For every startup, the opportunity to spend a week of mentorship with some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world is one of a lifetime. This year, four companies are going to see that dream come true.
Shopify, an e-commerce software company that lets entrepreneurs set up websites, announced the winners of its annual "Build a Business Competition" on Wednesday. Each will be awarded a flight via private helicopter to Oheka Castle (the location where scenes from the 2013 movie The Great Gatsby were shot). Winners were calculated based on their best two months of sales during an eight-month time period.
Carbon 6, Nora, Happy Trunk Apparel, and iSegway were the four winners. For one week, these startups will network with industry icons including Tony Robbins, Russell Simmons, Daymond John, Marie Forleo, Troy Carter, and Tim Ferriss.
"We're going to ask them everything," says Behrouz Hariri, 32, co-founder and CEO of Nora, a startup that makes digital sleep trackers and anti-snoring devices. He's particularly excited to learn about smart management practices. Carter, who is founded Atom Factory--a talent management and television production firm--has helped launch the careers of several musicians from Lady Gaga to Meghan Trainor. He was also an early investor in such billion-dollar companies as Uber, Warby Parker, and Spotify.
Here's a closer look at the 2016 "Build a Business" winners:
1. Carbon 6
Carbon 6 founder John Paul Easley developed a new way of manufacturing wedding rings from carbon fiber, based on a method used by Lamborghini, the Italian automaker. In 2015, Easley launched a Kickstarter campaign, drumming up more than $400,000 from 3,451 backers to make the rings (which can sell for as much as $367.50). The rings, he explains, are more durable than your traditional wedding band.
His advice to e-commerce entrepreneurs: Ditch a traditional storefront, and welcome what the Web has to offer. "The internet has liberated startups from the need for brick and mortar stores. Now, the whole world is your audience," he said.
Nora produces a portable smart gadget that stops sleepers from snoring. The sensor can detect snoring from several feet away, and then nudges the sleeper to stop via an inflatable pillow insert. The product currently costs $260, but co-founder Behrouz Hariri says that price will likely increase over time. Soon, he says, Nora users will be able to integrate with third-party trackers, such as FitBit.
Last year, the startup generated more than $1 million in pre-orders through Kickstarter, and received $800,000 in backing. Hariri runs the company with his father, Ali, and brother, Behzad.
3. Happy Trunk Apparel
Emily Wilford and Jon Wedel are the co-founders of Happy Trunk Apparel, a startup that sells elephant-themed jewelry, and donates a portion of sales to the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The business, which is profitable, says it counts "millions" of customers today.
Asad Saddique launched iSwegway, the U.K.'s largest online hover board retailer. Prices for the boards start at $408, and come in a variety of colors and styles.
Saddique says that great founders need to be scrappy--at least in its early days. "When we started, we recruited staff and ran back-to-back 24-hour shifts to get the business off the ground," he said.