By Wenyun Zou
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Nina Lantinga, the founder of Lantinga Vita, a McGill-based Montreal startup that builds versatile multifaceted products that helps users stay balanced, organized and ready to tackle their next challenge.
Lantinga Vita was the winner of the McGill Dobson Cup’s 2014 Grit Prize. The Dobson Cup Grit Prize is awarded to a Dobson Cup finalist that has demonstrated outstanding dedication towards establishing their business venture. From winning the prize in 2014, Lantinga Vita has gone on to secure multiple other fundings and is now in the midst of its Kickstarter campaign for its first product (Tempus)!
I sat down with Nina to find out how she got there, what’s in store next, and her top advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Tell me about yourself…
I actually come from a psychology background. I studied it in undergrad with the intention of going into research, which I do part-time now. Long story short, my goal has always been to help improve the health of people — whether it’s mental or physical health.
In psychology, I’m working on a research project that deals with facilitating access to sports and leisure activities for children with disabilities. I’ve always been driven by the challenge of improving the quality of life for people with disabilities. It tests your creativity since you have to consider other limitations that change how your solutions take into account the environment and the emphasis on adaptation. These experiences and my passion for wellness are the drivers behind Lantinga Vita and our multifunctional bag, Tempus.
Have you always seen yourself as an entrepreneur?
Many of my family members have their own companies so I guess you could say entrepreneurship runs in the family! After my Bachelors in Psychology, I became really interested in management and pursued a graduate diploma in management at McGill which is when I learned about the Dobson Cup and took my startup idea to the next level.
Where did you get the idea for “Lantinga Vita” (Tempus)?
It all started one morning when I got to the McGill library to find my tuna sandwich had been completely squished to a pulp in my bag! It got everywhere in my bag, my gym shoes, and even my laptop. That’s when I wondered why there wasn’t a bag out there that could be versatile enough to hold and handle everything I needed but still look timelessly stylish.
This frustration is what fueled the core notion behind Lantinga Vita: the products we use should be an extension of our being, supporting us through our daily lives.
Who is Lantinga Vita’s Tempus user?
The Lantinga Vita user is someone who lives a healthy and active lifestyle. This person is always on the go and lives a busy life with multiple things in a day. With the Tempus, the Lantinga Vita user is never held back with his or her daily activities or long-term travels — the Tempus fits perfectly as a carry-on!
Lantinga Vita’s Tempus bag.
How did you go from the idea to the startup & product?
From that tuna sandwich incident, the idea stuck with me for a year. My experience backpacking in Australia that summer led me to develop other ideas for the features of Lantinga Vita’s first bag. By the fall semester, the idea just stuck and wouldn’t go away. I knew that I had the startup bug. I started drafting up what this product would look like and hustling product designers for their inputs. That led to researching manufacturers and building my first prototype.
Then in January of the next year, a friend of mine forwarded me an email she received about the Dobson Cup competition. I only had two weeks left but with the help of my friend, I was able to put together a business plan for the competition submission.
If it weren’t for the Dobson Cup, I don’t know if I would have continued with the idea for Lantinga Vita.
The competition gave me the confidence, resources, mentors, and networking that took my ideas from paper to prototype and now a Kickstarter!
How did your resources give you that guidance?
From the Dobson Centre’s pitch workshop, I got a huge confidence boost in tackling my pitch during the competition. Through the Dobson Cup, I also met my mentor and other industry experts that I would have never found in my personal network. I not only learned to market my idea to consumers, but also to investors which led me to secure further funding after the Dobson Cup competition.
The Dobson Cup gave me a boost — mentally and financially — I needed to move the idea to business venture!
Nina from Lantinga Vita poses as the 2014 winner of the Dobson Cup Grit Prize for her startup entry “Pax Gear” before renaming the company “Lantinga Vita”.
What has been the biggest challenge and reward?
The biggest challenge by far is work-life balance. There’s just so much to do and so much you don’t know. At the time I launched Lantinga Vita, I was working part-time in research, as a restaurant server, and pursuing my studies at McGill. On top of the money, resources, and prototypes I needed for Tempus, I still required money and time for my three other responsibilities. It was hard and it is still hard but learning how to prioritize and having that drive is crucial. The support network of my family, friends and mentors made all the difference.
The rewards are what continue to drive me. Seeing people’s reaction to Tempus is always my highlight. Their excitement about a product that improves their day-to-day life is exactly what Lantinga Vita strives for and having that positive feedback helps map our progress to that goal.
My incredibly supporting community of friends, family, and mentors are also crucial in supporting me and providing me “mini rewards” along the way. Knowing that these professional and experienced mentors that I’ve met through the Dobson Cup are offering their help and checking in on my progress is motivating. It has been two years and they continue to guide me — for no tangible gains — it must be worth it!
All of these rewards helps me get past mini challenges and delays to focus on the end goal of bettering the active lives of Lantinga Vita users.
What’s next for Lantinga Vita?
After Tempus? I would love to explore incorporating new technologies in Lantinga Vita’s new products! Lantinga Vita aims to better the lives of our on-the-go users. This would include added features — anything and everything from electronic charging compartments, internally waterproof compartments, and smart-heat capabilities. In the future, I hope to see Lantinga Vita expand into other areas such weather and body reactive heated outdoor clothing. There’s definitely a need in Canada for this!
Nina from Lantinga Vita posing for our #MakeItHappenMcGill campaign in supporting the entrepreneurship community at McGill.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
There’s a lot of advice that comes to mind…
Don’t start a business for the sake of starting a business.
You must be fully passionate about what you’re doing. You need to get up every day and want to do it. This idea has to make you smile and drive you.
Talk about it – you never know where the conversations will lead.
Don’t be too caught up in the fear that someone will copy your idea. If you don’t talk about your idea, you won’t be able to develop it. Get out there! Get feedback on how to improve.
In creating Tempus, the original idea is so far from what I have now. Tempus has developed so much from conversations both informal and formal. Don’t have product design or manufacturing experience? Google professionals and reach out!
Always keep it going – don’t ever put it completely away.
I was a student too and at different points in time, different things took priority. But never quit it. Never completely put it away. Always keep it going.
When my days get hectic and I have to remind myself to make time to go for a swim, I keep my swimsuit in a compartment in my Tempus bag. It reminds me to find time and it’s conveniently there for when I do.
Be flexible in your approaches but set your milestones. Find time to touch base with your business.
Members of the Lantinga Vita team photographed by Ranko Bobusic.
Lantinga Vita is looking for talent!
Join the Lantinga Vita team as a
- An industrial design background is preferred
- An interest in product design and innovation is key
- Must have a can-do attitude and willingness to learn
- Responsibilities include:
- Playing a key role in Lantinga Vita’s product design and development
- Dealing directly with suppliers
- Sourcing materials and new technologies
Business Strategy Specialist
- A business background and/or experience is preferred
- An interest in innovative, analytic, and strategic business strategy is key
- Must have a can-do attitude and willingness to learn
- Responsibilities include:
- Maintaining inventory, financial, and operational data
- Using google and social media analytics to develop and implement business strategies
- Aiding in web content and social media engagement management
Why Lantinga Vita?
- First-hand experience working in a budding and fast-paced startup
- Development and implementation of key strategies of Lantinga Vita
- Contribute to an initiative that strives to better the community
- Break into the startup world and understand all aspects of building a company from the ground up