Calgary’s Startup Community Continues to Grow
CareFind benefits from a focus on entrepreneurship at the University of Calgary
Erica Hughes and her partner, Kathy Bui, are bold new entrepreneurs who are adding their business to the list of startups in Calgary. Their company, CareFind, matches parents and daycare availability using an App in real time. This unique idea was the brainchild of Erica who had struggled to find childcare when she was looking for work.
“When I moved back to Calgary – I had interviews and was waitlisted at several different daycares, said Erica, “but I missed out on several job opportunities because I couldn’t find childcare.”
So when Erica went back to school and took the entrepreneurship course, ENTI 317, at the University of Calgary, she tagged this problem and realized that other parents must be experiencing the same thing.
How can you connect provincially licensed and regulated daycares with parents looking for a long term or a short-term spot? Knowing which daycare will have a spot open is near impossible for a parent who just got a call for a job interview or other emergency. Connecting daycares and parents became the vision of CareFind.
“I realized this was a bigger issue,” said Erica. She spoke with over 60 parents in person and online and then looked at the daycares asking – do daycares want to be a part of this idea?
“We had 80% interest with daycares saying they are ready to be onboard. We even had letters of intent. That was a plus.”
Beyond the market validation, it was also an idea that resonated at the University. Competing against 100 student teams, the four-member CareFind team became one of 12 finalists this year’s RBC Fast Pitch Competition. The team including Erica, Kathy, Eric Edwards, and Lily Ma ultimately won 1st place taking home $65,000 in cash and services in kind.
I got to know Erica personally as I was one of the judges for the competition. After the win, I spent an hour advising Erica on her business plan and have stayed in touch since.
“We are back out testing the market,” said Erica. Erica and Kathy, two of the original team members, are currently in the University’s Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Summer Incubator Program working on their idea. They are surrounded by advisors and are working their way through the program looking at market validation, revenue models, marketing, and more.
“We have a lot of new ideas,” said Erica. “We want to really strengthen our business plan.”
It’s much different from Calgary’s historical startups that tended to focus on agriculture or oil and gas projects. With the new focus on diversifying the Alberta economy, the funding that has gone into entrepreneurship across the province and the support through the University, CareFind is getting traction.
And Erica is using that to her advantage. It’s her goal to have her long to do list done within a year and have CareFind launched in Calgary and then in other cities as she grows across Canada.
These days her optimism level is a 10 out of 10 and she says that looking at the business through the lens of the entrepreneurship course has changed her way of thinking. With the support she’s receiving through the University and its focus on entrepreneurship, she’s forging a new path.
“From start to end in the course, it’s a natural high. It keeps you rolling and keeps you motivated.”
*Pictured above: Eric Edwards, Erica Hughes, Lily Ma and Kathy Bui.