When Michael Wideman first considered university, he wanted to be an architect. He even got as far as being accepted by the University of Waterloo’s architecture program, but at the last minute decided he wanted to do more than just design buildings, he wanted to design communities. Wideman’s creative streak lead him to choose planning and is ultimately what drew him into entrepreneurship.
“Just Eggplantr it!”
Wideman’s company, Eggplantr, was inspired by his co-op job in India. He was responsible for starting a rooftop agriculture program from the ground up. He discovered through trial and error that gardening requires a lot of research and guess work. To simplify things, he’s developing an app that recommends products and helps budding gardeners solve their gardening problems.
According to Wideman, Eggplantr is, “a piece of software where gardeners can easily generate a highly efficient garden layout based on their specific backyard growing conditions and garden size that will have the highest likelihood of success without any research on their part.” That layout then gets printed on a biodegradable weed barrier that suppresses weeds, retains soil moisture and naturally decomposes in your garden after a few months.
Wideman just hired his first employees and together they are working towards developing a prototype app, improved weed barriers and reaching out to garden centers to get them on board. In the long term, Wideman hopes to hire more employees and launch a Kickstarter sometime next year.
If you have a business idea, Waterloo has the resources to help
When Eggplantr was just an idea, Wideman stumbled upon Greenhouse, the social impact incubator at Waterloo’s St. Paul’s College and decided to do an Entrepreneurship Co-op there. Through St. Paul’s and the Conrad Business Centre, he was paired with a number of great advisors who continue to advise him today. He credits his start-up coach at Greenhouse, Brendan Wylie-Toal, for asking the tough questions and making him think outside the box. Greenhouse also taught Wideman that talking to current and potential customers, people in the field and on the ground, before you begin developing your product, helps you to refine your priorities.
Wideman took advantage of the entire suite of entrepreneurial programs available to Environment students. Encouraged by his mentors from Greenhouse and Conrad, he entered the Velocity Fun 5K, and won. He pitched Eggplantr at the Jack Rosen comeption. He also successfully pitched to the Greenhouse Social Impact Fund and the ECOLOO Pitch Competition. Beyond giving him confidence, the wins helped pay for development costs and Wideman’s legal fees when his business incorporated.
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs
“Give entrepreneurship a try. It’s a shame that more Environment students don’t because so many businesses moving towards a more socially responsible model and I think Environment students have so much to offer the business world. I wish more students would realize that you don’t need to have ground-breaking technology, there's many great start-ups that go through St. Paul's Greenhouse that are low-tech. Don’t let superficial barriers stop you from getting involved in entrepreneurship.
One of the biggest learning curves for me was I went into it thinking: ‘I don't belong here, I'm an urban planner not a business person’ and yet of course I belong here because I have the passion to. Lots of people think: I could never get into entrepreneurship because I have no business training so they don’t pursue it. But I had no training in this area either, so if you have the passion and drive for it anyone can start a business.”