Halifax high school student nabs $50K Dragons' Den deal
Alex Gillis expects his business to expand beyond retail applications into commercial real estate and health care.
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Alex Gillis hasn’t yet graduated from high school, but has already secured a $50,000 business deal.
The Grade 12 student from Sacred Heart School of Halifax appeared in an episode of Next Gen Den, which aired Wednesday night. The online spin-off of the television series Dragons' Den focuses on launching start-ups or early stage businesses requiring less than $100,000.
The show was recorded in September, but Gillis had to keep quiet until the show made its online debut. Gillis described it as a “huge relief” when two of the show’s three business moguls agreed to back his company, Bitness.
The company uses smartphone signals to anonymously gather data that helps retailers track customer behaviour.
“I was a little disheartened when the first dragon was out of the deal, but I didn’t let that knock me down,” he recalled Thursday. “The other two saw it as a great foundation for something bigger. They saw the analytics we were recording.”
Bitness was founded in June 2014, when Gillis and co-founder Aristides Milios were sitting in an empty coffee shop.
“It was a summer’s day and there were lots of people walking by the store except nobody was inside and they had all this staff running the place,” he said.
“So I thought basic business. That’s not really sustainable for the store ... Something was not working.”
While considering possible solutions, Gillis investigated whether technology existed that could help pinpoint where vendors were going wrong. Finding nothing, he created his own. Bitness can track the number of customers and potential passing customers.
“We are able to help the store owner figure out when the busiest times are, their slowest times, and when are the ideal times for marketing,” he said.
Gillis believes Nicole Verkindt and Harley Finkelstein of Dragons' Den backed Bitness because of its future applications.
“As a company, we have goals of getting into larger things like commercial real estate and health care ... so I think they saw that and alluded this was just the beginning, just the foundation,” he said.
“They were really excited to hop onboard and build onwards and upwards.”
Gillis started programming in Grade 5 and runs Hoist Halifax, a community organization aimed at teaching students in Grades 7 to 12 how to code, while also learning business and design skills. He won the Startup Canada Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award this past December.