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Propelling young entrepreneurs

  • Ivey Institute for Entrepreneurship
  • |
  • Aug 12, 2016
Propelling young entrepreneurs

HBA entrepreneurs: Adam Gapinski, HBA ’17 (left) and Brennan de Langley, HBA ’16 (right)

Brennan de Langley, HBA ’16, and Adam Gapinski, HBA ’17, have carved out two very different entrepreneurial journeys. This summer, they will both be part of the 2016 cohort of the Propel Summer Incubator (PSI), a sales-focused incubator program led by Western University’s entrepreneurship accelerator Propel.

de Langley will be working on Wrist & Rye, a men’s fashion accessory brand he and Thomas Mirmotahari, HBA ’16 conceptualized in early 2015 for the Ivey New Venture Project (NVP). With over $30,000 in sales, de Langley hopes the summer will provide an opportunity to truly discover the full potential of Wrist & Rye.

For the past three years, Gapinski has been balancing his work load as a full-time student and a business owner. Heis the owner of Vectra Heavy Haulers, a transportation company that specializes in moving oversized loads across North America. With an intense summer at Propel to follow, Gapinski is hoping to grow the company’s direct customer base.

The Propel Summer Incubator

PSI is a 16-week program, which provides $7,500 in seed funding to each founder, permanent desk space, a series of sales-focused workshops, and access to a network of experienced mentors and entrepreneurs. The 2016 Program received over 50 applications of which 11 startups were accepted.

“We hope to foster a collaborative culture, where startups pool their knowledge to overcome tough challenges and explore new opportunities,” said Ian Haase, Director of Propel. A 2004 graduate from the Ivey MBA program, Haase has gathered a wealth of entrepreneurial experience from both sides of the fence. Since selling his geographic information system venture in 2009, Haase has mentored entrepreneurs through his stints at London’s Regional Innovation Centre, Tech Alliance, and Western’s Propel.

The PSI concludes in mid-August with a demo day that will provide each start-up an opportunity to pitch to investors and other members of the local community. In 2015, the seven-team PSI Cohort achieved more than $150,000 in sales and reached over 1,100 customers in 70 countries.

Brennan de Langley, HBA ’16: A creative solution to a creative problem

Despite a creative proposition to solve “naked wrist syndrome,” the potential of Wrist & Rye was relatively unknown. After creating a minimum viable product and setting up a website, interest started building. “There was clearly something there,” said de Langley.

After pitching Wrist & Rye to a panel of judges at the NVP Presentation Day, the team was encouraged to pursue the venture, at least for the summer. Winning entry into the Propel Summer Incubator, de Langley is heading up Wrist & Rye’s transition from student start-up to real business with the help of Western grad Travis McKenna and Brent Winston, HBA ’18.

“We’ve accomplished more in the last month than we did in the entire year. You are actually locked into the space and surrounded by people who are like minded, entrepreneurial, and really trying to grow their businesses. The mentorship opportunities and resources are huge,” said de Langley.

Some of their summer goals include building out the company’s online store, creating content and photography, moving to an online platform with more features, and adding a customization tool for customers to create their own bracelets. The site currently generates $2 for every unique visitor, a stat de Langley and the team would like to improve over the next few months.

de Langley also hopes that they can build upon their $30,000 of sales (most of which has been reinvested into inventory) to hit $100,000 by the next fiscal year.

Adam Gapinski, HBA ’17: Balancing course loads and truck loads

“Working at a restaurant really made me determined that I don’t want to work for anyone in the future. My end goal wasn’t to be an employee of a firm, I wanted to be a decision maker in guiding the firm,” said Gapinski. It’s a goal he has gotten to earlier than most university students.

For the past three years, Gapinski has been running Vectra, a company with access to 1,500 trucks, and taking a full course load at Western and Ivey. He gladly admits that time management is the biggest skill he’s honed at university.

Since entering the Propel Summer Incubator in May, Gapinski has been working on expanding his direct customer base. A large part of his current business comes from freight brokers that broker out the load to Vectra. Dealing with so many middle men not only affect margins but doesn’t allow for direct communication with customers.

A self-avowed salesman, Gapinski notes his biggest takeaways from the Propel Summer Incubator have been from the sales workshops. “Sales is the only driver of revenue in a company. If you don’t have sales, you don’t have a business really.”

There is also a need to diversify the industries Vectra serves. Gapinski’s early strategy of concentrating on oil and gas paid off well at the start. Prices were good and the industry was booming. But as the industry began slowing down, projects got cancelled and postponed. Diversifying and spreading Vectra’s customer base will provide options when certain industries are struggling.

With his graduation in 2017, Gapinski is setting the stage for expanding Vectra Heavy Haulers. Soon he will no longer have to worry about balancing all those courses – just thousands of oversized rigs as they traverse North America.