UpRow launches 2.0 as it eyes Inventures pitch and international expansion

· The Pulse

Hot on the heels of investment successes, UpRow has launched the 2.0 version of its app marketplace that assists newcomers, all in the lead-up to its pitch at Inventures in Calgary and a trade mission to London.

Founder and CEO Kelise Williams, who emigrated from Trinidad and Tobago with her family five years ago, created UpRow because of her own "rocky" experience.

"When I first landed in Canada, we never had credit cards (before). I didn't know that hotels needed a credit card to put on file," Williams told Taproot. "Hence, my first night in Canada, I spent the night in the lobby of a hotel."

Like many an entrepreneur, Williams saw a problem and set out to fix it. That led to the launch of UpRow, a facilitator for newcomers to access businesses and services, about two years ago.

"Since then, we have had 5,000-plus early adopters using the platform, helping us to validate the idea," she said. "It has been amazing."

Williams has developed her startup with the help of the Velocity stream of Alberta Catalyzer and Alberta Accelerator by 500, two programs launched as part of the Alberta Scaleup and Growth Accelerator Program. Those efforts paid off when the Edmonton Edge Fund awarded UpRow $100,000 to help integrate artificial intelligence into UpRow 2.0.

"The real gem behind UpRow is we use AI technology like a search engine to match people with services that they need," Williams said. "We are saying, 'Hey, it looks like you need this service, this person is offering a discount for newcomers, maybe you should check it out.'"

Discounts with partner businesses make up the other main new feature in UpRow 2.0, launched on May 25 with a virtual event for existing users and at an in-person event at Edmonton Unlimited on May 27. UpRow doesn't charge its users. Instead, it makes money from charging the partner businesses included in its directory and its discount program.

"We are targeting persons who don't have any established buying patterns," Williams said, explaining why companies want to be in UpRow. "Newcomers, when introduced to (a business), if it's a reputable source … they tend to be a customer of that company for a lifetime. You're getting very, very loyal customers."

Williams is in the due-diligence process to receive up to $51,000 from femme-focused investor The51, because she was a winner during the organization's pitch competition at last year's Inventures.

She hopes lightning strikes twice at the Inventures Startup Pitch Competition on May 29. There, Williams will pitch for $10,000 in the "Tech Triathlon: Quantum + AI + IoT" track. Hers is one of six Edmonton companies vying for a prize at Alberta Innovates's annual conference on tech across industries at Calgary's TELUS Convention Centre from May 29 to 31.

A smiling person looks into the camera while tucking their hair behind their ear.

Kelise Williams founded UpRow because of her experiences as a newcomer to Canada. She's received recognition from The51 and the Edmonton Edge Fund in her first two years of operations. (Be My Guest Portraits)

Inventures has taken place annually since 2018 (with 2020 and 2021 held online due to the pandemic). It features sessions on different types of technology, like blockchain, virtual reality, and AI, as well as industry integration in categories like agriculture, energy, health, and more.

"Last year, we did over $140 million in business for Albertans, and we had over 4,000 guests, and a lot of those guests were international," said Marlene Arana, the director of Inventures. "It is an Alberta conference. It's not an Edmonton conference; it's not a Calgary conference."

She added that there are more than 400 speakers this year compared to last year's roughly 350. There's new programming, too: CanCon icon David Usher will be the first "musical experience" at the conference (in addition to his keynote on May 30); the Ontario Brain Institute and SVG Ventures|THRIVE join the ancillary pitch program; Red Deer Polytechnic is hosting a "reverse-pitch" competition; and the conference app allows attendees to message one another for the first time.

"Let's say I want to meet Reg Joseph from Health Cities — as long as we both approved — yes, we can see our names, and I can connect directly with that individual," Arana said. "We want to make sure that we can provide streamlined deployment for these connections."

Arana, teammates at Alberta Innovates, and community partners curate the conference programming. Alberta Innovates created the conference tracks and leveraged its community to flesh out the sessions within them.

Edmonton has sizeable representation in the health data stream, including the aforementioned Reg Joseph of Health Cities and speakers from the University of Alberta, the Glenrose Hospital Foundation, FentaGone, and NAIT.

Chief Dale McFee of the Edmonton Police Service, Jillian Kowalchuk from the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute, and Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi are also among the speakers.

Aside from UpRow, competitors in the main tracks of the Inventures Pitch Competition include iClassifier, Golu Hydrogen Technologies, Standard Field Systems, and Wound3, with Nanoprecise as an alternate.

"I'm telling them everything about UpRow because I feel like people need a lot of education around settlement," Williams said about her pitch. "Towards the end, I'm going to talk about how we're going to use this money to scale."

Williams said the 2.0 launch and pitch competition are part of a marketing push for her company that will culminate in a delegation to London Tech Week, running from June 10 to 14. That's led by "Team Alberta," a consortium made up of Edmonton Global, the Government of Alberta, and Calgary Economic Development. Williams wants to go global and thinks the U.K. could be a strong option for expansion.

"We have already established that as another market we can tap into," she said.