Tackling Tokyo a key part of student experience at Japanese software startup

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

2 individuals working at the Curvegrid office

While developing technical skills is important during a co-op work term, a Japanese software company, founded by University of Waterloo graduates, is looking to give their co-op students a different type of learning experience.

Through extra vacation days, visa arrangements, and reimbursed flights, Waterloo co-op students are given every opportunity to immerse themselves in Japanese culture during their time at Curvegrid Inc.  

Curvegrid, established in Tokyo in 2017, looks to empower its student’s integration in the Japanese tech community.

“We want to give them some exposure to Japan, Japanese business culture, as well as time outside of work to really explore the country,” says Jeff Wentworth (BASc '06), co-founder of Curvegrid and University of Waterloo alumnus. “That’s a set of skills and experiences that we hope will take them through the rest of their co-op terms.”

As a result of providing exemplary international co-op experiences, Curvegrid is the first-ever winner of the Impact in International Excellence award as part of Waterloo Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE) Employer Impact Awards.

“Curvegrid is exemplar of what UWaterloo stands for: innovation, entrepreneurship, and internationalizing great ideas,” says Bessma Momani, interim assistant vice-president for International Relations. “By employing our great co-op students, they are empowering the next generation of UWaterloo graduates to have the same determination and grit to pursue their own entrepreneurial dreams.”

The company, founded by Waterloo alumni Wentworth and William Metcalfe, produces a product called Multi-Baas. This blockchain middleware makes it fast, easy and cost-effective to build on multiple blockchain platforms. They hope to revolutionize the way we think about money, information and relationships.

“One of the things that has been successful for us as a Japanese company is mixing the best of Japanese business culture and international and Western business culture,” says Wentworth.

The soft skills

Curvegrid promotes the development of soft skills like flexibility, resilience, initiative, humour, humility and genuine interest in living and working in Japan. They also provide support for co-op students by reimbursing daily transit, covering accommodation costs, helping open bank accounts, sharing how to buy groceries and SIM cards and encouraging extracurricular activities.

Team meeting at the Curvegrid office“We give (the students) six or 13 vacation days depending on whether they’re with us for four or eight months, and that’s about making sure they’ve got the time to explore Japan or maybe even other parts of Asia,” Wentworth says. “We've had some students that have certainly seen Japan but also traveled to Thailand,Taiwan or Korea while they've been here in Japan. We've had some of them use that time to have their friends or family come over and tour around with them as well.”

Meanwhile, the organization empowers co-op student integration with the Japanese tech community by sponsoring or participating in external events like the Decrypt Tokyo Hackathon, the AWS summit and a bon-odori outdoor festival.

An overseas work term provided Ishan Chho a chance to work in a place where he grew up while gaining valuable professional experience for the future.

Chho, a Computer Science student at Waterloo, spent 14 years of his life in Japan, and wanted a chance to go back to not only experience working for a startup company like Curvegrid, but also to experience the lifestyle and culture once again.

“You learn a lot at a work, and you get to have this awesome experience outside of work,” says Chho.

Nyugen Pham, fellow Computer Science student at Waterloo, was particularly happy about being able to learn a lot in a smaller start-up setting.

“It’s so cool to be part of such a lively start-up,” says Pham.

Curvegrid and Waterloo

Curvegrid believes that Waterloo co-op students play an integral role in its organization’s ability to stay globally connected because they bring a diversity of perspectives from their personal, academic, and past work experiences.

“They're bringing experience from their past co-op work terms, and so they're able to blend their academic experience with practical experience from different work environments,” Wentworth says. “We’re really learning from the best.”

The organization has been hiring Waterloo co-op students since 2018 from math, computer science and engineering. Their co-op students are both Canadian as well as international students attending Waterloo. A 2019 Waterloo graduate has also signed on at the organization in a full-time role.

“The work environment at Curvegrid is super unique because I think one obvious thing that sets it apart is that they’re in Tokyo, but most of the team, being a startup, most of them are not from Japan,” says Chho. “Because of that, every member on the team has a unique background, especially with the frame of the company in Japan. It’s a very non-traditional company, both from a North American and Japanese perspective.”

Q & A with Jeff Wentworth, co-founder of Curvegrid Inc.