When Recroup's Amit Chauhan arrived in Thunder Bay, he wasn’t ready for the weather that awaited him.
At home, in his native India, temperatures were in the 30 C range. In Thunder Bay, with the wind chill factored in, it was more like -30 C.
But knowing he’d have to adjust to a new climate, he packed up his belongings and left his homeland behind, joined by two partners, to seek his fortune and fame in Canada.
Chauhan, Kaushik Vinay and Shiv Bharthur on Thursday graduated from the Northwest Innovation Centre’s Co-Starter program, an entrepreneurial training ground for businesses looking to get off the ground in Thunder Bay.
Terry Smith, who co-ordinated the program, said taking a chance on a business from afar was a gamble.
“We thought for sure they were going to get back on the plane and fly home,” he said, the coldest winter in recent memory just starting to give way to spring.
Chauhan says their business plan is ambitious.
The trio have developed software that would allow companies to pre-screen potential job candidates, tailoring a series of questions that would determine someone’s qualifications. The program will also let would-be employees separate themselves from the pack with their answers.
“Our product is a subscription-based hiring platform for entry-level talent where we allow companies to create challenges so that they can verify skills of job seekers even before they interview them,” Chauhan said.
The Co-Starter program is essentially a fast-track start-up training ground, teaching would-be entrepreneurs the basics of business.
“They came into the program and they got $15,000 of start-up money. We took a small equity stake in each company,” Smith said.
“The investors put all that money in, but the program has really been about mentorship. They’ve learned a lot from entrepreneurs here in the city, they’ve learned a lot from the speakers we’ve had out and they’ve learned a lot from their one-on-one mentors.”
The five start-ups focused on a wide spectrum of business opportunities, from Ship Early, a company offering e-commerce solution to one selling ecologically friendly t-shirts, to cardio bio-markers to a device that once perfected will allow cell-phone users and iPod owners to charge their devices using energy built up through their own footsteps.
Bill Ostrom, who heads Go Kin Packs, is a long-time Thunder Bay business owner who decided to take his idea to the market, said he’s already developing a fourth prototype charger. The first weighed 40 pounds, the second 20 pounds and the latest is down to three pounds.
It can produce 12 watts of power, perfect for people heading out to the wilderness, where charging stations are non-existent.
“Basically if you walk for five minutes, you will get 10 to 15 minutes of talking time on your cell phone,” he said.
He plans to start a Kickstarter campaign to raise venture capital.
“We are looking for partners to take this to the next step.”
Smith, who said they chose diverse companies as Thunder Bay’s location didn’t really allow for niche product lines, said the goal was to shorten the time it takes a start-up to get to market.
“We’ve never been able to have a more direct impact than we have had with this program. Entrepreneurs need three things. They need time, space and money. That was what this program was all about, giving them that opportunity. Without this program, a lot of them wouldn’t have had the opportunity to start their companies up.”
And while they’re starting small, the sky’s the limit, he added.
“All of these companies are thinking bigger,” Smith said.