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 

Founded: Fall 2018 in Toronto

Dare to Dream Donor: Valerie Mann, BCom’86 

What does your company do?

Mad Oats is a plant-based beverage company specializing in oat milk, a delicious, dairy-free alternative for cereal, smoothies, baking and coffee. Our formulation works especially well in espresso-based drinks, like lattes and flat whites. We keep sustainability at the heart of our company. Oats are not as taxing on the environment to process, versus many types of milk alternatives such as almonds.

What makes your company unique?

When oat milk started to make its way into coffee shops last fall, baristas and customers alike fell in love with its smooth, creamy taste. It even frothed the same way as cow’s milk.I was immediately curious. When I started to ask about oat milk’s origins and where it was being produced, I realized that the few, early-to-market brands were imported from Europe. I wondered: Why are we buying these drinks from overseas when Canada has some of the largest freshwater reserves and is the second-largest oat producer in the world? Our market research confirmed our curiosity. Sales of dairy milk have been steadily on the decline, falling 18% per cent between 1995 and 2014. According to Nielsen, sales of plant-based milk beverages rose 9% in a single year, up to June 2018.

What need or problem does your product solve?

Over the last decade, there has been a mass shift in consumer preferences toward a more plant-based diet and health-focused lifestyle. Consumers have also become more aware of their impact on the environment and of the food processing industry, while taking steps to reduce waste in packaging and single-use utensils. It takes 6,098 litres of water to produce only one litre of almond milk.

 What was your biggest challenge launch your company?

So far, capital. The food industry is notoriously competitive, prone to spoilage, and expensive to operate in. When you’re first starting out, most companies work with food labs, as I have, to develop a safe and delicious product for consumers.

What’s the most fun you’ve had in launching the business?

Definitely recipe testing! After each session at our food lab in Guelph, Ontario, I have friends and family give feedback on taste, mouth-feel, colour and consistency of each iteration. My local coffee shop has also let me test on their professional machines, providing their expert opinion on its taste and foamability – a very important factor in creating the perfect beverage.

 Any advice for other new entrepreneurs?

Tap into your gut feeling, focus on a few keys goals, and truly believe in yourself.

 

Newton Zheng, BCom'19

Quickefi

Newton Zheng, BCom’19

Founded: Toronto and Kingston with Dylan Brookes, Com’20, and Jonathan Ge

Dare to Dream Donor: Dany Battat, BCom’78, and Gia Steffensen, BCo’78

What does your company do?

Quickefi is an online platform that makes it easy for owners to rent items in their household to renters near them.

What makes your company unique?

We provide insurance for all items listed on the platform. In addition, our vetting process ensures that all users on the platform are trustworthy.

What need or problem does your product solve?

Over 80 per cent of household items get used less than once a month. Many of these items are expensive, such as camping equipment, camera and camera accessories, and home renovation gear. Instead of leaving these products at home unused, homeowners can rent out their products to others to make some side income. Meanwhile, renters can rent these products for a short period of time at 30 per cent lower cost than traditional rental stores. If consumers are open to the idea of sharing their homes and their cars, there's no reason for them not to be open to the idea of sharing items that are just lying around their homes.

What was your biggest challenge launch your company?

As a two-sided marketplace, we had some challenges in getting enough renters and lenders to use the platform at the same time. However, we helped to solve this by focusing on high-usage products that are the most in demand and typically unused in a home, such as cameras and speakers.

What’s the most fun you’ve had in launching the business?

I love the diversity of the things that I get to work on! On one day, you can find me designing app screens for the next version of our product, while on another day, you will find me on launching marketing campaigns to get new users! It keeps everyday interesting and exciting.

Any advice for other new entrepreneurs?

Sell before you have a product to make sure you’re developing the right solution.

 

Jasdeep Toor, MFin'19

CabTreks

Jasdeep Toor, MFin’19

Founded: November 2018 in Calgary

Dare to Dream Donor: CIBC

What does your company do?

We connect taxi drivers who have excess capacity due to competition from ride sharing with local retailers struggling to meet the demands of same-day delivery that has come to be an expectation from customers.

What makes your company unique?

We use existing taxi fleets and focus on pharmaceutical delivery.

What need or problem does your product solve?

Small, local courier companies don’t have the flexibility to accommodate the delivery needs of pharmacies and other retailers, who don’t necessarily know where their deliveries are going the day before. 

What was your biggest challenge launch your company?

You have to start something from nothing and have customers trust you without any sort of track record. Your early adopters are really hard to find on all sides.  

What’s the most fun you’ve had in launching the business?

When I saw the first conversion of a service into revenue after months of looking for customers, recruiting drivers, designing and building product, and negotiating agreements. 

Any advice for other new entrepreneurs?

Make a plan, execute and re-evaluate consistently. And find a support system to help you.

Ryan Jamieson, EMBA'19

Otonomy

Ryan Jamieson, EMBA’19 

Founded: 2018 in Vancouver with Paul Newton

Dare to Dream Donor: RLS Foundation

What does your company do?

We are a matchmaking platform for buyers and sellers of small businesses. It’s estimated that 47 per cent of small businesses will change ownership over the next five years.

What makes your company unique?

We are focused on ensuring both buyers and sellers have a personalized experience. Our goal is to keep small businesses in Canada.

What need or problem does your product solve?

We solve two major issues. For sellers: Small business owners are ignored or overcharged by the existing market and end up losing decades of built-up value when they cannot find a successor for their businesses. For buyers: 50 per cent of Canadians want to be their own boss, yet everyone has been sold on the entrepreneurial vision of starting something new. We aim to redefine what it means to be an ‘entrepreneur’ and show Canadians that they can work for themselves by buying a profitable and successful business.

What was your biggest challenge launch your company?

Learning what bootstrapping truly means. Whether it is bookkeeping, sales or figuring out our go-to-market strategy; it’s all on us.

What’s the most fun you’ve had in launching the business?

I’ve always wanted to build something. Every day I have the opportunity to do just that!

Any advice for other new entrepreneurs?

Everything takes longer than you think it should.