How do you build a company that straddles the worlds of hardware, software, and materials science? We sat down with Voltera, a Velocity Garage startup and recent winner of the California Pitch Alumni Event, to hear their story, and the unique challenges they've faced along the way.
The team of talented University of Waterloo engineers started Voltera in 2013, however Co-founder Alroy Almeida explains that they didn't follow a straight path to success due to the complexity of their product, and the problem they were solving. “Getting through technical struggles on the materials science side was very challenging because you didn’t know whether you were a week away from breakthrough, a year away, or a decade away. Fortunately for us, we have a great team of people that thrive in environments where they are up against unfathomable odds,” notes Almeida.
Voltera is currently developing a printer that enables low-cost circuit boards to be prototyped within minutes, eliminating the frustrations with the traditional circuit board fabrication process. The printer deposits a silver ink to create circuit boards right from your desk, just as fast as a 3D printer would create a physical object.
Startups often change focus as they learn more about the problem they're trying so solve, and this was the case with Voltera, which originally won the Velocity Venture Fund (now the Velocity Fund Finals) three years ago, before rebuilding their technology from the ground up. The materials science processes they are developing are very challenging, and many industry experts did not think that it was possible to do, but Almeida states "The motivation to keep going after pivoting so abruptly was possible thanks to the strong entrepreneurial spirit that the University of Waterloo inspires in their students through programs like Velocity."
Thirty minutes after their Kickstarter launched in February 2015, they had surpassed their target goal of $70,000, ultimately raising over $500,000 from the campaign. Such a successful crowdfunding campaign was a great way to validate demand for their product. Later that fall, Voltera won the prestigious James Dyson Award; the first Canadian company to ever do so. Fast forward to 2016, and Voltera was one of ten Velocity startups gathered in Mountain View, California in April to pitch their innovative solutions to a crowd of alumni at the California Pitch Alumni Event. The audience was impressed by the company and awarded Voltera a $5,000 prize and an impressive new network of contacts.
“One of the great things they do at these events is they ask the startups to make a request of the alumni in the room. After the pitches we had a lot of alumni come up to us and offer to make introductions to their companies and broader networks,” says Alroy Almeida, co-founder of Voltera.
The interactions that Voltera had while in Mountain View, showcased Waterloo’s strong alumni presence, reaching across countries and different industries. Connecting with successful alumni was incredibly valuable for a young company like Voltera, a company who can now further appreciate alumni giving back to the student community. Alroy notes that it is helpful to see people that have gone through the University with such a strong love for giving back to the community. “By alumni sharing their experiences, it will help students realize what opportunities they have available to them, what kinds of careers can branch off from specific programs and faculties, and how wide the net really is.”
With this boost in confidence and cash, Voltera is currently in their second production run, as they continue to deliver pre-orders, and new orders, within the next few months. They also are focusing on growing their sales and are always looking for smart and self-motivated people to join their team!
The California Pitch Alumni Event is sponsored by Shopify Plus.