Small businesses are the backbone of our society. They are critical to building strong, local economies infused with innovation and creativity.
When COVID-19 hit, many businesses ground to a halt, taking on additional challenges to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. Small businesses struggled, lacking the resources or customer base to battle through forced closures and supply chain issues.
Governing bodies and non-profits quickly set up emergency response and relief funds to bolster local economies. One such initiative was Digital Main Street’s Future Proof Program, enabled in partnership with ventureLAB and the Regional Municipality of York. The program created key support for businesses as they pursued new and creative ways to attract business through the pandemic.
Through our annual Pitch Competition, we identified eight companies with innovative products and solutions to lead us through the changing demands of the pandemic. They battled it out in front of a live audience and top-notch public and private sector judges including Accenture, Shopify Retail, Bell Canada for a shot at $50,000 to pilot or scale their innovative solutions.
In the past two years, our three winners have piloted or scaled their solutions across York Region with guidance from ventureLAB’s advisory expertise and access to our exclusive partnership and innovation networks.
We connected with the winners EAIGLE, Wrmth, InField Solutions, to learn about their impact on local economies in the past years, and how their business grew through an unprecedented time.
EAIGLE began their startup journey focused on technology support for health and safety protocols at public pools. Through the pandemic, they identified new applications for their tech, and in 2020, pivoted their offering to provide a comprehensive solution for wellness screening for physical retailers and office spaces. EAIGLE allows larger enterprises to keep their workplace safe and accelerate their back-to-work process by automating entry screening for employees and visitors. “Everyday, more than 200,000 unique employees pass through our system,’ says EAIGLE CEO Amir Hoss “We are really proud of the impact that we are making by helping businesses keep their employees and their families safe.”
At the end of 2020, the global spotlight shifted towards Taiwan, as news of a growing chip shortage sounded alarms for industries the world over. By the beginning of 2021, it was clear that on-coming supply chain issues would delay manufacturing processes. Wrmth advances and advocates for local manufacturing. They ensure that research and development in automation, fabrication, and unique design is developed and invested locally in Ontario. Based in Markham, Wrmth offers 100% Canadian designed and manufactured heated outdoor furniture – the first of its kind.
Wrmth leveraged ventureLAB’s advisory and the Pitch Comp prize money to refine their product offering. “The funding from the competition was critical in getting our first product to market and allowed us to test business and consumer responses. We are now on our second generation of chairs and have significantly advanced our electronics design and fabrication process based on feedback from the field,” says Sally Daubs, Wrmth Founder and CEO.
inField Solutions is a Markham-based technology startup that created a smart locker solution called the inField Shoppe iQ Connected Cubbies. These “connected cubbies” are a patent-pending smart locker solution that provide a curbside pickup and delivery management system driven by a mobile app. Although inField was constrained by supply-chain issues in their distribution of the Connected Cubbies, they were still able to pilot their solution at ventureLAB offices and foster relationships with key stakeholders.
“The teams at ventureLAB and Digital Main Street were accommodating and collaborative despite any challenges we faced as a result of supply chain issues,” says inField Solutions CEO Rakesh Tiku. “The pitch competition gave inField Solutions additional and effective exposure during the launch of our Connected Cubbies, and ensured that both us and the end-user were happy.”
Through a related Digital Main Street initiative, ventureLAB alum TAKU Labs was selected to pilot its omni-channel e-commerce solution. TAKU Founder Karen Wong had previous experience working in retail and created a cloud-based point-of-sale system (POS) that would enable businesses using out-dated POS systems to keep up with the digital migration. The technology has enabled brick and mortar retailers to offer both curb-side and online sales, leveraging real-time data to increase profit.
“I'm so proud of the work our team has done to help merchants during the pandemic. Not only have we been able to help retailers digitize their businesses, we're working with merchants and partners to offer innovative new tools such as self-service kiosks that optimize operations and make it easier for shoppers to support main street businesses. The majority of the merchants we worked with were able to digitize their operations and have continued on as paid customers. ”
- Karen Wong, CEO and Co-Founder of TAKU Labs
ventureLAB is a leading global founder community for hardware technology and enterprise software companies in Canada. Located at the heart of Ontario’s innovation corridor in York Region, ventureLAB is part of one of the biggest and most diverse tech communities in Canada. Our initiatives focused on raising capital, talent retention, commercializing technology and IP, and customer acquisition have enabled thousands of companies to create over 4,500 jobs and raise more than $200 million in investment capital. At ventureLAB, we grow globally competitive tech titans that build-to-scale in Canada, for global markets.