Student business pitch wows Dragon’s Den star

Bruce Croxon (left), star of CBC's Dragon's Den, was a judge at last week's Monster Pitch, an business pitch event hosted by Brock University's Entrepreneurship Club.

Bruce Croxon (left), star of CBC's Dragon's Den, was a judge at last week's Monster Pitch, a business pitch event hosted by Brock University's Entrepreneurship Club.

It all started with some chart paper, a Sharpie and brainstorming session.

What came next was a business plan that impressed one of the country’s most famous business minds and aims to help city slickers get in touch with nature.

And the story of Physis Outdoors, a fledgling online camping trip planner thought up by Brock business co-op students Christian Di Vincenzo, Kris Luey and Matthew Grootjen, is really on just beginning, thanks to winning last week’s Monster Pitch, the Brock University Entrepreneurship Club’s annual business plan competition.

The trio’s prize is $30,000-worth of consulting services to help them brand, build, market and launch Physis, a business that will rent camping equipment to folks who have never staked a tent - or are a little rusty at it - book a campground for them and even rent them a car to get them to the great outdoors.

“It’s one of the proudest things - we’re all proud of it,” Di Vincenzo said of the win. “It all started from scratch.”

And a passion for roughing it.

Earlier this year, Di Vincenzo and Luey put pen to paper to come up with ideas for an entrepreneurial venture. The two avid campers, who have backpacked in far-flung places, were doing co-op placements with Canadian Tire in Toronto - Di Vincenzo in sports merchandising and Luey in the company’s automotive division - when they began talking about turning their interests into business ideas.

Kris Luey, Christian Di Vincenzo and Matthew Grootjen are Physis Outdoors, an online camping trip planner startup business. Physis means nature in Greek.

Kris Luey, Christian Di Vincenzo and Matthew Grootjen are Physis Outdoors, an online camping trip planner startup business. Physis means nature in Greek.

By the time their brainstorming session was done, Di Vincenzo had drawn the Toronto skyline, some trees and an arrow between the two, pointing the way to Physis and the realization there’s no easy way for newbies to the outdoors to co-ordinate a camping trip.

“It’s camping. It’s been around for ages but hasn’t really been brought to people in the city,” Di Vincenzo said.

Last week, the trio brought the idea to Monster Pitch where it competed against three other shortlisted business plans by students. Initially, they figured at most they might win $500, the prize in the last edition of Monster Pitch.

But thanks to the work of the entrepreneurship club and its president Naveen Khan, the pot grew to $30,000-worth of services that will connect the Physis crew with eight firms to help them launch a pilot next year.

Naveen Khan is president of the Brock University Entrepreneurship Club

Naveen Khan is president of the Brock University Entrepreneurship Club

Khan also helped land one of the most recognizable faces in Canadian business to help judge the competition - Bruce Croxon, star of the CBC’s Dragon’s Den.

Given Croxon’s history as a digital pioneer, having co-founded the online dating site, Lavalife, his recent ventures into health and wellness and a love for the outdoors, Di Vincenzo said the pressure to woo and wow was even greater.

“We knew this was our chance,” he said. “This was our shot to get his attention for our company.”

Croxon wasn’t just impressed with the Physis pitch, he was also struck by the types of businesses being dreamed up by participants.

“I was pleasantly surprised by not only the quality of presentation and business idea but by the fact that all of them except one were essentially digital offerings,” Croxon wrote in an email. “I believe we are entering an excellent time for technology companies in Canada and our future is in good hands given the high quality I witnessed at the Goodman School (of Business).

The prize and a judging panel with star power - Croxon was joined by Jason Sparaga of Spara Capital and David Anyon, former president and CEO of commercial fabric manufacturer Vintex - already have people clamouring to be involved with the next Monster Pitch, Khan said.

“We have people approaching us to be monsters for next year. I’m excited to see how it will be next year. Let’s see what happens,” Khan said. “The event ran smoothly this year and I hope the trend continues.”

In the meantime, Di Vincenzo, Luey and Grootjen will be ramping up activity at Physis.

“When we first started, it was a fun idea but now it’s a viable business plan,” Di Vincenzo said. “It’s definitely something we’re excited for and passionate about.”

Posted on November 29, 2012

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