When Davie Lee was working for an Irish government agency collecting information on Canadian markets for Irish businesses, he found it really difficult to find reliable data on Canadian communities.
Along with his partner, Ryley Iverson, Lee created Townfolio, an information platform that compiles information on towns and presents them in the form of ‘pretty pictures’.
Iverson and Lee presented their platform at the SEDA conference on Nov. 3, showing town representatives how they can get the information about their communities out there.
Lack of resources, knowledge and money keep communities from hiring firms to compile this data for them. A lot of the information that is already available publicly online is very convoluted.
When Lee moved to Saskatoon to live closer with his girlfriend who is in medical school, Lee started working with Iverson at Futurepreneur and they decided to take on the job of creating this platform.
Lee and Iverson came to the SEDA conference in 2014 with a slip of paper describing their idea. Based on feedback from that conference, internationals standards, as well as the feedback of 25 economic developers that they’ve interviewed, Lee and Iverson built the platform, “not on assumption but on feedback,” says Iverson.
“First, we were showing people a piece of paper of what it would look like and then we took it into a minimum viable product and started asking people, ‘would you pay for this?’” Says Iverson.
A year and five versions later, Iverson says they are expecting a year of rapid growth as more and more communities show interest in the product. Iverson says that they are experiencing interest from all across Canada and in the United States, as well.
Townfolio presents data on everything from basic demographic information, like labour force and population to the more complex data, like distance to a university or lagoon capacity.
Iverson says that this series of data is the standard for information technology platforms. They want to take it further.
“Right now, what it is is a system of profiles. Basically, what you can call it is the LinkedIn of the economic development industry. We have a much bigger vision... where we can implement the online dating model and then allow companies looking to expand, investor or the economic developers and the communities to find each other.”
So where do they get their information?
Lee says, there is a lot of free information available but there is a lot of problems with it, including location of information, quality of the information, and age of the information.
To compile a lot of different forms of data takes a lot jumping around from site to site. Especially when the long form census was cut, the list of sites need to compile data grew.
Data restructuring is Lee’s specialty so he takes all the data and reforms it into an understandable form for his clients.
Whether it is a simple data search to present to a city council or putting together information for investors, Iverson says they’ve saved clients time and presented it in a beautiful format.
Lee says that making this information more accessible is also helping different people learn about their community.
A lot of communities in Saskatchewan do not have the budget to staff an economic developer, says Iverson. Townfolio has become these communities economic developers.
“Some communities consider this outsourcing their community development to us.”
The feedback they got from the SEDA conference was very encouraging with a lot of communities signing up for free products but also a lot of communities asking for paid platforms.
Labour efforts aside, Lee and Iverson’s start up costs were only around $500. They’ve kept their day jobs for now.
“In the late evening hours is when we’re building this company.”