In 2018, Dawson Norrish was working long days. Rather than going out to buy food or spend time in the morning making lunch, he would often bring food and make meals at the office. When he returned to university, though, that ease and accessibility changed as there wasn’t a convenient way to store food. Norrish researched ways to create a more efficient food storage solution for student lounges, which led to building the ArcticShelf.
“Every workplace has fridges for staff and employees, but not universities,” Norrish shares. “I surveyed over 300 students to find out if there could be momentum in the idea: 70% were interested in it, and 40% said they’d buy into the concept.”
ArcticShelf is a personalized fridge system for schools and workplaces that solves the challenges of community fridges, expensive and unhealthy dining options, and inconvenient and unreliable food storage. While fridges are typically created for home environments, ArcticShelf is built as a modular solution with individual lockers that students or workers can rent, secure, and open through the smartphone app.
“Once we knew there was interest in the product, we tested different models and ran risk assessments,” Norrish explains of the development. “Once the design, app, and backend system were ready, we got a contract with the University of Saskatchewan in January 2020.” Once ArcticShelf launched at the U of S in February 2020, there were already 200 students signed up in the first eight hours. Only two weeks later, COVID-19 forced everything to shut down.
“We could just wait for everyone to go back to campus or back to the office, but what if people don’t come back in the same capacity?” Norrish shares. “Our whole problem statement shifted, and we’ve decided to start integrating a full food delivery platform.”
During the pandemic, Norrish and the team talked to eighteen different catering companies across Canada who all experienced drops in revenue. Striking up a deal with Taste Restaurant Group in Saskatoon, they collaborated to create options for meals all under $10. “It’s a game- changer,” says Norrish. “The whole idea will be a fridge that stocks itself!”
With this pivot, fridges are brought to workplaces where workers go into the app and choose the meals they’d like to order. ArcticShelf will handle delivery and distribution, and restaurant kitchens simply focus on preparing meals in bulk. “We’re not making any money on the food, we’re just helping kitchens go to market,” Norrish shared. “Our money is made on the subscription for the fridge.”
“Food delivery is a $356B market, so we’re excited to jump in,” adds Norrish. “Because we won’t be controlling individual drivers or vehicles, we will be 100 times more efficient than existing food delivery platforms. We also have plans to use all-electric vans, creating a zero carbon footprint in the future.”
Norrish initially bootstrapped ArcticShelf with help from friends, family, and student loans, but has since received support from Co.Labs and angel investors. Previously, Norrish had been individually talking to universities to get contacts. “Co.Labs has completely changed my life,” he says. “They have a great team with an array of experience to help.”
Being a Saskatchewan-based startup with a novel technology in development, ArcticShelf is also an eligible company for the Saskatchewan Technology Startup Incentive (STSI). Designed to encourage investment in early-stage technology startups bringing new products to market and creating jobs in Saskatchewan, STSI could be an excellent opportunity for ArcticShelf to grow.
Along with getting connected to the right networks through Co. Labs, Norrish is also grateful for the overwhelming support he’s received in our province. “Everyone we talk to in Saskatchewan is wanting to help in some way or another, or they know someone who can help,” Norrish smiles. “We’re on an island where we have the advantage of working quietly and secretly to refine and build things without having to rush any features, which leads to incredible products being released here.”
Founder: Dawson Norrish
Incorporation Date: 2018