Serese Selanders' entrepreneurial aspirations reached a “turning point” in 2015 when she crossed paths with Communitech.
The CEO and founder of SolusGuard began her entrepreneurial journey a year earlier with her Saskatoon-based startup, ORA, which made wearable personal alert devices designed to enhance the safety of older adults.
At the time, Saskatchewan's startup ecosystem was just getting off the ground and lacked the supports and infrastructure that tech founders crave.
“With no incubators or accelerators in sight, I felt isolated while pursuing my ambitious goal of creating wearable hardware technology,” Selanders recalls. “During a presentation in Saskatchewan, I shared my prototype with an attendee, and was advised to connect with (Kitchener-based) Communitech for support.”
Selanders went on to participate in Communitech’s Fierce Founders bootcamp (and later in the Intensive Track stream).
“This initial program helped me consolidate my thoughts, get organized, and provided exposure to some amazing people,” she says. “It served as a gateway to the broader tech community, revealing the possibilities and the presence of like-minded individuals – a great introduction to this thriving ecosystem."
Despite challenges that led to ORA shutting down, Selanders continued her founder journey. Leveraging the intellectual property and experience acquired through ORA, she founded SolusGuard, shifting her focus from B2C to B2B.
SolusGuard caters to employers with staff who work alone or in high-risk roles. SolusGuard's safety tech includes wearables such as panic buttons, check-in software, satellite communications and backend monitoring.
“We offer tailored safety packages to enterprise-level clients like Corrections Canada,” Selanders says. “These solutions ensure worker safety and regulatory compliance, addressing the diverse needs of organizations with employees in remote or risky situations.”
While the idea for ORA arose from a personal need to keep Selanders’ father safe, SolusGuard was driven by the demand of businesses and organizations for safety solutions in different workplaces.
The company is primarily focused on expanding its operations in North America.
“We've made good progress in Canada and already have some customers in the United States, but it's such a big and active market, especially for lone workers,” Selanders says. “In this field, there's a lot of room for growth, and no one company is dominating it yet. Our main aim is to become the leading company in this space.”
SolusGuard is now in the scaling stage of its journey.
“We have numerous deals in our pipeline and are anticipating substantial growth in the near future, with the possibility of doubling or even tripling in size over the next year or two," Selanders says.
How Fierce Founders helped
Communitech’s Fierce Founders boot camp was instrumental in refining the company's foundations, and the intensive track stream that Selanders participated in during the pandemic helped her navigate unforeseen challenges.
"Communitech provided the necessary support, connecting me with the right advisors, guiding me into an accelerator program,” she says. “It's truly amazing how they adapted to my evolving startup needs, being there for me as I navigated through different phases."
The global chip shortage and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought new challenges to SolusGuard, threatening its very existence.
"Once again, Communitech and Fierce Founders stepped up and said, 'Hey, we can help you through this,' advising us during a particularly trying time," Selanders says.
Since starting her Fierce Founders experience, she has grown her team from three to 15.
“It has been a roller coaster,” Selanders says. “Entrepreneurship can be messy and challenging, but the important message is that it's okay to face these challenges because, with the right support and guidance, like I had with Fierce Founders, we can overcome them."
Selanders is particularly thankful for the ongoing support she gets from Communitech and the Fierce Founders team.
“It's truly amazing that they haven't given up on me, supporting and advising me every step of the way,” she adds. “We may not have reached our destination yet, but we're making progress, largely thanks to Communitech and Fierce Founders.”
The Communitech Fierce Founders Bootcamp, Uplift and Intensive Track programs are made possible thanks to the support of the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, the Business Development Bank (BDC), Google for Startups, Vidyard, the City of Kitchener and the Ontario government.