Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Mikele Brack, Founder of Urban Living Futures Incorporated, located in Toronto, ON, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Urban Living Futures creates programs and tools to accelerate the impact of innovation. Our flagship product, UPPlift, is a B2B SaaS platform that acts as a global marketplace where corporations, innovators, investors, and other stakeholders come together for interactions that accelerate innovation.
How it works - Via a link on your website, innovators create a profile and then respond automatically to new opportunities that you launch on the platform. Those opportunities, which could include events, programs, funding opportunities, or simply relevant news, appear on ecosystem members' private dashboards.
Benefits for our ecosystem - Your ecosystem benefits from having a central place to stay up to date on opportunities/news relevant to the innovation community, and if there is an opportunity to which they need to "apply" or "register," our details are already saved so they just click through. We can also view opportunities from others ( companies, cities, investors) and join those virtual ecosystems, providing further chances for growth and scaling.
Benefits for your Organization - The benefit to your organization is consistent and comparable information on each ecosystem member (maintained by members - rather than out-of-date spreadsheets and CRMs and time-consuming online surveys), ecosystem insights so you can monitor growth, progress, and trends, and a simple way of communicating opportunities, events, and news to our community without email blasts which often land in spam folders.
Fully Branded Portal - As an UPPlift customer, the experience for everyone associated with your ecosystem is branded for your organization, so it is a seamless experience between you and your community.
Tell us about yourself
As a precursor to developing UPPlift, I established and led a pioneering smart city technology accelerator, attracting innovators from around the world to make their solutions interoperable and pilot them at Canary Wharf and a similar project with QuadReal Property Group and the City of Toronto. I also helped set up the UK government’s centers of excellence: the Connected Places and Energy Systems Catapults.
Previously, I led the Cities sector in General Electric’s Global Growth & Operations team, developing commercial models for alternative energy solutions for cities and the built environment. And before that, I was an urban planner, working on early projects that used emergent technology to support sustainability in urban development.
So, my career has always been focused on innovation and ESG principles, and launching the UPPlift Innovation Management platform is a natural extension. Many cities and corporations are now launching innovation challenges and experimenting with novel ways to harness innovation, and I am driven to help them with tools I developed based on my lived experience of managing such processes.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Turning the processes that I developed to operate my own innovation accelerators and programs into a software platform to help my customers manage their innovation activities feels like a big accomplishment. We launched the platform at the beginning of the first COVID-19 lockdown, so we had a slow start, but we persevered, and we are now building up a significant customer base and a growing ecosystem of hundreds of innovators with solutions that address real-world challenges, such as those defined by the United Nations sustainable development goals.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
There are always distractions, such as prospective customers pulling your solution in different directions with requests for additional features and even significant pivots. It is important to listen to feedback and continually improve your product/service, and it is also important and sometimes challenging to maintain focus once you have confirmed your market fit.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Taking the leap to start a business can be hard. I recommend jumping in and starting a business that builds on your interests and skills, even if it's not the business you will ultimately launch. Just try it and build some confidence that you can create a living for yourself without relying on a corporation for a salary.
- Startups and small businesses need to focus on addressing a real-world need or opportunity. Don't create a solution looking for a problem to solve. Look for an emerging opportunity or a market need to which you can apply your skills and interests.
- Don't try to do it alone. Find a partner
someone that shares your passion and has complementary skills.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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