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Big picture thinking: How Worksimply was able to double down on a new market to serve more customers

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Big picture thinking: How Worksimply was able to double down on a new market to serve more customers

The secret to business growth? Think 10 steps ahead – always.

Thinking about what the future of work looks like? The founder of Worksimply, Jaime Aoyagi, is your guy.

It goes without saying that the future has changed forever and remote work is here to stay. But what most employers may not realize is that the workplace of tomorrow isn’t just confined to an at-home office or central downtown location.

Aoyagi predicts that the future of work will take place in three main spaces: an at-home office, a central headquarters that’s typically located in a downtown core and an on-demand workspace that’s less than a 10-minute commute from the employee’s home.

Catching a new wave of opportunity and recognizing the transformational shift taking place in office settings, Aoyagi decided to grow Worksimply – a workplace platform – by doubling down in a new market to serve more customers.

We sat down with Aoyagi to learn more about Worksimply, and how he was able to shift markets by thinking bigger.

First, can you tell us more about what exactly is Worksimply?

“Worksimply’s solution is two-fold. For hybrid companies, we offer a workplace platform that makes office space more affordable and increases employees’ freedom. For co-working space operators, we offer software to manage end-to-end guest bookings for co-working spaces.

To put it into perspective, we help small businesses manage their own hybrid workforce by allowing their employees to book desks at their HQ and at co-working spaces all across North America,” said Aoyagi.

A cycle of various workspaces - How Worksimply was able to double down on a new market

What do you think is unique about Worksimply’s value proposition?

“Fostering an engaging work culture is crucial to creating a well-oiled, productive and happy team. At Worksimply, we understand how challenging this has been for remote and hybrid teams and are working to help them better manage their remote culture.

While a lot of companies today are working in a predominantly remote environment, we know that face-to-face interaction is still important. We know that it’s not about a desk, it’s about collaborating with your teammates.

This is exactly why we’ve rolled out features that allow teams to encourage their staff to meet in-person by allowing them to see who is working from where and when. But we didn’t stop there, we also offer services that help employers go above and beyond when it comes to maintaining a great office culture for remote employees – like providing snacks, drinks and workshops.”

This pandemic had a major impact on how Canadians work and use office space. How does Worksimply help companies in today’s current climate of needing flexible hybrid office space?

“The pandemic completely changed the way the world works. Pre-pandemic, the standard was for companies to have one designated desk per employee. Fast forward to today, a lot of companies have gone fully remote while others have embraced a hybrid model.

Now this presents a unique situation. A hybrid model can look very different from company to company, but nonetheless, the office will still play a huge role in how people work.

Moving forward, I think work will take place in three main areas: the home, the central office and finally flexible office spaces close to home,” explained Aoyagi.

This is exactly where Worksimply comes in. Worksimply is helping SMEs not only manage but also support their hybrid workforce by allowing their employees to book office space close to their home or their central office.

Jaime, you saw a new opportunity in the market and decided to double down on it to grow your business. What led you in making this decision?

“The pandemic obviously played a large role in why we decided to double down in a new market. We knew that companies would need on-demand workspace to accommodate their staff with flexible options,” Aoyagi explained.

Thinking 10 steps ahead, Jaime realized that there was a perfect opportunity for him to extend his customer base. “Since we already had space operators and co-working spaces on the Worksimply platform, we quickly recognized we’d be able to serve a new market – SMEs – that would need access to the space operators we were already serving flexible on-demand bookings.

“We sell software-as-a-service to space operators, and today our demand is twofold – on one hand, it’s businesses looking to book space for their employees, and on the other, it’s workspace operators looking for easy-to-use software they can integrate into their operations.”

Groundbreaking ideas are hardly ever lightbulb moments, but rather the result of developing and improving over time. After you made the decision to build in a new direction, what did the process look like?

“Once we realized the toll the pandemic was beginning to take on the world’s workforce and the new wave of opportunity it was creating, we started developing the software for space operators to implement.

As more and more space operators began to use our services, we were simultaneously creating a supply for hybrid-working organizations to choose flexible office space,” explained Aoyagi.

How did the DMZ support you throughout the process?

“Throughout the process, I was able to lean on the DMZ for mentorship and guidance.

As questions came up, I was able to turn to my Program Lead, Mohi Sanisel, who was able to help me navigate through the different challenges that presented themselves.

The DMZ was also able to introduce Worksimply to our first customer leveraging their new model.”

What would you say to other startup founders who are looking to iterate on their core strategy?

“Put your product out there as soon as possible and put your assumptions to test.”

Curious to learn more about what Jaime Aoyagi thinks about the future of work? Check out his recent LinkedIn article here. Looking to provide flexible office space for your time? Head over to Worksimply’s website to learn more.

The future of forecasting: How Granularity uses AI and big data to bridge the industry’s supply and demand gap

On Wednesdays, we startup.

To celebrate our women-identifying founders, we’ve put together ‘On Wednesdays, we startup,’ a blog series dedicated to positioning women founders centre stage to acknowledge their work, complexities and wins!

We hope to push women-founder stories forward and share lessons learned and insights for other aspiring women entrepreneurs.

This week, we had the pleasure of chatting Tali Remennik, the Founder of Granularity, to learn more about her startup and how she’s infusing demand forecasting with AI and big data to bridge the supply and demand gap in the sector.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you founded Granularity?

“As a data scientist and ex-management consultant, I’ve witnessed first-hand how helpful data science and machine learning can be in solving large-scale problems. I have personally used these methods to help major retailers combat fraud, help governments reduce the risk of traffic accidents and help uncover the underlying barriers to women gaining leadership positions.

Demand forecasting is an issue that consistently resurfaces due to its challenges – and being the engine of every retail business – it can affect a company’s ability to compete in the market. The sector is too often overlooked and issues are starting to trickle out, making consumers take notice. Last year when TikTok had the feta cheese pasta craze we saw a nationwide shortage in feta cheese. The need for demand forecasting is increasing while the sector remains stagnant in producing any new solutions.

This is exactly why Granularity was founded and we are excited to be able to drive progress and remedy this critical issue.”

Laptop screen with forecasting metrics - Granularity blog

What exactly is Granularity’s mission?

“In five years, I can’t imagine a world where retailers aren’t using near real-time consumer data to make decisions about what inventory to order. Consumers are actively communicating their excitement for products on social media and expect their favourite retailers to stock them. Retailers want to listen, and business leaders in the planning sector are eager to bring this data to the forefront of their decision making.

That being said, I know that it’s not easy to decipher the thousands of signals that are being sent daily – from TikTok to Instagram.

And that’s what we’re here to do – help retailers understand how trends can impact their sales. We provide their teams with the actionable consumer insight they need to make decisions.”

Tali, you’ve spent a majority of your career working in AI consulting. What made you decide to make the leap to leave the corporate world and found your own startup?

“When I was younger, I used to imagine being a positive leader – inspiring people to live their passion and purpose. The vision of being a leader has stuck with me and is something that I continue to aspire to do daily. Having my dad, who runs a franchise, only added to this vision and gave me an entrepreneur to look up to. Once that entrepreneurial seed was planted in my brain, I knew I needed to dive in head first.

My time at Accenture is what really gave me the building blocks I needed to start my business. The clients I worked with and the network I was able to create through my experience working in consulting were the key to unlocking curated resources that I could use to position myself as an entrepreneur. This is what allowed me to build a strong foundation and be comfortable embarking on my own entrepreneurial venture. Now that I have been working on growing the company, I am realizing there is truly no other experience that can substitute building a business from the ground up.”

The supply chain industry has been largely dominated by giants for decades. However, over the last 5 years, there has been a significant spike of supply chain management and logistics related startups entering the market. What do you think is the biggest misconception of the space and the influx of new startups?

“Everyone outside of the industry assumes that there is already technology for demand planning and that the market’s problems have been solved. It’s only the parties in the space that understand the lack thereof.

Through working with a few seasoned executives, it was expressed to us that retail and point of sale technologies were largely ignored until the mid-90s, where there was a huge spur of new technology. That was over 20 years ago. It has been almost three decades since the last wave of innovation in supply chain – and more specifically, demand planning. The market was in need of this technology years ago, companies could’ve gotten ahead of the curve.

This is exactly what Granularity is doing for our partners – helping them get ahead of their competitors by predicting and acting on early signs of demand in the market.”

Shipping containers - Granularity blog

The amount of women in the supply chain workforce jumped to 41% in 2021 up from 39% in 2020. However, every leadership level saw an increase in representation except the executive level where there has been a slight decline. Have you had a chance to work with leading women in the space?

“There is always a need to encourage more women to enter the space – there is so much to do and having diverse perspectives will undoubtedly get us there faster.

Granularity is honoured to be partnering with incredible female leaders in the industry. They have a vision of what needs to get done and understand that they need a unique take of the external market to get there. Ultimately, although we are the ones building the solution, I feel like a lot of the visionary ideas come from them.”

What’s next in store for Granularity?

“We are building partnerships with retailers across Canada and the United States to test our minimum viable product. These partnerships are an exciting opportunity for companies to receive actionable consumer insights for their product lines.”

If you work for a retailer, either as a demand planner or merchandise buyer, and want to contribute your ideas to the future of forecasting; please sign-up to provide feedback on Granularity’s product here.

 

If you are a leader at a retail organization and have been continuously talking about improving your demand forecasting, Granularity is actively seeking partnerships. Please reach out here!

Hear from the DMZ’s first-ever unicorn founder for his advice on building a billion-dollar company

Event recap: The DMZ’s Founder Dinner

Co-founder and CEO of brand interaction platform Ada, Mike Murchison, spilled the entrepreneurial tea at the DMZ’s Founder Dinner earlier this month, sharing lessons learned from scaling the first-ever DMZ unicorn company the ground up.

Empowering brands to automate customer interactions, Ada brings a VIP experience to every customer and employee through its platform. Since 2018, Ada has increased its revenue by 764% and in 2021, raised its Series C at a valuation of $1.2B, officially achieving unicorn status.

The first in-person DMZ Founder Dinner since 2019, the events are designed to bring the larger DMZ founder community together for an evening of food, drinks and connections.

We thought we’d share some of Mike’s insights and how he built the first-ever DMZ unicorn company for other founders looking to build the next big thing. Watch his full founder talk below to learn more about Ada and Mike’s journey, or keep reading for a recap of the tips and learnings Mike shared with the audience during his talk.

Entrepreneurship is a deeply personal experience

“We in this room are all united by this shared dream of building something important, big and world-changing. The journey that we’re all on is a very, very unique one, but we’re all unified in that shared ambition.”

The value of improving your rate of learning

“I think the single most important thing I’ve learned over the course of this journey has been a deep inward focus on improving my own rate of learning.

I think that’s one of the things I so admire about the community here at the DMZ, is that we’re all committed to learning. We’re all highly curious people who are eager to learn new things.

I encourage you to ask yourself, ‘What is piquing my curiosity? What problem am I facing that may seem insurmountable that I may be able to learn something new from?'”

Founders have a responsibility to support one another

“We all have a responsibility as founders to support one another in our own growth. I encourage everyone making progress themselves to share it with others.

We’re not competing against one another, we’re supporting one another. We all win when a startup in our ecosystem succeeds.”

Mike Murchison talking with another guest. - DMZ Founder Dinner recap

Sometimes the easiest path IS the right path

“I was dealing with a hard problem and someone asked me, ‘What if it wasn’t hard? What if it was easy?’

I’ve grown up and trained myself into thinking I need to do the hardest things, and what I’ve learned in the course of building Ada is that sometimes the easiest path, where you’re feeling the pull, is actually the right path.”

Don’t take yourself too seriously

“Looking back, something I would’ve done differently is not taking myself so seriously.

I wasted a lot of energy thinking about what the ideal path was meant to look like. I wish – earlier on – I would’ve let go of my perception of the right path and been more excited about the path that was unfolding before me.”

DMZ card that says "Changing entrepreneurs' lives." - DMZ Founder Dinner recap

Want to have a front row seat at the next DMZ Founder Dinner to hear from other founders who have made it? Apply to our upcoming Incubator cohort kicking off this fall at dmz.to/incubator.

Meet 13 up-and-coming tech startups in the DMZ’s Bootcamp

Introducing a new cohort of Bootcamp companies who are hitting above their weight across a diverse range of industries

Our newest Bootcamp cohort is in full swing, and we are thrilled to present the 13 tech companies that we have hand-selected to take their businesses to the next level. For the next six weeks, the DMZ will help these founders validate their business idea, establish a minimum viable product and build a roadmap for implementation to launch their startup.

Our Bootcamp founders get the chance to participate in peer-to-peer sessions, founder roundtables and expert-led workshops, receive 80+ membership benefits valued at $470,000+, have one-on-one support from our DMZ Program Leads and much more. Post-graduation, they will be on track to launch their startup within three months and generate revenue within six, allowing them to kick-start their entrepreneurial journey!

We are delighted to share that our new cohort of startups have a global reach, with startups across Canada, the United States, Brazil, Estonia and Africa.

So, without further ado, please welcome our incoming cohort of cutting-edge companies:

Newest cohort of DMZ Bootcamp tech startups
BestAuction

Newest cohort of DMZ Bootcamp tech startups: bestauction

BestAuction is a digital platform designed for individuals and SMBs to manage the procurement process and initiate digital cross-collaboration.

Troop Impact

Woman Founders stream
Newest cohort of DMZ Bootcamp tech startups: troopTroop Impact is a social impact tech platform for SMBs that allows businesses to meet the social responsibility demands of employees and customers by voting monthly on where their company’s social impact dollars will be allocated.

TechFusion

Black Innovation Program stream
TechFusion is an accessible digital banking platform for credit unions, cooperatives and savings groups, targeted toward the unbanked and underserved in Africa.

SensaioTech

Newest cohort of DMZ Bootcamp tech startups: SensaiotechSensaioTech is an end-to-end fire risk assessment solution that is able to monitor and predict when and where a wildfire will occur using artificial intelligence.

Paysync

Black Innovations Programs stream
PaySync is a financial technology services company developing financial solutions for employee wellbeing and productivity.

Gander

Black Innovation Program stream
Gander is a B2B, subscription-based, AR and 3D modelling API plug-in service designed to allow customers to virtually interact with products on e-commerce sites.

ZewalletZewallet

Zewallet allows customers to scan a QR code to tip, split and pay a bill at the end of their meals, benefitting both customer experiences and merchants in cost and time efficiency and in increased revenue.

ZaNiheza

Woman Founders stream and Black Innovation Programs stream
Newest cohort of DMZ Bootcamp tech startups: Za NihezaZaNiheza is a dual booking software and travel marketplace that empowers verified operators to list and sell quality experiences online to travellers.

Sleekscore

Black Innovation Program stream
Sleekscore is a financial technology company that seeks to assist those who are either unfamiliar with credit or inadequately served by traditional financial products to build and improve their credit scores while getting into the habit of saving money.

Scooli

Black Innovation Program stream
Scooli is a one-stop-shop digital solution for educators that minimizes the time teachers and administrators spend on redundant administrative tasks.

Frenzy Brands

Frenzy Brands

Woman Founders stream
Frenzy Brands extends a child’s understanding of the stock market, business and investing with a focus on learning through play.

LeaderTree

Black Innovation Program stream
LeaderTree is a single integrated platform that enables effective leaders,

teams, collaboration and results through assessments, training, coaching and tools to understand strengths, needs, tendencies and preferences.

DataCalculus

Woman Founders stream
Data CalculusDataCalculus is an automated software that acts like a personal computer but for the purpose of advanced data analytics and machine learning for the mass market.

 

If you are an early-stage tech founder and are interested in joining the DMZ Bootcamp alongside amazing peers like these, check out more about the program and its selection criteria here. Our next cohort kicks off September 2022!

Revolutionizing insurtech: How Baoba is providing customized insurance products with efficient returns across the globe

On Wednesdays, we startup.

To celebrate our women-identifying founders, we’ve put together ‘On Wednesdays, we startup’, a blog series dedicated to putting women founders centre stage to acknowledge their work, complexities and wins!

We hope to push women-founder stories forward and share lessons learned and insights for other aspiring women entrepreneurs.

This week, we had the pleasure of chatting with Kata Ludvig, the Founder of Baoba, to learn more about her startup and how she’s modernizing the insurance industry to keep up with expectations of the 21st  century customer.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you founded Baoba?

I spent my early career working across various Fortune 500 companies, including Mercedes, Red Bull and Walt Disney. I was first exposed to the world of startups when I co-founded BankZee, a family banking solution for Generation Zers and their parents. I then led Flight Refund as CEO, a legal aid solution for travelers and also consulted for location intelligence and deeptech company Datapolis where I spearheaded business development in Singapore. It was only last December I finally decided to take the plunge and found my current startup Baoba.

It was actually during my time at Flight Refund, where we dealt with delay-related airline compensation cases, that I saw the need for flexible travel protection as an aftermath of the pandemic. Three weeks after I had joined the company as CEO, over 90% of planes were grounded due to the pandemic. This is when the significance of financial protection and the need for flexible insurance really hit me and it inspired me to radically rethink insurance products beyond airline delays. Users today don’t have access to personalized insurance coverages – it’s still a one-size-fits-all product. In a world where we customize almost every aspect of our lives, insurance coverage was falling behind.

Airplanes on tarmac - How Baoba is revolutionizing insurtech

What exactly is Baoba’s mission?

Baoba is on a mission to change the way insurance is sold – we believe that the insurance industry needs to catch up to the expectations of the 21st century customer.

Baoba is offering what today’s customers need – a personalized and automated on-demand service that can insure. By providing personalized insurance that can adapt to our customers’ habits and lifestyles, we hope to become the global ecosystem orchestrator for intermediaries and resellers for on-demand insurance needs.

Despite Baoba being an early stage startup, you’ve already set up shop in Canada, the United States and Hungary. How has your experience been working across global markets? How important was it for you to have a global presence?

The decision to break into new markets was not only a conscious decision made by the company, but a necessity due to the nature of the industry. Our distributors and insurance partners operate internationally, so we had to make our products available globally and adopt a multi-market mindset from the get-go. We have an international team scattered across the world spanning Hungary, Italy, Turkey, France, Costa Rica and the United States.

While working globally has its benefits it also has its difficulties as well, including administering payroll and working across timezones. Public facing efforts also need to be managed more carefully, like public relations in different countries and multilingual customer support.

Our global presence is also extremely important from an investment perspective. Being a CEE (Central and Eastern Europe) Founder, it’s tough to break into the North American market. However, we’ve been able to attract talent, partners and angel investors from all over the world. I have no doubt that the DMZ will play a huge role in supporting us as we break into new markets and finesse our North-American go-to-market strategy.

The insurtech market has skyrocketed globally, projected to reach nearly $190 billion CAD by 2030. Could you tell us a little about the momentum the industry is facing?

It’s easy for millennials and Gen Zers to take personalized products and services for granted, as this has become the norm. Today, almost every aspect of our lives is customizable, and the financial and banking industries have been cashing in on this movement.

Insurance at its core is a hassle for most of us, as a result of inconveniences such as manual claims processing, lengthy documents, confusing language, unclear conditions, and long payout processes.

Insurtechs have not only recognized that there is an issue to solve, but have also identified opportunities to improve the insurance value chain. This ranges from improving claims processes, to AI and machine learning-driven solutions, to data-driven fraud detection and customizable insurance products.

Girl working at computer - How Baoba is revolutionizing insurtech

Baoba recently announced a partnership with Blink Parametrics to roll-out a flight-delay solution. What exactly does this new partnership mean for Baoba?

Our partnerships with Blink Parametric enables us to further expand our client portfolios with valuable, automated and on-demand travel insurances that are supported by claim processing and real-time pay-out solutions. This is our sweet spot – where world-class insurtech and customer experience collides.

Now our partners can connect to our platform with a single API to embed parametric products or sell standalone products.

What advice would you give founders looking to break into the insurtech space?

  • Think fresh – A background in insurance isn’t necessary, having a novel idea and asking the right questions are your way in. Someone who has worked in the industry for say, 20 years might be too comfortable to shine light on a new perspective that reflects the needs of the current market.
  • Know your purpose – Narrow down a clear value proposition and strategy, and focus on building that. As you grow, you will be presented with many opportunities and emerging innovations in various areas of the industry. It can be very tempting to differentiate and try to tackle several areas, but you don’t want to take away from your core offerings, values and promises.
  • It’s a small world – Despite being a global industry, insurance industry insiders are well-connected through incumbents, insurtechs, challengers and investors. It’s crucial to network and build strong relationships, as well as have a solid unique selling proposition.

What’s next in store for Baoba?

Baoba’s next steps include closing an upcoming seed round of $1.5M USD and expanding into North America. We are also looking for niche talent working at the cusp of data science and insurance to help us flesh out an intricate product strategy and bridge our minimum viable product with our five year vision.

Head over to Baoba’s website to learn more about how Kata is revolutionizing the insurance industry.

 

Want to learn more about how you can help Baoba on their journey? Reach out to their team at hello@gobaoba.com.

Meet the DMZ’s Spring ‘22 startup cohort

Introducing the DMZ’s newest cohort: 12 tech startups that are disrupting the Canadian tech ecosystem 


The DMZ Incubator is a market validation and traction program that helps venture-backable pre-seed and seed-stage startups execute their go-to market strategy, acquire lighthouse customers, gain media exposure, explore global expansion, preparing for the next round of funding, and much, much more.

Out of hundreds of the high-calibre startup founders that applied from Canada and around the world, the DMZ hand-picked 12 tech companies to join a new 18-month cohort in the Incubator. 

This cohort has startups joining from Vancouver, Canada to Budapest, Hungary, across diverse industries like logistics, insurtech, fintech, proptech, and more.

Introducing our Spring ‘22 Incubator cohort:

Airtasks helps architecture, engineering, and construction teams manage their daily activities more effectively and collaborate in a common data environment.

AssetFlo is building the next generation of location products to help the supply chain increase visibility with a single device that works everywhere and eliminates costly infrastructure.

Baoba is creating street-smart insurances by combining location intelligence with technologies to create geo-triggered coverages. Baoba’s vision is to become the #1 global ecosystem orchestrator for on-demand insurance needs and the platform for connecting a fragmented market.

Carmodity partners with car dealerships to provide lease-financing to customers in a debt-free and interest-free model.


Cozii Technologies provides sustainable residential and commercial properties management services. Their flagship product Cozii Proptech allows residential landlords to manage their rental properties from anywhere in the world. 

Lightster is a mobile platform that enables tech startups to build instant user communities for input and co-creation, and rewards users for their time with exclusive access and cash.

Monosens helps industrial machine builders and maintenance providers predict which machines need maintenance or aftermarket services using IoT technology and AI.

Businesses, governments, and individuals share many important documents every day. myLaminin uses Blockchain to deliver security, convenience, and control to the document issuer, document holder, and third-party document verifiers.

Reyts is a marketplace that allows individuals to swap currencies seamlessly and securely.

SizeWize offers an AI-backed fit recommendations eCommerce app that ensures online shoppers can buy the right size online, providing reduced returns, increased conversion, increased AOV, targeted marketing and optimal supply chains. 



Getting a car is time-consuming and difficult. Related services like insurance and maintenance make it even worse.
ShiftRide offers flexible car subscriptions on their users’ own terms.

VRapeutic is an Ontario-based UNICEF Innovation Fund portfolio software house specializing in developing therapeutic and rehabilitation solutions, with a focus on virtual reality (VR) for learning and developmental challenges.

 

If you are an early-stage tech founder interested in joining the DMZ Incubator, check out more about the program details and selection criteria here.

The biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs in the last year

Black founders who are killing it in the Canadian startup ecosystem


It’s no secret that wins in the startup ecosystem are tough. Whether it’s securing a grant, closing a round of funding or landing your first big sale, making it takes grit and determination. But, do you know what’s even harder? Doing it all as a Black entrepreneur. 

Black founders face systemic barriers in accessing lucrative entrepreneurship opportunities in Canada. Starting and growing a business is hard, and as a result of the added challenges and obstacles Black founders have to deal with, Canada’s startup ecosystem has a massive underrepresentation of Black-led ventures. 

In light of Black History Month, the DMZ wanted to share the biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs in the last year. While the wheels of change are beginning to spin, we recognize much more still needs to be done and are committed to empowering Black founders with the coaching, mentorship and resources needed to take their business to the next level. 

So, let’s dive into some of the biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs from the last year.

Tunde Omotoye won $20,000 at the DMZ’s inaugural Black Innovation Summit

Black Innovation Bootcamp Alumni

CEO and Co-Founder of HumanSquad, Tunde Omotoye, came in 1st place winning $20,000 at the DMZ’s inaugural Black Innovation Summit.

HumanSquad helps newcomers navigate immigration and their career paths by connecting them to licensed immigration consultants in Canada.

“Before joining the DMZ’s Black Innovation Bootcamp, we didn’t understand concepts like ‘user journey’ or ‘OKRs’. Now, we understand customer profiling and engagement, and key client-related key performance indicators to look out for that can impact our bottom line and boost our top line.” – Tunde Omotoye, CEO and Co-Founder of HumanSquad


Lola Adeyemi secured $180,000 on Dragons’ Den
Biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs from last year: Lola Adeyemi

AMEX Blueprint Alumni

Lola Adeyemi, Founder and CEO of It’s Souper, pitched her hearty and spicy Afro-fusion soup and sauce line on the iconic CBC show Dragons’ Den.

Recognizing the void for ready-to-eat Nigerian packaged foods, Lola was inspired to bring West African herbs and spices to the North-American market.

 

TruLocal acquired for $16.8 million


Biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs from last year: Marc LafleurTruLocal, a market-leading, locally sourced meat subscription service in Canada, was acquired by Canadian e-commerce Emerge Commerce for $16.8 million.

Founder and CEO Marc Lafleur introduced local farmers, producers and suppliers to the power of e-commerce, connecting them with thousands of loyal, health-conscious consumers across the country.

 

 

Tony Colley named a top social impact founder

Biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs from last year: Tony ColleyBlack Innovation Program Social Impact Stream Alumni

The Founder and CEO of Be One to Give, Tony Colley, was recognized as one of Future of Good’s top 21 social impact founders. The list recognizes founders working on a promising solution for a more equitable, sustainable, caring post-pandemic Canada.

Be One to Give is a food redistribution app for businesses that eliminates avoidable food waste in daily operations.

 

The Urban Guide secured a partnership with the City of Toronto

Black Innovation Program Social Impact Stream Alumni

Biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs from last year: Peter OdlePeter Odle, Founder of the Urban Guide, secured a partnership with the City of Toronto, for a special city-based game called ‘ShowLoveTO Urban Game’. The game encouraged players to use their mobile devices to explore Toronto on New Year’s eve and win prizes.

The Urban Guide is a digital solution that uses self-guided city tours to reconnect people to their cities.

 

Adewunmi Akingbola awarded the Diana Award

Black Innovation Bootcamp Alumni

The Founder of HealthDrive Nigeria, Adewunmi Akingbola, was awarded the Diana Award, which recognizes inspirational youth from around the world who have demonstrated their ability to inspire new generations to serve their communities.

HealthDrive Nigeria, an initiative in the South West of Nigeria, aims to raise awareness, test and vaccinate people against Hepatitis B.

 

 

SmartTerm expanded its services to Canada and is now serving Canadian clients 

Black Innovation Incubator Company

SmartTerm, an education management platform, officially expanded into Canada.

Their solution digitizes school processes leading to improved efficiencies for governments, school administrators, teachers and students.

 

“Being able to incorporate our business in Canada was one of our biggest achievements with the DMZ so far.” – Jayme Hoyte, Co-Founder of SmartTerm.

Reeddi selected as a finalist for Prince William’s Earthshot Prize

Black Innovation Bootcamp Alumni

Launched by Prince William and the Royal Foundation, the Earthshot Prize is the most prestigious global environment prize in history. Further, the prize aims to turn the current pessimism surrounding environmental issues into optimism, by highlighting the ability of human ingenuity to bring about change.

Founder of Reedi, Olugbenga Olubanjo, was a finalist for the award; his solution provides portable rechargeable battery units to consumers from a vending machine powered by solar panels.

 

Reyts,Welkom-U and Be One to Give secured their chance to pitch at the DMZ’s upcoming Black Innovation Summit

Black Innovation Program Social Impact Stream Alumni

oluwatosin-tosin-ajibola-e in grey blazerAyobami Macaula and Abimbola Adegbite, Co-Founders of Reyts, Oluwatosin Ajibola, Founder of Welkom-U, and Tony Colley, Founder and CEO of Be One to Give, from the DMZ’s Black Innovation Program Social Impact Stream came out on top at their cohort’s demo day.

abimbola in maroon coatWhile all of the startups are working with a social mission and purpose, the three companies are zeroing in on different societal issues. Reyts is a marketplace that allows individuals to swap currencies in a seamless and secure way. Welkom-U focuses on improving the experience of immigrants to Canada so they can become contributing members of society faster, and Be One to Give is a food redistribution app for businesses that eliminates avoidable food waste in daily operations.

The three companies will have the chance to pitch their startup for funding at the DMZ’s annual Black Innovation Summit.

“Trying to launch a payment service with [Black] skin is almost impossible and because of the help of the DMZ we are so close to our goal after one-and-a-half years of trying, trying and trying. It’s hard to [be told] no, and it’s hard [to be told no] because of who you are. We are now 1 email away from everything we have been working towards.” – Ayobami Macaula, Co-Founder and COO of Reyts

The celebration of Black founders in the ecosystem doesn’t end here. On February 24th the DMZ will be hosting its second annual Black Innovation Summit to showcase Black innovation in Canada. Plus, we’ll be giving away $50,000 in total funding to Black-led startups at the DMZ.

 

Want to tune in to see the next generation of Black founders pitch at the DMZ’s Black Innovation Summit? Register here

Learn more about the DMZ’s Black Innovation Programs here.

Podcast advertising: Your startup’s next secret weapon

On Wednesdays, we startup.


To celebrate our women-identifying founders, we’ve put together ‘On Wednesdays, we startup’, a blog series dedicated to putting women founders center stage to acknowledge their work, complexities and wins!

We hope to push women-founder stories forward and share lessons learned and insights for other aspiring women entrepreneurs.

For this week’s feature, we handed the reins to Rand Abou Ras, the Founder and CEO of uCast and expert in startup development, to learn about podcast advertising and why more startups should be turning to the underrated advertising method.

Guest blog: By Rand Abou Ras, Founder and CEO of uCast

Podcast advertising is not new, but it has become increasingly popular as more people have turned to podcasts as their choice of media throughout the pandemic. I’m sure my fellow podcast junkies have heard a GoDaddy or Better Help ad once or twice while listening to their favourite series.

Podcast advertising is a great way for startups to get visibility. In this blog, I’ll share more about how podcast advertising works, why startups should consider leveraging it, and how uCast makes podcast advertising easy.
podcast station with imac headphones and microphone

Podcast advertising 101

There are a couple of different models to consider when exploring podcast advertising rates.

  • CPM (Cost Per Mille), the most common model, is a host-read ad that’s determined by the show’s number of listeners and their rate per 1000 listeners. A CPM campaign is shown to generate the highest conversion rate over time because of its direct ‘host-to-consumer’ approach.
  • CPA (Cost Per Acquisition) is an affiliate model that larger retail and consumer brands most commonly use. With CPAs, a podcaster is paid a commission for every sale they secure through the use of promo codes. While this may be seen as a ‘safer’ avenue, results show that CPA models lead to low conversions.
  • Hybrid is the ideal model for startups that are new to the space and are looking to experiment. The hybrid model consists of a CPM fee and commission for each secured sale. So, startups would be paying a fixed fee for the campaign, and commission on each conversion made by the host.
  • Programmatic advertising is a model that automates the buying and selling of online ads. This is the same model YouTube adopts for their ad campaigns. Ads are inserted into the podcast audio randomly for each individual listener based on their demographics.

Startups and podcast advertising

Podcast listenership is growing at a steady pace, and the pandemic has supercharged its growth. Podcast advertising is a great way to get your message in front of an audience who will actually listen. Today, 78% of podcast listeners approve of podcast sponsorships and 67% can accurately recall the brands featured.

Podcasting has created a community amongst consumers and offers a personalized experience, making it the ideal environment to target ads to your audience. Plus, it’s still in its infancy, which diminishes ad avoidance and competition. For startups, it’s one of the most cost-effective and best-converting forms of advertising. Other advantages include story-telling capabilities, cross-promotion opportunities, and high audience engagement.
two women sitting at a podcast table with a microphone and laptop with flowers in the background

Where uCast comes in

 uCast is a marketplace and ad management platform for podcasters and advertisers to launch ad campaigns quickly, safely, and accurately. Our mission is very straightforward; we aim to simplify how podcast advertising works today.

It should be easy for podcasts to sell ads, and it should be even easier for advertisers to find the right podcast to advertise on. We plan to be the go-to marketplace for podcasters and advertisers of any size and on any budget.

Our platform uses a matchmaking algorithm to connect the right advertiser to the right podcaster with the highest ROI potential. With the majority of existing solutions solely focused on maximizing revenue, uCast helps advertisers maximize ROI, and addresses common pain points for advertisers and podcasters like ghosting, lack of communication, ‘scammy’ behaviour, and trust.

We are redesigning the podcast advertising process. uCast is designed to instill trust, communication, and provide a ‘podcast-advert’ fit. We focus on matching campaigns with podcasts that will generate the highest ROIs based on numerous factors. Furthermore, we are investing in a rating system for podcasters and adverts to provide transparency for both parties.


Join uCast’s waitlist to access over 15,000 podcasts, and get your first two episodes for free by filling out this form.

 

You can also head over to our website to learn more, or reach out to Rand directly here.

Startup culture post-pandemic: What’s changed, and why we’re excited

Hear from founders at the DMZ and Entrepreneur First about how the pandemic influenced the startup world, and what the future of business and work looks like moving into our new post-pandemic norm


The pandemic transformed entrepreneurship and the professional work environment as we know it.

But now as restrictions lift and the world shifts into its “new normal”, we’re coming into a clearer vision for the future of work. That certainty brings a huge sigh of relief to many founders, and they’re excited to hit the ground running. Entrepreneurs, by nature, need to be able to connect in a physical presence – that’s ultimately how the world’s greatest innovations come to be.

Four founders at various stages of startup growth reflect on their experiences as entrepreneurs over the last couple of years and share why going back to the office is helping them grow and evolve their startups’ working styles.

three startup founders sitting at the DMZ in a meeting looking at a laptop

The pandemic spurred a wave of first-time entrepreneurs

A new study this past June revealed that one in five Canadian entrepreneurs started their business within the past year. Those who started their business during the pandemic did so due to reasons like having more spare time, financial pressures from the pandemic, and being laid off.

entrepreneur first logoThe desire to create impact through entrepreneurship rather than travel a more traditional career path resonated with Grigoriy Kimaev, a Ph.D. graduate. His interest in entrepreneurship piqued further when he heard about Entrepreneur First (EF), a talent investor that runs cohorts in six cities across the globe with a location in Toronto as of last year. 

Fast forward to this year, Grigoriy is now a Founder-in-Residence in EF’s second cohort, following through on his entrepreneurial ambitions.

Grigoriy credits his desire to build a business to the profound societal change brought on by the pandemic. “People and companies were far more eager for change during the height of the pandemic than in low-stress times… I felt I’d hate myself if I didn’t try to build a venture,” Grigoriy said. 

Despite the uncertainty of the pandemic, Grigory was excited to embark on the entrepreneurial journey at EF with like-minded people who were equally ambitious and ready to build.

Back to environments that spark innovation and productivity

Those who became entrepreneurs during the pandemic had a unique experience. While many had more spare time to devote towards building a business, remote work and isolation had their disadvantages. For one, entrepreneurship can be a lonely endeavour. But beyond that, building a startup in the early stages requires collaboration, networking, and access to mentors. 

Furthermore, it’s no easy feat for small teams to be productive in a virtual arrangement, especially when they’re new. Some aspects of running a business simply can’t be replicated in a remote setting. Building team spirit, forming peer-to-peer connections, and managing people in general can pose challenges when done virtually, and that’s why so many startups founders have eagerly awaited a return to normalcy. 

headshots of founders from entrepreneur first toronto
This year, MaRS became EF Toronto’s home. For Grigory, the atmosphere of the office has helped him feel recharged, being surrounded by enthusiastic and motivated fellow founders. Grigory describes it as a “spirit of innovation” that’s immediately felt after passing through EF’s doors. If you’ve got a great business idea and you’re ready to find a co-founder like Grigory, Entrepreneur First is currently accepting applications for their next cohort until December 12. 

 

Working IRL (in real life) with your team is essential when growing a company from the ground up

Like Entrepreneur First, the DMZ was eager to welcome founders back this fall after nearly a year and a half of being closed, and DMZ founders have also felt the immense benefits of being able to work on their startups, alongside their teams and other founders, in a physical presence.

Two Co-founders, Sarah Rennick and Cherry Xu, had been living three time zones apart when building and launching their company Alli during the pandemic, Sarah in Toronto and Cherry in Vancouver. Once the DMZ re-opened, Cherry hopped on a plane and made the trek across the country to finally be able to work with Sarah face-to-face.

“I wanted to work with Sarah in person and be able to meet the broader DMZ community,” explains Cherry. “It’s always exciting to meet others who are risking so much to pursue their passion.” 

Cherry adds that her move has helped productivity and having a sense of connection with others. “Working in the office is conducive to not only productivity, but it helps me mentally as well. Zoom can be draining and the human connection gets missed. Meetings are a lot more enjoyable in person.”

“Try as you might, organic conversations that happen in the office just don’t happen the same via scheduled calls!” Sarah adds.

One founder who decided to adopt a hybrid work model is Leonard Ivey, Founder of Softdrive. “Our team sees value in both the remote and in-person working environments,” explains Leonard, who was eager to start working in the DMZ space on a regular basis upon its re-opening this fall. 

founders sitting at desk pods working in the DMZ
“The DMZ’s atmosphere lends to increased productivity in many ways for the team, and communication is a lot easier when you’re a small team in a startup that’s growing rapidly. But as we expand our team at Softdrive, we also want to enable remote work and empower our team with a flexible work model.”

Creating smart co-working solutions that work 

Nimbus Learning, Mero Technologies and SingleKey met during their time at the DMZ Incubator back in 2019. This past summer, the three companies made a decision to split co-working space as they came back to the office with their teams. William Liu, a Co-founder and the CEO of Nimbus Learning, shares how it’s been a game-changer in helping each startup thrive.

“Obviously, there are the cost benefits. Rent is quite a bit more affordable when you have three companies splitting the cost of the office space,” William explains. “Beyond that, I’ve seen growth happen amongst all employees of the three companies that share the space.” 

He also points out that working in the same space with other like-minded individuals promotes knowledge sharing. “Our teams – sales, client success, and marketing –  share ideas, processes, tools, and strategies with their counterparts at the other companies,” says William. He mentions that having late-night conversations with the founders of the other two companies has been tremendously helpful and an opportunity to share insights. 

four founders around a table talking at the dmz
“I think it’s a perfect setup for any startup that’s not quite ready to have their own dedicated space, but still wants a co-working space that’s cozier than something like a WeWork,” he adds.

At the end of the day, founders know that a certain kind of magic happens in a startup environment that can’t be experienced through a computer screen. 

The DMZ has welcomed founders back to the space, and we’re ecstatic to say the least. Truly, there’s nothing like watching our founders build connections, reach milestones, and hit new levels of success, especially in person. We’ve now introduced a hybrid model, giving founders the flexibility to access the DMZ’s programming both in person and virtually. 

If you’re a tech founder ready to validate your business model, raise your first round of funding, and scale your startup, learn how the DMZ Incubator can help.

If you’ve got a great business idea and you’re ready to find a co-founder, Entrepreneur First is the place to meet your match and hit the ground running. Don’t miss the chance to apply for Entrepreneur First Toronto’s third cohort. Applications are open until December 12, 2022. 

These social impact startups are changing the world for the better

Introducing the Black Innovation Program Social Impact Stream and its inaugural cohort of startups


Social entrepreneurship has become a rapidly-growing approach to business, and for a good reason – social entrepreneurs are pioneers focused on tackling some of the world’s biggest societal issues. 

Together, Unilever Canada and the DMZ have launched the Black Innovation Program’s (BIP) Social Impact Stream: a 6-month business incubator program designed to support Black entrepreneurs with a social mission. The program allows entrepreneurs to tap into lucrative industry connections and growth resources to build on their existing solutions and ultimately drive impact in Canadian communities.

Over the course of the 6-month program, socially-driven organizations are equipped with the tools, mentorship and community needed to generate company growth while accelerating their ability to create meaningful change and contribute to their core mission.

Hear from the founders of companies in the inaugural cohort of the BIP Social Impact Stream on how they’re working to drive social impact, and what they’re hoping to achieve for their organizations over the course of the program.

 

B12Give creates a circular economy redistributing lost or wasted surplus food along the supply chain to food-insecure communities and support agencies across Canada. Tony Colley, the company’s Founder and CEO, explains that B12Give leverages a sustainable, tech-based solution to lower the overall cost of food waste, reduce GHG emissions, and reduce the overuse of our natural resources while feeding millions.

The company has big plans they’d like to accomplish over the next six months. According to Tony, the company hopes to scale the app across the GTA, expand its executive team, activate partners with locations in different markets, and secure an angel investor.

 

Detailing Knights provides an eco-friendly and waterless mobile auto detailing and car cleaning service. In terms of driving impact, Ryan Knight, CEO, explains the company’s purpose goes beyond just car detailing.

“What we are most proud of is our Youth Entrepreneurship training program, which empowers youth coming out of detention an opportunity to run their own detailing business while exploring various areas of entrepreneurship.”

Ryan explains that the company’s next objectives include creating a roadmap for a new product line and upskilling their current team. “Doing this helps us bring in support to fine-tune our operations in preparation for licensing our brand outside of Ontario, across Canada, and into the U.S.”

 

EduCare’s global mission is to improve graduation outcomes for students with disabilities through a tech-enabled platform that connects colleges/universities and health care providers. Fowzia Mahamed, the company’s Founder, explains that the company provides an opportunity for schools to improve graduation rates for students with disabilities. 

The company hopes to develop its knowledge base in building a go-to-market strategy, including a pilot for licensing the software as a service platform in collaboration with colleges/universities and community health centres.

Over the next six months, Educare aims to set up a pilot with two colleges and community health centres and to license a beta version of the EduCare software as a service platform.

 

eimhe is a wellness management platform for the workplace. Jefferson Roc, the company’s Founder, hopes to increase emotional intelligence amongst people and their communities.

“I applied to the BIP Social Impact Stream because I believe our concept can help solve challenges around mental illness and addiction. We want to fill the gaps in our go-to-market strategy and ensure we cover our blind spots.”

Jeffer explains that the company’s next milestones include bringing their MVP to market, conducting their first proof of concept and securing $150K in non-dilutive grant funding.

 

Jesina Studios works with refugee women in Toronto to design and develop handmade, customizable, and high-quality home decor and gifts.

“We believe this program will help us provide stable employment and professional development for refugee women who typically experience employment barriers in Canada,” explains Samantha Simunyu, one of Jesina Studios’s Co-founders.

The company hopes to refine its product offering, develop a go-to-market strategy and build meaningful relationships with other social innovators throughout the program. 

 

MakeRoom empowers marginalized and emerging artists with the resources to reach broader audiences and funding opportunities through various means, including projection installations.

Trevor Twells, the company’s CEO and Founder, explains that MakeRoom’s main mission is to provide funding and exposure for emerging BIPOC artists in particular.

The BIP Social Impact Stream will help the company scale up its regular operations to have more venue partners. The company aims to finalize its advertising revenue model, make industry connections to create advertising partnerships, and receive mentorship that will advise the founding team on how to reframe these partnerships and discover other monetization models.

 

OffTech aims to make high-quality education accessible to students in rural Canada in areas with no broadband connection. “We applied for the BIP Social Impact Stream because we believe the mentorship, connections, and tools we’ll receive from this program will offer valuable insights into the feasibility of our proposed solution.” says Ayman Abdulkadir, Co-founder of OffTech.

Over the next six months, OffTech hopes to validate its solution of making high-quality education accessible in rural Canada.

 

Outlit helps to educate the next generation of banking clients and ultimately aims to drive impact by helping new immigrants obtain financial freedom and a higher quality of life. Josh Earle, the company’s Founder & CEO,  explains that he applied to the BIP Social Impact Stream “to connect with, and learn from, like-minded entrepreneurs that are trying to represent the underrepresented collective of people.”

The company aims to fully launch its product, obtain over 250 users, and partner with nonprofits, schools, and financial institutions over the next six months.

 

Redeem Clothing Recycling is a for-profit company that provides a platform to donate used clothing items from the comfort of users’ homes.

Oghenemine Jarikre, the company’s Founder, diverts clothing waste in Canada and upcycles them into fashion accessories on the company’s platforms. Oghenemine hopes to increase human capacity, raise funding and improve donations through the program.

“I applied for the program to learn more about growing and running my startup. I believe the DMZ can provide the visibility my company needs, the right partnership, resources, and funding,” explains Oghenemine.

 

 

Reyts builds inclusive fintech solutions via a marketplace that allows users from minority communities to access and exchange underserviced currencies in a seamless and secure way.

Through the Black Innovation Program Social Impact Stream, Reyts hopes to bring the application to life by tapping into more financial services that can bring much-needed change to the payments space for immigrant communities. 

According to Ayobami Macaulay, the company’s Co-Founder, Reyts aims to regularize its compliance stance in Canada, onboard a banking partner and a payment service provider, and onboard the company’s first 1000 users within the next six months of the program.

 

Solooble is a mobile app that helps users monitor their financial commitments in real-time to keep on track with saving goals and never miss another bill payment. Lemuel Barango, the company’s Co-founder, hopes to reduce financial anxiety among Canadians.

“I applied to Black Innovation Program to contribute to, and benefit from, a network of Black innovators trying to drive social impact,” Lemuel explains. The company’s business goal for the next six months is to increase its user base to 500 users.

 

The Urban Guide (TUG) is an app that offers semi-virtual games and self-guided city tours that strengthen the urban cultural connection. The SaaS product enables rapid learning using gamification and predictive self-guided walking tours to enhance the familiarity of new cities and reduce culture shock.

Peter Odle, Founder of TUG explains he hopes to broaden his business knowledge, obtain the tools necessary to validate TUG, and surround himself with a group of Black entrepreneurs who embody a success mindset.

The Urban Guide hopes to grow their international Black business network by 200%, secure 5 additional institutional customers, and enhance the app UX to facilitate easier onboarding and user accessibility within 5 seconds.

 

We Funded It provides Afro Canadians with financial and mentorship resources for educational and entrepreneurship development. “I want to gain access to the DMZ network and raise funding to drive my organization forward,” explains Diana White, the company’s Founder and President. “We also hope to apply for charity status with the Canadian government and develop a corporate sponsorship program.”

We Funded It drives social impact by making finance-free funding and tailored mentorship accessible to improve economic empowerment, mental health, and overall well-being in Canada’s Black community.

Welkom-U provides pre-arrival settlement services to drive retention and grow the population of newcomers using technology. Tosin Ajibola, the company’s Co-founder & CEO, explains that fertility decline and population out-migration have resulted in a rapidly aging population in Atlantic Canada.

“We are using our technology and resources to attract a younger demographic, facilitate and encourage retention, and ultimately aid population growth,” explains Tosin. “As a Black-identifying tech and social entrepreneur, I’m hoping to network and understand how BIPOC are fairing in metro cities, and learn how to incorporate my findings in emerging cities in Canada.”

 

Interested in learning more about the BIP Social Impact Stream and keeping up with these companies? Read more here.

 

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