A Western student-led startup is aiming to promote local businesses with the upcoming launch of a new online shopping platform.
Shomigo is a digital marketplace designed to help small businesses broaden their customer base and help consumers buy local and share their finds with their friends.
The company is founded by Ivey HBA and software engineering dual degree student, Alykhan Kara.
“Our goal was to design an app with the struggles of small businesses in mind,” Kara said. “Local businesses have a very tough time getting their items in front of people without spending huge amounts of money on Facebook advertisements and finding the right people to create content to use on Instagram or TikTok,” he said.
Kara and his team boost vendors’ online presence, promoting their missions and products on Shomigo’s social channels and on the platform to connect them with new customers. The second side of the business cultivates a community of consumers, providing updates on the latest trends and local retailers.
Using machine learning to track buying habits, Shomigo helps retailers find potential customers.
“Our mission is to bridge the gap between the social media and e-commerce by consolidating the local e-commerce market and fostering social interactions,” Kara said.
How it works
Businesses are invited to download the shopify app for free. Through a two-minute onboarding process, Shomigo automatically connects to their inventory, allowing the vendor to select the items they want showcased.
Shomigo makes a seven per cent commission on any new sale driven through its platform.
Customized to consumers
Kara’s early market research indicated a growing interest in shopping locally. However, people often find it to be onerous and inconvenient, having to “scavenge through the web” to find products and retailers.
“We wanted to help people discover and shop for the latest items from their favourite local stores and introduce them to new ones,” Kara said.
Using artificial intelligence, Shomigo makes personalized recommendations based on browsing habits.
“It’s a bit like TikTok,” Kara said. “The more you browse, the more tailored your feed becomes. As consumers consider purchases, they can share their cart with friends and family before they buy to get their feedback.”
Promoting eco-friendly brands
Many of the retailers on the Shomigo platform are socially conscious entrepreneurs choosing to use sustainable, ethically sourced materials. They include Archipelago Swim, a Canadian luxury swimwear brand selling eco-friendly, artisanal garments, and ReduceWasteNow, a business offering plastic-free, environmentally friendly products.
“Local shopping is inherently more sustainable than fast fashion. A lot of our marketing is related toward local shopping and why it is important,” Kara said.
Kara has experienced some early entrepreneurial wins, which bode well for the future of Shomigo. He was chosen as part of the 2020 cohort of the Next 36, a program that selects 36 of the most entrepreneurial undergrads from across Canada.
“It was pretty intense,” Kara said of a process that saw him competing among thousands of applicants in a weekend-long interview process.
His concept for Shomigo attracted support from the League of Innovators, a Canadian non-profit organization that helps young entrepreneurs scale their businesses.
The company also made the Hottest 27 Startups in Toronto and Top Retail Startup in Canada lists.
Kara hopes he can ride that wave of success, with a goal to fully launch Shomigo mid-September and run it full time upon graduating from Western next year.
In the meantime, he’s been balancing his summer job at Deloitte with overseeing 18 Shomigo employees, many with connections to Western.
“I could not build this business by myself,” Kara said. “The team is very important. We’re all working with a similar vision. They are passionate and consistently show initiative. I wouldn’t be here without them.”