography or any other label. It’s been both rewarding and fun. 

A Smith School of Business connection: We met in first-year Commerce and have built incredible relationships with classmates, professors and the broader Queen’s community. There are many people within the business school who have been very supportive, but we definitely wouldn’t be where we are without the help of Marketing Professor Ken Wong.

Patrick Meyer and Jamie Shea
Patrick Meyer & Jamie Shea

Chefs Plate

Our company, Chefs Plate, is an online meal-kit delivery service. We’re re-inventing the home-cooking experience, making it easy and affordable for people to make delicious and nutritious meals. Each week, our subscribers receive custom-designed recipes and fresh, seasonal, pre-portioned ingredients delivered to their doors, to be transformed into meals in 30 minutes or less.

Why we started the company: After graduating from Queen’s Commerce, we knew we wanted to build our own company and had been kicking around ideas for some time. We started working in the corporate world knowing this would give us the right experience and a foundation to help make our vision a reality. We really took our time to find an idea that would resonate.

Our ‘aha’ moment: came when we realized how much we were spending on takeout and delivery meals every week. We knew we could save money and eat healthier food by cooking at home, but that seemed too time-consuming, inconvenient and expensive, given the amount of food we seemed to throw out every week. That’s when we realized that there was a big opportunity to develop a curated meal-delivery service. We firmly believe that food will be the final frontier of e-commerce; so far, no one has really scratched the surface.

The most fun we’ve had so far has been seeing Chefs Plate boxes being assembled and shipped from our Toronto production facility every Monday morning. Watching those boxes going out to all our subscribers is one of the most validating experiences we could have as business owners. It’s the culmination of all the work that we and our team of 50 do.

Something we tried that didn’t work (and why not): We both came from working in an office environment, so it’s been quite a journey learning to equip and operationalize a production facility. Jamie tried to pick up our first 500-lb. vacuum-packing machine in his VW Jetta. It did not go well. 

James Francis, Arthur Lui, Deepan Vigneswaran, David Hussey, Greg Fretz and Travis Ratnam
Arthur Lui & Travis Ratnam
Full-Time MBA


Our company, Knowledgehook, builds software products that involve each student’s community in her or his academic success. Students, as well as their teachers and parents, use feedback from our products to guide and adapt their learning experience to achieve optimal outcomes. Our featured product, GameShow, is a free, cloud-based math software package being used by school boards throughout Ontario and soon to be available in the U.S. and the U.K. 

Why we started the company: Travis explains: “I struggled in elementary school. To get good grades, I exhaustively analyzed my mistakes. By persevering, I found ways to problem-solve that made more sense to me. I went on to win scholarships and finish two university degrees, including my Queen’s MBA. I’d like others to enjoy learning as much as I eventually did.”

Travis and his fellow co-founders Arthur Lui, Lambo Jayapalan and James Francis have had a number of ‘aha’ moments since launching their venture. “It’s always exciting when we learn of teachers and students using the software in ways we hadn’t anticipated,” says Travis. “Our company’s mission is to help facilitate learning and we’ve probably been the ones who’ve ended up learning the most.”

What is the business problem that your product/service solves? Many students have negative feelings about math and aren’t engaged in class. Students are engaged by GameShow; they like using it because it feels more like a game than a math review exercise. The software also helps teachers and parents determine whether students are grasping a concept. 

The Queen’s connection: Knowledgehook would not exist without Smith School of Business. Arthur and Travis met while they were MBA students. Arthur is Knowledgehook’s lead product designer and the heart and soul of its product experience. Elspeth Murray, Associate Dean, MBA and Masters Programs, helped the venture secure $15,000 in funding from the Dare to Dream Internship program.