INNOVATION: Qoints and N100 Competition
author: Denny Manchee
Attracting tech entrepreneurs to set up shop in Northumberland with a $100K carrot
Cobourg, tech Mecca. No, that’s not an oxymoron, it’s a big idea whose corporeal form is taking shape in a bare, spare office on William St. As lean as his tech startup, Cory Rosenfield talks digital analytics as though it was his first language. The 30-year-old is CEO and co-founder with Harris Maxwell of Qoints, a company that slices and dices the data of digital marketing campaigns to help clients see what’s working and what’s not.
Qoints can also compare a client’s results with its competitors – anonymously. A previous business allowed them to secure the rights to aggregate and pull best practices from their clients’ data. Smart move.
Let’s say you’re the brand manager for Starbucks K-cups, and you’re running 18 major digital loyalty promotions across Canada and the US in a year, and each one is somewhat different. Apps and platforms are changing so quickly, companies need to be equally nimble in their marketing strategies.
“Thirty years ago you could use Nielsen and get a report six weeks after the fact, but now in six weeks the coupon app you’re using doesn’t exist anymore,” says Cory, leaning against the desk, his blue suede shoes and yellow socks signaling his age and style. With a constantly-updated data feed, though, brands can tweak a campaign on the fly within that six weeks. “Right now we’re giving them a tool set to make obvious decisions but they still have to use their brains,” he says.
Cool, but why is this company in Cobourg? Well, last summer they won the N100 Startup Competition, a program launched by Northumberland Community Futures Development Corporation (NCFDC) in 2013. The N100 provides an equity investment of $100,000, as well as mentoring from the NCFDC and the business community – all contingent on the winning tech startup establishing an operating base in the region. “The goal of the NCFDC and our board of directors is to attract entrepreneurs to Northumberland and to create organic local partnerships and opportunities,” says John Hayden, Manager of Enterprise Programs and the brain behind N100. (He was inspired by a similar program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.)
Still, Cobourg as a tech hub, that’s bold thinking. But when Hayden toured Silicon Valley for the first time, he was struck that the tech juggernaut was embedded in a series of small towns accessible to San Francisco and San José by train. “Call me a dreamer,” he says, “but I like to think that Port Hope, Cobourg and other communities in Northumberland could be like this. This is the economy of the future, and we have a high quality of life here – a gentle lakeshore commute by bicycle, affordable houses, great schools – and you can hop on the train and be at Union Station in just over an hour. We just need a critical mass of entrepreneurs to make it happen.”
How is this dream unfolding? Qoints, which was based in Toronto before winning the N100, now has office space in TO, Cobourg and Buffalo (which is rebranding as a tech centre and has its own competition called 43North worth $250K US; Qoints won that, too). “We were able to turn that $100K into about 500K because it validated what our company was doing,” says Cory. “In our 43North application we guaranteed an operational presence in Buffalo for 2016. My partner is there from Tuesday to Thursday. Most of our clients are in the States – the dollars are much bigger there – and the team at 43North has introduced us to a lot of powerful people.”
Qoints has six full-time employees right now, “and we’re a totally distributed team,” says the young CEO. One is overseas, two or three are in Toronto and at any given time there are one or two in Cobourg, including 20-year-old Blake Adams, who graduated from Cobourg CI and just completed his second year in business at Queen’s University. He interned for the NCFDC last summer and is working for Qoints this summer as a marketing analyst and communications specialist. “A lot of my friends were looking for work in Toronto and Ottawa,” says Blake, “but this local opportunity came up and it’s great.”
“We scooped him up!” says Cory. “But there’s no snap of the fingers and all of a sudden there are six engineers for us to hire here, so it’s a balancing act,” he adds. “The CFDC understands we’re working towards a dream of having more people here, but at the same time we’re business-minded, analytic, picking and choosing how we build out the team here, based on what talent’s available.”
Cory tells me they’ve just hired another team member, a marketing specialist who recently sold her house in Toronto and bought a much bigger one in Cobourg. “She comes from the agency world and does influencer marketing,” he says. “It made it a lot easier for us to make a deal with her once she learned she could ride her bike to work in six minutes. She was dreading the commute into Toronto.”
On May 4, 10 companies competing for this year’s N100 had three minutes each to pitch their businesses to a Power Panel of executives at the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope. The room was packed, the air electric. The competitors, selected from about 40 applicants, had no props, no visuals, just a mike and flooding adrenalin. It was Dragon’s Den, Cobourg Edition, and after two hours of presentations, five tech startups advanced to the next round: a business plan to be presented in June. From there, the group will be winnowed to three, who will have to present to the board in July.
Will the 2016 winner be a greentech company with a revolutionary air conditioner, or makers of a gadget that tells you how much sun you can take before getting burned, or the creators of a virtual operating room for training surgeons? At the very least Virtual SurgerySIM has nailed its tagline: “Most startups aren’t about life or death, this one is.”
As for the future of Qoints, Cory says, “We got our first formal acquisition offer last month. We have a long way to go before I’d entertain that, but I’ve got a call with the head of product at Nielsen tomorrow…” For more on the N100 and Qoints, go to www.n100.ca and www.qoints.com.