A winner’s take on the Up-Start! Competition

Entrepreneurship 101 has once again launched its annual Up-Start! Competition, an exciting opportunity for attendees of the Entrepreneurship 101 lecture series to participate in a business pitch competition.

We asked last year’s Up-Start! Competition prize winner The Hot Plate to write a guest blog on how Entrepreneurship 101 helped them prepare for the competition and what lessons they learned along the way.

“… the pivotal lectures that helped April and me win the Up-Start! Competition were those geared at understanding our audience, financial forecasting and how to raise capital.” – Amanda Garbutt, Owner and Co-founder, The Hot Plate

April Engelberg and Amanda Garbutt accepting the Up-Start! Competition prize

My name is Amanda Garbutt and I’m the Owner and Co-Founder of The Hot Plate, a free online cooking show and multimedia platform for inspiring culinary confidence in new cooks. Surprised that an online cooking show won the competition? So were we! My business partner, April Engelberg, and I found out about MaRS and Entrepreneurship 101 back in 2010, two years after starting work on The Hot Plate. We knew we needed to hone our business skills if we wanted to start generating recurring capital, but we didn’t realize just how much we had to learn.

In the first Ent101 lecture, Tony Redpath presented an agenda that spanned more than six months and covered everything from how to register a business to pitching investors.

In my mind, the pivotal lectures that helped us win the Up-Start! Competition were those geared to understanding our audience, financial forecasting and how to raise capital. Let’s be honest, entrepreneurs are driven by numbers–whether you’re a social entrepreneur wondering how many people you can help, or a capital entrepreneur wondering about dollars, understanding your numbers is crucial.

Entrepreneurship 101 Up-Start! Competition, May 25th, 2011

When we started, April and I knew our audience, our geographic breakdown and age/gender percentages, but we didn’t know our projections:

  • Exactly how many North Americans were watching food programs?
  • How many 18- to 30-year-olds were on the Internet?
  • How likely were these individuals to be on food-related websites?

You might think it impossible to figure these things out, and you’d be right if it weren’t for MaRS. As we progressed in the competition, our mentor helped us understand how to generate a potential market penetration analysis, and predict future growth and revenue from it. The results left us speechless. Who would have thought that our little, free online cooking show had that kind of potential?

We definitely had the passion, but Ent101 helped teach us that you need to have more than that to succeed. We worked to create and recreate our business plan, and throughout this whole process, one theme remained abundantly clear: numbers. We learned that it’s best to put egos aside and create realistic projections for your business. The judges, after all, are “numbers” people–they’ve built brands, innovated, bought and sold companies and know when they see a strong idea and good cash flow.

Amanda delivering The Hot Plate’s pitch to the judges

The preparation wasn’t all easy, and there were elements that MaRS couldn’t help us with, like wordiness (as this blog’s length may suggest, I am very rarely short of words). If you fall victim to the same affliction, try to be as critical as possible and use only the most impactful and significant words and numbers. Oh, and most importantly, always thank the judges for any comments, especially criticism! Remember, they are there to help!

April and Amanda with prize sponsors David Campbell – Tricaster Holding Inc. and Arshia Tabrizi – Tabrizi Law Office

Now, just six months after winning the Up-Start competition, The Hot Plate is booming, and thanks to the research, projections and goals set in Ent101 and Up-Start!,  we’re refining our core strategies to be even more aggressive.

I’m pleased to announce that The Hot Plate is now an official partner with Food Network Canada and Shaw Media, and is in the process of building a community-based application to take our mission of inspiring culinary confidence to the next level. 2012 is going to be an exciting year, and we wish all contestants in the Up-Start! Competition the best of luck!

Read more about last year’s entries: Up-Start! Competition 2011

Find out if you are eligible for this year’s competition: Rules and Eligibility

Watch this short video to learn more about the Up-Start! Competition 2012