Grad trades law for entrepreneurship

Carleton grad Pablo Srugo (right, in blue sweater) was on campus recently to attend the Lead to Win Entrepreneurial Opportunities Review to pass on his experience to would-be entrepreneurs. He is pictured with Tony Bailetti, who is the director of Carleton’s Technology Innovation Management program, Entrepreneurship Teaching Area Co-ordinator at the Sprott School of Business, and Chair of the Lead to Win Council. (Chris Roussakis Photo)

Pablo Srugo knew by the time he was 10 years old that he wanted to be a lawyer. When he arrived at Carleton University in 2009, he signed up for the philosophy program and then shifted to an economics major, with an aim to head to law school.

By the time he was in his third year, he realized he was on the wrong path. The world of business was calling to him and by his final year, he was running a full-out tutoring business.

“I’m an independent guy. I like to come up with ideas and see them through,” says Srugo, who recently attended a Lead to Win Entrepreneurial Opportunities Review on campus to pass on his experience to would-be entrepreneurs.

On Feb. 9, Srugo and his partner and lifelong friend Lee Silverstone announced that their new company Gymtrack had raised $2.5 million in seed funding led by White Star Capital and Real Ventures, with additional investment by BDC and 500 startups.

Srugo and Silverstone were well on their way to developing and promoting their system for gyms by the time they sold their tutoring business last May.

“(Silverstone) came up with the idea,” admits Srugo. “We were pitching ideas to each other every day and trying to figure out something. He was forgetting how much weight he’d lifted his last time at the gym and came up with the idea of putting QR (quick response) codes on weight stack machines. I came up with the automatic tracking idea. Tracking technology was picking up at the time.”

The application the pair invented tracks gym users’ activities, from weights to cardio. Gym members can build their own workouts in advance and trainers can build workouts for their clients and update their progress using Gymtrack’s devices and software.

It was just over a year ago that Gymtrack incorporated and sought funding from the University of Ottawa’s Startup Garage program. An investment of $20,000 and office space at Invest Ottawa helped get the company off the ground. The big break, however, came when Srugo and Silverstone joined the 500 Startups Accelerator (500.co) program in Silicon Valley. The California-based program provided the exposure they needed. By year’s end, Gymtrack was a 20-employee business.

While Gymtrack is already testing its solution at a number of gyms across Canada, the new seed funding will allow Srugo and Silverstone to expand their team and hit major gym chains. Its first big sale is to Algonquin College, which is buying the system to outfit its gym at the end of April. Gymtrack is actively hiring talented individuals in software engineering, computer science, electronics, communications, and marketing.

While Srugo believes his economic studies at Carleton provided a new view on “the way things work,” it was his tutoring work that set him on the entrepreneurial road, if somewhat serendipitously.

“I worked as a teaching assistant from my second through my fourth year of studies, and during my fourth year they cut the funding for grad TA-ships. I depended on that to pay my rent, so I decided to become a freelance tutor. Before long, I had to hire others to help me and by the end of the school year, (Silverstone) and I decided to start a business together. MyTutor was a success, with 30 tutors serving both Carleton and the University of Ottawa.

Beyond recruiting for Gymtrack at Carleton this week, Srugo was keen to participate in Carleton’s entrepreneurial event to help others realize their dreams.

“Entrepreneurship is hugely important,” says Srugo. “People see it as very risky, and the luck of the draw. But events like Lead to Win’s Opportunity Reviews give credibility to entrepreneurship as a career choice. Lead to Win is huge for student and community entrepreneurs. It creates jobs and innovations and is core for the regional economy.”

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Susan Hickman

By Susan Hickman

For nearly four decades, journalist Susan Hickman has written about every imaginable subject for sundry newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, as well as for CBC TV and CBC Radio. She has also managed various publications, including academic newspapers and technology magazines, and was recently commissioned to write a guide for foreign missions serving in Canada. Currently, she is working on a couple of personal memoirs.

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