An Inspiring Community: Fostering a Creative and Entrepreneurial Ecosystem at Waterloo

Henry Shi and Hussein Fazal, are two inspiring math graduates who are changing the face of travel through their startup SnapTravel.

With a model that makes booking hotels at the best price as simple as chatting with a friend on Facebook Messenger, the company combines travel agent like service with convenience and ease. Launching in July 2016, SnapTravel continues to grow and scale, now employing 65 individuals between Toronto and the Philippines. Receiving another $8 million in seed money in 2017, this boundary-pushing company is ready to take their business to new heights.

The story doesn’t start there. Both co-founders honed their skills, found their passion, and gained confidence while attending UWaterloo by taking advantage of all there was to do on- and off-campus.

“I chose to study at the University of Waterloo because of its reputation and I wanted to be around talented people,” explained Hussein. “The co-op program was also unique. I graduated with 6 diverse work-terms. The flexibility of the program let me try out different areas, which helped me find my passion.”

The computer skills Fazal learned, and the environments he found himself in, gave him readiness to create his first business, AdParlor which grew to $100+ million in revenue before being sold to AdKnowledge in 2011.

Shi involved himself deeply into the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Waterloo, creating a social network platform, Umentioned, and finding inspiration in his peers’ activities. 

“Waterloo has a high caliber of talent, and attracts people who are driven, motivated and risk-takers, which are all important traits for entrepreneurs,” explained Shi. “The ecosystem at Velocity is founder-friendly as well. You have students supporting each other and people to look up to. It’s amazing to see how alumni who aren’t much older than you have done something great and are giving back to support future student success.”

Connecting in San Francisco in 2015/2016, Shi and Fazal hustled to incubate, develop, and test their venture. The choice to move back to Toronto was based on business costs, opportunities to grow, proximity to family, and access to talent. Of the 30 individuals working in Toronto at SnapTravel, almost half are Waterloo grads, and the company continues to hire co-ops each term.

Henry Shi and Hussein Fazal stand smiling together outdoors

“The students we interview and hire from UWaterloo have perspective and experience,” described Shi. They have seen what it’s like to work at big companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. They have competed in the major leagues and have that global mindset. Students who go to Waterloo want to make a difference and achieve their goals.”

Giving back is core to what SnapTravel is all about. When the Philippines experienced flooding in 2018, the SnapTravel team was there to distribute relief kits. They also mentor students, participate on panels, support education, and develop their own employees here and abroad. 

Confident, inspiring, humble, and courageous are few words to describe Waterloo math alumni and the work they are doing. We hope you are as proud as we are to be part of this game-changing community.