New Brunswick’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is among the most vibrant in Canada. ONB is taking a leadership role in that ecosystem via strategic partnerships with key local and international organizations. Among those partners is the Taskforce Fredericton Startup Network, who with ONB and other sponsors recently took 55 Atlantic Canada entrepreneurs to Startupfest Montreal.

The East Coast Caravan bused these enthusiastic entrepreneurs to Quebec in July for several days of networking, pitching, and mentoring. As a top Caravan sponsor, ONB is excited to see young New Brunswick businesses return home with success stories.

Yanky Sports’ Ryan Jacobson has one of those stories.

In 2011, Jacobson trained for his first marathon. The Chicago-based event hosted over 1.6 million spectators. “I thought I can’t be wiping my nose on my sleeve in front of that many people, and Kleenex gets soggy. Plus my running shorts don’t have pockets,” notes Jacobson. “So, I started playing around with ideas.”  The result was the Yanky – The Original Sport Hanky.

ONB spoke to Jacobson about his experience in Montreal as part of the Caravan.

ONB: Let’s begin with Montreal highlights. 

Jacobson: First, I offer thanks to ONB and the other sponsors; it was a very well organized event. ONB, in particular, pushed me to apply for the Caravan. Meeting other entrepreneurs on that bus and in the hostel was worth the trip alone. People may think “They took a bus and made them stay in a hostel?” Yes, and it was by design and it was brilliant. Had we each booked our own flights and accommodations, we wouldn’t have made the connections and created the relationships we did.

We’re buzzing right now, talking via group chat, strategizing, and offering help despite many of our startups having no real connection beyond the bond we created over four days.

I pitched for CBC Montreal, and though I didn’t win, I received great feedback. That gave me the confidence to keep talking. So I pitched for the “Grandmothers”, a panel of serious, ‘not your average grandmother’ types with a ton of business experience. Again, I didn’t win but was approached by a rep from event sponsor Ernst & Young. He loved my story and vision and offered to connect me with a friend, the President of Sports Experts. Hello!

At another event, I connected with a woman who works in New York City for the Mayor of London’s office. Her job, as she described it, is facilitating business between North American companies and London. I now have a connection that can help me get product into London retailers!

You also made a sale in Montreal, correct?

Yes, a friend knew I was coming and sent me a list of Montreal’s top running stores. She singled out Boutique Endurance as a must-visit. I let them know I was in town and they were happy to meet. Long story short, I secured an order.

I also had occasion to talk to former NHLer Georges Laraque, who is a partner in a startup attending Startupfest. Our conversation turned to running, and he mentioned that he too has run a marathon. I seized the opportunity to ask if his nose runs when he exercises and he said: “Yes, all the time!” I showed him the product and he nearly fell off his chair! He asked if he could buy three — I happily obliged. Of course, we had to take a picture and I asked for a testimonial for my website which he agreed to send. I sold out of the product I had on hand by the time we returned to Fredericton.

My big takeaway from this event was to talk, and don’t stop. Tell your story and then tell it again; you never know who could be listening.

That’s what is so great about having organizations like ONB sponsor these events and travel with companies like mine. It allows people like me to make connections—with people who have the ear of the Mayor of London—that would otherwise be impossible to make. No way did I think that was possible.

Connecting entrepreneurs with the right people; that’s a big part of ONB’s entrepreneurship strategy.

Trips like Startupfest are essential, and I look forward to more ONB events, and to working on an export strategy. Support from ONB has been great and I’m only getting started. The product is now used by notable athletes like Kerri Walsh Jennings, three-time gold medallist Olympian in Beach Volleyball, and her new partner Nicole Branagh. I’ve also been in contact with Eugenie Bouchard’s agency, who met with Genie recently in NYC. She has my product now, so stay tuned!

Update: October 2017 – Ryan sent us the following:

“ Rivers mentioned he was going to Ottawa for the Startup Canada Awards finale and that he would be part of a group meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau. He said his plane left at 4pm and that if I could get product to him before he left he’d try to get it to the PM. I scrambled, rearranged my schedule, and got it done!

I thought the product would resonate with the PM since a) he’s a runner and b) the product is made in Canada. The version of the Yanky I sent is red/black plaid which I call “Mackinaw Jacket” – very Canadian.

This is a great example of the great support provided for startups in New Brunswick. My thanks go out to Rivers at the ONB and Startup Canada teams.”

Beyond ONB and partner network are there others you’d like to mention?

I have worked with so many NB entrepreneurs that want to help others succeed.

Dawn Pottier has been a tremendous mentor and friend. I’ve looked to her for guidance on several topics, really trying to emulate Lulujo’s success. Working with her is like getting a BBA.

Cory Pacione from Creative Juices really makes me look good; from his work on my website, logo, and packaging. When I think I have the next big idea, Cory either takes it to the next level or offers a polite word of caution based on his many years of experience.

Loft1’s Tony Daye offered to connect me with a Trade Commissioner friend of his. He sent an email on the spot while chatting at a networking event.

Jeff Alpaugh of Jeff Alpaugh Custom and Peter McMath of Timbre Cases both really kicked me in the pants. Jeff said he’d mentor me if I proved I was serious. Peter convinced me I didn’t need a major Kickstarter campaign. He said my Kickstarter was getting the product in a few stores to see how it was received.

Textile artist Dee Wilkie and Country Liberty’s Sawyer Hannay have also been fantastic supporters, lending a hand whenever needed.

The point here is that everyone I reach out to is eager to help. New Brunswick is a small place, but we’re nimble, and smart people are just one phone call away. New Brunswick’s business community is fantastic; it’s a great place to launch a company.

Written by Jason Boies

Images via Yanky Sports