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challenge contest semi-finalist

Elize Shirdel launched her DateNight service about two years ago.JENNIFER ROBERTS/The Globe and Mail

DateNight Babysitting Inc. is one of the five semi-finalists in The Globe and Mail's Small Business Challenge Contest. (Check out the other four here and vote for your favourite.) The 2016 contest drew more than 3,400 entries, and a panel of judges selected the semi-finalists. The winner of the $100,000 business grant – and a suite of secondary prizes – will be announced in September.

Need someone to watch the kids for a few hours? If you live in Toronto or Ottawa, Elize Shirdel can connect you immediately to a couple of hundred potential babysitters in the city.

About two years ago, Ms. Shirdel launched DateNight, an online platform that matches parents with babysitters who service their area. The concept is simple: Families who register with DateNight get access to babysitters who have been interviewed via Skype and approved for listing by DateNight.

"Then parents choose the babysitters that they want to interview, and from there they decide who they want to hire," explains Ms. Shirdel, who started her business while pregnant with her second child and shortly after finishing her doctorate in computational biology at the University of Toronto.

DateNight babysitters, who set their own rates, typically charge between $10 and $15 an hour, she says. On top of this, families also pay a membership fee ranging from $2.99 to $11.99 a month, depending on how many sitters they want to interview. DateNight takes care of collecting payments, which are made online.

"So there's no run for the bank machine, no hassles and no awkward cash handover at the end of the night," says Ms. Shirdel, who coded and built her company's website.

She declined to disclose DateNight's revenue but says it doubled between 2014 and 2015, and the number of registered families has quadrupled in the same period. The platform now boasts about 400 registered babysitters.

Over the coming year, she expects to cover more communities in the Greater Toronto Area and expand into Vancouver. This will increase the number of DateNight babysitters to about 600, Ms. Shirdel says.

Click here to vote for your favourite Small Business Challenge semi-finalist in this year's contest

To support this growth, DateNight needs to refine its online platform, invest in more marketing and hire at least two employees to manage its sitters and users.

"We have found we need a manager to onboard sitters and parents in new cities – someone on the ground who understands the local market," Ms. Shirdel says. "So were are looking to hire our first employees, and these new hires would also have a marketing role to get word out to parents and babysitters, and provide customer support."

Ms. Shirdel says DateNight's online platform will be enhanced to better anticipate member families' babysitting needs so it can do things such as push alerts to parents, such as booking reminders for a pending wedding anniversary.

As part of her growth strategy, Ms. Shirdel also hopes to partner with a national company that provides products or services to a customer base similar to DateNight's target market. This will jump-start the company's entry into new markets, she says.

"We're working hard to build a business that will scale profitably while being mindful to take advantage of solid opportunities," she says. "We want to be the technology that parents depend on when they need a break, to help them out in their relationships and to be there for them when they're in a bind."