LaunchPad helps made-at-MRU business tee-off
UPDATE: Feb. 4, 2015, Derek Rucki of TLink Golf was named Canada's Top Student Entrepreneur by Entrepreneurs' Organization, in Toronto.
Mount Royal's Innovation & Entrepreneurship Program produces Canada's Top Student Entrepreneur. Congratulations to CEO Derek Rucki and CTO Stefan Radeta of TLink Golf, on winning Top Canadian Student Entrepreneur in Toronto!
Mount Royal students team up on the golf course and in the boardroom to launch TLink
By Brendan Greenslade
It’s nearly impossible to call a hole-in-one from the tee box while the ball is still in the air.
When the trajectory is straight and the wind is just right — you can hope it’s going to be one heck of a shot.
|Launching Alberta-born businesses|
Mount Royal students are securing investment money towards their fledgling business ideas through a new and unique program, aptly named, LaunchPad
Through a generous donation of $250,000 over five years, JMH&Co., in collaboration with the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Mount Royal, has created the JMH Venture LaunchPad program (founded in 2013). LaunchPad is available to all Mount Royal students and takes place annually. It’s been described as a kinder, gentler Dragons’ Den where students can win cold, hard cash towards their start-up business ventures. Each year there’s $50,000 up for grabs!
Now, the success of your golf drive might just be getting a little easier to predict. Two Mount
Royal students have invented a new tech-savvy device aimed at helping you point your swing in the right direction.
It’s a hot summer day at Bearspaw Country Club and Derek Rucki and Stefan Radeta are ready to tee-off. They both stare at their wrists as if they are checking the time. In fact, they’re calculating their next drives using TLink, their flagship invention — a lightweight Bluetooth device that pairs with a smartphone and gives a golfer the front, middle and back yardages to the green.
Rucki takes aim, swings effortlessly and the ball takes flight, landing lightly on the green. He smiles with a knowing grin.
“My background is golf. I have been playing competitively since 12 years old and did my first two years of university on a scholarship in Texas before coming to Mount Royal,” says the Bachelor of Business Administration — General Management student.
“When GPS golf devices started to hit the market, I tried a few different products, but found them to be bulky, wide, heavy and really just distracting while taking a swing.”
Those “bulky” GPS devices are what inspired Rucki to design the first prototype of TLink in 2013, which he debuted at Mount Royal’s LaunchPad competition — a Dragons’ Den-style business proposal event for sponsorship cash to take their ideas to the next level.
It was during LaunchPad 2013 when Rucki first met Radeta, a fourth-year Bachelor of Computer Information Systems student who was also pitching his own idea, a mobile app.
The two quickly saw potential in teaming up. Rucki’s business acumen and passion for golf, combined with Radeta’s technical savoir-faire lead the twosome to combine talents.
Keeping design and functionality top-of mind, they created the first model that year.
Rucki and Radeta were determined that TLink stand apart through everything from its price-point (at $99 it’s considerably more affordable than like products); to size and weight (at 30 grams it’s about a fourth of the weight and half the width of similar products); and through features such as its pedometer function and software capabilities.
“(Radeta and Rucki) are two of the most entrepreneurial minds that I’ve met. I couldn’t be more proud of their progress thus far.” Ray Depaul
Director of Mount Royal's Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Their hard work paid off. At 2014’s LaunchPad in February, Rucki and Radeta took home the chief prize. The team accumulated an impressive haul of $30,000 consisting of $10,000 from JMH&Co. Chartered Accountants; $10,000 in legal services from Stikeman Elliot LLP; $5,000 in marketing services from Design4Change, Mount Royal’s in-house boutique marketing agency; and $5,000 from the Building Up Successful Youth (BUSY) Foundation to move TLink to market.
As spring approached, the snow melted and golfers across Calgary begin to hit the links in hoards. The buzz on the course was about TLink, and the product hadn’t even hit the market yet. TLink had begun to attract the attention of the local media, as well as movers and shakers in the golf industry, such as Fred Greene who featured the device on his popular golf podcast, GolfSmarter.
TLink doesn’t just capture the imagination of golfers, the product also interests potential investors. In May, the team closed their first round of six-figure private equity financing deals.
TLink’s “angel investor” is Rod Brown, who’s spent the majority of his career working with startups.
“(Rucki’s) personality is impressive. He really has a lot of passion and serious drive,” says Brown, who acts as not only monetary investor, but also as a business mentor to the business duo.
“I hope to see them reach their vision… then go on to contribute to the ecosystem of entrepreneurship and become angels for someone else one day.”
Currently, the TLink shop is open nearly 24/7. As Rucki and Brown navigate the business-side of the venture during the daylight hours, Radeta takes the nightshift to communicate with the manufacturer in China — the time change between nations was an unanticipated challenge for the pair.
“Luckily I prefer programming late at night,” says Radeta.
Caddying for team TLink at Mount Royal is Ray DePaul, director of Mount Royal’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, as well as Ricardo Hoar, chair of the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems. The support has been priceless for the pair as they struggle to keep up with the mounting momentum of their new company.
“(DePaul’s) constant guidance and support has been amazing, he’s not only helped us inside the classroom. He has extended to us his networks and expertise,” Rucki says.
Meanwhile, Hoar offers his advice on the technical back end.
“Ricardo has been an amazing resource for me as I play catch up from my low-level software development experience to the type of work I’m doing with TLink,” explains Radeta.
DePaul says TLink is successful first and foremost because of the passion, dedication and incredible efforts of its founders. He notes that Rucki and Radeta took advantage of the University’s intimate classrooms, experiential courses, engaged professors and active volunteer community to conceive and refine their idea.
“I doubt (Rucki) would be the CEO of his own company already if he were sitting in the back of a lecture hall absorbing without putting to practice,” says DePaul, adding that TLink is a “made in Mount Royal” company.
“(Radeta and Rucki) are two of the most entrepreneurial minds that I’ve met. I couldn’t be more proud of their progress thus far.”
With a lofty goal of having one million units sold by the end of their first five years of business and eventually becoming the leader in golf tech, the boys from TLink have a long way to go. But if they can keep shooting straight, you may just see them — or at least their state-of-the-art TLink product — on the PGA Tour one day.
TLink is now accepting pre-orders through their new website.
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