Telus’ Small Business Challenge is currently accepting entries, offering entreprenuers oodles of prizes – including a $100,000 grand prize – to help grow their business.
With the entry window for applications quickly closing, we sat down with AquaMobile founder Diana Goodwin – last year’s grand prize winner – for some last minute tips on how to stand out during the challenge.
What is AquaMobile?
AquaMobile is North America’s largest at-home swim provider. So we have swim instructors in cities across Canada and the U.S. that travel to clients’ homes or condo pools and teach private swim lessons. We’ve carefully vetted each of our instructors so they have at least three years of teaching experience — most of them have a lot more than that — and they’ll work with you one-on-one to make sure you can swim.
Our market is about 30 percent adults learning to swim and it’s one of those things where a lot of adults won’t feel comfortable going into a community pool where it’s typically younger students, so it’s perfect to have an instructor come into their home.
What made you want to enter the Telus Small Business Challenge?
One of the most enticing things about the Small Business Challenge is that the top prize is $100,000. I read about the contest and I thought it was a great opportunity, and I thought that if I won the money it could make a huge difference for my business.
So what can $100,000 do for a business?
In my case, that was one of the things — how do I come up with a compelling answer for how I would use this money? In my case, it meant being able to hire on a couple of full-time employees and pay them for an entire year, as well as having a chunk of money to advertise in new markets and spread the word of AquaMobile. What I submitted for the contest entry is what I’ve gone forward with.
Even if you don’t win, it’s forcing you to really think through some of the tough questions that you’re going to need to answer.
Besides the money, was there any doubt behind the stage you were at or whether you could stand out?
I knew that to separate myself from the competition, I would have to have a really good plan. I didn’t complete my entry all in one sitting, it’s something I did over time. I feel like over the years, as AquaMobile grows and I get deeper into it, I know the business so well, so I was ready for whatever they wanted to throw my way when it came time to the pitch competition.
What do you think made your pitch stand out?
One of the things is that it was very visual. So aside from me talking and being prepared for my presentation, I made it visual so that the judges could see what I was talking about. And a couple of them did commend me on the visual aspect.
The other thing is really having a plan talking about what the results of the $100,000 would be. That was really one of the things that separated me from the competitors is saying ‘Hey, if we used this money, these are the results AquaMobile would see.’ Just creating that clear picture and vision for the judges is so critical.
For any type of pitch contest, I think the clearer you can make things for the judges and the more data you can give, it just makes your case stronger.
How does this challenge compare to what people would see on TV, like on Dragons’ Den?
I filmed Dragons’ Den about a month and a half before I did the pitch. It differs in a couple of ways. For the pitch, it was five minutes that I had, whereas in Dragons’ Den, you really only create a two-minute pitch introducing your business and then you’ve got a lot of time for the Dragons to ask you a ton of questions. It’s a bit different in that you really be zero-in on the points for the judges in the Small Business Challenge. Because you don’t get more than five minutes. You have to get everything you want in those five minutes so every sentence has to count.
Do you have any other tips for other startups entering the Small Business Challenge this year?
It’s a great contest, first of all. Besides the $100,000 prize, there’s a number of small prizes, like each of the semi-finalists get $10,000. They also have a bunch of smaller regional awards. It’s a great opportunity to get recognized for that business even if you don’t get the $100,000 prize.
Just prepare, and just put a lot of time in. When there’s so much at stake, just putting in that extra time can go a long way in separating you from the competition.
What’s next for AquaMobile?
This year, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind. Lots going on and lots of exciting things happening. So this year, in part with the money we won from the Small Business Challenge, we’ve been expanding to a number of new areas. One of the markets we’re excited about is British Columbia. That’s a market we’ve been wanting to go into for a while and now this year we’ll finally be there. So far we’re seeing huge demand from the Vancouver market — more than we were expecting. Which is great because we’d love to follow into some other areas of Canada where we’re getting lots of requests.
We’re also expanding to a few new states in the U.S. this year, because of the money. We’ve hired a full-time recruiting manager to hire instructors all year round. So because of that, we’re sitting at 1,200 instructors on our roster and that number should be going up.
Can you talk more about the international expansion?
It’s not easy to do, and that’s something I had to figure out several years ago when we were first launching in the U.S. It can be challenging as a Canadian to figure out what’s the right corporate structure to set up if you’re going to set up a business in the U.S., like figuring out all the bank accounts. I wish the Canadian and U.S. markets were more seamless, so it was a lot of upfront work especially because I was getting different answers from lawyers and accountants about what was the right structure. It was a bit time-consuming and frustrating but I figured it out.
The one thing about U.S. expansion is that it’s easier to tackle a state than it is a Canadian area. In Canada, the geography is spread out so much more. There are more people in metro areas in the states than there is in Canada. We’re in the groove now with U.S. expansion, but it took us a while and there are regional differences with whether you’re expanding into a new province or a new state that you really have to understand. You have to understand what the people want in that area to make your product work.
To apply for the Small Business Challenge, go here. Entries close May 31st.