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Startups Serial entrepreneur Devon Brooks taps into the popularity of coaching for her new venture

Devon Brooks, CEO and creator of Sphere, is pictured in Vancouver, British Columbia on Feb. 4, 2019.

BEN NELMS/Globe and Mail

When Devon Brooks was in her early 20s, she co-founded Blo Blow Dry Bar in Vancouver, a hair drying salon that was a fast success and grew rapidly.

It was an intense time for Ms. Brooks, as she learned to lead on the job, and outside work she was embroiled in two legal cases that stemmed from a rape and an assault she suffered. Ms. Brooks said the coaching she received from others during the period was fundamental to her success.

After she left Blo, Ms. Brooks used the experience she had gained to begin coaching others. Then, two years ago, she founded Stellar Guidance Technologies Inc. and came up with the idea for Sphere, an app she and a small team have developed to bring together coaches and people seeking guidance on work, life or health. Ms. Brooks says coaching is on a cusp similar to that of yoga and meditation in years past. She sees potential for Sphere to gain an audience like the popular app Headspace did among those who practise meditation.

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Ms. Brooks has raised $800,000 in early financing and is working on a seed round. Sphere launched a beta version two months ago and will be publicly available in the spring. She said Sphere aims to be a premier venue that attracts the best coaches.

“We are not creating the Craigslist of coaches,” Ms. Brooks said. “[This is] the brand and marketing engine that’s going to bring coaching to the masses.”

The global coaching business is worth an estimated US$2.4-billion annually, according to a study by consultancy PwC for the International Coach Federation. There are an estimated 53,000 coaches in the world, of which one-third work in North America. The average coach in the United States and Canada makes US$60,000 a year, the study said.

Sphere is an app that brings together coaches and people seeking guidance on work, life or health.

BEN NELMS/Globe and Mail

There has been a surge in coaching in recent years. The International Coach Federation, founded in 1995, had 30,600 members at the end of 2017, up from 19,000 five years earlier in 2012.

UBC business professor Daniel Skarlicki encourages executives in the Sauder School of Business’s executive education program to have coaches. He said the “increasing complexity” of the world means the value of coaching is on the rise.

“Executives are feeling pretty overwhelmed,” Prof. Skarlicki said. “Coaching accelerates learning. If you haven’t had a good coach, you don’t know what you’re missing.”

He said there are online venues to find coaches, such as Noomii.com, a website started in Vancouver. But he said Ms. Brooks, with the early version of Sphere’s app, has captured the essence of what coaching is and can provide for people.

“I like what she’s done,” Prof. Skarlicki said.

So far, Ms. Brooks has 50 coaches on the app, from a pool of 150 she assessed. She wants to keep a high standard – and maintain a waiting list of coaches wanting to join. Sphere does a survey of users who sign up and provides a list of several of the best-matched coaches for their goals. Sphere charges a monthly membership to coaches and takes a percentage of transactions when coaches work with clients through Sphere. Customers will pay a subscription fee to access coaching, rather than a per-session fee.

Sphere has a staff of eight, including Ms. Brooks, and she plans to market the brand this spring and seek out brand partnerships. The Sphere persona, underpinned by technology, is the key, she said.

“Coaching is ripe for innovation,” Ms. Brooks said. “And the coaching space is ripe for a brand that isn’t driven by a macho persona. Guru-ish really works for the baby boomers. Millennials aren’t so into gurus. What I was really interested in building was a bold and inclusive brand.”

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