Open for business

Issue: 

The Dare to Dream program, run by the Centre for Business Venturing at Smith, helps students and alumni to grow their businesses. Recipients receive $15,000 in funding, coaching, mentoring and access to office space, thanks to financial support from alumni and corporate donors. Learn more about this year’s recipients on these pages:

Katie Callery, MMIE'17

Mad Oats

Katie Callery, MMIE’17 

The company: Toronto-based Mad Oats is a plant-based beverage company that specializes in oat milk, a dairy-free alternative for cereal, smoothies, baking and coffee. The smooth, creamy taste of oat milk is especially popular among coffee-bar baristas and customers. Oat milk is also more sustainable than, say, almond milk, since almonds need more water than oats to grow.

Anything else? Cow milk sales have been falling for years, according to Nielsen data but plant-based milk sales are frothy. 

The most fun so far: “Definitely the recipe testing,” says Callery.

Startup advice: “There is no shortage of information available to you,” she advises. “Tap into your gut feeling, focus on a few key goals and truly believe in yourself.”

Donor: Valerie Mann, BCom’86

Newton Zheng, BCom'19

Quickefi

Newton Zheng, BCom’19

The company: Got a tent in your garage? Drone in your closet? Why not rent them out? That’s the idea behind Quickefi, which Zheng started with Dylan Brookes, Comp’20, and Jonathan Ge. The company’s online platform makes it easy for people to rent everyday items to others nearby. Quickefi also handles insurance for rentals.

Anything else? Research shows more than 80 per cent of household items are used less than once a month.

The biggest challenge launching Quickefi was “finding enough renters and lenders,” Zheng says. The solution: focus on in-demand items that are typically unused such as cameras and speakers.

Startup advice: “Sell before you have a product to make sure you’re developing the right solution,” Zheng says.

Donors: Dany Battat, BCom’78, and Gia Steffensen, BCom’78

Jasdeep Toor, MFin'19

CabTreks

Jasdeep Toor, MFin’19

The company: Calgary-based CabTreks solves two problems: Taxi drivers aren’t as busy as they once were (thanks Uber); and retailers face growing demand to deliver products to consumers’ doors. CabTreks’ digital platform links the two, allowing cabbies to make deliveries for local stores.

Anything else? CabTreks focuses mainly on pharmaceutical deliveries for drug stores because small local courier companies don’t usually have the flexibility to serve this market.

The biggest challenge in launching CabTreks was to start “something from nothing and have customers trust you without any sort of track record,” Toor says. Gaining early adopters was key.

Startup advice: “Make a plan, execute and re-evaluate constantly,” says Toor. “And find a support system to help you.”

Donor: CIBC

Ryan Jamieson, EMBA'19

Otonomy

Ryan Jamieson, EMBA’19 

The company: Otonomy is a matchmaking platform for buyers and sellers of small businesses. It’s estimated that 47 per cent of small businesses in Canada will change ownership over the next five years as a mass of baby-boomer entrepreneurs retire.

Anything else? Half of Canadians want to be their own boss. Otonomy, founded last year in Vancouver by Jamieson and Paul Newton, aims to be the go-to place for current and future small-business owners to connect.

The best part of starting Otonomy, says Jamieson: “I always wanted to build something. [Now] every day I have the opportunity to do just that!”

Startup advice: When launching a business, keep in mind that “everything takes longer than you think it should,” Jamieson says.

Donor: RLS Foundation