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Tech support: RRC Entrepreneurs-in-residence find innovative ways to help communities during COVID-19

May 22, 2020

Innovation is their business, so it’s no surprise some of Red River College’s past and present partners have found innovative ways to help their communities cope with the COVID-19 outbreak.

The partners in question have all served as Entrepreneurs-in-residence (EiR), startup creators who team with RRC students, instructors and staff and work at the College’s ACE Project Space to bring business ideas to life.

GO OIL CANADA

John Sparrow, for instance, recently made headlines when his business, Go Oil Canada, began offering free mobile oil changes to those working on the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19, including health-care workers.

“The idea started with one of our franchisees, and we adopted the offer across the company as a way to take positive action and give back to those who are working so hard to keep us safe,” says Sparrow.

Go Oil provides on-demand mobile oil changes to customers — including corporate fleets — across 14 Canadian cities. Since its services were already contact-free for the most part, the company didn’t have far to pivot to adapt to social distancing restrictions. In fact, Go Oil has witnessed a surge in bookings over the past couple months.

Sparrow served as an EiR in 2019, when students in RRC’s Business Information Technology (BIT) program helped develop and build Go Oil’s online scheduling and booking system.

“It’s not just about being profitable, it’s about being relevant, about showing people what a new world can look like and how even an oil change can be part of that.”

DUENORTH SYSTEMS

Man carrying second man on his backMeanwhile, James Warren (shown at left, standing), another former EiR, and his business partner Jared Kozak (also shown, pointing) have set their sights on the future of education technology.

Their company, DueNorth Systems, provides online products and services for high school and post-secondary students, including a platform that matches students with tutors and facilitates the entire tutoring process.

“When the outbreak struck, many teachers and parents weren’t prepared. Education technology is now top of everyone’s mind,” says Warren.

The company recently partnered with Taking IT Global to provide free online tutorials that teach kids how to build video games. They’ve also created a tabletop game called HACK that teaches kids about the different roles involved in coding and cybersecurity.

A hit with students and teachers, the game is rolling out to customers in every province later this fall. DueNorth is also developing an online version on an open-source platform that students use to create video games.

Warren, a BIT grad, says the company’s stint as EiRs helped them build proof of concept for their business. Students from the College helped build security and privacy features crucial to DueNorth’s core delivery platform; the company now employs six RRC grads.

While the COVID-19 outbreak put a halt to the student seminars and events DueNorth was planning on taking part in, the company has nevertheless found ways to help its clients cope with the economic fallout of COVID-19.

“We provide web building and hosting services to several local businesses. We’ve waived some fees and reduced the rates for some of those services until the pandemic is over to help as much as possible.”

GFIT WELLNESS

Group shot of G-Fit workout teamGFit Wellness is offering a free Isolation Wellness Program that users can use in the comfort and safety of their own home.

The company is an online wellness platform that connects users with expert coaches across Canada and beyond, and takes a holistic approach aimed at every aspect of a person’s wellbeing, from fitness and nutrition to spirituality.

Grant Reid (shown at left, front row centre), founder of GFit and a current EiT at ACE, says the offer is all about “putting good will deposits into the universe.” At a time when people are isolated, fearful and stressed, “we have a moral responsibility to support people right now and alleviate what people are going through the best way we can.”

With gyms closed and access to workout equipment limited for many people, GFit’s coaches are providing workout plans customized to whatever clients have on hand.

Staff and students at ACE are helping his company develop a web-based app. Coaches and clients connect mostly on Zoom. Because of its strong online platform and excellent coaching staff, Reid says GFit has been able to weather the impacts of COVID-19.

“We’re still open for business. And right now, people need the kind of support we offer more than ever.”