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Heavy southbound traffic onYork St. in Toronto, as commuters head for the Gardiner Expressway on-ramp. (Fred Lum)
Heavy southbound traffic onYork St. in Toronto, as commuters head for the Gardiner Expressway on-ramp. (Fred Lum)

Small Business Briefing

Car service Uber tests Canadian waters Add to ...

The latest news and information for entrepreneurs from across the web universe, brought to you by the Report on Small Business team. Follow us on Twitter @GlobeSmallBiz

Another way to get around town

San Franciso company Uber, which refers to its taxi-like service as an "on demand private driver," has chosen Toronto as its first Canadian launch city. "Whether you’re heading to work on Bay Street, going out on King West, or catching a plane at Pearson, show up in an Uber and arrive in style," Uber's community manager writes on its website.

The service is now available in seven cities across the United States and in Paris. Users go through a three-step process:

  • Text an address to the company or post it on the map of the iPhone or Android app.
  • Wait for a text with an estimated arrival time, and another when the car arrives.
  • After the ride, Uber automatically charges the credit card you have on file. Tip included.

Uber is careful not to call itself a taxi service. A recent story by The Washington Post states that "Uber operates a system that connects riders via smartphone with limousine companies that have contracts with Uber but are otherwise independent businesses." And the company's CEO, Travis Kalanick, told the Post he is confident his company is following all requisite laws and regulations, adding Uber does not directly own cars or employ drivers.

Cab drivers in Washington have expressed concerns about the service. And a New York Times story pointed out that customers were unhappy with the company's pricing strategy over New Year's.

According to Uber, charges in Toronto start with a base fare of $8, with subsequent per-kilometre charges based on speed. It's $2.50 above 18 km/h, and 80 cents at or below that speed. Minimum fare is $15, and there's a $10 cancellation fee.

Uber is employing a bit of star power to help get its service off the ground. "Rider zero" is eTalk Daily host Ben Mulroney.

Flying-saucer-shaped hotels? Why not?

A new reality-show hit in Georgia roughly translates as Get Employed and Employ Others. The show's producer, Giorgi Khaburzania, who also makes Georgia's version of Pop Idol, told BBC News reporter Damien McGuinness that the program aims to create a more entrepreneurial culture, in what was a communist country until 1991. The show's panel features the heads of the country's three biggest banks, and it's chaired by the mayor of Tbilisi, Gigi Ugulava, who hands out government-backed loans with a low 6-per-cent interest rate. Contestants have pitched ideas ranging from a floating restaurant, to a taxi service for women, and a hotel in the shape of a flying saucer.

Out to change the status quo

Guan Jianzhong says China and other developing nations shouldn't have to rely on credit-ratings agencies in the deeply indebted United States. The head of Beijing's Dagong Global Credit Rating Co., China's biggest domestic ratings agency (though a small business by global standards), argues in an Associated Press story that global ratings agencies improperly favour Western-style democracies with high incomes. He said Dagong's system, which cost $3 million to develop, aims to give more objective treatment to economies that are financially sound but are poor or lack democracy, and companies with strong balance sheets in countries with weak national ratings.

EVENTS AND KEY DATES

Opportunity for growing tech firms

The Alpha Exchange Innovation Campaign is designed to take tech entrepreneurs to the next level. Apply if you're an early stage company with annual revenue at or below $2 million, a ready-to-sell product or service, and a business plan and market analysis. Deadline for entries March 31, and a live judging event will be held in Toronto on May 16. The top 200 applicants will receive invitations and will be profiled at the World Congress on Information Technology taking place Oct. 22 to 24 in Montreal.

Stevie Awards open for business

The Stevie Awards has issued a call for entries for the 10th Annual American Business Awards, what it calls the "only all-encompassing business awards program" in the United States. Entry deadline is March 28, for individuals and organizations across the U.S. to submit nominations – public and private, for-profit and non-profit, large and small – for recognition of the achievements of their executives and employees. Late entries will be accepted through April 25 with a late fee.

EDITOR'S PICKS FROM REPORT ON SMALL BUSINESS

It's not all fun and games

Toronto-based Ryerson University’s Chang School for Continuing Education, in partnership with Interactive Ontario, recently launched Education for Digital Games Entrepreneurs, which is intended to teach game developers the skills required to run a company. The program offers six courses in the fields of entrepreneurial finance, human resource management, intellectual property law, marketing, project management and leadership, and entrepreneurial behaviour. Check out four companies trying to balance great game development with good business sense.

FROM THE ROSB ARCHIVES

Car service expands its reach

Peter Dinnick, vice-president of Toronto-based Rosedale Livery Ltd., who was chosen by Report on Small Business magazine as an "employee of the month," told Noreen Rasbach in June, 2010, about how he boosted revenue by 20 per cent by developing an international network of affiliates. "We knew our clients were travelling somewhere," he said, "so we decided that we could book their travel in those cities."

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