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Creating a business plan and experiencing what goes into the pitch for a new venture is at the heart of the Master of Business Administration program at the University of New Brunswick’s faculty of management in Fredericton.
For students Brady Vandervelden, Marc Brown and Francisco Ponce, UNB’s MBA program gave them the knowledge to solve problems to help launch their new very own business venture – Smart Bottle.
With the knowledge provided from the experiential learning environment offered in the 20-month, four-semester program, they developed their business plan for UNB’s 2022 APEX Business Plan Competition in January and have continued to develop their Smart Bottle venture since.
Vandervelden is from PEI and after completing his BBA back home, he’s now in the final year of his UNB MBA studies, focusing on the entrepreneurship discipline.
“It was definitely the specific program — New Venture, Scaling, Commercialization and Investment. I always had my mind to do something in the startup community or work with business. So that’s definitely what drove me here,” says Vandervelden.
Ponce’s background is in industrial engineering. He grew up in Chile and looked to UNB’s MBA program in Fredericton to continue his studies, having already graduated with a master’s degree in supply chain management in Australia.
“I want to migrate here to Canada, says Ponce. “With all my previous studies, it also complements what I want to do.”
Brown is continuing his studies where they began, at UNB, having already completed his Bachelor’s in Business Studies and certificate in UNB’s Technology Management and Entrepreneurship program.
He says both Ponce and Vandervelden attended some of the same classes with him and told him about the business idea for Smart Bottle and jumped on board.
“I’ve been huge into entrepreneurship for quite some time. I started a couple of businesses during my undergrad. When I decided to pursue my Master’s,” says Brown. “I wanted to continue down the entrepreneurship path and UNB had it.”
Brown has refined what Smart Bottle is down to elevator pitch precision.
“Smart Bottle aims to tackle the global environmental problem posed by single-use plastics, which end up across the globe in landfills and oceans, posing harm to animals from widespread pollution,” says Brown.
The trio pitches Smart Bottle as “a circular economy solution” to single-use plastics.
While it functions as the same refillable bottle that can be used for products like hand soaps and detergents, it’s refillable and as Brown details, adds “The Internet of Things” into the mix.
Their idea puts Smart Bottle at vending machines in key locations, within cities and grocery stores, with each paired with RFID chips, network-connected devices that can be portable or permanently attached and help translate real user data.
Brown says both the vending machines and the bottles are paired with the chips, which work with an app, so users can track key metrics such as the amount of single-use plastic bottles prevented, in addition to any sort of cost savings.
“We’re trying to shift consumer behavior and that’s one of the hardest sells that you can do,” says Brown in his refined pitch.
He says they plan to provide a discount to their users, by addressing the product containers Smart Bottle replaces, a roughly 20 percent discount when you take away the packaging that’s saved.
“We can take a portion of that discount and give it straight to our users,” Brown says. “We can both pair discounts as well as sustainability to change consumer behavior.”
Brown concludes by showing how similar concepts have already been proven to work in the US, South America and Australia.
Ponce, with his experience and education coming in part from Australia, was inspired by the concept that he initially introduced to Vandervelden during their entrepreneurship studies at UNB.
“In Australia, I saw they were using vending machines, but they didn’t use the reusable bottles. So, anyone can go and buy detergent, but they bring any bottle that they want,” says Ponce.
“What we want to do is something different. We keep track of how many uses you give to the bottle,” he explained. “We encourage people to use our bottle as many times as possible, by increasing the discount price that we’re giving to them.”
Ponce says there is a similar idea in his native Chile, adding consumers there weren’t using vending machines but refilled their bottles at physical locations.
Vandervelden says the three would like to attract investment to provide an influx of cash into the company. For the venture to be successful, they need to purchase some of the vending machines which they’ve already sourced.
“We’re hoping to get into some sort of an incubator or accelerator to really put our feet on the ground and work this through,” says Vandervelden. “Because at the end of the day, we do see a future application for it, so hopefully we can get it to a point where it does scale.”
Brown says UNB’s MBA studies offered the forum for each to work on their idea and tighten up Smart Bottle’s customer discovery.
“Since I started my MBA, the experiential learning has been huge,” says Brown who adds the program also gives students a view from the other side of the boardroom, seeing the role from the venture capitalist’s point of view.
“We get to actually run a fund and evaluate businesses and from an entrepreneurial perspective.”
For Ponce, the experiential learning while working on their capstone project has shown him how to work with real companies in different parts of the world to develop and pitch a competitive strategic plan.
“You are so involved in the real businesses, and it’s great for me, especially as an international student to know how businesses are run in Canada.”
“I think UNB’s experiential courses are second to none,” says Vandervelden who adds that students work hands-on with companies in the local atmosphere.
“We’re learning how to make these pitches and understand what goes into starting a business and it really gives us a good idea of how to consult as new businesses come up. It gave us all the skills to put this together.”
This story was sponsored by the UNB Faculty of Management.