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Canadian Startups get $25,000 boost from Slaight New Venture Competition

Canadian Startups get $25,000 boost from Slaight New Venture Competition

Posted by PanamericanWorld on April 03, 2017

Two Ryerson-based startups each received $25,000 in funding at this year’s Slaight New Venture Competition. Now in its 15th year, the competition, held at the Ted Rogers School of Management, gives crucial aid to young entrepreneurs to bring innovative, viable business ideas to the market.

The first winner, Werk Technologies, seeks to revolutionize temp-staffing agencies, using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and proprietary work algorithms to best match workers with jobs that match their preferences.

“Currently, when job opportunities come up, the agencies have to manually search through their databases to find the worker,” said cofounder Ameer Asghar. “In most cases, the match that they make is not accurate at all in terms of the hours the worker can work, or the worker’s work-environment preferences, or even the distance from their place of residence.”

The seeds for the idea were planted when Asghar grew up watching his uncle manage a temp-staffing agency: “I noticed him frantically trying to run the business because it was a one-man show—there was very little tech involved.” Asghar, a Finance and Marketing Management student at TRSM, pitched the idea to Syed Mustafa Ahmed Mohammad Ali Zaman, who came onboard as COO and CTO.

The team spent summer 2016 developing the business at the DMZ’s Sandbox. After winning the Norman Esch Awards’ Stage 1 funding, they moved into the iBoost Zone, where they have been able to workshop and refine the business.

“At iBoost, we faced our first real criticism from someone who had years and years of experience,” said Asghar. “They challenged our idea, and forced us to work harder and think about the concept differently. This is not a challenge that we faced earlier. The fact that we were challenged was one of the turning points that helped us.”

Dara Jarallah

Photo: Dara Jarallah is founder of Shoppinglee, a venue for marginalized artisans to sell their works.

This year’s other winning company was created when Finance and Marketing Management student Dara Jarallah visited Palestinian territory last year, and connected with some of the local artisans. “I saw how some of the strongest and most resilient women around the country are trying to make and sell art, and recognized that they don’t have the resources to do so, and I wanted to do something about that,” she said. “I met with them and learned about their stories, and saw that they are able to make some of the most beautiful artistic pieces that I have seen in my life.”

The question arose: how could these artisans make a living off their work? “We can create businesses around their artistic abilities, but in order to do so, we would have to go to the international market, because the local market is very limited and constrained,” said Jarallah.

The result was Shoppinglee, a social initiative that helps marginalized women generate income by selling art and products. Currently, the website offers ceramics, jewellery, scarves, wallets, and other accessories from Palestine and Haiti. All proceeds go to the artisans themselves.

“The art is inspired by the artisans’ culture and experiences,” said Jarallah. “If you look at the pieces on our website, they all have that touch of heritage, but they’re also very modern. You can use them in your day-to-day life, but at the same time, the beauty of them is that they’re made in a traditional way, with tradition paintings and patterns.”

Shoppinglee is based out of Ryerson’s Fashion Zone, where according to Jarallah, “we’re able to connect with entrepreneurs and industry professionals, and use the resources. We’re also in downtown Toronto, which is great for our continuous growth.” In the future, Jarallah hopes to make the business truly global, expanding to more marginalized communities both locally and internationally.

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