Piinpoint founders

As the digital economy evolves, marketers are constantly using more sophisticated data analytics to put their products and services in the right location for maximum views, clicks, and conversions.

But with as much online shopping as we do, we still make most of our purchases in actual physical shops.

Tech start-up PiinPoint. Co-founded by Geography and Environmental Management student Adam Saunders and his partner Jim Robeson, an alumni of Environment’s professional Economic Development Program, are helping business harness and analyze the massive amounts of data available to them to choose a location for their shop.

The idea earned the two a coveted three-month placement in the legendary Y Combinator business accelerator program in California. Having received the guidance and support that comes with the program, the two are now entering the next phase of their business plan.

We caught up with the 23-year-old Saunders to find out more about his how his degree helped him launch his business, the role of geographic information systems (GIS) in the digital economy and offers advice for entrepreneurial geographers.

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Faculty of Environment: What is the status of your GEM degree? Have you graduated?

Saunders: I have one term left that must be taken during a winter term, but that’s been put on hold for now in favour of going to Y Combinator in Mountain View this past winter.

FoE: A geography degree isn’t typically associated with entrepreneurship. Was building your own company always a goal, or did it evolve with your studies?

Saunders: Building my own company wasn’t always a goal of mine, and I wouldn’t say it evolved with my studies either. What happened with me is an opportunity came my way, I had the skills to take advantage of it, and a business happened to be the result.

To be more specific, my co-founder Jim Robeson, then a Master’s student in business at the University of Waterloo, asked me to meet up and talk about site selection using GIS. I was intrigued by a problem that we spoke about and began coding a basic prototype of a solution. Within a week I had developed a basic tool, and we’ve just kept building on that with the help of a great team.

FoE: What role do you see for geographic information systems (GIS) in the tech economy of the future?

Saunders: GIS is going to play a huge role in the tech economy, and it already is. Many software applications that wouldn’t obviously rely on physical location, do deal with spatial databases and analysis, and this adoption is growing rapidly.

Whether it’s for analytics or providing service to consumers, every business will depend on location information. As spatial data accumulates and is modeled, GIS will play a much more key role in the tech economy.

FoE: How did you end up studying Geography at the University of Waterloo?

Saunders: I ended up studying Geomatics because of my interest in programming and physical processes of the earth. My motivation for studying at Waterloo was definitely co-op, which has been extremely valuable and what has provided me with skills related to many different technologies.

FoE: What has been the best thing so far about your experience in the tech start-up scene (personal or professional).

Saunders: The best thing is the people that I’ve been able to work with and meet. From other people working hard on their own company, to leaders in some of today’s top technology companies, many of these people are very inspiring or at least have a great story.

FoE: What advice would you give other geography students who may want to start their own business?

Saunders: My advice is to learn how to code. Knowing how to code allows you to build a basic solution to some problem that you've thought of, and see if it could actually go somewhere.

FoE: What do you think separates Piinpoint from other start-ups?

Saunders: To be honest, we're just another company working hard to get somewhere. We have a small core team that is passionate about what we're building, and we're having a great time building it.