By Lauren Schneider

We’ve all heard that age old adage, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” Nowhere is this saying truer than in the world of startups and growing businesses, where collaboration and partnerships between companies are essential stepping stones toward success. At Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone(DMZ), the spirit of collaboration and cross-pollination are among the incubator’s core principles. In the DMZ, young budding entrepreneurs from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines work together, learn from one another and, in turn, strengthen their own businesses.

Lauren Schneider, Media Relations Officer, Ryerson DMZ

SoJo is one of these startups.  The company (whose name stands for Social Journal) offers an interactive online platform providing knowledge and support to social innovators—those aiming to create positive social change. The content curated by SoJo focuses on the practical “how-to” of idea development and project execution, and on the personal growth of the individual behind the idea.Founded by Kanika Gupta, SoJo began as a platform of connectivity and information sharing, inspiring the next generation of young changemakers to get started—with hopes of converting the ideas written in their personal journals into tangible, functioning social projects.

SoJo’s three pillars are:

  1. Celebrate the journey
  2. Embrace imperfection
  3. Opt for courage over fear

Like every good organization that leads by example, the company followed its own principles in development of its first web product, The SoJo.net. SoJo launched in beta format roughly six months ago. At that time, the SoJo  Web site was presented to the public as a bare-bones product starting from the ground up. Users were asked to actively provide feedback on the site, allowing the SoJo team to gain insight into how to create a tool to best meet the needs of its users. Kanika documented its step-by-step evolution as a social entity in real time on the company’s blog, emphasizing the concept of co-creating with the user.

Strength in numbers

On June 28, SoJo not only celebrated its much anticipated official Web site launch, but it also announced its official endorsement by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). David A. Walden, Secretary-General of Canadian Commission for UNESCO, stated, “The Canadian Commission for UNESCO is proud to support SoJo and believes that it is an innovative initiative that will have a multiplier effect by providing a platform to bring together social innovators who can collectively work toward finding solutions to global challenges.”

This is where the DMZ’s spirit of collaboration played a key role. SoJo’s highly anticipated launch was made possible partly because of the contributions of fellow DMZ startups HitSend and Viafoura, who helped strengthen SoJo’s infrastructure with cutting edge communication management tools. By using HitSend’s innovative platform SoapBox as its main feedback tool, SoJo users can give meaningful suggestions and opinions to aid in shaping the site and improve its features. SoapBox provides a common place to suggest, vote, and filter ideas based on what the community wants as a whole, allowing the users to have their voices heard. SoapBox is currently being used by big name businesses such as Indigo Books & Music and Vitamin Water.

No “I” in entrepreneur

As a further method of creating conversation and encouraging dialogue, SoJo teamed up with Viafoura, an audience engagement platform that adds social functionality to websites and mobile applications. This tool will help build the SoJo community and promote discussion. SoJo’s community is the backbone of this organization and, as such, creating a platform for dialogue and sharing intelligence is crucial. “It goes beyond us just simply using our partners’ products,” says Gupta. “It’s us fully benefitting from their experience and vice versa—getting everyone involved and engaged. That’s why these partnerships benefit everyone.”

All three teams are celebrating SoJo’s official launch and are looking forward to interacting with users in the company’s online community. Through collaborations like these, entrepreneurs are able to learn from one another and gain valuable knowledge to take into future ventures. These success stories prove that, not only is there no ‘I’ in team, but there is also no ‘I’ in entrepreneur.

(- This blog was written in collaboration with Christina Dun)

Opened in April 2010, Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone is a multidisciplinary workspace for young entrepreneurs infused with the energy and resources of downtown Toronto. Set atop Yonge-Dundas Square, this hub of digital media innovation, collaboration and commercialization is home to both entrepreneurial startups and industry solution-providers. With access to overhead and business services, students and alumni can fast-track their product launches, stimulating Canada’s emerging digital economy through spending and job creation. Since its launch, the Digital Media Zone has incubated and accelerated 45 companies to launch more than 88 projects. Currently the Zone houses 184 innovators in 45 teams. For more information on the Zone, visit www.ryerson.ca/dmz.

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