New startups join DMZ

This version corrects the description of Levin’s former job in paragraph 10 and the name of the DMZ in paragraph 2.

Ryerson’s business incubator has welcomed two new startups along with the new school year.

Backflip and SteadfastBeta are the latest startups to join the DMZ, formerly known as the Digital Media Zone, an organization for new companies looking to take advantage of mentoring and networking opportunities available in a university setting.

Backflip has developed an iOS app for real-time photo crowdsourcing, while SteadfastBeta has developed a business tool to gather and analyze user feedback during product development. Backflip’s co-founders, Maddie Shang and Ivo Bratanov, were alumni of the Next 36 program for young Canadian entrepreneurs, of which the DMZ is a partner.

Backflip is a photo crowdsourcing app currently available in the iOS platform. (Veronica Silva Cusi/ Ryersonian Staff)

Backflip is a photo crowdsourcing app currently available in the iOS platform. (Veronica Silva Cusi/ Ryersonian Staff)

Shang and Bratanov had a meeting of minds when they participated in this year’s the Next 36 program. Both millennials were looking for a social media app that could document memorable experiences in their lives, but were disappointed by the existing options.

“A big thing for me are live experiences, like concerts or big events or some memorable moments in your life … focusing on experiencing new things and trying a lot of different things rather than spending money on buying new objects,” said Bratanov.

The co-founders said Backflip became the brand name because it represents spontaneity, fun and energy – something descriptive of the user’s experience that can be captured and shared among the app’s users. To be part of the crowdsourcing community, users log in, look for events in the vicinity and start sharing their photos.  

On deciding to incubate their business in the DMZ, Shang said the decision was easy. “The community is very supportive; it’s like they will do everything in their power to make you succeed.”

Backflip is currently in public beta, meaning it is already available – on the Apple iOS platform for now – but enhancements and more features are in the works. SteadfastBeta, on the other hand, is in private beta, but is already being used by a large enterprise and smaller organizations.

Co-founder of SteadfastBeta, Alec Levin, said he and fellow University of Toronto alumnus Kyle Bernstein came up with the idea out of a need to simplify the tedious process of collecting feedback while developing a new product. The tool can be used in any industry and profession doing research.   

As a user researcher, Levin recounted spending about 80 per cent of his operational time scheduling meetings and talking with a handful of users to assess how a product works.

“It just doesn’t feel like a very efficient way to do things … it’s not conducive to agile development where we really need fast feedback,” said Levin.

Levin said SteadfastBeta is their solution to help companies easily, rapidly and efficiently gather user input for whatever the company is producing or thinking of producing.


Alec Levin, co-founder of Steadfastbeta, poses in front of the rebranded DMZ sign at 10 Dundas St. (Veronica Silva Cusi / Ryersonian Staff)

“SteadfastBeta is all about helping companies understand what their users want by including users in the product development process,” said Levin. “Because ultimately, what you’re doing is trying to get the best user experience for them,” he added.

Levin said that being a part of the DMZ is good for his company because of its successful track record. The DMZ turned five recently and is the top-ranked university-based incubator in Canada and fifth in the world, according to the University Business Incubator index.

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