Andrew MacDonald and I have been toiling away over the last few weeks at the business and product of BidSquid and have been making great progress. I posted a blog over there giving an overview of our idea. Head on over and let us know what you think!
Co-founded by Gerry Pond, Propel is Atlantic Canada’s startup accelerator. Its mandate is to:
educate and mentor entrepreneurs with the goal of launching Atlantic Canada’s first billion dollar tech company
Same! — though we tend to be a little upstream in the pipeline (to mix metaphors). We train students to build apps and test business models. Many of our students and alumni then go on to pitch their ideas to Propel (and others) in pursuit of their entrepreneurial goals.
So we’re very encouraged by the fact that all but one of this year’s Propel Launch cohort are UIT students, alumni, or staff:
- BidSquid (a stock-market-like platform for rural commodities) — cofounders David Hachey and Andrew MacDonald are UIT students.
- MySong (an SMS/mobile app that connects DJ’s and partygoers) — cofounders Riley Boudreau and Freddie Willett are UIT students.
- EspresSos (a rolodex for your friends/coworkers’ coffee preferences) — cofounders Rachael MacKeigan and George Johnston are UIT alumni.
- Player Pack (a digital hockey card and social network for little leaguers) — founder Steven Rolls is a UIT alumni.
- Click2Order (branded online ordering for restaurants) — cofounders Matt Stewart and Rob Myers are UIT staff.
(The sixth Sydney-based company is Perata, a retail analytics startup that won Innovacorp’s Spark funding in 2016… and keeps trying to hire UIT students before they’ve even completed our 10-month program! Hi Glenn 🙂 )
Why is UIT so well represented in Propel’s first Cape Breton cohort? Because — as per the ‘upstream-pipeline’ — we prepare students for exactly this kind of opportunity in an aspiring entrepreneur’s journey. But hey, don’t take our word for it: hear from some of the students themselves: uitstartup.org/at-uit-episode-2
Propel’s 12-week Launch cohort in Sydney is hosted at Navigate Startup House, down the hall from UIT, in the New Dawn Centre for Social Innovation. For other details, see Entrevestor’s article: http://entrevestor.com/ac/blog/sydney-prominent-in-propel-cohort
Let’s talk about funding startups and let’s focus on all the opportunities available to us here in Cape Breton. There’s a lot going on and a lot of options available.
We sit down with BidSquid founder David Hachey, Click 2 Order CTO Rob Myers and UIT Startup Immersion Operations Manager Heather Deveaux to find out more.
Intro music: Lewis and Dekalb Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
I realized recently that I had never actually gone into depth about ‘The Merchants Guild’ in a blog post. Moving forward I’m starting with customer validation and sharing information. Because of this a post like this would be a good resource to have.
All About The Merchants Guild
For those that don’t know: The Merchants Guild is my current idea for the business I have been working on in my time at UIT. A summer of Live Action Role Playing (LARP) inspired The Merchants Guild. LARPing requires all sorts of gear and equipment: from swords and shields to clothes and camping gear. Most people create unique characters to play and want to have their character fit a certain image or ascetic which makes finding the right gear very important.
The LARP online community loves to make and sell things to special order or to try and make things themselves. However; the current methods of finding and buying from online sellers are weak. There are weaknesses in some websites like Etsy that have LARP gear on them, but since the website isn’t designed for it there are weaknesses in the system. The other common solution is to use Facebook groups for buying and selling which is almost always a nightmare.
I experienced all of these pains myself. I had tried to buy things and been unable to find what I wanted. Commercial solutions were too generic and seemed really expensive when you were only compromising. I also tried to make and sell my own gear but customers locally were few and far between. So I sought out to try and making a website that would fill the gap for a marketplace that fits the needs of LARPers and LARP crafters.
To that extent I created The Merchants Guild. Although it is still in development it has been improving steadily. The website allows people who produce their own goods to share their creations and also allows buyers to post requests which anyone can use to contact them about fulfilling orders.
Recent developments include the creation of an API which is not only improving the current Merchants Guild website but also paving the way for future integrations into other LARP sites and programs.
Me and the Merchants Guild
The Merchants Guild keeps me excited all the time. Normally anything that starts as a school project gets dry for me. Even if I like the idea and want to keep going with it. Maybe it is because I’m always working on it, or maybe because I’m always working on LARP.
When I started UIT I liked the idea of learning business but I was completely uninterested in starting a start-up. We talked a lot about having ideas that you know you have to do, and you have to be the person to do them. Thats what The Merchants Guild is for me. It is the idea I know that I have to be working on.
It is very exciting to have a project you can be passionate about and that those around you are also excited for. I’m very happy to be able to move forward and develop this with the hopes of helping LARPers globally who have experienced the same pains as me.
After the Christmas break, I teamed up with Dave Hachey, a fellow UIT student, to work on the technical side of his startup idea. The idea is a two-sided market for locally produced commodities. Typical markets such as Kijiji only show you one side of the market: the sellers. This idea allows you to view and be a part of both the supply, and the demand. Think of it like a stock market, but totally relative to your location, and for local goods and services (for example apples, firewood, or plumbers for hire).
Submit a bid, asking for a good or service, and name your price. The higher you’re willing to pay, the more likely a potential seller will be willing to contact you. Submit an offer, offering up a good or service, and again, name your price. In this case, the lower you’re willing to sell for will be what attracts potential buyers to your listing.
I signed on as the technical co-founder, to help bring this idea to life. I’ve heard it before, that you need one person with the industry experience, and one person with the technical know-how to make this type of idea work. Dave has the many years of working in the stock market as well as operating a small farm, and I have the passion and drive to build a platform like this. Together, we’re building BidSquid – you can see the simple landing page I’ve put together, which is live today!
Another thing that’s gone on at UIT is the communication classes, taught by Ian McNeil. We’ve covered public speaking, dealing with the media, and interviews. There was a lot of really solid advice jam-packed into two months, and I’ve already had the chance to use what we learned in the real world.
Just the other day I was on CBC radio with Mike Targett, to talk about my experience at hackathons, to promote UIT’s hackathon they just had (which I unfortunately missed!). I had the chance to make use of some of the interview tactics I learned in Ian’s class, and there are definitely going to be a lot many more. From doing interviews on radio to just dealing with answering questions in everyday life, I feel like it will be a long-term improvement to how to better answer and ask questions.
I was always a coder, and I always will be. I always pictured myself working at another company, writing code. But looking back, I think deep down I always wanted to do my own thing. In fact, you can actually still see the website for my ‘company’ I had when I was maybe 13 or 14 years old, called OxygenSoft.
I can’t see myself being some kind of business guru one day, and I know that my domain is in the technical side of things. But as a coder I always preferred to build something from the ground up, rather than starting off from something that’s already established. I always felt more acquainted with the code and the product itself by the time it was working. And I think it’s almost the same way for entrepreneurs – rather than starting off working at a company somewhere, it’s the want to build something from nothing.
During reading week, I attended the Propel ICT selection camp to pitch a company Riley and I are working on, and I managed to get a spot in the 2017 cohort. Our software allows the crowd of an event to send song requests to the DJ from their phones. Going to selection camp alone was an interesting but somewhat stressful experience.
What is Propel?
Propel is a startup accelerator in Atlantic Canada. They offer three different programs depending on how far along your company is. We applied for Launch, which guides entrepreneurs through the early stages of validating, developing and launching a startup.
It all started in UIT when everyone in the class had to make a mock application to Propel, we were all also encouraged to send them in but it was optional. We didn’t expect a response when we sent our one minute, poorly-edited video to them.
They must have liked it because after about a week Riley received an email saying we were in. That was exciting.
We had come across a problem. In October, Riley booked a trip to England for two weeks in February. Selection camp was during that time. It was too late to cancel his trip, and they couldn’t change the day obviously, so the only option was for me to go alone. That was spooky.
When selection camp rolled around, I was pretty nervous. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, but I figured I’d try my best. Selection camp starts with all the companies delivering an elevator pitch to the whole room (the spooky part), followed with interviews by eight different groups of two mentors for eight minutes each. For those keeping track at home, that’s sixty-four minutes of interviewing and only one of pitching.
February 22nd, 2017 – Dawn of the final day
I’m pretty sure time was moving a little slower while I was waiting to pitch, but when that time came, it went better than I expected. I didn’t think I’d remember the whole thing, but I managed to get it all out and it was under a minute too. It went perfectly. The interviewing was next which I was no problem for me.
Interviewing for over an hour doesn’t sound fun, but that wasn’t the case. All the mentors/judges were super nice and offered a ton of ideas for our company. Everyone seemed to like our idea from what I could tell. Even if we didn’t get into Propel, just getting a chance talking to all these established business(wo)men was incredibly valuable for the ideas they offered. They did all ask pretty well the same questions, but that was to be expected. How many questions could they really ask a kid who doesn’t know much about business other than he has an idea for one?
After being interviewed by all the groups, we were done and people started clearing out. I said my goodbyes and went on my way. Two days later Riley got an email saying that we were in. We were both super happy, and it is definitely an accomplishment that I’m quite proud of.
All in all, selection camp was a fun experience that I would absolutely recommend stays in the UIT curriculum for future years, even if it did seem a little overwhelming/scary at first. Hopefully we make millions (or just one million, I guess we could settle for that) and get the chance to come be judges in the future.
“So what are you doing after high school?”
That’s a question you’ve answered before, but it probably took a long time to think of the final answer. Luckily for me, throughout my high school years I kept hearing about this new startup called “UIT Startup Immersion”, you’ve probably heard about it. After seeking out as many options as I can to have to widest range to chose from, it didn’t seem like a lot of options and UIT was the only program to jump out and gain my full attention.
Of course, I did pick UIT and fast forward until now and I’m about halfway through the program. And it’s going very well. I am learning programming quicker than I thought I ever would and I’m meeting loads of important and interesting people in the tech industry. And I am actually doing a lot of public speaking, which to be honest I thought I’d never have to do in life. I’m still not a huge fan of getting up in front of a group of people but I suppose I’d have to say I’ve gotten a lot better at it.
“So what am I doing after UIT?”
As the end of the UIT comes closer, I’m asking myself the same question I asked last year but it’s now “What do I do after UIT?” Most graduates at UIT will either move forward with their startup idea, or even join an existing company. However, personally I’d like to stay in school to gain more educational experience. Now I have the same options I’ve had before minus UIT. Since CBU doesn’t have a Computer Science Program, and I also don’t wanna leave Cape Breton this year, I chose the Web Development program at NSCC.
I chose the program because it’s something I actually like doing. I could’ve went forward with the UIT credits and chose a BBA at CBU, however I feel like that didn’t interest me enough. While doing web development at NSCC, my experience from UIT might over qualify me for it however I feel like if I spent more time on coding over a longer period of time I’d definitely get better at it. Another thing is that I’m still not sure what I’m passionate for. I picked coding because I thought I’d be good at it since I’ve been on computers my whole life, but I’m unsure which type of programming I want to specialize in.
In the end, I chose NSCC because it’s close to home, it’s something I like doing, and it’s two years of time I can think about what I’m passionate for.