Two Hockey-Focused Entrepreneurs Avoid Skating on Thin Ice
Remember that old joke, “How many kids in Canada play hockey? Almost all of them!” Capitalizing on the popularity of the sport and finding an as-yet, untouched niche in the equipment market, Kayla Nezon and Emily Rudow co-founded Oneiric Hockey.
Congratulations on filming a segment on Dragon’s Den! Tell us about your experience? What advice can you offer to entrepreneurs considering venture capitalists?
The experience on Dragons’ Den was fantastic! We brought kids along with us so that we could showcase the product properly. We had a great response from the Dragons, but they definitely ask tough questions. Overall, I’d say it went pretty well!
Our biggest piece of advice is to make sure that your company valuation is sound. We don’t have a lot of experience working with Venture Capitalists, but I would say do your research on their company just like they are doing on you. Also, try funding your business through customers before you take the VC route!
There are many hockey equipment manufacturers on the market. How does Oneiric separate itself from its competitors?
The Oneiric Base Layer is a brand new product that doesn’t compare to current equipment that is out on the market. Base layers are basic legging pants that sometimes come with a protective cup but none of them have padding at the back of the leg, cut-resistant ankles or a way to secure the shin pads like ours does. Oneiric is a very unique product and we are separating ourselves by using exciting messaging and packaging as well as marketing to parents and really appealing to them on an emotional level about keeping their kids safe rather than just explaining the product features.
Oneiric has created an innovative product to protect young hockey players while minimizing dressing room time. How did you conceptualize your product design? What was your inspiration?
Emily initially came up with the idea back in her fourth year at Wilfrid Laurier University. Although she had been playing hockey since she was very young, she hated the feeling of hockey equipment and was sensitive to back of the leg injuries. She knew there had to be a better way! From there it moved on to the journey of creating a prototype, finding a technical designer to help create a sellable product and then finding and sourcing a trusted and quality manufacturer that was willing to take the product on.
Your protective base layer is patent-pending. Tell us about your experience applying for a patent. Can you offer any advice to those considering this option?
The patent process is very cumbersome. Long and expensive, it was probably the most important investment we undertook. We filed for a US Provisional Utility Patent almost 4 years ago and are still in the patent-pending stage with a bill of over $20,000 in legal fees.
Depending on the industry and what the product is, I would recommend doing a medium search before applying. Also, use professional IP lawyers. Some business owners or inventors try doing the application themselves which in the long run, can cost them not only their time and energy, but could open them to making huge mistakes along the way which could cost them their patent. Our advice is to be patient and plan for a long process with several large financial disbursements along the way.
Start-ups often face resource limitations. What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
This was one of our biggest challenges! We can’t even count the number of sleepless nights when we were trying to pull together large sums of cash. Friends and family helped, but nowadays there’s a ton of other ways for start-ups to access funding. We’ve been very successful at winning pitch competitions (in total almost $90,000). There are some other government programs like Start-up Company in Toronto that offer $5,000 and there are also companies that can help you find funding opportunities. Networking events are also a good idea as these can provide opportunities to meet angel investors and VCs (if you want to go down that route). For us, we desperately asked everyone we knew for cash to help us fund our first order of inventory and we were able to just pull through.
Do you use the service of a professional accountant or lawyer? If so, how have they helped your business?
Yes, we use both. Our accountant provides us with great insights regarding our cash flow and helps us with forecasting and inventory management. It really helps to keep us in line when we have so much to worry about all the time. Our patent lawyer has been great as well and is always there to offer business advice.
How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?
Right now we are really trying to test different strategies to see which one sticks. Social media, particularly Instagram has actually been great for us, and it’s free so we love it! We have also been working closely with hockey influencers through their social media channels as well as ours. We’re also working at the grass-roots level and setting up booths at hockey tournaments on the weekend to get in front of hockey parents to promote our brand.
In one word characterize your life as an entrepreneur.
What’s next for Oneiric? Do you have any goals for the next five years?
Our focus right now is to get our brand out there and for people to start to recognize it and the product. Next, we are looking at developing some new products to our line, moving into adult sizing and growing into other countries. We want Oneiric to be the next hockey lifestyle brand with the ‘protective’ focus to really be owned by us.
Catch Oneiric on CBC’s Dragons’ Den on Wednesday, November 16 at 8:00 p.m, To learn more about Oneiric Hockey, please click here: