Once you get introduced to the startup world, it’s hard to leave it.
Two former Winnipeggers have gotten in so deep they’re now headquartered in Shanghai, with no plans to return. “I knew entrepreneurship would be for me,” says Chris Tweten, one-half of CLAWZ’s 3-D printed nail art business. “I got introduced to the startup life and I just realized it was my thing.”
During his first taste of the startup scene, Chris ran a social media firm, offering other new entrepreneurs his service at an affordable rate. But all the while, he had his eye on getting in on a bigger venture.
Avery-Anne Gervais was one of Chris’ clients, and her custom spray tanning service, Golden Girls Body Bronzing, was attracting a ton of bridal parties. Learning about the pricey manicures or one-use nail art they were accustomed to, she realized she might be able to make a custom, high-quality product with her 3-D printing knowledge.
Avery-Anne went to work building prototypes at AssentWorks (part of Innovation Alley), and the right market for her business quickly materialized.
Making the move
To capitalize on this, she applied to the Chinaccelator in Shanghai. Once the intensity of the startup picked up, she asked Chris to be her business partner, and he quickly fled Manitoba and flew to Shanghai. “China’s just the place to do it,” explains Chris. “The nail industry itself is 18 times bigger than the U.S.
“So if we can prove ourselves in China, we can just keep exploding in Asia.”
The team hopes to eventually land haute couture clients in the fashion industry, and their first opportunity came in the form of a fashion shoot with Elle China. “It’s technically bigger than the U.S. (version), but we can’t even read it personally,” he laughs.
With plastic Lego-inspired 3-D nail art and a golden-hued ode to Elle, they showcased their ability to create on-brand, custom nail art. Their premium products, the metal nails, are applied with adhesive stickers, and since they’re built in durable metals, can be reused again and again.
CLAWZ has already soft-launched its first line, which features moon phases etched into each nail in silver. The premium product comes at a premium price – but CLAWZ’s full launch, expected in late May or June, will offer a wide variety of designs in single-use plastic as well as precious metals.
They want to make sure their product concepts, website development, and Mandarin translations are in perfect order before pulling the trigger. “The principle’s YOLO, right? You only launch once,” jokes Chris.
While they’ve left their humble roots in Manitoba, CLAWZ still maintains a local presence. Avery-Anne is the recent recipient of a TechFutures grant, and Futurpreneur Manitoba supported them with funding. “Despite being far away, it’s pretty cool to have Canadian support,” says Chris.
Silicon Valley of China
Even with the local support, it’s hard for Winnipeg to compete with the investment potential in China. CLAWZ was part of an infrastructure where 10 startups are invested in at once, share a space together, and after three months, are set up to present to 120 angel investors.
When CLAWZ presented, they used a prototype of a Despicable Me minion, explaining they could create something like it licensed – and it turned out one of the investors in the room owned the copyright to Despicable Me. “It’s the Silicon Valley of China,” says Chris, of Shanghai. “The investor scene is crazy.” CLAWZ hopes to acquire the coveted rights to Hello Kitty in China – if they could do that, “we’ve made it in three weeks,” says Chris.
While Internet reliability is almost null and Chris only has a vague grasp of Mandarin – “I can tell a cab where to go, I can order food, and I can count to ten,” he says – China is starting to feel like home. “If we didn’t enjoy living out here and it was just the business aspect, we probably wouldn’t stay.
“I love it out here,” he says.