Written by Andrew Seale

When Emily Rudow and Oneiric co-founder Kayla Nezon joined Communitech’s Fierce Founders Bootcamp last summer, they knew their company – which produces all-in-one base layer hockey pants, designed to give young hockey players extra protection and make gearing up easier – would be an outlier amongst the more tech-leaning startups in the cohort. But Rudow says they found a community within the group, a shared sense of the challenges ahead for the startups.

“We’d all get together – go for drinks – and talk about our struggles… (or swap advice on) project management and how we manage cash flow and keep on schedule,” she says. “Even though they’re in tech and we're not, there are still the general business struggles that we have as of right now.”

But it’s still early days for Oneiric, a concept developed by Rudow, a lifelong hockey player, for her fourth year new venture creation class at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo. It took four years to develop the product – the pair created more than 80 samples of their hybrid hockey-equipment-meets-base-layer – and navigate the legal world of trademarking and patenting, before officially launching last May.

“I think I would have been able to execute a little quicker but I was working full-time (and) this was the passion project I did at nighttime, early mornings and weekends,” she says. Eventually, Oneiric grew to the point where it was getting unmanageable to keep her job. Her co-founder was bearing the brunt of the work and Rudow felt like she was missing all the important meetings.

“We knew that September to November were going to be our busiest months and I wanted to be all-in,” she recalls. “I made the hard decision to leave my full-time job (in marketing) and just dive in.”

Oneiric has become an active member of the startup community both in Toronto and Waterloo. The duo enrolled in Enterprise Toronto’s Starter Company program, they joined BrightLane – a startup community/cowork space on King Street West, and even showcased Oneiric on Dragon’s Den clinching an on-air deal with Manjit Minhas. As of November, Oneiric was available in 11 independent retail stores in Ontario.

Rudow says they’re still connected with some of their Fierce Founders cohort, keeping in touch and trading insight.

But with major players in the gear space like Total Hockey and Bauer falling on hard times and filing for bankruptcy recently, Rudow says there’s no illusion fighting their way into the industry will be an easy task. That’s why they’re growing brand recognition, pro-shop by pro-shop, and networking their way through hockey town.

“Everyone knows someone that plays hockey or has some connection in the hockey world,” she says. “We go to a lot of tournaments and have a booth there, we do a lot of direct outreach to coaches.”

While there’s plenty of leads that don’t pan out, Rudow plans to continue to grind it out and keep her head up for the next opportunity. The hard work and hustle has proven a good strategy so far. 

“One guy at a tournament gave me his card and said ‘I can get your product into the MasterCard Centre (in Etobicoke) – and he did,” she says. “That was totally worth the tournament… you never know who you’re going to meet… that’s why I don’t shut out all networking events.”

Photo Credit: Andrew Seale