Joelle is the kind of woman that makes this column, and the Ottawa entrepreneur landscape, so exciting. She launched her start up less than one year ago and the business is moving at lightning speed. I met with Joelle this time last year when she told me about the concept for the company Edge to Epic and here she is building one of Ottawa's most exciting start-ups.
My network has helped me immensely
At the time of our meeting I thought the idea of mobilizing small businesses in order to get better bargaining power and rates for things like health benefits, corporate cell phone plans and most recently travel was brilliant. I can tell you that at the time of our meeting I thought "I wish I had thought of that" given my own struggles to find suitable health benefit coverage for my own SME and the beauty of offering SME's buying power and leverage for common small business utilities. Simply put: it's brilliant.
I hand selected every rep on the program
And so is Joelle. She is the one who saw the disparity and did something about it. Although, with the exception of one small chance meeting, Edge to Epic may never have come to fruition. "I was having coffee in August 2012 with a client of mine (while working at Investors Group) talking about health benefits and insurance. Parm Gill , who happened to overhear, approached Joelle afterward to discuss the lack of bargaining power SMEs face, especially with regard to health benefits." Joelle explains. It seems they shared a vision for bringing people together to access economies of scale. "He essentially said that if I built it business would come. I never looked back."
A Carleton University graduate in International Business Joelle speaks three languages: English, French and Spanish. In fact, Joelle did two semesters abroad in Pamplona, Spain where she attended a fully Spanish language university and conducted all her studies in Spanish. "I chose Pamplona to get the full cultural experience," Joelle confides.
When you want to get noticed, being the only female in the room makes it easy
Having started her career at Investors Group Joelle was familiar with the concept of running her own company. "At Investors Group everyone is their own boss; we choose our hours, work on commission, solicit clients," she reveals. "I liked that way of working, so it wasn't unfamiliar for me to begin networking and business development for Edge to Epic."
And to add to the excitement, Joelle recently got married. "Not only was I trying to build this start-up company (Edge to Epic), but I was also planning a wedding during that same time frame!" Joelle laughs. "It was a lot to take on. My husband did more than his fair share of wedding planning."
I am not motivated by money as much as I am by goals and a challenge
"The biggest hurdle was getting the insurance companies on board. That alone almost killed the idea," Joelle confides. But her timing was critical, "SMEs and start-ups were hot topics and providers were looking to break into that space. We provided that opportunity. And once that happened they saw Edge to Epic as a channel to get to this audience" Joelle declares.
In fact, Edge to Epic offers a one of kind custom medical and dental plan that can be used by self-employed individual contractors to firms with 100 employees.
Networking isn't easy; it's going to suck and it's going to be awkward but soon you will know people. And it will pay off
From there Joelle realized there were a number of complementary services that could be of benefit to SMEs: cell phones, office supplies, business insurance, business travel and so on. She was able to get enough providers on board to begin building a membership of SMEs to use the services.
"It all happened very quickly," Joelle reports. "My networking activities allowed me to meet influential business people in Ottawa; people who took a great interest in the idea." "One of the first things I did was build an Advisory Board and enabled service providers to see both the vision and the value of Edge to Epic." Joelle explains.
Amazing people keep coming out and offering to help. I am so grateful
"A big moment for me was when I had Bell, Rogers and Telus fighting for the position of preferred provider," Joelle announces. "That's when I knew I was onto something valuable."
The more volume Edge to Epic brings to one provider the more influence Edge to Epic has. "I am only going to promote one," smiles Joelle. "This gives me more bargaining power."
And the concept of the business is all about getting the best bargain for its members. "It's about 'best value'," explains Joelle. "Best value doesn't always mean cheap and it doesn't mean offering the same package from ten providers." Case in point, Joelle was recently in conversation with Canada's leading Banks but chose none of them. "The banks weren't offering enough value in my opinion," Joelle proclaims. "So I chose to go with none of them." She did however accept RBC's offer to sponsor her launch event.
It's fun and very social. If this is work, life is good
It is this commitment to quality and value that resonates with Edge to Epic members. "I negotiated the entire program," Joelle divulges. "And I listen to what the members want." Recently that listening lead her to add Porter Airlines to her list of providers, with Porter offering an attractive 10% off all flights, and eventually becoming an official sponsor. "I am currently looking for an international airline to add to our roster," Joelle reveals.
Remember, Joelle's chance encounter with Parm Gill happened in the summer of 2012. By January 18, 2013 Edge to Epic was officially launched with a full roster of services providers, and members on board. And by June 1, 2013 she launched the custom medical/dental plan. Less than one year after her chance encounter at the Starbucks on Bank Street in the Glebe. Coincidentally (again), the same location Joelle and I conducted this interview.
Why launch on the 18th of January? "I wanted to launch the company before I turned 25," Joelle reveals. "I quit Investors Groups on January 17th and launched Edge to Epic on January 18th. I had a very good 25th birthday."
I ran a 1/2 marathon with my dad. It's the first time I beat him at anything
A self-described introvert with a tendency to be very shy, Joelle explains that she has a strong competitive spirit. "Socially I am very reserved, but I am a completely different person in business." It is that kind of drive that lead one of Ottawa's most prominent women business leaders to ask to be on her board. "Within five minutes of meeting Debbie Weinstein she asked to be on my Board," Joelle enthuses. "The individuals on my Board mean everything to me."
If the company does well and possibly sells, I want a cottage in Calabogie
With this rapid growth and success in the first six months of launch, Joelle is at a key inflection point in the business; Joelle feels it is time to expand nationally across Canada. And, with her international business designation, internationally as well. "I have to build a team to support my vision for growth," explains Joelle. "I am actively recruiting team members and actively looking for funding options to accelerate that growth." But, " she adds, "I want to keep my roots in Ottawa." And so do we.
Editor note: thank you to my mum for proofreading this article prior to publishing. I ♥ you.