What were you doing when you were 15 years old? I remembering having that certain drive and desire to do something creative and impactful. My teachers were encouraging. Thank you Ms. Huber! So, when I hear of young teens today who are ambitious and reaching beyond the stars, it’s gives me hope for the future. When my editor forwarded a story idea about three Toronto area teens Michal Moshkovich, Rikard Saqe, and Jessica Peter, and their business idea of SpitStrips, it caught our attention.
SpitStrips is a company founded by the grade 11 high school students enrolled in the MaCS (Math and Computer Science) program at William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute in Toronto. They’ve created a prototype product, SpitStrips, to help change society’s behaviour towards drinking and driving. The product itself is a portable strip that quickly determines blood alcohol content based on the user’s saliva. The business model is to offer an affordable, accurate, portable product that would potentially help people better understand and manage their consumption while bringing awareness to their choices. Currently they are working in a Ryerson chemistry lab in the research and development phase.
But this isn’t just some science school project. In May, the team won first place in the Social Enterprise Business category at the 2017 Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship (SAGE) Canada Nationals at Ryerson University. They then travelled to Ukraine to represent Team Canada at an international business competition with 33 countries participating. Here they pitched their product to industry professionals. Ultimately they placed second internationally with their idea. SpitStrips also won a United Nations Gold Medal for their venture following the UN Sustainable Development goals: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages.
Your team presented your idea in the Ukraine at a competition this year. So, how did you get selected?
After sending in a video application on our business idea and product, our team was selected to participate in a national youth entrepreneurship competition by an organization called SAGE (Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship) earlier in May. We competed in the category of SEB (Social Enterprise Business) whose primary goal is to initiate a social change which in our case was reducing the amount of intoxicated drivers on the road to increase safety. At the national competition we pitched to and took questions from a panel of business professionals. After placing first out of the 50+ businesses that applied, we were given the opportunity to represent Team Canada by travelling to Odessa, Ukraine that coming August to compete internationally along with 33 other countries.
Your team was awarded second place! Congrats! How did you celebrate?
We were very happy with our result- not only for placing second internationally, but for the social awareness we spread regarding drunk driving to hundreds of people around the globe with whom we interacted, networked, and made friends with. Although a large part of our success was winning our title, the more important part was promoting our movement internationally. It is important not to get complacent as for us the competition just provided us with further validation of the potential of our venture, and we are eager to keep working towards that. Nonetheless, we had a great celebration with all of the new friends we made from the 32 countries attending the global competition the night the results were in! We were celebrating both competition results but furthermore, how far we have come together as a business in the last year.
What kind of challenges (good and not so good) have you faced so far?
As youth, we were faced with the difficulties of inexperience and uncertainty, but those are the best challenges you can have! We were really pushed outside of our comfort zone, and we experienced what we would not have thought possible just months before. We got real life lab experience at Ryerson University who was generous enough to provide us with a lab space, as well as, with the chemicals we needed for our research. However, with that opportunity also came one of our biggest challenges: setback after setback in research (which we came to learn was expected), but despite that, we came out under 2 weeks later with a fully revised procedure and working prototype! Another challenge we have had to deal with is the ability to make a concise and well-executed presentation. Through our experiences we were able to pitch and network with various well-established individuals, and there was always something to change and take away from their feedback. Unfortunately, for us that meant there was always something to change. From before we presented at SAGE Nationals in May to SAGE Globals in August, we must have made at least 10 different copies of the same presentation, all with slight changes and updates. In the end we benefited by knowing our material inside and out, but we learned that we can never be perfect in our content, as well as that our delivery, and the emotions we convey in our presentation, are far more important.
So, what’s next for your business idea? What do you need to get you to the next level?
We have come a very long way in the last few months in between social media marketing, research development, day-to-day practices, and continuing to set and work towards our goals. Over the summer, we were able to create a functioning prototype of our product. However, there is still testing that needs to be done before we finalize our product and get it onto market as soon as possible. We are truly working on our product for the desire of making the world a better place, and we would love to look towards forming partnerships with organizations such as those in the alcohol industry, education institutes such as universities and colleges, as well as, pharmaceutical companies and bars/restaurants — anyone that wants to help us save lives!
So, what are your dream jobs?
All of us our super passionate about doing something meaningful with our lives which is why we have invested so much time into SpitStrips. Working day in and day out at something that truly makes a difference in the world is the only way we feel you can lead a fulfilling life. Nothing is set in stone yet, but our team has a wide variety of interests including medicine, business, and engineering. No matter what our future occupations end up being we know it will be something that will make a difference in the world.
What’s been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned so far on this incredible journey?
Hard work, passion, and determination are all you need to propel you to success. We live in a time like no other where unprecedented amounts of information and resources are available to us, such that we can do anything we dream of. It is really important to take advantage of all the opportunities you have, and to start working on whatever excites you as soon as possible.
For more information visit their website spitstrips.wixsite.com