Coloursmith Labs: From Passion Project to Volta Cohort Winner
“Volta Cohort is the best first step you can possibly take to establish yourself as a business in Atlantic Canada” – Gabrielle Masone (Elliott-Bouchard)
Volta Cohort winner, Gabrielle Masone (soon to be Elliott-Bouchard) was born with Amblyopia, an eye condition that caused her to lose vision in her right eye. Along with entrepreneurial interests, she has a personal connection to helping those who suffer from eye related diseases.
Originally from Detroit, Gabrielle moved to Halifax to study chemistry at Dalhousie University. During her final year, she took an entrepreneurship class where she thought of the idea to launch a medtech company that develops contact lenses to mitigate color blindness.
Introducing Coloursmith Labs
Following graduation, Gabrielle and her team of supporters completed customer discovery to validate the idea. During that time, she participated in two Volta pitch competitions, but lost both. In January 2018, she decided to drop her passion project.
“We just walked away and said cool. Someone will make money off that someday,” said Gabrielle, Coloursmith Labs Founder and CEO.
Having always had an interest in optometry and ophthalmology, she packed up and moved to Montreal for medical school.
While in Montreal, Gabrielle’s former professor from Dalhousie, Dr. Mary Kilfoil called to let her know she was doing a business model competition in February and thought Gabrielle’s company would be a really good fit. Her response: what company?
After some consideration, she decided to come back to Halifax and participate in the competition.
“I lost,” she said while laughing. “But I met people I hadn’t met before. People who were interested and wanted to keep talking about my idea.”
She flew back to Montreal to continue her plan of becoming an ophthalmologist. But she hadn’t forgotten about Coloursmith Labs. She couldn’t. People were interested in her idea, messaging, calling and requesting to meet.
After a couple months in Montreal, she moved back to Halifax hoping to pursue Coloursmith Labs full-time.
“There was just this angst. I didn’t feel like I was in total control of my life. I wanted something different,” she said.
Around the same time she moved back to Halifax, Volta Cohort was accepting applications. She incorporated Coloursmith Labs and applied for Volta Cohort, giving her idea one more shot.
“I thought to myself – if I can somehow manage to win Volta Cohort, than I think I’ll have what it takes to progress with this idea,” she said.
Coloursmith Labs x Volta Cohort
Having completed two Volta pitch competitions earlier in the year, Gabrielle received feedback and met one of her most valued business mentors, Gillian MaCrae, Venture Manager at Creative Destruction Lab.
“Gillian tore me apart,” Gabrielle said explaining her first pitch competition. “But her feedback showed me this was more challenging than I thought it would be.”
Having lost every pitch competition prior to Volta Cohort, Gabrielle was determined to win.
She took the weeks in between being accepted as a Cohort finalist and pitching to prepare. For her, she needed to memorize the entire pitch. She practiced constantly to friends and family.
“My sister knew my whole pitch word for word, that’s how much I rehearsed it with her,” she said.
She thought about every aspect of the pitch, including who was going to be in the room. She recognized she had a limited time and she needed to stand out.
“I called up this magic store in Toronto and asked them for something that was black and white, but changed color when I did something to it,” said Gabrielle. “They sent me a magic scarf in the mail.”
She showed her business mentors the scarf that changed colour and they strongly advised against using it in her pitch. She was confident in her ability to deliver the pitch, and decided to take a chance and use it anyway.
“My biggest advice is to be yourself entirely. You don’t need to be a business person to do business,” she said. “You just have to be willing and dedicated to learn everything and be diligent enough to do it before you need it.”
Since winning $25,000 with Volta Cohort, Gabrielle has almost skipped the ‘self-investment phase’. She’s used the money as a float, refilling it as she receives reimbursements from grants and programs.
“There are plenty of ways to turn $25,000 into $100,000,” she said. “One thing I didn’t do before Volta Cohort that I wish I did, was sit down, and come up with a schematic on how this entire thing was going to pan out and then allocate how and where the money was going to go.”
Advice for Applicants
For those thinking about applying for Volta Cohort, Gabrielle recommends companies apply because they want to be part of the community. She says the investment is useful, but the Volta community is the real benefit of the program.
For those selected to pitch, she advises to deliver your pitch in less time than what’s provided. This will give you extra time for questions or for last-minute adjustments.
Ready to Apply?
If you’re an early stage, pre-investment technology startup in Atlantic Canada, Cohort can help you get there faster. Apply by April 3, 2019 for a chance to receive $25,000 in investment, mentorship and resources to help grow your company.