Written by Andrew Seale
A stint in Boston’s Techstars accelerator wasn’t enough to convince Toronto startup Brizi to stay south of the border. It came down to diversity, something Anna Hu, CEO, and co-founder of the company, says she felt is championed with such veracity north of the border that it was too hard to leave behind.
“Everyone knows what diversity creates,” says Hu. Programs like Express Entry, which helps skilled immigrants fast-track the move to Canada, drive an inclusivity that fuels a vibrant startup ecosystem. And Brizi – a platform that allows sports fans to take control of a robotic camera at big-ticket events to snap high-res photos of their group – thrives off that diversity.
Their 12-person team is a prime example.
“No more than two people are from the same country… we're from all corners of the world,” she says. “It’s the general welcoming environment (in Canada) to tech companies from anywhere that attracts great foreign talent.”
She points out that the startup brought MIT and Stanford grads back after their bout in Boston. But it’s not just about drawing that diversity inwards, it’s about looking outwards as well.
Since Hu and her cofounder Sam Dalati launched Brizi in 2014 shortly after meeting in the Next 36, an entrepreneurship initiative set up to identify and train promising Canadian entrepreneurs, they’ve learned a lot about what it means to build a global company from their base in Toronto. They’ve added operations offices in Boston and Brisbane, and deployed the platform in seven countries, working with leading brands across NBA basketball, European soccer, and Grand Slam tennis.
Early wins getting the Portland Trail Blazers and the Philadelphia 76ers led to later clients like the U.S. Open and the Australian Open.
“What they were excited about was the fan engagement piece,” explains Alexandre Nossovskoi, marketing lead for the Brizi. “They’re looking for ways to drive people back to the stadium… to create better experiences for their fans – every single fan in the stadium who shares their experience is a micro influencer (and) that's not only valuable for the brand but also the team.”
The focus is on a network of group memories that “map the consumer journey (through) out-of-home entertainment. It’s like having a personal photographer hanging out in the rafters.
“We call it a ‘Brizi moment’,” says Hu. “Every Brizi moment we tie to a group of people who know each other, a location and (an) experience.”
Brands get eyeballs through social media and teams get higher levels of engagement. Sports are a universal language, whether you’re in Australia or Brazil or Canada, home teams bring out throngs of fans and brands are looking for ways to leverage that fandom.
Brizi is currently headquartered at the One Eleven scale-up hub on Front Street, within throwing distance to Toronto’s sporting landmark the Rogers Centre. Alongside promoting diversity, the startup is focused on scaling organically and building a culture that talent wants to be a part of.
“Culture is something that needs to be deliberate and we think that the diversity of Canada and Toronto, in particular, puts us in a place where people are very receptive,” says Hu. “People have great ideas and (are) open to sharing.”
Photo credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)