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The Spirit of the Startup Entrepreneur

 

Being a startup entrepreneur can be a difficult yet extremely rewarding profession. It requires an immense amount of dedication to your idea and a commitment to your project. Toronto is home to a burgeoning scene of entrepreneurs who are seeking to make their mark on the landscape by producing fresh ideas. These startup businesses come from a range of industries. They cover tech, consumer products, health and welfare, and entertainment. OPN (Open People Network) organized a PitchIt event on a regular basis. This event is to showcase some of the best startup ideas out there. These businesses put themselves before a panel of investors and receive feedback. The audience is also free to provide feedback and ask questions of the startups. What emerges from such an event is a community of ideas and a spirit of entrepreneurship.

 

Flow Water: Riding the World of Plastic Bottles, One Non-plastic Renewable Compostable Bottle at a Time

 

Nicholas Reichenbach has been involved in the world of business for a long time. In fact, he is now working on his eleventh company and is a serial startup entrepreneur. After selling one of his companies in San Francisco, he initiated his current project. Flow is a water product that uses non-plastic, fully renewable and compostable material. This vision is to rid the world of plastic bottles. Nicholas was inspired to start his new venture after attending the Burning Man festival. Using spring water from a family well, he bottled his product in an environmentally friendly product.

 

“I’ve been in tech for over 20 years so I was ready to go from applying those principles to another type of business,” Nicholas said. “It’s exciting because I can apply my tech startup and digital principles to an industry that doesn’t do that.”

The success of Flow is clear to see. After three years they are now available in 6,500 locations. They are the only company to do online water subscriptions on Shopify. They have also built a state of the art manufacturing facility in Aurora, Ontario. Flow now sponsors OPN’s PitchIt events, hoping to inspire others to follow through on their business plans.

Nicholas Flow Water/ Courtesy of Alina Parjapati

Nicholas Reichenbach – Flow Water/ Courtesy of Alina Parjapati

 

Ribitt: Big Corporate Caliber Rewards Program for Local Small Businesses

 

Ribitt hopes to revolutionize the world of local retailers with their app. The idea behind their project came from a challenge in university. Company founders, Ribat Chowdhury and Sara Virji, took part in the $5 in 5 days challenge. Their challenge was to raise as much money in five days while spending only $5. Their classmates bought snow shovels or bought cookie dough to sell cookies. Instead, Ribat and Sana printed a coupon book and got local businesses to subscribe for $150. They got a total of 43 outlets to take part and at the end of the five days had made $6,300. From this success, their app Ribitt was born.

 

Explaining the functions of the app, Ribat described it as “AirMiles, but for small local businesses, the mom & pop shops, the local retail stores, salons. We aggregate local businesses on one loyalty program. As a consumer, you can use our app and pay for purchases at the participating outlets through our app. When you do that, you get points. As you add up those points they become dollars which you can spend at any of our participating outlets.”

 

Following the success of their university competition, they crowdfunded the development of their platform. Local businesses who had been part of their coupon program paid to become part of their app before the product was even launched. From there the success of the company took off. They now have six full-time employees.

 

The next step for Ribitt is to expand into a major city like Toronto. This will prove that their app can work on in a large scale environment. They are aiming for a large number of transactions to be made through their app in the next 12 months.

 

Sana Virji & Ribat Chowdhury - Ribitt/ Courtesy of Alina Prajapati

Sana Virji & Ribat Chowdhury – Ribitt/ Courtesy of Alina Prajapati

Senior Care Connect: Relieving Elderly Care Pressure on the “Sandwich Generation”

 

PitchIt offers a startup entrepreneur their first real experience in front of a panel of investors. Kristal Lewis, the founder of Senior Care Connect, found her first experience of selling her idea at a PitchIt event rewarding. “Pitching for investing is something which has been fairly new for me. PitchIt TO was the first time pitching in that type of environment outside of our business accelerator,” she said. “From OPN we were able to get access to investors. We were invited to a meeting of the York Angels. OPN was able to boost our exposure. We have been able to get the feedback we need to refine what we are doing to get to the point that where investors are looking to put in larger dollars to allow us to scale up from where we are now.”

 

Senior Care Connect aims to provide a service for families when choosing a care home for elderly relatives. Kristal has years of experience as a social worker and discovered that there were limited options for people who were seeking private care options. She sees the pressure being placed on the ‘sandwiched generation’, those people in their 40’s and 50’s. This demographic have young families, bills to pay and are working hard. Yet they also must take care of their elderly relatives. Senior Care Connect hopes to relieve some of the pressure that families face when trying to find a care home to suit older relatives.

 

Kristal found that OPN allowed them the opportunity to refine their pitch and their business idea. Coming from a healthcare background, Kristal has expertise in the industry. However, refining her pitch allows her to transfer her knowledge to potential investors, which would allow her business to grow and develop.

 

Kristal Lewis - Senior Care Connect/ Courtesy of Alina Prajapati

Kristal Lewis – Senior Care Connect/ Courtesy of Alina Prajapati

Investment and Investor Exposure

 

Investment is an important aspect for many entrepreneurs to allow their startup businesses to flourish. The format of OPN’s PitchIt events is companies pitching their idea to a panel of investors. These investors come from a range of industries and have years of experience between them. However, unlike many other startup events, there isn’t prize money at stake, or a winner. Investors are there to provide feedback to businesses, and to suggest changes that they should make to tailor their plan. If an investor feels that a project is worth backing, they can reach out to a company privately and begin a discussion about a possible financial arrangement.

Ribitt has had found investors from a range of industries. They have found investment from some people who have been involved in tech. Other people who have come from traditional manufacturing or product related companies. Ribat Chowdhury told us that “overall, with limited resources, we have been able to gain a lot of traction. We didn’t spend a lot of time coming up with a business model. We just went out there and did it. I would say that investors really value the team and the people. We give them confidence that when they give us money we will be able to figure out how best to use it. Investors realise that whatever we have done so far is very impressive.”

 

Nicholas Reichenbach believes that there is always investment if the idea is worthwhile. “It’s always challenging raising money,” he said. “This being my 11th company I’m very familiar with multiple avenues of funding. I’ve done private equity, I’ve done venture capital. I’m very familiar with that model. I’ve done something different this time in that I’ve only met with one venture capital company. I’ve structured this company like a public company. We’ve 150 shareholders.”

 

Grease the Musical: Musical Theater can be a Successful Business Model

However, the PitchIt event is not limited to raising capital. It is also about raising awareness about what is happening in the startup entrepreneur community. Grease the Musical gave the audience an insight of their business model. They demonstrated that the show-business industry can be profitable as well as rewarding. It has been almost 20 years since someone has brought a production of Grease to Toronto. Charles Roy and David Galpern are bringing the musical back to the city, which is opening on November 9th.

 

“The rights for Grease is notoriously hard to get. We were blown away when our application came through,” they told PitchIt. David was involved in a production in L.A. at the time they were rehearsing a production of Grease for the Fox Network. The show turned out to be one of the hits of 2016. This sparked an idea of bringing a production to Toronto.

 

“We are one of the resident companies producing out of the Winter Garden Theatre. Part of our thinking was exploring our options for musicals to produce. We were specifically looking to find a musical that would fit the dimensions of the Winter Garden Theatre. It is one of the last remaining double-decker theatres in the world which is over 100 years old. It is underutilized in the city. Part of our goal was to bring life back to theatre and put it back on the cultural map in Toronto.”

 

PitchIt afforded them the opportunity to demonstrate that musical theatre can be a successful business model. This is especially true when they were able to identify their audience. Toronto is one of the biggest theatre going markets in the world. Theatre tourism is also on the rise in the city.

 

Charles Roy - Grease the Musical/ Courtesy of Alina Parjapati

Charles Roy – Grease the Musical/ Courtesy of Alina Parjapati

Startup Community Building 

 

Ultimately, the purpose of OPN’s PitchIt event is to build a community of entrepreneurs. The founder, Jeffery Potvin, got the inspiration to begin the event after discussing the option with several startups. They have now celebrated their 20th PitchIt event. The success of the event is measured by people talking and engaging new ideas. Whether that be attracting new investment, or finding new talent. Potvin hopes that people come away from his events more engaged in the entrepreneurial spirit. Their next Pitch event will take place on October 21st and they encourage startups and entrepreneurs to get in contact if they would like to showcase their idea.

 

 

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