Gone are the days of just having a good idea or product – yes, that’s a start but once you’ve found a bit of momentum it’s time to move things to the next level. TELUS Pitch is an annual small business competition and the largest of its kind in Canada. Aside from mega bragging rights, the grand prize winner is awarded with a cool $100,000 in investment, along with a $10,000 donation on their behalf to the TELUS Future Friendly Fund. It has become one of the most exciting programs with seriously heavy competition.
This year over 6500 “elevator pitches” were submitted from across the country in a wide variety of categories. On July 30th, five finalists were given the opportunity to make their last in-person pitches to a highly respected team of judges including investor and TV personality (Dragon’s Den), Arlene Dickinson, at a live summit event held at the TELUS House headquarters in Toronto.
Dickinson is no stranger to being pitched business ideas and has seen them all.
“With all the pitches that we see, there’s an inspirational aspect that I can’t get past,” said Dickinson at the event.
“All I ever think about is ‘wow, how did they ever come up with this idea?’ Even after seeing thousands of pitches it’s still motivating to know that there are such innovative, imaginative, creative, enthusiastic and energetic entrepreneurs in Canada who are trying to grow their businesses.”
The excitement was evident at the grand finale event as each finalist took to the stage to give a live presentation and to answer some tough questions from the judging panel.
The finalists included Creation Crate, FoodFund Inc., Goldilocks Sustainable Goods, HigherEdPoints.com, and InStage.
Divyansh Ojha was announced as the Grand Prize Winner for his business, FoodFund Inc. His company has recognized the alarming rate of fresh fruits and vegetables that never make it to the store shelves because they are deemed less than perfect. They may not be the perfect apple or a cucumber that’s bent too far.
As a result, the discarded produce ends up in landfills or fed to animals on farms. FoodFund offers a way to get the imperfect-but-perfectly good produce into the hands of consumers while offering an additional revenue stream to local farmers. Currently in South-Western Ontario, the business is looking to expand the subscription-based service to more cities. Consumers can order up boxes – and even customize them based on what’s available each season.
Ojha is a final year business student at Western University in the Ivey Program. He started FoodFund after his first year at Western when one of his mentors encouraged him to take a leap with his idea – the concept took off. We had a chance to speak with Ojha minutes after he won this year’s TELUS Pitch.
How and where did you submit your elevator pitch?
Ojha: Interesting story, I saw an ad on YouTube about this competition and I remember messaging my cousin about it who is the operations lead on the business. I said to him “Hey, $100,000 can really change our business” and thought why not? For some reason I put it off until the very last day and actually got my submission in right on time. It was a busy time as I was just wrapping up my third year at Ivey and I had a couple of conferences out west. I just jumped in.
What went through your mind coming into this final event tonight and hearing all the other finalists?
Ojha: Honestly, it was a bit intimidating. This was the only the second time pitching this business. I always learn from listening to other people that are pitching. There’s so much to learn from their experience whether it’s from their past jobs or if it’s their fourth startup. The value coming into an event like this is amazing.
If you could ask Arlene Dickinson ANYTHING?
Ojha: Only one question? I have a billion! She’s in the space that I am in, so I was really excited knowing that coming into this competition. She’s passionate about food, health and wellness. But if I had to ask her one question? I would ask her, ‘how do you maintain focus and manage your time?’ At times, I feel like I have a lot on my plate being in school full-time while trying to balance a business, so I’d love to know that.
What advice do you have for future small business pitchers interested in entering this competition?
Ojha: Believe in yourself. Know that even if you’ve made it to the top 100 then you’re there for reason. Also, stick to your strengths and be honest about your business.
Who else made the final five? Here’s a quick look at the finalists who received $10,000 each…
Pitch by: Chris Gatbonton
Delivers a monthly subscription-based DIY STEM project kit for kids and adults. Hands-on projects aim to inspire and spark more interest as well as helping to create more problem solvers for tomorrow— something this type of learning is lacking in today’s school curriculum. Online instructions also are available. What’s unique is each kit in the subscription stream is focused on ability instead of the same kit being provided to the masses each month. As the subscription progresses so does the level of experience.
Goldilocks Sustainable Goods
Pitch by: Amy Hall
After travelling to various beautiful places around the world, Hall noticed an increase in plastic that was polluting the earth’s most precious oceans and seas. Looking for a way to make a difference, Amy has created an eco-friendly alternative to plastic wrap. Goldilocks are beautifully designed, handmade and reusable beeswax food wraps.
Pitch by: Suzanne Tyson
So many loyalty points go unused – Tyson’s company helps transfer billions of these points to the education sector so students and families can put them towards tuition and student loans. Anyone can transfer their unused points to be redeemed.
Pitch by: Imran Mouna
For many people speaking out is a challenge whether it’s a school presentation, at work asking for a raise or even presenting to a room full of colleagues or strangers. InStage is a virtual reality training program that helps individuals practice their skills in settings that mimic that of audiences in a variety of sizes and situations.