U of O grad looks to Kickstarter to fund new business

 Photo by Mico Mazza

Americans may have apple pie, but in Canada you can’t get much more Canadian than maple syrup.

Treewell maple sap champagne is the product of Tyler Steeves, a recent graduate and former president of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa. While not actually alcoholic, the lightly carbonated drink comes in champagne-style bottles and brings Canadians a different way of consuming one of their most popular exports.

“People are drinking coloured sugary water as if people think that’s worth buying,” said Steeves, “when you’ve got this stuff that comes out of the trees that is legitimately wonderful, magical, almost this elixir.”

He was originally attracted to the U of O because of his interest in politics, but over time his focus shifted toward commerce and entrepreneurship.

“I believe that citizens should have life experience before entering politics,” he said. “I chose entrepreneurship because I wanted to build something from the ground up.”

“From the ground up” couldn’t be more accurate—Treewell is a 100 per cent local enterprise. The company gets its sap from Golden Maples Farm in Lanark County. They bring the sap back to Ottawa where it’s processed and bottled.

“It’s about as local as it gets,” Steeves said.

The original idea for Treewell was conceived on a family trip to a maple farm in Sharbot Lake in 2011. He and his brothers were gathering maple sap to make syrup.

“We tasted the stuff—as everyone does—and we loved it,” he said. “So we started putting it in the fridge, just drinking it out of glasses, and we drank it all. We didn’t even make any syrup.”

Steeves spent the next two years developing and refining his concept and doing research. He learned that people have been drinking sap around the world for thousands of years.

“We’re talking Russia, Asia, Northern Europe,” he said. “And yet here in Canada, where we have some of the best trees to tap—maples—we don’t do much with the sap other than boil it down into a concentrated form.”

Earlier this year, Treewell produced its first run consisting essentially of pure unadulterated sap with unsatisfying results.

“When you don’t do anything to the sap, it goes bad very quickly,” Steeves explained.

For the second run he developed a new process which allows the sap to stay fresh in bottles for an extended period of time. With the product perfected, it was time to move on to financing.

“The traditional method of, ‘Please sir, may I have some more,’ of going to finance people, didn’t appeal to me,” he said.

Instead, he chose a Kickstarter campaign. It started on Oct. 21 and as of Nov. 12, has 244 backers to the tune of nearly $19,000, just over 126 per cent of the goal with eight days left to go.

For any potential U of O entrepreneurs, Steeves has some advice.

“It’s never real until you do it,” he said. “Eventually you have to take the plunge, and in order to take that plunge, be ruthless about saving money.”