The entrepreneurship ecosystem at Waterloo Engineering nurtures promising ideas into thriving enterprises. In our weekly Founder Fuel series, we look at new ventures and how they have benefited from that crucial early support.

Youssef Helwa (BASc ’15, nanotechnology engineering, MASc ’17, electrical and computer engineering) arrived at Waterloo not long after Velocity launched and new ventures like Thalmic Labs were creating big buzz.

He quickly got seduced by the excitement of the startup world, co-founding NERv (scheduled to be renamed FluidAI) in 2014 with Amr Abdelgawad (BASc ’16, nanotechnology engineering, MBET ’17). Their smart monitoring system detects bleeding, leaks and infections after abdominal surgery so doctors can treat complications sooner.

The innovation earned them a place in Velocity, funding from the Engineer of the Future Fund and international attention as the 2019 winners of the Entrepreneurship World Cup.

Youssef HelwaYoussef Helwa, CEO and co-founder of FluidAI.

Developing medical technology isn’t cheap. That early support was critical to pay for research and development materials and refine the technology enough to attract private capital.

“The first $5,000, $25,000 or even the $50,000 cheque that we obtained, those were massive for us,” Helwa says.

Advice from professors, the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology and other up-and-coming companies in the Waterloo ecosystem was also invaluable. Startups like Intellijoint Surgical — another Waterloo Engineering medical technology success story — helped fuel their ambitions.

“These pioneers provide guidance down the chain,” says Helwa.

Today, the Kitchener company has raised about $65 million, employs more than two dozen people and, most significantly, recently received approval for its technology from Health Canada.

The company’s big challenge now is finding talent to continue growing. The highly regulated med-tech space requires advanced knowledge to navigate everything from patents to patient privacy, but Helwa is committed to staying in the region.

“We love it as founders,” he says. “We love it as a company. We love it as individuals.”

They are also committed to paying forward the support they received and helping the local ecosystem continue to grow and thrive.

This story first featured in WEAL 2022.