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Aundrea Johnson, a graduate of Conestoga’s BBA - Accounting, Audit, Information Technology program, and her business partner Sebastian Wasilik, recently worked with Conestoga’s Venture Lab to launch Exodus Watch Co., a mid-luxury watch brand that focuses on celebrating personal milestones and supporting positive mental health.
The Venture Lab is part of the Conestoga Entrepreneurship Collective (CEC) and designed to support the development of early-stage start-ups. The program includes four months of one-on-one coaching, a customized development road map for each company, workshops and targeted sessions with subject matter experts and access to industry mentors.
When the pandemic started Johnson and Wasilik knew they wanted to start a business together, but found themselves struggling with their own mental health like so many others. Their business idea was born from the approach they took in dealing with these challenges.
“We talked a lot about how things were only going to get better with time -- there’s literally nothing we can do about the pandemic and time just has to pass. I got into positive affirmation - reminding myself that everything is going as well is it can and will get better, and then thought it would be good to have a memento with that reminder in it - a personal affirmation that I can keep close to me. What better reminder than an actual timepiece? We started looking into the logistics and feasibility of a watch brand and realized this is something we can do.”
“I’ve always been a fan of watches growing up so I knew a little bit about them,” added Wasilik. “Once we realized it was possible to do, I decided to sit down and start figuring things out. That’s how it all began.”
Johnson and Wasilik said Exodus is about celebrating milestones and remembering that time is with you, not against you. Exodus watches come engraved with personalized messages of celebration, remembrance and inspiration - a reminder that with time, things get better.
“Individuality is an important element for us and a main focus for Exodus,” added Wasilik. “This is why we offer free engraving - to emphasize that individuality and for our watches to be part of a very specific journey for each person. Everybody is different, but everyone has 24 hours in a day, and a watch is the perfect reminder of that. Our customers can make a fashion statement and hold a personal message close to them at the same time.”
Although mental health can be improved with positive messaging, the pair said it is important to remember that other resources are available. Exodus has partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington (CMHA WW) to help support funding for programs and services that address the greatest mental health needs in our community. Exodus will donate 10 per cent of its profits to CMHA WW.
When starting their entrepreneurship path, Johnson and Wasilik, a graduate of the University of Guelph, turned to their schools to see what resources were available to help them. In a remarkable coincidence, Johnson received an email from Conestoga that very same day seeking applications for the college’s Venture Lab. They were accepted into the program’s fall 2021 cohort and have just started their third cycle with the lab. The team was paired with Venture coach Uche Onuora who they say has been instrumental in supporting their journey, and are grateful for the guidance they received from CEC director Rose Mastnak.
“At the time, we knew the lab would be helpful, but now looking back I don’t think we would be Exodus without them. We’d be like a house without a foundation,” said Johnson.
“I can’t put into words where I feel like our brand would be without them -- I feel like we would be extremely behind,” said Wasilik. “The crazy part about it is that if we didn’t work with them, we would never know that. We would think that we had things figured out but being with the Venture program and being part of that process and seeing all they’ve done, we’re just that much more grateful. We’ve been able to see our progress and the resources they’ve shared really helps make that clear.”
Going forward, the pair hope to boost sales and distribution of their watches both provincially and nationally so more funding can be directed to mental health resources across Canada. This is especially important for Wasilik who had mental health concerns even before the pandemic started. He was able to overcome them with time and effort, but at the height of the pandemic, he knew he wanted to start a business and give back to the community. He and Johnson both see Exodus as a vehicle for that and an opportunity to support the community.
“You have to have faith in yourself. If you don’t believe you’re going to do it, you will not,” said Johnson when asked what tips she had for other young entrepreneurs. “That is the most important thing - trust in yourself to be able to find the path and carve it out yourself. You can do it, but if you don’t believe it, it’s not going to happen.”
The Conestoga Entrepreneurship Collective empowers and inspires students and alumni to successfully participate in the Waterloo Region entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem by providing multiple pathways for engagement that include developing a new business, becoming a corporate innovator and providing support systems to the ecosystem. In addition to the Gig Lab, the collective also offers programming through the Sales Lab and the Venture Lab.
Original Author: Brenda Bereczki