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Entrepreneur

In a culture that’s often intimidated by death and dying, Jenny Briscoe-Hough is determined to approach things a little differently. For the last six years, she’s worked tirelessly as the founder and CEO of Tender Funerals, a community venture with a vision of providing authentic and affordable funeral care to all Australians.

She admits, though, it’s a leadership position she had never expected for herself.

“Primarily, I’m in community development, and when you’re in this field, the whole idea is empowering others,” she said. “So it’s almost the opposite of leadership, it’s actually taking a step back. I would say the community founded Tender and I was the driver.”

Today, Tender Funerals helps thousands of bereaved families across Australia to have meaningful funerals which reflect the wishes of the person who has died, their family, and community – without having to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to do so.

The average cost of a Tender funeral is between $3,000 to $4,500, compared to bills anywhere between $5,000 to $10,000 from leading funeral providers.

But Jenny’s message goes beyond making funerals affordable. It’s a movement to change the culture around death and end-of-life by enabling conversations on rights and responsibilities, and enabling family and friends to have as much (or as little) hands-on involvement as they like.

Since beginning in Port Kembla on the NSW South Coast followed by a second location near Port Macquarie, Tender Funerals Australia is currently working with a further six communities to establish services (that operate as franchises) in Canberra, Far North Queensland, Newcastle, Perth, Tasmania and Western Sydney.

Creating meaningful yet affordable services

The idea for Tender Funerals was sparked in 2008 when Jenny found herself in the position of organising a funeral for her late mother.

“Even though I had attended many funerals through my 20 years or so in community development, I hadn’t had to focus on the details and costs before. Then when my mother died, we washed the flowers ourselves, drove ourselves there, we even owned our own burial plot, and we still got a bill of around $10,000,” she recalled.

She still remembers how her mother’s memorial card had the funeral company’s advertising at the bottom.

Jenny elaborated, “My mother had an estate, she had a property, so we were able to cover these costs. But because I was working in a community, I suddenly found myself wondering how others might be able to afford something like this.”

Tender Funerals aims to empower individuals as they go through this already difficult process.

“They can be as involved as they want, from transporting the body to washing and dressing the body, to putting the person in the coffin. The idea is to empower people with information while giving them choices. Some might say ‘I know what I want to do’ and then, after some thought, come back to us and say ‘actually, can we do this instead?’

“It’s an evolving and transparent process. You can have the most traditional funeral in the world or you can have something entirely unique to you. But when you’re given a one-size-fits-all funeral package by a provider, it’s not so helpful.”

READ MORE: Founder Friday with Jacqui Bull: transforming Australia’s staffing market

A shrine at a Tender Funerals service. Source: supplied.

Jenny highlights an instance when Tender Funerals’ personalised, special touch was simply a family photo.

“We had a funeral once for a young man, and all he had wanted was a family photo, but they could never get the family together. So they took a photo at the funeral, we printed it out, and put it in the coffin,” she said.

Other instances have included simple ceremonies in people’s backyards.

“Anything could be a funeral ceremony, it depends on the intention you bring with it,” Jenny added.

The initial challenges

However, it wasn’t an easy road getting Tender Funerals off the ground. The biggest challenge was “to get people to understand what we’re trying to do.”

“For years, I was applying for grants and getting knocked back. Then one day, my friend and artist Lynette Wallworth said to me ‘we’re going to have to make a film and show them,’” Jenny explained.

“It’s very hard to describe in words what happens when you put your hands on the body of a person you love, and every cell in your body understands that person has died.”

The resulting documentary Tender, released in 2013, shared the stories of community-based funerals (including the death of their community centre’s former caretaker) to powerfully demonstrate their message onscreen.

Tender Funerals was able to secure funding from Social Enterprise Finance Australia (SEFA) and the Vincent Fairfax Foundation. Their model, they say, is made viable by families able to pay full price at Tender Funerals and further support from community donations.

Jenny and team at Tender Funerals Port Kembla. Source: supplied

Changing the culture around death

“An important thing that Tender does for people is that it wakes up something inside of them, the knowledge that they are going to die,” Jenny observed. “Now of course, some funeral days are really tragic and really sad. But it also helps us realise that this life is limited.

“When planning these services, we ask people, ‘are you religious?’ And if they say no, we do follow up with ‘do you have a spiritual practice?’ and often the answer is yes, because each person has different things that connects them to their soul.”

Some of the people who visit Tender Funerals have recently experienced the death of a loved one. However, as Jenny notes, there have also been individuals who want to be proactive about their end-of-life.

“Sometimes we have people ring up, saying they want to have this conversation with their children, but the children don’t want to have it. There’s still a reluctance around this,” she stated.

“But we say that you can change the culture with just one funeral. People might first come to Tender and not have a clue what to do, but unfortunately if they have to come again, they’re able to say ‘I know what I’m doing.’ We’re empowering them with information.”

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READ MORE: Founder Friday with Liz Agresta: the secrets to building a $15m beauty empire 

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We started with nothing; we found funds where we could through savings and borrowing from friends and family that wholeheartedly believed in our brand. The main driving force that sustained us was a strong belief that we were creating something worthwhile

Steve Moon Founder & Director, LinkSafe


In early 2020, LinkSafe remodelled its cloud-based contractor management system to keep up with client demand for a trusted, easy solution to new vaccine protocols. This quick change in gears resulted in a 33 per cent increase in revenue and almost doubled their client base. 

Since 2012, the team has grown their client base from 10 to 545, with over 30 international businesses utilising the platform daily. LinkSafe founder Steve Moon says that the company worked tirelessly in the early stages of the pandemic to ensure they could capture sensitive medical data on behalf of their clients. However, there were many lessons to learn along the way.

“As LinkSafe developed and grew, there were many things I had to learn. At the beginning of this journey, I could concentrate on doing what I enjoyed: the creative side of product development. 

Steve Moon, Founder & Director, LinkSafe

“As we grew, I had to step out of my comfort zone and work on things like sales, marketing and managing overheads and staff. None of these came naturally to me, but I accepted that they needed to be done and had to do it. I decided early on to employ great people and contractors and implement systems to take on the things I didn’t have the time or skills to do properly,” Steve says.

“While this created additional costs, it was an investment that had to happen to grow the business to what it is today. Without a solid and trusted team by my side and bulletproof systems and processes, LinkSafe could not have succeeded. I have found that you have to be passionate about what you do to develop a new business from scratch. This passion helped me get through the lean times at the start and helped me get support from friends and family. It then helped me sell the vision to staff and clients. 

The inception

The idea for this business was developed over time, according to Steve. “Initially, it came out of discussions with clients about the challenges they were facing with the operations and processes of their business.”

“From the initial idea, I  engaged in more in-depth discussions with clients regarding ideal ways to improve and automate safety and compliance requirements in their business. The needs within the safety and compliance sector expanded rapidly, and we were quick to understand the importance of ensuring we were continually developing and innovating new features and modules to stay relevant and successful in a growth market.”

The early stages

Steve says that the early stages of establishing the business in 2005 stemmed from a combination of communicating with potential clients about their needs and proposing various ideas and possible solutions to meet said demands.

“The first 18 months of the business were predominantly research and development-based, typified by hard work and long hours, but also great excitement for the future as we were developing an innovative software product in the emerging market of safety and compliance.    

“This was followed by creating a mock-up of the software screens to garner client interest and, in some cases, receiving a forward commitment from clients to use the software when it was ready.” 

“The thing I want to highlight for others who wish to start their own business is how important it is to ensure you share your vision and your passion with your staff and your clients, as this will help your business grow and thrive in a dynamic and changing market.”

Because we were stepping into a relatively new and undefined market, we propelled our business forward by reaching out to potential clients with the trust and confidence to adopt new technology to fulfil their demands. In other words, the typical ‘early adopters’ were our first clients. 

Revenue wasn’t the driver.

In the early stages of the business, revenue was not deemed a primary driver for LinkSafe – it was all about investing in the future, Steve says.

“We started with nothing; we found funds where we could through savings and borrowing from friends and family that wholeheartedly believed in our brand. The main driving force that sustained us was a strong belief that we were creating something worthwhile – we were creating a valuable service that businesses would not only want but one they would need to achieve their growing safety and compliance obligations.

“At the end of the day, we’re providing essential software and services that clients of our kind cannot do without. Not engaging in or having poor contractor safety management could result in dire legal and financial ramifications.”

The catalyst

Steve notes that the company worked tirelessly in the early stages of the pandemic to ensure they could capture sensitive medical data on behalf of their clients while providing a way to redact this information once stored.

“We needed to help bolster our client’s online abilities around contractor engagement, enforcement of vaccine protocols and COVID Safe Plans. Although we could not see the complications of a global pandemic, we were lucky because our system was built with the foresight to handle unprecedented circumstances. 

“During 2020, our legal advisory arm LinkSafe Legal, which contractor safety heavyweight Sue Bottrell now leads, was able to provide critical advice, assistance and support in navigating new COVID-19 laws, requirements and differences in health directives issued from state to state.”

Steve continues by saying that the business’s provision of necessary services contributed to increased demand during the pandemic.

“Our products and services were deemed essential by our corporate and Government clients, thus resulting in the strong demand for our business. We proactively remodelled our cloud-based contractor management system to keep up with client demands. 

“We strived to be a trusted, easy solution with setting up and actively managing new vaccine protocols for our clients during the pandemic’s uncertain times. Like many other businesses, we were significantly impacted by restrictions and had to find a new way of doing ‘business as usual. Thanks and credit to our team, we were able to pivot to a working-from-home model quickly. 

“While this model was not ideal, we found that by utilising our strong internal work systems, we could complete work faster than before. Over the pandemic, the uncertainty of a ‘new normal’ faced by businesses highlighted the importance of safety and compliance. This cemented safety and compliance processes as a mandatory requirement until this day.

The secret recipe

Steve believes that the success of any business relies on establishing a name for itself in the market. 

“To ensure the success of our services, we worked closely with clients with a strong vision, industry knowledge and the ability to collaborate with us in strategising a viable solution that we could incorporate into our products. In turn, their constructive feedback greatly informed our current capabilities in developing a functional and valuable service that could be applied to a plethora of clients from various industries. 

“When we started the business, safety and compliance requirements in the general commercial and industrial sectors were just beginning to emerge. Safety and compliance were commonly managed with paper-based or spreadsheet systems, or in many cases, not done at all. 

“One of the initial challenges was to understand the operational issues faced by clients and successfully design a system that reflects those needs into automated processes efficiently – such as providing users with a straightforward and clear workflow and record-keeping features for audit and compliance requirements.” 

“Another challenge we recognised was to make sure we developed a service that was not only useful to clients in specific sectors but also to ensure we prevail as a well-rounded service that is well-informed and flexible to be used in every industry. Over time, we applied an agile approach to developing our service, which allowed us to pivot and respond to emerging needs efficiently.”

While many Australian businesses providing contract management services are relying on offshore tech support and customer service partners, Steve and the LinkSafe team believe these services should be kept in-house. 

“We’ve developed an on-shore, in-house proactive client support network which allows us to service our clients, get to know them intimately and strengthen our relationships by providing them guidance, support and introductions to various networks we’ve formed relationships with. We are more than a software company; we’re a trusted industry partner always a phone call away,” says Steve.

“As LinkSafe developed and grew, there were many things I had to learn. At the beginning of this journey, I could concentrate on doing what I enjoyed: the creative side of product development. As we grew, I had to step out of my comfort zone and work on things like sales, marketing and managing overheads and staff. None of these came naturally to me, but I accepted that they needed to be done and had to do it. 

“I decided early on to employ great people and contractors and implement systems to take on the things I didn’t have the time or skills to do correctly. While this created additional costs, it was an investment that had to happen to grow the business to what it is today. 

“Without a solid and trusted team by my side and bulletproof systems and processes, LinkSafe could not have grown. I have found that you have to be passionate about what you do to develop a new business from scratch. This passion helped me get through the lean times at the start and helped me get support from friends and family. It then helped me sell the vision to staff and clients. 

“The thing I want to highlight for others who wish to start their own business is how important it is to ensure you share your vision and your passion with your staff and your clients, as this will help your business grow and thrive in a dynamic and changing market.

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Recalling that she was “always trying to scheme up ideas for businesses” as a young girl, one of entrepreneur Jacqui Bull’s first successful ventures was a dog walking business.

Decades on, she’s the co-founder of Australia’s and New Zealand’s largest online staffing platform, reinventing casual and temporary staffing in industries like aged care, retail, hospitality, promotions, warehousing, and events.

Some of Sidekicker’s big-name clients include influential industry leaders like AusPost, Crown, and AirBnB.

“We came up with Sidekicker from the premise of empowering people to choose where they work, what they want to do, and how much control they can get over their work,” Jacqui said.

“Our product solves staffing problems while adding a lot of value to our customers. We found that competitors or incumbent providers in Australia weren’t innovating or adapting their business model in line with what we were seeing globally.”

Since launching in 2013, Sidekicker has provided work opportunities to over 40,000 casual workers at more than 5,000 organisations. They estimate placing an average of 2,500 ‘Sidekicks’ into jobs per week.

Most recently, Sidekicker secured $20 million in funding from SEEK investments to accelerate expansion across Australia and Zealand, and toward platform upgrades.

“I’d definitely credit our obsessive focus on being the best place for workers to get jobs,” she grinned. “We’re focused on being the best place to get the best rates, with quick response times.”

Why Sidekicker works

Jacqui first met Sidekicker co-founder Thomas Amos while completing her degree in accounting and marketing at Monash University. While her curiosity was piqued then by presentations around entrepreneurship in the tech sector, she chose the more traditional path of a grad role in accounting at Deloitte.

She decided it was time to take the plunge into the tech space when the idea for Sidekicker came about.

Jacqui elaborated, “I didn’t have a background in tech so there was a lot to learn! My naïve understanding as a 22-year-old was that you go to a development agency, you build a product and take it to market, and the rest is sales and marketing.  A decade later, I learned my lesson that tech and development remain an ongoing process.”

Sidekicker’s technology disrupts the traditional recruitment model by providing a platform for Sidekicks to access casual work as and when they choose. It also provides a two-way rating and review system for businesses, which drives the reliability and accountability of staff.

Sidekicker co-founders Jacqui Bull and Thomas Amos. Source: supplied

However, as Jacqui candidly admits, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

“One of our biggest mistakes at first was launching into cities too quickly. We launched in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne as opposed to really focusing on building a hyperlocal marketplace first. We’ve had to relaunch in Brisbane a couple of times now,” she said.

“We also tried out a number of different industries, such as cleaning, but those roles can be very subjective. The idea of cleanliness really differs from person to person, so finding the right person for these roles was really labour intensive and time consuming.”

Instead, they decided to pick a handful industries they could service well.

“In terms of staffing, there are certain roles that can be objectively assessed, for example aged care where there’s a huge demand for workers and certain qualifications to be met. We realised we could really work in this market by attracting workers with a wealth of experience who are looking for the best rates.”

As an entrepreneur, one of her happiest milestones was the realisation that they truly had a good, successful product.

“It was a really special moment when we got our first seed investment and the investors could really see that we were disrupting and innovating the staffing market,” Jacqui smiled.

“Now as we get bigger, it’s a mark of pride to see our team living and breathing the values of Sidekicker. Seeing them understanding what we’re trying to build and being as passionate about the business.”

READ MORE: Conquering adversity: Female leaders reflect on resilience in the face of overwhelming odds

The team at Sidekicker. Source: supplied

The importance of representation

As a woman in the tech space, Jacqui is often asked if she’s had to ‘prove’ herself to male counterparts.

“There are a lot of statistics that show that women are underrepresented in this space and underinvested from a VC perspective,” she agreed. “For me personally, I do like to put pressure on myself to ensure I’m treated with the same level of respect and authority as my counterparts, which I don’t think you have to do as a male.

“At Sidekicker, we’re lucky to have built a very diverse business and leadership team. I work with incredibly talented men and women every day. And importantly, having that kind of representation attracts more women to the business. Our heads of engineering and product are women – unheard of in the tech sector – and this helps us attract more women to the tech industry.”

The best advice received

Ultimately, she breaks down the best advice she received to ‘knowing where you can add the most value and doubling down on that.’

Jacqui explained, “In business, it can be tempting to try to meet every demand and broaden your scope. When you’ve got a creative mindset, it’s easy to think ‘this will work’ or ‘this person will love this and this’. But it’s a lot of work to get a product up and running in the market and you can end up stretching yourself too thin. It’s a skill to know when to say no.”

Keep up to date with our stories on LinkedInTwitterFacebook and Instagram.

READ MORE: Founder Friday with Liz Agresta: the secrets to building a $15m beauty empire 

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“Transitioning from a homegrown success story to a new international market is challenging for most companies. Add to that the combination of a pandemic, an industry under scrutiny, and a highly vulnerable customer base – now there’s a challenge.

“My answer to anyone starting a business is to keep the product as the team’s primary focus, the advice we have held to when launching into this new market.”

Sam Bridgewater, founder of Pure Food Co.

Sam Bridgewater and Maia Royal founded The Pure Food Co in 2014 after witnessing his stepfather, Mark, struggle with food and nutrition while battling a major illness at an aged care facility. 

Sam felt that there had to be a better way to provide appropriate food for seniors or those suffering illnesses that combined taste and nutrition. He undertook extensive research and development to innovate a solution that combined higher levels of essential nutrients into beautiful meals and other snacks. 

And so Sam and his colleague were inspired to create a meal system that provided not only optimal nutrition but also good flavour and diversity to encourage seniors to continue eating enough volume. So at 28 years old, the team set out to solve that issue; that’s how The Pure Food Co was born in 2014 — an innovative food system tailored to the nutritional needs of seniors. Following significant growth and recognition within the NZ market, The Pure Food Co has launched in Australia, partnering with several sizeable aged care groups. 

The Pure Food Co offers pre-shaped food products presented in an engaging way to provide visually appealing, extremely nutritional pureed foods. Their product line also includes purees, designed for simple swallowing and created with the best local ingredients, all with protein as a vital component to help seniors with muscle maintenance and repair.

“Coming from backgrounds in banking and management consulting, it’s safe to say that my co-founder and I have had plenty of learnings – some the hard way! Food production and the complexities of this were very new territory for us, and ensuring that the food solution we were offering not only addressed the nutrition and taste problems we’d identified but was also economically sustainable for our customers was a key challenge we had to face from the outset. 

“Our solution not only had to compete with tight food budgets but deliver value well beyond this to get into networks and stay long term. Equally, we were doing very new territory from a market perspective. Fortifying foods the way we do wasn’t a ‘thing’ at the time, so we took a gamble, and it paid off; this was a critical turning point for us in creating true innovation. 

The early days

“Initially, our approach focused on the healthcare space, and we are now partnered with almost all of New Zealand’s public hospitals. More recently, we’ve seen massive growth in the aged care sector, aligning with our mission to nourish the world’s seniors. 

“After starting production within a food innovation incubator in 2017, we built our production plant in Mt Wellington, which provided the scale we needed to fuel rapid growth. We entered the Australian market in 2019 and, despite the challenges of a pandemic soon after, have seen a significant impact with the business quintupling over the past year. 

“At present, we deliver around 3 million food experiences annually across these two markets, and we’re proud to be a multi-award-winning company with multi-award-winning innovations, most notably three-time category-winner of The New Zealand Food Awards including Supreme Winner in 2019, as well as The Deloitte Fast 50. 

Sam notes that gathering insight from important stakeholders was a vital technique for them from the start. 

“Engagement with Dietitians, Speech Pathologists, Operators (healthcare and elderly care), and, of course, the people who would consume our meals was critical during the research and product development phases. Because we invested heavily in researching with our relevant audience, we came to market with a product that delivered on the value propositions they wanted and needed, as well as the elements they didn’t know they needed but now love! 

Conducting product assessment: Knowing what the customer wants

Sam insists that getting the product right has, without a doubt, been essential to their marketing strategy. 

“If those foundations aren’t in place, there’s no opportunity to grow when customers need to see a positive outcome to justify the investment. As a result, the organic referral has been the biggest driver of growth for us since the beginning—kitchens and clinical teams that use the product move around providers and bring us with them. 

“We’ve constantly agitated for awareness and representation of the nutritional needs of seniors and, in recent years, haven’t been afraid to call out the problem. Recently, we’ve been looking closely at our social media approach as another avenue to drive customer leads, with LinkedIn being one of our priority channels. 

“We see this route as a great way to engage with not only operators that could directly become customers but also to increase overall consideration of the issue of senior nutrition. For example, we’ve recently launched a campaign on our social media channels aligning with notable Australian athletes to highlight the similarities in nutrition requirements between athletes and seniors and to tap into these athletes’ audiences to raise consideration of ageing nutrition amongst younger generations. 

“We conducted some research alongside the campaign, which found that despite health and wellness being a huge priority for the everyday Australian, very few had considered how this could look in later life, and changing this is a theme we’ll be looking at across the board when it comes to our marketing.”

When it comes to learning, Sam says that he has been caught in the trap of trying to do too much at one time in the past, which resulted in them getting laser-focused on key strategic priorities to grow the offering and the customer base in a way that’s aligned with their overarching mission. 

“We still consider the day-to-day signing of a new customer or network as a significant moment; it’s a huge responsibility to implement a food system for residents and businesses and something that we don’t take lightly. 

“From our own first-hand experiences, we know just how important doing this the right way is for these residents and their families, so we never underestimate the task at hand.” 

Successfully launching into a new market 

“The Pure Food Co was inspired by a problem we identified on a personal and societal level. Put simply, no solution provides seniors with tasty, easy to eat and adequately nutritious foods while meeting the tight budgets of the public health system. Hailing from New Zealand, our focus naturally started there and saw us grow to a scale where we are implemented across nearly every public hospital and 100% of sizeable aged care networks. 

“However, the challenge is global, so in 2019 we began to launch into the Australian market. Throw a global pandemic in the mix, and you’ll see why it’s only now, in 2022, that we’re ready to talk about successfully launching into this market. 

“The Australian aged care sector is complex and highly scrutinised. With 50% of people entering senior care classified as malnourished in this country, it’s also an industry needing help. We saw an opportunity to meet the need that we had answered in New Zealand in this new market.” 

Lead with product 

Sam says his answer to anyone starting a business is to keep the product as the team’s primary focus, the advice we have held to when launching into this new market. 

“We needed to prove not only the efficacy of our product but also the affordability (working to tight budgets where many aged care facilities are required to feed their residents on around $12 a day, and often less) and practicality of our offering. In an industry already struggling to retain sufficient staffing, we need to provide a solution that makes carers’ lives easier, not harder. 

“The most important part of any product?”

“Ensuring it can get into the hands of those who need it. Key learning through the pandemic and beyond has been to ensure that we were clear, careful, and on the borderline of conservative regarding our supply chain to ensure product availability at all times. The trust operators place in us to implement their food systems is immense, and once this trust is broken, it would be extremely challenging to rebuild – regardless of the business you’re building.” 

“An organic referral is a huge driver of business growth and for many businesses looking to expand,” Sam continues.

“Investing in a dedicated Country Manager that can engage directly with potential and current customers was crucial when it came to growing our presence in this new market, supported by ab diverse and highly skilled team focused on continuous improvement. 

“Remaining nimble and evolving how you communicate your business’s offering can make all the difference when changes to the macro environment arise. It’s no surprise that the pandemic has devastated the aged care sector and the priorities these already stretched teams are juggling. In our case, we saw that health was more important than ever across the board, and people considered the role diet plays in their wellbeing. 

“However, labour shortages meant our potential customers would not consider solutions that were difficult to implement. Communicating the benefit of our pre-packaged solution became an important message with the skills shortage in mind. When testing the waters in a new market, finding new and different ways to engage with your audience is vital. 

“While our core focus is aged care and hospital environments, speaking to a secondary market of those with loved ones in such facilities and pushing them to advocate for the seniors in their life is proving fruitful. 

“We recently launched a campaign across our social channels that focus on heroing the #grandfluencer in your life (the significant senior that’s made a difference for you); it’s a step in the right direction of getting these younger audience groups to consider the conversation of senior nutrition., and start to understand the realities of senior nutrition. 

“Overall, whether launching into a new market or driving growth in an existing territory, being able to measure success, improve conversion, and reduce any risk associated with implementing your product are crucial in driving success. There may not always be a pandemic creating challenges for your global expansion, but there’s sure to be a curveball around the corner, so prepare accordingly.”

More on The Pure Foods co here.

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It all began with a very personal story. We did not start with any grand plan in mind. The objective was purely and simply to create a couple of high-quality products that had efficacy and that people could trust. My personal agenda was to produce a daily multi-nutrient that I believed would benefit Monique.

Trevor Bolland and Monique Bolland, co-founders of Nuzest.

When Trevor Bolland discovered that his 22-year-old daughter Monique Bolland had Multiple Sclerosis, a condition that affects the central nervous system and is incurable, he set out on a quest to learn about alternative health and nutrition. What began as a father and daughter looking for solutions has grown into a global company today, formulating supportive nutrition for all.

This is the story of Nuzest, an Australasian nutritional business that is celebrating 10 years of providing high-quality plant-based supplements. 

“I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system. As yet, there is no medical cure, and at that time, unlike today, there was very little in the way of treatments to slow down the progress of the disease.  My MRI showed quite serious lesions on the brain and spine, and the prognosis I was given was bleak. I was in a very dark place, and my parents were equally distressed,” Monique recalls.

“My Dad is very determined and does not take no for an answer. He decided to sell out of his business and focus on finding a solution. We spoke to doctors, scientists, and natural health practitioners worldwide and discovered what most health-conscious people understand today; that a balanced lifestyle and good nutrition are critical to good health and longevity.

Monique recounts spending many weeks at a time at a Naturopathic Health Centre in the United States, focusing solely on restoring balance to her body and mind, learning about diet, and receiving natural treatments to help manage the disease.

“Although my background was in graphic and web design, with a degree in Digital Marketing, this journey led me to various studies in nutrition and health coaching and opening an integrated health clinic in Sydney. Meanwhile, she adds that my Dad continued his research and became involved in the health supplements industry.

“Dad and I saw an opportunity to improve on what was already available in the market; to create products that would genuinely support people’s health – not just read well on the labels. In 2012 we joined forces and launched Nuzest – Nutrition for Life.”

The beginning

Trevor Bolland notes that the story of Nuzest did not begin with a big plan. The goal was to build a couple of high-quality items that were effective and that people could rely on. The goal was to create a daily multi-nutrient that would benefit his daughter Monique.

“Through my involvement in the health supplement industry since Monique’s diagnosis, I had learned a little about production and distribution and was confident that if we could produce a good product, we should be able to find a market.

“However, we were essentially new to the industry, with my background being primarily in the property and early childcare education sectors and previously in the Navy. The production and distribution of health-food supplements was a completely different ball game.”

‘We realised we needed to engage and consult with experts in their field.’

Trevor says he called upon many contacts he had made since Monique’s diagnosis, including a team of health practitioners and PhD scientists to assist with the formulation. The duo engaged a highly respected design company in Sydney, Boldinc, to direct brand development, and teamed up with a long-time friend in New Zealand with a career in marketing and communications to partner with them in the launch (in New Zealand).

“Our distribution has grown exponentially and is now available in over 20 countries. Our head office in Potts Point coordinates manufacturing and production in five different countries. 90 per cent of our packaging, design and marketing is now conducted in-house, and we employ people all over the world in roles from sales and logistics to customer service,” Trevor says.

“We have never actively sought distribution in other regions but have taken chances on people who were as passionate about our products as we were and grown with them. Many of our early distributors were people we have known personally or professionally for years or met while starting. These tight connections have meant the feeling of being a family resonates throughout our global team.

“While the products remain fundamentally the same, we continually review and revise our formulations to ensure they are always up to date with the latest scientific research. We will always do this to ensure we are true to our promise of being ‘led by nature, backed by science. 

“Our focus for the foreseeable future is on growing our current markets, extending our product range, and transitioning to fully sustainable packaging by 2025.”

‘The greatest challenge was the unknown.’

Trevor admits that they had minimal industry experience. Thus, there was a lot of “sometimes expensive” on-the-job learning. This included what to look for in manufacturing contracts, how to price the items, what margins were needed for the retail market, labelling needs, the regulatory environment, package sourcing, logistics, and much more.

“We were lucky that we entered the market with plant-based products when “plant-based” popularity was in its infancy. We entered the market with a high-quality pea protein isolate that tasted good and had immediate success. Because we had something different to offer, he says we could get traction in most health food stores in the country.

“We started distribution out of a downstairs room in my partner’s home in Auckland. From there, we did all the packing, managed deliveries, handled customer service, designed marketing collateral, and wrote all the marketing copy. To date, the business has been entirely self-funded.”

‘High-level athletes and personalities became brand advocates, not by contract but by choice as passionate consumers’

Trevor says that Nuzest has become a household name in New Zealand thanks to advertising, word-of-mouth marketing, and attendance at exhibitions across the nation. This was made possible by a strong base of devoted consumers, which included numerous elite athletes and public figures who chose to become brand ambassadors rather than being asked to do so.

“Entering new markets has been particularly challenging. There is an entirely new regulatory environment, different labelling requirements, logistical challenges, different distribution systems, and new competition. There is no easy way to navigate these waters, especially without experience in the industry. It was simply a matter of learning by trial and error, taking the first step and finding your way.

“After ten years in business, the challenges keep coming. There has been a plethora of new brands, many with significant financial backing due to the market opportunity offered by the growth in the sector, with each advocating their credentials as being of the highest quality. It is difficult to be heard above the noise and equally difficult for the consumer to know whom to believe.

“With the introduction of Good Green Vitality (previously named Good Green Stuff), our biggest challenge was explaining what it was and what it was designed for; how it was different from a multivitamin tablet or the usual mixture of just Spirulina, Chlorella and Wheat Grass. This challenge continues today, and we rely very much on one-on-one communication, the support of health practitioners, and word-of-mouth.”

The COVID-19 effect – Supply chain bottlenecks

Trevor says that COVID 19, whilst initially being a cause for increased demand, has resulted in significant supply chain challenges and increased costs, placing pressure on margins and on the ability to supply stock.

“The industry generally is more complex than ever. Because of growth in consumer demand, the entire industry is growing exponentially. We have multiple companies providing innovative ingredients and new delivery formats such as Gummies, candies, and shots. More competition with Venture Capital funding numerous start-ups and multinationals entering the sector. This has brought more focus from regulatory bodies resulting in additional barriers and increased costs.

“However, there is equally more recognition by people of the importance of good nutrition and significant scientific research on the benefits of certain nutrients for specific conditions and general health. There is also greater acceptance by many in the traditional medicine of an integrative approach to health care. Medicine is science, and Science is, after all, the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural world.”

For the greater cause

Trevor believes that knowledge is the first point for good nutrition for everyone. “We are trialling a program in underprivileged primary schools in New Zealand called “Basecamp”. It aims to inspire and empower young children through nutrition, health and wellbeing.

“The school is visited by one of our Nuzest sports ambassadors, who share their success story and explains how being healthy in body and mind helped them believe and achieve their lifelong dream.

“They deliver a masterclass outside on the sports field and then teach the children to make a nutritious smoothie as part of their healthy eating plan. The aim is for the children to make the connection that food is mood and food is energy and that a healthy mind and healthy body lead to greater focus and success.

“We are selecting schools in the 5th decile (lower socio-economic communities) in New Zealand as a sustainable and positive ‘give back to schools in need.

“However, the parents’ education also needs to be addressed. We tend to think of supplements as being expensive. However, if the cost of a serving of Kids Good Stuff is compared with the price of a take-out coffee, a glass of beer or wine, or a packet of cigarettes, we might understand that good nutrition is more accessible than most people realise.

“That does not, of course, apply to everyone. Still, perhaps one answer could be a Government-led social programme in partnership with supplement companies, providing vouchers for quality nutritional support products.”

The never-ending debate on supplements

Monique notes that the question that is debated is the need or otherwise for supplementation by the general population versus reliance on food from your daily diet alone.

“I would like to clarify that we do not advocate supplements as a cure for, or prevention of, disease. I still have Multiple Sclerosis. Whilst a change in lifestyle and good nutrition helped me manage that in the early years, there are pharmaceutical solutions today that can slow down the progression of the disease. We believe in an integrative approach to health, and I take advantage of all the available tools to enable me to lead an everyday life.

“While we firmly believe that food comes first, sometimes diet alone isn’t enough to meet the nutritional requirements of modern life. Even a clean, whole-food-based diet may not provide the variety or required levels of nutrients for optimal health. The soil our food is grown in is often deficient in nutrients. These crops’ harvesting, storage and transportation can further deplete their nutritional value. 

“The medical profession widely prescribes some supplements for specific conditions or where there is serious depletion. Vitamin D, Iron, Folic Acid, Vitamin B12 and many more are regularly taken on medical advice. Vitamin D is a strongly advised supplement for people with Multiple Sclerosis.

“Additionally, many people have medical or genetic conditions that don’t produce, absorb, or metabolise certain nutrients. If our digestive systems are out of balance, we may not absorb all the nutrients in the food we consume. Other people, such as athletes, tend to need more of certain nutrients than the average person.

“Finally, people are on restricted diets due to food allergies or beliefs where supplementation of certain essential nutrients is advised.

“The difference between a product like Good Green Vitality and a simple multivitamin tablet is that it is food based and therefore contains a matrix of nutrients that can be found in whole foods. It is also more than a multivitamin and much more than just a “greens” powder; it is a comprehensive blend of whole food powders strengthened with high polyphenol fruit extracts, adaptogens, vitamins, minerals, dietary enzymes, probiotics and more, a true superfood more than a simple supplement.”

“Whilst we always advise people to seek advice from their health practitioner before taking supplements for therapeutic purposes, we do advocate the use of a daily multi-nutrient such as Nuzest Good Green Vitality to help fill nutritional gaps due to potential deficiencies in the everyday diet. In many ways, it can be likened to an insurance policy.”

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In what might sound like an unlikely source of inspiration, it was Freya Tasci’s studies in literature and philosophy that would go on to inspire her successful business idea.

Coming across references to oilskin used to wrap items in transit, the entrepreneur decided to test it out herself.

“I was buying expensive organic veggies for my small children who had allergies and they’d wilt in the fridge after a few days – I needed better wrapping to keep them safe,” she recalled. “I also wanted to avoid introducing harmful chemicals like plastics into the house.”

When she couldn’t find anything like this in the market, trials into creating her own oilskin (cotton soaked in beeswax) ensued. Eventually, she landed on her hit product: Apiwraps, named after the Latin word for ‘bee’.

She elaborated, “They’re waterproof but also breathable, making it the perfect item to wrap veggies and other food items like that. And since its beeswax soaked in cotton, it can be washed and used again.

“Beeswax is the most incredible material. It’s beautifully versatile and natural. It’s something that you can even eat and there’s no chemicals or anything in it.”

Freyja’s practical, eco-friendly product can be used around the kitchen and with proper care and attention, one Apiwrap will last around a year. Significantly, due to its sustainable impact, it’s estimated that Apiwraps has replaced the need for more than 10 million metres of single-use plastic wrap over its last ten years of business.

an image of beeswax kitchen wrapping used to cover a salad
Source: supplied

Supporting small businesses

She started the business in November 2012, selling Apiwraps in Byron Bay markets.

“People would walk past and say to me ‘you’ve got to build this business, you’ve got to scale it, this is amazing’,” Freyja grinned.

Today Apiwraps are available across Australia through their website, local vendors, and major retailers like Aldi and Woolworths.

The production of Apiwraps combines the efforts of numerous small Australian businesses: a family beekeeping business for the wax, one of Australia’s last standing textile manufacturers for the cotton, and local artists who create the unique designs.

Freyja elaborated, “My mother was a fine artist, so I love having the opportunity to support the arts and other small businesses with this commercial product. That’s the beauty of being in business and keeping business in Australia, we get to meet and work with these amazing people.”

COVID as a ‘reset’

Like many other entrepreneurs, she suddenly found herself “on pause” for two years when the pandemic hit. Having to scale back expenses, they had to cut the team down to the bare minimum, move out of their warehouse at the end of the lease, and find a way to continue orders.

“It’s a reset in a way of everything. And now I’m launching any product at the gift fairs in Melbourne, at the end of the month, and I’m doing a product launch from scratch for the first time in 10 years!” she laughed.

“To do that, I followed my own advice. I reached out to our retailers to pick their brains. What was working? Do you think the customers might like this? What about if we did so-and-so? It was invaluable to get that information, to inform me on the product I’ve got.

“It’s now an exciting time to go into a product launch and this all came from taking that step back during the pandemic.”

Source: supplied

Entrepreneurship and motherhood

With her children’s allergies playing a pivotal role in inspiring Apiwraps, it’s no wonder than Freyja continues to find inspiration and drive from them, now 13 and nine.

“When you’re in the thick of running a business and it lives or dies with your effort, you have this temptation – ‘what if I sold this and got a job?’ It could be so easy to do that, to get a more reliable income,” she observed.

“The fact that I am juggling motherhood and the responsibilities with my business, I know that I would never have that flexibility anywhere else. I really want to work for myself so I’ll make this effort.”

The best advice received

Freyja still remembers the valuable advice one of her uncles provided in the early days of the business.

“I felt like I was in an endless cycle of investment, and we were inching, painfully slowly, forward. That’s when he said to look at it as a series of experiments in order to find the solutions.

“It’s a subtle shift, but realising the world isn’t against you is a really empowering mindset change.  You’re creating something from nothing and this is simply the process. I’ve since applied it to everything I do in business, whether it’s a new product launch or a new advertising strategy – it’s just a series of experiments that will reveal the best way forward.

“Business is hard and it’s not always going to be easy. But just because something’s not easy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing it or that it’s not a worthy idea.”

READ MORE: Founder Friday with Jacinta Timmins: the secrets of launching a sustainable apparel brand

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“I would describe the early days of the company, knowing what I know now, as a HOT mess! I had eyes bigger than my belly, so I would say yes to everything and work it out later. My solution to being too busy was to hire people like me, which was a BIG mistake”

Kiani Mills

At age 35, Kiani Mills is the co-founder of Edwards Mills, a buyers advocacy company, as well as the creator of Imperiale, a real estate conveyancing firm which she co-founded in 2021 with MAFS graduate Jake Edwards.

But getting to the top of the ladder wasn’t easy. Kiani, one of six children born and raised in Frankston, lacked structure as a child and teen.

After leaving school to pursue a career in law, she landed a job as a legal trainee when she was 18 earning $14,000/year. She commuted daily from Frankston, eating sausage rolls from 7/11 on the train, as that was all her budget would allow. 

She was promoted to a Paralegal in the property law department, and that’s where she fell in love with conveyancing. Kiani spent the next few years raising her son, pursuing her passion for property law and conveyancing as a Paralegal, paying expenses, and managing her personal life. 

However, despite working the whole three months of her maternity leave while caring for a newborn and a toddler, she returned to work only to be told she no longer had a job.

“Working in a law firm under the protection of 15 lawyers doesn’t set you up to run a new business. However, I did it anyway and loved (and hated) every minute of it,” Kiani recalls.

Kiani started her conveyancing business out of her house, set up on her kitchen bench, having clients come over for a cup of tea whilst she printed their documents on her $100 printer. 

“From there, six months passed, and myself and my first employee moved into our Collins St Office, in the Paris end, I was very proud. Here we gained two more staff, then moved to Level 10, 525 Flinders St, with a perfect glass office overlooking the Yarra River and Nobu at Crown Casino. 

“The real-life version of Suits! We grew to six before moving to our long-term home leasing at 70 Bridport St, Albert Park. Having a whole building not even two years into running a new business was surreal and brought new challenges and triumphs.

“We opened further offices in Mornington, Glen Waverley, Ballarat and Port Melbourne, adopting the digital world of PEXA and deeming ourselves a paperless office… We were up to 9 staff, a BDM and myself before the global pandemic decided to pounce whilst I was mid-holiday in Bali… Lucky for us, we escaped in the nick of time and got on the last plane! 

“This saw us close all of our offices and announce to the world that we had gone digital.  This also led to the launch into Queensland and NSW, with Queensland taking off instantly thanks to a couple of big referral partners.

“This financial year has seen us with 56 per cent growth in profit and exceeding our expected targets and milestones. However, as they say, it isn’t all roses and rainbows. There have been massive hurdles to jump, trials and tribulations and painful moments where the thought of giving up crept in. I am and always will be fighting the silent battle in business and wondering, ‘will this all be taken away. 

“This lights the fire inside of me, which gives me drive and commitment to myself, my family, my staff and the whole Imperiale family, our clients and referral partners. I do it every day because I want to, but more importantly, I get to. I am privileged to be in this position where I get to help, give back, and run a business the way I do.”

The beginning

Kiani remembers the company’s early years as being complete chaos.

“Well… I would describe the company’s early days, knowing what I know now, as a hot mess! I had eyes bigger than my belly, so I would say yes to everything and work it out later, or just work later. My solution to being too busy was to hire people like me, which was a BIG mistake. People like me had the social skills but didn’t have the work dedication skills to keep them at their desks.” 

Kiani notes that getting into real estate was a by-product of property law. Until she left working in Law Firms, she wasn’t really aware of how much of an influence the Real Estate Industry had as she wasn’t exposed to that world until she left the big city. Then very quickly, Real Estate became her passion/obsession. 

“The personable nature of it, the fluctuation in the market, every day was different, different values, interest rates, people, rules, everything. It was a wonder to me, and I fell deeply in love with it. 

“There is still a lot of an ‘a grey area’ in the Real Estate industry, which baffles me at times; however, for the most part, it is exciting and does sit in line with my desire to help others make their dreams come true, and this just happens to be a very sought after vehicle. So hence starting a Conveyancing company was a no-brainer for me. I had the skills to be forged in an industry that I loved.

“We were never short on clients, which was a relief; however, as most small business owners, I was wearing every hat, controlling the flow of everything and still trying to do most things myself, even though I had support. 

“Starry-eyed but determined, I loved the challenge, the fast pace, the thrill of it all. Help as many people as possible, say yes and deliver, even if it meant sacrificing time with the kids, eating and/or sleeping!” 

Why we need conveyancers like Impériale

Impériale Conveyancing is a professional property concierge and advisor who connects the dots for individuals at every stage of the property journey.

Kiani explains that the most common mistake she finds, even with Google, is that consumers do not have their Contract of Sale examined before signing. She also notes that so many things could be wrong with a property/contract, and Solicitors/Conveyancers provide this service for free. 

Conveyancers provide knowledgeable advice and personalised service when buying, selling, subdividing, transferring, or developing real estate. They also produce and manage all necessary paperwork throughout the transaction.

She encourages everyone to use this service. “Another issue is that people bid at auctions when they shouldn’t or don’t fully comprehend the implications of doing so. Buying at auction has stringent guidelines, and it is not for everyone,” she adds.

“Finally, not doing thorough due diligence into the local area, planning approvals, etc., you can find most things on the internet or with a quick call to Council, so please don’t assume all is rosy. 

“There may be a Department of Housing Development pinned to be built across the street, a giant freeway earmarked to be built, you may be within an ineligible zoning area, and your lender will not accept. Please google the heck out of any property you look at and be smart.” 

“I believe that the easiest way to make Real Estate a fairer game is for all buyers to utilise the resources of a Buyers Advocate. Sellers can allow a professional to manage the game to ensure the best result. I strongly believe having the buyer represented by a professional also means it is a LOT more of a fair game. 

“Buyers really are at a disadvantage. I started Edwards & Mills Buyers Advocacy with my business partner Jake Edwards to help assist my clients and give them a leg up in the buying game.

“Understanding the value of a good buyer’s advocate can be the difference in winning at auction, finding out about an off-market, savings 6 months of your life from weekend inspections, saving you money, and peace of mind that the due diligence has been completed correctly.” 

‘Imperiale’ is the feminine equivalent of ’empire’, as Kiani’s mission is not just to establish her own business but also to assist others in building theirs.

Learn more about Imperiale Conveyancing at https://imperiale.com.au/

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There are many reasons an entrepreneur would want to create multiple passive income streams. Some people do this because they enjoy the work and how it makes them feel, while others might try to increase their savings account balance. The following blog post will cover 6 reasons why every entrepreneur should create multiple passive income streams!

Financial Independence & Freedom

It’s difficult to pinpoint how many reasons there are for every entrepreneur should create multiple passive income streams, because this will differ depending on the person.

However, it is easy to see how beneficial having passive income streams really is! People who have these types of investments seem happier and more fulfilled in life. They also sleep well at night knowing their bills will get paid no matter what happens regarding how much work they do or don’t receive.

Not only does it help them become financially free, but mentally as well! There’s something that just feels good about being able to say you’re not dependent upon if your primary business succeeds (and I hope it does!). With this, you can earn money that doesn’t even require your presence anymore.

Many Ways to Create Multiple Passive Income Streams

It’s not easy, but it can be done! You don’t need a lot of money either – you just need the drive and knowledge of how to make this happen for yourself. Once you set your mind on something, there isn’t much that will stop you from making it come true!

There are many different ways that entrepreneurs can go about creating multiple passive income sources. Some of them include:

  • writing an ebook,
  • getting paid by companies to try out their products & services for reviews
  • starting up an online store selling things like clothing or food items
  • blogging about certain topics which get readers clicking on ads;
  • and building an online membership site where people buy access to your information.

More traditional ways of how to create a passive income include:

  • buying real estate,
  • starting an e-commerce store with your own products or services,
  • and investing in stocks or index funds.

If you learn, practice and adapt how to make this work for you, the possibilities are endless!

Creating Passive Income Streams is a Brilliant Method to Invest Money

If you’re interested in how some entrepreneurs could retire before they turned 40, then this next fact might interest you. Many of them had multiple passive income streams!

It’s not always about how much money you make, even though that certainly helps – it’s how well the money is used and invested. If using the extra cash for traveling or buying more things isn’t what someone wants out of life, there are better ways to handle it than just letting it sit around doing nothing.

Building up multiple sources of passive income ensures that no matter what happens with any source (i.e., a sudden loss of income), you still have the others to keep going and fund the lifestyle you want!

Creating Passive Income Streams is Easier Than You Think

If someone has been making money from their job, then they likely know how easy it can be for things like taxes or having bills automatically deducted out of one’s paycheck to make life easier for them

Instead of doing everything yourself manually (i.e., paying multiple bills each month with checks written by hand), there are some extra steps that can be taken to simplify the process even more – such as automating payments so everyone gets paid correctly and promptly.

This example is like when people first learn how passive income works – many people think it’s going to be difficult and complicated, but in reality, that couldn’t be further from how things really are!

Take the time to learn how to create each income stream before diving right into it. Here, video tutorials, mentors, and industry thought leaders will play a crucial role so that you can minimize mistakes.

Improved Mental and Physical Wellbeing

Money isn’t the only thing that’s affected when someone has multiple sources of income. For example, having passive income reduces stress levels while helping entrepreneurs feel more fulfilled with what they’re doing – which can lead to better physical and mental health.

Every bit counts, so even if you don’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars each month coming in already (unlike others), there still might be enough room to add one extra stream here and there until your life changes too!

Remember to keep a positive outlook on life and stay humble and optimistic. And never neglect your personal needs, such as exercising, eating well, and resting. Because you can’t enjoy your money if you’re dead.

Improved Quality of Life

If there’s one thing that people can agree on about multiple streams of passive income, then this would probably be it: everyone benefits from having more money!

If you think about how much energy and effort goes into earning a certain amount of cash in order to pay bills or buy things like food items at stores – wouldn’t you rather have some help along the way too?

Whether working as an employee or running your own business, if your job involves getting paid every month, why not set up ways to automate how that happens instead?

If someone isn’t even trying to add multiple sources of passive income, then they’re leaving a lot on the table in terms of how their life could change – and so much more!

The Best Time to Learn How Multiple Sources of Passive Income Works is Now!

In conclusion, there are many benefits to creating multiple passive income streams. For example, a person can have more money and a better quality of life with less stress. Not only is it easier than you think, but the help available will make it worth your while! Get started today by clicking this link to learn how to make online passive income streams.

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Building small businesses, institutional relationships and creating more home ownership leads to a ‘thriving community,’ says Isaac Olowolafe Jr.

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When Isaac Olowolafe Jr. was 15, his family moved from Toronto to nearby Woodbridge, Ont., where he recalls seeing what a tight-knit community could build: thriving small businesses, widespread home ownership, institutional relationships and the accumulation of wealth.

By the time he embarked on an economics degree at the University of Toronto a few years later, the now 37-year-old businessman says, he was already set on bringing that formula to the Black community.

“Since then, I’ve been sort of planting the seeds to do what I can from an economic (point of) view,” said Olowolafe Jr., founder of Dream Maker Ventures, a venture capital and real estate company that focuses on startups led by diverse founders.

Olowolafe Jr. is one of a number of Black business leaders who are bringing their expertise to the BlackNorth Initiative, a group founded by Bay Street veteran Wes Hall that is seeking to use the power of business to end anti-Black systemic racism in Canada.

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Olowolafe Jr. is head of the group’s housing committee, and is also championing entrepreneurship through plans for a Black Business Development Hub.

“The Hub will be the centrepiece and physical space which the Black community can leverage to increase access to institutional relationships like banks and universities and government,” Olowolafe told the Financial Post in a recent interview.

The project is a twist on a plan that was already under way when he was recruited to join BlackNorth.

The mixed-use development near Toronto’s main airport will feature more than a dozen working rooms, hotel and event space, and a commercial kitchen — all of which will be used to incubate and develop Black-owned businesses.

Now a partnership between BlackNorth, the Dream Legacy Foundation and Ryerson DMZ, the plan is to raise $10 million in funding to expand the hub from 13,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet, Olowolafe Jr. said.

He says he hopes the business hub will open this summer and ultimately be able to provide services to more than 100 Black entrepreneurs.

Encouraging entrepreneurship through the hub will lead to more successful small businesses and help build institutional relationships, such as with banks, he said. This, in turn, will generate more income and opportunity for home ownership, a pillar of wealth creation.

“Home ownership leads to other ripple effects (that help individuals and communities) over a long period of time,” he said.

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To that end, the BlackNorth Initiative’s housing committee is embarking on an effort to create a $65-million fund to provide bridge financing to bring up to 200 working, lower-income Black and racialized families into the homeownership game.

The committee is in talks with all three levels of government about contributing to the home ownership bridge program. A handful of well-known developers including Tridel, KingSett, DiamondCorp, and The Daniels Corp. and other potential donors have also been approached.

“They’ve all raised their hands to say: ‘How can we help and support and give to this housing initiative?’” Olowolafe said of the developers. “I think that that is a great sign.”

Home ownership leads to other ripple effects (that help individuals and communities) over a long period of time

Isaac Olowolafe Jr.

The idea behind the BlackNorth Initiative’s homeownership bridge program is that prospective home buyers would be assessed for mortgages based on the usual criteria of income and assets, with the difference between the mortgage they qualify for and how much credit they need to buy a home “bridged” by a pooled fund.

The bridge financing would, in some ways, be treated as a second mortgage. When repaid by the homeowner, either after the regular mortgage was paid down or when the home is sold, the money would go back into the pool. The homeowner and the pool would share in any gains on the home’s value when sold, with the ratio determined based on how much of the bridge financing the homeowner had paid down.

The intention is to keep the fund rolling, in order to get more people into homes, Olowolafe Jr. said, noting that even if the homeowner were just able to get their own money out of the home it would be more equity than they would have accrued over the same years renting a home.

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While Olowolafe is a supporter of initiatives undertaken by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to get more Canadians into affordable housing, he stands firm on the idea that ownership — not rental options — will be the key to greater success for the Black community.

“I’ve always known that for the Black community as a whole to be able to be an economic leader there were some major things we needed: institutional relationships, building small businesses, and creating more home ownership,” he said.

“All that leads to a thriving community.”

Financial Post

• Email: bshecter@nationalpost.com | Twitter:

In-depth reporting on the innovation economy from The Logic, brought to you in partnership with the Financial Post.

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Not many people build an app that reaches a million users within the first year of release. 

However that’s exactly how Daniel Vassilev and Jacky Koh, the co-founders of Vector AI, discovered their passion for tech and entrepreneurship.

“We built our first app by accident,” Mr Vassilev said.

“We were talking about doing something. I could code and he had the idea and marketing skills, so we built the app and released it. It was an android app for playing youtube music in the background.

“A few months later it gained traction so we monetised it. In 9-12 months we hit a million users installing it.”

Mr Vassilev created this app without any formal programming training, having only graduated from high school at the time.

However his interest in app development continued throughout university and the reach of his projects increased.

“Throughout uni, we kept building and monetising things,” Mr Vassilev said.

“Our biggest app was PokeWhere – it showed you where Pokemon were and it hit 4-5 million users in a couple of months and also hit no. 1 on the app store.”

Meanwhile Mr Koh was busy diving into data science, becoming the president of the Data Society at UNSW and winning the national EY data science competition.

Mr Koh and Mr Vassilev then went on to found Vector AI, a data analytics company that uses vectors to help businesses improve their products.

“Vectors enable you to capture the DNA of data – e.g. images, audio, documents – and converts it to a format that you can analyse using statistics.”

Despite being a powerful data analytics tool, Mr Koh found that vectors were heavily underused.

Whilst tech companies or large businesses would have teams dedicated to data analytics, smaller businesses would neither have the time, resources or knowledge to tap into their data.

“Data science is not the main focus in many businesses. If you’re an ecommerce company, your KPIs are around sales and conversion rates. So we realised there was a huge gap where we could provide them with the tech to drive their KPIs without having to worry about building and maintaining.”

Through Vector AI, Mr Vassilev hopes that more businesses will become aware of the untapped potential of data analytics.

“We want to have a wide array of customers that are using vectors to better capture the data they own. Around 70 per cent of data is unused and that’s a waste because one of the most valuable assets is data.”

However venturing into data analytics for the first time without a background in technology can be difficult.

“For people who don’t know much about data science and are in a managerial position and want to make better use of it, I understand it can be daunting because there’s a lot of noise out there.

“But I think the best way to overcome this is to have data experts internally that you can talk with and help you distinguish between the real and the fake, the useful and the not so useful for your business. But if you don’t have that, just write down the list of KPIs that you have and think if there is anything you can derive from your data that’s relevant to them.”

Despite Mr Vassilev’s success as an entrepreneur, he never planned this career path.

“I didn’t see entrepreneurship as a career option. When we first set out to build an app, we didn’t say we’re going to be entrepreneurs, we did it because it sounded like fun. The entrepreneurial side only developed after when we realised you could build and reach people from your home just by hitting some keys from your laptop.”

Passion, he argues, is the key to his success.

“Be really passionate about what you do,” said Mr Vassilev.

“I think people might want to build businesses because it sounds great and fun and exciting.  But there are a lot of really hard days and you don’t get through them unless you have a burning desire and passion to solve the problem and help the people you target.

“If you are going to start a business, find something that even in the worst of times you feel so passionate about that it’ll keep you going.”


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