Faces of #OKGNtech
Accelerate Okanagan - Apr 02, 2020 - Columnists

Image: Contributed

A strong community can promote new ideas and ensure accountability. It can also act as motivation, support and even provide a little friendly competition. The power of community is undeniable, and the Okanagan tech community is no exception.

Our community is strong and growing with record speed, and maintaining connections through a period of growth like this can be a challenge. Nobody panic. We’ve got a plan.

Introducing “The Faces of #OKGNtech,” a showcase of Okanagan tech entrepreneurs, partners, supporters and cheerleaders designed to fuel more connection, more growth and more excitement. Follow along on the blog and on Instagram at @OKGNtech to learn more about our growing community and what makes them awesome.

Meet Joanna. Joanna Schlosser is the founder and CEO at Niche Wine Company and was the brand and communications manager at Accelerate Okanagan. When she isn’t building brands and creating experiences for the community, you’ll find Schlosser exploring local wineries with her husband or Beyblading with her son.

Where do you work in the Okanagan?

My husband, James, and I own a small winery, Niche Wine Co., located in West Kelowna. I spend a lot of my time there on the farm, but both of us also have full-time jobs. He works for the BC Cancer Agency and I, until recently, was the brand and communications manager for Accelerate Okanagan. I’m transitioning to the Mark Anthony Group, where I will be the brand manager.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I love connecting with people, I love telling stories, and being a brand manager lets me do all of those things. At AO, I’ve loved building the brand, rallying the community, bridging gaps in how we can support different sectors and building relationships with other institutions. It was great to be a part of this wave of growth that’s happening here in tech.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a job like yours?

Be curious. Making assumptions in creative space is a dangerous thing to do. Get your hands on as much information as possible. Be able to input as much as you can output. And connect. Meeting new people and learning more about their lived experience is the best learning opportunity I’ve had.

Is it difficult to recreate or reimagine an existing brand?

You need to realize that the voice of a brand is a reflection of the people that are a part of it. It’s definitely a skill that needs to be honed. You’re never an expert. It can be easy to slide back into your own voice. You always need to critique and edit. Writers can pull apart information and present it to others in a digestible way. That can be a huge asset to a company.

How were you first introduced to the OKGNtech community?

When we moved to the Okanagan in 2014, we weren’t really a part of the OKGNtech community. Every year, we have a give-back part of our winery. So I connected with Alex (Goodhew), the community manager for AO, to see where Niche could fit in. For a 12-month period, Niche ended up donating all the wine for Startup Drinks. It was a two-pronged bonus for us; it got our name out there, and we had an excuse to go to every Startup Drinks!

What do you enjoy about the OKGNtech community?

There isn’t a founder or CEO I’ve met that isn’t open to connecting with someone else. There really isn’t a sense of competition that might exist in the larger ecosystem. Everyone is supporting everybody. We often say: “It’s all here now” and “We’re just getting started,” and it feels really true. There is a sense that we are at the beginning of something big.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Or can share?

I feel like women in their careers can find themselves in a funny spot where, if they have children, their career has been interrupted multiple times. There’s this idea where you can miss an opportunity to build your career. But that notion is fading away. I’ve had two major career changes in my lifetime. Who’s to say where I’ll be in 10 years? It’s never too late.

What’s been the hardest thing about Niche that you didn’t anticipate?

How to scale a business is one thing, but what to scale is another. In the wine industry, there’s been a focus on volume. You need to create a recipe that makes sense for you. It’s one way to scale, but there are a lot of factors involved. You need to create a recipe that makes sense for you. Niche joined AO’s Scale Up program, and it has really helped us ensure that we’re living a balanced life while still finding success.

Faces of #OKGNtech
Accelerate Okanagan - Mar 20, 2020 - Columnists

Image: Contributed

A strong community can promote new ideas and ensure accountability. It can also act as motivation, support and even provide a little friendly competition. The power of community is undeniable, and the Okanagan tech community is no exception.

Our community is strong and growing with record speed, and maintaining connections through a period of growth like this can be a challenge. Nobody panic. We’ve got a plan.

Introducing “The Faces of #OKGNtech,” a showcase of Okanagan tech entrepreneurs, partners, supporters and cheerleaders designed to fuel more connection, more growth and more excitement. Follow along on the blog and on Instagram at @OKGNtech to learn more about our growing community and what makes them awesome.

Meet Daryl. Daryl Chymko is a platform engineer for Automattic. When he isn’t helping Fortune 500 companies wield their WordPress websites, you’ll find Chymko trail running through the mountains or fostering Vernon’s growing tech ecosystem.

How were you first introduced to the OKGNtech community?

When I moved here from Edmonton in 2005, there were a few of us who just started forming this community. Twitter was really huge for the community then. We used a hashtag to notify people of workshops around town being held by various individuals. When the existing community saw what we were doing with Geek Beers, they warmed up to us.

Where do you work in the Okanagan?

I’m the platform engineer, software developer, for a company called Automattic. They’re the company behind WordPress. We work with Fortune 500 companies around the world to help them make use of WordPress in interesting and fun ways. Our company of over 1,000 works remotely—distributed around the world.

How did you get into this kind of work?

I’ve always been involved in computers. When I was eight years old, I would teach myself coding. I’d copy the code from the book and try to build games. I had built this bulletin board system where people could call in and we’d just list whatever things they called in with. It got pretty popular. We ended trenching a ditch through our neighbour’s yard for a second phone line to support it.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a job like yours?

We need to keep moving and keep progressing. I took a risk going into web-based languages. It paid off, but the languages we use now aren’t going to be the language of technology in five years. When I went to the first Startup Weekend in Vancouver, I realized my web-based skills were becoming less and less important as things were moving into app development.

How do you like to give back or add value to the community?

Taking my experience in building a community in Kelowna translates well to building one in Vernon. Everything in Vernon was just one group. Now, as we grow, people are starting to find their own tribes. Holding Geek Beers is another way in which I give back. I also helped to create Startup Weekend here in Kelowna. It’s still going on today.

Do you think there is anything missing from the community here?

I’d love to see more connections between UBC, the college and boot camps. Job postings are always looking for senior talent, but you need to be able to grow talent locally. We need companies who are willing to offer entry-level opportunities or hire junior talent, that will send senior talent to instruct classes and gain the interest of the students.

What is something that people don’t know about you?

If I wasn’t into tech, I’d be a pilot. I’ve flown 35 hours in a small plane in Edmonton. I was flying by myself when I was 16; I was trying to get my pilot’s licence before my driver’s licence. It ended up costing a lot of money, and I was 16. I was making minimum wage and just couldn’t afford it. I think it worked out better the way it did.

The best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Or can share?

Knowing when is enough is an important thing, especially when trying to grow and hustle but you aren’t happy. I was pretty happy with where I was, but I was always chasing money and a better position. You can’t get those younger years of your life back. It’s not about being complacent; it’s knowing that it doesn’t need to be the endless hamster wheel that people think it is.

Renovate before you sell?
Bill Hubbard - Mar 13, 2020 - Columnists

Image: Contributed

Whether to renovate before you sell should really be based on one reason: return on investment, or ROI.

If you are going to sell, you want to get the best bang for your buck, correct? Keep in mind that how much ROI you get from a certain renovation depends on how bad it was when you started. In fact, most renovations won’t give you the ROI or payback that you probably expect.

A recovery rate is essentially the percentage of the cost of a renovation that you can generally expect to get back in the resale price of your home (so a 50% recovery rate on a $20,000 renovation would mean you could expect a $10,000 increase in the value of your house).

Keep in mind the estimates below are based on average condition to start with. For instance, the worse condition the kitchen is in before you start the renovation the higher ROI there is after it is done. Many times the ROI can be above 100%. If this were not true, buying a fixer-upper would never pay off, and it very often does.

Lastly, it is important to note that the ROI on a renovation also depends on how well the renovation is done. I have been in houses where the sellers have done an entire renovation themselves, and I am certain the house was worth more before they started.

According to the Appraisal Institute of Canada, most home owners can expect the following recovery rates on their renovations:
Kitchen renovation: 75% to 100%
Bathroom upgrade: 75% to 100%
Interior painting: 50% to 100%
Roof replacement: 50% to 80%
New furnace or heating system: 50% to 80%
Expansion (addition of family room): 50% to 75%
Doors and windows: 50% to 75%
New Deck: 50% to 75%
Installation of hardwood floors: 50% to 75%
Construction of a garage: 50% to 75%
Fireplace (wood or gas) 50% to 75%
Central air conditioning: 50% to 75%
Finished basement: 50% to 75%
Wood fence: 25% to 50%
Interlocking paving stones on driveway: 25% to 50%
Landscaping: 25% to 50%
Asphalt driveway: 20% to 50%
Pool: 10% to 40% (ouch)
Skylights: 0% to 25%

Bill Hubbard is a real estate broker and the owner and broker of a four-office real estate firm in the Okanagan-Shuswap. He has been in real estate for 30 years, and has been an owner and broker in Vernon for more than 20 years. He is just as passionate about real estate as the day he started.

Faces of #OKGNtech
Accelerate Okanagan - Mar 12, 2020 - Columnists

Image: Contributed

A strong community can promote new ideas and ensure accountability. It can also act as motivation, support and even provide a little friendly competition. The power of community is undeniable, and the Okanagan tech community is no exception.

Our community is strong and growing with record speed, and maintaining connections through a period of growth like this can be a challenge. Nobody panic. We’ve got a plan.

Introducing “The Faces of #OKGNtech,” a showcase of Okanagan tech entrepreneurs, partners, supporters and cheerleaders designed to fuel more connection, more growth and more excitement. Follow along on the blog and on Instagram at @OKGNtech to learn more about our growing community and what makes them awesome.

Meet Nika. Nika Pidskalny is the general counsel for Bananatag. When she isn’t going toe to toe with legal teams around the world, you’ll find Pidskalny entertaining friends and family over some freshly baked goods.

Why did you choose the Okanagan to call home?

I was originally born in England and moved to Kelowna and then spent 10 years in Calgary. I’ve always wanted to come back but didn’t think I’d be able to because of the limited job opportunities. It’s exciting that the tech community has become a viable option for me to move here and still continue to grow my career.

What do you do for work here?

I work as general counsel for a (software as a service) company called Bannaatag, a platform that helps teams create, distribute and track communications. I handle all things legal—advising on privacy and security, employment matters, drafting documents and taking care of negotiations.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I enjoy the variety and opportunity to help build a business. I’ve worked for one of the largest firms in Canada as well as within a 15-personnel legal team, and working in a startup is something I’ve always wanted to participate in. I also enjoy honing my negotiation skills. I get to go toe-to-toe with lawyers from some of the biggest brands around the world on a daily basis.

How did you get into this kind of work?

After being in litigation for my first few years, I decided to get into business law because there was more variety in the opportunities it could lead to. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial itch, so I started to gain experience in practices that would help me succeed in a general counsel role for a growing startup.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a job like yours?

Build your foundation, take every chance to expand your knowledge. If those opportunities aren’t presenting themselves, ask for them. Then ask for them again. Putting the time and effort into building your foundation will pay off in the long run.

What do you enjoy about the OKGNtech community?

We all have a common purpose—to help grow a sector that can provide not just local jobs, but career opportunities. It would be great to get to a point where people see Kelowna as a viable place to grow a career in tech, even if they didn’t grow up here.

Who inspires you?

I’m inspired by women who are working in traditionally male-dominated roles. That takes courage and a lot of hard work. I’m always impressed when we hire female developers, as an example.

Is there something you want to be remembered for?

From a work perspective, I hope I leave everyone with a good impression. You can never make everyone happy, but I hope I’m remembered as someone who is friendly, helpful, and most of all, knows their s–t.

She will heal your spirit
Tom Kernaghan - Mar 11, 2020 - Columnists

Photo: Contributed

Keyla Sereen Ohs understands the journey to health and wellness can be a long and challenging one. As the owner of Sereen Spirit Healing and Retreat Centre, Sereen Ohs has lived paths ranging from high-level athletics to imbalanced work choices. She is also keenly aware that our spirit can speak to us and offer guidance, if we are willing to listen to it.

Ten years ago, Sereen Ohs listened to that voice when she realized her life was literally making her sick. While struggling in a job that was causing her anxiety, bodily illness and blackouts, she had a bad car accident that shook her deeply and made her determined to make some holistic changes to the way she was living. But then, resilience and resolve were nothing new to her.

Sereen Ohs had spent her formative years on Canada’s world figure skating team, during which time she developed the discipline required for elite performance. She also learned that focusing only on competition can pull us out of balance if we do not address the intuitive and emotional aspects of ourselves. Fortunately, the inner world was also not new to her; since childhood, she has experienced many powerful, spiritual moments. After walking away from skating, she went on to study psychology, bio energy healing, Reiki and meditation.

Now, having embraced the shamanic path, she is ready to help you on your spiritual and physical journey to overcome your obstacles and discover your healthiest self. Her beautiful centre in West Kelowna is a safe and nurturing space for you to release and realign your energy. I was thrilled to get to know more about Sereen Ohs and her healing work.

I’m curious about a quotation on your website: “Everything you have ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” How does this speak to your own journey and the insights you tap into to help your clients?

Well, I really do believe that fear is our ego’s best friend. We believe that if we feel fear we are somehow in danger, and should do whatever is necessary to escape the feeling and regain a sense of normalcy. Fear shuts off our emotional connection to ourselves, and subsequently dampens our intuition and inner knowing. It is only when we face our shadows—the parts of ourselves that we have turned away from and hold our deepest lessons—that we can eradicate old issues that hold us back and experience incredible, transformational breakthroughs. Often, when we choose courage over fear in any aspect of our lives, and we push through the resistance piece, we truly can achieve harmony in all aspects of our lives.

I’m personally familiar with sports injuries, but I find myself increasingly fascinated by the manifestation of emotional disharmony in the physical body, often in ways many of us don’t know or see. How are the mind and body connected?

Ah, sports injuries. I’ve had more than a few of those—14 fractures, in fact, including a fractured spine, broken rib and dislocated shoulder. Figure skating is a beautiful but vicious sport.

The mind body connection in relation to health is a fascinating area. We are finding that prolonged, repressed emotional disharmony can show up as illness in the physical body. The longer it remains untended, the more severe the illness may become. Now, this is outside of environmental and genetic factors, although recent data shows that stress, which may be created subconsciously and repressed for decades, can actually turn on certain genes, activating a dormant genetic trait. It has also been proven that the clearing of traumatic memories and healing of emotional issues can turn off particular genes, resulting in remission and/or total healing.

I became fascinated with the mind-body link through personal experience. I grew up in a very high-stress environment; the pressure of being an elite athlete, the financial stress of this choice on my family, and a parent who was at times violent and unrelenting. During the peak stress times of my career, from the age of 14 to 20, I was hospitalized multiple times for ruptured ovarian cysts. During the most difficult times of this part of my athletic career, the cysts got worse and ruptured more frequently. This was a time when my focus was on athleticism, and I was just trying to survive. I was blocking my creativity—I just didn’t have time to spare for the expression of it—and the relationship with my family was at its worst. As it was all going down, I was witnessing my passion for a sport I had once loved fading to nothingness. The cysts continued to rupture until, at 20, I decided to quit the sport and move out on my own to attend university. I left everything behind to begin again. And you know what happened? Once I left that environment, I never had another single cyst issue or rupture, EVER! This really made me start to think: Why had they just stopped? 

As I started to research, I began to learn that in some of the Eastern ways of thinking about the mind-body connection, there are certain, generalized areas of the physical body that are directly associated with emotional traits. The ovaries, for example, are connected to the sacral chakra, which is an energetic centre of the body that is directly related to passion, relationships (often familial) and creativity. All of these areas were stunted and experienced some aspects of trauma during my athletic career. When I removed the stressors, the symptoms also went into remission. I say remission because it has taken a lifetime of commitment to understanding myself and unwinding the complicated relationship between my beliefs, my life experiences and my healing. It is an ongoing process, one that never stops.

You offer a variety of modalities to your clients and custom-fit the experience to suit the individual. How does it all start? What’s the first conversation often like?

As a shamanic practitioner, my values lay in trying to reconnect people back to themselves and to the planet. Living a shamanic life means remembering our original relationship with the earth, learning how to take only what we need and redefining what it means to be a part of something greater than ourselves. Many of the people I work with are seekers. They feel the call towards something bigger. They know they are here for a reason and are tired of not achieving their true potential. Others are living with lifelong pain or illness, often unexplained by the Western medical system, and they are frustrated and ready to do whatever it takes to heal. That is where I come in. Holistic and energetic medicine combines beautifully with classic Western medicine, often providing a full, complete picture.

It can start with a simple 30-minute Skype call to make sure we are on the same page, and so I can tune in and begin to understand the best way to serve the client. As an intuitive, I ask questions about their life experiences, reading the client’s energy as I do so and listen beyond the answers I am given. I read between the lines, so to speak. As we talk, it is like pulling a thread. Eventually, by giving people the time and space to be properly heard, together we can identify what it is that is holding them back.

The next step is for them to come in for a session so that the energetic work can be done, and we can set the parameters for what it is exactly that we want to achieve. The client always has full management of the experience. I am not healing them, I am bringing awareness to their blocks so that they may heal themselves. My goal is not to have lifelong clients. I aim to help clients bring awareness and love to their traumas, provide tools to help them better understand their experiences, and show them the path to self-empowerment and healing. It is an incredible, magical process, and I am so honoured to do this work.

As a former competitive figure skater, you may appreciate this. A lover of walking, hiking, skating, biking, I’ve always found joy and meaning in motion. Despite the best efforts of friends to get me into yoga or meditation, I often struggle with stillness. What would you say to someone who, like me, just won’t slow down? 

Well, I would first say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Meditation isn’t for everyone, just like some activities work for some but not others. If you are willing to give meditation a try, I encourage you to try as many different forms as possible. There are many types; some are better suited for visual people, others for the more left-brained folk. You simply need to find the right fit for YOU.

That being said, when we sit in stillness, we are often alone with just our thoughts. And that can be more than a little uncomfortable, even overwhelming. Just as an athlete must practise thousands of hours to achieve excellence, it takes a deep commitment to be able to quiet the mind. The ego has all sorts of tricks to distract us, and it is especially difficult in this technological age. But there is something to be said about harnessing the power of your mind and being able to direct it more consciously in ways that serve you, rather than allowing it to run on autopilot. I would give it another chance! And at the end of the day, when I am helping people build a spiritual practice, I am quick to remind them that things like walking, hiking and being in nature are all powerful forms of meditation unto themselves. Perhaps your way of meditating is actually found in the activities you choose, especially if they bring you joy. And that is beautiful!

What do the words balance and well-being mean to you? 

Balance to me is the execution of mindful, present ways of being, and an adaptability that comes from recognizing that if we are not in alignment, we may choose at any time to regain balance through our daily choices.

Well-being is the state that occurs if we do our best to maintain balance. It is the constant ebb and flow of life, our ideal state, and is derived from our understanding of ourselves combined with the support of community around us.

You’re holding Candlelight Mediation and Women’s Circles in March, April and May. Tell us about this event.

Yes! These events are so magical. I hold one every month, and it is an opportunity to learn to meditate (or deepen your practice), meet with like-minded individuals on their own path towards balance and well-being, and experience a safe, sacred space. At the event, I lead a guided meditation, and then we have a brief silent period to either meditate quietly or journal. Finally, we close with a women’s circle, where attendees can share their experiences, ask questions or help process anything that may be going on in their lives. It is a beautiful way to experience community, and I take pride in helping the people who attend to develop a deeper connection to their personal spirituality.

I also run a live Facebook group called “Live at The Altar” twice a week, where I take people through live guided meditations and host a little chat on a spiritual topic each time. These happen on Tuesday mornings at 8 o’clock and Sunday nights at 7 o’clock (usually).

Share something about yourself many wouldn’t know—a fun fact, quirky perspective and strange story.

My father’s nickname for me was Bug. When he passed away in 2011, I returned home after his wake exhausted and deeply grieving. On the inside of the corner window of my apartment there must have been 200 ladybugs. It was inexplicable. They hadn’t been there that morning, it was a time of year when there shouldn’t have been any at all, and the window was always closed! Since then, whenever I call on my dad for guidance, or simply spend time thinking about him, a ladybug will appear. It reminds me that though our friends, family and pets may pass over, they are always close by and with us.

This column was submitted as part of BWB Wednesdays.

New way to communicate
Accelerate Okanagan - Mar 11, 2020 - Columnists

Image: Contributed

The battle is on for the OKGN Angel Summit grand prize. It’s time to pick a winner.

We met one on one with the top six to hear their pitch for the top spot, which will be determined Thursday night at Kelowna’s Innovation Centre.

Jason Richards, founder of Minga, created the first platform that integrates day-to-day communication into one streamlined platform for educational institutions. We recently caught up with Richards to learn more about his inspiration behind the idea, his experience as an entrepreneur and his plans to go the distance.

What problem were you trying to solve when you started Minga?

I was getting frustrated with communications from the school system, as were my kids. The education system is so big that there is a lot of acceptance that “it’s just the way it is.” But ineffective communication leads to poor engagement, poor attendance at events and poor participation across the board. Once I started looking into the problem, I started finding that everyone was equally frustrated.

Why should people be excited about using Minga?

In education, there is a positive correlation between communication and engagement. From the standardized stuff to higher grade point average, attendance rates, graduation rates, mental health scoring, a sense of community, teacher retention … all of these correlate to improved engagement. Kids often complain that they don’t like school, but if there was an opportunity to make school more enjoyable, why wouldn’t we take advantage of it?

Tell us about the success you’ve found already.

Every time we roll it out to a new school, we see it used in a new and unique way. I was talking to a teacher the other day. He’s been using Minga to talk about how social media works. Because it’s a secure, closed system, he can engage with the students and have exercises where they post content and see the influence that positive messaging can have. He wouldn’t be able to do that using something like Instagram.

How do you see your company growing?

Right now, we’re selling to schools. Our next big step is growing by districts. When you sell to one school at a time, it takes two weeks to two months. Selling to a district takes four weeks to four months, but then you get 60 to 100 schools. In Kelowna, we have 80 schools just in the central Okanagan. Transitioning from a school to a district sale will be a big growth opportunity for us.

What would the $155,000 investment mean for your company?

We’re looking to invest more in sales and marketing, which helps grow our customer base. The capital we’re looking to raise now would be 100% for sales and marketing growth. We’re already covered for our operational costs for 2020, and this addition would be about getting us to our Minga 100 goal (100 schools using Minga).

What has this experience taught you about the entrepreneurial journey?

Speaking with 35 investors from a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and industries helps to bring you back to the basics of why you do this. You get to talk about what your big, hairy, audacious goals are again. You get to talk about your vision and share your passion with people. The investors are here because they want to be a part of that dream.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who want to participate next year?

You need to take the time to get to know each of the investors on a personal level. These are all successful people that will have something to offer. Even if they don’t understand your concept, that’s something they offer. The failure is on your end for not sharing something properly. Investing is a people business. Startups are a people business. The Angel Summit is all about getting back to that human element. Being stuffed in front of your computer cranking out emails and dealing with challenges, it’s easy for us to forget that.

LivNao targets mental health
Accelerate Okanagan - Mar 09, 2020 - Columnists

Image: Contributed

The battle is on for the OKGN Angel Summit grand prize. It’s time to pick a winner.

We met one on one with the top six to hear their pitch for the top spot, which will be determined this Thursday night at Kelowna’s Innovation Centre.

Daniel Leung, founder of LivNao, is making better mental health easier and more accessible by replacing traditional, cumbersome and often inaccurate mental health assessments with a 100% passive, no-fuss solution. We recently caught up with Leung to learn more about his inspiration behind the idea, his experience as an entrepreneur and his plans to go the distance.

What problem were you trying to solve when you started LivNao?

LivNao is bringing early detection and measurement to mental health. Sixty-one per cent of the workforce is burnt out. Everything that’s being done now is reactive. It’s on the user to seek help when they realize they need it, which is often times too late. There’s also not an easy way for companies to quantify the (return on investment) of spending on individual wellness resources.

Why should people be excited about using LivNao?

Our technology has the power to do a lot of good. We started with burnout prevention, but customers told us that our product could help prevent physician suicides due to poor mental health, and uncover new relationships between environmental/behavioural factors and mental health—like how a heatwave might affect depression.

Tell us about the success you’ve found already.

We’ve signed 13 customers in a year, including the biggest tech companies and the top health-care institutions in the world. We’ve got 18 insurance companies (payers) and the biggest pharmaceutical companies knocking on our door who think we can solve their biggest problems and transform their businesses.

What kind of expertise is your team bringing to LivNao?

I built an $8 million annual recurring revenue company. Our chief of product launched and managed Uber’s core product in 17 markets. Our chief of technology improved Alexa’s recognition accuracy by 6% at Amazon’s Lab126. More importantly, we’ve worked together before, so we know we’re on the same page in collectively growing LivNao to make a positive impact in the world.

How do you see your company growing?

We’re very excited to explore new ways our technology can be used. We’ve been approached by transportation companies to see how we can help them reduce CO2 emissions by keeping pilots and captains healthy. Construction companies want to use our technology to reduce workplace injuries caused by fatigue and poor mental health. A space agency even thinks our technology can help keep their astronauts sane on their 440-day journey to Mars.

What would the $155,000 investment mean for your company?

The $155,000 would allow us to grow our team so that we can launch faster for our customers. This means faster feedback, allowing us to iterate and build the best possible product for the market.

What has this experience taught you about the entrepreneurial journey?

As an entrepreneur, you have to think with what I like to call the “full send” mentality. Everything is what you make out of it, so you just have to step out of your comfort zone and commit. Throughout the process, you also have to open yourself up for feedback and advice to grow.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who want to participate next year?

Approach it the same way you should be building your business. Talk to the investors before the pitch, get their feedback, then iterate. This helps you make sure you deliver a pitch that resonates with the audience.

Streamlining beverage management
Accelerate Okanagan - Mar 06, 2020 - Columnists

Image: Contributed

The battle is on for the OKGN Angel Summit grand prize. It’s time to pick a winner.

We met one on one with the top six to hear their pitch for the top spot.

Tasha Da Silva, founder of VinStream, built a platform that is set to revolutionize the retail beverage industry’s membership management systems. We recently caught up with Da Silva to learn more about her inspiration behind the idea, her experience as an entrepreneur and her plans to go the distance.

What problem were you trying to solve when you started VinStream?

When I would help manage Lightspeed point-of-sale systems, I kept hearing from wineries that they were unable to handle key features like compliance reporting and wine club fulfillments. So we decided to bring tools to the wine industry that could help them process wine shipments, wine club memberships and recurring subscriptions.

Why should people be excited about using VinStream?

The biggest thing we’ve found is that it’s not just for wine. Any retail environment that has membership, subscriptions or any service where they need to bill and ship to customers regularly can use VinStream.

Tell us about the success you’ve found already.

We’re really utilizing our beta program to refine our product before doing a full launch. We’ve been getting great feedback from the companies that are currently using our beta version of the VinStream. We’re building out exciting new features that will be coming with VinStream 2.0 that help us move towards our vision for this great product.

What kind of expertise is your team bringing to VinStream?

I bring 15 years of experience working with small business retailers and all the customer workflows that come with those different verticals—selling products of wine, bikes, clothing, pet food, whatever it is. Myro, our chief technical officer, brings technical expertise. He has a great way of being able to build roadmaps out of our feature requests.

How do you see your company growing?

I see VinStream connecting to all kinds of markets. We love B.C. wine, and our initial focus is on the wine industry, but we can also help retail stores that also have subscription opportunities. There are a lot of different applications and verticals we want to explore.

What would the $155,000 investment mean for your company?

We would use that investment to help build out our team. We want our next version of VinStream to launch as quickly as we can. In order to do that, we need to round out our team—not just the technical, but also sales and marketing.

What has this experience taught you about the entrepreneurial journey?

The OKGN Angel Summit has helped validate the path we’re going down. We’ve been approached by a lot of investors both within the Angel Summit that want to invest privately, and others are outside the program that are just impressed with our progress. It’s really exciting to find out that others think our idea is as cool as I do! The summit has helped push partnerships from a “maybe” to a “let’s do this.”

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who want to participate next year?

We weren’t planning on joining the Angel Summit. We thought we were too early-stage for investment. The team at Accelerate Okanagan suggested that even if you’re too early, you still get to build relationships with a bunch of local investors. You get honest feedback about what you’re doing and find out if you’re investible or why you aren’t. Going through the program, we learned that we were a lot further along than I thought we were. Look how far we’ve made it!

The OKGN Angel Summit finale will be held on Thursday night at Kelowna’s Innovation Centre.

No Costanza wallet here
Accelerate Okanagan - Mar 05, 2020 - Columnists

Image: Contributed

The battle is on for the OKGN Angel Summit grand prize. It’s time to pick a winner.

We met one on one with the top six to hear their pitch for the top spot.

Naveen Nand, founder of WalletCard, has built a digital platform for effectively tracking and managing workplace safety and certification requirements for regulatory compliance. We recently caught up with Nand to learn more about his inspiration behind the idea, his experience as an entrepreneur and his plans to go the distance.

What problem were you trying to solve when you started WalletCard?

One night, a friend of mine pulled out a wallet that looked like it belonged to George Costanza. There were a bunch of different things in there, but the biggest shock was the 10 different workplace certificates he had. That night I went on a quest to find a solution to his wallet problem in a way that allowed employers to verify workplace credentials digitally.

Why should people be excited about WalletCard?

One of our missions is to reduce workplace injuries and fatalities, and another is to create a system of continuous training. There is a lot of data demonstrating how retraining can lower injury rates by 42%. That’s a pretty drastic reduction when you consider that North American employers spend over $250 billion in injury costs. Using paper-based or spreadsheet-based systems are why they typically don’t find expired certificates until it’s too late.

Tell us about the success you’ve found already.

We started this quest by releasing a (minimal viable product) to see if there was any usage. In May 2018, we had 1,000 certificates, and now we have a 27,000. We went from managing 100 employers to over 1,000. WalletCard is also a part of our client’s day-to-day practices, particularly by our training partners who are managing certificates with their customers.

What kind of expertise is your team bringing to WalletCard?

Michael, our chief growth officer and co-founder, comes from an operations background for some of the top restaurant brands in western Canada. Quinn, our CTO and co-founder, is a self-taught developer; he’s the type of personality that knows he can do anything he puts his mind to. For myself, I’ve spent over 15 years in occupational health and safety, including co-founding a North American safety training company.

How do you see your company growing?

We want to be seeing three million in revenue in two years. By 2024, we want to be at $48 million in revenue. I do see the potential to be a market leader and a billion-dollar company. Safety tech is an emerging industry for tech and investing.

What would the $155,000 investment mean for your company?

This would be part of a larger round we’re raising. The use of those funds would be to scale our marketing and onboarding teams. That will allow us to accelerate our growth. We got to 27,000 certificates with only a team of three. By adding a few more team members over the next two years, those numbers will significantly increase.

What has this experience taught you about the entrepreneurial journey?

Through Innovate BC and their Venture Accelerator Program, I learned about customer discovery. If you told me about customer discovery five years ago, I wouldn’t know what you were talking about. As silly as it might sound, it would have saved us the $40,000 we invested in our minimum viable product. As soon as we launched that MVP and heard from our customers, it sent us in a whole new direction.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who want to participate next year?

If a company has made it to the top 24, make sure you know your s–t. I practised my 10-minute pitch a lot and still made some mistakes. But it would have been worse if I didn’t practice the cadence, rhythm, speed and timing makes sure it fit within the time limit. The last thing you want is to be clapped off stage.

Levity brought to dating scene
Accelerate Okanagan - Mar 04, 2020 - Columnists

Image: Contributed

The battle is on for the OKGN Angel Summit grand prize. It’s time to pick a winner.

We met one on one with the top six to hear their pitch for the top spot.

Jason Bernhardt, founder of Levity, has built a dating app designed to support singles to be set up by their friends, peers and community. We recently caught up with Jason to learn more about his inspiration behind the idea, his experience as an entrepreneur and his plans to go the distance.

What problem were you trying to solve when you started Levity?

I was chatting with friends at a Christmas party and someone brought up the idea of matching friends with other people on an app. When I went back to Vancouver, I started to notice how many people were passing their phones around so their friends could find matches on their dating apps. Six months later, I moved back to Kelowna and started working on Levity full time.

Why should people be excited about Levity?

It’s a novel way to meet people. When you’re using dating apps, you’re in it alone and choosing for yourself. Levity is the first app where you can invite your friends and bring them along, getting a new perspective on what you would typically look for in a match. The community helps each other find better matches than if they were just looking for themselves.

What kind of traction have you found with Levity?

It’s been exciting to see people get matched in Levity and start chatting. You spend so much time building the app, and there’s a lot of worry when you put out a social tool that people might not use it in a benevolent way, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised. Everyone we’ve talked to says that they enjoy the way it feels to set others up with someone that suits them.

What kind of expertise is your team bringing to Levity?

I’m a programmer, so my expertise is building the app itself. I got into computer science and app development because I wanted to create my own technology. My two brothers are brick-and-mortar store owners who bring expertise in owning and operating their own businesses like (administration), marketing and overall direction. They work as part-time advisors for Levity, getting their hands dirty when they need to.

How do you see your company growing?

We’re looking to continue growing our user base throughout B.C. and then moving down west through the college campuses in the United States. We also have a feature development roadmap; we’ve built a pretty good minimum viable product, but a lot of work still needs to be put into building the vision that I have for Levity. There are a few team members we’ll start looking for as well.

What would the $155K investment mean for your company?

The first steps we would take are hiring a senior engineer and brand manager. Another engineer would reduce the development time for new features in the app and the brand manager would allow us to redefine and align our branding. The advice I’ve heard is that the longer you wait to define the brand, the harder it is. So we want to be thinking about those things early as it’s pretty integral to the success of our app.

What has this experience taught you about the entrepreneurial journey?

When you start, you have to realize that it’s going to take up to twice as long as you think, and you have to commit to working on the project full time. It’s one thing to know that going in and choosing it. It’s another to reflect on it when you’re in the middle of the project and recognize that you’re two years into a five-year timeline.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who want to participate next year?

Get advice from people who have experience pitching to different audiences. It’s not common sense to understand how to frame your business into something entertaining that can capture an audience’s attention—especially one that is unfamiliar with your industry. It can be difficult explaining Levity to someone who has never used a dating app.

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