Demo Day Sneak Peak: Aquaculture

April 15, 2015 at 3:46 pm

It’s no surprise that our current cohort is diverse. They’re working on a wide range of products to be introduced on Demo Day. In the meantime, we’re giving quick snapshots into some of the different spaces. We’ve already discussed 3D Printing. Up next is Aquaculture. 

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Aquaculture, or aquafarming, is the farming of aquatic organisms. Here are three fun facts: 

1) Aquaculture is the fastest growing animal food-producing sector

2) Infact, Aquaculture was a 200B USD market in 2008 and is growing by 10% every year. Yet, the industry is still lacking in insurance policies, sustainable practices and traceability because living aquatic organisms are difficult to count. Microorganisms are still being counted with spoons and hands. 

3) ” Whether you’re raising fish in an offshore cage or in a filtered tank on land, you still have to feed them. They have one big advantage over land animals: You have to feed them a lot less. Fish need fewer calories, because they’re cold-blooded and because, living in a buoyant environment, they don’t fight gravity as much. It takes roughly a pound of feed to produce a pound of farmed fish; it takes almost two pounds of feed to produce a pound of chicken, about three for a pound of pork, and about seven for a pound of beef. As a source of animal protein that can meet the needs of nine billion people with the least demand on Earth’s resources, aquaculture—particularly for omnivores like tilapia, carp, and catfish—looks like a good bet.”
National Geographic 

We can’t wait for you to see what the FounderFuel startup is doing in this space. Don’t forget to grab your tickets for the big day! 

Behind the Scenes at FounderFuel: Gabriel Sundaram

April 13, 2015 at 1:29 pm

[We're going to introduce ourselves over the next few weeks. We want to show you the faces behind FounderFuel and Real Ventures. That way, you’ll be able to see how and why we can accelerate your company.]

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Gabriel Sundaram is Director of Platform at Real Ventures. His arrival coincided with FounderFuel’s launch, so he’s been involved in its development since the very beginning. 

After having worked for a FinTech startup in the US, Gabriel moved back to his hometown of Montreal and dove headfirst into impacting the direction of its startup community. He seeks to give back, leveraging MTL talent to help the city’s business community thrive. Consequently, he’s become cofounder of Startup Open House, a mentor for Startup Weekend, as well as co-organizer of both Startup Drinks and TechNoel. His work at Real, FF and in the community coincide; his projects at work directly align with his startup network, access to information and ability to bring the right people together.

His specialties lie primarily in product development and management, as well as in fundraising strategy. His background in startup metrics and product road mapping, as well as his experience working with companies preparing for series A or Seed rounds, brings value to his part in FF’s selection committee and to his mentorship to FF companies. While working with FF, he works at Real on forcing new deals, the investment committee, back office projects and more. 

In his opinion, one main factor distinguishes a good FF company from a great one: their willingness to hustle. “If you find a way to leverage the resources that the program has to offer, as well as take seriously the artificial time constraint, you’ll find success,” he explains.  

His two favorite parts of the program? The selection process and Demo Day. Although the former can be gruelling (with application numbers now reaching the 400’s), he enjoys meeting excited and often first time entrepreneurs. They help him keep his finger on the pulse in terms of what’s happening within tech, both within and outside of MTL. Demo Day, on the other hand, brings together some of Gabriel’s favorite things: seeing the hustle pay off, the presentation of soon-to-be successful startups and, of course, community.

Hopefully we’ll see you there. 

Universe widget not working? Get your tickets here.

We’d love to hear from you! Let us know who you’d like profiled next, if you have any questions, or if you’d like to get in touch with Gabriel. You can find us on Twitter @founderfuel


The State of Accelerators

April 3, 2015 at 4:31 pm

As program manager for FounderFuel during the last 2 years…I’ve been putting some thought into the state of Accelerators, what makes an Accelerator world-class and what the future might hold. Below are my attempts at summarizing these thoughts.

Definitions: Accelerators, Incubators

Let’s first review the difference between Accelerators and Incubators, to make sure we are on the same page.

There are various kinds of accelerators, some with a special market or industry focus. At a high level an Accelerator can be defined by 4 main traits:

  1. The program is short, usually lasting anywhere from 3 to 6 months,

  2. Companies coming in to the program have at a very minimum an MVP,

  3. Companies will receive a minimal investment, usually pre-seed and the Accelerator will take equity in return,

  4. The Accelerator will provide its companies with access to Mentorship.

  5. Programs typically end with a demo day, or an event presenting the cohort.

Incubators generally provide the company with a physical space in which they can work to develop their idea over a longer period of time with less direct or managed interaction with those running the space. Incubators usually do not provide funding, so when it comes time to getting their product into market and raising Venture Capital, a company is more likely to go the Accelerator route.

The State of Accelerators Today

I recently attended the Canadian Association of Business Incubation Summit where Pat Riley, CEO of the Global Accelerator Network gave a talk on the state of acceleration and trends to look forward to. Below are some statistics that they’ve collected from their network of Accelerators from the past 7 years. 

  1. On average, it takes companies 4.8 months to raise money after completing the accelerator,

  2. An average of 7 jobs are created per company after completing the accelerator,

  3. 52% of companies that have completed an accelerator raised capital and of those 62% raised over 500k,

  4. 79% are still in business today,

  5. Accelerators help on average 6.4 companies at a time,

  6. Accelerators receive on average 273 applicants per Cohort,

  7. The Mentor network of an Accelerator has, on average, 84 members,

  8. The average amount of equity taken by an Accelerator is 6.3%.

None of this comes as a surprise as it mostly fits within the parameters of an Accelerator that I defined above. However, what is really exciting to see is that 79% of the companies are still in business. This is exciting because one of the main mantras at FounderFuel is that we’ll either accelerate your success or your failure. So to see that 79% of companies that have gone through Accelerators are still in business leads me to believe that the model is working.

I was recently interviewed by a student and they asked me if the stat “9 in 10 startups fail” can be applied to companies that go through Accelerators. My answer to him was no, it didn’t apply. I justified this by telling him that companies that go through Accelerators are provided with every tool and resource that they need to be successful and if 9 out of every 10 of them failed, we just wouldn’t be doing our jobs. Accelerators would have no raison-d’être.

I was a little surprised by how low the number is for companies who have raised money after an Accelerator. The average stands at 52%. But then when compared to the amount of startups still in business, this stat isn’t as scary. It means that startups have found ways to monetize faster and grow without having to raise additional funding. Raising follow-on funding isn’t the only measure of success for a startup (but more on that later). 

Where does FounderFuel fall within the stats of the average Accelerator? 

  1. It takes a FounderFuel company on average 7.1 months to raise money after completing the program,

  2. FounderFuel companies have, on average, created 6 jobs per company after completing the program,

  3. 74% of our companies that have completed the program have raised capital and of those 40% have raised over 500K,

  4. 83% are still in business today and 11% of our companies have been acquired,

  5. We help an average of 8.5 companies at a time,

  6. We receive on average 389 applicants per Cohort,

  7. Our Mentor network is made up of 151 members,

  8. The amount of equity we take is 6% (or 9% for hardware startups, but they get 100K).

Something interesting that I’d like to point out is GAN has never analyzed the Accelerator space from the side of the entrepreneur, which is necessary to get a full and balanced view of the space. At FounderFuel, we make sure to do detailed and anonymous exit interviews with all our Founders in the weeks following their graduation. These help us regularly rethink and rework the program to ensure that we’re providing a top-level program that is always benefiting the entrepreneur. It helps us measure and evaluate ourselves based on more than just the numbers, which is a common mistake among Accelerators. Numbers can only tell you part of the story. I would highly suggest that every Accelerator out there makes this a standard practice.

The Future of Accelerators

Now, what does the future hold for Accelerators? It’s hard to tell, but one thing that is obvious is that the status quo won’t remain. We’re seeing Accelerators race to grow and rethink their standard practices (whether that means rethinking the classic program, focusing on specific verticals or expanding their reach) it will be interesting to see which ones will be successful in this evolution. During his talk at CABI, Pat (Global Accelerator Network), highlighted 3 points about where Accelerators should be heading.

  1. Accelerators should start hosting multiple demo days, not just in the city you are located in but host Demo Day roadshows,

  2. They should start focusing on one vertical,

  3. Accelerators will be adding locations, it’s no longer just about the 1 city model.

I don’t completely agree with these points for various reasons. Investors are already suffering from Demo Day fatigue. I bet if you planned it properly, you could probably hit up a Demo Day almost every day of the year. Does it really make sense to encourage Accelerators to take their Demo Days on the road, will it really make a difference in the long run?

A better plan would be to continue building your brand, bring in great startups and work very hard to ensure they grow and scale and become successful. Doing so will attract Investors and they will want to travel from other cities to come to your Demo Day. It’s not easy but it creates much more value in the long run, not to mention the right kind of value. The same would apply for adding additional locations to your Accelerator. Is it really worth it? If you build a world-class Accelerator then companies will come to you.

It seems very “in” to start an Accelerator and they’re popping up all over the place, do we really need to move towards over-saturation at an even faster pace by encouraging Accelerators to open in multiple cities? I’m all for top-tier Accelerators expanding, but we’re close to (or some might say have already passed) the tipping point where there are too many Accelerators and not enough solid ideas worth accelerating.

Instead of opening up multiple locations and saturating the market let’s focus on collaboration between Accelerators.

Join us July 15th in Montréal during the International Startup Festival for another edition of the Accelerator Rally. See last year’s edition to get a sense of the topics covered and attendees. Stay tuned, as we will soon announce more details and open the call for speakers and panels.


That’s all for now, stay tuned, I’ve been putting a piece together on red flags to look for when considering an Accelerator.

Work in the Accelerator space and want to share your thoughts? Reach out! We’d love to chat.


Day 38: Our Videographer has arrived!

April 1, 2015 at 12:59 pm

You know Demo Day is fast approaching when our videographer shows up! 

Marie-Louise Gariepy, President and Producer at Qualia, stopped by to start planning the cohorts introduction video. 

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The theme of last year’s video was Montreal, and can be found here.

Only 36 days left. Don’t forget to grab your tickets. :)  

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Gymtrack, Revolutionizing Fitness

March 30, 2015 at 3:25 pm

[This is the fourth part in a series of profiles on Canadian co-founders making waves in the States. Here's part one, two and three.]

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Gymtrack is out to create the gym experience of the future. 

Lee Silverstone and Pablo Srugo have built a virtual personal training system. With a device that connects seamlessly to gym equipment, users are provided workout monitoring, feedback, suggestions and encouragement.

After running an online marketplace for tutors, the Ottawa based Gymtrack founders realized their true passion was in leading healthy lifestyles and revolutionizing an industry that they believe to be sitting fifteen years in the past. Out of personal need and inspired by the release of Fitbit, they wanted their workouts automatically tracked. They “threw together” some prototypes, talked to a few gym owners and wrote up an LOI for purchase purposes. From this, Gymtrack was born. The company would go on to be accelerated by 500 Startups and raise a $2.5 Million Seed Round in their first year of business.

Each member that’s a part of a partnering gym receives a wristband upon signing up. They keep the cost-effective wristband with them and pick up the clip-on electronic device at the front desk each time they enter the gym. 

The childhood friends have flung themselves into what they believe is a “crazy time for the gym industry.” Lee explains that some of the most high-end gyms that they’ve visited have ten year old equipment, no technology in place to support their trainers, and are using pen and paper rather than software to track membership and usage.

Unlike Fitbit or Omsignal, Gymtrack is not a wearables company – in fact, they’re “wearable agnostic”. They’ve adapted to the reality that not everyone has their own wearable technology yet. That being said, if everyone were to purchase a smart watch tomorrow, Lee says that would be great, but that they’re also “ready for a world where wearables remain branded as high end.” Gymtrack equipment is built for the everyman and everywoman; their devices are durable, strong and made to last as you sweat it out at the gym. Further, they’re built to provide the information that the the average gymgoer is interested in.“Non professional athletes don’t typically work out based on breathing, but rather on power output, range of motion and reps and sets,” Lee explains. 

Lee credits much of Gymtrack’s success to 500 Startups, a Silicon Valley based startup accelerator. Dave McClure, founder of 500S, wrote that 500S “grooms ugly ducklings.” According to Lee, for Gymtrack, this couldn’t be more true. The co-founders found themselves as a part of a group of people that they describe as having been “pure hustle,” in a place that chooses its batch based on “who’s willing to grind it out, work until 6 am and be dropped into any situation yet find a way to make it work”. “The caliber of people that you work alongside  - from all backgrounds and walks of life – was just incredible,” Lee explains. It was there that they learnt that “the first year of building a startup feels like a month” and that “you won’t succeed unless you learn to adapt to the fast paced nature of being an entrepreneur.”Prior to 500, Gymtrack was overlooked because they were seen simply as another Fitbit. “Dave didn’t dismiss us – he gave us the opportunity to work on what wasn’t necessarily the prettiest business idea, and for that we are forever grateful.”

Up next for Gymtrack is pushing out scalable products and getting into hundreds of gyms. Having already secured partnerships with some of the largest chains in the States, they’re seeing that gyms are feeling the pressure from outside parties and apps to leverage cutting edge technology. Right before hopping off the phone, Lee closes with: “We’re helping gyms get to a place that they’ve never been before…and that is incredibly exciting.” 

Thanks to Gymtrack for sitting down with us. Stay tuned for more! 

-Ella Sibio

Day 33: Isaac Souweine on Product Development

March 25, 2015 at 4:55 pm

lean canvas

Isaac Souweine, head of Product Management at Frank & Oak, stopped by the FounderFuel offices to chat to the teams about Product Development for Early Stage Companies. 

We’ve written before about lean analytics. The lean startup movement revolves around the idea of a constant iteration cycle of building, measuring and learning. In other words, in building a startup, your job is to build a product, see how people respond to it, gain insight on those responses, then circle back to do it all over again. 

Isaac places importance on a piece of this process that he believes to be too often missing: promotion. You build, promote, measure and learn. And then repeat. If you build, they may not come. Unless you tell them about it. 

In terms of iteration, here are some conceptual ideas for how to go about it:
i. Know your metrics (computable, accessible, intuitive)
ii. Make it happen (“move fast because you have to”)
iii. Practise Upaya (be skillful – dont overbuild, dont underbuild, understand significance, trust your instinct)

The lean canvas (pictured above) is, in Isaac’s opinion, a helpful tool that can also act as a one page business plan. You’re meant to fill in the canvas with hypotheses. At the earlier stages, you should only be able to partially fill in the canvas. Your total focus should be on product, solution and channels.  

Isaac closes by further discussing the importance of high velocity. He believes that the best predictor of success of a startup is whether or not the people behind it are always doing something

Thanks to Isaac for stopping by! 

Spoil, Reinventing Gifting

March 23, 2015 at 2:14 pm

[This is the third part in a series of profiles on Canadian co-founders making waves in the States. Here's part one and part two.] 

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Y Combinator-backed Spoil was born out of the frustration associated with the inefficiency of the gifting process. As a personalized gift concierge service, Spoil aims to make it as easy as possible for the consumer to give or receive a kind gesture. Spoil presents a win-win-win situation: the giver can brighten a persons day, the receiver is sent a curated and personalized gift, and companies that team up with Spoil are able to test products and receive consumer feedback.

We sat down with Charles-Eric Gascon, co-founder and CEO of Spoil. Charles-Eric was looking to break out of the commercial side of the service market and into the tech industry. He reached out to Concordia University in Montreal, QC, to ask for introductions to strong potential cofounders. He bugged professors until receiving a response; one cold email to the dean of software computing resulted in a successful introduction to Mikhail Levkovsky, CMO at Spoil. From there they teamed up with their third co-founder, Cristian Asenjo, CTO, and the rest is history.

Charles-Eric, Mikhail and Cristian started out by launching Airborne: a startup dedicated to providing curated lists of new spots to explore within your city. When Airborne’s growth lagged, they decided to rethink their strategy and attack an entirely different market. In discussing some of life’s frustrations they realized that to purchase a gift for a special occasion, they would describe their loved one to a salesperson and purchase whatever was suggested. This is how the idea for Spoil emerged.

They tested out the waters by starting with a $25 price range. Due to demand, gifts were introduced incrementally, with a range now starting from $50 and going all the way up to $500. Making their way up the price ladder, Spoil is looking to expand extensively into their pricier gift offerings. Starting out at a low price point made it difficult to maintain a consistent level of personalization. So, they’re currently sourcing out goods to have the most unique items possible. Even further, they’re looking to expand into the experiential gift marketplace.

For Spoil, personalization from start to finish is a key part of their business. They work with a network of curators, many of which are influential bloggers with their finger on the pulse within different markets. In placing an order, you give a quick description of the receiver of the gift and Spoil redirects the request to a blogger that can adequately address that market segment. If they’re looking for a gift for a fashionable man, they reach out to someone from GQ, for example. The site curator or blogger then makes that selection for them. They also target larger companies who are willing to team up to release products. Spoil is perfect for companies looking for customer feedback, and it’s ideal for consumers looking for access to new items not yet publicly available.

Overall, Spoil seems to really stick to their core vision: delivering happiness to people in a simple way. This is why they ensure that their end user is satisfied, exemplified in their full year return policy and in their promise of a free gift in cases of dissatisfaction. Yet, it’s tough to deny that they’re onto something: while the average e-commerce site receives 22% to 28% returns, Spoil receives just 5%. Spoil is gaining traction and they’re excited to see the next chapter unfold.

Say tuned for next week’s profile on Gymtrack, the creators of the future of fitness. 

-Ella Sibio 

Founder Talk with Stephane Marceau

March 20, 2015 at 3:54 pm

Stephane Marceau sat down with FounderFuel (on his twenty year marriage anniversary, no less!) to chat with the teams about his and OMsignal’s journey. 

Stephane is Co-Founder and CEO of OMsignal, the world’s leading smart clothing platform, built on bio-sensing apparel that connects seamlessly with mobile devices. Coming from strategy consulting, Stephane believes he got into the startup game “way too late.” He was looking for more elbow room to create, but hesitated over the lack of predictability. His keen interest in wearables won out, especially when he was confronted with the frustrating experience of a sick friend receiving four different diagnoses from four seperate doctors. Stephane and the remaining OMsignal founders – Frederic Chanay, CPO and Stephane Menard, CSO – realized the emerging importance of smart clothing.

Stephane touched upon OMsignal’s constant R&D whilst simultaneously building out core product. At the same time as they’re pushing out V1, they’re working on V2 and V3. OMsignal is always focused on staying at the forefront of their market. Hence OMlabs: an innovation team separate from their core. 

In building their company, the founders wanted to create and own their narrative from the beginning. They occupied the PR space early on by writing for publications such as VentureBeat. Three key things fell out of doing this: they reached an additional level of company clarity, they began receiving invitations to speak at large conferences and they sparked, for the reader, further interest in their product. The latter was big due to the visceral nature of clothing; just hearing about a shirt isn’t enough to get the full experience of the piece. 

From writing extensive pieces about their mission came OMsignal’s three core values: clarity, speed (“a continuous sense of urgency”) and intensity (regardless of the importance of a work/life balance you “make it work”). In looking for individuals who fit their company values, they have to go with their gut feeling: does this person seem to have an almost naive sense of inspiration? Are they looking to create a meaningful impact? Do they want to be a part of building something bigger than themselves? If a person is naturally attracted to the mission – finding you, rather than the other way around – they’re more likely to be a successful member of your team. 

Stephane closes by telling the teams that failure is the worst case scenario – yet, value lies in failure as well as in success. The skills that you acquire just going through the entrepreneurial process is “the new Harvard MBA.” In working on a startup, you’re “immersed in a profound experience,” finding less distance between coworkers due to a lack of process and politics, being constantly confronted with yourself and always seeking self development. “If the goal in life is to become who you are,” Stephane says, “then you should seek, for both your personal life and for your company, true authenticity.”

Thanks to Stephane Marceau for stopping by! 

Next week Mohannad El-Barachi from SweetIQ will be visiting us. Stay tuned! 

Day 28: Thoughts on Demo Day

March 18, 2015 at 12:01 pm


Ticket’s are open, the Rialto Theatre has been booked and the teams are hard at work. Demo day is fast approaching!

Today we thought we’d chat with the teams about how they’re feeling gearing up towards the big day. Here’s what they had to say:

“How am I feeling about Demo Day? I’ve purchased 15 tickets, that’s how I’m feeling.”
“Uh oh…”
“I have 12 meetings today – is it okay to say that I’m too busy to think about it right now?”
“We keep coming back to our pitch deck, fine tuning our message.”
“We’ve been meeting up with other teams weekly to get extra practise in.”

From aquafarming to 3D Printing, this Demo Day promises to be an exciting one! Get your tickets here.  

Vanhawks, Creators of the Bike of the Future

March 16, 2015 at 3:51 pm

[This is the second part in a series of profiles on Canadian co-founders making waves in the States. Here's part one.] 

Vanhawks is a rare beast: at just one year of age, it’s been accelerated by FounderFuel, is in the current Y Combinator batch, and has recently raised 1.6 million dollars.

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The startup’s evolution began with a carbon fibre hockey stick. Sohaib Zahid, co-founder and Chief Designer at Vanhawks, was in sports medicine when he designed the tech that mimics the human bone: virtually weightless yet difficult to break. It was after having developed the hockey stick that they asked themselves what could be done next. They decided to disrupt the biking industry, which they felt had been sitting in the past. From there they created the software layer to build the world’s first connected carbon fibre bicycle.

Their first bike, to be shipped this Spring, is called Valour. Valour is a connected bike for the urban commuter. It’s long list of features include app-connectedness, turn by turn navigation, blind spot navigation and ride tracking (recording metrics such as speed, distance, calories and time). Perhaps most noteworthy is the interconnected commuter network. In cases of theft, the Valour community is notified to look out for your bike. Furthermore, the more often you ride, the better informed others will be of road conditions in your area. It’s been speculated that the commuter information – rather than the hardware – will end up being the real product. While the team does see the powerful nature of this info, whether or not this is the real value of Vanhawks is, in their opinion, yet to be determined.

After building up a team of fifteen, setting up shop in downtown Toronto, and raising 8x their goal through a Kickstarter campaign (the most successful in Canada), the startup applied to Y-Combinator. Ali Zahid, co-founder and COO of Vanhawks, describes Y-Combinator and FounderFuel as representative of two entirely different niches. Ali credits a lot of Vanhawks’ success to FounderFuel, saying that they “would be nothing and nowhere without FF.” The team had moved from Ontario into the same apartment in Montreal to eat, sleep and breathe Vanhawks. FF, for Ali, was a family. While it teaches the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, YC has more of a hand’s off focus on constant growth. Further, YC’s vast network has been invaluable to Vanhawks. Ultimately, Ali describes Vanhawks in Montreal as feeling like a big fish in a small pond. In San Francisco, on the other hand, they’re just getting started in a huge body of water. 

When asked about the difference in living and working in San Francisco versus downtown Toronto, Ali describes two very distinct lifestyles. Tech employees in the valley work 16-18 hours per day; they exercise, eat every meal and do their laundry at work. On the other hand, Torontonians in tech find more of a work/life balance. Ali maintains that Toronto has a “secret sauce that these guys just don’t have.” While they wish to maintain very close ties in SF, they don’t plan on leaving TO any time soon.

One ingredient in the Vanhawks secret sauce is company culture. In looking to create something that outlives them, the team wants never to stray from their core values. As they evolve – bringing in more personalities and more ideas – they place importance on always remembering the consumer. The community of people seem to be what makes up Vanhawks, exemplified in the fact that two of the four co-founders are brothers. This is further exemplified in the friendship that runs throughout the four person co-founding team. The remaining two co-founders are Niv Yahel, CTO and Adil Aftab Iqbal, CMO. Niv is the brains behind the tech, working behind the scenes to both produce the best product possible and to create a successful (and growing) tech team. Adil has been running manufacturing since day one, spending most of his time abroad to ensure smooth operation from the first prototype to the shipping of the product. With this in mind, their greatest challenge to date has been finding the right people for their company. They’re constantly looking for passionate, dedicated and intelligent individuals who are flexible and willing to take risks. They only hire the best of the best – those who would follow both their product and their consumer to the end of the world.

Although the team is proud of the intensity of their growth, they want to move faster. With no regrets – because “the everyday mistakes are necessary in order to learn” – they’re looking towards the future. Up next is shipping out Valour, prepping for YC’s Demo Day, and getting back into the Toronto community by hosting events. When starting at YC, Paul Graham told the team that someone has to do what they’re doing – the question is whether that someone will be Vanhawks. They realize the power of what they’re building and “believe in it like crazy.” The Vanhawks team is hustling to create something massive and it’s safe to say that they’re well on their way.  

Stay tuned for next week’s profile on Spoil, a personalized gift concierge service. 

-Ella Sibio 

Think your team has what it takes?