Challenge to change
Last Fall, UBC Sauder BCom candidate Joseph Lee turned down job interviews with Silicon Valley firms – which wasn’t easy, “they don’t come along too often,” he says. Why? Lee was holding out for his dream opportunity: A place on Canada’s The Next 36, an eight-month program that accelerates the growth of Canada’s most talented entrepreneurs. He saw this as the ideal opportunity to develop his business Coastline, which he co-founded in 2015, into a market leader.
In a time when technological innovation is uprooting the way business is done, the fishing industry has stayed relatively unchanged.
"We’re bringing disruptive innovation to an industry that hasn’t fundamentally changed in decades, if not centuries," says Lee. "Many operations are pen and paper based, it’s pretty archaic.
Not only that, but business isn’t easy for some fisheries.
“There can be anywhere from six to 12 intermediaries from fishery to final sale,” said Lee. “And any time the ownership gets transferred, profits for fisheries go down, the quality can degrade, and it becomes almost impossible to trace the fish back to its origins. It’s a big problem, especially for smaller independent fisheries.”
Coastline offers two e-commerce platforms to solve that problem. Coastline Inventory and Coastline Market. Coastline Inventory consolidates a fishery’s entire workflow in one place at a fraction of the cost of many traditional enterprise resource-planning (ERP) systems. It also feeds into an online marketplace for direct sales – think Airbnb or eBay, but for fresh fish – to cut out the intermediaries.
Coastline Market is a simpler iteration for small independent fisheries. The focus there is direct sales to restaurants with fresher fish and minimized food miles traveled, at comparable prices to wholesalers and distributors.
But, breaking into an industry isn’t easy. New players don’t have credibility. Lee and his team really wanted to be accepted into business accelerator Next 36 to help them break through those barriers.
Lee’s hopes for change go beyond the fishing industry.
"Entrepreneurship is the most profound way to make a tangible impact and add value to our economy and society,” he said. “My end goal is to become a change maker, and I really do think Coastline is the avenue that can help me achieve this."
The idea for Coastline came out of a friendship between Lee and his co-founders, old friends Robert Kirstiuk and Abdul Khan. Kirstiuk’s family has deep roots in New Brunswick, and is familiar with the province’s fishing industry. The three reconnected in 2015 and settled on Coastline’s model.
Lee says being part of the UBC Sauder community has exposed him to many leadership opportunities that prepared him for starting his business. While pursuing his BCom Combined Major in Business and Computer Science, he has taken advantage of co-ops, conferences, and e@UBC, the hub of entrepreneurship jointly run by UBC Sauder and Applied Sciences.
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Based in Toronto, the prestigious Next 36 accelerator includes masters-level courses taught by faculty from top business schools around the world. Mentored by successful business leaders, Lee has spent eight months networking and working at pitch events with the community of 250 entrepreneurs and investors.
“The network offered by The Next 36 is truly unparalleled,” said Lee. “I’ve met countless ‘one-percenters’, the innovators, leaders and philanthropists who have walked the walk and impacted society for the better.”
This year’s Next 36 cohort also included UBC students Elizabeth Wicks and Oliver Wolfond from Engineering Physics as well as Lisa Li who’s taking a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering with a minor in Commerce.
Entrepreneurship is the most profound way to make a tangible impact and add value to our economy and society.
When Lee and his co-founders began The Next 36 their first software platform was in beta stages. Now, even before finishing at the accelerator, companies are already using Coastline platforms across Canada. Since beginning in January, they’ve raised additional venture capital and external investments, grown their team from three to five, created a board of advisors and turned down their first acquisition offer.
My experience at the Next 36 has dramatically increased my expectations of what I can and should achieve in my lifetime.
As he nears the end of the accelerator, Lee is eyeing a pilot launch in Vancouver of Coastline Market, the platform targeted at smaller, independent fisheries. He’s scheduled meetings with a dozen fisheries through which he hopes to establish a market presence before expanding to different regions, as they did with Coastline Inventory.
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