Being a university or college student isn't easy.
Dealing with classes, reports, exams and a social life can prove a daunting task, and groceries aren't the first thing on most students' minds. But for parents with children attending Laurentian University, they will soon have a tool at their disposal to at least help their son or daughter eat healthier.
Thanks to the innovation of Charles Mapletoft, a second-year Laurentian University student majoring in physics, and Joshua Vandermost, a second-year Laurentian University student majoring in neuroscience, students will soon be able to fill their grocery orders without having to leave their own dorm room. And, because orders are filled out online, parents can have access to their child's account to see what is being ordered, or even to add to that order.
It's an idea that gained the approval of judges in NORCAT's inaugural student business plan competition.
Mapletoft and Vandermost, who call their business Maple-Most, made up one of five business pitches presented to judges on March 15. As the top business pitch, they won $2,500 cash to do with as they please, and another $20,000 of in-kind services provided by the competition's various sponsors. In-kind services will go toward helping to further develop the business plan, advisory services, consulting, taxes and auditing.
“Anything that a start-up business would need, but would get charged for, they will get for free,” said Kyle McCall, co-ordinator of NORCAT's Regional Innovation Centre.
Maple-Most is a delivery business with a major focus on groceries, said Mapletoft. There are 1,693 students who live on Laurentian's campus alone, and doing groceries is a “huge hassle.”
“The campus is kind of isolated, and it takes two different buses to get to a grocery store,” he said. “It takes anywhere between one and two hours for a student to travel to a grocery store and back.”
Instead, Maple-Most will fill orders submitted online and then bring it back to the student. And, because the two young entrepreneurs are in talks with Wal-Mart right now, there is potential to fill orders of more than just groceries.
If everything falls into place, Wal-Mart would even pack up the orders for Maple-Most, and then Mapletoft and Vandermost would just go to Wal-Mart, load the orders into the truck, and bring them back to the students.
“Wal-Mart was really receptive of the initial idea, because they see it as a way to generate thousands of dollars through our business,” Mapletoft said. “We are waiting to hear back from Wal-Mart, but obviously winning the NORCAT competition is going to help us immensely.”
They want to make it affordable as possible for the students, so they will charge only 10 per cent of the subtotal of every order, Mapletoft said.
“We're students, and we're broke as it is,” Vandermost said “We get overcharged enough as it is, and honestly, I'm just as sick of it as any other student.”
Maple-Most is an idea that solves a problem post-secondary school students face every day, which is why it was chosen as one of the top five business plans, and then the eventual winner in the competition, McCall said.
“All of the top five plans were very viable business ideas, and we're excited about that,” he said. “NORCAT is known more for being a provider of training in such areas a health and safety, but what we're really trying to do is transition into more of a regional innovation centre. Having these kinds of events, like our hot topic events and our peer-to-peer discussions, will help the community realize this is a place where they can come and get help with their business ideas.”
Sudbury has a very healthy entrepreneurial spirit, but it's very sector specific, he said. Many of the companies are being set up to cater to the mining industry, and more recently, the health sciences.
“Those are big drivers of the innovation in Sudbury, which is only natural for a mining town, but we want to branch out a bit more .”
NORCAT CEO Don Duval said the result of the first competition went well beyond his expectations.
“It was phenomenal. Part of the impetus was to really provide a platform for student to solve a complex problem they see on campus every day, but it's also to really understand what the entrepreneurial vibe is like in our post-secondary institutions in this region. I think tonight proved that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well and that, yes, we have some great ideas coming out of our institutions.”
Criteria for judging was based on the significance of the problem, the viability of the solution and the presentation of the business plan. Essentially, judges were charged with the task of asking themselves if they had one more dollar to spend or invest, which business plan or venture would they choose.
“Everyone has a different investment strategy with different perspectives, and when I peeked in on their deliberations, there was some great discussion going on. The judges had a very difficult decision to make, but I think it was a fabulous decision on their part.”
As for whether their peers will be interested in the service, Mapletoft and Vandermost said they conducted a survey among 50 of their students. Seventy per cent said they were definitely interested in the service, 18 per cent said maybe, and 12 per cent said no.
“A lot of other people who didn't participate in the survey have told us that it's a good idea, and wondered why this type of service wasn't already available at Laurentian,” Mapletoft said.
“No one we have talked to about this idea said it was a bad idea. Even our mentor (each group of entrepreneurs was provided a mentor from KPMG) really likes the idea. He was so into it, and I think that helped us a lot.”
Being a university or college student isn't easy.