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Oct 3, 2016   |   The QEC
Clinching third place at the Queen’s Entrepreneurs’ Competition 2016, the team at Vitameter walked away with a $5000 prize sponsored by ExperiencePoint. Since January, the Vitameter team has been busy, growing their team and capturing investors’ attention. We caught up with James Maclean, Co-Founder of Vitameter, over the summer to chat about the team’s experience at the QEC, and their advice for prospective competitors.
QEC: What was the inspiration behind your product, Vitameter?
Vitameter: Our inspiration for Vitameter came from personal experiences. We had done a number of clinical trials. One of our trials was a study of vitamin D and heart health. During that process, I realized I was Vitamin D deficient. Previously I didn’t really consider vitamins as something I needed to worry about because I was eating healthy. At the same time, I didn’t want to go to a doctor for it. That led us to start providing at-home tests for Vitamin D deficiency, and then we expanded that to other buyer markets, so vitamins in general. For me, I never took vitamins because I didn’t know if I needed them. Or, I didn’t know how much I needed. We wanted to take the guess work out of that experience and help provide that type of information to people in this multi-billion-dollar industry.
At which point on your entrepreneurial journey did QEC enter your radar?
We heard about the QEC through the start up network in Canada. I think it’s a good competition – a number of other schools have similar competitions, but the QEC is more vigorous than the other ones. [The motivation to enter] was the definitely the prize money.
What advice do you have for QEC hopefuls in the process of submitting their business plans and videos?
I would say to only include the information that you need. Don’t give too much information, and only give a really concise version of what’s in your business.
On the 5 minute video submission:
Of course, we included the problem and our solution. Tell them what you’re bringing to the table and what you value, and what your company really does. Then how your company’s going to execute and who is going to execute it (your team). Obviously within that, talk about your execution and your breakdown, your go-to-market strategy, financial planning, and the real hard business model.
On presenting the material in a meaningful way:
For every start up, it’s different. For us, we were bringing some really new technology so patents were an important of that. We had to show what we could do that no one else could. That was a core part of our business opportunity, and it was something that we really showed off. That doesn’t apply for everyone, but it always helps if you can show something that no one else can do.
On their approach for the final round:
We did the same pitch for the preliminary and final rounds. Once you get your story straight, it’s better not to change it. You should know what you’re doing best and what your business as a whole does best. You need to take the feedback, but you also need to apply it within context. Some people make a lot of changes, but it’s not necessarily always the best way.
What was the most impactful part of the QEC weekend in Toronto?
The advantage of having [the QEC] in Toronto is that there a lot of connections to be made. The QEC has a number of professional judges, from different areas of the industry and they are making things happen.
What was the most valuable feedback you received from judges at the QEC?
The first kind of feedback has a bit to do with self-awareness. Regardless of what the judges say, if someone asks you a questions (i.e. about your financials or go-to-market strategy), no matter what question they ask, it becomes clear that in your presentation you didn’t address that part as well. It can tell you how to really improve your presentation. Then there’s feedback on the actual business model, and for us, that involved understanding that we’re a technology and that we had enough cash reserves to know that we could execute properly.
What’s next for Vitameter?
We’re preparing to recruit people for some beta testing, so we’re recreating our product. We’re preparing for product launch and regulatory too. Since the QEC, we’ve received some investments and expanded our network not just in Ontario, but down in the US, and now we’re opening an office in San Francisco. We’re really growing the team and moving forward, and making sure we’re always accelerating in our progress. We’re adding two new people to the team next month, and we’ve hired one more this month. That’s really important – adding people to your team to move faster and grow the business.
How do you think you’ve developed personally and professionally since the start of your entrepreneurial journey?
[Entrepreneurship] isn’t a job where you’ll already know most of what you need when going into it. It requires constant learning and that means learning on the spot, getting advice from other people, and making sure you’re growing personally. That’s one thing I see, on our team and other successful teams. Your determination will work, but where do you as a person need to be for your business? We started off as a group of engineers and now we’ve developed management skills, business skills and negotiation skills. We learned all these things that can’t be taught, so [entrepreneurship’s] a self-learning process.
Can you identify one key characteristic or skill you believe all successful entrepreneurs share?
I would say learning fast.