Classroom project goes viral, turning idea into a business

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The Globe and Mail | ADAM STANLEY | March 13, 2014

Wipebook

They jokingly called themselves the “losers” of an entrepreneurship class they took last year at the University of Ottawa, because no one else wanted to pair up with them on projects. But now, Frank Bouchard, Thomas Sychterz and Toby Maurice are winners.

A project that stemmed from Mr. Bouchard’s simple idea turned into an online phenomenon and earned the team nearly $500,000 after the campaign they started on crowdfunding website Kickstarter.com went viral last December.

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The very “non-sexy” idea, as they say, is called the Wipebook. It’s a notebook with whiteboard pages that are completely erasable and reusable.

“Beautifully simple,” says Mr. Bouchard, a 25-year-old Ottawa native. “Everyone’s reaction once they see it is, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’”

In their entrepreneurship class, part of their master of engineering management program, they were asked to develop something that garnered quick feedback from customers, so Mr. Bouchard presented his erasable notebook concept.

“I was getting frustrated doing tons of assignments [and] I wanted something where I could do some math and wipe the pages clean. I had some irk that I was wasting so much paper. I had this prototype developed with transparencies – like what you use on an overhead projector – and I just had that, in a binder,” Mr. Bouchard says.

“It’s simple, clear and easy-to-use. It’s open and go. There are no obstacles to creativity,” says Mr. Sychterz.

“Creativity without remorse,” adds Mr. Maurice.

The team initially put Wipebook on crowdfunding website Indiegogo in an attempt to raise funds as part of the class assignment.

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“It was set up to see if these crowdfunded campaigns actually worked. We had no clue if these were a viable way to actually get money,” Mr. Bouchard says.

“Our objective of that crowdfunded idea was actually to drive traffic to our website,” explains Mr. Maurice.

They managed to raise $200 and were excited at every dollar they got.

After selling a few more units through student associations at the University of Ottawa, Mr. Bouchard drafted up one more campaign, this time using Kickstarter, and launched it at the end of November in line with Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Their objective was to raise $4,000.

“The initial premise was to see if we could hit this goal. We’d reinvest the revenue generated from that and we’d augment that with some of our own cash and investment to build a new version,” Mr. Maurice says. “This was different. You could tell immediately this was going to take off.”

Within one day, the team had beaten their goal.

“Our Kickstarter was like a startup on steroids … and crack,” says Mr. Sychterz with a laugh.

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Mr. Bouchard constantly updated the Kickstarter page and interacted with people who had commented on the product during the 30-day campaign, making sure their momentum never slowed.

“What we did in 30 days a good company couldn’t do in eight months,” Mr. Maurice says. “It was the longest 30 days of my life.”

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