Engineering startups win at Velocity pitch competition

Friday, September 20, 2019

Two startup companies that began as Capstone Design projects at Waterloo Engineering won $50,000 each in direct equity investments at a Velocity pitch contest this week.

Stacktronic and Watfly were among four winners as the Velocity Fund Pitch Competition, part of the flagship entrepreneurship program at the University of Waterloo, went on the road to downtown Toronto for the first time in its history.

Members of Stacktronic.

Then comprised of five members, (left to right) Riley Stone, Ethan Hamshaw, Robert Rowland, Keith Teeple and Nicolas Benais-Thomson pose with their Capstone Design display for Stacktronic.

Ten finalists at the sold-out event – including seven startups with connections to Waterloo Engineering – pitched their businesses to a panel of judges representing the investment, startup and business communities.

“What’s really impressive about this round is that no matter who won, we couldn’t make a mistake,” said Jay Shah, director of the Velocity incubator program. “All 10 companies represented that high ambition we’re always looking for.”

Stacktronic is developing a rapidly scalable, modular battery platform that simplifies and expedites the design process for electric powertrains, allowing any vehicle, of any size and production volume, to be battery-powered in an instant.

Abinesh Chadrasekhar (left) and Gonzalo Graham of Watfly.

Abinesh Chandrasekhar (left) and Gonzalo Graham of Watfly with their ceremonial cheque at the Velocity Fund Finals in July.

Mechanical engineering students Nicolas Benais-Thomson, Ethan Hamshaw, Riley Stone and Keith Teeple presented the idea during their Capstone Design symposium this spring.

They went on to win $10,000 to commercialize their project at the Norman Esch Entrepreneurship Awards for Capstone Design and $50,000 through the Palihapitiya Venture Creation Fund, which is backed by celebrated electrical engineering alumnus Chamath Palihapitiya.

Watfly is building Atlas, a single-seater air vehicle powered by the latest in electric propulsion technology.

Its co-founders, Abinesh Chandrasekhar and Gonzalo Graham, are also 2019 mechanical engineering graduates. They won $5,000 in July at the Velocity Fund Finals, a $5K pitch event held on campus each term.

The other two winners at the Toronto event this week were SquidBio, a biotech company that has developed a benchtop DNA synthesis device, and Maple Precision, which is building an online mapping platform with thousands of geographic data sets used by city builders.

In addition to $50,000 investments, the winners will also continue to work at or be admitted to the Velocity startup incubator in downtown Kitchener.

Almost 19 per cent of founders of technology companies in Canada are University of Waterloo graduates, far more than any other university. The 90 companies that have won Velocity pitch competitions are now valued at over $1 billion.

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