2018 Bronze Prize Winner
2018 Bronze Prize Winner
FedEx Small Business Grant Contest rewards a bold tech startup focused on Canada’s growing population of seniors
It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention. It certainly was for Saskatoon, Sask.-based entrepreneur, Serese Selanders.
As her father recovered from major surgery in the hospital, Selanders researched medical alert devices to help him safely maintain his independence once he returned home. What she found on the market weren’t palatable for either Selanders or her father. He simply refused to wear one, associating a stigma with the current offerings.
Instead of feeling frustrated, Selanders felt inspired, identifying a need in the market and sensing an opportunity. With a career background in financial services, Selanders had no experience in technology, but made the leap into developing an alternative device in 2013. It’s called the ORA Personal Safety Alarm System.
“I naively thought, ‘I’m not a tech person, but how hard could it be?’, and just jumped into it,” she said. “Some of the most long-lasting ideas come from people who identify a need, and that’s where I came from. I saw a need, not just for my dad, but for others as well.”
Since the product was released, ORA has been responsible for saving two people’s lives, something that motivates Selanders.
“Finding out you’ve actually saved people’s lives completely changes the perspective of what you’re doing. Knowing that you’re not just building a product, but affecting people’s lives has an incredible impact. It’s what drives me every day,” she said.
With the population rapidly aging, and more senior citizens seeking independent living situations, ORA is designed to provide peace of mind for adult children, and a reliable comfort for those wearing the device. Selanders is expanding her target market beyond seniors, to include employers with staff who may work independently.
Selanders’ efforts with ORA have earned her a spot in the top 10 for the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest, and a prize of $5,000. She plans on putting her winnings towards marketing and getting the word out there about the company.
“We’re our own best kept secret,” she said. “What I loved about this contest is that you could tell that FedEx appreciates and understands what a small business really needs. As a small business owner, at a certain point you want to align yourself with organizations that share your values and outlook on things, and FedEx really does.”
The process of bringing technology hardware to market is long and arduous as an entrepreneur, and along the way Selanders has learned some key lessons. Here are a few:
- Believe in your vision
Moving from a financial services background into technology wasn’t the most logical step for Selanders, but it was the right one and a risk she encourages other entrepreneurs with a spark of an idea to take.
“If you really identify a need and you see an opportunity out there, make it happen,” she said. “You may or may not have the exact skills you think you need, or you may not fit the profile that others before you have had, but that’s not the right way to think. Surround yourself with people who are experts and go for it.”
- Seek out support
With nearly 98 per cent of all Canadian businesses falling into the small business category, Canada has the right infrastructure in place to nurture entrepreneurship.
“The time is right for building a world class business in Canada,” Selanders said. “Canada has a lot to offer, and with the right support and the right resources, it can compete on the international stage. As I’ve travelled more and seen what’s available in other places, I’ve realized that we have access to tools that other countries simply don’t have. The ecosystem in Canada, from other businesses to governments at all levels, wants to support entrepreneurs,” she explained. “What we need to do is reach out and grab them.”
- Don’t be shy
While she admits it’s not always the strongest Canadian inclination, Selanders encourages entrepreneurs to be bullish about telling their story and finding validation.
“We need to put ourselves out there and be boastful about our successes. Apply for grants and contests like this FedEx one. Show what you have and you’ll be rewarded for it.”