Andrea Lopez is a 2020 graduate of Niagara College’s Business Administration, International Commerce & Global Development program. She worked with the Business & Commercialization Solutions team as a Business Research Assistant from May 2019 to April 2020, helping solve business needs relating to operations management, sales and marketing. Andrea is now employed with Wavemaker in Toronto, Ont., as a Junior Analyst, Data & Analytics.
Tell us about where you work:
Presently, I am working at Wavemaker Canada, located in Toronto. Wavemaker is a media agency, and they work with numerous clients such as L’Oréal, Kruger, Danone, and World Vision.
Describe your role and what you like about it:
My current role is a Junior Analyst in data & analytics. I work as part of the e-commerce team and with our client, L’Oréal. My role as part of the e-commerce team is to extract data from various platforms and create visuals with the data for our client. In addition, I aid the account managers in writing reports for the client. This role has allowed me to learn about digital marketing as well as learn about the Amazon and Instacart platforms.
How has your experience with Research & Innovation helped prepare you for your current role?
My experience at Research & Innovation has supported me in every aspect of my current role. While at Research & Innovation, I was able to gain an understanding of the marketing industry. Furthermore, it was effective in developing my business writing skills and the ability to interpret information to develop stories for the clients. These are skills that I continuously utilize in my role every day.
A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?
There were many memorable projects I had the opportunity to be part of while at R&I. However, the most memorable project was with Theo’s Eatery. This was my initial project at R&I and with this project I gained a deep understanding of the CPG (consumer packaged goods) industry. Moreover, I enjoyed learning about consumer shopping behaviors and market trends.
What led you to Niagara College in the first place?
I chose to attend Niagara College because of the International Commerce & Global Development program. The program was interesting and there wasn’t one like it available in my area.
Most memorable experience at NC?
My most memorable experience was being part of the international case competition in Buffalo. Although my team and I came in second, it was a memorable experience. I was able to put into practice what I had learned in school, along with the skills I had obtained at R&I.
Is there a particular mentor who influenced you?
During my time at Niagara College, I came across many influential professors. However, the person I believe that influenced me the most is Paula Reile from the Business & Commercialization Solutions [now the Business & Commercialization Innovation Centre] team with R&I. She was an excellent manager and supported me in developing a passion for marketing by recommending resources to better understand the industry.
“My experience at Research & Innovation has supported me in every aspect of my current role. While at Research & Innovation, I was able to gain an understanding of the marketing industry.”
What advice would you impart to current research students or future alumni?
My advice would be to learn as much as you can and that the skills you obtain while at R&I can be transferred to any role in the future.
After being in the workforce, what have you learned?
I have learned that it is important to be constantly developing yourself. This will help in developing new personal and professional skills.
Proudest achievement since graduating?
My biggest achievement would be the development of my Excel skills. I am constantly looking at ways to improve my skills, as it is important for my role.
What are you passionate about at the moment?
I am passionate about developing myself personally and professionally. I am always seeking ways to improve my skills.
Interests outside of work?
I don’t have a set hobby, but I enjoy trying creative activities such as painting classes. I also enjoy reading!
If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?
Live in the moment, you never know what tomorrow will bring.
You’ve heard the phrase before, “It takes a village.”
Well, in the case of the newly announced Business & Commercialization Innovation Centre (BCIC), it takes a team, consisting of Paula Reile, Research Program Manager; Helen Duffy, Research Lead; Garrett Zimmer, Research Lead, and several students to help small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) succeed.
After several years of offering business and commercialization solutions through the Research & Innovation division, this talented group is now officially an Innovation Centre. And that means something to them.
“When I first started in the Research Program Manager role, I had to be a jack-of-all-trades, really doing everything from business development to policies and processes, and mentoring students. It was a small but mighty team, but the division has really grown. We used to have two students and work on two or three projects at a time. And now, we have a team of five to seven students, plus two research leads, which is opening so many new opportunities for us and allowing us to take on more exciting projects,” says Paula.
“Supporting small businesses is really why I focused in on what I do and why it’s been so important for me to grow business and commercialization solutions into its own innovation centre, to be able to support more businesses and have the resources to do so.”
“Diagnosing the problem is just as important as getting the work done. Everything we (BCIC) do is rooted in research and we bring so much diversity in terms of our students and that’s really what makes us unique.” – Paula Reile, Research Program Manager
As they’ve evolved into BCIC, the team has found there are three key pillars that are at the core of their work.
First is supporting small businesses, which is at the heart of what they do.
Second, and maybe most importantly, is the student experience.
Whether students are hired for a co-op or filling a part-time role, they’re able to take what they learn in the classroom and apply that to real businesses. When they do this, the BCIC team has seen rapid growth in the students, as professionals.
Helen Duffy, Research Lead with BCIC, emphasized that a key part of her role is helping students connect the dots between academic research and practical application. Now, there will be even more opportunities to provide real-world experiences and have them ‘job-ready’. “It’s all about helping them get to the stage that they understand client needs clearly and can execute well-informed plans,” says Helen.
For fellow colleague Garrett Zimmer, another Research Lead with the team, he narrows in on what industry partners can expect to receive when they work with BCIC: “When industry partners work with us, they will get perspective and a well-rounded body of research that can be actionable and that really is the trick with Niagara College. We provide data and research that is practical and applicable and can be used almost immediately,” he emphasized.
Services and areas of expertise
BCIC’s main goal is to offer a full suite of solutions to assist industry partners and SMEs. The team pairs industry partners with faculty, recent grads and students with the expertise to meet applied research and innovation needs in a variety of areas.
They can support the core strategy of your business plan and share critical information you need to operate a successful business.
“We can help you understand the market you’re operating in, growth factors, consumer behaviour and more. We’re an option for businesses to connect all these dots, leverage our expertise, technology and support us in giving students hands-on practical experience. I would encourage any SMEs to reach out to us to see how we can help catapult their business to the next level,” says Reile.
“When industry partners work with us, they will get perspective and a well-rounded body of research that can be actionable and that really is the trick with Niagara College. We provide data and research that is practical and applicable and can be used almost immediately.” – Garrett Zimmer, Research Lead
Once the core business strategy is complete, BCIC can help with services including:
• Entering a new market, whether it be a new business entering the markets for the first time, or an existing business looking diversify their revenue streams by entering a new market, understanding the market you are entering is key to success. Understanding everything from market size, growth factors, trends and consumers trends can be achieved by working with BCIC. This information helps to understand the viability of a business and aids in understanding how to position the firm in the marketplace.
• Being successful in the marketplace needs a clearly defined target market, a comprehensive understanding of competitors, pricing, distribution, and marketing efforts needed. Our team can support the development of these core elements of a business strategy.
• There are many options for where to put promotional efforts; our team will clearly outline where to focus promotional efforts, messaging, and tone to use in promotional pieces; including social media plans.
• We can develop and execute surveys and focus groups to gain insights from your customer base.
• Our team of designers and content creators can create content packages that support your promotional plans. From developing marketing imagery to short- and long-form video, these services are specifically designed for those needing these services to ‘level up’ their business.
• The BCIC team can create the branding for your business, including names, logos, and brand collateral.
Many times, businesses think they have things figured out when it comes to their target market. After a few meetings with Paula and the BCIC team, they quickly realize that they may have a totally different set of needs.
Strategies are great, but a small business is still a small business, and they may be low on resources and staffing and implementation can be the next hurdle. But we’ve got the solution for that.
Collaboration with Niagara College’s School of Media
Enter the partnership of NC’s School of Media and BCIC, creating a game-changing option for SMEs.
The School of Media is going to have opportunities to let students in a variety of programs (including Social Media Management, Public Relations, Graphic Design, Broadcasting, Photography and much more) work with BCIC on real-world client projects. They will bring their expertise to the table and this partnership will create a dynamic cross-functional level-up program for clients who just need help in creating that media collateral to allow them to grow to the next level.
And since BCIC has already done the strategies for these clients, there’s an intimate knowledge of next steps, so it’s a truly informed approach. These students will be able work with the clients to deliver executed strategies.
The goal is to support industry as well, because when these students go out into the workforce, they are going to have practical resume-ready experience that will help wow media agencies and get them hired faster.
On average, a project with the BCIC team takes about 12-16 weeks from start to finish, not including the few months you may work with Paula from the first inquiry.
“Supporting small businesses is really why I focused in on what I do and why it’s been so important for me to grow business and commercialization solutions into its own Innovation Centre, to be able to support more businesses and have the resources to do so.” – Paula Reile, Research Program Manager
“Diagnosing the problem is just as important as getting the work done,” notes Paula. “Everything we do is rooted in research and we bring so much diversity in terms of our students and that’s really what makes us unique.”
At present, the BCIC team has students from four different countries, bringing a wealth of ideas and fresh perspectives that become valuable when conducting research.
“For example, Google is only as big as what’s English to me, but when I have a student who can speak Spanish, they can look up things in both languages and find research that I would have never been able to access. Right now, we have students from Bangladesh, the Philippines, Brazil and Ecuador.”
With more culture and diversity comes the ability to challenge bias and stronger project outcomes.
“Many companies are looking for market research outside of the Canadian market, and that’s where our team’s diversity comes in as one of our strengths, allowing us to have a global lens on every project we work on,” says Paula.
And just because your project ends, doesn’t mean your relationship with the BCIC team does. Clients can expect follow-up emails and phone chats with Helen, Garrett or Paula from time to time, and even one or two years down the road, a touch-base meeting to see how far the client has taken their strategies.
The move from solutions support to full innovation centre has been made possible by funding through the Mobilize program of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).
To find out more about the BCIC team, and its resources and capabilities, visit the website.
If you’d like to partner with Research & Innovation to meet your innovation needs in this or other areas, contact David DiPietro, Manager, Business Development, at [email protected]
And any business that works with BCIC will be able to see, it really does take a village.
Although small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) have been able to tap into business and commercialization solutions for years now with Research & Innovation, this group never officially had the coveted “Innovation Centre” title.
Today, that all changes. Introducing the Business & Commercialization Innovation Centre (BCIC) at Niagara College.
“This is an exciting time for the R&I division, as we continue to grow,” notes Krystle Grimaldi, director, Research & Innovation. “The business and commercialization solutions team has proven the need for this transition into an innovation centre with the exceptional quality and quantity of work they’ve been undertaking over the last few years.
“Formalizing them into the Business & Commercialization Innovation Centre opens up many more resources and capabilities for the team and will allow us to utilize funding to support even more small- to medium-sized businesses. Most importantly, this change will allow us to provide students with an even richer experience, helping them become job-ready by participating in real-world industry projects.”
The main goal of BCIC is to offer a full suite of solutions to assist industry partners and SMEs. The team pairs industry partners with our highly qualified and experienced staff, faculty, recent graduates and students with the expertise to meet applied research and innovation needs in a variety of areas.
The BCIC team can support you with their expertise in several service areas including market research, business strategy, promotional plans, primary research, media execution and brand development.
“The BCIC team is here to support the core strategy of your business plan and can share critical information you need to operate a successful business,” notes Paula Reile, research program manager for BCIC.
“We can help you understand the market you’re operating in, growth factors, consumer behavior and more. We’re an option for businesses to connect all these dots, leverage our expertise, technology and support us in giving students hands-on practical experience. I would encourage any SMEs to reach out to us,” says Reile.
A new, enhanced collaboration with the College’s School of Media will be an added asset to smaller businesses as well, as the students will be able to work with BCIC to help create media collateral in a variety of areas, to help get these businesses to the next level. This will include things like public relations, graphic design, photography, social media management and more.
“We’re thrilled to officially partner up with the BCIC and have students from the School of Media be a critical part of the BCIC team,” says Charles Kopun, associate dean, School of Media. “This partnership will allow our students in a variety of programs to work on real-world industry projects and apply what they learn in the classroom in a practical way. They will get the opportunity to develop things like social media content, logo concepts and advertising copy and much more for clients that seek out BCIC’s services.
“Students will get to grow their professional networks and give them resume experience to get them job-ready once they graduate,” notes Kopun.
When Joshua Lines sunk his teeth into a salmon and leek pie a few years ago, the cream sauce in the filling left him wanting.
A little spice and it would have been perfect. Lines’s only option was adding a dash of vinegar-based hot sauce but that would have ruined an otherwise good meal.
All wasn’t lost, though. It did give Lines the idea for a new hot sauce that eschewed vinegar for a roasted red pepper base and emphasized flavour over heat.
Even better, the condiment he now makes and markets with his partner Adina Melanson would be made in Canada, a trait noticeably absent from the options lining supermarket shelves in 2017 when Lines launched their business, Top Shelf Canada, and their Front Street line of premium hot sauces, including Front Street Heat and Front Street Fire.
“The idea was to always be Canada’s hot sauce; to be an alternative to Frank’s,” Lines said.
In the years since, Lines and Melanson have paved the way for their award-winning Front Street sauces to get national distribution and into more than 700 grocery stores nationwide.
“Now we’re in a spot where we’re trying to keep up with it,” Lines said of the sauces’ growth.
To help, he and Melanson turned to Niagara College’s Business and Commercialization Solutions Centre earlier this year for in-depth market research to help get Front Street sauces in front of more people. They also want to ramp up their e-commerce.
It wasn’t the first time Lines and Melanson worked with the College. They were already connected to the Canadian Food and Wine Institute Innovation Centre, having partnered with Faculty Research Lead Amy Proulx and her students on product development and packaging.
Now it was Paula Reile and her research team’s turn to lend their expertise to help Top Shelf Canada get into more heat seekers’ hands.
The research team did competitive analysis, studied trends and where Front Street sauces fit into the hot sauce landscape. After a few months, Lines and Melanson had “lots of viable information” on everything from price points to key markers for success.
“It’s just really handy stuff to have in your back pocket, for sure,” Lines said.
Not only can the information provided by Reile and crew help position Front Street Heat and Fire as premium Canadian hot sauces, it will help with writing business plans to secure funding for further growth of the Sarnia-based enterprise.
“Paula has been amazing,” Lines said. “She wants to see it succeed. It’s not just about doing a project with us. She’s cheering for it, too.”
The connections with Niagara College have been fruitful in other ways. Lines and Melanson recently hired a student to help with social media marketing and develop a presence and strategy for the company on TikTok and Instagram.
With all of their latest information and support in hand from College experts, Lines and Melanson are establishing distribution stateside. The market analysis provided by the Business and Commercialization Solutions team “transfers to a strategy for this as well,” Lines said.
Distribution is already lined up for Michigan, Ohio and Illinois. With plans to attend the New York City Hot Sauce Expo this summer, the couple are also eyeing the Empire State and neighbouring New Jersey as markets.
And if they need help keeping Front Street sauces on the road to success, they wouldn’t hesitate to work with Niagara College again.
“One hundred per cent, for sure we would,” Lines said. Learn more about Front Street Heat and Front Street Fire.
Learn more about the successes of the Business and Commercialization Solutions team.
Research team helps Winebox unpack its target markets
Wine clubs and wine dealers have long been the way for oenophiles and casual drinkers alike to get their hands on unique vintages.
Problem is, people choosing to buy their vino this way either have to purchase an entire case of the same wine or have no freedom to choose what they receive in their order.
Enter Winebox, an online bottle shop that is a joint venture between Equal Parts Hospitality restaurant group in Hamilton, Nicholas Pearce Wines distributor in Toronto, and investment firm Trio Capital.
The venture started after the province granted restaurants permission to sell alcohol by the bottle to go during the pandemic. It gives oenophiles access to boutique, small-batch and hard-to-find wines that aren’t available in the neighbourhood liquor store. Consumers can buy as much or as little of a vintage as they want and when they want, or set up subscriptions for regular delivery.
It sounds like an easy sell, but those behind it are keen to see it succeed by getting wine into the glasses of their target markets. To understand their customer base and properly market Winebox, they enlisted the help of Niagara College’s Business and Commercialization Solutions team.
“You get a person like me, a middle-aged man, whose buying preferences are different than a millennial female,” said Mike Malone, a Trio Capital director. “It’s how to market to those people. We needed help understanding who our target market is to begin with and what resonates with that market.”
The Niagara College research team set to work last summer to provide competitive analysis, market research, and all the “raw data points” a startup could need to go from fledgling to formidable.
The hope is to use the information for market segmentation, thinking about consumer traits including gender, household income, age, geography and vocation when positioning Winebox as a go-to online wine retailer.
Malone was also seeking insight into the future of restaurant alcohol retail rules and how any changes to current regulations could affect Winebox going forward.
In the end, he was provided with all Winebox needed to do market testing, including trying out different channels and narratives to build appeal and sales in time for more intense marketing efforts planned for this fall. The information is also being used to optimize the Winebox business plan.
The College also provided feedback on Winebox’s website, which were implemented to refine the user experience.
“We are referencing the Niagara College work quite a bit to do that,” Malone said.
The partnership provided more value than Malone anticipated.
“At the end of the day, I was impressed with what they did,” he said. “They provided useful information and gave us useful ideas. They over-delivered and provided quite a bit of value. I was quite pleased.”
The Marketing Research Associate will work on a number of applied research projects assisting small- and medium-sized businesses to solve real-world problems relating to operations management, sales, and marketing. The successful candidate will work individually and as part of a team to complete project deliverables. The Marketing Research Associate will meet regularly with Research Lead(s), Research Project Manager(s), and Industry Partner(s). Some projects may include: market research, marketing plans, target market identification, competitive analysis, promotions plans and distribution strategies.