Guest Blog from Alex Mohr on how Cross Border Housing Inc. started!

Once I had returned from a life changing experience studying abroad in my third year at Brock, I was back in Canada constantly reflecting on how amazing my journey was. As I became increasingly reminiscent of my time abroad, I wanted to get myself back into the international student realm and eager to give other students an experience that I found myself becoming close with many of the international students at Brock and while doing so found a major pain point in the transition to Canadian society.

Seven months have passed since I discovered this problem. Too many students are forced to place their faith in unreliable methods of finding off campus housing. While this problem may seem manageable to students who are familiar with the area, it is magnified in scale and importance when it comes to international students and their journey to Canada. My solution to this problem was to build an international student housing service that made the student’s transition seamless, so that every student who studied abroad could have the amazing experience that I did.

Once I had the idea developed enough I was guided to BioLinc by a couple friends who loved the idea, one of which even became very involved in it. After speaking with Dan Lynch who is the manager of BioLinc, I was granted full access to BioLinc and was also able to attend the networking events that they hosted. The first major event that I attended was the Kick-Starting Entrepreneurship (KSE) Start-Up Weekend. This event gave its participants a weekend to create a team, develop a business idea, and pitch the idea to a panel of judges for a grand prize package worth $10 000. As I was lucky enough to find a dream team to develop and pitch my idea with, we won the first place prize. Winning the KSE Start Up weekend effectively ignited a spark that would to propel my idea into a business.

The first place award package gave our team the resources to begin to take the idea and begin to make it a reality. We began working on the idea tirelessly and by December of 2014 (one month after winning the KSE Start Up Weekend), we became federally incorporated. We began to gain the support of various student organizations such as BUSU, the Graduate Student Association, and even international recruitment. As we gained this much needed support, we also set out sites on the next big pitch competition… Monster Pitch. As the judges for Monster Pitch are known to be high profile CEO’s and investors, we knew how high the stakes were. After our team faced some stiff competition, we were ecstatic when the four judges revealed CBH as the winners. Not only was the recognition from winning amazing, but was amplified when we were told that we were the only company to win both the KSE Start Up Weekend and Monster Pitch.

Now the winners of KSE Start Up Weekend and Monster Pitch, we aimed to expand its awareness to the University of Waterloo. As a late addition to the team, Cody Murdoch represented CBH at his own university’s Enterprise Co-op pitch competition. Cody displayed a stellar performance and ended up winning a first place, $5000 E-Launch Award. This win signifies that the spirit of innovation runs strong in not only the Waterloo region, but also Niagara.

After seven months and three pitch competition wins later, CBH has grown from a fragment of my imagination to a business that will be live by the end of May 2015. The prosperous environment, connections and information that Brock University’s BioLinc has provided -along with the amazing entrepreneurs that I am lucky enough to call team members- have allowed this business to grow as much as it has.

Alex Mohr

Chief Executive Officer
Cross Border Housing Inc.

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Have Your Questions Answered!

Have you ever wondered why we have two stages of teeth? Why are the biggest dinosaurs herbivores? Why are we still afraid to talk about mental health? And of course, why do we get chocolate cravings?

University researchers from all across Ontario are answering these and other questions. Find the answers and ask your own questions at http://yourontarioresearch.ca/curiosity-shop/.

Stay curious!

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The Canadian Business Model Competition

Every year, Dalhousie University in Halifax chooses thirty student teams to compete in the Canadian Business Model Competition. The focus most business competitions is to pitch your business and the judges attempt to determine its profitability and likelihood of success – a method that is becoming recognized as ineffective. The Canadian business model competition is different. The competition focuses less on the venture’s outcomes and more on the process the entrepreneur is taking to ensure these outcomes are a success.

This year we were lucky enough to become the first team from Brock to compete at the competition. In early March I was surprised with an email saying we had made it to the finals in Halifax and in just one week, Sultana and were boarding a plane and heading east.

The first day at Dalhousie was spent becoming familiar with the competition outline and meeting the rest of the student entrepreneurs from all across Canada. After that it was back to the hotel to polish our presentation for the day to come.

After just a few short hours of sleep, the big day had arrived. We ate a quick breakfast and called a cab to get us from the hotel to the school. As soon as we arrived, we found a corner to go over our presentation one last time before heading in to a class room where five judges sat awaiting us. Fifteen minutes later we stepped out relieved to be done and happy with ourselves for what we thought was a great presentation.

In the end, we didn’t place in the top five but we received some good feedback and made great connections with mentors and some awesome student entrepreneurs from all over the country. The competition as a whole was successful for us and we were happy to be considered among such impressive entrepreneurs.

Ian Farr – Incounter

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The Trade Show

Pens? Check. Printer? Check. Extension Cords? Check. I must have done this with about 50 other things before the show, twice… The Toronto International Boat Show was the biggest and most important thing I have done for my business to this date. The exposure, the networking, and the motivation are all things that I saw as huge positives. This show is quite a bit longer than most, with a total of 9 days. It was held at the Direct Energy Centre and received about 80,000 visitors. It was great exposure for someone just starting out, such as myself. I can’t even count the amount of times I was asked who the owner was and where I was sent from. Although a little disheartening, I took it as a compliment and explained that the owners had no idea I was running their booth and that I was only here for some good entertainment and free food samples. I’m just kidding, I didn’t say that, but sometimes I wanted to. I explained to them that I was the owner and that I was just starting out, and they seemed to like the ambition of beginning my own venture.

Setup was hard and time consuming, and I underestimated it. One of my brand-new televisions wouldn’t turn on, and that was quite the disappointment. I was scrambling with 5 minutes left before show time, trying to make sure everything was working properly. About an hour into the show I was still trying to set up my Vista Print banners, and local celebrity Mike Holmes from Holmes on Homes, an HGTV television show, walked passed me and looked down at me. The only thing I thought of was how bad he probably wanted to tell me to get my act together. If anyone has seen the show, Mike’s number one goal is to criticise other contractors on poor workmanship. Anyways, shortly after that I was ready to chat, deal, and network with other industry professionals.

Midweek started to feel like I was singing the same old song, and I was beginning to lose my voice, so I started to venture around the show. I went to seminars, spoke with other brokers, checked out some inventory, familiarized myself with all of the big players, and got some ideas for next year. To be honest, my booth was a little bush league compared to some of the big guns, but I saw it as it was more important that I showed up with what I had and what I could afford.

By the end of the show, I felt like I had really accomplished a lot. I had made many connections, learned many important things about brokerage, learned about key players, learned about what the current market is offering, learned about pricing, and most importantly I learned that there are 98,864 little squares in the carpet that I purchased from Home Depot. Let’s just say it’s amazing how much time you really spend in your booth.

Cole Ritchie – North American Yacht Sales

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The Pitch is Everything

When it comes to entrepreneurship, many of us seem to believe that success is based on the innovative idea. Obviously the idea has a great deal to do with it, but an idea is really only worth something if an entrepreneur can pitch it. Whether you’re presenting to potential clients, users, or investors, nobody is going to want what you’re offering if you can’t convince them they do: the pitch is everything.

This was the focus of BioLinc’s last kickstarting entrepreneurship event which took place this past weekend. Our student entrepreneurs had just three minutes on Saturday to pitch their ideas to an esteemed group of professional mentors. After these presentations, the students sat down for one-on-one meetings with the mentors to hear what they did right and what they could improve on (or if we’re being blunt, what they did wrong) in their pitch.

The next day, we saw the advice pay off. Each entrepreneur stood up and gave another three minute pitch. The difference was tremendous, every student made great strides with their presentation’s, making those watching believe in their ideas and maybe more importantly – in them.

Sign up for the next KSE event here.

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The BioLinc Ambassador Experience

As a student who’s family has always pushed towards corporate Canada, getting accepted into the co-op  program at Brock University was a huge accomplishment.  It would allow me to try my hand at working for some the Canada’s largest organizations to gain valuable work related experience.  So when the time came to apply for my very first work term, I naturally did what I anticipate many of us did while applying for our first placement.  Applied to anything that sounded interesting or was with a large firm.  I mean, the logic checks out. If you want to be the best, why not learn from the best?

So I submitted applications to all the major banks, sales positions and potential marketing jobs that interested me over the course of the summer. Thankfully, one of those potential marketing jobs I applied to was at the University for BioLinc as a Student Ambassador.  In all honesty I hadn’t thought much of a university job because as far as I was concerned I wanted to work for corporate Canada. Brock University didn’t exactly fall into that category.

Thankfully the stars aligned and I was able to secure an interview with Dan Lynch, Manager at BioLinc and Cassie Price, BioLinc Coordinator. After completing a mock interview with the co-op department I felt confident enough to give it my best shot.  Thankfully they decided to take a chance on me and I was offered the position alongside my fellow ambassador Ian Farr.

The first week was so fast it felt like a blur. Table top displays, networking events and presentations followed in quick concession for the first month.  Not only did I have the opportunity to speak in front of hundreds of my peers many a times informing them of BioLinc, I was able to also give guided tours of not only our establishment (End of the Cairns Complex, feel free to stop by for a tour), I had to give tours of our campus to alumni during homecoming. Considering I had never taken one myself it was quite the experience. I was quickly learning that this University had so much more to offer than just an education. It is the passionate people who work and volunteer at Brock that make it such an amazing place to attend.

That was something I had never thought of before this amazing opportunity, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that it changed my life for the better. The connections you establish with the students and faculty within our institution is invaluable.  The corporate culture was amazing. Being surrounded by students from all faculties of Brock, each more driven than the last and everyone working together is something you truly must experience to understand. No where else I can think of has Not-for-profits working beside start-ups working beside scientists developing new technology. To make it even more pleasurable, imagine every morning walking in to smiling faces and loving people who truly care about your success and well being. Being a BioLinc Ambassador allowed me to help out my peers reach their goals and dreams, while also expanding peoples knowledge and awareness of BioLinc within Brock. I was invited to events with guest speakers who have walked in our shoes and having the opportunity to mine little tidbits of knowledge from them is something I will forever be grateful for.

Coming from someone who quickly overlooked a position on campus when I came across it on the job board, I feel almost naive admitting it. Understandably hindsight is 20/20, but the skills and values I obtained while working within our institution far surpass anything I could have obtained from a giant conglomerate. These are connections I can continue to grow on a daily basis. I am able to continuously help out entrepreneurs reach their dreams, volunteer in all facets of the university and more importantly, I am able to still see those amazing smiling faces on a daily basis. Anything I had hoped to obtain from a job placement, I learned from this placement. The unexpected part was how much it made me grow as a person, and for that I will forever be grateful. So fellow students, as you read this, please don’t make the same mistake I did. Give school positions a serious thought, because the payoff is more than you or I could have ever imagined prior to the work term.

Mitchell Cowan,

Former BioLinc Ambassador signing off.

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“You Gotta Get a Gimmick!”

Anyone seen the old movie or Broadway musical called Gypsy – all about old time burlesque – here are some lyrics from one of its songs …

Do something special
Anything special
And you’ll get better because…
You’re more than just a mimic
When you gotta gimmick
Take a look how different we are!
If you wanna make it,
Twinkle while you shake it.
If you wanna grind it,
Wait till you’ve refined it.
If you wanna stump it,
Bump it with a trumpet!
So get yourself a gimmick and you, too,
Can be a star!

Keep these lyrics in mind when you’re developing  a presentation about your  your innovative entrepreneurial ideas and opportunities. And to help you, check out our next Kick-Starting Entrepreneurship Weekend – Jan 17/18 – all about Improving your Pitch.

Sign up for the event here.

Communication skills are important to develop to get your message across. And, as the renowned musician once said when asked by visitors on the streets of New York “how do you get to Carnegie Hall?”, he replied “practice, practice, practice”!! So sign up to

Attend and present your BIO, your Big Ideas and Opportunities, at our KSE Weekend.

Gotta get a gimmick? – here’s a recent article about a recent event at U of Toronto that demonstrates how communication skills can help deliver hard to understand topics … http://www.signalsblog.ca/stem-cells-in-60-seconds-quick-lessons-in-communicating-science/

See you on the 17th!

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Kick-Start Weekend

The first weekend of November at BioLinc, we held an event titled ‘Start-Up Weekend’.  Going into it, I must admit I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  The premise of the weekend is for students to form teams and collaborate on a business idea. The culmination of this event is a presentation in front of judges pitching their developed business plan.

The opening ceremony went off without a hitch, with an inspiring speech from Stephen Amoah from My Career City.

Once groups had formed, they wasted no time in beginning the collaboration process. To my surprise, multiple groups stayed well into Friday night talking and deliberating, trying to solidify their idea.  When we all reconvened in the morning for breakfast, innovation and entrepreneurship was in the air.  Every group had a quality idea that solved problems people face on a daily basis.  Not being a serial entrepreneur myself, I was left astonished by some of the ideas. They were all vastly different yet genius in their own respect.

What was interesting to observe from an outside perspective, was the plan of attack each group took when starting to develop their respective business.  Some went straight to market research to validate that there was a need for their product.  Others felt it there was more value in focusing on designing a prototype.   No matter how teams began, every team followed the same formula over the course of the weekend.  Through 3 seminars, gallons of coffee and pizza to fuel everyone’s productive minds, Saturday flew by with some teams leaving at the end of dinner for some much deserved rest, whilst others stayed until what felt like Sunday morning.

To my delight, when Sunday morning arrived, all 6 teams were right on schedule for their presentation. With the order randomly selected, and the K-Cup Cup constructed, teams took turns presenting in front of an esteemed panel of judges.  Between Dr. Camille Rutherford, David D’Angelo from Trivium Industries, Glenn Stevens, manager of GSB Consultants and Geordan Robertson, a senior manager from Meridian Credit Union, teams had the privilege to hear valuable insight.

Through careful deliberation; Nancy Lan, Rebecca Morkunas, John Raimondo, Abbey Stansfield and Cherry Kuai of ‘As Time Goes By’ finished runner up to Alex Mohr, Madi Fuller, Chris Jia, Preston Engstrom and Harrison Olagos of Int-House.
Those two companies, in addition to the other four, are further detailed below.

To conclude, the depth in which these entrepreneurs had developed their respective business plans astonished me. It is truly amazing so see what can be achieved through hard work, dedication and collaboration.  Coming into this weekend, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of business ideas.  After seeing such ingenious ideas come to fruition first-hand, it gives me hope that anybody is one small step away from a large idea.

Order of presentation;

Avail-a-space (Vijayita Bhardwaj, Carlin Jessop, Melane Dabah, Arvinder Singh, Joshua Giancola)

Avail-a-space collaborated well as a group. During group discussions, their dialogue was incredibly immersive. The culmination being a thorough and informative presentation about an app that would show students which locations on campus were available to study. Their idea was well thought out and incredibly useful as a student constantly looking for available space within the school to study.  It was a passionate presentation due to the evident nature that this was a problem every presenter had faced.

Int-House (Alex Mohr, Madi Fuller, Chris Jia, Preston Engstrom, Harrison Olagos)

Immediately after breaking away from the dinner, this team bunkered down in the BioLinc conference room.  If I hadn’t witnessed myself, to the contrary, I would have believed it if someone had told me they did not leave until Sunday morning.  Their hard work and dedication paid off though, through their dynamic presentation, market research, a functional web page, and legitimate contracts secured all over the course of the weekend. Their idea was to bridge the gap between international students and local landlords.  As the winning team, they have continued to collaborate, but under the name ‘Cross Border Housing’.

PlanBook (Mohamad Hamade, Matt Peskett, Colin Hardy, Steve Hann, Karim Hamasni)

PlanBook had their idea well thought through from the beginning with key features meticulously chosen. The incredible feat was that they had a working prototype, which was unveiled during their presentation to the audience, coded in its entirety over the course of the weekend.  It was a multipurpose calendar app with a unique and very intriguing import method for group meetings or tests. Having the working prototype ensured that their value added was clearly visible through demonstration. This was incredibly helpful in understand all the unique features that PlanBook would offer consumers that differentiates them from their competition.

Hot Spot (Scott Bossy, Kevin Oliver, Huzaifa Faizan, Reece Fisher)

Hot Spot was an idea that came to be due to recent experiences by a few of the group members. It was something I can imagine we’ve all been through.  Arriving at a new city on a random night, wanting to paint the town but not having the slightest clues where to go. With the app Hot Spot, you can see real time capacity of local bars in addition to a wealth of other information. Through their informative and dynamic presentation, it was made evidently clear that this would be an incredibly beneficial app, not just for the consumer, but for the bar owners as well.

LastMinuteVids.ca (Matthew Chong, Sachin Kaulshal, Omar Khan)

LastMinuteVids.ca tried to bridge the gap between students who procrastinate and those who proactively prepare for exams.  Those who have already learned the knowledge are compensated monetarily for essentially teaching the students who need some last minute aid. Their presentation clarified many of the questions I had about this business, and honestly, I thought it could extremely beneficial to every student if it became operational.

As Time Goes By (Nancy Lan, Rebecca Morkunas, John Raimondo, Abbey Stansfield, Cherry Kuai)

As Time Goes By is a service that digitally catalogs heirlooms for families through a specific process clearly outlined in their informative presentation.  It wasn’t clear until part way through said presentation how scalable and realistic this idea was.  They managed to completely convince me that not only was this an amazing idea, but made me wonder how no one had thought of this idea yet.  All it took was one group member having to go through the experience to realize that it could be a very lucrative business.

Check out pictures from our event here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/89128525@N03/sets/72157649179107970/

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Say Yes to Yes Yes Marsha

After 2 months on the job as the BioLinc Ambassador, I’ve had more than my fair share of forced social networking experiences. Being an outgoing person, I’ve welcomed these opportunities with open arms. So I must admit, when I heard I’d be attending a workshop on networking, I wasn’t exactly elated at the idea. Going into the seminar, I was doing my best to stay positive and focused on learning a new tactic to remember names figuring it was all I stood to gain from this presentation.

Then the talk began and within the first minute Marsha told the audience ‘Everyone in this room, even those who believe they themselves are perfect at networking will stand to gain something from this seminar’. It was as if she was speaking directly to me, and honestly, Marsha could not have been more correct. What followed was three hours of fluid conversation and forced awkward social interactions that were some of the most amusing experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of partaking in during a seminar. Has anyone ever had to stare into a stranger’s eyes for a full minute without being able to look away, speak or move? It is a strangely enlightening experience, in a ‘Nothing will ever be as awkward as this, ever’ kind of way.

From a calming meditation technique to implement in times of stress and peril, to templates for those dreaded follow-up emails and a cool new way to remember people’s names, Marsha was dynamic in her teaching and super approachable during breaks and afterwards. I even had the pleasure of learning some funny British phrases throughout. Never has something so familiar to me like networking felt so foreign, yet by the end of the seminar, everything seemed to obvious, easy and fluid.

In the days since, I’ve had the opportunity to implement these new strategies and they are more effective than anything I had ever tried before. The devil is in the details, so don’t be embarrassed if you require people to repeat their name multiple times in order for you to correctly pronounce it (and remember it!). I always felt it was important to add value to a conversation with people you are networking with in order for them to feel like talking to you is worthwhile. Yet the Marsha taught and Mitchell tested technique of listening more and allowing that person to open up about themselves while asking key questions will leave not only them feeling pleased to have met you, but you in turn will learn more about someone than you could have ever imagined. Trust me, the stories I learned from implementing this technique of networking are incredible. So thank you, Marsha, for truly revolutionizing my daily interactions with people, it was a pleasure to attend your seminar. If anyone is interested in learning more about Marsha and her amazing networking tips you can visit her website at www.yesyesmarsha.com.

Mitchell Cowan
BioLinc Ambassador

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Ontario University Fair

Have you ever needed to give a presentation on something you truly aren’t that knowledgeable about? I don’t mean something that you can say a few big words and roughly describe it in order to get by. I’m referring to those presentations where the professor knows your subject better than your group so every idea and statistic needs to be flawless. That is the only way I could adequately describe my reaction when I was told part of my job as BioLinc Ambassador requires me to travel to the Ontario University Fair (OUF) at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre downtown Toronto as a representative of Brock University.

Now I don’t want to give off a false impression, as a proud badger, I marveled at the opportunity to represent my institution and speak to potential students about the amazing experience that is Brock. The only downside was that apart from my personal experiences here and my time at BioLinc, I knew almost nothing about Brock. Thankfully, like any good group members, the members of the Brock community did their best to prepare me for the event. From meetings, to training sessions, handouts and packages to read and a guided tour of the campus, in the span of a week I went from feeling completely overwhelmed to Mr. Brock, ready to tackle any question asked.

In terms of the actual day we went to OUF, I travelled downtown on the Badger Bus with some of the most highly respected faculty from our institution. The entire bus ride, I couldn’t help but think of how lucky I am to be on the same bus as these people and in awe they were taking time out of their busy schedules to come recruit for Brock.

It wasn’t until we arrived at the convention center and got settled at our booth did I realize why such high profile faculty came to represent our university. To put it quite simply, it’s because they truly care about our school and more importantly, each student’s success. I doubt any of the grade 12’s who spoke to an associate dean of a faculty understands the magnitude of how important said dean is to our institution. To them it was just another face representing Brock. To a current Brock student such as myself on the other hand, it solidified that I had made the proper choice for post secondary education. Not only had the facts and numbers I had learned through my research affirm my believes in Brock academically speaking, but the quality of people we sent to represent us, and how polite and approachable they were to anyone who had questions just boggled my mind. It was a far cry from the intimidation I had felt on the bus ride down only hours earlier. Once I finally had the time to sit and speak with some of these high profile faculty members, I was amazed by how much they wanted to know about me specifically. I’m not referring to my classes or grades, but they wanted to know about me as a person. It was in that moment where I truly understood that any student in that convention center, myself included, would be truly lucky to receive and education at Brock.

Mitchell Cowan
BioLinc Ambassador

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