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Spotlight on Startups Convocation edition: FIXO app brings tenants and property managers together

Undergrad entrepreneurs hone concept with Next 36 entrepreneurship program

There is a culture of aiming high" at U of T's Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, says Jonathan Yam (at right)

Plugged drains, cold showers and other joys of urban dwelling are a constant frustration for rental tenants who rely on property managers to resolve their home issues.

And the broken telephone goes both ways: superintendents and property managers, too, face a tall task when they need to communicate a message to dozens—or hundreds—of apartment-dwellers.

An easy answer may lie with a new startup, called FIXO, co-founded by graduating Engineer Jonathan Yam. Yam and his co-founders are honing the FIXO concept through the prestigious Next 36 startup development program, headed by U of T's Peter Munk Professor of Entrepreneurship, Ajay Agrawal. It’s just one of the many entrepreneurship supports available to aspiring startup founders at U of T. (Read more about entrepreneurship at the University of Toronto.)

The app launched in January, and since then the FIXO team won first place in the newcomer category of the National Business and Technology Conference's entrepreneurship competition, has been featured in industry blog TechVibes, and is deploying pilots with a number of  property management companies.

Below, FIXO co-founder and graduating U of T Engineer Yam explains how the app could make for hotter showers, happier buildings, and a solid beginning for a career in entrepreneurship.

What does your startup do?
FIXO is a mobile communication platform that enables tenants and their property manager to communicate more effectively and easily than ever. Tenants can submit repair requests with a picture through the app in literally seconds, and the property manager can relay updates with the click of a button. Property managers can send all their tenants building notices in real-time, keeping them informed of important updates such as emergencies and shutdowns. Messaging and tenant feedback functions are also incorporated. FIXO’s organized communication system archives requests by property and unit, so there is no need to shuffle through an overflowing inbox where communication is scattered. FIXO saves a property manager a significant amount of time and reduces turnover cost by facilitating transparent and responsive communication to improve tenant living experience.

How did you arrive at the concept for your startup?
My co-founders and I have first-hand experience of communication inefficiencies in a rental context; Armin and I live in a condo, and Chantelle knows a number of individuals in the real-estate industry.

We’ve interviewed tenants and property managers to ‘zero in’ on ways to improve resident communication and we have received positive, insightful feedback on FIXO. One condo resident said that FIXO’s instant notifications would have been vastly helpful during an incidence in which glass had shattered over parts of the building, and a warning could have been issued immediately through the app.

We strive to make further headway and are currently incubated under The Next 36, which in addition to having provided our first funding dollars, is helping us grow through dedicated mentorship.

How will your startup change the lives of our readers?
Our aim is to create a powerful communication platform for the entire property management industry, starting with residential property management. As technology shapes society by making information more accessible, FIXO aims to provide property managers and tenants with the most effective means of relaying information through the unique mobile solution. 40 million people in North America rent properties – that’s 40 million residents whose property-related communication experiences we can improve. After launching throughout North America, we envision taking FIXO global. One of our long-term avenues will be to expand to tackle other segments of the industry, such as commercial property management.

What motivates you?
I constantly seek opportunities to challenge myself while making a meaningful impact in some way, and so far building a venture from scratch with my team fulfills that and more. The dynamics of a startup where nothing is certain and calculated risks must be taken is stimulating. At FIXO we have a strong team drawing on complementary skills, and it is very rewarding to grow with my two co-founders and work to see our product on paper come to life.

How did U of T’s environment or community help you develop your concept?
At U of T in Engineering, I am always surrounded by bright, ambitious individuals. There is a culture of aiming high, and with some of my friends having created startups, I was inspired to join the Next 36 to realize a startup too. The rigorous and analytical nature of engineering courses has certainly helped me analyze business problems foreign to me and devise strategies to solve them.

What’s next for your startup?

Our app is currently available in the iTunes Store and Play Store, with new updates and functionality added on an ongoing basis. We have also developed a web-based platform to incorporate tenants who don't have smartphones, thus enabling us to tackle a more age-mixed demographic and launch to property management companies who own multiple condos, apartments, and properties. We are actively seeking to launch more pilots with property management companies who are forward-thinking and ready to bring efficiency to communication with FIXO.

Spotlight on Startups profiles the many entrepreneurial efforts growing from the hundreds of companies spun out from research and connections sparking every day at the University of Toronto:

U of T hosts more than 50 enterprise-fostering courses, programs, labs, clubs, contests and speaker series across its faculties, departments and campuses — and then there are all the innovations developing in informal settings. U of T ranks No. 1 in North America for number of startups launched. And its roster of spin-off companies driving innovation in Toronto and around the world continues to grow.

Visit the University of Toronto entrepreneurship site to learn more about U of T's enterprise-fostering courses, labs, programs and more.