4 Toronto startups to watch out for in 2018

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4 Toronto startups to watch out for in 2018

Last year saw explosive growth in the Toronto startup scene. Some of the city’s most popular homegrown companies raised million-dollar investments, extended their services across the country and expanded into the U.S.

While it’s never easy to pick which startups to highlight for our must-watch list, the following truly stood out in 2017 and arevexpected to do big things in the coming year.

TopHat


TopHat is one of the few Canadian startups dominating the education technology (edtech) space. It offers college and university instructors an easy-to-use platform that combines online tests, interactive tools and digital textbooks. In fact, the company’s products have even caught the eye of high-profile schools at home and abroad (Dalhousie University, California State University and Indiana University, just to name a few).

Standout: Last year, the company won ‘Startup of the Year’ at the Canadian Startup Awards for its new learning tools and raised a whopping $30 million. Insiders expect it to do big things in 2018 after taking on international education giants, like Pearson and McGraw.

Ritual


Ritual’s app isn’t used by everyone in Toronto. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find a store in the downtown core that doesn’t feature the company’s logo.

The foodie app lets individuals pre-order food ahead of time for easy pickup and since launching has signed more than 100 businesses across the GTA. Its 2017 wins include a massive Series B round; likely a precursor to more high-profile developments in the coming months.

Standout: Aside from a never-ending list of positive press (everything from features in the Washington Street Journal and Canada’s BetaKit), it also snapped up $43.5 million. The company’s executive team also revealed its 2018 plans to expand into several U.S. major cities.

Rumie


The words ‘nonprofit’ and ‘startup’ may sound like an oxymoron, but companies like Rumie are proving it’s possible. They’re transforming the for-good sector and bent on changing the world by using new technologies.

The Toronto startup develops and delivers low-cost digital learning tools to underserved communities around the world. Its reach extends to Jordan, Turkey and Syria where it teaches refugee youth basic education. In northern Canada, the company is connecting communities that suffer from unreliable bandwidth with offline learning materials.

Standout: Any startup that wins Google’s ‘nonprofit of the year’ award is likely destined to do great things. This year, Rumie plans to expand its presence in Canada and beef up its Toronto offices to take on even more challenges.

StackAdapt


The software company, based in the city’s trendy King St. East area, is no novice in the tech field. The advertising firm counts industry leaders like Google, Banque Libano and Kodak as clients. Most recently it garnered headlines with its #HackDiversity campaign.

The initiative highlights the company’s free app, Unbiasify, which removes names and profile photos of candidates applying through online recruitment platforms.

Standout: Diversity is a well-known problem in the tech community. This startup could help make a real difference with its latest project.

The best coworking spaces around the world

The number of coworking spaces around the world is on the rise. In 2017 approximately 1.2 million people worked out of shared spaces; and that number is expected to only grow in the coming year, according to the Global Work Survey.

It’s not hard to see why these types of new-age offices have spiked in popularity. As the economy shifts, more adults are taking on freelance work or launching their own startups. For those who don’t require the kind of mentorship that an accelerator provides, these are a great alternative. Not to mention, many now offer extravagant features — everything from in-house masseuses, to on-tap prosecco and 20-ft swinning pools.

If you’re a digital nomad looking for a cool office while travelling the globe, or an entrepreneur just in need of workspace, there are a ton of places to choose from. Here’s are list of the top offices around the world. 

Parisoma, Silicon Valley

parisoma
Parisoma is an outlier in Silicon Valley, because it successfully blurs the line between an accelerator 
and coworking space. Members get more than just a place to work; they get access to business classes related to marketing, web development, freelancing and more. Entrepreneurs can network with the 200-plus other entrepreneurs working out of its space or its extended network at any time. Prices range from $325 per month for its “open spaces” with no assigned desks to $7,000 for closed offices.

Standout features: Free community space, in-house admin support, free wifi, access to technical workshops and classes.

Primary, New York Cityprimary


If you’re a Canadian entrepreneur heading to the Big Apple save money (and alleviate any stress) by working out of 
Primary.

The co-working space is located in the heart of the city’s financial district. Tech entrepreneurs can apply to join for free through the DMZ at any time throughout the year. If accepted, startups get unfettered 24/7 access to its suite of offices, as well as snacks, complimentary yoga and other wellness classes. Bonus: Entrepreneurs can also take advantage of the office’s exclusive workshops and learning events.

Standout features: Free for select Canadian entrepreneurs, 24/7 access, located in the heart of financial district, lockers and hot desks.

WeWork, London
wework

WeWork — a tech company that operates shared coworking spaces across the globe — has a whopping 24 offices spread out across London and the greater area. Each one has its own design, but carries the same perks found at each of its international locations. Namely, that means big open spaces, private rooms for meetings and dependable wifi.

Prices vary by location, but range from £400 ($677 CAD) per month to £34 ($57) for an ‘on-demand’ day pass. Of course, working out of any office in England’s biggest city doesn’t come cheap. Thankfully membership comes with a few unique perks: The company’s free app lets users do everything from book conference rooms to network with its other creators across the globe. Users also have the opportunity to work out of the company’s other WeWork spaces located in 67 international cities.

Standout features: Pet-friendly, located in the core of London, 24/7 access, meditation rooms, bookable offices, high-speed internet.

Naked Hub, Beijing

Naked Hub
Beijing’s fast-paced tech scene is growing by leaps and bounds. This year the metropolis (along with Shanghai) made its debut on 
Startup Genome’s top startup cities and companies are taking notice. 

Naked Group may not well known within Asia, but the company’s winning business model in Asia is attracting entrepreneurs (and media attention) from across the country. The luxury resort company opened its first Beijing office, located in a refurbished factory, this spring.  Entrepreneurs who join can connect with other startups working out of its other Chinese offices through its exclusive network and get access to onsite services, like on-demand admin help and wellness services. Digital membership — access to the company’s online community — costs approximately¥300 ($57 CAD). Meanwhile, desk space ranges from ¥1800 ($346) to¥3000 ($577 CAD).

Standout features: On-site dedicated admin staff a.k.a ‘Naked Angels’, hot desks, shared community space and wellness rooms

East Room & Spaces, Toronto

eastroom
If you’re looking for something a little closer to home, then, you’re in luck. Toronto already has a variety of co-working spaces open in the city more planned for 2018. One of those places is Amsterdam-born Spaces, located at 180 John St., Toronto.

Another go-to office is the city’s East Room. Club members get access to its boardrooms, reception services, wifi and more for $500 per month. The highest level, premium membership, starts at $3,300 per month for enclosed offices.

Standout features: Access to its onsite programs, which includes community events with industry insiders.  

 

Is Canada the next global leader in tech? Yes.

Some of today’s biggest game-changing startups call Canada home these days. This includes local high-growth companies  like Shopify, WattPad and Element A.I., which secured an eye-watering $135 million investment earlier this year.Even America’s top tech companies have pivoted north in recent years; lured by Canada’s thriving tech scene.Google, Uber and Microsoft have launched new satellite offices this year, while Amazon — the godfather of e-commerce — is considering Toronto for its new North American headquarters.

Canada on the world stage

 
These new developments may come as a surprise to some, but it really shouldn’t. Canada has one of the most liberal immigration policies in the world and some of the top tech incubators — which churn our new talent and companies every day — are located in the city. However, Toronto’s greatest strength lies in its talent base. Tech innovators attracted by our world-class institutions that include Google’s artificial intelligence lab and million-dollar Vector Institute bring with them investors and venture capitalists that help transform the city.

Of course, Canada’s quickly maturing tech landscape can be confusing. Enter: The DMZ. The startup incubator’s new podcast entitled BusinessCast powered by the DMZ tackles the latest in tech news and innovation.

The first episode in the series investigates Canada’s winning tech streak. Chartered accountant and host Robert Gold chats with DMZ Executive Director Abdullah Snobar about the state of tech entrepreneurship and, more importantly, why the world should care about Canadian startups.Make sure to check out our BusinessCast podcasts here. 

Fujitsu Canada: Corporate innovation through collaboration

For years, companies looking to boost their bottom line would all too often rely on buying out their competition. It became trendy for big-name firms to acquire emerging startups in an effort to grow their market share.

Today, all of that is changing. The days of blockbuster acquisitions are on the decline. In a world where established companies face competition not only from Fortune 500 rivals, but from early-stage startups, purchasing the newest innovation at every turn isn’t enough.

So, what should large corporations do to stay ahead? Focusing on collaboration is key. It allows both startups and established businesses to leverage their best assets to thrive in today’s cutthroat business landscape. Startups bring with them new technologies and ideas that more-resource heavy corporations can then use to accelerate innovation. A practice that Fujitsu Canada has perfected over the years.

Collaborate to innovate

 
The company is certainly no stranger when it comes to innovation. Fujitsu is one of the oldest IT companies in the world, having undergone numerous breakthrough transformations over the years.

These days, Fujitsu invests about $3 billion annually in research and development, but behind the scenes the company is also solidifying partnerships with top startups around the globe.

“We understand that no one company, including Fujitsu, exclusively owns innovation across this broad range of industries,” explains Craig Smith, vice president of Fujitsu Canada. “It makes great business sense for us to collaborate with startups where we can jointly explore new markets and grow in existing ones.”

These types of partnerships can be incredibly beneficial. A 2016 study by Boston-based nonprofit MassChallenge and software company Imaginatik found corporate-startup partnerships were important tools for finding new talent, among many other things. Working with “scrappy young firms” the report said was “mission critical” to a business’ success.

Tech opportunities in Canada

 
The Canadian startup landscape is ripe and ready for the type of big partnerships that are often found south of the border. Fujitsu Canada knows this and is taking an active approach when it comes to finding the best Canadian startups.

Fujitsu’s current list of collaborations extends from coast to coast and around the world, including the company’s worldwide network of innovation labs and its Canadian Student Innovation System program, where more than 600,000 students, educators, and administrators work together to improve learning outcomes. The company’s relationship with the DMZ’s Innovation Immersion program also allows it to meet dozens of high-potential tech companies eager to showcase how their market-ready technology can help Fujitsu’s products.

“We view engaging with the startup community in Canada as an exciting and complementary innovation channel,” Smith explains about the company’s startup relationships. “The Canadian tech startup community is burgeoning, with venture capital more than tripling in the last six years.”

The future of tech

 
At the end of the day, new technology is making it easier and cheaper to do things that were once thought impossible. Like the Wright brothers — who gave birth to modern-day flight — or Drs. Watson and Crick — who uncovered the structure of DNA — amazing things happen through collaboration. Partnerships between big companies and small startups will become increasingly important in the near future and change life as we know it today. For Smith, how companies accelerate innovation in their business and the entrepreneurs they co-create with will help influence the Canadian tech scene.

“The ability to innovate is crucial. Technology is transforming innovation – it isn’t necessarily making it better but it is making it quicker, cheaper and easier. In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in digital co-creation, as businesses continue to transform to stay competitive in this quickly changing industry,” Smith adds. “… Digital transformation is becoming increasingly a core element to societal and economic stability and in order to thrive, businesses will need to accelerate the pace at which they bring technology and new ideas together.”

How one Canadian entrepreneur survived and thrived in NYC

The Bay area — once seen as the only top spot for tech — is no longer the be-all-and-end-all place for innovators. NYC-grown tech scions like Etsy, Blue Apron, ZocDoc and Buzzfeed have proven that building a billion-dollar company in Silicon Alley is not only possible, but slowly becoming the norm.

For those who have the money (and resources) to live in New York, success is within reach. Unfortunately, not all entrepreneurs can easily pack up and move to the Big Apple. Meanwhile, working part-time in New York is often not enough for businesses on the hunt for high-value growth.

Meet the Canadian conquering NYC

 
Canadian entrepreneur Ami Shah knows better than most how difficult it can be to work and network part-time in the city. Not too long ago the cofounder of education software company Peekapak spent weeks flying back and forth between her office in Toronto and NYC for work. Without a dedicated space in the city it meant relegating meetings with U.S. clients to subpar hotel lobbies or crowded coffee shops.

dmznyc-blogmap-1

“It’s not easy when you don’t have an office,” Shah explains. “We didn’t have a homebase so everyday [tasks] like networking or meeting clients were difficult.”

Thankfully things changed for the better in June 2017. That was when Shah and her team were chosen by the DMZ, North America’s number one university-based tech incubator, to work out of its brand new space at Primary. The co-working office, located in the heart of Manhattan, gives select Canadian entrepreneurs, like herself, a place to call home while in the big city and easy access to a host of free amenities, like desks, reception services, conference rooms and wellness classes.

The opportunity has — for all intents and purposes — changed her business in ways that she could never have imagined. “We’re focused on growth in the New York and New Jersey area now and since last year we’ve grown our sales three times,” she explains, while crediting the DMZ with playing a pivotal role in the company’s recent good fortune. “Having an office here signals to our partners that we want to spend more time in the region. We have [the] space to spend that time and, I think, it gives a lot of confidence to our partners.”

New and improved

 
The good news doesn’t stop there either. Since working out of the DMZ’s office in New York her team has moved out of its temporary home at Yonge and Dundas and into their very own office in downtown, Toronto.

The tech accelerator’s NY space has also improved Shah’s overall health and wellness, she says. The U.S. Primary location is now her home away from home where she can work, eat and also relax at the end of a long day.

“Usually when I’m there I’ll pick up a yoga class. In a city like New York where you’re rushing out to meet people it helps that there’s a place called ‘The Studio’ where any member can drop into a relaxation session.” Getting her “zen on,” as she calls it, even if it’s only for a few minutes per day, is helpful for the entrepreneur who regularly pulls 12-hour days.

Right now Shah and her team plan to maintain their presence in NYC well into the future, but don’t plan to give up their Canadian roots any time soon.

“We love being a Canadian company,” she says. “There is so much going on in Toronto in the tech scene and being part of the DMZ community showed me that. Being in NYC was never about not being a Canadian company; it was about taking advantage of this opportunity that we couldn’t have before.”

How to lure and hire top talent before your competitors do

Canada’s tech scene is on the rise.

Toronto, its largest city, is home to a booming artificial intelligence ecosystem. It also boasts an enviable research center that includes the country’s first technology supercluster and an entrepreneurial drive that’s second only to the U.S.

It also doesn’t hurt that Canada’s Global Strategy program helps fast track immigration for talented workers. The new law makes it one of the most liberal programs in the world. In as little as two weeks workers can get visas and working permits — making the talent search that much easier.

But, despite all this good news Canadian startups still have a difficult time finding tech leaders to help them grow. While the country has the right people on hand onboarding them isn’t always easy. That’s why recruitment strategies are playing a much bigger role than they ever have before.

Engaging with talent before they apply

 
For Dave Savory — co-founder of a startup called Riipen that connects young jobseekers with companies — finding the best talent quicker and more efficiently means shaking up how HR engages with talent. The old-school recruitment method that requires applicants to fill out page-by-page forms online just won’t do anymore. Engaging with emerging talent sooner through games, brain teasers or social media yields better results.

“Having a new entry point based on merit and skills instead of how many buzzwords you can fit in your cover letter is what you should look for. People are now trained on how to get passed automatic resume filters that companies set up,” he explains. “It ends up making more work for people at a company because they spend time interviewing people who may not be a great fit or miss out on really great people.”

Savory knows better than most about what companies look for in employees. Riipen, founded in 2013, works with 140 post-secondary schools and 7000 companies in North America to help students find work. His clients vary and include tech giants, like Microsoft, and food businesses, such as restaurant chain Joey Restaurants.

“It’s all about how good companies authentically engage with emerging talent,” he adds. “Companies know [young people] are an important demographic as older workers retire, so they need to find new ways to get their attention before their competitors do.”

Check out the weirdest interview questions Fortune 500 companies asked prospective employees last year, courtesy of GlassDoor.

[metaslider id=44506]

Businesses suffer without HR innovation

 
Robert Sher — who works in San Francisco, a city with an unemployment rate of 3.5 per cent — put it best. “Flawed hiring processes” play a role in hiring and retaining the best people, which impacts a business’s bottom line.

“Companies that can’t find creative ways to find the employees they need can’t grow,” he explained. “Business leaders who can win the talent war (and it is a war) will be able to say yes to new business opportunities while their talent-strapped competition will have to walk away.”

Bryan Rusche, Soapbox’s marketing director, believes the hiring landscape has changed in recent years. While his company doesn’t directly work on recruitment processes, their platform allows employees to share ideas and feedback that can impact how companies attract new talent.

“The best strategy for attracting talent is having a reputation for being an amazing place to work,” he says. “The slickest recruitment strategy in the world isn’t going to work for you if your employees don’t back up your claims that you have something special,” he explains.

As times change, businesses will be forced to change their hiring policies as well.  They’ll increasingly need to rely on better ways (and platforms) to connect with talent if they want to succeed. “This will be the new normal in the next three to five years” says Savory. “Engaging talent through skill-based assessment or challenges will be the new starting point of the recruiting process.”

How Canada became a hotspot for artificial intelligence research

Canada’s dominance in the artificial intelligence space is drawing attention from techpreneurs around the world. The country, probably better known in recent years for its pop music exports and human rights record, has become a hotbed for the computer algorithm-powered technology over the last five years.

Toronto’s startups making waves

 
Last summer, Montreal’s Element AI raised an eye-watering $102 million from investors and earlier this year Toronto-based Integrate.ai secured a $5 million seed round. That’s on top of other notable moves being made by some of today’s more entrenched companies, like Royal Bank that will employ AI for its customer operations and DeepMind, a Google-acquired intelligence company, opened an office in Alberta last summer.

Not to be outdone, General Motors said it was going to launch one of its self-driving research hubs in Markham, Ontario. Thomson Reuters last year announced it would open a Toronto center for “cognitive computing” that would create 400 “high-quality” jobs.

How did this happen?

 
So, how did we get here and why now?  It doesn’t hurt that Canada has become famous for its liberal immigration policy. Just recently it opened its doors to tech talent willing to relocate to Canada.

The fast-track visa program offers up permanent residency and is designed to woo talented innovators from around the world. The Canadian government has also committed about $125 million to A.I.

Officials at all three levels are also lending a helping hand. In late 2016, the federal, provincial and municipal governments joined forces to launch the new Toronto-based Vector Institute.

The non-profit is focused on A.I. research and helping startups get funding for ongoing work. It also has backing from tech giants like Google and Air Canada — making it a force to be reckoned with. Meanwhile Montreal is home to its own deep learning expertise thanks to Yoshua Bengio (one of the co-fathers of deep learning) and the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms.

Future outlook

 
But Canada faces a tough (and unpredictable) road as it battles for AI superiority. Compared to the U.S., Canadian startups receive a fraction of the investment dollars that their counterparts in the U.S. do.

For example, last year $69.1 billion was invested in America found the National Venture Capital Association, while Canadian companies received $3.2 billion. But, things are now on the rise. Last year represented the seventh straight year of growth for VC investment in Canada and the largest since 2001.

While only time will tell how far Canada’s A.I. scene will fare in the future. Although, its current booming outlook signifies that things for the country (and Toronto especially) look bright.

“Toronto’s tech industry is booming right now, so it’s no surprise that it’s also emerged as a hub for AI job opportunities.”

Daniel Culbertson, an economist at job-seeking website Indeed, shared with BetaKit.

24 hours with real estate startup Casalova

The real estate startup is located in downtown, Toronto — one of Canada’s most competitive real estate markets — which means employees have to always be on their toes since local listings can change in the blink of an eye.

Unlike some of its competitors, Casalova is a one-stop shop that brings together prospective renters, landlords and agents all in one place. Users who sign up get access to new homes and a certified agent, while landlords have their properties listed and also get a $100,000 insurance package so they can rest easy knowing that if a tenant damages their homes they won’t go into debt to fix it.

Here’s an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of Casalova’s team and their founder.

The agent: Jennifer Meade (9 a.m. to 12 p.m.)

jennifer_meade

Jennifer Meade, one of the company’s newest agents, knows all too well how volatile Toronto’s real estate market is these days. She’s seen up-close-and-personal the city’s property market jump more than 20 per cent in the last year, and more importantly, the impact it’s had on prospective renters and buyers.

“Everything moves so fast now,” she explains. “If you want something in this market you have to be ready to move quickly because property can go just like that,” she says while snapping her fingers for added effect.

For Meade, most days involve checking her email to see which new clients she’s been matched with through Casalova or connecting with new renters through her own personal network. Today her client, a nurse moving from Barrie to Toronto, is looking for a condo to call home in the downtown core, which Meade confesses “can be tricky” since the prospective renter’s 14-hour job makes it difficult to view properties during normal hours.

Today her day starts at 7 a.m. when she scours local listings for new condos. When she finds one that matches her client’s needs (in this case parking and access to shopping and entertainment) she calls the property manager to book an appointment and waits for her client to make the long drive downtown.

Two hours later she shows the nurse around a lovely condo near the city’s waterfront while rattling of its impressive amenities — inclusive gym, pool and hot tub, to name a few. It’s a one bedroom, 778 square feet, home that overlooks Lake Ontario. While Meade thinks she may have found her client the perfect home although she isn’t so sure and wants to look at a few other places before making a final decision.

Keen to see her client view as many places as possible she hails a taxi that will shuttle both of them to their next destination. She also informs the condo owner over the phone that her client is interested in the property but needs a little more time to make a decision. “It’s important to keep every door open,” she says with a smile while juggling two phones.

Two hours and three condo viewings later (a cancelled showing due to a lost lockbox means the day ends early) just reinforces how much her client loved the first apartment she viewed earlier in the day. Meade later makes an official offer that day with help from Casalova’s customer service team and then make plans to meet tomorrow to follow-up on signing details.

“It always feels good when you find the perfect home for someone,” Meade explains.

The front-line staff: (1 p.m. to 3 p.m.)

agent-picture-8-1

Naveed Marzook, Casalova’s vice-president of customer success, loves his job. It’s easy to see that he and his team shoulder most of the face-to-face customer and agent work the company deals with on a daily basis. Any questions about properties, or payment requests go through his team.

The customer service team also helps customers navigate the website if necessary and add new homes to the company’s growing list of real estate options almost hourly.

For all intents and purposes, Marzook and his team are like the swiss army knife of the company, although he refers to his team as the startup’s “helpers”. They go “above and beyond” what they’re expected to do all the time, he explains. “Everyone pitches in and we appreciate it.”

Marzook and his team believe that the company’s success boils down to the fact the team actually like working together. In an attempt to prove his point, he holds up a golden owl, fondly named Hooter, which is given to the employee who happens to “pitch in the most.”

Today it might be him, and the next day it could be Jess Shulist — one of his colleagues whose computer is decorated with Rihanna stickers and works with agents to get client documents ready.

“It’s a fun place to work,” Shulist says while looking fondly at Hooter. “I think it’s cool how we never forget to recognize how hard each other is working.”

The co-founder: Ray Jaff (3 p.m. to 8 p.m.)

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Ray Jaff wakes up at 6 a.m. everyday to workout. He works through company problems while running on the treadmill and brainstorms new solutions while lifting weights. “It’s what gets me through the day,” he explains.

The entrepreneur is dressed in a fitted oxford shirt and pleated pants, but says he would be just as comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt.

This afternoon he’s focused mostly on checking in with team members, going over the website’s latest updates and the company’s plans to move to a new office on the westside.

At a meeting with the team’s engineers, Jaff and the developers hunker down at their desk to come up with solutions and a tentative timeline for new product updates. Forty-five minutes later they’re done and the founder is already on his way to his next meeting. His phone blinks throughout the afternoon proving just how in-demand he is these days, especially now that the company has launched its services in Vancouver.

It’s a real coup for the startup, he says. “We’ve been working towards this for a while.” When asked how he manages to avoid burnout, Jaff merely laughs and shrugs. “It’s a team effort, we’re all working on this together and we aim to only hire A-players who are dedicated to the Casalova mission. It’s makes everyone’s life a lot easier.”

Later on the company’s real estate agents, front-line staff and Jaff convene to celebrate their quarterly wins at a complimentary lunch while munching on sushi, chips, cupcakes and champagne. Despite its seemingly small team, the event is an important way to show employees how much their hard work is appreciated.

“Casalova is like a family. We value everyone and just because the agents aren’t in the office with us doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be here with us to celebrate.”

The award categories include ‘Rookie of the month’, ‘hardest hustler,’ and ‘MVP of the month.’ After the awards are given out, Jaff motions for people to move to the front of the room for photos with the honourees.

Once the meeting is over, it’s back to meetups with staff, responding to more emails and later one-on-ones about Vancouver. It’s almost 8 p.m. by the time his day is finished.

As he readies his things to leave for the night the entrepreneur’s eyes are still glued to his smartphone.

Is your startup prepared for a PR crisis?

The startup world is no stranger to scandal.

Silicon Valley is riddled with the remains of startups and companies forced to close their doors after falling prey to scandal. This year a series of well-known companies have landed in hot water for everything ranging from sexual harassment allegations to discrimination claims.

So, why does this keep happening in tech? The answer is fairly simple: Fast-growing businesses are more likely to prioritize product over crisis communication plans since the former provides immediate returns. It’s kinda hard to showcase the benefits of a communication crisis plan when there’s no crisis on hand.

Fortunately, there are some easy things startups can do to get ahead of any potential problems. Here are three easy steps early-stage companies can follow courtesy of Erin Richards, a former public relations officer for CBC and founder of communications firm Hype PR.

Setting Yourself Up For Success

For startups on a shoestring budget, time is a valuable resource that’s always in short supply. It’s easy to see why some would rather spend time networking instead of creating an in-depth framework for future issues that, technically, may never arrive.

As much as it might make sense to avoid all things PR related Richards believes it’s a bad idea. To combat any possible negative publicity entrepreneurs should invest in creating a strong brand before missteps occur in order to develop a trove of goodwill that can be leveraged to diffuse bad situations and grow the business.

“Most people don’t understand that public perception is a huge part of a brand narrative and story, and if those elements aren’t figured out, the media relations strategy is likely to fall flat.”

Creating long-lasting buzz isn’t an easy task, but entrepreneurs hoping to generate a positive public perception must focus their efforts on giving back to their community on a regular basis. This includes having team members volunteer to speak at conferences or community events to build good will. Local nonprofits and community organizations are always looking for guests to help teach and knowledgable experts are always in demand

Constantly Monitor Your Brand

Keeping tabs on how your brand grows and changes over time isn’t easy. It requires a lot of hard work, tons of follow-up and a keen eye that can easily differentiate between spam and important data, which is likely why most companies hire outside firms to perform this task.

Finding problems before they mushroom into bigger ones is an effective way to manage communication tragedies.

Companies need to be proactive and constantly be diligent. If they can’t afford to hire an outside team to monitor their brand they should make sure an individual is tasked with doing basic searches all the time.  Simply enlist someone on their team to monitor social media and online channels for news.

“They should have someone on the team allocated to the role of social and traditional media monitoring to ensure they are on top of any potential brand related issues that may arise,” Richards adds. “They could also look into having an independent consultant develop a PR plan and strategy that they could attempt to execute internally.”

Here are a few social media companies that startups can use to help find out if they’re being discussed online:

Twitter: Companies can use Twitter’s advanced search buttons to look for specific sentences, names and dates.

Facebook: It can be a little trickier for startups to find mentions of their brand on Facebook since many users take advantage of the social media company’s privacy settings.

Google: Getting alerts about when and if your company is mentioned online can be as simple as setting up a Google account. This platform doesn’t include social media platforms but does extend to blogs, news and websites.

Teach Your Team How to Interact With the Brand

For good or bad, founders are the de facto representative for their company. A startup can rise and fall based on the actions of a founding team member or staff. Teaching startup teams how to interact with customers online is vital, even when their “off the clock” or on their down time.

They need to remain professional at all times since now-a-days one embarrassing moment is merely a screengrab or email forward away from becoming PR nightmare.

“Once you become an entrepreneur, you become synonymous with your brand. Entrepreneurs should seek out mentors in the industry to help them network, grow and evolve and also look into how public figures they admire conduct themselves in public and in the media. Of course, there are also the obvious ones such as, watching the alcohol intake at professional events and avoiding weighing in publicly on potentially contentious issues.”

 

How this startup aims to transform transgender care

The month of June is almost over, which means Pride Month is officially winding down.

For years, civil rights groups focused their efforts on guaranteeing that LGBTQ Canadians could marry, live and work without fear of discrimination. While there’s still more that needs to be done, 2017 saw a slew of long-awaited, and well overdue, civil laws enacted.

Earlier this month the federal government passed legislation that would protect transgender Canadians from gender-based discrimination. The law also expanded the country’s hate speech laws to make targeting someone based on their gender expression illegal.

Meanwhile the Canadian government is pushing forward with legislation that would pardon or expunge criminal convictions for thousands who were arrested — before same-sex relations became legal in 1969 — under the country’s gross indecency laws.

Maggie Bergeron and her co-founder Ellie Afif are using their Toronto-based startup called Embodia to help transgender Canadians in a new way. Their company which produces educational courses recently launched a new series aimed at helping pre- and post-surgery transgender Canadians. It’s the first of its kind in the country and a big step forward for transgender men and women across the country looking for online guidance.

The duo were inspired to launch the series after realizing there were few places that provided similar offerings, especially outside of major Canadian cities. The team behind the course worked with researchers, nurses, doctors and the transgender community to make sure the content was accurate and helpful.

“The course is meant to support the community who identify as transgendered or gender diverse and want to be aware of the best protocols and health available,” says Bergeron. “The video course is meant to help transgender people through the transition period through exercise and mindfulness training”.

Noah Hicks couldn’t agree more. The Niagara resident says his trans journey was largely aided by his laser-like focus on fitness and health and wishes something like this existed before he transitioned three years ago.

“Fitness was a big part of helping my mental well-being while dealing with gender dysphoria – it was such a positive outlet that helped me not only mentally, but physically, and I still continue to work out and enjoy it as a part of my regular routine.”

For Bergeron a gap in the market, like this one, is an opportunity for Embodia to make a difference. “Some healthcare providers wouldn’t have specific knowledge about how to empower people going through transition and give them a supportive community. Through Embodia there’s a forum for transgender Canadians and people taking the course, who then can choose to post anonymously and find specific exercises and track progress”.

Of course this is just the beginning for what the company plans to offer minority and LGBTQ Canadians in the future, she says. “It’s the beginning for us and the timing is good for creating this consumer facing course because we just launched another course on the cultural implications about minority groups, LGBTQ, religious groups, Judaism, Hinduism and Muslim and what you need to think about.”

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