Young entrepreneurs pitch business plans

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Windsor Star/Mary Caton


Some of the sharpest young business minds in the province gathered at the University of Windsor this weekend to pitch cutting-edge ideas for new products or services.

A total of 18 teams from universities across Ontario vied for prize packages of support that was both financial and technical.

Each team was paired with a mentor Friday to help hone and refine their plan. Judging was held all day Saturday at the Ed Lumley Centre.

Jesse Sheather, a University of Windsor grad, was on one of five teams to reach the finals and present business plan to the judges a second time Saturday afternoon.

Sheather’s company is called HanDIY, a software suite offering the fastest way to get real-time advice from established professionals such as contractors or teachers.

“It could be for building a car or computers,” the 22-year-old said. “It’s live, real-time assistance. There’s not too much like it on the market.”

Sheather started developing HanDIY as a mobile app during his final semester of school. He graduated last May with a double major in business and computer science and was accepted into the Founders Program at the university’s Entrepreneurship Practice and Innovation Centre (EPICentre). Under that program, Sheather got paid to develop his product.

As part of the second annual RBC EPIC Business Model Canvas Competition, Sheather was attempting to qualify for the Canadian Business Model competition next February in Halifax.

“The business model canvas competition is a tool to use for an entrepreneur to validate their business model before they start investing heavily into a prototype,” explained Nicole Anderson, program director for the EPICentre. “The competition looks at the process which the entrepreneur has used to develop their business model and not so much the product.”

Each entrepreneur had 10 minutes to outline their model and then the 16 judges – culled primarily from the Windsor-Essex area – had 10 minutes to ask questions.

Leslassa Armour-Schillingford walked the panelists through the research behind her business, Hair by Lassa. A University of Waterloo student originally from the island of Dominica, “I could not find hair products for me or a salon that could manager my hair,” she explained.

In studying the demographics of the Kitchener-Waterloo area, Armour-Schillingford found 25 per cent of the population had “natural hair” but there was not one salon that specialized in its care.

In the end, a University of Toronto team won the top prize which includes $10,000 in cash, six months of free support and workspace from the EPICentre and free consulting services from KPMG along with a place at nationals.

The team’s business, Liscena, is a smart parking management company that automates every aspect of parking using plate recognition and artificial intelligence to eliminate the hunt for available space and waiting in line to park or pay for parking.

Runner-up honours went to another University of Waterloo entry for Tabnex, an artificial intelligence-powered suite of products to streamline and scale the recruitment process for growing businesses.

The Tabnex plan won $2,500 in cash, six months dedicated workspace at EPICentre and consulting services from KPMG.

Tabnex also earned the people’s choice award which came with $2,000 worth of advertising from Postmedia.

For Sheather, he’ll continue on with his own work.

“We’re talking to investors now,” he said. “We’re developing a lot of legal contracts and we want good people and rock solid software. I’m hoping to launch in the next three to four months.”