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Muskoka-chair makers sitting pretty among top startup

Muskoka-chair makers sitting pretty among top startup

Posted by PanamericanWorld on October 19, 2016

rowing a business can be as tough as it is exciting when you’re a startup. Grant Brigden, Adam Rumanek and Ricky Walton can attest to this.

Mr. Brigden, co-chief executive officer of Toronto-based Rover Parking Inc., laments a lack of funds to pay for marketing that will spread the word about his company’s app, which connects drivers looking for cheaper parking with residents and businesses who have spots sitting empty. Similarly, Mr. Rumanek, owner of Aux Mode Inc., in Toronto, needs money to finish developing an online dashboard that will help video creators on YouTube manage their channels and monetize their work.

Over in Stoney Creek, Ont., Mr. Walton, president of My Custom Sports Chair Inc., points to the challenges of expanding the brand awareness of his year-old business, which sells Muskoka-type dock chairs featuring the jersey designs of major-league sports teams.

Going from startup to the next stage of growth just became a bit easier for these three companies. Rover Parking, Aux Mode and My Custom Sports Chair have been named the most promising startups in this year’s Small Business Challenge contest, a national competition co-sponsored by The Globe and Mail and Telus Corp.

Ricky Walton, left, and brothers Mike and Matt Ruberto run My Custom Sports Chair Inc. in Stoney Creek, Ont. (Photo by Glenn Lowson for The Globe and Mail) 

The three winners each get $5,000 worth of marketing and advertising services from Toronto-based Agency59 Response Ltd. The awards are among the additional prize categories in the Challenge contest, which this year handed a grand prize of $100,000 to Cake & Loaf Bakery Ltd., in Hamilton, Ont.

“I can’t believe it. We entered the Challenge contest but I never thought anything would come out of it,” says Mr. Walton, who is one of three owners at My Custom Sports Chair, which has licences from the likes of the NHL, NFL and CFL. “To be named among the top companies that applied to the contest, to me that’s such a huge accomplishment.”

The winning startups came up against stiff competition this year, which saw 3,400 entries to the Challenge contest, notes Suzanne Trusdale, vice-president of small business solutions at Telus Corp.

(Photo by Glenn Lowson for The Globe and Mail) 

“The quality of entries we received this year has been outstanding, and these startups are no exception,” she says. “From a fresh take on a classic design to being a disruptor in the market, the entries tell us that startups in Canada are true innovators with a vision for what success means to them.”

Thousands of startups launch in Canada each year. The latest Statistics Canada study of small businesses found that more than 78,000 new enterprises were born in 2013, with the highest number of startups in professional, scientific and technical services, followed by the construction sector.

A common challenge among young businesses is affording the cost of marketing and advertising, says Marc Cooper, vice-president and chief digital officer at Agency59. This is where the most-promising-startup prize – which gives winners about 40 hours of his agency’s services – can offer a much-needed boost.

“In the early stages of a business, being able to bring in professionals to give you advice and perhaps even execute some initial creative pieces can really make a big difference in terms of developing a marketing strategy and moving it forward,” says Mr. Cooper. “You’re able to leverage the expertise of people who have been there and done that and avoid some of the obvious mistakes people make in matters such as understanding your target audience, or identifying the best place to put your limited marketing dollars.”

(Photo by Glenn Lowson for The Globe and Mail) 

Last year’s winning startups came away with a variety of creative products, says Mr. Cooper. Agency59 designed in-store product packaging for one winner and produced a video for another. A third startup got a customized design for a trade show booth.

“They wanted to make a big noise, a big splash at trade shows so we worked on a unique design that got them quite a bit of attention,” says Mr. Cooper.

So how will this year’s most promising startups use their prize? Mr. Brigden at Rover Parking says he and his co-CEO will probably direct the 40 hours of services toward strategic analysis of the company’s messaging.

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