“I feel like if you have an organization like Futurpreneur that is there and trying to be fully supportive, just mentally, it makes a person think, ‘You know what? I can do this. I can succeed.’”
Inspired by a podcast he had heard with super entrepreneur Richard Branson in which Branson told his audience that he always kept a notebook with him to keep track of business ideas or innovations, Joel Brennan took up the practice and jotted down his ideas for products as they came to him.
As Joel describes it, “I think I was in grade 10 when I heard the podcast. I took Branson’s advice and I started writing down any idea that I had. I’ve now got multiple invention booklets. After a few years, I started to break them down and the most feasible idea to start off with was the SUPStick.” The SUPStick – an innovative dryland paddle for use in standup paddleboard (SUP) training – grew out of Joel’s passion for kayaking. Growing up in Yukon, Joel had been an avid sportsman with a keen interest in kayaking and skateboarding. Moving to Ontario to attend high school at Lakefield College School near Peterborough, Joel’s whitewater kayaking skills were further honed through his access to the nearby Ottawa River. Growing into an exceptional athlete, he eventually represented Canada at the 2011 Whitewater Kayak Freestyle World Championships in Germany.
Upon graduation, Joel became a whitewater kayaking instructor on the Ottawa River in 2012. It was there that he came across the emerging sport of paddleboarding, a sport that immediately captured his attention. As he recalls, “It amazed me that such a new sport had the potential for so many categories from sprint and long distance racing to surfing and yoga. I was hooked and after a short time started instructing standup paddleboarding.”
Upon returning to Yukon in 2015, Joel was committed to creating a company that would allow him to develop products that aligned with his love of sports activities. As he recalls, “I just wanted to be in charge of my future.” Initially accessing innovation programs through Yukon University’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E) program, Joel began the process of developing his idea for the SUPStick that would provide a land-based means of training for paddleboarding or a way to simply enjoy the feeling of standup paddling when water accessibility is not available. Dissatisfied with straight paddles that caused painful jarring, Joel was determined to create a product that would allow for smooth, fluid strokes that more effectively replicated the experience of paddling on the water.
After experimenting with designs, Joel landed on a technology solution that eliminated the impact problems he had experienced using available dryland paddles. With the kinks worked out and the product patented, he was ready to take the paddle into production through his company, Brennan Innovation. While he had applied for initial funding through the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor), Joel could only get grant approval if he could find matching funds. He turned to Futurpreneur. Having met a representative of the organization at a conference in Vancouver, Joel was familiar with it. As he points out, “Futurpreneur was pretty much the only organization that was really available and looking to fund young entrepreneurs like myself.” After a careful review of his idea and business plan, and with Joel’s rigorous demonstration of market demand, Futurpreneur, in 2020, together with its partner, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), was able to provide the matching funds. Production of the SUPStick was ready to commence. As he recalls, “If it wasn’t for Futurpreneur, I’m not sure what route I would be taking right now. Right from the beginning, they said, ‘Wow, what a great idea.’ They were definitely interested.”
As a Futurpreneur client, Joel was provided with a mentor, one part of the package of Futurpreneur services that proved invaluable to his progress. As he recalls, “Being a new entrepreneur, sometimes you get worried. You think something is a bigger issue than it might be. Being able to call up my mentor was important. He didn’t tell me what to do, but he gave me the best advice to make my own decisions. Having someone that’s already gone through the kinds of challenges you are dealing with and is able to say, ‘It’s okay, you can figure this out,’ was quite important.” Joel not only points to his mentor as being extremely helpful, but he describes his entire interaction with Futurpreneur’s staff as a positive experience. “Just how the people talked to you was great. The attitude of everyone was positive and outgoing. You always had the feeling that they want entrepreneurs and businesses to succeed.”
While Joel dealt with several individuals at Futurpreneur in different parts of Canada, he stresses the value of the organization’s availability: “I’m in a fairly remote area of the country, but having their services available across the country is a big help to northern entrepreneurs. I could call and have email conversations. In that way, it felt like I was dealing with a smaller organization that was there for me.”
At age 27, Joel has not only created the most technically advanced dryland training tool, but is awaiting delivery of his first shipment of the SUPStick for distribution to his excited customers in 2021. Early reviews suggest that Brennan Innovation has created a high-quality product that early users are raving about. In true entrepreneurial fashion, he is already looking ahead: “Having this product with its granted patents, I think I have a really good chance over the next two years of coming to dominate the dryland training market. I’m already thinking of ways of improving the product and expanding the line.” With his Branson-inspired notebook always at hand, Joel has no shortage of ideas for other products. As he says, “There’s a long list, for sure. And it extends beyond sports equipment.” Watch out Richard Branson, there’s another entrepreneur with many big ideas following in your footsteps.