Startup Talk Toronto’s Startup Podcast Episode 8 Envisioning a New Toronto
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Direct from The Six. World renowned. Canada’s largest city. With Canada’s biggest thinkers, visionaries, and hustlers This is Startup Talk featuring the founders, funders, innovators, and community leaders, who have lead Canada’s Startup Ecosystem right here in Toronto. You’ll hear the challenges. The failures, the successes Toronto’s Startup podcast gives you the full story direct from the entrepreneurs and the influencers who have made a difference. Now the host of Startup talk, the founder of TorontoStarts The Startup Coach.
The Startup Coach: It’s The Startup Coach here and I’m down at the CNE innovation garage again, and I’m talking to Emelina, from EnvisionTO . Welcome, Emelina.
Emelina Smith: Hi, it’s nice to be here, thank you so much for inviting me on the podcast.
The Startup Coach: So tell me about EnvisionTO , and what you’re doing here at the CNE Innovation garage?
Emelina Smith: Absolutely, we are a virtual reality company that started about two years ago. What we do is take people back in time, through our time portals. So we allow people to experience Toronto historic sites, any point in the past, and any point in the future it’s actually really exciting. We’ve got quite a few sites around the city and we’re working the city of Toronto right now and Toronto historic sites to actually build out more of a map here in Toronto.
The Startup Coach: That’s fantastic the city of Toronto, is a partner of ours. So tell me, I’ve just experienced it quickly before we started chatting, the going back in time and taking a look and it was pretty amazing. So what is your goal with this…I was at the distillery district and just checking it out and I went back to thirty, forty years well how did that work?
Emelina Smith: You actually went back to 1830, from present time, which is really phenomenal especially because of the view that you saw. The waterfront is completely changed. So you’re upright against the lake there, so it’s quite crazy.
The Startup Coach: Yeah, everything looks completely different, the old ships it was amazing. The Windmill all that kind of stuff, completely different so very entertaining. Will you make money doing this?
Emelina Smith: Definitely, so that’s the exciting part OK, so as you know in North America tourism isn’t our main industry. We don’t really have much to see of the past, not much to experience. So what we’re doing right now, is working with businesses and real estate developers and investment companies, to build out there condos and offer them Section 37 benefit. Which is something valuable to developers, not something most people would understand. But it allows them to for example show off a building as if it’s already there to investors that may live in China, wherever they may live and allow them to experience the space about six years before that’s even created.
The Startup Coach: So monetarily you’re looking to the future, not to the pass?
Emelina Smith: Absolutely here in Toronto and North America, yes! There is not much of a possibility for financial aid in what we’re doing in North America. But in Europe and in other countries over there they actually… their main industry, in Italy especially as tourism so that’s how they make most of their money, and they have a lot of money to invest in things like this. So this is where they kind of headed, which is very exciting.
The Startup Coach: So we talked about the development model, let’s just go back to that for a bit. So I make or build a condo or a hi rise and I would hire you, one to look at the land. But is that to get investments to help me build everything.
Emelina Smith: Hundred percent, well actually so we work with real estate developers and investors, like I’ve said, and a lot of the times they build the building or they have an idea of what they wanted it to look like, and they don’t know what’s it going to look like in the space in the next six years. Because it’s not going to be built for another three years or started until then, and they wanted to take a look at what it will look like finished. So what we do, we can offer them a full virtual reality, left eye, right eye, 3D experience. Where they can really see in detail what that building will look like and then also show their investors. I mean, when you hear about something that you might wanna spend a lot of money on you don’t … it’s not an instant sorry let me start again there. You don’t…it’s more convincing when you want to purchase something to look at what you’re purchasing first, it’s just hearing about it. It’s easier to imagine a building that will only be finished in six years when you have seen it.
The Startup Coach: Well the more high price ticket item it is, the more social and visible and proof you need to make sure you give to someone before they make that kind of investment you’ll be talking about hundred millions of dollars, or whatever it is from an investment vehicle for high-rises, then yeah. What about there are people using this for you know environmental and social impact when trying to convince a city what’s it going to look like if you dig up this land?
Emelina Smith: one hundred percent actually, we really want to focus on urban development and Urban planning here. Because this city a lot of condos go up all the time, it’s a lot of development. There is not a lot of green spaces, and there is not a lot of people looking towards the future for the place that we live. So it’s exciting for us to kind of be able to influence that. We’re working with that developer called Tricon developer an investment company actually, here in Toronto near ‘Sherbourne and Bloor” which we’re going to put our first plaque on the ground we can talk about that later. There, they wanted us to show off their building in ten years so that the people that will move that will move into the building can really get a feel for how popular the area will end up being.
The Startup Coach: So can I go a little bit deeper on tech with you?
Emelina Smith: Absolutely!
The Startup Coach: Alright so how do this work, how do you project the building into the future? Do you go look at other buildings? How does that work?
Emelina Smith: So we look at. We take Toronto archival information, so whether it’s in the past or the future, and we really have to talk to the city and see what they want to develop the area into. A lot of the developers don’t know everything about the area in the next five years they do know a little bit. But we kinda have to grab our information where we can get it and what we do is we build a full new 3D model of exactly what that space would look like. So in order to give you a view of where that building will be, we have to create the world in digital space and then we can drop a camera for you to look at that world at any point in the view. So it’s quite exciting.
The Startup Coach: How long does that process take?
Emelina Smith: Three months for one view.
The Startup Coach: Wow, so I guess it’s not regular persons like me come in and say guys hey, I would love to look like what my house would have looked like way back when.
Emelina Smith: If you’re very rich and want to experience that, absolutely we can do that. And hopefully, in the future, that technology will become available to make it easier to do so, And to create those views. But right now our artists they build everything out piece by piece you know it’s not cookie cutter, you don’t just get a model of a tree and place it in there. You know yes, so individual designed every leaf on that tree and the bark and the trees behind it, the windows and everything.
The Startup Coach: I would imagine over time that might be able to reuse some of those trees once you have thousands of them.
Emelina Smith: Eventually yes, once we model a couple hundred then we can start using them again in the future.
The Startup Coach: So how long have you been doing this?
Emelina Smith: So the company has been around for two years. And it started has a bit of Art project. I joined the company about eight months ago now. Which is very, very exciting and I come from a business background. So the rest of the team actually has an artistic background, and I walked in and said you guys are charging way too little money. Let’s move forward make it a business and get this all over the world. And that’s kind of a when we really started growing.
The Startup Coach: That’s interesting a lot of Startups they undervalue their product. And they think that they have to meet competition or they have to do this. And one of the things I always coach is your costumer more than your competition should inform your pricing. So how did they take it when you come in and said hey wait a minute, you’re charging too much, and how did that conversation go from wherever they were charging to what you’re charging now?
Emelina Smith: They were very willing to move forward. Because I mean they were all artists, it was an Art project’s the CEO of our company Summer Leigh Darbyson, she was a photographer and came across this idea has a photographer. And she was used to not making as much money. Because today Art is still undervalued, and I walked in I suggested that we make a few changes. They were very willing, very ready to do so, in order to progress. And they really had a vision for the future of this company. The just didn’t know how to go about it. So that’s kinda, where I came in and they were so willing.
The Startup Coach: So your business had on around a bunch of artists. So I work with artists, I work with creatives, sometimes it’s like herding cats. How does that work out with you?
Emelina Smith: Well, you know what, here is the thing. I’ve got on a bit of an Art background as well. But like I totally get where you’re coming from. You don’t want to totally change their vision. They have a distinct version of what they want to bring into the world. Right and it’s their baby. You know as with any CEO, as with any founder of a company. So it’s nice to come in and have somebody be so open to make some changes. I think that’s where Startups really succeed is you have to be open to changes. Because this world is changing so rapidly around us, especially development in Toronto, which is what we focus on. But yeah, they were so willing they’re so able. And I came from a bit of an Art background too. And was able to sympathize and respectfully move forward.
The Startup Coach: And there’s no…It’s just a creative generally. their process is completely different. A business or they clash a lot of time. So it’s interesting to see how that gets interpreted. So you come in, you make these changes, you’re increasing the pricing. Are you getting new clients, how did that client process working?
Emelina Smith: Absolutely as soon as we took a little bit more of a business focus. Which you know in some ways you know I say it’s easy. It’s not always easy; there are some parts you kinda have to pull it down a little bit. But once the adjustments are made the business comes and kind of moves forward in a beneficial way. So we instantly after making the changes that we made in the beginning. Had a meeting with Pearson network and we also had a meeting with a really big developer in the city. And we have very interesting parties moving forward as well. Because of the changes we made. And now that we’re focusing on selling to the market that is ready to, you know, invest in what we’re doing, for themselves it was a no-brainer for a lot of companies to move forward with us.
The Startup Coach: So we talked a little bit about tourism at the beginning. But it sounds like you’re focusing on a completely another area, right now.
Emelina Smith: We got two sectors of our company. So EnvisionTO actually is the product that we get to the public. The consumer model for EnvisionTO. So we focus on providing people with a view of, you know, the history of the city. A hopefully the history of the world eventually. But we recognized that in North America it’s almost impossible to make money doing that. The city will not offer you nearly what you need to do that. And what you’re looking at is only brand sponsorships. Which can be a little bit difficult at times. Like incorporating an old Coca-Cola banner in a nineteen twenty-one view you know what I’m saying. But you know the money in North America right now really is in the business side. So we have a B2B company called EnvisionVR, which is fantastic. So we just got a bunch of lawyers on that. We have trademarked a bunch of things and we’re really excited. But that’s separate. EnvisionTO is a product of that essentially.
The Startup Coach: And that makes sense. And I could see the reason why you would want to continue to do EnvisionTO is marketing and all sorts of other things to create general awareness of everything that’s going on. And you know yeah, eventually it was a good business model for advertising all that stuff. But only once you get going. So the focus would be on EnvisionVR?
Emelina Smith: Yes, absolutely and in North America definitely. Because that’s where all the money is made. And we can actually use some of the funds there to fund EnvisionTO. And of course like I said in what we were talking about earlier, working with artists, you don’t want to change their vision. They want to do what they love for the rest of their life that’s why we started this company. So that they can do that and thrive at least in some way. And EnvisionVR allows them to do that. They continue to work on EnvisionTO and mapping out the city. Eventually mapping out the world, and we have a business side that makes the money and pleases investors and makes us all happy.
The Startup Coach: So how are you finding new costumers now in the B2B model?
Emelina Smith: Actually, they are fantastically opened to virtual reality. Right now it’s…I think VR is still of its early stages. Not a lot of people know that they can scan QR code and visit like in augmentative reality or VR, a site. And really experience something in a different way. Nobody has virtual reality headsets as a home. So I think a lot of business kinda want to be on that cutting edge of that. They want to be there in the beginning and really offer that to their consumer as well passers-byes, that walk by, developers new building. They want to offer something that really intrigues the public. And I think we can help them do that.
The Startup Coach: I think it would definitely, be a great sale tool. Your walking by taking a look at the future ground, and talking to the sales office that kind of stuff. Definitely. So how are you connecting? Is it cold calling when you’re talking to developers? How are you reaching out to them and saying hey, we have this service available? And more importantly, how are they finding out about you?
Emelina Smith: So I actually went to a lot of networking conferences. And I met a lot of people that way. And I feel like in Toronto, when you meet a couple of people in the business world. They know a lot of people. And you know you build out a connection, a network in that way. And that’s kind of how we got out first couple clients. I knew some of our…the businesses that we’ve worked with personally at least a little bit. And they were very opened with the idea. So in the future, it is going to be a lot of cold calling. And using proof from previous jobs that we have done, with developers and investors. Such as the Tricon viewer we’re almost finished actually right now. We can now show other businesses, other developers, investors these views and they can see well that this is actually incredible, beneficial to our business. This is how they benefited I want to benefit in the same way. And yeah, it’s pretty simple. Cold calling does come into it though.
The Startup Coach: Interesting and I was talking to a company, I can’t remember the name off my head (Penda Productions). But they do drone and 3D dimensional mapping of mines for you know investments, and geological surveys, and environmental impact. And yeah, and exactly trying to take map of the vein, map of the data, when it’s going to look like before and after dig and all kind of stuff. And they use a lot of drone technology and stuff to map that kind of stuff out. But it’s a complete…it’s not a VR base system they do videos and what not. This is immersion, and I would assume it ten-times the work.
Emelina Smith: Oh absolutely oh my God, our creative designer, sorry our creative director Matthew Borrett, he’s an incredible artist and that’s all he did before is just Art. Right like we’ve talked about earlier. And it does take hours, and hours and hours of dedicated work. Especially when there is so much detail involved. We pride ourselves in our detail. And the ability to offer kind of an artistic render of what a lot of developers already have, you know what I mean they have a model of what they’re building a cad file. If anyone knows what that is? Of the building ready that they can show people. But it doesn’t look very pretty. You don’t know what the surrounding area looks like. You just see that there is going to be a lot of construction in your area, and it’s going to be quite annoying. So it takes a long time yeah. But when we have the right team working together, we have some remote modelers as well that help them out. We’re getting animation in there now. Which is really exciting. Once all of these moving parts come together, it works seamlessly for us now.
The Startup Coach: It sounds like it’s all coming together. I’m remembering back to they recently knock down Honest Eds, and they’re really putting up a big complex down there. But that took years and years for approval. And years for the community to get behind it. So something like this would have be of extreme value, for everybody to show what’s it going to look like how it going to…I think a lot of models they had was very two dimensional and you really couldn’t get a good perspective. So I definitely find that they would have found this of value, to be able to move this. Shorten their life cycle, months to get approval.
Emelina Smith: Exactly, well that is one of the benefits right. And then you and I so used to being able to going on our phones and get everything we need instantly. It’s instant. But when you see construction happening, it’s a very slow process. You and I can see a picture a, none 3D photo of what of what this would be like. it’s a sketch of a building and it will be quite annoying. Because we know it’s going to be loud and busy, and we don’t know how it’s going to fit in with our neighborhood. Should we sell our Condo? should we move somewhere else? Like it’s…, we allow people a little bit of peace of mind. So that they can instantly see what the neighborhood is going to look like. What they might benefit from in the future. And maybe understand a little bit more about why the developers are doing what they’re doing what they’re doing.
The Startup Coach: One thing you don’t get from the 2D rendering and what not, and even if they do if 3D rendering is perspective. So I think the VR way is right to say alright welcome by to this site and here is a picture of what’s it going to look like. But that’s a picture and you know an eight by eleven sheet of paper and I’m a six-foot-tall person.
Emelina Smith: Exactly!
The Startup Coach: That’s not going to look like what happens when I walk past by this building every day.
Emelina Smith: One hundred percent, actually the funniest thing, I just remembered. So, Ellis Dawn is a developer is doing I think a $3.5 billion dollar expansion of the front on the east side of Toronto downtown. And all they were showing people on the news of this development, they were doing a little interview thing with passer-byes was a piece of paper with a black and white sketch of what it was going to look like.
The Startup Coach: How does anybody get anything approved like that?
Emelina Smith: I know it would be like it’s funny. Because the interviewer was passing the paper to somebody, holding the microphone up and going what do you think? And the passer-byer was just like, “well OK I mean there’s a tree. So” can you imagine like show them what it would look like put on the headset that seems like a no-brainer?
The Startup Coach: And also every time I see that one piece of paper and stuff like that. I am like did you just have your kid draw this at home one day? is like you don’t , $3.5 billion and you can’t you know get a proper picture, never mind anything else to show people?
Emelina Smith: Because that’s the way it’s being done, you know what I mean. But now if you can offer people a visual reason why they will enjoy the space and why they should be excited about this space, like what we can provide you know it seems crazy that people aren’t doing it you know.
The Startup Coach: Do you know why your creatives decided, with VR you can do anything?
Emelina Smith: Absolutely
The Startup Coach: Why decided to map out Toronto verses create a whole new world, and do whatever they want?
Emelina Smith: Well so yeah, what you said about it being infinite. It’s so many possibilities of virtual reality. Once you have got another world literally in your hands you could do anything. You could start a bar in virtual reality. And like offer people the opportunity to get that experience. I don’t know like it’s infinite. The creator as a CEO and founder of this company and the creative director really loved Toronto history. And they have lived here their whole lives. There is such a rich history in the city that people have no idea about. Because North America is so new you know what I mean especially Canada. And the city itself is Toronto is only a hundred and three years old right? Sorry, a hundred and eighty-five I think. But Canada as a country is so young, but developments go up and people don’t…there is not a lot of heritage buildings people could see and experience. Which you would normally see in Europe that are hundreds of year olds, So it’s nice to be able to show people what Toronto was like a hundred and fifty years ago. Having them say wow this is incredible, and I had no idea this even existed. We don’t have heritage preservation here.
The Startup Coach: I absolutely agree, and one of the stories are told about downtown Toronto is the Royal York hotel was one time was the tallest building in the European empire. But I would love to see what that was like then. Like right now, really? It’s surrounded by all these things that are ten times its height.
Emelina Smith: Exactly, and it doesn’t look nearly as impressive. And they don’t restore it properly. It’s just like its kinda crazy. You can have someone describe to you or read off a piece of paper, what was that building was like back in the day. But you really, really cannot experience it unless you look around to see people on the time period clothing that they would be wearing. See the greenery that was once there. The horses and buggies that you know. The magnificence of the building as it was on its own as it a versed to now with giant condo buildings right next to it right.
The Startup Coach: I think it’s a great story just the concept; of alright we got a bunch of artists that are inspired about history. And we want to recreate the city. But how do we do that and pay for it? let’s engage our creativity to offer these type of things, to buildings like that and inspire us, our creativity. And that allows us to build the building to inspire our vision of mapping out this world in VR …I don’t know I mean I don’t necessarily…I think this is very passionate. If I was creating a whole new world, I might create a whole new world rather than the same one again. And that’s a whole different kind of conversation; it’s fantastic to know about this. Do you have any advice for new young entrepreneurs that are starting out?
Emelina Smith: Absolutely I’m twenty-one, myself and my dad was an entrepreneur before me. And I grew up in a family. Even though my dad was an entrepreneur, really wanted me to go to university and you know the traditional route. Get a good job. Work in an office. If you are passionate about something I really think that you should break whatever mold you’re in. Whatever mold other people have put you in, and just explore whatever you’re passionate about. Take a second see what you can do with it. And really do what makes you happy. Because if I didn’t, I would listen to everybody else who would told me to go to that school. And I would still be their right now. I went to university, left after a month when I got a business idea. and I moved to the city. and here I am, so.
The Startup Coach: Do what you love for as long as you want.
Emelina Smith: Exactly it will make you so much happier. You won’t feel like you’re working. And you’ll never feel like the word retirement. Because you’ll just want to keep doing it for the rest of your life.
The Startup Coach: It’s a great advice I recently interview somebody who is talked about the same thing and basically was saying this, you know whatever you’re going to do in your life may or may or may not successful. Whatever work you do it may not lead to or go to the next level. So you might as well do something you love and enjoy and put your passion behind that.
Emelina Smith: And if it works out. You’ll make a lot more money than you would in that office space. You might have a lot of failure. But that’s normal you know.
The Startup Coach: It’s great to have you here. If people want to know more about EnvisionTO and EnvisionVR how do they get a hold of you? where do they find out more?
Emelina Smith: For sure, we have social media so it’s @EnvisionTO and we also have a website at the exact same address. So it’s www.envision.TO and that’s it.
The Startup Coach: Thank you for being on Startup Talk.
Emelina Smith: Thank you so much for having me I really appreciate it.
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