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UPstart goes global: three ​​​ventures awarded funding ​​​​to grow their businesses

Posted on December 17, 2020
Brüst co-founders Josh Barr, BCom'10, and Amar Gupta.
Brüst co-founders Josh Barr, BCom'10, and Amar Gupta.

Kingston, Ont. – On Dec. 2, eight teams battled it out at the fifth annual UPstart Venture Challenge, with two teams earning a share of $55,000 in prize funding to help grow their companies. 

Hosted by the Centre for Business Venturing and Queen's Venture Network at Smith School of Business, UPStart is normally held in person in Toronto. But due to COVID-19, this year's event was virtual. The online format extended the competition's reach, with participants and attendees from four continents.

"What excited me was the opportunity to welcome an increase in applications from around the world and find some hidden gems," says JP Shearer, associate director of the Centre for Business Venturing at Smith. 

A short list of eight startups was invited to pitch their businesses to a panel of experienced judges. 

"UPstart Venture Challenge provides the stage for people to see the depth of entrepreneurial talent that Smith and Queen's has to offer," Shearer notes. "Every one of them deserves praise for having the courage over comfort to chase their entrepreneurial dreams."    

Judges were free to divide the prize money among as many teams as they wished. The two teams to win a share of the pot are: 

  • Brüst Beverage Company (Toronto) – the maker of a protein-packed cold brew coffee crafted to help people fuel up on the go. Co-founded by Josh Barr, BCom'10, the company was awarded $30,000.
  • Sparkbox (Southampton, U.K.) – a price planning, optimization and insights AI platform designed for fashion and seasonal business retailers. Co-founded by Lindsay Fisher, BCom'12, the company received $25,000. 

"I want to thank the Queen's community for supporting entrepreneurs like us. We are so excited to be able to put these funds into marketing initiatives that will help accelerate our business's growth across Canada," Brüst's Barr says.

This year's competition also included something new: a $5,000 People's Choice Award. It was presented to the co-founders of the online teacher development program 1 Million Teachers (Kingston, Ont.), Hakeem Subair, MMIE'17; Rizma Butt, MMIE'17; and Eric Zhang, MMIE'18. 

Thanks to the judges of the competition finals: Rachel Zimmer, BCom'10; Kristina Pearce, BCom'92; Jason Capello, Bcom'96; and Jay Wright, BCom'81. Elspeth Murray, associate dean of MBA and masters programs at Smith was event moderator.

Additional thanks go to our pre-screen judges: Michael O'Flaherty, BCom'92; John MacIntyre, BCom'78; Graham McBride, BCom'85; Jason Hawkins, BCom'18; Nicola Von Schroeter, BCom'88; Valerie Mann, BCom'86; Grant Lawrence, BCom'86; and Eric Cook, MBA'91. 

This year’s UPstart prize funding of $60,000 was made possible through alumni donations and a contribution from Cogeco. The Smith Centre for Business Venturing and Master of Management Innovation and Entrepreneurship program supported the People’s Choice Award. 

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