Startup showcases school’s real-world business savvy

New broadly skilled breed of entrepreneurs coming out of SFU Surrey campus

Kevin Cruz, founder of Ora Scents, holds a prototype of his incense-diffusing device, the ORA | Rob Kruyt

Kevin Cruz is still in the startup phase of his new company, Ora Scents, but you can’t tell by looking at his website. He has a blog, three social media accounts, mainstream press clippings and a Kickstarter campaign on the way.

His invention, the ORA, which allows mobile users to control the release of scented oils in their homes via a mobile app, already looks market-ready.

Cruz – a Surrey resident who’s taking classes at Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Surrey campus – is part of a new breed of entrepreneurs coming out of the institution’s Beedie School of Business with built-in marketing skills.

Ora Scents is also part of SFU’s Venture Connection, which has aided more than 3,500 participants since its founding in 2008. Last year the program delivered various educational programs to about 600 participants, including fostering 50 ventures and assisting around 100 entrepreneurs with their business ideas.

A recent SFU survey found that 90% of Beedie graduates had found work in their applicable field within six months of their last class.

“At the heart of it, the idea is very market-driven,” Cruz said of his invention. “That’s the word I use to describe when I talk to people about it. And I say that because Ora Scents isn’t what it was about a year ago. We set out to build a product within the Internet of Things and a home automation company within the technology industry.”

Cruz said Ora Scents, which recently won Enactus Canada’s 2015 Student Entrepreneur Provincial Championship for B.C., is a modern take on a traditional way people relax.

“We saw a gap in this industry, really. People are still using candles, they’re still burning incense, and there’s been little innovation when it comes to that over the last several hundred years, to say the least.”

The end result is a small device that can be programmed to release mood-specific oils into a room of a house on a custom timetable – say, first thing in the morning or on returning home from work.

Sarah Lubik, director of technology entrepreneurship at the Beedie School of Business, said Cruz represents a new class of graduates who fine-tune products through trial and error before they finish school.

“He is a great example of what entrepreneurship education at SFU is all about,” Lubik said. “ Our programs get students out of the classroom and engaged with the real world, so they design and market products with a realistic, evidence-based image of the people they want to impact. That helps develop strong marketing abilities and the knowledge of how to reach people on a deeper level, how and where they want.”

SFU’s Venture Connection has also tapped Coast Capital Savings, which helps students like Cruz obtain marketing experience before they even hit the market. Wayne Berg, the Surrey-based chief commercial officer for Coast Capital, said students need advice on their business ideas, especially insight into how those business ideas might perform in the real world.

“The mentoring and coaching opportunities are just some of the tools that we can provide the SFU Venture Connection program and young entrepreneurs like Kevin that are working towards building their own rich futures,” Berg said. “It is a fabulous alignment for both institutions as we strive to open up opportunities for young entrepreneurs and innovators in our communities.”