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photo by Mico Mazza

THE PROBLEM: YOU need advice—professional advice—and you’d even be willing to pay for it, but you have no idea how to get a person with expertise to sit down and chat with you. The solution: Liaise, an Ottawa-based start-up business that recently won a $5,000 first-place prize at the Nicol Entrepreneurial Award Business Plan Competition held at the University of Ottawa.

“[Liaise is] a web and mobile platform that hosts interactive seminars and one on one video chats with high-profile experts and celebrities,” said Chris Spoke, co-founder and chief executive officer of Liaise.

“We would basically have a directory on our mobile application—our website—that would list high profile experts and celebrities that we would approve for the service. They would make time slots out of their schedules available for video chats, they would determine their own rates for 15-, 30-, and 60-minute video chats, and we would collect a 15 per cent commission on that transaction.”

While Liaise won the University of Ottawa Nicol competition less than two weeks ago, on Feb. 25, Spoke explained the idea for the business first came to him over a year ago when the third-year economics and public policy student at the U of O was considering post-graduation career options.

Spoke discovered first-hand the difficulty of getting high-quality and personalized advice from field experts when he attempted to call and email business professionals asking for a few tips on breaking into investment banking.

“It was very hard, because they’re very busy people,” said Spoke. “I thought to myself that I would be willing to pay them for 30 minutes of their time to kind of figure out the process—pick their brain for any sort of pointers—so then the idea kind of stemmed from that.”

After realizing the potential of the idea in an open business competition at the Telfer School of Management at the U of O, Spoke refined his business plan with the help of fifth-year marketing student Alex Smith and recent commerce graduate Jean-Benoit Lesage.

Smith and Lesage filled the roles of co-founders, and chief marketing officer and chief technology officer, respectively. The group then presented at the University of Ottawa’s Nicol competition and won.

“This is something that we’re really excited to actually get going on and bring to market,” said Spoke. “The idea, I think, is very good and it has pretty broad appeal.”

Currently, the three founders are keeping busy by preparing for the national Nicol competition on March 27, which they qualified for with their University of Ottawa win.

While there is no prize money associated with the national finals, Spoke explained the prestige and publicity of the competition are positives for Liaise. The team is hard at work preparing for their business launch.

“We’re laying out what the actual product will look like, we’re laying out the wire framing for every different page of the website, and we’re working with a user interface graphic designer to make that look good,” said Spoke.

The team is planning for an official launch July 1. 

—Keeton Wilcock