High Tech Couture. Created and executed by some of MaRS’ most ambitious clients, these self-described “explorers” aren’t afraid to take risks and fundamentally believe that innovation is their only job.

The late billionaire Roy Thomson got an unlikely start as a corporate giant, selling radios and auto parts from the trunk of his car. Before a young Izzy Asper became the owner of his own media empire, he worked such long hours, even while he was courting his future wife, that her family nicknamed him “coffee” because that was all he had time for. Canada’s last generation of media titans, who often started with nothing, built their companies into massive enterprises of content and distribution because they shared a dogged perseverance, a willingness to take risks, and the ability to seize an opportunity.

You can look at many of the young entrepreneurs in the information technology, communications and entertainment (ICE) practice at MaRS, and see a similar parcel of inspiration and determination. But because this is a very different time, operating under brand new rules, the rise to prominence of these new media moguls could be faster and higher than the previous generation ever imagined.

“We want to be game-changers,” says Chad Hamre, the CEO of Ethical Ocean. And there’s every reason to think that his, or any of these 17 new-media companies working with MaRS, can be just that. While emerging companies such as Herd.fm, Ethical Ocean, Open File, JUICE Mobile and Jigsee are each very different in vision and scope, they share some vital characteristics.

For a start, they’re led by smart entrepreneurs who, despite being young, have already acquired a sizeable amount of experience in their fields. Davin Lengyel, Romeo Candido and James Milward, the three men behind the mobile music application Herd.fm, have multiple film, TV and music credits to their names. Ray Newal of Jigsee, an exciting mobile video and ad platform for the developing world, has played crucial roles at DoubleClick, MSN and Yahoo. Many of the founders behind Ethical Ocean, a new online marketplace for socially and environmentally conscious shoppers, gained experience working for sustainable development in Africa. Wilf Dinnick, the head of Open File, a groundbreaking source of local news in seven Canadian markets, travelled throughout the Middle East and Asia as a journalist for ABC news and CNN. And in addition to his years of experience working with advertisers, Neil Sweeney, of the unique mobile advertising and analytics firm, JUICE Mobile, was responsible for bringing the first US prime time television programs to online in Canada.

Experience provided each of them with the kind of second sight an entrepreneur needs to recognize a need and an opportunity when it arises. And so it’s no surprise that the idea at the core of each of these new companies sprang from a moment of revelation. Sometimes it came during a brainstorming session — in a crowded car during a road trip to Montreal, in the case of Ethical Ocean, or a two-week retreat for the men of Herd.fm — and sometimes it grew out of a sense of frustration at having to do things the old way, when a new way could be so much better.

JUICE Mobile’s Neil Sweeney watched as more and more Canadians bought smartphones and iPads and the whole mobile market began to expand exponentially. He knew that in the United States, mobile advertising was a billion dollar market, which meant that Canada’s should have been at least $100 million. But in reality it was only a fraction of that. So Sweeney drew a large question mark on a piece of paper and asked himself what was preventing the mobile market in Canada from achieving its potential? “I thought to myself, ‘If I can figure out the answer to this question, I’ve got a business model.’”

During a trek through India, Ray Newal witnessed the widespread use of far more basic phones to watch and share video content. He saw a chance to assist content producers in streaming video to an enormous audience lacking the broadband that developed markets took for granted. Home from his journalistic adventures, Wilf Dinnick saw the traditional media outlets in Canada — TV and newspapers particularly — struggling to adapt to an online world that overflowed with information. He identified a segment of content those established media outlets were missing entirely — local news — because they lacked the understanding and the resources to pursue it. “The big media companies aren’t going to innovate,” Dinnick said to himself. “We can do this better, more effectively and cheaper.”

What makes the ambitions of each of these new media companies attainable is their inherent understanding of two related phenomena: the growing desire of new media consumers to connect — to ideas, to places, to each other — and the advances in technology that make those connections possible.

The three men behind Herd.fm met at a “media labs” retreat run by the Canadian Film Centre and came together over their shared interest in the possibilities of smart phones. What attracted them most was the potential of geo-tagging — the technology of attaching precise location coordinates to data files. They knew that people often discovered music in physical places, at concerts or in coffee shops or clothing stores. They wondered, what if there was a way to allow artists to “drop” music in a location, virtually, and allow smart phone users moving into that location to “discover” it? When they did that, says James Milward, they realized, “We have created a whole virtual layer of real estate — media real estate — around the world.”

Connection takes different forms at different companies. At Open File, the consumers of its original local content have the opportunity to suggest stories, and to have their names associated with the stories that result. That connection actually serves Open File’s goals, because, as Wilf Dinnick explains, “If they suggest a story we know they are going to propagate it. They are going to send it around to people because it’s theirs and they are proud of it.” At Ethical Ocean, meanwhile, the idea of connection takes the form of “crowd sourcing,” gathering and presenting information from consumers and experts about the nature of the products being sold. Armed with that information, says Chad Hamre, “someone can then look and say, ‘Does this product align with my values?’”

In India, the challenges and the potential of making connections are perhaps greatest of all. “You’ve got eight or nine major languages in India,” says Ray Newal. “It is a country of countries.” Each of those regions and cultures produces unique content that, because it is shared hand to hand, tends to stay within those social boundaries. But by giving users the ability to create and wirelessly share playlists of their favorite content, Jigsee’s technology has the potential to expand the distribution of that content to a much larger market. “Upwards of a billion people,” says Newal. And maybe more: Already, thanks to Jigsee, there are people watching Bollywood movies on cell-phones in Peru.

Opportunity from experience, and connection through new technology — the companies in the ICE practice at MaRS share each of these qualities. But the most important might be their inherent understanding that the potential for their products and ideas are greater than they were back in the days of Roy Thomson and Izzy Asper. While the traditional media sources in this country figured out how to succeed in a marketplace protected and defined by Canada’s borders, the digital revolution has largely dissolved those boundaries. Digital means competing in a worldwide arena. And there, says Neil Sweeney, “The best product goes to the top.”

Article by Trevor Cole


Check out the Mod Media Makers:

About Mod Media Makers


Guardly

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Team: Josh Sookman, Nolan Dubeau, Robert Lendvai, Bretton MacLean, Mark Pavlidis

The 10 Second Elevator Pitch:
Guardly is a mobile safety service that allows you to instantly alert, connect to and collaborate with a trusted safety network in an emergency. With one tap you’re connected to friends, family and authorities, using voice, text, email, location and the web.

“I thought about how I could apply two key concepts—location and saving time—to disrupt a market ripe for innovation. Then it hit me—personal safety!”

The security business hasn’t exactly been a hotbed of innovation. What led you to it?

It was actually that lack of innovation that inspired me. I thought about how I could apply two key concepts—location and saving time—to disrupt a market ripe for innovation. Then it hit me—personal safety! More than a decade ago, my parents insisted I get a cell phone so I could reach them easily in case of an emergency. Parents are still security-conscious, and now mobile phones are rapidly transitioning from “dumb phones” to location-aware smartphones. We also have low-cost, high-speed mobile networks that support data-rich features for over 150 million users in North America. We’ve put the next-generation home alarm system into your pocket.

You’re targeting a younger, more technology- savvy user than traditional security companies. How do you get them excited about security? How do you walk the fine line between marketing peace of mind versus spreading fear?

Our system reduces fear because customers can take control of their personal safety. Smartphones are an integral part of our customers’ daily lives and they like being able to easily include friends and family as part of their safety network. They see that Guardly makes great use of the smartphone’s built-in capabilities. By sharing the app with thousands of their friends and family members, our customers are actually marketing Guardly for us.

Before starting Guardly you worked on the venture capital side of the business. How did that prepare you to be a better entrepreneur?

Working with RBC Venture Partners and the BlackBerry Partners Fund gave me a better understanding of the difference between an app and a business—more specifically, the significant difference between a cottage industry and a venture-scale business. Working in VC helped me understand which markets had massive potential and where key innovations were lacking in the ecosystem.

“Working with RBC Venture Partners and the BlackBerry Partners Fund gave me a better understanding of the difference between an app and a business”

Furthermore, my time in venture capital has helped me understand the economics that VCs look to achieve. Bringing that mindset to the table makes the funding conversation much easier. In addition, having a good understanding of corporate capitalization structures and VC math helps put into perspective why it’s okay (and sometimes beneficial) to give away significant percentages of the company.

You don’t leave home without?

Guardly.

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WeblishPal

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10-Second Elevator Pitch:

WeblishPal connects English learners with native English speakers online.

“WeblishPal was designed to help students focus on what matters—improving their English skills.”

The language-learning market is fragmented across traditional brick-and-mortar institutions with small web players competing for users in smaller markets. What does WeblishPal bring to the market?

WeblishPal puts learning back into the hands of students and provides boundless income-earning opportunities for tutors. And we make it easy for both English learners and tutors to connect across international boundaries. It’s quite difficult for students in China, for instance, to find English-speaking tutors at rates they can afford, who can teach them what they need. The next hurdle is coordinating international payments and keeping track of classes and scheduling. WeblishPal was designed to help students focus on what matters—improving their English skills.

Consumer acquisition can be an uphill battle. Has it been easy for WeblishPal to acquire users? What are users saying about the service?

Growing any business takes a lot of work. Part of our challenge has been to raise awareness and establish trust with our customers across global boundaries. Our online marketing is quite complex since we work across a number of Chinese social platforms like RenRen, QQ, and Sina, as well as the usual ones like Facebook and Twitter. The next step is to build trust on the payment side. We are partnering with well-known payment providers, we don’t store any confidential user information, and we give all our users direct access to contact WeblishPal staff to help them.

It’s been amazing to see the positive response and recommendations to friends that have come through our early users, once they start using our site. We’ve been able to confirm that there is an incredibly strong market need for the WeblishPal offering. Now it’s about tapping into the right distribution and partnership channels, both online and offline, so more people can experience this for themselves.

You have both graduated from one of Canada’s top business schools.  How did this experience prepare you for WeblishPal? What have been the most exciting and not-so-exciting things about launching a start-up?

Both of us completed our MBAs part-time while working full time at very demanding jobs, so we are already used to working pretty much all the time and knowing how to get things done. With the MBA degree specifically, it trains you to think big and see atypical connections and strategies for the business. At Rotman, we also had exposure to many successful businesspeople. This not only increased our network, it gave us confidence to ask people for introductions or for help.

“The most exciting aspect of running the startup is the chance to work on something that you create. There’s never a day where I don’t feel like going to work at WeblishPal.”

The most exciting aspect of running the startup is the chance to work on something that you create. There’s never a day where I don’t feel like going to work at WeblishPal. Sometimes, however, you feel like a “jack of all trades and master of none”—the thing about startups is that you have to do everything, even if you’ve never done it before.

You don’t leave home without?

Barb: My laptop for demos, my iPhone for working on the go, and my hardcover notebook for taking notes. There’s something so effective about using a pen and paper to get ideas across by sketching them out, creating workflow/UX diagrams, and for general doodling.

Danny: My Android phone that connects me to the world, my work schedule—and my belief that I can make WeblishPal better than yesterday.

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Viafoura

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The 10 Second Elevator Pitch:

Viafoura is a cloud-based social conversation platform that provides online brands and publishers with a suite of social applications and services in one fully-integrated solution. We drive continual conversations through a combination of text, audio, video and gaming mechanics to increase time spent, page views and user interactions on our publisher sites.

Viafoura’s unique application is its split-screen video tool that allows users to engage in real-time video debates within a brand’s site or content.”

What differentiates Viafoura to make it stand out from the crowd of other social platforms?

While other solutions facilitate mostly text-based interactions, Viafoura’s social applications integrate text, audio and video to create rich, multi-media interactive experiences.

One of Viafoura’s unique applications is its split-screen video tool that allows users to engage in real-time video debates within a brand’s site or content.

“As interest grew, we started to realize that the social solutions already in the market were lacking critical features to fully engage users in a way that could create meaningful revenues for online publishers”

Another key differentiator is the gaming-mechanics and feedback system we have integrated into the platform. Users provide feedback on original website content, and site visitors can rate the user-generated comments. Users who attain the highest ratings are rewarded for their contributions.

Prior to Viafoura, the team launched an innovative web property where sports fans could express their opinion and engage in debates, called “Whotheman.com.” At what point did you realize that there was an opportunity to package the functionality developed for “Whotheman” and focus exclusively on dominating the emerging market of social engagement platforms?

Given the high level of engagement on the site and how tightly-knit the “Whotheman” community became, we started generating interest from other publishers who wanted to integrate our technology into their sites. As interest grew, we started to realize that the social solutions already in the market were lacking critical features to fully engage users in a way that could create meaningful revenues for online publishers. It was this realization that led to the creation of Viafoura.

“The volatility at this early stage always seems life-or-death, and this goes against my Libra desires to remain balanced”

What’s the most challenging yet exciting aspect of being an entrepreneur?

Ali: The most exciting part is the ability to choose my own team. I spend a lot of time working on my passion and the more of that time I can make enjoyable, the happier I will be. The most challenging part is the constant ups and downs. The volatility at this early stage always seems life-or-death, and this goes against my Libra desires to remain balanced!

Jesse: I think the most exciting aspect is waking up in the morning not knowing what you will be faced with that day. One of the most rewarding feelings is knowing that you’re solving a pain point for people—the inability to properly communicate on the web.

You don’t leave home without?

Ali: I don’t leave home without reading the whiteboard in front of my bed that lists the 7 things I want in life and the 2 things I want to improve on.

Jesse: I believe first impressions are very important, so I always like to leave the house wearing a nice pair of shoes, shirt and jacket.

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TheRedPin.com

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Founding Team: Shayan Hamidi, Ali Ajellu, Rokham Sadeghnezhadfard, Tarik Gidamy

10-Second Elevator Pitch:

TheRedPin.com is Canada’s first online brokerage, and the GTA’s only one-stop condo destination. Our platform is half-Amazon, half-Re/Max, where every new and pre-construction condo has an in-depth profile. Purchasing through TheRedPin.com means zero costs and real incentives for buyers.

“TheRedPin.com online realty services are win-win for everyone—more data, better service and bigger savings.”

The site gives you complete and up-to-date information on every condo project, including images, floor plans, and amenities. Want to make sure the location fits your lifestyle? TheRedPin.com lets you explore neighbourhoods. Families with kids can see all the school rankings, and savvy buyers can check more than a decade of real estate stats to assess investment values.

TheRedPin.com realty services offers FREE expert advice from our award-winning realtors. Buyers get 1% cash back through TheRedPin.com rebate program. TheRedPin.com online realty services are win-win for everyone—more data, better service and bigger savings.

What was the biggest problem you identified in the online real estate market that led to TheRedPin.com? 

There was no centralized database with all the information for new condos. Considering that the Greater Toronto Area is the number one new-condo market in North America and it’s growing fast, we saw the opportunity to help everyone “spot their RedPin” on the map.

There are many online consumer destinations for real estate listings in the Canadian market. How does TheRedPin.com differentiate itself in a crowded industry?

In fact, Canada is very limited in terms of having a destination with all listings and third-party information available. The Canadian Real Estate Association does operate a public website. Its MLS site, Realtor.ca, is the only online destination for resale homes—but they don’t cater to the new home industry. When it comes to the new condo market, TheRedPin.com is the only online destination that has full information on all available projects across the Greater Toronto Area.

“It’s like solving a multi-variable math problem every day.”

More importantly, we streamline the whole purchasing process to make it more efficient. Rather than a simple search site, TheRedPin.com is a home-buying application, and is the only one of its kind in Canada.

What’s the most challenging thing about being entrepreneur?

It’s like solving a multi-variable math problem every day. You need to focus on your business, motivate your employees, market your product and make sales, all at once. Solving that equation, while also balancing your personal life, is the daily challenge.

You don’t leave home without?

Smartphone, tablet, wallet, keys and—of course!—TheRedPin business cards.

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Synaptop

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10 Second Elevator Pitch:

Synaptop is a cutting-edge personal computing solution that runs on the cloud. Synaptop’s virtual operating system and integrated suite of entertainment and productivity applications let individuals within the enterprise and consumers to collaborate seamlessly with others—online and on the go.

“Synaptop is revolutionizing how people share, communicate, work and play on the web.”

Synaptop users can interact with a variety of Synaptop applications—Theatre lets users watch movies with friends and vMsg users can video message each other. Synaptop offers a range of productivity-enhancing applications for enterprise users to communicate and collaborate online. B2C solutions include a customer service application to engage customers and improve sales conversions.

Synaptop is revolutionizing how people share, communicate, work and play on the web.

What market problem is Synaptop addressing? What are the key benefits of your solution?

Synaptop is driving innovation in both the cloud and personal computing spaces.

Today’s personal-computing experience is inefficient. If you think about all the applications people interact with daily and the growing amount of information they have stored on multiple devices, it’s quite daunting.

People are struggling to collaborate with co-workers and friends, manage their growing digital data and the numerous apps they use across multiple devices. Files and applications are stored in and scattered across multiple locations—there is no easy way for individuals to seamlessly migrate from work to their personal lives. They are left to manage multiple passwords across various applications and computing platforms, and have to continually synchronize to keep their files and libraries up to date.

“Today’s personal-computing experience is inefficient.”

Synaptop solves these problems and creates a very streamlined, personal computing experience. Our virtual-collaboration solution allows users to save time, cut expenses and collaborate in a very powerful and efficient manner.

Besides Synaptop, you have beta tested and launched two other startups. What have been the highlights and lowlights of building a company from scratch?

It’s been an exciting and fun journey so far! Synaptop has an excellent team—every employee possesses some special superpower. The great thing about running a startup is that you learn something new every day—but make no mistake, it requires a LOT of work!

I am very fortunate to have Sue McGill and Nathan Monk as Synaptop advisors. They are two very smart people with a lot of experience in the start-up domain.

How has your education and your past helped to form the person you are? What would you like to pass along to others?

I’m a PhD student with a multidisciplinary background in areas of computer science, engineering, and medicine. The more you learn, the more you realize the less you know.

My advice to others is simple—be more! It’s all about being at the right place at the right time.

You don’t leave home without?

My Synaptop “credentials,” an action plan, fashion-forward clothes and a mobile phone.

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PushLife

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The 10 Second Elevator Pitch

PushLife was a mobile commerce platform that leveraged carrier billing infrastructure to deliver an innovative user experience for buying and managing digital goods (such as music and ringtones) across a range of mobile devices.

Do you think the wide range of digital music products—and their business models—are enough to meet the current challenges of the industry, or is a significant amount of innovation still required to capture the full potential of the digital music industry?

I constantly reminded myself that PushLife was not in the music business. We avoided betting on a specific music-business model. We focused on taking established models and innovating on technology and the user experience to drive adoption and revenue on mobile. Our focus was to increase revenue and consumption of digital goods, for a broad range of digital assets, across various mobile platforms.

“We focused on taking established models and innovating on technology and the user experience to drive adoption and revenue on mobile.”

At PushLife, we focused more on building a technology platform to improve the mobile user experience with personalization/recommendations and seamless billing, to make purchasing and consuming digital goods on your phone as compelling and easy as it is on your desktop.

PushLife was recently acquired by Google—congratulations! How did you know that it was the right time to exit? How did you know that Google was right for PushLife?

“It was less about being the right time to exit, more about knowing that Google was the right home for us.”

It was less about being the right time to exit, more about knowing that Google was the right home for us. After spending time with Steven Woods, who runs Google’s Waterloo office, it was clear that Google had plans to do big things in mobile and the resources to actually execute. The thought that we would be able to work on things that affected hundreds of millions of people globally was exciting. Because of the entrepreneurial drive that still exists within Google, it was also a great fit for us culturally—and a few months in, it’s clear that all our employees have transitioned well, and love it!

How much will your product roadmap change now that you are a part of Google?

I can’t comment on specific roadmaps, except to say that our current business is being wound down.

What’s the most challenging yet exciting aspect of being an entrepreneur?

Building the right team is definitely the most challenging aspect, and is one of the most rewarding. Hiring the best people is time-consuming and difficult for a start-up—but hiring Bs and Cs is a recipe for disaster. Once a great team is in place, great culture follows almost immediately—and it’s magical to watch. Everything you do stems from that—from solving hard problems to launching great products. At the end of it all, your best memories of being an entrepreneur will likely be about the people you surrounded yourself with and the things you accomplished with them.

“Once a great team is in place, great culture follows almost immediately—and it’s magical to watch.”

How did PushLife celebrate its acquisition?

We celebrated with a great night out in Toronto—dinner and a concert, followed by a lounge on King West near our offices. It was a low-key night and everyone made it to bed before 10 p.m., for orientation the next day.

You don’t leave home without?

Previously, my BlackBerry—now, my Android!

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Polar Mobile

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Founding Team: Kunal Gupta, Rahul Agarwal, Michael Russo, Carlo Barrettara, Pratik Rathod, Gaurav Jain

10-Second Elevator Pitch:

Polar Mobile provides media publishers around the world with a platform that makes it fast and easy to launch mobile apps across every smartphone.

“Having an app presence everywhere is important, and creating an engaging brand experience keeps users coming back for more.”

Mobile content has been transformed significantly in the past couple of years—moving beyond simple ringtones and wallpaper to more sophisticated mobile content experiences such as games, music and applications. How are media companies using mobile content to engage effectively with mobile consumers?

Media companies are using mobile not only to enrich the experience of their current reader base, but to also attract new readers. Having an app presence everywhere is important, and creating an engaging brand experience keeps users coming back for more.

As an enabler of mobile content, where do you see it heading? What are some of the key challenges in the areas of monetization and distribution?

Multimedia is key. More than communication devices, smartphones and tablets are content-consumption and entertainment devices. Monetization is not easy for new media—the traditional ecosystem of advertising agencies may not immediately see the opportunity for their brand, and consumers are not used to paying for content.

“Monetization is not easy for new media—the traditional ecosystem of advertising agencies may not immediately see the opportunity for their brand,”

Many individuals dream of starting their own company. Polar has been in the market for more than 3 years. How challenging were the first 3, 6, 12 months of business?

Starting, growing and running a business has been a tremendous experience for me, and so has working with the team at Polar Mobile. Early challenges we had to overcome were no different than for other start-ups—first customer, first product launch, first funding round, first set of hires, first entry into the US—and the list goes on.

What are your most notable/memorable moments as an entrepreneur?

Being surrounded by a dynamic, hard-working and fun team passionate about what we are doing—it’s a wonderful experience for any entrepreneur.

You don’t leave home without?

My BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad and PlayBook …

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OpenFile

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Founding Team: Wilf Dinnick, Sonia Chai, Tim Robertson, Craig Silverman, Kathy Vey, Sonia Verma

10 Second elevator pitch

OpenFile is a new model to gather, share and report local news. Unlike traditional news organizations, OpenFile asks its readers—not editors—to drive the editorial content—you suggest the story, we assign the professional reporter, and together we shape the news. OpenFile’s bottom-up model produces a constant stream of original and unique content that traditional media tend to miss.

The publishing industry is struggling to find the right model for creating and delivering news. What can sustain the news industry and attract the capital needed to fund its evolution?

Anyone saying they have “The Answer” is engaged in wishful thinking. There will not be just one replacement for the product that was news. Consider the Huffington Post and the New York Times. Their online traffic is similar, but their business models are vastly different. Journalism is still valuable, but reporters have to be more engaged with their readers and their community. They need to build loyalty and foster conversation. To just publish written news stories and dump them online will be a tough sell—you must build your audience and offer the advertisers a unique, smart and targeted ad model.

“Journalism is still valuable, but reporters have to be more engaged with their readers and their community. They need to build loyalty and foster conversation.”

A large part of OpenFile’s proposition is built upon transparency. How have consumers responded to it? 

For too long, editors and reporters have lived in a vacuum, and I think this has contributed to mistrust of some media. So when we launched, we worked hard to develop a transparent culture. Our readers have a high return rate and I think one reason is that they trust us. We do little things that ensure we are transparent—we invite users to point out errors online, and we show our corrections. Our openness is key to our success.

You’ve been an international correspondent, covering war, revolution, elections and natural disasters. Now you’re a full-time tech entrepreneur. What feels riskier? 

This—launching a start-up is much more frightening than hanging out in a war zone! But what attracted me to reporting also excites me about OpenFile. We have to move fast—our reputation is on the line. This makes us feel terribly vulnerable, but alive and excited.

“Launching a start-up is much more frightening than hanging out in a war zone! But what attracted me to reporting also excites me about OpenFile.”

We have to answer to our investors, ensure our readers trust us and show growth in a business where few have confidence that there will be a good return on investment. I sometimes miss reporting and the hustle involved in gathering a breaking news story but it is exhilarating to be in an industry that is being rewritten.

How has your experience as a journalist shaped the vision of OpenFile? 

As a journalist, I got the most joy out of finding a story that bucked conventional wisdom. Everyone will tell you why it’s not a story or why you should not do it. When it pays off, it’s terribly rewarding.

When we started OpenFile, few thought the idea would work—that we could grow an audience, attract good reporters, and build a credible editorial team. And now we are commercializing OpenFile—it’s exciting.

“As a journalist, I got the most joy out of finding a story that bucked conventional wisdom.”

For everyone here at OpenFile there is great joy being able to achieve our goals. Too many people in our industry either think there is no problem or they don’t want to face the problem. Worse, some think the solution will magically appear. But it takes hard work and plenty of fortitude to create a solution—and the people I work with are loaded with those qualities.

You don’t leave home without? 

Reminding myself that if this was easy, everyone would be doing it.

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Locationary

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Team: Grant Ritchie, Dan Servos

10-Second Elevator Pitch:

Locationary offers a sophisticated cloud-based management system that makes it easy for publishers around the world to collect, manage, and enhance their local business places’ data. Locationary offers a free platform, specialized tools, and access to data updates from locals, business owners, and other publishers. Publishers can manage and improve their own local data or tap into our extensive database of over 25+ million profiles in 190 countries, maintained in more than 40 languages.

“Our platform ties together the efforts of many publishers and thousands of users, resulting in the most detailed profiles of local business places.”

Many location-based services are based on out-of-date place information. How is Locationary able to address these challenges and compete against the bigger players in the market, such as infoUSA?

Our model is significantly more capital-efficient than the traditional players. Publishers can share updates with each other. Further, our global community of editors and developers are financially rewarded to find and fix errors at a fraction of current industry costs. Our platform ties together the efforts of many publishers and thousands of users, resulting in the most detailed profiles of local business places.

Locationary uses game mechanics to motivate the public to create and update local data much faster—and at lower cost—than traditional data providers. Where did this idea come from? How long did it take to prove that this model could work?

“We created a model with different incentives, using game mechanics to motivate the public to compete, to be the first to find and fix errors, and to add new places into the system.”

Based on our background in online games, we knew that users would not be motivated by the wiki-based social incentives used by other websites. We created a model with different incentives, using game mechanics to motivate the public to compete, to be the first to find and fix errors, and to add new places into the system. It took about 18 months to build the system and test the different elements. The system works very well and we’re always learning new ways to improve it, increase data quality and improve user motivation.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

Working on a solution to a big problem is what motives me. I enjoy the aspects of working with a solid team on a problem and sharing in the excitement as the solution starts to crystallize. The types of big ideas I enjoy working on can create radical change, and for that reason are better developed independently. They could face hurdles with internal conflicts in existing organizations.

A typical day looks like?

I typically split my day between working with the team on product improvements and business development, and working with the external community on improving the system. We have an amazing internal team and external community so there is no shortage of ideas and opportunities to improve the business and product. It’s exciting to collaborate because everyone is so motivated to see the project succeed.

“That’s what I like about being part of the technology industry—you can be a part of making everything easier for everyone.”

You don’t leave home without?

My keys, phone, and wallet. However, in the future, I expect to only need the phone, since the tech industry is starting to find ways to electronically incorporate your keys and wallet into your phone. That’s what I like about being part of the technology industry—you can be a part of making everything easier for everyone.

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JUICE Mobile

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The 10 Second Elevator Pitch:

JUICE has quickly emerged as Canada’s leading mobile marketing and advertising firm. We have ushered more than 50 leading brands into the mobile space. In many cases, JUICE was the company trusted to bring them into the mobile advertising space for the first time.

JUICE plays a key role for publishers as well. We host, serve, measure, build and monetize content for our clients—all while ensuring they have bleeding-edge mobile ad technology.

JUICE Mobile is fully committed to the mobile advertising market in Canada. Acknowledging the differences between the Canadian and US markets, why is JUICE’s presence in Canada so important to the overall industry compared to foreign competitors who are establishing satellite sales offices in Canada?

JUICE provides the expertise needed to compete in the mobile space and also has an intimate understanding of how publishers, brands and advertisers operate in the Canadian market.

The mobile network model that dominates the US would fail in Canada.

At JUICE, we provide our expertise to both publishers and agencies, helping them to craft an effective mobile strategy—a strategy that includes creative units, metrics, impressions for discovery and solutions to activate the consumer post-impression.

Mobile is very much still in the nascent stage in Canada. The market needs a firm that focuses exclusively on mobile to guide them into the space and build campaigns.

“The mobile network model that dominates the US would fail in Canada.”

There’s a whole education process involved in convincing brands and agencies of the value of mobile as a compelling advertising channel. How did JUICE build a solid “proposition” and secure reference customers?

The challenge for many start-ups is focus. Consequently, start-ups often “creep” into areas that are non-core and that lack scale and efficiency.

I often speak internally of being comfortable with “letting things burn.” We will pass on some clients and opportunities if they do not fit our goals or contribute to our focus.

We needed to acknowledge that, as a small company, we couldn’t service everyone. The result was a focus specifically on wireless carriers, the group that had the most to gain or lose from entering the mobile marketing space. This focus allowed JUICE to continue to work with every wireless carrier in the country. We have since repeated this strategy to focus on automotive, QSRs and financial services.

“The challenge for many start-ups is focus. Consequently, start-ups often “creep” into areas that are non-core and that lack scale and efficiency.”

What’s the most challenging yet exciting aspect of being an entrepreneur?

The fact that you are alone. In the beginning, you are conflicted because you believe you have a great idea, but no guarantee that it will work. Add in additional variables such as a mortgage, a child, a wife, et cetera, and it becomes very scary—while tremendously exciting. Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart, but when you come across the right idea you will know when to make the leap.

By far the most exciting part is when your idea comes to life. At JUICE, we are creating the mobile advertising industry in Canada—nobody will ever be able to take that away from us.

“By far the most exciting part is when your idea comes to life. At JUICE, we are creating the mobile advertising industry in Canada—nobody will ever be able to take that away from us.”

You don’t leave home without?

Nexus S device, laptop, Rogers Rocket Stick (for travel, time between meetings or when everything else crashes!), The Economist (the best magazine for commuting on the subway).

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InGamer

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10-second elevator pitch:

InGamer is a real-time social gaming platform played in conjunction with live sporting events.

“The modern audience’s desire to be engaged in real-time social discourse is sparking a drastic change in how content is broadcast, received and monetized.”

We know that social media such as Twitter and Facebook are helping businesses in the sports world create closer ties with consumers. But are these entities starting to realize direct revenues from leveraging social media platforms?

All digital—that is, the web, social media, apps and mobile activations—are marketing costs in the budgets of the sports entertainment industry. No measurable portion of a broadcaster’s or league’s revenue has ever come from these properties. As things evolve to where everything is experienced digitally, the dividing lines are disappearing—that’s where we see a huge market potential. The modern audience’s desire to be engaged in real-time social discourse is sparking a drastic change in how content is broadcast, received and monetized. Integrated real-time media experiences—that is our future.

Do traditional broadcasters embrace the notion that multichannel customers are the most valuable? How is InGamer helping to prove this is true?

Many broadcasters don’t value and therefore don’t embrace a multi-channel/multi-platform strategy to reach their viewers. But the reality is that a large percentage of their audience is engaged with broadcast content outside the traditional channel of TV. Audiences today are socially connected on multiple devices and multiple platforms while watching TV. The challenge for traditional broadcasters is that they have no way to track, measure and thus monetize audiences across these “non-traditional” channels. National advertisers have no proof of the success of multi-channel initiatives with a broadcaster.

InGamer gives broadcasters—and more importantly, sponsors—direct proof that an audience is paying attention to their brand on every channel—for extraordinary lengths of time.

What has been the most unexpected/surprising thing you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?

Nic: Truly understanding the phrase “boot-strapping,” and what real support from a spouse, a partner and family is all about.

Simon: “Marrying” my co-founder!

“Audiences today are socially connected on multiple devices and multiple platforms whilewatching TV.”

Life before becoming an entrepreneur?

Nic: TV/Film producer, director and host (and I talked a lot about sports on TV).

Simon: Digital Media producer and pioneer.

You don’t leave home without?

Nic: Closing the front door.

Simon: A sense of humour.

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HugeMonster

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10-Second Elevator Pitch:

We build casual social games targeted at the most highly-valued, least-served user demographic, using a reusable and scalable cloud-based game platform.

“Building a fun game is of critical importance if you want to leverage word of mouth.”

The social gaming industry is extremely competitive—game developers must now devote significant resources toward building audiences. Do you believe user-acquisition expertise is just as important as game design?

History has proven that great games can succeed wildly without significant focus or spending on marketing and acquisition (the most recent example has to be Minecraft). Building a fun game is of critical importance if you want to leverage word of mouth. However, we are proud of our success in acquiring players, which gives us a bigger budget to build a better game. Most games won’t succeed without giving significant thought to how players are going to be acquired. Acquisition of new players and engagement with existing players is tied to game design. There is a strong overlap between the two areas.

How will HUGE Monster be able to compete against social gaming companies that are backed by large amounts of capital?

Most of the large social gaming companies build games according to a formula. We build games with audiences ignored by the incumbents. This gives us a profound advantage. Our technology can accommodate different types of content, so we can take more risks with content than other game developers are comfortable taking. At the end of the day, people will play a game that is less polished if it gives them something they can’t get anywhere else.

“Our technology can accommodate different types of content, so we can take more risks with content than other game developers are comfortable taking.”

The social gaming world requires you to create a hit experience and then motivate people to buy within the experience, as opposed to paying to get the experience in the first place. How do you handle this tension within your business on a daily basis?

I spend a lot of time analyzing the gameplay data we collect. I try to understand what trends exist and what player behaviours cause those trends. That helps us chart our path.

What games do you play, now that you are a busy gaming entrepreneur?

There are a couple of Facebook games that I find myself coming back to. Otherwise, I can’t say I have a lot of time to play games these days. Luckily, I devoted more years of evenings and weekends to playing games than I care to admit, so I have a lot of play experience to fall back on. I do miss playing Civilization and Call of Duty.

You don’t leave home without?

Cell phone, laptop, tether cable and a flashlight.

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Herd.fm

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The 10 Second Elevator Pitch:

Herd.fm believes people need to share their love of music and share the locations that matter to them. Herd.fm facilitates this need in an innovative way—by using mobile phones to create shared location-based musical connections.

The digital music industry is on the cusp of its next evolution. A number of digital music services and products have been introduced into the market that are driving the growth of the digital music industry, such as Spotify, Pandora, Weezer, and so on. How do you see Herd.fm establishing itself as a leader in this rapidly-evolving space?

The music industry has been in a state of change since entering the digital age. With the decline of physical sales, it has had to find other ways to monetize its content. With its unique and fun geo-locative offering, Herd.fm creates a new distribution channel for music to be shared, promoted and monetized. Herd.fm will create a way for music publishers to start a conversation with their audience, and will let their audience further that conversation by connecting with each other around music and locations that matter to them. We will use brands, artists, locations and events as a way to generate an audience that relates to their physical world through the prism of the music they discover and share with other people.

“With its unique and fun geo-locative offering, Herd.fm creates a new distribution channel for music to be shared, promoted and monetized.”

As a “digital native,” you’re seeking a music experience that goes beyond simply purchasing and listening, to total media interactivity—a very social experience that allows you to share, modify and remix music. Do you think today’s music services meet your music-experience needs?

It seems like new music services are being offered daily, each promising to be the “must-have” product that will deepen our music experience, from geo-locative radio stations to cloud-based music libraries to music based games. Perhaps it is necessary to create a service that filters out the services that are irrelevant to our most basic music need—which is to listen to music we enjoy. With the explosion of music-based mobile apps and platforms, there truly is something for everyone, from the casual listener to the professional musician. The options out there are varied and innovative, but all the noise might be making it hard for consumers to find the services that are right for them.

What’s the most challenging yet exciting aspect of being an entrepreneur?

An innovative idea, an idea that is a solution to a problem, and a money-making idea are often three different things. Many companies focus on one or two of these goals, but businesses that are success stories are the ones with teams that can focus on all three—that’s the brass ring. Herd.fm built its vision on using technology in an innovative way. To succeed, our challenge will be to understand why people will use Herd.fm, satisfy that need and figure out how it will make money.

“The options out there are varied and innovative, but all the noise might be making it hard for consumers to find the services that are right for them.”

Who are some of the cool new artists you have discovered through Herd.fm?

To populate our very first incarnation of the Herd.fm app we turned to the vibrant independent Toronto music scene. Groups we have discovered include Bonjay, Red -The Pure One, Kamau, Times Neue Roman, Ohbijou, Hooded Fang, Doldrums, Humans, and Broadway Sleep.

You don’t leave home without?

Underwear, iPhone, house keys—not necessarily in that order!

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Ethical Ocean

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Team: Chad Hamre, Tony Hancock, Davin Lengyel, David Damberger, Jonathan Fishbein, Mike Spendlove, Lena Lam, Brenna Donoghue

The 10 Second Elevator Pitch:

Ethical Ocean is the shopping destination for eco-friendly, fairly-traded organic, and vegan products. Our online store is a single hub for a range of retail categories including fashions, cosmetics, electronics and housewares, making ethical shopping more convenient than ever.

“With our growing product range, we want to show that more and more ethical products are affordable, at the cutting edge of technology and fashion, and are of the highest quality.”

There is a niche but lucrative group of consumers who are interested in purchasing green and/or socially responsible products—what will it take to drive mass-purchasing adoption of these types of products?

Helping customers make informed decisions by providing greater accessibility and more readily-available information makes ethical shopping easy. The far greater challenge will be shifting perceptions about what it means to shop ethically.

With our growing product range, we want to show that more and more ethical products are affordable, at the cutting edge of technology and fashion, and are of the highest quality. Consumers can feel good about what they are buying!

Can you highlight some of the innovations Ethical Ocean is pioneering in this emerging market segment?

Ethical Ocean’s crowd-sourcing model invites our community to evaluate the ethical claims made by each of the businesses that sell on our site—community product rankings and reviews are publicly available. In this way, we’ve created a venue for customers to learn from the reviews of others, while also discouraging sellers from “greenwashing” or making claims they don’t fulfill.

What’s more, we’re going beyond just a focus on the environment. Our model allows products to be evaluated along seven ethical dimensions, helping customers evaluate their purchases based on the entire production process behind the product, including such things as the working conditions in which the product was made and the materials and ingredients used.

“It demands that you work hard and smart—but even more so, that you get the right people who are just as equally motivated.”

What’s the most challenging yet exciting aspect of being an entrepreneur?

Simply, there is so much we want to do, but don’t yet have the capacity to make happen. It demands that you work hard and smart—but even more so, that you get the right people who are just as equally motivated.

We’ve built an amazing team of people who all have a lot of ownership in the company. We work strange hours—for instance, we meet early every Sunday to get a full workday in, when the rest of the world is lazing about.

List the most random products on your site?

You don’t leave home without?

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Jigsee Inc

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Founding Team: Ray Newal, Areef Reza, Gordon Jekubik

10-second Elevator Pitch:

Jigsee helps to entertain and educate millions of people in emerging markets by streaming free, high-quality video content to basic phones over low-bandwidth networks.

“A backpacking trip to India in 2007 allowed me to experience first-hand the lengths people in developing countries will go to access video content.”

What ignited the spark in you to create Jigsee?

A backpacking trip to India in 2007 allowed me to experience first-hand the lengths people in developing countries will go to access video content. It was eye-opening to see people sideloading and watching full-length movies on their basic-feature phones. (“Sideloading” means watching a video that has been transferred from a PC to the phone’s SD card, which usually happens at Internet cafes.)

Successful start-ups require more than a great entrepreneur. They require an ecosystem of capital, investors, competent employees and access to a variety of service providers. How did you build Jigsee from Canada, outside its core target market?

This was a challenge. The ecosystem, as you’ve described it, was not (and possibly still isn’t) set up to work with companies that focus on emerging market opportunities. Identifying the right investors—people who have an appetite for an emerging-markets technology venture—proved to be a significant problem. We then had to establish credibility. We did this by securing a deal with a large Indian media company, thereby demonstrating that we had solved a problem that others could not. With a small initial investment in Canada, we then had to attract a larger investment from investors who had greater access to capital and an ability to aid us strategically in our core market. Ultimately, we received this investment from Sequoia Capital and the Indian Angel Network.

“We did this by securing a deal with a large Indian media company, thereby demonstrating that we had solved a problem that others could not.”

When did you decide it was time to move, and set up an office in India permanently?

Once we made the decision that India would be our primary market, we had lots of questions. Who should we partner with? How should we price our services? Who should we hire, and who should we raise money from? Answers to all of these questions required some first-hand knowledge of the market. One week after we closed our initial Angel round in Canada, I jumped on a plane.

“Answers to all of these questions required some first-hand knowledge of the market. One week after we closed our initial Angel round in Canada, I jumped on a plane.”

Your strangest international travel experience?

Tough one—there are many! But I’ll never forget the Ayurvedic healer in Kerala, India, who tried to cure my stomach malady by pouring hot curry-scented oil all over my body, as he recounted his knowledge of my past and future … some parts were accurate.

You don’t leave home without?

My home these days is Dropbox. I back everything up on Dropbox—personal documents, photos, my music collection, business documents, you name it. I have access to it everywhere I go, on almost every device I use—it’s impossible to leave home without it!

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The Royal Few

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Team: Oreon Mounter, Simon Chen, Jason Baskey, Mathieu Martel, Mike Gallant

The 10-second elevator pitch

Theroyalfew.com (TRF) is an exclusive social network with benefits that targets the 19-to-35 socially-active demographic. Our members get exclusive deals and access to the world’s most sought-after events—all filmed for our weekly show. TRF also helps brands connect with influencers—people who turn “likes” into sales.

“A membership in TRF will have a VIP feel that the other social network giants are simply too big to provide.”

There are some stellar companies in the social networking category. What motivated you to launch a product that competes in this space?

Currently, the 19-35 demographic—which is the most socially active group—doesn’t have a social network that caters specifically to it. TRF’s content will be geared towards this powerful group of influencers. As much as possible, TRF will engage with its members in real-world settings, such as exclusive events, parties and concerts. A membership in TRF will have a VIP feel that the other social network giants are simply too big to provide.

Brands want to turn “likes” into purchases and get to know their customers. TRF connects brands with consumers in a way no other social networking site can do.

At one point in the movie, The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg says, “You have part of my attention—you have the minimum amount.” How does the Royal Few differentiate itself from mainstream social networking sites like Facebook, and how will it capture the attention of its target audience?

There are a few things that make The Royal Few unique—the first is exclusivity. The only way you can join is to be invited by a member. Each member will only get 20 invitations to bring in their closest friends. TRF members also get exclusive deals and access to the world’s most sought-after events. Another unique aspect of TRF is its culture—we will sponsor and promote the best events, giving TRF members the power to start trends and influence their social circles. The biggest differentiator is our weekly show, featuring TRF celebrity hosts taking our members to exclusive events around the world, brought to you by our brand partners.

To capture attention, we’ve developed a strategy that has been a huge success. We identified 20 members with huge followings and influence, then created a series of teaser videos with them that showcased the benefits of membership and sent it to all the right people. Within three weeks, we received 3,000 invite requests. We then identified 80 more influencers to be our ambassadors in all the major markets—these became what we call the “Platinum 100”—each have unlimited membership invites. We also produced gold and platinum membership cards actually made out of metal, and sent them to our platinum members and prospective gold members, and it created some huge buzz. We will launch the site with 10,000 excited members—a solid base for growth.

“The biggest differentiator is our weekly show, featuring TRF celebrity hosts taking our members to exclusive events around the world, brought to you by our brand partners.”

What’s the most challenging yet exciting aspect of being an entrepreneur?

The most challenging part about being an entrepreneur is that you are solely responsible for the success or failure of your venture. You are always the first one in and the last to leave (if you leave at all—ha ha), and weekends often don’t exist. But it’s all worth it, because you have the opportunity to design your own destiny and create something amazing. Failure and success both come with incredible life lessons, and you get to meet fantastic people along the way.

“But it’s all worth it, because you have the opportunity to design your own destiny and create something amazing.”

Your favourite “Royal Few” moments?

  • Being onstage at Molson Canadian Hockey House during the 2010 Olympic Games, when the golden goal was scored
  • Flying with Miller Genuine Draft and the Raptors to LA during Oscar weekend, staying at W at Hollywood & Vine, and going VIP to the Lakers game
  • Living the Life’s Good dream with LG and watching the Grand Prix from the pit
  • Meeting amazing TRF members around the world
  • Giving back by sponsoring Movember and other charities

You don’t leave home without?

My Royal Few Gold card—it gets me beyond the velvet rope and gets me sweet deals. Next year I hope to become one of the TRF Platinum 100.

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Dealuxe

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Founding team: Joanna Track, Michael Rubenstein

10-Second Elevator Pitch:

Dealuxe is set to redefine the Canadian online shopping experience by providing the ultimate Canadian-based destination for designer fashions, contemporary lifestyle accessories and exclusive product offerings.

Dealuxe removes the obstacles and frustrations of purchasing from US retailers and provides a premier online shopping experience for Canadian women.

As luxury brands ramp up their direct-to-consumer online presence and Internet start-ups continue to emerge that offer private, limited-time sales, how will Dealuxe carve out a unique proposition in this highly competitive space?

In Canada there is still a huge gap in the market for even traditional e-Commerce. The goal at Dealuxe is to be Canadian women’s ultimate online destination for contemporary fashion brands, and to own the position. We’ll do this by providing a wide selection of well-known brands, with a superior online experience, exceptional customer service, and engaging editorial that will inspire our customers to buy.

“The goal at Dealuxe is to be Canadian women’s ultimate online destination for contemporary fashion brands, and to own the position.”

In February, Nordstrom purchased HauteLook, making it the first traditional brick-and-mortar retailer to move into this new e-Commerce model. How do you see Dealuxe fundamentally shaping the e-Commerce luxury retail industry here in Canada?

By bringing these brands online and making them accessible to women across the country, Dealuxe will educate consumers about the ease and benefits of online shopping. Dealuxe likely will act as a wake-up call for other Canadian retailers, motivating them to create more effective online solutions for their customers.

What’s the most challenging yet exciting aspect of being an entrepreneur?

Having no road map! Every day is about creating something new, without any precedents to follow. Sometimes this can be extremely stressful, but it is also exhilarating to develop something—whether an idea, a process, or a product—that didn’t previously exist.

Share some of your favourite Dealuxe.ca items?

There are too many! But here are a few of my most favourite:

  • The Rosegold Catherine Wedge
  • Smythe Equestrian Blazer
  • Blank Light Wash Skinny Jeans
  • The Right Hand Gal Nugget Drop Earrings

You don’t leave home without?

My Foley + Corinna City Tote—I call it my Mary Poppins bag! It fits everything I need for the day, is easy to carry, and looks stylish.

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Sue McGill

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Since joining the MaRS IT, communications and entertainment (ICE) practice, I have had the privilege of advising our Mod Media Makers. Recently, I sat down with all 17 at the ultrahip Gladstone Hotel. They shared with me their tales of starting a business, quests to reinvent the present and ambitions to capitalize on the rapid growth and disruption happening in the industry. In a market that is often difficult to predict and where innovation happens at an accelerated pace, anything is possible.

As I listened to our Mod Media Makers, common “start-up” themes emerged. Among them was funding and how to get the Canadian investment and corporate communities on board to support these visionaries and their creations. Overall, a daunting task; however, as you wade through all of the challenges (and opportunities) associated with entrepreneurship, you can’t help but be inspired by these innovators.

“In a market that is often difficult to predict and where innovation happens at an accelerated pace, anything is possible.”

We picked a perfect location for our Mod Media Makers’ photo-shoot: the Gladstone is a truly unique hotel and cultural incubator located in the heart of Toronto’s art scene. Each guest room has been designed by a different local artist and offers a rich, immersive experience. The photo shoot exploited this aspect to showcase the entrepreneurs as creative people themselves who know what they stand for and who have their own exacting visions for connecting consumers to technology.

What’s inside our first edition of Mod Media Makers?

A cloud computing solution that delivers a powerful, on-demand personal computing experience; an advertising pioneer leading the charge on mobile advertising; a streaming-video platform that makes the impossible possible for millions of mobile consumers in India and other emerging countries; a business savvy fashionista who demonstrates that great design, unique content and a simplified online shopping experience can be a source of game-changing breakthroughs in the brick and mortar retail industry—and more.

These Mod Media Makers are setting the pace for innovation across a number of sectors including gaming, education, mobile, web, media, music, sports, video, advertising, fashion and commerce. As markets and consumer behaviours fragment at an increasing rate, traditional ICE businesses struggle to meet the growing demands of their audiences. It’s no longer about reaching mass markets, but rather satisfying very specific customer segments that have very particular needs. To achieve this, it often requires companies to execute and manage multiple business models—not an easy task.

“As you wade through all of the challenges (and opportunities) associated with entrepreneurship, you can’t help but be inspired by these innovators.”

So how are our mod media makers addressing these challenges? Each start-up has built the right capacity to execute quickly, maintains a lean, capital-efficient operating model, embraces a user-centric development process and—most importantly—takes risks. While each is a radically different type of business, agility is the common characteristic of these organizations. It’s a necessity to survive and stay relevant in a market where accelerated disruption is the norm.

Many of these start-ups are now focused on scaling their operations, and all understand how tricky that process can be. Even though the costs of bringing web or mobile applications to market can fall below $100,000, the businesses require larger sums of capital over the long term to achieve scale. While these start-ups are transforming the way Canadian companies innovate and stay relevant, standing out from the crowd and attracting the right investors and amount of capital can still be challenge.

In subsequent issues of Mod Media Makers, you’ll be able to explore such topics as emerging investment models in Canada, meet more MaRS clients who are changing the trajectory of innovation in the ICE industries—and get to sit in on more conversations we hope will resonate long after you finish reading.

Nathan Monk

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Sometimes it feels like we still live in a linear world.

We walk in cities planned on grids, sit in rooms with four walls and in classrooms with chairs all facing one direction. We use one-way communication. But thankfully, new media have derailed linear living, and the revolution is being led by individuals like our Mod Media Makers.

“New media have derailed linear living; the revolution is being led by our Mod Media Makers.”

Collectively, they are creating new experiences that empower consumers to break out of linear living and to have more control over the when, the where and the how of everything. The consumer really is king; we now create our own news, design our own products and insist on better service experiences. Importantly, our Mod Media Makers are learning to build their start-ups with the consumer at the centre of every development cycle. Putting Eric Reiss’ “lean start-up” theory into practice isn’t a fad; it’s critical to their successes. It means they must listen, pivot and design their products and service experiences based on what the consumer truly desires. As such, metrics become the real financial statements of developing start-ups as they capture and learn from data to inform product or service decisions. User experience, including persona design and agile development become central to creating quickly the companies that are listening will become the new-media leaders.

The next time you walk or run down the street, drive your car, have a conversation, buy a product or experience a service, think about how you are using new web or mobile media to control the when, where and how. Think about how you can improve your experience. You are in control. You are king.

I invite you to learn more about the leaders who are disrupting traditional business models and shaping our non-linear future. These are our Mod Media Makers.

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Trevor Cole

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