Shopify Sees Opportunity in Kickstarting Start-ups

Most start-ups are worried about winning business plan competitions. Shopify, an Ottawa e-commerce platform provider, is getting good at hosting them. The compay is kicking off its second Build a Business competition, taking the contest international while upping the prize money and giveaways to half a million dollars.
Last year’s contest helped get almost 1,400 businesses off the ground and collectively raised $3.5 million in revenue over its 6-month period. The eventual champion DODOCase, an iPad cover maker, is now on an annual run rate of $4-5 million dollars.
Now Shopify is hoping to kick-start more entrepreneurs, helping them build online retail shops with its software-as-a-service platform. The company already has 13,000 clients using the system and it expects to add a whole lot more through its second competition, which runs from May 1 to December 31.  The increased prize money and considerations should help. Shopify will be handing out a $100,000 grand prize for the store with the most revenue over a two month period. $20,000 each will awarded to six category winners for apparel and jewelry; food and health; sports and hobbies; art and photography; home and office; and other.
The competition isn’t simply about the money. Shopify is teaming with marketing guru Seth Godin, wine video blogger and author Gary Vaynerchuk and angel investor Tim Ferriss, along with sponsors Google, MailChimp and PayPal to offer advice and counseling to start-ups. That along with AdWords credits help bring the total payout to $500,000.The grand winner, for example, will get a lunch with Godin, a power session with Vaynerchuk, dinner with Ferriss and a visit to the Googleplex.
“We got help from good mentors,” said Harley Finkelstein, Chief Platform Officer for Shopify. “This competition is about helping others like we got our start.”
Shopify isn’t just being a good mentor to others. It’s got a big stake in getting companies to adopt its platform. But Shopify is showing how easy it is to get businesses off the ground. It’s an interesting story for a small start-up that began in 2005 as an online retailer of snowboards. Founders Tobias Lutke and Scott Lake took the online platform it built and turned it into a scalable service for other entrepreneurs. Shopify, like Twilio does for communications applications, is another way in which start-ups are able to create businesses quickly and efficiently. And now, Shopify is demonstrating how success can be had in not necessarily being the hot start-up but being the team helping thousands of start-ups get off the ground.