MaRS client SoftShell appears on CBC TV’s Dragon’s Den
Toronto, September 29, 2008 – A pair of students-turned-software entrepreneurs do battle on CBC-TV’s Dragon’s Den. Their secret weapon? An 84-year-old senior and computer pioneer.
Raul Rupsingh and his partner Stephen Beath pitch their London, Ontario-based start-up venture SoftShell Computers.
SoftShell’s product is an easy-to-use computer interface designed to help seniors communicate online. With big fonts, touch-screen, voicemail, and no computer abstractions such as files, folders or double clicks, the product has been tested with residents in 10 Ontario seniors centres and nursing homes over the past eight months, as well as with seniors living on their own.
Hazel Brunt is a model user for SoftShell. Having never used a computer, VCR or even ATM machine in her life, Hazel now emails her extended family regularly on a SoftShell enabled computer that she uses in her own apartment. Hazel joined the SoftShell entrepreneurs facing the Dragons – and she apparently steals the show (taped earlier this summer).
“Hazel was a universal hit with the Dragons,” said Rupsingh, a 26-year-old Master of Science student in medical biophysics at The University of Western Ontario. He had been working on medical imaging techniques for Alzheimer’s research when he started helping his mother connect with family using Hotmail. He soon realized that a simpler interface was what older net users needed.
“What sets us apart is that we’ve done extensive testing with our market – we know what works and what doesn’t for seniors,” says Stephen Beath, 29.
Stephen and Raul actually spent four months volunteering to teach seniors how to use Windows and get online. That experience taught them about what aspects of computers interested seniors and also what elements they often struggled with. The founders surveyed the market and could not find a compelling solution to this problem. So they decided to build their own.
As the programming brains behind the company, both Rupsingh and Stephen Beath knew they would benefit from business expertise and a wider network when it came to sales and marketing. So SoftShell got connected with an advisor at MaRS in the spring of 2008.
And just last week the company signed its first licensing deal with Revera Inc. to install SoftShell’s product in the Revera chain of retirement homes across Canada.
“We are grateful for all the support we have received from the MaRS community in Toronto,” Rupsingh said. “Their mentorship program has been vital to SoftShell, and has provided us with the business experience, credibility and connections we needed to grow our company.”
Check out the episode on iTunes and comment on the pitch on the CBC’s website here.
Visit www.mysoftshell.com to download SoftShell’s beta software for personal use.
MaRS Discovery District (www.marsdd.com) is a large scale, mission driven innovation centre located in Toronto and networked across Ontario, focused on building Canada’s next generation of technology companies. MaRS works closely with entrepreneurs to grow and scale their ventures into global market leaders in life sciences and health care, information, communications and digital media technologies, cleantech, advanced materials and engineering, as well as innovative social purpose business.
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