At the height of the Pokemon Go craze, Toronto’s Forest Hill neighbourhood was postered with signs warning of nearby sightings, offering lawn care to “keep your lawn free from Pokemon” via Eden, an on-demand lawn care app.
Had it been posted a few weeks later, when everyone else tried to cash in on the craze, the ploy would have been gimmicky. But it was perfectly timed because this wasn’t your standard garden care company; this was the darling of Ben Zlotnick, a Toronto-based entrepreneur who has made himself synonymous with the tech scene in Toronto by founding INcubes, one of the city’s best-known, non-academic associated incubators.
Over the past five years Ben has championed the startup ecosystem both at home through angel investments, tireless mentorship, and incubation work in Toronto and globally as an ambassador to the city’s growing role as a tech hub. But earlier this year, Ben decided it was time to get back to his first love, the landscaping and snow removal company he started more than 13 years prior.
“(I realized) the best thing for me to do was to figure out how to merge my two worlds together…take my experience in the landscape industry and combine it with my experience in the technology sector,” he says.
Today, the app-driven platform connects more than 100 contractors with customers needing services throughout the GTA.
“We launched it a couple of months ago and it’s picking up on a weekly basis and we continue to expand our product and grow our technology to make it more efficient and useful, both for the contractors and customers,” he explains.
It’s a change of pace from running INcubes over the past five years. “It went from being a three-month program with demo days as an accelerator (to) one of the leading technology accelerators in the Canadian ecosystem,” says Ben.
The incubator has since veered towards working with companies on an individual basis that are “a bit further down the road.”
“We don’t have any specific programs right now, it’s more customized for each company as we meet with them – we help them with different areas like strategy, raising capital, and expansion outside of the Canadian space,” he says. It’s given him a bit more time to focus on the operational side of his own business and bask in the startup landscape he helped create.
“It’s a very open industry, you won’t really find that anywhere else,” he says. “I’ve played this role in a couple of different areas and the technology ecosystem is by far the most open network that I’ve ever come across.”
But Ben says he has no illusions about the trendiness of tech and what that means for young upstarts.
“The downside to all of this is that everyone wants to get in and make a billion dollars,” he says. “It’s great that people are doing a million types of things and solving problems by using the technology available – unfortunately not everyone is made out to be an entrepreneur and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.”
Ben’s position suggests a certain kind of maturity in the way he looks at the applicability of technology in everyday life especially in hands-on spheres like landscaping.
“I’ve been in this industry for 13 or 14 years, it’s not about how am I going to cut the grass or clear the snow differently, it’s about how am I going to connect with the massive market that typically don’t have contractors in place but want qualified workers in place,” he explains. “It’s giving me the ability to reach the much larger customer base.”