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Alumni’s Choice: SOS WebAR took the long road to virtual user engagement

It’s been a long and winding road for Calgary entrepreneurs Joel and Alisha Olandesca.

They first launched SOS Charging Solutions back in 2014. First the first five years, they saw exceptional organic growth.

They’d developed a simple way to provide electronics charging systems at live events and conferences

In 2019, things were humming along. That November they decided they were going to go all-in on expansion. It was time to scale.

“We were really ready to sprint again, I guess you could say,” said Alisha, the company co-founder and CFO.

“Then everything changed exactly two years ago this week for the event industry and effectively the business was completely shut down.”

For the past two years, Alisha said SOS Charging Solutions hasn’t really been operating.

“Within 36 hours, about two years ago, we lost our entire accounts receivable. SOS Charging Solutions, as we knew it, was on pause,” she said.

Just now are they starting to get requests again.

But that’s not the whole story.

Virtually rising from the ashes

With the charging side on pause, there was an existential moment for the Olandescas.

Joel had gone down to an event in Vegas just prior to the official start of the pandemic and came back with a weird vibe. People were talking about their businesses being shut down, layoffs, millions in losses.

“He kept saying, ‘this is big. This is bigger than we thought it would be,’” Alisha recalled.

Then, he got a cough. Then Alisha did. Their child was next. They were all laid up for a while with Covid, but Alisha said it was a blessing in disguise. It gave them time to think about and plan for what was next.

Alisha wondered if the pandemic would last 10 years; maybe live events wouldn’t come back.

Then, it started to click. Their tabletop charging module was quite often a branding opportunity when companies brought them in.  It was time to take that to the next level.

“Joel thought augmented reality was the next step,” Alisha said.

“He’s like ‘we have the time. Let’s learn. We have to figure out how to develop augmented reality like yesterday.’”

Their business development employee said he’d learn how to code. Everything started to fall into place, and they launched SOS WebAR in November 2020.

They received the Startup Calgary Alumni’s Choice award at the 2021 Launch Party Awards at the end of November 2021.

Reaching people with engagement

Now, the Olandescas are charting the path ahead with a different kind of branding. But it’s still all about engaging with people.

“With the charging, it was in-person engagement. People would be at the watercooler, they plug in and they engage with others,” Alisha said.

“That’s what we’re doing with augmented reality.”

For many companies, apps have become expensive to develop and maintain, and they wanted to give people an option to reach people, Alisha said. It’s as simple as using an image or QR code.

“What if, by virtue of using their eyes, their ears and their hands, a kinesthetic point of view, or way of engaging, what if we could deliver 70 per cent increased memory encoding and 45 per cent increased engagement and it wouldn’t break the bank?” Alisha said.

As the charging business gets powered up, the future is in this kind of engagement for SOS WebAR.

“SOS Charging solutions is a great small business and we love it. We’re not going anywhere,” Alisha said.

“But as far as scalable, high impact, the ability to employ Albertans – the things that mean the most to us – is via the augmented reality.”