Caleb Bernabe, 25
Co-founder + CEO, VINN
Life Story: Vancouver Island native Caleb Bernabe wanted to be a doctor—and an architect. Finishing high school a year early, Bernabe headed to Vancouver, where he studied life sciences at UBC and business development remotely through Athabasca University. But after meeting some physicians-in-training, he decided that medicine wasn’t for him. “I couldn’t see myself spending the next 15 years in a purely academic environment,” he says. “I like being able to make decisions and iterate quickly.”
So Bernabe headed back to the Island and switched gears, getting accepted into the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s fellowship program. To pay the bills, the car enthusiast landed a job as director of marketing and business development for one of the country’s largest auto dealers. He quickly concluded that when it came to consumer satisfaction, the sales model was broken. “Why are customers so dissatisfied with this process when you know there to be good people behind it, generally?”
Seeing a gap in the market, Bernabe launched VINN in 2018 with co-worker Chet Flanagan. Their Victoria-based platform (its name riffs on “vehicle identification number”) uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to match people and cars online, with help from a team of vehicle experts. Business took off during the pandemic as buyers began avoiding auto showrooms.
Bottom Line: After serving almost 6,400 customers last year, VINN expects to see that number surge to 100,000 nationwide in 2021. The company, which has about 20 employees, plans to enter the U.S. by early next year. So far, VINN has raised capital from investors including Vancouver-based Conconi Growth Partners and Yaletown Ventures.
“Online purchasing is becoming a major, major player in the space when it comes to auto transactions,” Bernabe says. “We’ve been fortunately timed as well as strategically positioned to meet the customer demand correctly.”