Partnerships and Innovation

Office of Partnerships and Innovation
Office of Partnerships and Innovation

For Hülpr, learning who its customers are changed everything

Tim O’Hara’s big “A-ha moment” in the Wings Accelerator program came when he discovered who his customers really are.

For the last several years O’Hara and Jonathan Ladha have been working on an idea for a company they have named Hülpr. Their goal is simple: to provide seniors with dependable, vetted help. If seniors are looking for someone to do work around the home or dependable transportation to and from medical appointments, Hülpr will provide a database of service providers that the company has itself checked out, drawing heavily on retired police, military, corrections and health care professionals, trustworthy people who, says O’Hara, “have spent a career helping their communities.” A registered nurse by training, O’Hara’s experience helping his elderly parents cope with medical appointments and so forth convinced him that there was a demand for this service.

Hülpr had been involved in the Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation’s (QPI) Startup Runway program for about eight months when Rick Boswell, QPI’s Assistant Director for Programs and Operations, suggested that the firm might be ready for QPI’s Wings Accelerator, intended for entrepreneurs like O’Hara and Ladha who have a technology or science-based product but as yet no or small revenues.

Going into the program in June 2020, was the first time in O’Hara’s startup experience that he had been involved with what he calls a “structured workshop,” one where, as he puts it, there is someone who takes your hand and guides you. “I had no real expectations,” he says

A key element of the Wings Accelerator is customer discovery. Any would-be entrepreneur has some idea of who might want their service or product. It may seem surprising, but they may not be right about that. Because this is so central to their future success, course directors Elza Seregelyi and Andrew Jackson dedicate day one of the four-day program to providing the entrepreneurs with the tools to gain customer perspective and validation, and tell them to go out and interview potential customers, learn who they are and what they want.

“We always assumed in our marketing that our customers were those older adults,” says O’Hara. “But we quickly discovered that the clients we are looking for are the care givers, the ones who are actually responsible for coordinating the care of their parents,” in addition to the people in the health and emergency services world who also provide assistance.

“That was the first time,” says O’Hara, “that I thought, wow, somebody in this game is showing me the mistakes we might make and really helping me along.” Knowing who to target “changed everything in terms of our business plan, our pitch and our marketing. We’ve considered ourselves a new startup, but I feel at this point we’re much more organized and coordinated, which makes me feel like a medium startup -- if there is such a term,” he says.

“I’ve come out of Wings as a firm believer that this program and the customer discovery process are requirements for any entrepreneur wanting to succeed in the startup environment.“


The Wings/Growth Acceleration program was made possible with support from the Government of Canada to Queen’s University through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario and the Scale-up Platform Project which is led by Invest Ottawa in eastern Ontario and by Queen’s in the Kingston region.