Conrad’s Bridging Entrepreneurs to Students (BETS) program is a specialized co-op program which connects first-year engineering co-op students with seed and early stage startup companies for short-term placements. In this post, Spring 2017 BETS students and BETS employer LabsCubed share how the program worked for them this term.
From the startup side
At LabsCubed, we help companies create and test materials through automation, robotics, and smart software. My co-founder Jeffrey and I both graduated from the University of Waterloo’s mechanical engineering co-op program. Throughout our co-op programs we had a mixture of memorable and less memorable experiences. We reflected upon these experiences when coming up with a baseline for how we wanted to onboard and integrate our own co-op students into our team.
When we started with the BETS program our goal was to ensure that all the co-op students had amazing experiences that helped them to grow and learn. With that in mind, we began by breaking down all of our current projects a couple of weeks before the students started. With this breakdown, we ensured that each student would get a project that they could make their own, enabling them to gain confidence along the way.
We also attempted to integrate some fun activities as a team. For example, we began a recurring get-together on Friday where one person from the team had the chance to present one of their interests or hobbies. The goal was to get the team to bond and learn more about one another. (We also brought delicious snacks, which made it more popular).
What amazed us throughout our time with the BETS students was their ability to learn and produce results. The positive impact they have had on the company—and on us personally—has helped us grow throughout the process.
We have learned many valuable lessons from our experience with the BETS program, the most important being that if given the guidance, resources, and opportunity, a student can truly make a positive impact on the company.
From the student’s side: Dylan
I was first introduced to Jeff and Khaled at a blender during Ignition Week. Speaking to them, I realized this was a company I’d be really interested in working for, not only for the opportunity to learn about an area I am passionate about, but also to learn from two people who have gone through the same program that I’m currently in.
The ten weeks I spent working for Jeff and Khaled at LabsCubed outdid my expectations. I was able to dive into many design projects that required me to conduct design reviews, 3D print the component, test if the component would work as intended, and update the design once improvements were noticed. Early on, Khaled told me that there is only so much time you should spend designing the first iteration of a component - at some point you have to just stop and see if it will actually work and make updates from there. This stuck with me and helped me move through projects at a much quicker pace.
Every Friday, Jeff and Khaled invited someone from the team to make a presentation on a topic of interest to them. I found this to be surprisingly informative as I gained newfound knowledge about Formula 1, octopuses (or octopi or octopodes - we learned that all are acceptable plurals of octopus), denim jeans, Doctor Who, guitar, and piano. The reason for this event was to get to know one another and build our presentation skills. As Khaled, when people present about things they are passionate about it is a lot easier, and they tend to be less nervous.
From the work itself, to the day-to-day conversations with co-workers, Jeff and Khaled made this experience something I could never have imagined I would have got out of my first co-op.
From the student’s side: Colin
Being part of the start-up community in Kitchener-Waterloo has allowed me to see firsthand just how much work it takes to make a business successful. The fast-paced and lively atmosphere within the Tannery is very inspiring, and the sense of community makes for a productive atmosphere. In only ten short weeks, I have noticed an immense transformation in myself both personally and professionally.
My favourite part about working for a start-up is the fact that your work has a substantial impact on the company. In my case, LabsCubed was in the prototyping phase, and therefore I was able to design, build, and program many additions to the machine which remain in use. When I started, the prototype did not have a proper user interface; you would be required to upload a new program to run each different type of test. Ten weeks later, I have added an LCD interface allowing for multiple different tests to be run, as well as assisting in programming the communication between a microcontroller and another computer for real-world testing!
Overall, the ability to see your projects have tangible impacts on the company you work for is very empowering. Working alongside Jeff and Khaled has given me great insight into what it is like to be a founder of a company and how to deal with the different hurdles you might face along the way. Ultimately, my time at LabsCubed has further solidified my passion for the startup journey.
From the student’s side: Javaid
After finishing my first year of nanotechnology engineering, my experience was limited to theory and concepts. Working at LabsCubed gave me the chance to be immersed in hands-on experiences. In the first week, I charged myself with the task of becoming familiar with SolidWorks or AutoCAD. After a few days of self-learning and application, I was then able to step up and ask for the first of several design tasks I would take on in this placement. I was tasked with configuring a Raspberry Pi Module to communicate with two cameras simultaneously, which once again led to uncharted territory. However, I was able to combine my prior knowledge of Python coding with my research on the Raspberry Pi and OpenCV to eventually develop a script that would do just that. It was a great way of applying what I knew to new applications, and finding a middle ground that incorporated both.
All in all, along with the skills I had learned and expanded upon, it was the LabsCubed team that I worked alongside with that helped make this experience an enjoyable one. The open atmosphere along with the assignment of tasks according to interest helped to make this experience fully worthwhile.
Get involved with the BETS Program!