Written by Stuart Foxman

Starting a company can be a sink-or-swim exercise. That doesn’t bother Amie Nguyen. She knows what it takes to stay afloat.

Amie Nguyen became a swim instructor in 2006, while in high school in Vancouver. She worked for the city for 10 years, and loved being able to teach what she calls an essential life skill. Yet she also grew frustrated.

When classes are full, instructors can only devote minimal attention to each student. She once calculated that swimmers sometimes received no more than three minutes of individual instruction per lesson. That slows the speed of learning. For most of a lesson, swim students are just fighting the cold while waiting their turn.

“There must be a better way,” she says.

So she created one, working with two co-founders. It’s called Propel (propelhq.com/), where for students it’s always their turn.

Propel is a platform for scheduling private swimming lessons for all ages, one or two students maximum, using a network of underutilized hotel pools. The platform creates three opportunities.

One, it lets people book directly with certified swim instructors and learn how to swim faster, for less, at convenient locations. That’s especially appealing at a time when many people are stuck on growing public lesson wait lists.

Two, it gives instructors everything they need to be self-employed teaching their own lessons, including access to pools, insurance, clients, report cards and a booking marketplace.

Three, it creates new revenue streams for the hospitality industry, and helps them to offset pool costs.

Nguyen says that Propel is democratizing access to a more flexible and effective method for learning how to swim.

Propel started in Vancouver, and expanded to Toronto when Nguyen re-located here in 2017. To date, the company has facilitated 8,000 lessons, using pools not just in Toronto and Vancouver but also in other parts of Ontario (Barrie, Burlington, Guelph) and B.C. (Richmond, Burnaby, Delta, Mission).

The instructors who use Propel get to set their own schedules, locations and rates. They also have the freedom to teach their way. Because people book directly with instructors, in smaller facilities, private lessons through Propel are often even less expensive than group lessons elsewhere.

About 45% of students are adults. Nguyen isn’t surprised, as she understands why adults who can’t swim (and who are perhaps embarrassed by that) might prefer a private one-on-one lesson to a busy community centre pool.

“We wanted to create a platform that removes barriers to entry,” says Nguyen.

This is Nguyen’s first time running a start-up, but not working in one. After attending Capilano University (where marketing became an interest), she joined a start-up that had an app that tracked logistics for sports team management (like managing practices, games and rosters).

Nguyen is an avid athlete herself. She wants everyone to have the opportunity to enjoy recreational sports, for the fun, skills and values like teamwork. One of her goals is to make public recreation in general, not just swimming, more accessible.

She says the Propel model can apply to other types of lessons. It’s all about people’s desire to grow and move forward – to propel themselves.

 Photo credit Zlatko CetinicImages Made Real