It took less than an hour of being in a room with three hundred entrepreneurs to realize I was going to leave in two days with stories to tell and with life-long connections with their tellers. This year's Action Entrepreneurship Summit in Toronto was simply brimming with stories. At points, the din of the crowd forced people into clusters where everyone had to lean their heads toward the person speaking just to hear their ideas and their missions. I met people from every coast that Canada has - including the arctic - and every person I met had a different story to tell about themselves and their aspirations in business. Despite attending the seminars and learning tons about starting a business, growing a business and funding a business, the real learning occurred over cocktails with the people that will be responsible for the next generation of our world's innovations.
I rolled solo on this trip. And to be honest, it's the first time I've attended a conference alone in my life. It enriched the experience. The connections I made were more genuine, open and honest than at any other summit I've attended - and I've been to a few. When there's no colleague to fall back on for small talk because you're not "feeling social" at the moment, you're forced to come out of the old snail shell and actually connect with individuals. But 'forced' is the wrong word. It feels natural and unavoidable and all of a sudden you realize that everyone in the room is in the same boat as you: driven to build and share ideas with one another - social constraints aside.
Now, without further ado, here are four of my favourite people I had the pleasure to meet at the Action Entrepreneur Summit (in no particular order):
The conference took place on the 8th floor of an office building on Bay Street in downtown Toronto. The main lingering area had a few early arrivers tucked into corners holding crudites on napkins in one hand and coffee cups in the other in typical conference fashion. I also arrived a bit early. I hadn't had the chance to shake my social anxiety yet, so I did what I always do in these situations: B-line it for the snack table. Wes was the first entrepreneur I met at the conference as I was rifling down baklava after baklava. The bow-tie clad gentleman approached me with a look that told me this guy wants to take this summit by the tail and put it in his pocket.
The concept: Wes is in the early stages of an idea that has some serious potential, both socially and profitably. His dream is to open a community-based living space where professionals, early or late in their careers, can live, collaborate, mentor and succeed. As I understand it, individuals or companies can lease furnished living spaces for days, weeks, months or years and have access to a wide variety of services and work spaces. Hearing Wes describe his venture immediately got me thinking of how perfect a place like this would be for a small company, like Social Lite, to use to help expand the business into a new market. With little to no effort, you could set up an executive with a living space, working space and a built-in network of potential clients or collaborators. Genius.
I met Kevin because we were sitting next to each other in one of the sessions and thought he looked familiar. We began chatting as the roundtable ended and he handed me his card. It struck me when I saw his last name. It turns out Kevin and his brother Owen, who founded Alto Collective, both went to my high school in Calgary -- and not only that, their company is incredible.
The concept: Alto Collective creates custom wallets, phone cases and longboards -- all made out of wood. They start by curating wood from local lumberyards, then they mill it, weave it and sculpt it into their trademark designs. They then coat the product with up to 5 layers of finish that brings out the natural beauty of the wood, but more importantly, gives it the durability that phone cases and longboards need in order to survive their daily abuse.
It's obvious that a lot of love goes into each design that they create and even further, their products are affordable. These guys are well on their way to owning a business that they're passionate about with a following of passionate brand advocates, and ultimately will see them riding off into the cigar-smoky sunset with bags of money.
Take a look at Alto Collective's work. http://www.altocollective.com/
The coincidences on this trip kept adding up. At lunch on the first day of the conference, I got a tap on the shoulder. I turned to see Peter for the first time, but apparently he'd been stalking me in my travels up until this point. He told me he got on my flight when it was laid over in Winnipeg and sat directly behind me. Then, according to him, we got on the same bus from the airport into Toronto, then on the same train, and finally, we ended up sitting across from each other at the Action Entrepreneur Summit. Also, I grew up in Winnipeg, but that's another story.
The concept: I love food and Peter makes incredible gourmet sauces and sells them in a number stores in southern Manitoba, so I was immediately drawn to his ideas. Peter's company is called Gourmet Inspirations and currently carries four delicious sauces that he sells in stores but can also be delivered to homes monthly. Think Dollar Shave Club, but for sauces. Awesome sauce(s).
Get a taste of Peter's work at http://gourmetinspirations.ca/
Last, and certainly not least, was Veronique. She is the owner of a Montreal plastic moulding company that for years, stuck to contract work, making plastic products for companies that would then sell said products and make their fortunes. Well, Veronique decided she was sick of making other people rich and became determined to make a product that people would love and that she could manufacture herself in her own facility while still running her plastic moulding facility. Thus, the VVMop was born.
The concept: The VVMop is a simple tool that has many uses. Essentially, it is a plastic stick with soft plastic tendrils on the end of it - like a normal mop, but smaller and made entirely of polypropylene. I have three at home now and use them every day with about a dozen applications. As an avid drinker of wine, my favourite use for the VVMop is cleaning wine glasses and decanters, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. I've also used it to clean my BBQ, my downstairs neighbour's bike, my ceiling fan and my dog's anus.
Please visit http://vvmop.com/ to learn more.
I realize this blog post might sound like a pseudo-infomercial more than an expose about a conference, but seeing people with actual inventions, strange and unique ideas and consumer goods products is incredibly inspiring. These people are catapulting themselves into the universe with calculated risk, but no real idea of where they'll land. This year's Action Entrepreneur Summit inspired me to take Social Lite to new heights, to grow without fear of failure, because as Jay Klein, inventor of Pur Gum explained, "failure for an entrepreneur is actually a success; it teaches you to never fail the same way twice."