Two young entrepreneurs with a plan to make taxi service safer in foreign countries are now firmly on route, thanks to a $5,000 vote of confidence at the fifth Venture Okanagan Investors Forum held Nov. 7 at Okanagan College.
Alejandro Jervis and Ivan Balconi Gonzalez are the founders of MiTaxi, a new mobile phone application that allows users to obtain verification that the taxi they are about to step into is registered and therefore safe.
Jervis and Gonzalez, who come from Columbia and Mexico, explained to investors at the forum that while taxis may be safe in this country, that’s not always the case elsewhere.
“Taxis are regularly used in South America, but they’re also often part of criminal activity, so when people step into the taxi, they don’t know that they may be at risk of being targets for assault, robbery, even sexual assault,” Jervis said.
“What we want to do is help users leave a bread trail in case something happens, so they are able to share information with their family and friends and reduce the risk.”
Their compelling pitch convinced the panel of independent judges, and now Jervis hopes MiTaxi will take off, with the help of the top $5,000 prize plus complimentary consulting services from title sponsor Grant Thornton.
“We plan to invest the funds towards the development of our application that will improve the lives of millions of people,” Jervis said.
Grant Thornton partner Kevin Crookes said the event illustrated the depth and breadth of new business ideas emerging in the Okanagan.
"The Venture Okanagan event was outstanding,” he said. “The calibre of presenters was excellent and it was exciting to see the innovative new businesses in the Okanagan."
Other projects that made it to the Investors Forum included an engineering invention that protects waterways from toxic chemicals, a health technology business that is specializing in lower back pain management, and a specialty distillery business that is opening in the South Okanagan.
Venture Okanagan operates under the umbrella of Okanagan College’s Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) program.
In opening the forum, Okanagan College president Jim Hamilton pointed to how this initiative meets the College’s mission of transforming lives and communities.
“After watching the investors connect with passionate entrepreneurs, I couldn’t agree more,” said Venture Okanagan project manager Reid Schretlen.
“When it came to MiTaxi, I think the judges were captivated by the importance of the problem that their technology helps solve: the physical dangers associated with traveling in taxis in countries such as Columbia and Mexico,” Schretlen said.
“Mr. Jervis and Mr. Gonzalez also had a clear implementation plan and knew their numbers, showing the judges that they had a real business opportunity and not just an idea,” said Steve Watson, chair of Venture Okanagan and business professor at Okanagan College.
SIFE Okanagan is a not for profit student organization that operates on all four Okanagan College campuses: Penticton, Kelowna, Vernon, and Salmon Arm.
SIFE students contributed more than 6,500 volunteer hours during the 2011-12 school year, impacting over 10,000 individuals in the Okanagan. Through a mix of entrepreneurial and education based projects SIFE Okanagan continues to empower individuals throughout the Okanagan.