If you have family and friends located all over the world, it’s natural to miss them – especially on special occasions.  The co-founders of Togethr who hail from India, UAE, Philippines, Singapore, the US, and the east and west coasts of Canada knew that feeling from personal experience.  That’s what got them thinking about designing a technology to facilitate positive interactions with those closest to them, but separated by time and space.

The result? A mobile gift-giving service that makes if effortless to send personalized gifts for any occasion. Co-founders Aditya Sharma, Renjie Butalid and Kevin Simpson used their respective backgrounds in Mechatronics Engineering, Economics and Computer Science to get started, and then brought on talented partners Jason Gehl as the first developer and Joan Ang as designer.

The new entrepreneurs knew their way around technology, but starting a business required a different skill set. Fortunately, Togethr’s founders could access VentureStart, 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 recognizes that innovative ideas, combined with a culture of entrepreneurship, are the key to Canada’s long-term prosperity,” said Peter Braid, Member of Parliament for Kitchener-Waterloo. “Our investments in innovative start-ups like Togethr will help them grow and succeed, creating jobs in our community, and ensuring a prosperous future for Canada.”

VentureStart, co-ordinated by the RIC (Research, Innovation, Commercialization) Centre in Mississauga, is delivered through 13 provincially funded Regional Innovation Centres in Southern Ontario. This includes Waterloo’s Communitech, where Togethr’s 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.

Cameron Hay was assigned as the group’s Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR). EIRS like Hay have substantial business success in achieving high growth in revenue and profitability, significant expansion in sales and operations, cost efficiencies and technology leadership.  They provide strategic direction and leadership to promising companies in their community. Through Hay’s connections and guidance, the Togethr founders applied to YCombinator in Silicon Valley, one of the highest regarded incubators for start-ups in the world.

“Cameron is the man! He always went above and beyond to help us out,” said Sharma. “For example, when we were suddenly invited to Silicon Valley for an interview with YCombinator, Cameron met with us in Waterloo and then coached us over the phone in San Francisco during the few hours we had left before the interview.  He provided good strategic insights and always kept us motivated.”

VentureStart also provided seed funding which the entrepreneurs used for design, development and marketing to keep the business healthy and afloat. “I am convinced that VentureStart funding was the major catalyst for our start-up,” said Sharma. “As intelligent, competent young graduates, we all had employment offers elsewhere but the funding allowed us to look past those offers to get our own company incorporated, hire talented developers and get early prototypes out into our customers’ hands – all in a matter of weeks.”

Togethr’s mobile gift- giving service revolutionizes the way friends, families and colleagues give to one another.  The founders were well aware of the trend towards mobile, with young people gravitating more towards tablets and smartphones, than to PCs and laptops.

Some of the service’s features include algorithms that notify users about upcoming celebrations and important moments in the lives of their friends and family members; recommendations for personalized gifts, including charitable gifts; simplified logistics for payment and delivery without having to enter shipping information or know the recipient’s address; and, the social aspect of gifting as a form of positive communication.

In 2013, the Togethr app launched on Android and iPhone in Canada, and 4,794 gifts were sent across Canada by May. “We’re also working with some fantastic partners – some of the best artisan boutiques, chocolatiers, gift set creators, and charities in Canada,” said Sharma. “We give those hidden, local gems, who have to compete with generic retail giants like Wal-mart, an instant channel to distribute their items on mobile all over Canada.”

With the average user sending approximately six gifts per month, Togethr is gaining popularity and repeat customers. Sharma is optimistic: “We want to make people smile by delivering happiness to them – and build a successful business out of it.”

By Sandra Desrochers