A year ago, the co-founders of SparkGig — Desmond Choi, Samuel Yuan and Adrian Wong — pitched their startup for Dragon’s Den in the Communitech building, and the episode was aired this March 4 on <em>CBC</em>. </p>
One of the dragons, Michael Wekerle, said “I think that’s great! I love that you’re passionate,” in response to the pitch — the other dragons were not as excited towards the concept or the team. The Waterloo-based startup has been gaining a lot of traction in Toronto and New York in the time between the pitch and the air date.
“It was my second time. It’s always a pleasure to pitch in front of the dragons because you never know what to expect. It is a dramatic TV show,” said Choi.
Choi, a UW sociology major, said the team felt confident going into the audition and hoped to gain more traction for the application after the show. The team did get an offer from the dragons, but turned it down as they thought the $2 million valuation was too low. SparkGig went on to raise $200,000 from investors after the show. Choi commented that “the show didn’t go as planned, and that’s OK. We got what we wanted — experience and exposure.”
Helping over 150 performers to find gigs at places such as house parties, weddings, and business events, SparkGig has evolved in the past year, emphasizing that it is about the “community celebrating spark and entertainment.” The website (www.sparkgig.com) allows users to request performing artists at the click of a button, and performers can connect with customers and expand their brands. The website allows viewers to select performers such as magicians, comedians, hip-hop artists, and classical pianists.
Choi came up with the idea in undergrad while staying at the Velocity residence, where he first pitched his idea and met his co-founders. Once they started gaining traction, they applied and got into the Velocity Garage days before Velocity Fund Finals (VFF). Their first time through the finals was unsuccessful, resulting in a loss of morale and the loss of some team members. The remaining team members had a passion for SparkGig and had the best experience in mind for the users, clients, and performers. SparkGig won VFF their second time around.
“Winning VFF was a big stepping stone,” said Choi.
Choi and his co-founders are currently in New York City where, after two rounds of interviews, they were accepted into the NYU Varick Incubator and have been working there since January.
When questioned on his choice of New York, Choi answered, “People love arts, entertainment, and fashion in New York,” making it a clear fit for his application and that the “office hours with industry mentors is a good home base for SparkGig because everyone here is working on something cool, and they are really friendly and resourceful.”
Along with meeting Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin, SparkGig is working with singers from The Voice and many talented local musicians such as Toronto singer Alexandria. Choi expressed his interest in Chris Martin because of his position as an ambassador for Global Citizen Festival. This interested Choi due to his company’s giving-back attitude. SparkGig takes a transaction fee for every gig booked. In other words, they only make money when the artist makes money. They take a 10 per cent finder’s fee from performers that covers legal and payment fees. An additional 10 per cent is donated to a screened and verified charity on behalf of Spark A Change.
Though not a STEM graduate, Desmond Choi has managed to lift his startup off the ground and “wants to encourage other arts majors to dream big, and that, with discipline and hard work, it can happen.”