Move over millennials, Gen Z gets entrepreneurial


Monthly Archives: August 2016

Move over millennials, Gen Z gets entrepreneurial

Generation Zers – individuals born after the mid-1990s – are the definition of innovators. They are forward-thinking, tech-savvy and adapt easily to change, making them the perfect candidates for thriving businesses and their new socially-driven job roles. Some Gen Zers, however, have moved past the stage of job hunting and created their own career paths, becoming young entrepreneurs and company founders before they even graduate.

The DMZ is proud to support young entrepreneurs within our community through Ryerson’s Basecamp program, which provides youth with education, mentorship and resources to become successful entrepreneurial leaders.

At the latest #DMZSession, we featured three startups and their Gen Z founders – Harsh Shah of SpitStrips, Jenna Pezzack of ClassyCyborgs ClassyCyborgs and Brennan Wong of Pledges for Change. SpitStrips makes reusable strips that can read a person’s blood-alcohol level with the hope that they use the reading to make smart and potentially life-saving decisions. Pezzack’s ClassyCyborgs also acts as a personal education tool by offering an app that can teach people who are visually impaired how to read braille. Lastly, for those who want to get involved with making positive change, Pledges for Change connects students with unique and engaging volunteer opportunities then donates a dollar to a charity every time someone makes a pledge towards a cause.

Amidst a celebration of their success and a showcase of several Toronto-based youth-run startups, the trio sat down with fellow innovator Ilana Ben-Ari of Twenty One Toys to talk about the ups and downs of life as a young entrepreneur.

Here is what you missed:

On obstacles to becoming a successful young entrepreneur:

Harsh: “Unfortunately, we did obviously meet some skeptics [due to our age] but we were, and we still are, passionate about [our] issue and we didn’t take it to heart. We took it as a source of motivation to continue and make an impact on the world.”

Jenna: “Yes, there will be doubts and there are going to be people who don’t believe you, but you know what, they’re going to have to deal with it!”

Brennan: “[Y]ou’re a young person [and] you have so many conflicting things going on. You have to focus on school, you have to focus on extra-curricular activities, [and] so those internal challenges definitely exist and I think that goes on well into university as well. … I would say the biggest challenge definitely was not being a part of an ecosystem like the DMZ … [and] trying to find that supportive community that was open to this idea of innovation.”

On why it’s important that society supports young entrepreneurs:

Brennan: “We’re idealistic at times but for the most part, all we want to do is just create change for something that we’ve noticed is wrong. By giving us that opportunity to continue moving forward with our idea, maybe providing that hour of mentorship here and there, something that might seem very miniscule to an adult that has been working in the industry for years could be big for a young entrepreneur.”

On resources that have helped them succeed:

Harsh: “We [all] completed Ryerson’s Basecamp [program] last week. By going through Basecamp we found several resources we would never have had access to. So, we found mentors, we found industry professionals, [and] we found that they have 3D printers around that we could use. In my opinion, the best way to gain access to all of these resources is through business incubators such as Basecamp and by providing more of these resources, or business incubators, around the city, it’ll help more youth like us who don’t have access to all this high clientele to really push ourselves to get there and eventually grow our startup from there.”

On what schools are missing:

Harsh: “Being in the accelerator program [at William Lyon Mackenzie], I’ve learned that everyone around me is doing things outside of schools I have never even thought of. Some are executive managers at Project 5K and others are DECA provincial officers. This really inspired me to do something for myself – not for school, not for anyone else, but for myself – and this is what schools should really teach. … [I]f you have a dream you should go by yourself and do it because what you learn along the way is more valuable than what anyone else can teach you.”

Jenna: “Especially in middle school, so grades 6, 7, 8, they could have a 20-minute business class every week just to introduce kids to business and to being an entrepreneur because I know if I didn’t join the robotics club at my school I would have no idea what this was or what an entrepreneur was in general.”

On advice for fellow entrepreneurs, Gen Z or not:

Harsh: “I’d like to say no matter what anyone says, you should do what you believe in and what you’re passionate about because that’s truly what’s going to accelerate your business.”

Jenna: “Just because you’re too young doesn’t mean you can’t do it. [That’s] mainly because I know a lot of people think, oh I’m too young and I can’t do it, [and] it’s like, well, I’m probably younger than you and I’m doing it so you can too.”

Brennan: “Think big, think different, fail a lot and [celebrate with] a little bit of bubble tea. … As a young person, what you’re doing is honestly incredible.”

Ilana: “It’s so important for any startup, the power of the team and the community, but just as important is [the fact that] you need leadership that recognizes that.”

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How two DMZ startups are bringing tech to the food industry

Pass The Table connects diners with unique, memorable and meaningful out-of-house dining encounters. Launched in September 2014, the startup gives exclusive access to curated and tailored restaurant menus in Toronto, such as 10-courses of Japanese tapas at Hapa Izakaya or a pig’s head dinner at Farmhouse Tavern. You may even find a chef who wants to have you over to their own home for a personalized dinner.

The idea for Pass The Table came very naturally to founder Jason Finestone, an established professional food writer.

“I had a lot of amazing experiences, and I wanted to give that type of experience to the general public and connect people more deeply with the restaurants that host them, the chefs that are cooking for them, the producers of their beverages and the growers of their ingredients,” said Finestone. “With us, you’re always getting a VIP treatment.”

Pass The Table also organizes large-scale events and dinners at exciting and innovative venues, such as the Toronto Island and the Dock Ellis brewery, and custom curation events, like anniversary dinners or wedding parties. Whether you’re a single diner or part of a big group, there’s a culinary adventure waiting for you.

Pass The Table offers experiences ranging from $35 a person up to $160 a person for more premium, one-off events. Most bookings are paid partially in advance, and the remainder is due in house. The startup’s revenue comes from the booking fee built into the price of the experience.

To the diners’ benefit, Pass The Table offers incredible experiences that can’t be replicated but are exclusively accessible through the platform. “It’s something that nobody else in the restaurant is having, so people walk by and say, ‘Oh my gosh, how did you get that?’ It’s like, ‘Ah, man, you have to go to Pass The Table.’

In the immediate future, Finestone’s eyes are set on Vancouver and Chicago for expansion. But ultimately, he intends to reach even further afield.

More in the mood for dining in? Urbery has you covered: they’ll bring you all the grocery and alcohol items you need to fire up an awesome meal at home, all within as little as two hours.

Since the spring of 2015, Urbery has catered to everyone looking to find ways to save time with grocery shopping and preparing food – young millennials, busy parents, working professionals and persons with a disability. Customers can contact Urbery’s Grocery Guru in real time via a simple messaging system that allows them to track or make changes to their order.

The Urbery team, including founder and CEO Mudit Rawat, comes from a strong retail background. This has enabled them to integrate a rewarding loyalty program based on points that can be converted to order discounts or charitable donations (coming soon) and a freshness guarantee policy that further ensures full customer satisfaction.

Urbery’s revenue model is two-fold. For one, any order under $65 is charged a delivery fee that ranges from $5.99 to $9.99, while orders over $65 are given free shipping as an incentive. If alcohol is ordered, there is an additional $10 fee to cover legal delivery restrictions. Secondly, Urbery’s price markups range from 15 to 20 per cent, depending on such factors as market demand and whether the product is in season. A third aspect of the model, which is still in the planning stage, is a brand partnership strategy that would see targeted advertisements to customers and, eventually, product promotions funded by the brands.

Using targeted data analytics, Rawat says Urbery is also about to launch recipe integration. As Rawat explains,

“What if you were buying certain products and the platform understood that and automatically sent you recipes saying, here’s what you have and here’s what you can make and here’s how to do it?” he asked, adding that the customer experience is Urbery’s biggest priority. This mindset has gotten them far to date, with their average user rating being a 4.8 out of 5.

Unlike their competitor Grocery Gateway, which operates their own warehouse, Urbery cuts costs by using an Uber-like, crowd source model.

“There’s a reason why grocery delivery hasn’t picked up [in Canada] even though e-commerce has exploded all across the world. It’s just because financially it’s very hard to operate,” said Rawat. “We don’t hold inventory, we don’t have warehouses, and we use existing infrastructure with amazing grocery stores and liquor suppliers like Loblaws, Sobeys, Whole Foods and LCBO. People are buying from other people and doing it at their time and it becomes a complete variable cost of business.”

Right now, Urbery typically defaults to Loblaws to fulfill orders as their stores are best placed within the Toronto delivery zone, but if a customer requests their groceries from another store, the Grocery Gurus are able to accommodate. Rawat says that the door is open for partnership opportunities with any GTA grocers.

Also on Urbery’s agenda is expansion across the province and throughout Canada.

“Six months back, we were learning how to crawl. I think we’ve learned how to crawl and now we’re walking. Next steps, we’ll be running,” said Rawat about the company’s growth.

So, whether you’re looking for a special dining extravaganza, or added accessibility and convenience in making a delicious dish at home, Pass The Table and Urbery are ready to help.

How to explain technical things to not so technical people

Every entrepreneur and developer has been faced with the challenge of communicating with people who know very little about what they do. No matter what industry you’re part of, you’ll most likely bump into people (and possible customers) that may not have the same skill sets as you. It’s important to find ways to make sure you’re being understood by whoever you’re pitching to. Here are a few tips to improve the sometimes strenuous process of talking about technical things to non-technical people.

Ask questions… like you mean it

As the expert, it’s your job to be the one who reaches across any knowledge cracks. To do this, you have to express technical ideas in ways they’ll understand without demeaning the audience. Start off by asking a few open-ended questions that allow the individual to feel comfortable with sharing how much they know or don’t know. This will give you a better understanding of the best way to explain your product or service in order to keep them engaged.

People and actions > systems and code

It can be difficult to avoid acronyms and jargon because these terms are useful and meaningful. There are a couple simple tricks to doing this. The first is to stop using technical names and take the time to describe what they do. And the second is to begin to educate your audience on a few key terms that may come up frequently during your presentation and then use just these terms throughout your pitch.

It can also be helpful to explain things from the user or customer’s point of view. Instead of saying “the system will,” start every sentence with “the user will.” Instead of “it’s coded like this” say “it’s made possible like this.” Case in point: don’t speak to everyone as if they’re a fellow entrepreneur or developer.

Market the benefits, not the features

Not all your customers are tech savvy folks who salivate when hearing about all the facts related to your product or service. What attracts most individuals are the benefits because they answer the question: “why does this matter to me?” So even though your developer spent months or even years on some state-of-the-art features that just can’t go unrecognized, in order to reel the point home, always follow your points on each feature with the sentence “the benefit of this is….”

Keep your cool

It’s important not to treat the people you’re presenting to as if they’re stupid. Although you may know much more than they do about a certain technical topic, it doesn’t mean you have to be trivial when making your point. Be humble. If the individual or group you’re presenting to has a blank stare on their face, learn how to deliver your content in a variety of ways that will allow your audience to focus on the mode that’s the most meaningful to them.

Just remember the age old saying “less is more.” When it comes to explaining the technical aspects of your product or service to nontechnical people, avoid data dumping and instead, try involving your audience as if you’re having a conversation.