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Turning challenges into opportunities – Communitech

They say, don’t wait for the perfect moment, take the moment and make it perfect. That was exactly what Jon Christensen did. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic confined everyone to their homes and hit the hospitality industry, restaurateur Christensen turned to tech and co-founded Bidmii International Inc. 

“I decided to take domain knowledge and expertise I’ve gained from building restaurants and apply it to the uncharted territory of home renovations and improvements,” Christensen told the crowd. 

Freshly brewed coffee, hot food, and stimulating conversation set the stage for yet another breakfast that brought the tech community together at the Communitech Hub on Sept. 13, 2023. 

Joining Chris Albinson, CEO of Communitech, in a fireside chat, Christensen talked about his journey from the world of food & beverage to becoming CEO of Bidmii, a renovation marketplace. 

Bidmii connects homeowners with trusted contractors, making home improvement easier for everyone.

“Everyone knows a story – it might not have happened to you directly, but maybe to a neighbor, aunt, or cousin,” Christensen said. “It is that story where a contractor disappears with your money.”

Christensen said that about seven per cent of the projects in Canada remain incomplete because contractors vanish with the deposits. 

“Considering that the renovation industry in Canada is worth somewhere between $60 and $80 billion annually, this is an enormous problem we're diligently working to solve," he added. 

A friend recommended Christensen to approach Communitech for guidance on the idea’s viability. 

“Communitech, with its supportive community, was instrumental in providing the initial seal of approval that encouraged us to pursue our idea with newfound determination,” Christensen said.

He recalled releasing the app and platform “way too early.”

“It was basically a minimum viable product,” he said.

To his surprise, users found themselves compelled to make it function, frequently reaching out for assistance when encountering issues on the platform. 

“This level of user engagement was unusual, as most people would simply abandon a subpar product,” Christensen said. “Their determination to make it work led us to a crucial realization – we were addressing a problem that was pressing and people were in need of a solution.”

Talking about the potential of AI, Christensen emphasized that AI should be used in ways that tangibly set businesses apart. 

Bidmii’s AI algorithm assesses user interactions, guiding the process when there's a high likelihood (90 per cent of more) of resulting in a job. If an interaction appears negative with similar certainty, it offers instant feedback to the contractor.

“This AI application has allowed our customer success team to focus on more crucial tasks while enhancing our ability to drive customer satisfaction and success,” Christensen said. 

In the realm of marketplace platforms, accessible financing and insurance are crucial components. 

“In January, we introduced embedded business financing for contractors, enabling them to secure business financing seamlessly through our platform,” Christensen said. 

Bidmii also launched renovation financing for homeowners, offering a "buy now, pay later" solution for renovations and providing up to $30,000 in unsecured funds for renovation projects. 

“However, the highlight of our recent developments is the imminent launch of our embedded insurance product, a pioneering offering in Canada,” Christensen said. 

The insurance product provides on-demand liability coverage for contractors directly integrated into the Bidmii platform. 

“When contractors are engaged in Bidmii-originated jobs or utilize our quoting software and payment processing, they benefit from insurance coverage, relieving them of the need to maintain separate liability insurance,” Christensen said. “It is a game-changer for our community.”

Christensen had explored crowdfunding options, but the standard fees and complexities made the process seem daunting. 

“During a charity poker tournament, I was seated next to the CEO of FrontFundr,” he said. “In just a brief five-minute conversation, we hashed out a plan on the back of a napkin that would ultimately lead to a successful oversubscribed crowdfunding campaign.”

Christensen said that while crowdfunding could be advantageous for founders with a built-in user base eager to invest, it is essential to recognize that the crowdfunding landscape in Canada is still evolving and requires realistic expectations.

Bidmii’s most pressing challenge at the moment is the significant gap between Canada and the United States in terms of market size and scope. 

“Our goal is to expand into the US market without necessarily establishing a physical presence there,” Christensen said. “It is a massive market and we probably should have entered it sooner. Figuring out how to make this leap effectively is currently the most significant challenge we're facing.” 

Man standing with microphone and giving a presentation to a crowd

Mark Dickens, CSO and co-founder, Vambora

The fireside chat followed Mark Dickens, CSO of Vambora, who talked about his journey as a fintech founder. 

During his time in financial services, Dickens recognized a significant problem – the difficulties faced by newcomers in Canada when applying for essentials like auto loans, credit cards, and student lines of credit.

While looking for tech talent in Waterloo, Dickens met his co-founder and CEO, Amadeu Ferreira, who experienced several challenges while moving from Brazil to Canada, and together, they founded Vambora. 

Vambora is in the business of innovating traditional credit-check systems by creating “trust profiles” that help international students and immigrants satisfy a landlord’s rental housing requirements and establish credit histories with financial institutions.

Dickens told fellow founders that while being a founder may be challenging, it is important to cherish the journey. 

“Being a founder is challenging; there are good days and bad days,” he said. “It is common for people to think, “I'll be happy when I raise the next round, generate the next customer, or reach 1000 users.” However, the goal posts keep moving, so cherish the journey.”

Missed this one? No need to worry!

Register now for a Communitech breakfast on Oct. 5, 2023. This time, featuring Tom Jenkins— Chair of the Board of Directors of OpenText Corp and one of the co-founders of Communitech and Maria Plummer— CEO and Founder of Ingenyewity Inc. 

"Communitech helps tech-driven companies start, grow and succeed. Communitech was founded in 1997 by a group of entrepreneurs committed to making Waterloo Region a global innovation leader. At the time it was crazy talk, but somehow this community managed to pull it off. Today, Communitech is a public-private innovation hub that supports a community of more than 1400 companies — from startups to scale-ups to large global players. Communitech helps tech companies start, grow and succeed in three distinct ways: - Communitech is a place – the center of gravity for entrepreneurs and innovators. A clubhouse for building cool shit and great companies. - Communitech delivers programs – helping companies at all stages with access to capital, customers and talent. We are here to help them grow and innovate. - Communitech partners in building a world-leading ecosystem – making sure we have all the ingredients (and the brand) to go from a small startup to a global giant."

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