Despite common age restrictions for young entrepreneurs, three Ottawa teenagers have launched a startup to help parents find babysitters in their neighbourhoods.
High school students Andrea Herscovich, Jenny Hua and Jenny Shen launched SitterNextDoor at last weekend’s Great Glebe Garage Sale. The startup acts as a platform for parents to connect with babysitters, bringing a technical solution to one of the world’s oldest informal economies.
The trio didn’t know each other before meeting two years ago at Technovation, a program that introduces young women to entrepreneurship. They won the competition that year with their idea for SitterNextDoor – then called Connectsitter – and the three co-founders have been building their business for the past couple of years in between chemistry classes and history homework.
To start, SitterNextDoor’s team will manually match parents with prospective sitters on the site.
“For example, I need a babysitter Saturday at eight o’clock. Then we’d see who’s in their neighbourhood and available and match it like that,” Herscovich explains, adding that the proximity feature would help parents feel secure with a sitter.
“We feel like people will trust someone from their own neighbourhood,” she says.
The team plans to eventually build an app to take over the matching process, likely via keywords in users’ profiles.
Despite the rain last Saturday, Herscovich says the garage sale launch was a success, with the firm recording its first booking and revenue as a company. SitterNextDoor takes a 15 per cent transaction fee on top of babysitters’ selected rates.
As the three founders near graduation, the plan is for the team to stick together in Ottawa to run the startup. Shen is attending Carleton University to take part in its partner program with Shopify, Herscovich is going to study computer science at the University of Ottawa and Hua is currently undecided.
The launch this past week was a long time coming for the three young entrepreneurs, and Herscovich says it hasn’t come easily. She’s spoken to federal Minister of Small Business and Tourism Bardish Chagger and a number of city councillors about the challenges facing young business owners.
For example, many grants that target youth-led startups are restricted to entrepreneurs aged 18 and older, and most formal registrations require legal-age adults to sign.
"I can't even control my own bank account. It's been kind of challenging."
“We’ve had a lot of problems as teenage entrepreneurs with things like incorporation. I can’t even control my own bank account. It’s been kind of challenging,” Herscovich says.
The firm has received a great deal of support in overcoming these obstacles and learning the startup ropes. Technovation’s local organizer Jennifer Francis remains in contact with SitterNextDoor and helped set up the chance to pitch at L-Spark’s recent Best in Saas Showcase. Bayview Yards’ Jordan St. Jacques has also been mentoring the team – it was his idea to launch at the garage sale, where families from across Ottawa would be out looking for deals.
It was there that the team met Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who has also been previously involved with Technovation. The young businesswomen took the chance to snap a picture with a number of appropriate logos emblazoned on their shirts: on the three co-founders’, SitterNextDoor; on McKenna’s, #RunLikeAGirl.