Accelerating an idea into a social commerce platform
Waterloo student startup Sway joins the Velocity Incubator
Waterloo student startup Sway joins the Velocity IncubatorBy Angelica Marie Sanchez University Relations
The University of Waterloo offers many on-campus resources for students to work on their startup ideas in a supportive environment, and the unique Enterprise Co-op program allows students to start their own business while also earning a co-op credit.
So, when Management Engineering student Ayush Bhargava met Mathematics student Samuel Minkov-Temis during their Enterprise Co-op term, they not only started working together to complete the credit, but they also started a new journey as business partners with an idea catering to the fast-growing digital space of content creators.
“Our main vision was to launch shops for creators on social media without all the re-directs that current creators’ struggle with,” Minkov-Temis says. “These creators miss out on a lot of potential sales because they are losing that authenticity when buyers have to go on another site to purchase.”
The co-founders created Sway, a social commerce platform, to allow creators to sell brand-partnered products and custom merchandise directly to their audience on their Instagram, TikTok or any of their social media page.
“What separates our company is that we are built on top of current social media platforms,” Minkov-Temis says. “It’s completely different than every other way is that brands and creators can work together in one space.” Bhargava explains that having multiple platforms integrated in Sway’s Shopify app allows people to buy directly from the influencer instead of the brand which adds an element of authenticity to the sale.
Soon after creating the technology and tools they needed to launch Sway, the co-founders discovered a few challenges that they needed to overcome before solidifying their current setup process on Sway’s Shopify app.
“The first four months was the ideation stage where we had a lot of challenges,” Bhargava says. “We thought our customers were the creators and we spent a lot of time reaching out to these people. But creators are going to keep their armour closed and so it was hard to reach them via e-mail address.”
The co-founders pivoted their strategy and started onboarding brands that can bring in their own brand ambassadors onto the Sway platform. It was beneficial for the startup business to develop a strong network of brands to further their relationship with current and prospective creators.
“We are still a creator economy company, but we do not need to work directly with creators right now. We can work with brands who are already working in the creator space.” Bhargava says.
As the co-founders approach the one-year mark since the launch of Sway, they continue to recruit brands across the United States to help them find existing and new creators to sell brand-partnered products and custom merchandise directly on the creators’ social media accounts.
“Based on the challenges we faced, we hope to build out a simple dashboard that would let creators’ type in their handle or their email which will then connect their social media accounts onto the Sway platform.” Minkov-Temis says.
During the pandemic, Velocity launched the Cornerstone program to support Waterloo students in helping refine their startup ideas into a career in entrepreneurship. After winning a Concept $5K Grant in Fall 2020, at the time called ChangeRoom, the Sway team joined the Cornerstone program where they pivoted to address a larger market and validate their solution. Their progress helped Sway get accepted into the Velocity incubator, along with six other early-stage teams as part of a new Velocity program designed to help students test out entrepreneurship after graduation.
During their time in the Velocity incubator, Bhargava and Minkov-Temis will receive support from Velocity business advisors and product development team as they refine their initial startup idea, business model and proof of concept over the next several months.
“The overall support from the Velocity community is really good to have when you sometimes feel isolated as an entrepreneur doing something yourself all the time,” Minkov-Temis says. “It was great working with our advisor from Velocity. His support is super beneficial for being available when we have a question over text, and we would also meet every two weeks to introduce us to his network of entrepreneurs who give really good feedback from an outside point of view.”
Both Sway co-founders acknowledge the University for being a supportive community that helped them grow their idea into a startup business.
While Bhargava started his entrepreneurship dreams in high school, Minkov-Temis did not see himself becoming an entrepreneur until the opportunity presented itself during his first year at Waterloo. The co-founders hope to expand their team in Los Angeles — home of the largest content creator economy — as they set their sights to become a fast-growing social commerce platform.
The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is co-ordinated within our Office of Indigenous Relations.