Shopify brings design firm trio on board
In business, four years can be a lifetime. For Satish Kanwar (BBA, 2008), Verne Ho (BBA, 2007) and Andrew Peek (BBA, 2006), it was enough time to build their company, Jet Cooper, into one of Canada’s leading user experience and design firms.
The three met at UTSC, and in 2009 Kanwar and Ho launched Jet Cooper, with Peek coming on board later as entrepreneur-in-residence. The company built web, mobile and tablet applications for clients that included Cineplex, Sobeys and TELUS. It eventually employed more than 25 designers and developers.
Peek says Jet Cooper’s core value of “be real” kept the team focused. “Digital technology isn’t slowing down, and that can be both intimidating and overwhelming,” he says. “We wanted to ensure that people understood our work was crafted by human beings for human beings, and that the individual was central to that end.”
In August 2013, Jet Cooper was acquired by the e-commerce platform Shopify, which works with over 60,000 online retailers in 100 countries to create and power online stores. All three men took on roles within Shopify: Ho as director of design, Kanwar as director of operations and Peek as director of product labs.
“It felt surreal for a long time,” Ho says about the acquisition. “The idea that there was another company that we could be so well aligned to in terms of people, culture, philosophies and vision was incredible, and the fact that we had the opportunity to accelerate our life’s work to a whole new level was out of this world.”
Looking back on Jet Cooper’s own success, Ho says what he enjoyed most was building the team. “I don’t think Jet Cooper could have been the same company without the incredible people we’ve had the privilege to work alongside over the years.”
Peek, who also worked as a BBA program consultant at UTSC, says the BBA program furnished the three with relevant business knowledge. “It provided us with the networks, and with opportunities to make meaningful connections within those networks.”
“The program also armed us with invaluable soft skills that helped us not only succeed but be resilient when faced with challenges such as communication, time management, relationship building and prioritization,” adds Ho.
While she was studying at UTSC, Jennifer Amor (BSc, 2004) signed up for a fitness class and liked it so much she became a certified instructor. But after graduating she was severely injured in a soccer game, and was told she had to stop teaching—and doing—high-impact fitness and other sports.
“I pretty much hit a very depressive state. I couldn't work, I was stuck at home, nothing but television and my own thoughts,” she says.
Those thoughts would lead her to restorative yoga. As Amor slowly recovered from her injury, she took a teacher-training course and went on to become a registered yoga instructor. She now runs her own fitness company, Amor Healthy Lifestyle.
“That injury was a blessing,” she says. “It made me focus on what I wanted to do.”
Amor has also self-published a well-received yoga book for children called I’m A Little Yogi.
“I believe yoga has made such a big change in my life and in me becoming the person I am today,” says Amor.
Even as a student at UTSC, Paul Brunberg (BA, 2004) was a part-time soldier with the Reserve Force of the Canadian Armed Forces—balancing his studies with his future career.
Today, Lieutenant-Colonel Brunberg has recently completed a three-year term as commanding officer of the Ontario Regiment, a Primary Reserve regiment based in Oshawa.
Brunberg, whose family has a history of military service, is also deputy chief of staff at the Canadian Forces College.
Some of his proudest career moments have been during peacekeeping missions to Eritrea and Haiti. In Haiti he was assigned the task of planning security around sensitive electoral material for the 2006 presidential and senatorial elections.
He also planned and oversaw a three-day exercise of UN military forces and civilian police.
“Being the lead for planning, and seeing the elections occurring in 2006, made me very proud to be part of that mission and the lessons I was able to bring back with me,” he says.
David Patel (HBA, 2006) bought his first investment property—a small bungalow—when he was 22 years old and studying at UTSC.
Now manager of commercial banking at the National Bank of Canada, Patel offers consultancy services to mid- and large-sized corporations. He has also continued his real estate ventures. That first small bungalow turned into a healthy property management business that Patel runs with his sister.
What Patel enjoys most is helping people. “My parents always told me that you work to help others,” he says. “Now I’m helping people elevate their business to the next level; it’s a great service to provide.”
Mentoring is another way that Patel gives back, working with a program called Youth Assisting Youth that matches at-risk and newcomer children with mentors. “UTSC provided me with support and guidance,” he says. “It really influenced my life, and is one of the reasons I became involved in assisting youth.”
“It’s been crazy. I’ve been in charge of a lot of crying kids,” says Nick Radia (HBSc, 1990), after his first day of teaching at the Fraser Mustard Early Learning Academy, the new Thorncliffe Park school that serves 700 kindergarten students.
But Radia is not complaining—he’s exactly where he wants to be. A teacher for 15 years, he is intensely interested in social justice issues, and is dedicated to the densely populated Toronto neighbourhood with its high percentage of recent immigrants.
Parents in Thorncliffe Park are usually highly educated, but often face cultural, economic and linguistic barriers in Canada. The new school is dedicated to making sure that families are represented and accommodated.
“I want to have a positive influence on the kids. I want to help them feel proud of their culture,” Radia says. He was raised in Scarborough himself, the child of ethnic Indian refugees from Uganda, and felt intense pressure to assimilate.
After graduating with a psychology degree, Radia began working toward a PhD at OISE but decided to become a teacher instead. “I was trying to make the world a better place. We were talking about things, but not doing anything about it. I was looking for more.”
Bhupesh Shah (BSc, 1988) was working as a buyer for Canadian Tire when he was struck by a business idea.
“Mainstream organizations did not understand the ethnic market and ethnic business people did not understand how to market in Canada,” he says. So in 1995 he launched ethnicomm inc. to provide sales and web strategy consulting to small and medium sized businesses.
Shah is also a marketing and social media professor at Seneca College, and has an MBA from the Schulich School of Business. He was named one of the Top Marketing Professors on Twitter by Social Media Marketing Magazine.
Shah also curates the online newspaper Bhupesh Shah Daily.
Her love of Scarborough and strong desire to give back to the community led Janise Smith (BA, 1990) to her current role as publisher of SNAP Scarborough.
She loves that SNAP allows her to showcase what’s best about Scarborough, and has covered events from the Pan Am groundbreaking to family reunions. “It lets people share what’s going on in their world,” she says.
Smith’s son is currently a business management student at UTSC, something that makes her proud. “I have such wonderful memories of going to UTSC and now I get to relive it with my son.”
Greg White (BComm, 2000) planned to be an investment banker. Instead, he’s an actor/writer/director with his own film company.
“I was working in London’s Canary Wharf and realized I wasn’t supposed to be doing this with my life,” he says. “Two months later I was back in Toronto, waiting tables and studying improv at The Second City.”
It was at UTSC that White first discovered his love of acting, during a drama club orientation play. After returning to Toronto from London he found that live theatre wasn’t his métier, and moved into film acting and then screenwriting. He co-founded a production company, Birchmount Entertainment, in 2005 and produced two short films.
Recently, Birchmount released Separation, a psychological thriller written and directed by White and shot on Lake Simcoe. “I love two things about writing,” says White. “Creating a world that previously didn’t exist and the emotional engagement of the audience in what you’ve created.”
While producing Separation, White was living in Dubai, helping to launch an environmental and waste management company. “I flew back to Canada for six weeks of prep and production, then was back on a plane to resume my company duties,” he says. It took over a year of online work with his editor, and many file transfers and Skype meetings, to finish the film.
In Dubai, White realized there was a large population of people who shared his love of independent cinema and genre stories such as science fiction, horror and fantasy. In 2012, he launched Isis International Pictures.
“Isis distributes exciting and edgy independent genre films to audiences across the Middle East and North Africa,” he says. “Not a lot of indie films make it to this part of the world, so it’s an opportunity to change that.”
White will also be directing Birchmount’s upcoming horror feature film, The Warehouse.