whiteboard with markers

Your Guide to Completing a Business Model Canvas

If you’re working at or have founded a startup you’ll likely come across the term Business Model Canvas. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a business model canvas is a single-page reference that can work as a compass for a business, created by Alexander Osterwalder and first referenced in his work on Business Model Ontology in 2008. It’s a good “first step” in figuring out everything you’ll need to get the ball rolling with your venture, and is an excellent alternative (at least at first) to a traditional business plan.

A business model canvas gets you thinking about all of the different components that will make up your business. It’s easy to get excited or caught up in the bigger picture and lose sight of the specific things you’ll need to tackle to be successful, but after completing this exercise you should have a much better understanding of which actions are required to move you forward towards validation.

If you’re a startup in Calgary, one of the more persuasive perks to building a business model canvas is that it could potentially help you secure grant funding. The Calgary Innovation Coalition (CIC) is a regional innovation network (RIN) that provides resources to support entrepreneurs. Early-stage technology companies can submit a copy of their business model canvas to receive coaching, feedback, and other resources that can help move their business forward.

Business Model Canvas Template
Free Downloadable Business Model Canvas Template from Strategyzer, available at https://strategyzer.com/canvas/business-model-canvas

 

The business model canvas is divided up into nine sections that fall into three broader categories: feasibility, desirability, and viability.

Feasibility in boils down to a single, quintessential question: what do you need to make this happen? In this part of the business model canvas, you’ll take a look at the partners, activities, and resources required to get your business up and running.

Determining the desirability of your business requires asking yourself some difficult question about exactly what you’re offering and who you’re offering it to. You’ll look at the relationship between your value proposition and how it will fit into the lives of the people that make up your target market. The desirability of your business will impact your marketing decisions including pricing, placement, and promotional strategy.

The viability component of the business model canvas is often referred to as “the sanity test”. This is the part of the canvas where you take a look at your costs and revenue streams for your business. If your costs greatly outweigh your likely revenue then it would be, to be blunt, insane to start this business.

 

Building Your Business Model Canvas

While there’s no wrong way to fill out the business model canvas, there are definitely “easier” ways of doing it. To keep things flowing more linearly, we've reworked the order of the business model canvas a little. If you get caught up in something just keep moving forward and come back to fill in the blanks later.

Value Proposition

While the entire business model canvas is lean and only covers the essentials, there’s no denying that the value proposition is the keystone. This is the place to make that big bold statement about what you’re offering, what it will do to satisfy your customers’ needs, and what differentiates you from your competitors. It should be straight-forward, jargon-free, and to-the-point. We also want to put heavy emphasis on the word value here. This is where you highlight the value that your product and its features will provide to users, not a list of the specific features. Think more along the lines of what it will accomplish rather than how it will accomplish it.

 

Market Segments

Create market segments by considering the commonalities between your potential users and grouping them accordingly. While your intuition may be to keep your segments as large as possible, the more specific you get, the more likely you will be able to build and market an appealing product. From here a good question to ask is: if I could capture only one of these market segments, which one would be most important?

 

Channels

Once you know who your customers are and how your product will benefit them, next consider how you will deliver it to them. Distribution channels for digital products are typically more straightforward than physical products, but there are still several things to consider. Building a website to provide both information and an opportunity to purchase your product or service is a given, but choosing other distribution channels may require a little more thought. For example, if you’re building a mobile app you may have to choose between building for iOS or Android. Other distribution channels you may want to consider include industry service providers that can direct customers to your product. A classic example of this is online travel agents that can recommend an airline or hotel.

How you market your product may change from one distribution channel to the next. If you are selling primarily online through your website then perhaps online ads through AdWords or social media may be your best bet. A product that is more hands-on may benefit from live demos or conferences where users can test it for themselves. Whatever your distribution channels, be sure to consider how you will get your product to your end user.

 

Customer Relationships

Depending on your product or service your target customers may have certain expectations in terms of the relationship you’ll work to build with them. According to Strategyzer “Your company should clarify the type of relationship it wants to establish with each Customer Segment. Relationships can range from personal to automated, from transactional to long-term, and can aim to acquire customers, retain customers, or boost sales (upselling). The type of Customer Relationships you put in place deeply influence the overall customer experience.” Whatever types of customer relationships you integrate into your business you should always consider and account for the costs associated.

Startup Calgary Business Model Canvas Workshop
Startup Calgary Business Model Canvas Workshop

Key Activities

When tackling the “key activities” component of your business model canvas look to define the most important actions required to deliver on your value proposition.  Consider the business activities required to build and support customer relationships, access revenue streams, as well as anything else that will impact your ability to get your product or service to your target market.

 

Key Resources

Something you’ll quickly learn when building a business is that pretty much everything you’re looking to do will eat up resources. If you plan to do everything yourself it’ll take up your valuable (and increasingly limited) time. Once you begin looking to outsource you’ll see that hiring great help is expensive. Either way, to deliver your value proposition it’s important to be realistic and prepared when it comes to prioritizing resources. If something isn’t essential consider putting it on the backburner until it is, or when you’re in a position where you can allocate resources for nonessential things.

 

Key Partners

We’ve all heard that old idiom that it takes a village to raise a child, and the same can be said about running a business. Whether you’re talking about hiring talent or seeking investors, partnerships are essential to your business. In this part of the business model canvas, you should consider who these partners will be, as well as their motivations. Will you need to pay them? Give them equity? These are things you’ll need to think about.

 

Cost Structure

There’s a reason they call the viability part of the business model canvas the sanity test! For cost structure, you’ll take a close look at what you consider to be the highest costs for your business, as well as take a look at which resources and activities will cost you the most. There’s no secret number to multiply this by to get closer to the actual amount you should look to spend, it’s typically same to assume that you’ll end up with more costs than you anticipate, not less.

 

Revenue Streams

We know that we already gave a shout out to value proposition as being the most important part of the business model canvas, but revenue streams are a close second! Let’s face it, if you don’t have adequate revenue then this business of yours isn’t going to work out. The first thing that you’ll need to consider when determining your revenue streams is how much you think your customers will pay for what you’re offering. It’s also possible that you have ideas for future developments that can bring in additional revenue: write those down too!

Need Some Help?

What happens if you find yourself feeling less than confident about some of the things you’ve put into certain sections of your business model canvas? First, just relax. Yes, all of the stuff included is essential to your business, but it’s okay if you don’t have all of the best answers right away. There are plenty of online resources, such as Strategyzer, that help entrepreneurs work through their business model canvas.

If you prefer more of an offline approach and live near Calgary you’ll definitely want to check out the Business Model Canvas Workshops put on by Startup Calgary. Register early, because Calgary is jam-packed with enthusiastic entrepreneurs and these workshops usually fill up!


User Interviews

How to Conduct Great User Interviews

If there's one piece of advice for product managers early in the development of their product to follow, it is to spend more time validating their idea. There's nothing better than riding the high of creating a product, but in our experience, you will end up with better product-market fit if you take time to focus on validation first. One of the easiest, cheapest, and often most effective ways to validate a product early on is through user interviews: interviews conducted with potential users from your target market so you can gain a better understanding of who they are, the problems they’re  aiming to solve, and how your product could solve those problems.

It’s never too early to get the ball rolling on user interviews, though we recommend you prepare a business model canvas to outline your assumptions about your product’s value proposition and potential market. The purpose of your user interview is to validate these assumptions through real-world conversations.

 

Who to interview

There are a couple of things to consider when selecting participants for your user interviews: first, make sure you’re interviewing potential users from your target market. You likely won’t get a whole lot of valuable feedback on your app for healthcare practitioners by interviewing your plumber. While diversity is important it is equally as important that your interviewees provide value.

Topics included in user interviews include:

  • a person’s background
  • occupation
  • use of technology (either at work or personally, whichever is relevant)
  • goals and motivation
  • pain points

 

Preparing for User Interviews

Preparing for user interviews is the first step in ensuring you gain the insight you need from the interviews. Come in with an idea of the bigger picture. What are you hoping your app or website will accomplish for your target market? User interviews are a great way to collect data that will help accept or reject any hypotheses you’ve developed.

To help achieve consistent results from your interviews, equip your moderator with a script. That said, it’s also important that the conversation doesn’t feel too scripted. Your interviewee should feel comfortable and the conversation should flow naturally. Remember, this is supposed to be a conversation between people working together to solve a problem, not an interrogation.

It is crucial to the integrity of your user interviews that your questions are not leading. Leading questions are questions that are framed in a way that leads the person answering to give a sought answer. For example, rather than asking “when would you find using my app most useful?” you could ask “would you find an app like that useful?” and then follow up with the question regarding when. Start by asking questions that can be answered with yes or no, then follow up for details. This way you’re never making assumptions and you’ll be more likely to get an honest response.

 

The Moderator

Keep in mind, the moderator can make or break a user interview. The moderator's tone and pace should match that of the person being interviews. The moderator should remain neutral and non-leading, while also remaining interested and curious about the interviewees’ responses. Passion and enthusiasm are great, but only if it’s genuine.

While you can conduct user interviews on your own, there are pros to having someone conduct them for you. It’s not much of stretch to suggest a founder or product manager may feel as though they “know best” when it comes to their product, and it may be difficult to hear things that go against their preconceived ideas or beliefs. If the founder does conduct the interviews it's important that stay open and curious. If the interviewee feels as though the person conducting the interview is taking criticism poorly, they may opt to tell them what they think they want to hear instead of what they truly believe. 

 

Conducting the Interview

There’s some debate about how much time you should spend conducting user interviews. While some suggest quick and easy 10 minute interviews, others prefer longer 30 to 45-minute interviews. Our advice? Do what feels right for your business. User interviews can be conducted by one or two people, a moderator and a notetaker. In situations where there’s just one person conducting the interview, it’s best to record the conversation and transcribe notes later. Nothing kills the flow of a good conversation faster than someone asking for a minute to write something down!

As the interview wraps up thank the participant, and be sure to give them a token of appreciation or compensate them for their time. A trial, discount, or free download or subscription of your product is also a great way to add value for many B2C products.

Are User Interviews Necessary?

We understand that running a right ship, especially pre-revenue, is extremely important. That said, we can’t recommend product validation practices like user interviews enough. If the product you're solving is not a problem you have yourself, the insight and information you'll gain will be invaluable. User interviews can shape you MVP and help you prioritize potential features. If your budget is a concern, consider them an investment in your idea rather than something holding you back; the path to a safer way forward.


Canadian Grants Cheat Sheet

Canadian Grants Cheat Sheet

Of all of the ways to raise funding for a business, grants seem to be both the most misunderstood and elusive. Where to start looking? Which ones to apply for, as well as the conditions and fine print? Then, to proceed with the application process!

We thought we’d take a stab at demystifying grants by helping you learn where to start and what to expect when it comes to certain types of grants available here in Canada.

What are grants?

Grants are funds that are given to businesses to help them accomplish a goal that ties into the goals of the organization offering the funds. The best part? As long as you use the funds to help accomplish that goal, you don’t have to pay anything back and you don’t have to relinquish any control of your business.

Grants typically work better for existing businesses rather than new startups because it is very common that one of the conditions of a grant, is the funds are at least partially matched. For example, a $50,000 grant may require that the business contribute $25,000 of their own funds to cause or goal in order to obtain the funding. It might be a bit of a stretch for a new startup to make that sort of contribution, though it may be worth leveraging initial seed funding to obtain matching grant funds.

It is very important that you make sure that the grant you are applying for ties in directly with your business objectives. It’s never wise to allocate resources to your business to accomplish a goal that doesn’t move you forward. Things typically work out better where the grant funds a project that is mutually beneficial, as opposed to building a product around a grant.

Different Types of Grants

There is a wide range of different requirements for grant funding, however, most of them fall into one of these four categories: research, development, hiring, and expansion. Let’s take a look at each of them to help you determine which type might be best for your business.

Research Grants

Is your business engaging in primary research, i.e., research you have to go out and do yourself? If yes, take a look at research grants related to your industry. It’s no secret that knowledge is power, and if your research can help provide valuable information, then there are plenty of organizations wanting to help you out. If you are awarded a research grant, you will likely have to document your procedures and share your findings with your grantor. Do you ever have to make the findings public?

Development Grants

Development grants exist to help businesses mitigate risk and move Canada forward in terms of R&D. If your business is working on an innovative solution to a problem, then this is where you should be looking. In Alberta, entrepreneurs can fund product prototyping or development by applying to Alberta Innovates which includes the micro-voucher program that offers up to $10,000 to be paid to a service provider and the voucher program that offers up to $100,000 to be paid to up to three service providers. Federally, the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) can help small and medium businesses fund leading-edge research and development.

Hiring Grants

Believe it or not, there are grants that will subsidize new hires! This really shouldn’t come as a surprise given that a lot of grants come from the government and governments love economic stimulus and job creation. A lot of these types of grants exist to help young people develop useful skills in industries where the need for skilled workers is increasing. While some of them will award a lump sum for each employee that meets the criteria, others will pay a percentage of a portion of a specific wage for the hiring of a new employee.

Expansion Grants

Sometimes you’ve got to spend money to make money, and this is never truer when it comes time to expand into new markets. Whether you’re covering the costs of trips abroad to meet with executives or you’re covering costs like shipping or marketing in another country, expansion can be expensive. The Alberta-Zhejiang Global Partnership Program is one example of this type of grant that supports technology-oriented companies in Alberta. Both Alberta Innovates and Zhejiang Provincial Science and Technology Exchange Center with Foreign Countries (ZSTEC) pool their resources and act as matchmakers to help a business expand into their respective markets.

Who awards grants?

Grants are typically awarded by three different types of organizations: the federal government, provincial government, or a charitable/non-profit organization.

Federal Grants

The federal government typically provides grants to businesses that are doing work that can help move Canada forward, but usually, involve research and/or innovation. As a country that relies heavily on our natural resources, it is essential that we adapt and adopt new technologies so that we can continue to progress economically. Natural resources are extremely valuable, but many of them are either non-renewable or take a lifetime to renew, making it difficult to accelerate growth through them alone. All that said, it makes sense for our government to provide federal grants to businesses that are creating new ways to stimulate economic growth.

Provincial Grants

Much like federal grants, provincial grants are typically awarded to businesses that are diversifying the economy. Alberta Innovates is a government-funded initiative providing resources for businesses across four sectors: bio-solutions, health, technology, and eco/energy. There’s no denying that technological advancements are crucial for a successful economy in the future. Provincial grants are typically awarded to help innovative companies hire and train new workers, as well as grow their business and expand into new markets.

Charitable & Non-Profit Grants

Grants from charitable and non-profit organizations are typically awarded to other charitable or non-profit organizations that move forward agenda or cause of the grantor. Some project examples that receive this type of funding include the poverty reduction, reducing homelessness, increasing food security, encouraging mental health, strengthening relationships with Indigenous communities, and pursuing an environmentally sustainable future. Essentially, if your goals are to genuinely make the world a better place, you might want to take a look at these types of grants.

One thing that should also be mentioned is that even if you are not a non-profit or charitable organization but you working with one to accomplish a goal, it may be possible to partner with a non-profit to gain access to funds you couldn’t otherwise access. This is a win-win situation for everyone involved since the goal is still being accomplished, progressing the mission of the grantor as well as the non-profit.

Resources

There are a TON of resources out there to help you find and apply for grants. There are even people that make a living finding and applying for grants on the behalf of others! If you’re interested in grant funding for your business, here are some recommended resources:

Alberta Innovates

Calgary Foundation Community Grants Program

Max Bell Foundation

Mitacs

NRC (National Research Council) IRAP: Industrial Research Assistance Program

NSERC

Telus Community Grants

 


Benefits of Interoperability in health care

4 Benefits of Interoperability in Healthcare

When it comes to digital health, few terms are as buzzy as “interoperability”. It’s an awkward word to say, but what does interoperability actually mean?

The Health Care Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) defines interoperability in healthcare as “the ability of different information technology systems and software applications to communicate, exchange data, and use the information that has been exchanged.” To put it simply, it’s the ability to share and interpret patient information across an entire system.

Imagine the possibilities of a healthcare system where not only is patient data collected and shared between healthcare providers, but is also interpreted and presented in a way that is clear, concise, and demonstrates the cause and effect of each type treatment received by a patient. Let’s take a look at four crucial ways interoperability could improve healthcare.

Improved Efficiency

If we had to pick one way that interoperability would most greatly affect healthcare, our money would be on improving efficiency. This technology could greatly reduce the time spent by practitioners inputting and interpreting data. Rather than needing to send and receive patient data via fax or email, that data would be immediately available, also decreasing the workload on support staff. Resources typically tied up in administrative tasks could be shifted to increase focus on patient care. 

A 2017 Report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) shows about 20% of Canadians wait seven days to see their family doctor when they are sick, and about 56% of Canadians say it takes more than four weeks to see a specialist. Interoperability can reduce wait times, so patients can access timely care.

Easier Research

Interoperability can open doors to research opportunities. With vast amounts of patient information securely collected and shared, it will be easier to measure the impact of healthcare delivery on patient outcomes. 

Improved Public Health Data

Adoption of interoperable digital health technologies will allow for faster, more accurate collection and interpretation of public health data. Recognizing, tracking, and predicting the spread of contagious ailments can limit their spread, enable better preparation, and increase the effectiveness of treatment. Applying the same tactics to predict long-term health trends can create opportunities for preventative measures to be adopted on a larger scale, potentially reducing long-term healthcare costs.

Improved Programs & Services

Afterall, what is the point of collecting and interpreting all of that data if it’s not going to be used to improve the patient experience? Learning more about how healthcare is impacting patients across the entire ecosystem will shine a light on how we can most effectively improve patient experiences and outcomes.

Digital Health Week

If you’re interested in learning more about interoperability in healthcare, or digital health in general, we invite you to participate in Digital Health Week (November 13-19, 2017) and follow #ThinkDigitalHealth on Twitter. 


Food Finder YYC - Calgary Software Development

Food Finder YYC Gets Some Awards Love

Each year Digital Alberta hosts The Ember Awards, a night to gather and celebrate Alberta’s digital excellence. At this year’s Embers at the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton, Uppercut was recognized for Best Non-Profit Project for our contribution to Food Finder YYC.

Food Finder YYC aims to create food security for vulnerable youth throughout Calgary by using a Website and/or an SMS ChatBot to connect individuals with free food-related resources according to their current location. The project was a collaborative effort involving several local organizations, spearheaded by Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids (BB4CK), dedicated to providing proper nutrition to those in need.

Food Finder YYC - Uppercut - Calgary Web App

At Uppercut, we believe in using technology to help make the world a better and healthier place. We are humbled to have had the opportunity to donate our time in a way that continues to add value to the community and are honoured to have been recognized at The Embers for our contribution.

In addition to the love we’ve seen from Digital Alberta and The Ember Awards, the Food Finder YYC project has helped us score a nomination for REAP’s Be Local Awards. We sat down to chat with Centaine Tyler of REAP about working on the project, as well as some possible future plans and developments.

 

 

Go give the Food Finder YYC website or Text “Food” to 587-318-0232 to see how we’re using technology to get nutritious food into the hands (and stomachs!) of Calgary’s youths.