By Christina Basil
The wheels started turning in the early hours of the morning while Ammar Al-Kuwaiti was up watching fitness infomercials on the television. Al-Kuwaiti was 35 pounds overweight and unhappy with his body image. That night, as he sat on his couch, he began wondering who actually bought the products being offered on TV.
Al-Kuwaiti went looking on the Internet to get information on weight loss and nutrition, but was disappointed with what he found.
“I was watching the infomercial at 3 a.m. thinking, ‘Who buys this stuff? This is so cheesy,’” says the third-year continuing education student. “I thought its time people got a reality check.”
Al-Kuwaiti says there are a lot of companies that offer quick fixes and few that are straight up with their clients. “And all these people know these products are B.S, want to get into shape, but just don’t know how.”
So along with some friends, Al-Kuwaiti created the Reality Chek System, a personal trainer, a nutritionist, and a motivator, all rolled into a web program. It will tailor a nutrition plan and exercise routine for each user, whether their goal is to gain muscle or lose weight. It will also provide healthy recipes. When the system is finished in a few months, Reality Chek users will have to log on to the Internet-based application every day to input what they ate and how much they exercised.
The company is comprised of four executives. Al-Kuwaiti is the CEO. Third-year continuing education student Stephane Bigue is the project director. Fourth-year finance and accounting student, Albert Cheng, is the financial director, while second-year continuing education student Ian Morgan is the marketing director.
“Slowly this thing has really turned us into men,” Al-Kuwaiti says. He says there were lots of long nights when the team was working on presentations, preparing business plans, and making prototypes.
Although the company seems to have a bright future, the road to success wasn’t easy. Since Al-Kuwaiti came up with the idea almost two years ago, the group has scrapped eight different plans. “When we first started, we thought we were going to make DVDs. Things have changed so much,” he says. “I’ve learned more doing this than I’ve ever learned in the classroom.” Al-Kuwaiti says there were many moments when he felt like giving up, and lots of people who says the Reality Chek System would fail.
“It’s hard for people to take you seriously when you’re young and you have no experience – and we don’t have rich daddies,” he adds with a laugh.
Morgan says the hardest part about launching the company was convincing businessmen to give them a chance.
But the team managed to impress Ryerson president Sheldon Levy.
Levy liked the idea and connected the team with Ryerson’s vice-president of research and innovation, Anastasios Venetsanopoulos.
In the initial meeting with Levy, and Venetsanopoulos, Al-Kuwaiti and his team asked for support in terms of equipment, space, staff and funding.
Venetsanopoulos says he personally supports the idea, but university money can’t be used to fund private projects.
He also says that he’d like to see an organization for student entrepreneurs, separate from the university, and says it could happen within the next couple of years.
In the meantime, Vanetsanopoulos says he offered the team a bit of support. “If they found a space and some research that could be involved, then I could find the funds for a few students over the summer months.”
But Al-Kuwaiti had been hoping for more. “It was obviously a let down, but it is in no way going to stop me, it’s just going to give me more motivation.”
The company is trying to get some loans from the bank, and is working with the Canadian Youth Business Foundation for guidance in terms of grants, finances and mentoring.
“It doesn’t matter how many doors they close in your face, you have to break through walls to make it,” he says.
While Al-Kuwaiti is looking forward to the financial awards, he also hopes the software will help people live healthier lives.
He says he is particularly troubled by child obesity rates in North America, and hopes to develop a child-friendly version of the Reality Chek System as well.