These high-growth businesses are making our province proud.
One of Winnipeg’s best features is that people here really pour themselves into what they love. Maybe being cooped up all winter long gets our creative juices flowing – or maybe we’re just downright more passionate about the things we love – but whatever the reason, there’s a ton of hidden talent in Winnipeg.
And if you need proof, look no further than the recent attention our burgeoning startup community has been getting.
Winnipeg's startup scene has been pushing the envelope in a variety of unique, creative and inspiring ways that can only be described as world-class. We've seen an app developer striving to preserve Indigenous languages and cultures, a wedding planning service taking bookings and service strategy to a whole new level, and a virtual reality business bringing cutting edge 'augmented reality' to the forefront of the digital marketplace.
So let’s take a look at some of the hottest and most exciting Winnipeg-based startup companies.
Penguin + Stone
Penguin + Stone is one of Winnipeg’s hottest wedding planning services. Owned by Sue Leclair and Daena Groleau, two wedding industry veterans, their website is helping people plan their weddings with ease by providing a “one-stop shop” service for couples in the city.
Sue, who owns her own catering company, and Daena, a makeup artist, came together to start Penguin + Stone after realizing that there wasn’t a comprehensive wedding resource website in Winnipeg.
“Planning a wedding is complicated and stressful, and many normal women turn into ‘bridezillas’ as a result,” says Sue. “There are so many places, options and prices, and keeping track of everything is enough to drive someone crazy. There’s also a lot of diversity in terms of quality, and having a local resource with vetted, trusted vendors is an asset.”
While the website is full of various venues, florists, caterers, photographers and the like, Penguin + Stone uses an algorithm which removed irrelevant details from the selection. For example, if you’d like to have your wedding in July, then your search results will only display venues who are available during your desired times.
“It takes a lot of the guesswork and cross-referencing out of wedding planning, which helps save people time and money,” explains Sue.
Vendors can list their products, services, prices and availability in the Penguin + Stone database. The website also allows couples to sell social tickets, re-sell their used or handmade wedding items and even book their dream destination wedding in other parts of the world.
Are you tired of waiting for a sale or worried that you’ll miss out on a deal? Have you ever made a big purchase only to discover that it went on sale a few weeks later? With Pricerazzi, all of the guesswork that used to be associated with deal tracking has been eliminated.
“After I renovated my kitchen I noticed that my appliances had gone on sale, so I followed up on my lifetime price protection plan and got $1,500 back on my purchase of $7,000,” says Pricerazzi Founder and CEO Declan McDonald. “I was ecstatic!”
A little research soon revealed that fewer than 5% of price drops are claimed, which means North Americans are giving away over $1 billion in unclaimed price drops every year. Now with Pricerazzi, they don’t have to.
Once you’ve signed up, Pricerazzi will monitor any online receipts that you’ve sent to your inbox — or you can take a photo with the app if you aren’t comfortable with inbox access. Then if a better deal becomes available, Pricerazzi will notify you and provide you with the chance to follow up with the original merchant so that you can get your money back.
Based in the Exchange District, this team of 12+ employees is growing, and have been featured across North American media including Modern Living with Kathy Ireland, CTV, Global, Inc and the Small Business Journal.
Virtual reality (VR) is generating a lot of buzz within the tech industry, but the high cost of a personal virtual reality system means most people don’t yet have access to this exciting new technology.
With this in mind, Chris Hall founded The Portal, Winnipeg’s first VR arcade. “I want to make this amazing technology accessible to everyone,” he states. “I first tried the HTC Vive the last time I was in the United Kingdom…and I was hooked.”
With help from Futurpreneur Canada and Entrepreneurship Manitoba, Chris was able to secure funding to purchase an HTC Vive and rent a space on Corydon Avenue. While he expected some interest, he wasn’t prepared for the wave of media attention that The Portal would receive. “We’ve been in The Metro, CTV, CBC, Martin Cash of the Winnipeg Free Press has written about us…” laughs Chris. “I’m sure I’m missing a few more, too. The amount of positive attention has been great, and we’ve been booked solid as a result.”
So far over 400 people have visited The Portal to try their hand at some of the latest VR titles, including Fantastic Contraption, Job Simulator: the 2050 Archives, The Brookhaven Experiment and more. Check out the demo videos below to see a sample of the experience.
“Things have been crazy in a good way,” laughs Chris. And with a second HTC Vive now installed in the space and an application for a liquor license submitted, things at The Portal won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
In addition to bringing the experience of virtual worlds to the public, Chris is working with non-profit organizations like St.Amant to use virtual reality in health care and therapy.
Permission Click is a Winnipeg-based software company that is changing the way schools create, distribute and receive permission slips, registration forms, order forms and the like.
“How schools deal with permission slips is antiquated,” explains Chris Johnson, CEO of Permission Click. “It’s not environmentally friendly, it’s time-consuming and there’s a big risk of papers getting lost.”
The software allows teachers and administrators to create and standardize internal forms like notice of intent forms, facility bookings and sick leave requests. Standardizing these templates saves time, energy and money.
In addition to helping schools and families stay organized by distributing and collecting forms, the Permission Click software also offers a reporting section so that administrators can keep track of which field trips are taking place and which students will be attending.
“Once we identified the gap and created tools to solve the problem, finding investment and starting to expand was easy,” explains Chris. He adds, “Everyone says that Winnipeg doesn’t have a venture capital market, but that’s not true. You just have to come up with something innovative enough for people to sit up and pay attention.”
One-Minute Watch: Chris Johnson shares his best career advice
This attitude hasn’t failed him. Permission Click is now used in every Canadian province and almost every state in the US. Currently, they are gearing up to launch a full-stack solution “with eyes on the rest of the world.”
What can digital technology do to protect and preserve traditional cultures? Darrick Baxter, President of Ogoki Learning, has shown that it can be an innovative way to support and protect traditional languages and teachings.
Darrick grew up in Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation and developed the Ojibway People and Language App as a method of preserving his culture and providing future generations with an accessible way to learn languages.
The Ojibway People and Language App, which was the first app produced by Ogoki Learning nearly two years ago, features over 200 common Ojibway words and phrases, and is full of facts about the Ojibway people, treaties and other useful information.
So far the Ojibway People and Language App has been downloaded over 200,000 times. Darrick spends a lot of time travelling throughout the United States developing similar apps to help cultures preserve their languages and teachings.
“We have a lot of interest from all over the United States, but not as much in Canada,” he muses. “But that may start changing as schools integrate more digital learning tools into classrooms.”
Darrick believes that it’s essential that Indigenous people find innovative ways to pass along their traditional teachings and languages to a newer, more tech-savvy generation. “Younger generations don’t speak their native language at home, and by using technology we can make preserving these languages and stories fun and exciting,” he says.
For more on Darrick's business story, his time at TEDx Winnipeg and the Ogoki Learning app, read Apps Help Preserve Aboriginal Languages.
One savvy Winnipeg company, nhance, is using virtual reality, augmented reality and some of the hottest tools in the tech industry to take panorama-style photos and apply them in an immersive digital landscape.
“Virtual reality isn’t just for video games,” explains Brenda Cordova, CEO of nhance, who also studied at Red River College. “Our goal is to bring affordable 360 video options to the digital marketplace.”
Integrating information such as text and audio into 360 video adds an extra, immersive layer to a digital marketing strategy that wasn’t available until very recently. It’s a realm within which few businesses were willing to experiment until the last little while.
With the rise of games like Pokémon GO, concepts like augmented reality (AR) have been introduced to the masses, and businesses are starting to wake up and take notice. “We help our clients find new customers, increase foot traffic into their retail locations and even sell homes using our technology,” she explains. As part of such a fast-growing market, nhance is also stretching their reach by growing their business into Vancouver.
One of the biggest challenges for families who connect remotely is that children aren’t interested in talking. Whether it’s on the phone or via video chat, children are generally more interested in playtime than spending time talking to a parent.
Kindoma creates communication tools for families, blending video chats with fun shared activities that keep young children engaged and excited to spend time with their parent. “We met at a Sesame Workshop over seven years ago,” explains Carly, referring to business partner Tico Ballagas, “and the idea seemed too good to pass up. So we bought the rights from Nokia, who owned the tech, and have been working with the idea ever since.”
One of the activities that parents and kids can do together is Drawtime, their app that allows parents and kids to draw together while video chatting. Kindoma’s Storytime app, which allows parents and children to read the same book together, has won a Parents' Choice Gold Award, and is compatible with a variety of popular apps like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Elmo Loves You! and the Motion Math.
Currently, Kindoma is rolling out Playtime, which allows developers to use an embedded standard developer kit (SDK) in their own apps to make them compatible with Playtime. Kindoma then curates a list of ‘best in kind’ apps for parents and little ones to play together as they talk.
“Keeping families connected is so important,” explains Carly, “and being able to help families build strong, healthy relationships is the best part about what we do.”
The Campfire Union
Winnipeg has been a hotbed of virtual reality (VR) development lately, and The Campfire Union is one of the companies leading the way. With only three years under their belt, the team has released the first virtual reality board game, has been featured at Mobile World Congress and works closely with developers at Oculus, one of the world’s leading virtual reality manufacturers.
Last year they released Lost Cities VR, a virtual version of the popular tabletop card game. Putting on an Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear VR transports players to immersive environments like the jungle, high mountaintops and even the bottom of the ocean.
“Lost Cities has helped us develop key relationships in the VR industry, including becoming one of only 10 companies in the world to be official Oculus Social Partners,” says John Luxford, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at The Campfire Union. “We’re using these connections and experiences to build new social VR experiences that we can’t wait to share.”
Earlier this year, The Campfire Union worked in partnership with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on their interactive display called Weaving a Better Future. Visitors can don a Samsung Gear VR and be transported to Mayan ruins and traditional Guatemalan cities as they learn about weaving cooperatives in the Central American country.
“Virtual reality is a powerful medium that can show you the world through someone else’s eyes,” John states. “We’re proud to have been a part of one of the first human rights projects in VR.”
First Rank is a local digital marketing agency that specializes in search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is the process of increasing website visibility in a search engine’s results, and First Rank owner Jacob Kettner is dedicated to helping his customers get as many eyeballs on their pages as possible.
Jacob got an early start in the business world, setting up a drop shipping company when he was just 16 years old, before attending the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba. However, running into challenges with a variety of SEO companies, Jacob says he realized that, “if you want to do something properly, you need to do it yourself.” With that in mind, he sold his drop shipping business and founded First Rank.
SEO can be tricky, and Jacob admits that there’s no specific process for achieving success. “Many of my customers benefit from a standard SEO strategy, which includes reassessing their site structure, keyword research and ongoing original content,” he explains. “But it’s not an exact science. I spend a lot of time researching my customers’ industries to learn what works best.”
The team of developers at CONSULTICA has been developing mobile apps since the iPhone was first introduced in 2007. Now, with over 20 million users and over 100 mobile applications, CONSULTICA is growing faster than ever.
“I knew that I wanted to build apps for a living, but I was new to the world of mobile apps,” says Luc Bohunicky, Chief Brand Officer (CBO). “But I got a great piece of advice from Jeff Ryzner from North Forge Technology Exchange, who said ‘If you want to be good at something, you have to spend 10 years in the industry.’ ”
Taking this advice to heart, he surrounded himself with a team of app developers and co-founders who were already experienced in the world of mobile software development. “By partnering with smart, experienced people from day one I was able to jump in and have a relevant business,” he explains.
To date, CONSULTICA has released the number one chess app in the world which boasts 10 million daily users, an app called FanX which is used by local sports teams, and the restaurant booking app FasTab. They've also been working in partnership with the Paramedic Association of Manitoba, developing an app called MedicHero to help first responders access critical information in the quickest time possible.
CONSULTICA's development team includes designers, developers for iOS and Android (so clients' apps can be cross compatible), a solutions architect, a quality assurance developer and similarly talented staff. The goal, Luc explains, is to keep as many services in-house in order to maintain quality assurance for every project.
“We work with a variety of Canadian and American businesses including a Fortune 500 company,” Luc states. “When we look for projects, we try to find mobile app solutions which will give our clients a competitive advantage.”
Have we missed any of your favourite local startups on this list? Which business listed in this article made you the most excited about Winnipeg’s startup scene?
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About the Author
Alyson is a Winnipeg writer, content marketer and social media manager. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Rhetoric & Communications from the University of Winnipeg and runs her own business providing businesses and individuals with their copywriting, content marketing strategy and social media needs. She lives and breathes digital culture and has been nicknamed the "Queen of the Internet" by her Twitter followers. When not online she can be found gardening, riding her bike or sipping fancy coffee.Follow on Twitter More Content by Alyson Shane