NextGen winners share their growth visions
Jennifer Turliuk, CEO of STEM franchise MakerKids, teaches kids coding and other tech skills.
Three finalists stood on stage at the International Franchise Association Convention in Orlando. The IFA’s NextGen All-Star competition, where past winners pitched their plans for the next five years, had been whittled down to clean drinking water franchise Jibu, created by Galen Welsch; STEM franchise MakerKids, created by CEO Jennifer Turliuk; and exterior home-painting franchise Spray-Net, led by founder Carmelo Marsala. Turliuk and Marsala tied for first, and we caught up with each finalist to find out what they’ve learned since first winning a NextGen title.
Turliuk has an impressive STEM background, attending Singularity University at NASA, where she learned how to apply exponential technology to education. But before that, she coded a Harry Potter website as a kid that went viral and wound up being featured in a magazine.
“It was a really empowering moment for me and helped me get through the bullying I was encountering at the time,” Turliuk said. “I wanted to provide opportunities like that for more kids.”
She founded MakerKids in 2013 in Toronto as the first and largest makerspace—that’s education-speak for a creative work space—for kids that provides after-school programs focused on coding, robotics and Minecraft.
“We use tech as a medium to help kids build social and emotional skills,” Turliuk said. “We’ve actually had mental health professionals send kids to us.”
Out of 400 applicants, MakerKids won the IFA’s 2017 NextGen Franchising Global Competition. The year after, it started franchising.
“After the first win, we got ready to franchise, then awarded our first franchise,” Turliuk said. “Then we wanted to wait and be sure our first franchise could be successful before we awarded future franchises.”
Turliuk hopes to award around 10 franchises within the next year, though the COVID-19 pandemic has made it challenging. The brand made its educational programs virtual, and created a process where new franchisees can get started with online programs before opening a physical space. MakerKids has also introduced a virtual camp that meets two hours per day Monday through Friday and costs $149 per week.
“Through the NextGen process, I learned about best practices for franchising, marketing, hiring, franchisee selection and franchise development,” Turliuk said. “It was also a good opportunity to get recognition for our success and meet new mentors.”
The investment for a MakerKids franchise ranges from $150,000 to $555,000.
Building on momentum
In 2012, Galen Welsch and his father founded Jibu, a for-profit social franchise providing clean drinking water in Africa. By 2015, they had seven franchises with top-performing local owners making around $85,000 per year. That same year, Welsch won the NextGen grand prize.
“We were just starting out when we won, so I’ve learned how to run and grow a business, how to scale using franchising, how to lead an international team—everything that one learns in starting and growing a business over six years,” Welsch said.
Welsch grew Jibu to 125 franchises in eight countries including Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, South Sudan and Burundi. Over time, Jibu tweaked its franchise model, including its approach to international expansion, its franchise council structure, franchise agreement and distribution models.
Top franchisees now make about $160,000 annually.
“With all of the incredible access to mentors and leaders in the IFA, it has helped to normalize some of the challenges we have faced,” Welsch said. “This helped to give me the confidence that it is indeed possible. Having this network of coaches and mentors is the key to getting there because challenges will continue to be unique.”
Jibu utilizes a reverse-osmosis filtration system that retains the natural minerals in the water but removes any viruses and bacteria. This technology requires about one-fourth the energy of a toaster, Welsch said. The lower energy consumption also lowers the operating costs for franchisees.
“Africa is rising,” Welsch said in his NextGen All-Star pitch this year. “They’re ready for partnership; they’re ready for investment.”
Welsch plans to grow to 1,000 franchises within the next five years, expanding to West and North Africa as well as going cross-continental. His bigger vision is to change the game in how people invest in emerging markets—specifically Africa—and to influence how people look at the franchise model and its ability to make a social impact.
“The unique leverage that the franchise model has—combined with the fact that many essential services are not yet available consistently and affordably—makes the franchising opportunity immense,” Welsch said. “The franchise model is designed for the emerging market context.”
The investment for a Jibu franchise ranges from $1,500 to $3,500.
Spray-Net touts ‘mass personalization’
After three years of running a College Pro franchise in Montreal, Carmelo Marsala founded Spray-Net in 2009, an exterior painting franchise that utilizes weather-adjustable coatings and proprietary software. Marsala and his team figured out how to deliver a peel-free, factory-hard finish on exterior siding, stucco, brick, front and garage doors, and windows on-site, completed in one day, nonetheless. Marsala first took home the grand prize in 2016’s NextGen competition.
“When we won NextGen the first time, we had just started franchising the year before that,” Marsala said. “Going on five years in franchising now, we’re a completely different business. Like most young franchisors, our training and support was sub-par with little to no infrastructure.”
Since winning, Marsala spent millions of dollars to beef up Spray-Net’s training and support teams. In Marsala’s NextGen pitch this year he boasted how they’ve revamped almost 15,000 homes and given franchisees seven potential revenue streams. Spray-Net has 53 territories across North America.
“As a Canadian company, I’m proud to say we’re now in America,” Marsala said in his pitch. “We have seen a shift in our demographics as millennials are entering the marketplace, and they want customization—custom shoes, custom coffee, custom shifts and selfies, and luckily for us, custom homes.”
Spray-Net is also focusing on using internal data to provide a more customized and personalized experience for customers, as well as help franchisees optimize their business. A digital home-visualizer allows customers to change the color of their home, connect to Spray-Net’s algorithm for pricing, and eventually schedule the painting service. Data is collected along the way, which Spray-Net uses to personalize the experience.
“I believe this digital infrastructure to be the future of franchising,” Marsala said in his pitch. “It will create more agile systems, more collaborative systems and, most importantly, more flexible systems, because gone are the days of mass production and enter the era of mass personalization. This will make all of our businesses more recession-resistant.”
Spray-Net’s goals include increasing average unit volumes for Canadian franchisees and starting to scale more aggressively in the U.S. Before COVID-19 hit, the company added two new services and is in the pilot phases of roof coatings.
It’s also expanded to interiors, with 80 percent of Marsala’s franchisees offering kitchen cabinet painting services. Two franchisees have signed agreements in the U.S., and Marsala wants a few more to gain a foothold in the U.S.
“The NextGen process taught me a ton,” Marsala said. “It opens your eyes to thinking about, what don’t I know? What’s ahead? How do I think three to seven steps ahead, and what challenges can I anticipate?”
The investment for a Spray-Net franchise ranges from $123,000 to $143,000.