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Nov 13, 2016   |   Cat Ryoo
During its nearly 30-year history, the Queen’s Entrepreneurs’ Competition (QEC) has been acclaimed for its sizeable monetary prizes. In fact, the coveted first, second, and third-place prizes now amount to $75,000. Especially given what the majority of Canadian and global undergraduate startup competitions offer up to its top competitors, the prospect of scoring no-strings-attached capital at the QEC is both unique and undoubtedly appealing.
However, regardless of their success in clinching a cash prize, many of the QEC’s yearly competitors leave the city with invaluable industry insights, new mentorship connections, and important feedback from seasoned moguls.
Such was the experience of Charith Perera and Mubin Vaid, co-founders of TDot Performance, one of Canada’s top auto-parts retailers, and third-place winner at the QEC 2013. “The aftermarket parts industry was largely ignored in Canada. Once we saw there was real opportunity, our goal shifted to making our own online store for performance parts and accessories,” according to Perera.
And the new site hit the spot – in its first year of operation it generated over $1-million in sales. With a clear vision, Perera and Vaid developed a business plan and entered the Queen’s Entrepreneurs’ Competition in 2013. The $25,000 in cash prizes was an obvious motivator, as Perera and Vaid were self-funding their business and re-investing all profits to grow. “But we knew that the benefits of pitching at the QEC [would go] beyond the prize money,” said Perera. TDot Performance was the third-place winner that year, but what Perera and Vaid can’t put a price on is the feedback they were given by the experienced panel of judges, and the connections they made with Queen’s faculty, alumni, and entrepreneurs from around the world. “A big part of the success that followed for TDot Performance was a result of competing in the QEC” says Perera. “The feedback we got helped us hone our business strategy, and the exposure to business leaders opened new doors for us.”
The QEC also creates a space where young entrepreneurial spirit is celebrated, and fellow disruptors can learn from each other, be inspired by one another’s success, and build a symbiotic network within the startup community. “The caliber of the competitors was impressive,” remembers Perera.
Since their experience at the QEC, Perera and Vaid have witnessed ever-growing success, projecting sales of $10 million for the year. Most recently, they stole the spotlight on the hit TV show Dragon’s Den, where they got a $1-million investment from Michele Romanow – Queen’s alumna and co-founder of Bytopia and SnapSave - for 27% of their equity.
Today, TDot Performance is an authorized retailer for over 200,000 performance products and accessories from more than 250 world leading brands, and Vaid and Perera have big plans to bring revenue upwards of $50 million in the next three to five years. “There’s always room for growth. Now that we’ve launched a strong online platform, our goal has shifted to having the largest selection of aftermarket parts in all of Canada.” Perera says.
QEC offers competitors more than money. In the case of TDot Performance, it gave Vaid and Perera the insight they needed to become better and dream bigger.