16-year-old CEO raises $700K for Halifax startup

·3 min read
Zach Laberge employs eight people and works long hours at Frenter. He is also a Grade 11 student.  (CBC - image credit)
Zach Laberge employs eight people and works long hours at Frenter. He is also a Grade 11 student. (CBC - image credit)

The 16-year-old CEO of a Halifax startup has raised $700,000 in funding to develop his company, Frenter.

Zach Laberge started the company in 2021 after the pandemic shuttered an earlier business. His first plan was first to create an "Airbnb for stuff," where customers could rent things like kayaks or power tools. He grew it to 11 cities and 2,500 users with 3,200 items for rent.

"We started to get a ton of rental companies on our platform and they'd join us and they'd pretty much use the marketplace for free marketing, so they could list their items and bring it to a new audience," he told CBC News.

"We pivoted late August and focused on business-to-business and being an operating system for rental companies."

Frenter is software that helps companies rent their equipment to people who need it, and assists would-be renters find the things they need.

Laberge secured his first $80,000 in funds by cold calling hundreds of potential investors to find eight who would back his idea.

"We raised about $80,000 in friends and family back in January 2021. We then raised about $270,000 from a pre-seed round from some Atlantic Canadian and U.S. investors in December, and that was to fund the pivot and build up the initial product," said the teen.

"And then we went and launched and got some revenue and some traction and we closed [in May] with another $350,000."

Laberge is a learn-from-home Grade 11 student in the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial. He said some investors worry about his age.

"In a couple of years, I'll be 18, 19, and it becomes less of an age thing, so it's more about building yourself as a good founder no matter where you are, and as you get older, you're a founder who continues to develop and get better," he said.

He employs eight people.

'Blown away'

Michael Sanderson runs the entrepreneurship centre at Saint Mary's University in Halifax. He was also a young entrepreneur, opening a canteen during high school and a video rental store in his 20s.

He now works with lots of young CEOs — but none as young as Laberge. He said the path from idea to investments is strewn with obstacles that stop many would-be entrepreneurs.

"I was even more blown away that it was this young kid that did it," he said. "This is the first story I can think of that it was a student who attracted this kind of investment."

He said some investors may expect young people to start lawn-care businesses or sell jewelry.

"There's this conception that exists around the types of business a young person should run. And so if you're not doing that, it's that harder gap to cover," he said. "And in this case, to do this scalable tech business, the gap is a little bit harder."

Sanderson said young entrepreneurs today grew up in the global village and often bring a fresh, global perspective to business.

"I think the older we get, the more trapped we get in convention, and the more trapped we get in the death of innovation," he said.

Laberge plans to continue growing his business — and to graduate from high school next year.

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