By Sandra Desrochers
Some would say that we’re in the midst of a second running boom. There are over 60,000 endurance events in North America each year, generating $250 million in processing fees – that’s a lot of races to organize and a lot of revenue to capture. Three local London, Ontario race organizers recognized a great opportunity to capitalize on this popular activity. By providing better tools for online race registration, they could build the service into a viable business.
Alex Vander Hoeven, Brandon Laan, Chan Yin, Robert Pluss, Chantelle Wilder and Fahim Pirmohamed formed their company, Race Roster, a one-stop-shop for race directors in the form of an online, cloud-based, customized registration platform.
Race Roster looked to VentureStart to help grow their startup. VentureStart is a program funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario). VentureStart received $7.5 million in funding through FedDev Ontario’s Scientists and Engineers in Business (SEB) initiative.
The program provides emerging entrepreneurs in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields with training, mentoring and seed financing to develop their ideas, commercialize their products and grow their companies.
“Our Government is pleased to support businesses across Southwestern Ontario and I am thrilled that FedDev Ontario continues to support startup companies in London such as Race Roster,” said Susan Truppe, Member of Parliament for London North Centre. “Through Economic Action Plan 2013, our Government demonstrates its continued commitment to workers, families and communities in southern Ontario with the renewal of FedDev. This builds on our commitment to creating jobs, increasing productivity and the competitiveness of southern Ontario.”
VentureStart, co-ordinated by the RIC (Research, Innovation, Commercialization) Centre in Mississauga, is delivered through 13 provincially funded Regional Innovation Centres in Ontario.
This includes London’s TechAlliance, where the Race Roster founders received mentoring.
Through FedDev Ontario’s support, VentureStart is helping program participants increase their business and management skills and their capacity to create successful companies and career opportunities.
The new entrepreneurs received mentoring from Bob Maloley, their assigned Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) at TechAlliance. EIRs like Maloley have a wealth of experience when it comes to both starting and growing technology companies. They provide valuable strategic direction and leadership to promising companies in their community.
“Bob was instrumental in helping us stick to our plan. He ensured that we used our resources in the most effective way,” said Vander Hoeven. “As business owners, we sometimes get tunnel vision with our ideas and plans. The mentorship program offers us a sober second opinion.”
VentureStart funding allowed Race Roster to strengthen its system infrastructure and grow their customer base. The money was used to increase their sales team and strengthen the platform technology. “In our business, sales is key,” said Vander Hoeven. “Having access to VentureStart funding allowed us to invest in a sales team that ultimately helped us reach our goals.”
Since June 2012, Race Roster has hired five employees.
Race Roster is a dream-come-true for busy race directors trying to organize major endurance events. The service is a cost effective and easy to use technology solution all in one place. The online service allows race directors to organize every aspect of their race from signing up participants to distributing tasks to volunteers.
Through Race Roster, race organizers can create and publish their branded race registration page in minutes including setting the time and date of race events, choosing price points and entering charitable donation information. Race Roster also embraces Social Media to turn race participants into race promoters. Registered runners get a link to share with friends. When a new runner registers based on their “referral” they are compensated with cash.
Race Roster runs on processing fees. There are no contracts, set-up fees or monthly fees, so the service becomes a cost effective solution to getting a race director’s race off the ground. The company feels its fees are competitive. “Putting on races is expensive, so we’ve lowered the processing fees as far as we could to make sure registration revenue is going towards the customer’s bottom line,” said Vander Hoeven.
Race Roster uses 256-bit encryption for registration fees to make sure customer payment information is safe. “The checkout process is simple and clean and leaves participants feeling confident their information is being securely handled,” said Vander Hoeven.
Besides processing payments, the site is set up for merchandise sales, volunteer management, pledges and donations and provides a dashboard for race directors to keep track of important race metrics such as revenue, promoter payments, pledges, and sponsorships leading up to race day.
Race Roster is keeping tabs on trends in their field. With a proliferation of obstacle course events and “colour runs,” the running business isn’t slowing down. If you could catch up with two of Race Roster’s founders, Chantelle Wilder and Brandon Laan, who are training for a spot on the 2016 Canadian Olympic team, they would tell you that Race Roster has the potential to be the number one online platform in the world for managing endurance events. This young team of entrepreneurs might just have the right tools, support and energy to pull it off.