An itch we couldn't scratch
We started out as graduate students at the University of Toronto, looking for a means to transform theory to application. Strangers to each other, we were each itching for ways to use our skills and abilities in an impactful way to do good today, and bring about positive, value-adding change to the communities around us.
Hult Prize @
In November 2014, the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto announced that they were putting on a case competition called the Hult Prize, which was focused on building solutions for people who lived in the bottom-tier of the socio-economic pyramid. As this aligned well with each of our personal missions, we got in touch, and formed our team. Team Vicis was born.
Toronto to Dubai
Surprising ourselves, we ended up winning the Hult Prize @ UofT, giving us direct entry into the Hult Prize Regional Finals in Dubai, and approximately 3 months to prepare.
We spent long countless days meeting and brainstorming, talking to and consulting different stakeholders and experts, and refining and pivoting our idea again, and again, and again. And again, and again, and again.
Like most, when we first thought about poverty alleviation, aid, healthcare, food and nutrition were top of mind. But as we continued to press to the root of the problem, and expanded our line of sight, we came upon the world of financial inclusion. We learned that there were 2 billion people around the world with no access to any type of formal financial institution: the unbanked. And as the World Bank states,
“Financial inclusion, at its best, opens up opportunities in a way that perhaps no other single intervention does. Access to basic savings and payments services has direct poverty reduction impact, income impact, food and nutrition impact.
Being able to tap into savings provides that level of cushion and of protection from households or individuals falling back into poverty if there’s a particular shock, which affects their income, or unexpected expenditure.”
With this in mind, we built our solution around improving financial inclusion in overseas, and emerging markets like the Philippines, India, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
In March 2016, we travelled to Dubai, where we had an amazing few days getting to know each other even better, meeting like-minded change-makers, exploring the beautiful city of Dubai, and learning more than we could have ever imagined. Our team had a great time in Dubai, and got some very encouraging feedback from our peers and judges. Following the Dubai Finals, we submitted our proposal forward for the wildcard round and were shortlisted.
Looking back and moving forward
Upon returning back onto Canadian soil, we realized two critical things:
- Somehow, throughout the process, we had quietly gone through a transformation: gone were the graduate students participating in a business competition, we were now a team solving a very real problem-- and there was no turning back. From the beginning it had been important to us to build not just a sexy solution that would wow judges, but to create something viable that worked and brought real, life-changing value to its users. The competition wasn't our end point; it was just the beginning.
- To really impact change, we really have to be in the area where we're developing. And the reality is that as much as we'd like to pick and move to emerging markets, that isn't feasible as we finish up our respective programs. Interestingly, as we looked back throughout our journey, in conversations with various stakeholders and experts, we realized that there were a lot of similar needs to emerging markets within Canada and North America. Turns out there are a lot of people locally who could benefit from what we were building! It became clear that our opportunity to build the most effective product and gain traction was to develop a platform within our own backyard first, before moving overseas.
Building a brighter tomorrow, today
Our mission is to empower all individuals, regardless of social status, to take decisive control of their tomorrows, today.
We're starting with personal finance, with the goal of ensuring all people can enjoy increased financial wellbeing and health. Our first product, Sprout, makes saving money intuitive and fun while promoting positive behavioural change through gamification!