written by the Elevate Innovation team
For ecommerce founders starting out, success is defined by more than simply sales and scalability. Customers who are drawn to the convenience of ecommerce, are also seeking out brands that have social impact on the brain. Socially-conscious brands not only contribute to a better world, direct-to-consumer and marketplace tech companies that incorporate sustainability into their value chain can play a significant role in shaping the future of ecommerce. In order to build socially-responsible and sustainable brands, ecommerce startups must commit to transparency across all facets of their business. However, many purpose-driven ecommerce startups may not have the support, know-how, and network they need to scale within their first few years in business. With a focus on building sustainable companies that consider environmental, social, and economic implications every step of the way, eCommerce North is Canada’s first ecommerce accelerator, designed in partnership with Moneris. Through fully-funded, digital-first programming and resources, eCommerce North helps propel early-stage startups at a time when they need it the most.
One of the ways eCommerce North does this is with the Innovator Challenge, which aims to support the growth of early-stage founders working on sustainable products and services. Through this program, founders gain access to expert-led workshops, peer-to-peer learning, networking, and the opportunity to pitch to an audience to win $5,000. The winner of the first Innovator Challenge, that took place in fall 2021, was Wendy Wong, Founder of June Adaptive. June Adaptive is a one-stop-shop of contemporary clothing for people who live with mobility challenges or disabilities. Wong shared her takeaways from the program and gave some advice to startups that are considering applying to our next challenge in April.
Tell us about why you applied to the Innovator Challenge.
I applied to the Innovator Challenge to be able to access the workshops, founder talks, and to be able to pitch June Adaptive in the challenge.
What did you take away from the Innovator Challenge?
There were many takeaways from the Innovator Challenge. One of my top takeaways was the ability to practice and get feedback on my pitch.
Was there a talk or moment from the Innovator Challenge that really stood out?
I really enjoyed the founder talks, especially the ones featuring companies under 5 years old. As a very new startup, it was inspiring to hear from founders that were just a few years down the startup journey to me.
What would you tell ecommerce startups considering applying to the upcoming challenge?
I would encourage other ecommerce startups to apply to the Challenge. Through their workshops you will be able to gain valuable insights on how to grow your business.
“One of my top takeaways was the ability to practice and get feedback on my pitch.”
- Wendy Wong, Founder of June Adaptive & Innovator Challenge winner
Following the success of the first Innovator Challenge, eCommerce North is calling for applications for a second-round of early-stage founders to join the program. Blake Farquharson, Associate Director, Entrepreneurship Programs at eCommerce North, shared the opportunities and challenges ecommerce founders face in their first few years in business and why accelerator programs like the Innovator Challenge can provide entrepreneurs with the ingredients they need to succeed.
Tell us about the Innovator Challenge and how it supports ecommerce startups in Canada.
The Innovator Challenge is a series of purpose-driven startup programs geared at providing early-stage ecommerce founders with support and assistance from experienced ecommerce mentors and advisors. By facilitating marketing and sales support, the Challenge provides well-rounded support for Canadian ecommerce businesses who are starting out.
What are some of the challenges ecommerce startups face in their first year?
The rapid growth of ecommerce has seen a wide range of new founders go to market in recent years. With such a large market, one challenge that all founders face is crafting a unique story that compels their audience to invest in their vision. Through customer conversations and brand positioning - with a marketing strategy in place - founders can really focus on building that unique audience of buyers.
Tell us about eCommerce North’s partnership with Moneris.
As the founding partner of eCommerce North, Moneris continues its commitment to supporting entrepreneurs. By preparing Canadian founders for a digital future, Moneris works with the eCommerce North team at Elevate to equip ecommerce entrepreneurs with the resources and advice they need during a pivotal time in their growth. Through mentorship and cash prizes, Moneris plays a key role in the execution of eCommerce North programming.
What are some ways the ecommerce industry can support businesses run by women and underrepresented entrepreneurs?
Creating an accessible space in which founders from all backgrounds can thrive is more important than ever before - representation matters. eCommerce North is committed to nurturing diversity and inclusion in the tech sector. We back this commitment by involving 50% women founders and mentors, as well as 50% Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) founders and mentors across our programs. By partnering with entrepreneurship organizations focused on supporting diverse communities, we can ensure programs like these provide access to tools, resources, mentorship, and access to a community for founders that need it the most.
Why does the program focus on ecommerce startups? What makes them different in the startup ecosystem?
There are many great acceleration resources and communities for startup founders across Canada who are doing fantastic work in helping entrepreneurs scale. We saw an opportunity in ecommerce with the growth of online retail, reinforced through everything going virtual during COVID-19. This was our chance to make a long-term investment in the Canadian ecommerce community and build out resources specifically geared at helping founders in this space scale their businesses.
What makes ecommerce different in the startup ecosystem is the lower barrier to entry; with an infrastructure built for ecommerce founders now, it’s easier than ever for anyone to launch this kind of business. This accessibility is exciting, as it creates an opportunity to empower more entrepreneurs and businesses in Canada. We're thrilled to help these founders grow their audience.
“One challenge that all founders face is crafting a unique story that compels their audience to invest in their vision.”
- Blake Farquharson, Associate Director, Entrepreneurship Programs, eCommerce North
What are some of the things that ecommerce startups need the most in order to succeed?
One key to ecommerce success is creating an authentic relationship with your customer, one focused on shared values. As a founder, it's really important to build your brand and products with a specific value with which a community of supporters can resonate. Similar to the biggest challenge for founders, it’s all about creating a story for your brand that connects with your customers. More customer discovery is always better! Having a feedback loop with a community of customers, through forums, social media, and other outlets, allows you to really understand the market and its needs.
What’s your advice for startups that are looking to scale?
There are so many ways to build a company, and strategies that work well - there’s definitely not one solution! I think with so many strategies out there, one piece of advice I’m always reminded of is: always experiment. Whether it’s new channels like retail stores or social platforms like TikTok, experimenting new ways to reach and engage with your audience as new platforms emerge is important to scaling. One concept I really like is the 80/20 rule, spend 80% of your time on what you’re already doing and 20% of your time on new experiments.
Designed with the needs of ecommerce startups in mind, the 6-week Innovator Challenge program, powered by eCommerce North and Moneris, helps founders build an audience and drive website traffic. Start your application today!