Sometimes, frustration drives innovation. For longtime disc golfer Eve Olynyk, this was the case. In disc golf (aka frisbee golf or frolf), players throw discs along 9 and 18-hole courses, usually found in forested areas. The “holes” are wire-frame baskets or metal poles called tones. This inexpensive, social, and challenging yet accessible sport was invented in the 1970s. Unlike golf, where it’s pretty common to lose balls here and there, without too much of a hassle, the disc is the ball and the club. Seeing as most courses are located in the forest, they get lost a lot. This can not only stall the game but can also get expensive. These are the seeds of MeepMeep’s story.
While Eve was a commerce student, she participated in a few Coast Capital Innovation Centre PitchIt competitions, winning one. So, she was familiar with the incubator and some of the Centre’s programs. In 2019, two years after graduation, Eve came up with the idea of a disc golf disc tracker. She went straight to the Innovation Centre team for feedback. They agreed it was a solid idea and introduced her to mechanical engineering graduate Simon Park to design and build a prototype. He had been through the incubator and was a go-to for carefully and well-designed prototypes.
Eve was initially part of the Innovation Centre’s pilot of WVenture, a tailored three-month program for female entrepreneurs with a tech-enabled product or service in-market. “WVenture not only provided the push we needed to start talking to potential customers and vetting the market, they actually provided us with hands-on experts and peer-to-peer support from other inspiring women. When I look at what other WVenture alumni like Origen Air and Solaires are doing now, the impact of the program is obvious to me. “
At first, Eve hired Simon as a contractor. But as they began talking and working on what is now MeepMeep, a few things became apparent—they approached the project from contrasting yet deeply complementary lines of thought. The two got along well and also shared ideas seamlessly. Eve realized that Simon would be a must-have component of MeepMeep’s ability to succeed. She broached this with Simon, and he decided to come on board as co-founder. He shares, “engineering has a specific way of approaching things, so it has been cool to see another way of thinking.”
Launching an international electronic product has required perseverance and an appetite for learning. There are so many facets, from product concept to design to production. Eve and Simon agree that sharing similar values with different perspectives has been critical. She works at a fast clip, and Simon focuses on beautiful and exceptional design. “The co-founder is the most important part of your business,” Eve emphasizes, “you really have to understand one another really well.”
Although certain components flowed smoothly, MeepMeep also encountered its share of challenges. There was a particular way they wanted to build the trackers, and they had to work on it part-time. Early funding came only from pre-orders. Also, there are many support programs, but most are not designed for people who are launching internationally. “We’re trying to have an anti-burnout culture, but we needed to work a lot to make it happen,” Simon shares.
They are both deeply grateful for the Innovation Centre’s commitment. When the team did not have the answer, they would source someone appropriate. Eve and Simon leaned heavily on the pool of advisors, and it has paid off well. MeepMeep incorporated in 2020. They are making 2000 for their first production run with shipping slated for June 2022.
For people considering entrepreneurship, Eve advises, “even if you have a stupid idea, just start. Leverage PlanIt and PitchIt, and see what happens”. Simon, who went through the incubator with an idea that fared well at first, but he had to let go, “failure sucks. Everyone tries to suggest it can be a great thing, and you can put it down to bad luck or timing, but it sucks. Instead of being so focused on success, I know now that what I need to do is my best. Do your best—that’s my advice,” Simon says.
The Coast Capital Innovation Centre is a partnership between the University of Victoria and the Coast Capital Federal Credit Union. Since 2016, Coast Capital has committed over $1.5 million to support entrepreneurs and innovators at UVic.
Written by Gillie Easdon