At 16 years old, Canadian newcomer Diogo (pronounced Jo-Go) Iwasaki is North Forge’s youngest founder. Along with his mother Rosana, they are currently building a tech company, Ori.Gatou Creative Solutions Inc. in the North Forge Founders Program Ascent stage (North Forge’s incubator stage).
One of the challenges in being a newcomer is keeping in touch with family and friends back home. From the comfort of their Winnipeg home, Rosana remembers, “We wanted to communicate with my mom in Brazil because we have been in Canada for four years. I sent her lots of postcards but it was very expensive and took too long, which my mom always complained about. We wanted a different way to communicate with her. So we built a tech product meant to be very simple, easy, and fast to use. Using our technology, I can create a digital message and change the message remotely anytime, as many times I want. We soon realized we were building a product that could be useful in different business contexts using this instantaneous technology. That’s how we came up with the idea we’re focusing on right now…”
Working together on the tech family business has been rewarding and challenging for the Iwasaki family. Rosana explains “We work with our strengths and bring our best to our business. We understand our weaknesses and pull together because we know each other so well. I feel like team unity and understanding, collaboration, and trust make or break a company, especially at this early stage when everything is put on the shoulders of a few people. Everyone needs to be on the same page at all times and have that trust. But of course, there is the flip side to that; it’s also not easy to separate family matters in business matters in both the good and bad sense. We can be sleeping, but at 4:00 AM we have an idea and go and talk to each other about it. As with any other family, at some point, we get upset with each other because we’re having a bad day. It gets in the way of work too. Working together on this company has strengthened our bonds as a family and has made us closer than we ever were before. It made us work through things that we wouldn’t have worked through otherwise. It has made the business stronger because we have that experience together.”
The pandemic has affected each of these North Forge Founders differently. “COVID-19 affected our research and development positively,” Diogo recalls. “My mom and dad were working full-time. My dad was studying at college as well. I was a full-time student and involved in seven school clubs, so we were very busy people, and our time was very limited for the company, to just two hours per day. But when COVID-19 hit, everything stopped. My mom got laid off from work and my dad graduated from college. All my clubs obviously had to stop and I didn’t physically go to school anymore. We had a lot more time on our hands. That’s when we were really able to focus on the company 100%. By June 2020, we had an MVP (minimum viable product) ready, which led us to contact IRAP and through them onto North Forge.”
The North Forge Founders Program accepts companies at many stages of development – from having a basic business concept, all the way through to scaling customers and revenue to rapidly accelerated growth.
“We started learning through the first stage of the Founders Program, Pathfinder. We learned about the business model canvas, customer segments, their problems, our competitors, and how we can improve our solution, and what we’re offering them in addition to the value proposition. With market research, we interviewed our customers, talked to real people to try to validate and understand, instead of just guessing what you think they want. One of our biggest challenges is that we were just guessing everything. We had no idea if we were going to do really well or really badly. We found that the more we tested, the more we interviewed our customers, the more we reduced the chances of being completely wrong. We now have objective data that lets us understand our customer.”
One of the big changes where we had to pivot was with the customer segment we were after, but what ended up happening is that we changed it, then circled back to our original plans. Except that when we circled back this time we knew why we were focusing on early adopters, which was my mom’s original gut instinct.”
Entrepreneurs find that their business ideas pivot and often change as they learn more business techniques in the Founders Program. “What actually ended up happening was kind of funny.” Diogo laughed, “The first time when we were introduced to North Forge, our contact at IRAP put us in a zoom call with the CEO, Joelle Foster, directly. We had never done a formal pitch. Our pitch knowledge was based on the information we found online. We told Joelle that our customer segment is every business that has a marketing department. That should give you a sense of how early-stage we were.” He laughed. “There have been many changes since then. Through research, North Forge helped us pivot and really understand how to define the problem, value proposition, and develop a business model canvas.
Rosana’s excitement to work with North Forge’s Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIR) and mentors was evident,
“North Forge has industry professionals that have all the answers to our questions about building our business: lawyers, mentors, marketing people, salespeople, and finance. All the experts are in the right place. For me, this is essential because, as an immigrant, I don’t know how business works here in Canada. We have many questions and North Forge has been patient with us. Now we are not so worried because we have our answers from trusted experts with expert knowledge. It also helped that our EIR Peter Moreira speaks Portuguese, which has helped me tremendously as I continue to learn English and learn about business.”
Diogo adds, “The mentors have been especially helpful because they have a bigger understanding of our business. The mentors have various backgrounds and specialties. Getting those different perspectives has been instrumental. They also help us ask questions we didn’t realize we needed to ask. They sometimes notice things that we didn’t even know we were missing. They point us in the right direction. Mentorship is one of the biggest things that North Forge has helped us with.”
“I already mentioned so much, but the biggest strength is the people in North Forge,” Diogo beamed. “The people that they are, the network that they provide us with who have all the answers. If we have any doubts about any specific field of business like finances, pitching, or marketing, we know the person to ask, and they’ll be there. We know that they’ll always be willing to help, and we can contact them anytime; it’s so supportive. There isn’t really any good reason for someone not to try out the North Forge Founders Program.”
The Iwasaki family finds that they receive instant credibility when they tell their friends and other entrepreneurs that they are in the North Forge Founders Program.
“We’re proud to be part of North Forge. It’s like it is our personal local startup and entrepreneurship community that we have access to. We immigrated here only four years ago, so we don’t have any connections here, business or otherwise. North Forge has welcomed us with open arms and provided us with all of our business connections. It’s such a welcoming community of different people with different ideas; it is wonderful. It’s really, really nice to know that everybody has your back, wants you to grow, and flourish. Before entering the program, I wondered if the environment would be competitive, but it’s not like that at all. Everyone’s in the same boat and helps each other out. We don’t feel alone anymore.”
Finding solutions to help family and friends is a common thread in our founder’s community. Do you have an idea that would help someone you care about? If you do, let us know! Contact our Program and Communications Manager, Krista Kowaluk if you have a quick question or apply online, and Krista will contact you to set up a meeting to chat about your business idea.
We look forward to hearing from you!