You may not have heard of Alex Gillis,
All this at just 19 years of age, and the soon-to-be global influencer hasn’t even finished his studies at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.
Three years ago, Gillis couldn’t even get a credit card or a loan, or legally open a business. But that didn’t stop him from debuting Bitness with co-founder Aristides Milios. The venture began when the two noticed an empty yet over-staffed coffee shop. The two concluded the shop couldn’t possibly be running under any sort of good business model, and proceeded to create Bitness, an app for retailers that can gauge customer traffic, track how long they spend on the premises and help ownership and management better schedule staff.
By the time Gillis was in Grade 12, Bitness had not only earned a spot on CBC’s Next Gen Den, but it had also netted its creators a $50,000 investment deal from two judges. (Gillis ultimately opted for an equal amount of outside funding rather than accept the offer.) Bitness grew to employ a combined dozen staff in Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver.
Though as of January 2017 Gillis is no longer involved in the company, he still has his hands full with other breakthrough endeavours, all while still attending university.
This summer, Gillis was involved in Next 36, a “business incubator program”, pooling “peer to peer and mentors for young entrepreneurs across Canada”. That led to his next tech venture, as Chief Operating Officer of Spot Systems, which aims to undercut PayPal by charging half the service fees and delivering funds almost instantly.
According to Gillis, PayPal currently charges about three per cent in processing fees, and has the client wait up to seven days for monies to be transferred. “What we’re working on is a solution in this online global payment system… using our own crypto-currency, Spot Tokens,” he says.
“Liquidity is the lifeblood of any business, especially e-commerce or drop shopping,” Gillis explains. “Having liquidity immediately available is a number one priority.”
In the meantime, Gillis is as much innovating himself as he’s helping others innovate. With a desire to impart what he has learned so far, he mentors his peers on entrepreneurial skills, through launching or co-founding several initiatives.
One of them is Hoist Halifax, a meet-up organization teaching business and design skills to students in Grades 7 to 12. He also co-founded The Next Foundry, networking high school entrepreneurs with peers who have already achieved some success in startups, offering mentorship, capital or VC investments, and development assistance.
Finally, Catalyst is set to launch in mid-September. Described as a platform to network student volunteers with corporate partners, Gillis calls it ideal for helping “young change makers to inspire other young change makers.”
While still navigating the entrepreneurial waters himself, Gillis likens his journey to sailing. “The wind can boost you, or leave you dead in your tracks. I think the tech market is the same way,” he explains. “You need the wave. If you can catch it, you can do amazing things.”
Justin | The Edge Blog