The Hub holds annual business pitch competitions at UTSC, awarding the winners with funding and support. No matter what industry you launch a business in, the beginning can be hard — and seed funding can be key to help startups develop their businesses.
This year’s winners
This year, 15 teams participated in The Hub competition, five of whom won seed funding.
“All of the winners convinced the judging panel that they were committed to their great idea and had built a solid business model over several months, with market research to back them up,” wrote The Hub Director Gray Graffam in an email to The Varsity.
Graffam explained that all of the winning startups “exuded confidence and enthusiasm.” Each company also has their own focus in a key field such as mental health or e-commerce. For example, Wellnamic is a company that promotes exercise to support mental health, and Verxil aims to be the one-stop shop for students to buy and sell items such as textbooks — or products from their own small business — online.
Student-centric business ventures
“My sisters and I kind of combined our skills in health and fitness as well as tech and business to create Wellnamic, a dynamic approach to wellness,” said Edina Bijvoet, one of the co-founders of Wellnamic and a recent U of T kinesiology graduate. “It’s a digital tool that helps people use exercise to improve their mental health.”
Bijvoet explained that she and her sisters observed that many students were feeling isolated during the pandemic. The Bijvoet sisters wanted to provide a tool to encourage students to get active and improve their mental health through exercise.
Like Wellnamic, Verxil also builds an online community for students, but its community aims to meet their shopping and selling needs. Verxil co-founders Didier Ramazani and Benny Liao explained that the idea for an e-commerce platform came about in 2019, when they observed that students were having a hard time buying and selling textbooks. The website has expanded since the company’s inception, and students can now create personalized shops that sell a wide variety of their own products. They recently rebranded, changing the company name from Student Markets to Verxil.
“It’s free [to] use. [Students] have nothing to lose by using our platform,” said Ramazani, who is a U of T economics graduate. “All you have to do is just to post your product. We do the marketing for you, we do every single thing for you.”
The work behind the scenes
Students can easily shop and sell on Verxil’s platform and take care of their mental health with Wellnamic’s app, but most are unaware of the many rounds of pitching and work that the startups went through in order to get the seed funding.
“The Hub worked with all entrants to build their business model, understand their competitive landscape, and develop their pitch decks,” explained Graffam. “We also had them attend workshops and practice their pitches, reviewed their market research, and gave tips on how to distinguish themselves and identify their competitive edge.”
Graffam said that the winning companies were awarded the funding because of their “stories and passion.”