Yes, Arts students do thrive at Velocity

Friday, April 24, 2015

“My Arts education is one of the best advantages I could have in the startup community,” says Jona Cho, a 3rd year English student and founder of FotoFox.

Jona is one of four Arts students, along with their teams, to receive $25,000 in funding for their startup businesses this year. The Velocity Fund is a grant program based on pitch competitions that awards three $5,000 prizes and four $25,000 prizes per term.

Jona in Velocity Garage

Jona began her involvement with Velocity by attending Velocity Alpha workshops. Fotofox was then accepted into the Velocity Garage in downtown Kitchener, home to software startups at UWaterloo. Just three months later, FotoFox won the Velocity Venture Fund pitch competition.

“Because I don’t have a traditional business or technical background, the way I see and approach problems is different,” says Jona. “In a way, my creative nature and artistic bent give me the audacity to try new things, to keep asking questions, and to just go for it.”

The “new guys” at the Velocity Garage this month are HealthIM, another Arts student founded company. “I've been involved with Velocity since 2013; it’s been a huge resource for knowledge on everything from core business practices to simple stuff like stress management,” says Daniel Pearon Hirdes, 4thyear Arts and Business student (Psychology) and co-founder of HealthIM.

Daniel speaking to group

“As an Arts student you'll be in high demand. Velocity attracts a ton of technical students, but there's a noticeable lack of representation from other faculties. If you've got good chops in Photoshop, or specific knowledge about finance or design, teams will be recruiting you from day one.”
- Daniel Pearon Hirdes

Velocity Residence is a dorm for students with entrepreneurial ideas and goals. “If you're just starting out or unsure of an idea, I would highly recommend staying at the Velocity Residence,” Daniel suggests.  He emphasizes that although creating software requires technical skills, it also requires a good understanding of people – how they think and problem solve in a digital space.

“If you have 1) an idea, 2) the drive, and 3) the passion to do whatever it takes to see that idea become reality, that’s all you really need to get started,” says Jona. “Waterloo has an amazing startup ecosystem – it’s called the Silicon Valley of the North for a reason.  Use it.”


FotoFox is an online marketplace with a photo-based search system that lets people find and hire the right photographers with just a few clicks.

“It all started the past summer in Paris, France, when I noticed a problem that my Parisian photographer friends were experiencing: despite their stellar photography skills, they were having trouble finding customers. After speaking to hundreds to tourists in front of the Eiffel Tower, I discovered the flip side of the problem:  customers were having trouble finding good photographers.  It didn’t take long for the idea behind FotoFox to spark.

“We live in a world where photos matter – especially photos of yourself. People care about having high-quality, professional images. Through FotoFox, people can easily find the right person to capture those memories, and enjoy a seamless experience.”


HealthIM Inc. assists police officers responding to mental health calls. There has been a spike in incidents involving police and the mentally ill in the past couple of years. Based on a report by the London Free Press, mental health calls make up about 15% of annual expenses for police services. On a national level that cost translates to roughly $1.9 billion a year.

“We created HealthIM to reduce the cost of mental health calls to police services, provide higher quality of care to mentally ill persons in contact with the police, and reduce the amount of mental health crisis in the community. Our software is installed in the computers mounted in police cruisers. It guides officers through the creation of clinical reports based on their interactions with the mentally ill, and then distributes it securely to the appropriate mental health service right from the site of the encounter. The reports are sent to community mental health services but also hospitals and parole offices.”

Read more about the other Velocity Fund Finalists.