Skip to main content

Start-Ups Snapshot 2017

Three new ventures launched by Smith School of Business alumni are profiled. Many others are showcased in our Start-Ups section.
Shelley Pleiter
Phoebe Fung, far right, with members of her team at the Vin Room's new Calgary airport location.
Phoebe Fung
Executive MBA

Vin Room

My company, Vin Room, is Canada’s largest wine-bar company, offering more than 100 wines by the glass at each of three Calgary locations, including the most recent one, at YYC Calgary International Airport’s new terminal. Our extensive wine list is paired with globally inspired dishes using local and regional ingredients.

Why I started the company: While I was on sabbatical from my job in the oil-and-gas industry I discovered my passion for travel, food and wine. The idea for Vin Room came to me when I was walking past a boarded-up heritage building in the Mission district of downtown Calgary. This 1905 gem struck me as a perfect location to build a wine bar that would have great neighbours, energy and service.

The most fun I’ve had so far: Managing the airport Vin Room project, which took four years from its inception to its opening in late October 2016. The planning and approvals process took years, while the construction phase lasted five months. Keeping travellers’ needs in mind was paramount, so we sourced ergonomic, adjustable bar stools, custom-built tables and under-banquette spaces for storage of carry-on luggage. After having been on-site each week during construction, watching guests relax now in the comfortable setting we created from scratch is extremely rewarding.

Most challenging issue: Rebuilding our first location after the devastating 2013 flood was, hands-down, my most challenging experience as a business owner. The entire Mission neighborhood was under water; we lost 1,000 bottles of wine and the main floor was severely damaged. I sent the affected employees to our second location to ensure they kept working and being paid. 

Thanks to the support of the contractors and tradespeople who had worked on both locations, and to local volunteers who helped with the post-flood clean-up, we were able to rebuild our wine cellar, entire mechanical and plumbing systems and the main floor of the restaurant in just five weeks!


My Company, MobyTrip, is a comprehensive travel-planning app that allows users to create, discover and share itineraries with friends. It combines information from such trusted sources as TripAdvisor, Google and Wikipedia to produce custom vacation itineraries based on individual preferences. Users can also plan trips together, collaboratively, in real time, and share thousands of photos in a digital scrapbook.

Why I started the company: As a frequent traveller, I was constantly sharing my travel itineraries with family and friends. I realized others would likely be interested in leveraging someone else’s work to simplify the process of navigating seemingly unlimited permutations of how to get to and from a destination and what to do once they get there.  

What business problem does your business solve? The average traveller visits more than 30 websites to research their trip, checking out a multitude of hotel and transportation options and myriad attractions. Combining these services into one integrated platform allows MobyTrip to automate almost all of these processes to determine the best combination of activities and transportation options based on the preferences of the user.

The most important thing I’ve learned about starting a business: In building anything from scratch, the end result is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the complexity of processes required to achieve an amazing product and well-designed solution.

A Smith School of Business connection? My entire graduating class has been very helpful in providing feedback, insight and business advice within their areas of expertise.

Chris, left, and David Sinkinson
David Sinkinson
Full-Time MBA
Chris Sinkinson
Full-Time MBA

AppArmor Mobile

Our Company, AppArmor, develops custom mobile apps that provide tools to foster community safety. Our custom mobile safety apps can be modified in real time and are branded to each client organization. AppArmor enables institutions to aggregate safety resources, send emergency mass notifications and communicate with users in distress. Our custom safety apps are downloaded 50 to 100 times more often than those of our competitors. We currently serve 60 institutions in Canada, the U.S. and Australia, including Queen’s University, the University of Florida and The Australian National University.

Why we started the company: As an undergrad member of the Alma Mater Society, Dave was involved in an audit of the on-campus emergency blue-light poles that found that a number of these weren’t working. In coordinating efforts with university administrators Dave determined that a smartphone app could act as a massive connected network of virtual security intercoms and, with other features, could help make the Queen’s campus a safer place. Dave and his co-founder and brother Chris worked to build the app (called SeQure) now used by Queen’s Campus Security and more than 67 other institutions around the world.

What is the business problem that your product/service solves? Universities and colleges, healthcare facilities and other organizations struggle to find new and innovative ways to improve the safety of their staff and those they serve. Traditionally, improving safety is a very expensive undertaking and physical-safety infrastructure can be unreliable. As well, there is significant apathy among people when it comes to safety; finding a meaningful way to reach individuals can be challenging.

The most fun we’ve had so far was:  Seeing our safety apps help first responders and students handle ongoing threats. It is incredibly powerful to see your own product help make the difference in a crisis.

A Smith School of Business connection?  AppArmor started at Queen’s, developed in close consultation with the Campus Safety Working Group, which helped us build SeQure. We were also recipients of the Battat-Steffensen Dare to Dream Internship from the business school in 2013, which helped us expand our young enterprise.