Meet Audrey Charles
Audrey Charles is an ambitious and successful Canadian entrepreneur. From a young age, she was passionate about owning her own small business. “I started out really early as an entrepreneur,” says Audrey.
With years of experience in industries such as property management, accounting, design/development and optical engineering, Audrey founded Convenient Business Solutions Inc. (CBS) in 2006, in Canada and Japan. It soon became the leading provider of optical engineering software and consulting in Canada and a prominent member of the property management and development communities globally.
The Growth of CBS
CBS’ growth was 100% bootstrapped by its revenue, which is rare for startups nowadays. Several years ago, they began conducting market research, planning an expansion into Japan.
Audrey notes, “we knew we would need to be ready for a Japanese audience – which takes time and commitment.” It was at this point that Audrey realized she needed financing to export CBS’ solutions and services.
“As a company where every additional dollar goes back into the company, we needed a little extra help to commit to an expansion in Japan. We also like the idea of being able to determine and decide the direction of our company, so we realized if we could get a loan, rather than an investment, we could expand our operations into Japan and use that as a springboard to expand our services elsewhere.”
The Creation of @Assist
In 2009, CBS created @Assist to build online solutions for industries in need of a digital upgrade. @Assist solutions focus on ease-of use through enhanced communication and collaboration. “Those two aspects typically break down a relationship, so we built our solutions with that in mind, as well as making it easy to use regardless of the skill level in a particular industry,” says Audrey.
@Assist’s first digital platform for online property management was @Assist Sugu, which went global in 2015. The platform’s people-first approach set it apart from its competitors. Customers began finding new ways to use the Sugu system. Soon after in 2016, due to interest and demand, a workflow and accounting solution for businesses called @Assist Toki was created.
That same year, @Assist was also approached by an Alberta smart city project, who were interested in implementing Sugu on a much grander scale. With experience in varied industries and a love for sustainability, @Assist created a concept for a much larger platform using Sugu’s core usability and people-first approach. It was soon recognized internationally as an advanced and innovative smart city tech that could be applied to smaller applications like smart grids, infrastructure management or on a larger scale to manage an entire city. This platform was branded as @Assist Tomo, for smart city management.
@Assist Tomo Turns Smart Cities into Smart Communities
@Assist Tomo is an ICT (Information and Communications Technology) software solution that integrates with and connects IoT devices, city infrastructure technologies, and the people who use them to create a powerful smart city management solution. It ensures data transparency and privacy while offering flexibility, with lots of room for future innovation that isn’t restricted to a particular technology partner. “We believe in full data transparency, which is an uncommon approach. Typically companies that process big data or in the business of selling that data to others. But that’s not the kind of company we wanted to build,” says Audrey.
Tomo is an easy-to-use system that promotes communication, collaboration, efficiency and improved decision-making through comprehensive reports and predictions enhanced with machine learning/AI. With Tomo’s multiple levels of access, city departments, planners, and even consumers and residents will have access to the information they need 24/7 and will be able to contribute to more efficient city management via their own personalized portals.
The system has received international recognition and has made the Top 3 in Startup Canada/Jerusalem’s sustainable startups competition. It was also selected for the world’s first technology decelerator, called Menorca Millennials (now called Decelera), hosted in Spain with an aim to recognize sustainability-focused startups that align with one or more of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
Lending Loop Funding for Expansion
In November 2018, Audrey applied for her first loan ever using Lending Loop. She wanted to have resources to devote to this expansion. The loan was listed on Lending Loop’s marketplace on November 20th and was fully funded on November 26th. The ability to access a smaller term loan was important to Audrey.
“This loan meant that we didn’t need to give someone a piece of our company. I really value the ability to make those decisions for my company.”
Now CBS is actively moving on their expansion into Japan and is beginning market research on cities in Europe as the intuitive foundation of her software is appealing to smart city projects there. “We met a large European technology company that builds network solutions for smart cities. They built this phenomenal city with other large technology partners and it all broke down because they had never thought about making these technology pieces communicate or collaborate.”
Audrey notes, “unless you’re making a lot of money, you’re not accessing those traditional methods [of financing]. It [peer-to-peer lending] opens up access for people who want to make the choice to go global or to stay local – and both are important. Tech companies, especially in Alberta, need choices, and I would love to see more promotion of that here in Edmonton so that folks can look at funding options going forward. But I also love that my local flower shop can access this financing and do what they do best right here in Edmonton.”