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Meet the future: 10 local entrepreneurs and innovators under 30 to keep your eye on

The city is brimming with talent and these young Calgarians are already on the brink of something big.

(Credit: Calgary Citizen)

Calgary’s new economy is being supported by a new generation of young entrepreneurs and innovators who are passionate and keen on bringing their new ideas to the business world of the city. Regardless of what their pursuits are, these 10 Calgarians all share a passion for making a difference and their work and dedication has not gone unnoticed.

Josh Fuerbringer

Age: 22

Company: Bio-Box

Title: Co-founder, CEO

Education: Third-year student, Finance, University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business

Bio-Box is an eco-manufacturing company that is seeking to lower plastic intake by other companies. It is currently working with the hospitality industry, specifically in boutique hotels and spas.

“Our product is a biodegradable box that has high-quality soaps inside them that allow hotels to still give their customers high-quality luxury soaps while being eco-friendly,” Fuerbringer says.

The company began about a year ago, earning third place at the RBC Fast Pitch Competition.

The company’s mission is to solve the following problem — there are an estimated 5.5 billion amenity bottles thrown out every year by the top 300 hotels globally and these are typically made from single-use plastics, which are terrible for the environment.

“We realized there could be an opportunity to make some money and help the environment out by creating a better way for hotels to get in touch with their green side and still maintain that luxurious existence they provide with their toiletries.”

The biodegradable hotel amenity kit is made from eco-friendly materials wheat straw and PVA (polyvinyl alcohol).

Jenna Galloway

Age: 29

Company: Wymbin

Title: CEO/Managing Director

Education: Pre-med student, University of Calgary, Bachelor of Health Sciences

Jenna Galloway is the CEO and managing director for Wymbin, which is a youth wellness and education studio located in Inglewood that’s been around for five years. It has trained more than 800 instructors across North America.

It also provides school outreach programs and runs a registered and licenced pre-school and kindergarten program. Wymbin has become a community hub of different offerings with health and education at the heart of everything they do.

“We always wanted to find a way to amplify what we’re doing and get it to as many children as possible. That’s where the tech solution Fledge comes in,” Galloway explains.

“We’re building a gamified platform that can be used in schools or other settings such as health care settings and essentially we’re teaching young children, kindergarten to Grade 3, the social, emotional and life skills they need to thrive as they grow older.”

Instead of tackling mental health later down the line, Wymbin is addressing it with a preventative approach and then they use machine learning and augmented reality to make the experience very immersive. What makes their platform different is that it is data-driven.

Galloway’s education is why she started Wymbin in 2016 as she was struggling with health issues while in her third year at pre-med at the U of C. Those issues included anxiety, depression and an eating disorder. Yoga kept her going through that period of her life.

“I wanted to combine yoga, this holistic practice, with helping children with autism, giving them more holistic support. It just started as a community-based organization but then families started to send their children and it started to grow.”

Zach Hodder

Age: 28

Company: HARPIA

Title: Founder

Education: Diploma in Media, BCIT and Degree in Communications, Royal Roads University

HARPIA is an athlete development platform that is accessible, affordable, and fun. Hodder’s background is as a former Western Hockey League player and Canadian U sports player working with the WHL as manager of player development for three years.

“I just noticed that sports development just has not kept up to the pace of technology and for everybody in sports, one of the biggest problems is the cost, so I was trying to figure out something that I could do that would make a difference in a small way to make sports more accessible,” Hodder says.

He saw a big opportunity to merge traditional development techniques with new technology.

The idea of HARPIA, which began about a year ago, is to put a competitive advantage in the homes and the hands of every amateur athlete by providing a more accessible and affordable at-home development platform that will be delivered through an application.

“We’re training a computer model right now to be able to track a hockey puck and from there using computer vision and the athlete’s phone we can provide a full, comprehensive athlete development platform right through their phones where they can use wherever they are.”

Mitch Jacobsen

Age: 28

Company: Rviita

Title: Founder, CEO

Education: Bachelor’s Degree, Petroleum Engineering, University of Calgary

Rviita is an energy tea company that focuses on being healthier than other energy drinks. Jacobsen worked in the oil and gas industry for about six years before starting the company in October 2019.

The why behind the company goes back to a friend of Jacobsen’s having a heart attack due to what they think was his energy drink usage. His friend is okay now but it inspired the idea.

“I was with him when it happened. I was drinking a ton of energy drinks at the time. I just looked everywhere for a healthy alternative and could not find one,” Jacobsen says.

“That was the purpose behind our brand — a clean, all-natural energy drink that’s going to make you feel amazing and not have all of these chemicals and sugar that a lot of the other brands have.”

The caffeine from Rviita drinks comes from either black or green tea with some organic honey and fruit juice for flavouring. The brand is in 800 stores across Canada now.

The product comes in flexible pouches that use significantly fewer fossil fuels and water to manufacture and transport and contribute to a far smaller carbon footprint than their glass and aluminum counterparts. They can also be reused as an ice pack or recycled.

Wade Jacques

Age: 29

Company: Communal

Title: Co-founder

Education: Graduate, University of Calgary, Degree in Cellular, Molecular, and Microbial Biology, Faculty of Science

Communal is a cloud-based software solution, designed to help community-based organizations manage their membership, facility rentals, volunteers, events, programs, and donations — all online and in one location.

“Our typical clients would be community associations, neighbourhood organizations, cultural associations, small to medium size non-profits, schools or anyone who is looking to manage a community of people that has memberships, often with places to rent and programs to run,” Jacques says.

“A lot of it will be done by volunteers which is why we’re aimed more at the non-profit space.”

The idea for the initiative came up in 2018 and by 2019, it started formally working with its first community organization in Oakridge, which helped Communal design the space. Today, the company is working with more than 35 groups.

“It’s an exciting path forward. It came from experience in our pain points. It started that we were looking at renting a hall at a community association and found it was a bit of a cumbersome process. The information wasn’t online. You couldn’t see the calendar of availability and things like that.”

Jacques and his co-founder Matt Elliott previously worked at Benevity, which shaped who they are. The two wondered if the experience of trying to rent a hall is this bad for the end-user, they couldn’t imagine what the volunteers and hall managers at these associations were dealing with.

“We were always thinking there must be a space where we can start applying the technology and the learnings from Benevity and applying it in our own space.”

Taran Kainth

Age: 24

Company: Flahmingo

Title: Co-founder, CEO

Education: Bachelor in Business Administration (with seven classes left) with a focus on Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Mount Royal University

Launching in 2022, Flahmingo is a digital investment application reimagining the way Canadians invest. It allows people to invest as little as $1 in over 4,000 equities, allowing people to create their portfolios and decide what stocks they want to invest in.

“The focus of Flahmingo is to make investment simple for everyone,” Kainth says.

The company believes that every investor should feel financially empowered to make informed decisions on their investments. That’s why Flahmingo Central was created as a hub for people to learn about the stock market.

The name comes from the flamingo bird, one of the most agile and unique in the world. The company name reflects the unique investment experience every user would get through using this new investment vehicle.

“I’ve been an investor myself for the last 14 years and have seen the ups and downs of the investment industry and recognize there is a lack of financial literacy that exists. Investment is top of mind.”

Inspiration for the idea came due to the financial crash of 2007-2008 when Kainth’s father lost a large portion of his net worth. Part of the reason was a lack of financial literacy. That’s why Flahmingo has coined the term “empowered investment.”

“People are going through an era where the cost of living is very high and they’re looking to survive today and have a long-term vision, just to be able to afford things in life. Investing is going to be the only reason you can do so,” Kainth adds.

Madison Savilow

Age: 25

Company: Carbon Upcycling Technologies

Title: Chief of Staff

Education: Graduate, University of Calgary, BComm in Accounting and BA in Sociology with Honours

Carbon Upcycling Technologies is a carbon utilization company and winner of the XFactor Award in the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE. Savilow also leads the company’s consumer products brand OCO. They take CO2 from waste sources, and they’re currently based at a natural gas plant just southeast of Calgary.

“We’ll take the CO2 from that facility and we’ll store it in a solid form,” Savilow says.

It’s the first company to reduce cement and concrete’s carbon footprint by double digits with its enhanced concrete additives while exceeding strength activity performance by 40 per cent. The company was started in 2014 and Savilow joined in 2018, starting the consumer products line within the company.

“I was born and raised in Calgary and I still live here. I’ve enjoyed lots of time around the mountains and being outdoors and seeing changes in the environment due to climate change over the years, it’s been hard to see.”

She knew she always wanted to have an environmentally-focused career, but she does also have a long history of oil and gas in her family, including coal miners.

“What I love about those sectors is they’re so focused on innovation and improving efficiencies and constantly being at the cutting edge to create products to energize the world. So, I love the innovation side of things as well,” Savilow adds.

Stefanna Spoletini

Age: 29

Company: Noto Gelato

Title: Co-founder

Education: Bachelor of Science, Arizona State University

Enriched by her entrepreneurial family, Spoletini co-founded Noto Gelato to bring the authenticity of Italian gelato to Calgary. Mentored by her uncle Dom, the pair have perfected the true taste of Italy. Her experience is broad, growing up around the food industry, as her father is one of the original co-founders of local favourite, Spolumbo’s. Spoletini’s extended family are owners of Pulcinella, Stromboli Inn, and Mercato.

Noto Gelato began in 2020 and moved to its retail location in Bridgeland just before 2021.

“We make, in my opinion, the most authentic gelato in the city for sure — and Alberta. We use traditional techniques,” Spoletini says.

“We import the products from Italy. We don’t cut corners and we try to make sure the flavour profile comes through and try to give everybody the experience of the true Italian gelato outside of Italy.”

Noto Gelato focuses mainly on wholesale with establishments buying the gelato. The retail atmosphere is a fun location where people can try out different flavours.

“I love working it. It’s a nice balance. You can come and try the flavours in the front and then find them in your local grocery store,” she adds.

Umair Tazeem

Age: 26

Company: Embold

Title: Founder, CEO

Education: Bachelor of Arts and Political Science, University of Calgary

Embold is on a mission to build the world’s most accessible influencer marketing platform.

“At its core, we’re building technology that enables advertisers to find and connect with local and micro-influencers. These are individuals that have built up an audience online. Influencers are then able to go and promote these businesses on Instagram, on TikTok, on YouTube,” Tazeem says.

The business was launched in 2018. The company has worked with some big brands such as Nestle, HP, and BMO. It now has more than 6,000 influencers on its platform.

“We’re building technology that helps advertisers find influencers but then also all the tools that they need to manage them as well.”

While at the U of C, Tazeem was running a small advertising business, working with local businesses, and helping them with their online marketing needs. Influencer marketing was something that kept coming up from his clients so he decided to fill the need.

Maggie Thai

Age: 21

Company: JAMH

Title: Co-founder, CMO

Education: Third Year, Mechanical Engineering with Minor in Mechatronics at University of Calgary

JAMH is a one-of-a-kind software platform focused on an impact-first approach to addressing sustainability and climate change.

“We believe in empowering decision-makers to build an informed and sustainable world through making the availability of true and accurate information available at all times. Democratizing the availability of true and accurate information,” Thai explains.

The idea for the company began before the pandemic, though the company launched in September 2020.

“We were all just a group of friends and young people who want to think about how they can leave an imprint on the world or create an impact and we thought the best way to do that would be to create technology or make a company that can do bigger impact than one individual alone,” Thai says.

“We thought if we work together and we create something cool and we put it into the hands of people and we think about it and make sure whatever we’re making they get value from… to be better companies and better people, we would be able to impact people.”

The company is working on a product called carbonlytics, an international carbon policy database, hoping to use it as a stepping stone to creating a fully automated carbon project developer.

Originally published in the Calgary Citizen.