A summer of innovation

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A pair of student-created Northwood sunglasses being promoted on my Facebook newsfeed caught my attention a few weeks ago – the classic Wayfarer design with an outdoorsy feel was an intriguing fashion anomaly. Stumbling upon the achievements of my peers in this way prompted an inevitable self-reflection: what did I achieve this summer?

Working in a corporate environment honed my professional competencies in a very traditional way – at a cubicle day in and day out. However, the work was never risky.

That sense of risk management and investment is what I admire most about the students involved in the Queen’s Summer Innovation Initiative (QSII).

Students vying for the top prize of $30,000, used to further their business venture, presented their product or service to a panel of judges, showing the high stakes of real entrepreneurial challenges.

They’re given a very hands-on approach to managing their own start-up companies, from research and development to testing prototypes to create a finalized product and services.

To see what goes into creating a student start-up, I spoke to each of the winning companies, Aelius, an online jewellery company ; GCC Labs, a technology-based company; GOtivity, a trip planning services company; and Northwood, a sunglasses retailer, about what we can expect from them:

What makes your product so marketable or appealing?

Aelius Co: We focus on the streamlined experience of purchasing a piece of Aelius jewelry in order to differentiate the label from the competition. … All Aelius jewelry comes with a unique authentication number that we archive in our records.

GCC Labs: [Our product] fits seamlessly in a bar or restaurant due to its wood finish. It doesn't look like every other electronic, it has a lot of power and capacity, and it fits the decor of our clients. Another main characteristic is its affordability.

GOtivity: Simplicity. Member perks. Lifestyle community. …. Very minimal work is required on the customers end. Customers indicate what activities they want and when and GOtivity matches, organizes and plans everything!

Northwood: Our sunglasses are Canadian to the core – made primarily from responsibly sourced Hardrock Maple. We use a wide variety of beautiful wooden veneers, and flexible arms to make sure they fit everyone … There are thousands of companies who make sunglasses, a handful of which make wooden sunglasses, and only two companies who make sunglasses with stone. We are now the third company in the world that manufactures stone veneered sunglasses.

What do you feel were strong factors that helped your company win?

GCC Labs: Our ability to operate as a high functioning team and show that in less than two months we had developed five different prototypes, tested at multiple locations and even made sales. We have a product that sells itself and that there is a need and real market for. We are all about solving a common day pain point - people running out of battery on their phones - and that is the key to a successful startup.

GOtivity: The strength of our team and support network (from friends to business partners) was definitely the factor that helped us win. By pitch date [of the QSII competition] we had a functional prototype, sent 24 people on four activities and signed on 21 businesses in the Kingston community, making revenue from the commission. We were able to validate the idea by testing it out in Kingston and received a positive response from both our business partners and customers!

Northwood: We had a very diverse and passionate team. … All of us have entrepreneurial backgrounds, having started or run some sort of business outside of school. Together, we were able to manufacture our first production run of 25 pairs of sunglasses, and sold out within 48 hours. … In addition, we have over 20 retailers in Toronto and 15 in Kingston interested in carrying our product … We also had a fantastic mentor, Antonella Vergatti, who had some great advice to give from her experience as director of corporate development at Gucci Group NV. We were able to show the judges we had proof of concept, there was real demand, and we had a go-to-market strategy.

How will you be making use of the first place prize of $30,000 or runner-up prize of $10,000? What can people expect – any expansions on your product line?

Aelius Co: We are in the process of designing a new line of merchant coin accessories in addition to a line of men's jewelry. Also, we're investing in moulding tools and make our designs in a metal refining and smelting workshop

GCC Labs: The prize money goes directly towards … financing our first round of mass production. In terms of production, we have a goal of producing 600 units from here to the end of December and sell at least 500 units. There will be ChargeCentres in most bars and restaurants in Kingston this fall! ... We are currently securing deals with suppliers and figuring out which portions of assembly and the ChargeCentre will be contracted out.

GOtivity: The money will be used to create more interactive functionalities on the website, improve activity matching and recommendations and hire a team of interns! We are officially launching during frosh week. GOtivity will also be available all over Kingston and Ottawa come November! Our plans are to expand to all major cities in Canada that have strong Queen's alumni networks.

Northwood: We will be releasing our e-commerce portion of our website soon, which we think will be a huge hit for us. People can expect new designs and different colour lenses, even prescription is a possibility! Northwood will be reinvesting the $30,000 for more materials and tools, hiring labourers and marketing. This money will help us scale to the capacity we need to continue our momentum.

For more information visit each company’s site:

www.Aeliusco.com
www.gcclabs.com
www.joingotivity.com
www.Northwoodproject.ca

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