Last year, Steve Wellman, a business student at the University of Western Ontario, recognized a problem he and his classmates all shared. They had a hard time finding used textbooks for their classes, even though they themselves were willing to get rid of their old textbooks for next to nothing.
In response, Wellman started a company, Textbooks for Change, that made it easy for people to buy used textbooks. Instead of haggling over prices, students donated their textbooks because they knew that the proceeds from the sales would go to charities. Textbooks for Change catalogued and warehoused the books, and sold them on Amazon. In a few months, Textbooks for Change had raise $11,000 (Canadian) for charity, and made it easier for students to buy used textbooks. Wellman, a Toronto native, said after this early success he caught the bug for starting businesses.
“It wasn’t until I got my first taste of entrepreneurship founding Textbooks For Change that I decided to pursue entrepreneurship,” he said, adding that he was drawn to the fast pace of the business world.
As successful as Textbooks for Change was, Wellman has already set his sights higher. Last year, Wellman was chosen to participate in a national program, called The Next 36, that selects promising undergraduates from across Canada and immerses them in entrepreneurial culture, and provides them with mentorship and funding. With two of his colleagues, Josh Sideris and Ragavan Thurairatnam, Wellman has launched a company that might change how advertisers track social media.
In early April, Wellman and his co-founders won a pitch competition at the Ivey Business School, where Wellman is a senior, for their new company, Phashtag. Phashtag—short for “photo hashtag”—is a company that allows advertisers to track their brand as it spreads across social media. Wellman and his co-founders have developed technology that can detect logos in any photograph which are increasingly the dominant mode of communication across social media.
“We all had a strong background in machine learning, and we wanted to apply this knowledge to a trend that’s growing very important in the world,” Wellman said. “People are communicating in terms of photographs rather than texts. Even Facebook is becoming photo-based. We decided to apply machine learning knowledge to get more data from these photos.”
For example, Phashtag’s software allows a bank, a clothing company, or a sports team to track their logo in real time as people upload, share, and comment on photographs.
“Using the APIs of different platforms we scan through images looking for logos,” Wellman said. “The company could log into Phashtag, and use the information to measure the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns, or do market research.”
The company has already attracted $40,000 in funding, and is currently running tests for four trial clients. By winning the pitch competition—beating out ten other competitors from Canada’s top business school—Phashtag won a year of free business web hosting from A Small Orange, which will help the company grow as they put their concept into operation.
“We haven’t moved it over yet because we just have a landing page,” he said. “Once we go to a much bigger launch in two months, we’ll be able to take advantage of our one year of free hosting with A Small Orange when we begin to scale this business.”
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