For UBC Sauder alumna Valerie Song, being recognized as one of BC Business' 30 Under 30 was an important goal. One that has now become a reality.
Song, a BCom graduate from the class of 2014, co-founded AVA Technologies Inc. the following year, promoting sustainable automated gardening.
“AVA stands for Automated Vertical Agriculture,” she explained. “Our company essentially creates smart indoor gardens, where our customers can buy a device – called an Ava Byte - into which they add pre-seeded plant pods and water. From there, the plant growth is taken care of thanks to an automated lighting and watering system.”
According to Song, the idea behind AVA was to get everyone growing their own food affordably, and to make it easy and efficient. “So if you’re a beginner gardener who doesn’t know how to grow anything, the Ava Byte will take care of your plants. Plus you can control things using Google Home or Alexa and record time lapse videos of their progress, using the built in camera.”
For Song and her co-founder Chase Ando, the idea to help people grow their own ingredients more easily at home, came from when Song was making a pizza with her young niece, who believed that tomatoes came straight from the grocery store.
“I knew I wanted to help people connect with food at its source, and make it more simple and exciting for anyone to get growing,” said Song.
AVA Technologies Inc. was born at a competition called Startup Weekend in Vancouver where participants had to pitch ideas. But it hasn’t been a smooth ride to get where the company is today, having raised $2.6 million in seed capital.
Song explained that female entrepreneurs are typically allocated less venture capital funding than their male counterparts. “For us to be able to raise enough funding was challenging, and it took us two and a half years to get there.” But she also believes that this situation is turning around as people are becoming more interested in supporting female founders, particularly in Vancouver’s budding tech-sector.
Participating in JDC West, one of the largest undergraduate business competitions in Canada, helped her gain confidence and first exposed her to entrepreneurship, idea generation, and pitching in front of an audience.
Both UBC Sauder, and the wider support system for entrepreneurs at UBC have played a significant role in helping Song reach where she has today.
“UBC Sauder and UBC have been a really big part of my career as well as my startup. At UBC Sauder I studied Business Technology Management and marketing - which is very relevant for us at AVA,” she explained.
And courses like Leadership and General Management at UBC Sauder have helped her run her business efficiently, so much so that her company has been in talks about partnering with Amazon.com and Best Buy.co.
Professor Bob Elton, who taught this course, remembers Song as a socially responsible and positive student with great leadership skills.
“As a leader she has a strong sense of values and this is evident from the way she treats others,” he said.
Elton and Song still get together to discuss business and strategy.
“It’s very cool how everything comes full circle,” laughed Song, who now mentors aspiring entrepreneurs at JDC West, and has collected seven other awards for AVA, including Small Business BCs’ Best Innovation Winner 2018.