Twelve senior student teams from the Faculty of Engineering competed in this year’s Norman Esch Entrepreneurship Awards for Capstone Design, pitching their startup ideas to a panel of judges who distributed more than $110,000 in investment funding for the projects.

At the 10th edition of the competition held on March 28, 2024, the teams pitched revolutionary solutions to tackle big societal problems. With just three minutes per pitch, each team unveiled ideas that ranged from an app and sensors to increase braille accessibility to a device that connects to helicopters to reduce spin during rescue operations.

"It's a great way to get familiar with the process of acquiring funds for your project and pitching it to a broad audience," says Nube Torres, a fourth-year nanotechnology student from the GeneDetek team. "Funding was a big challenge during the development of our project but after the competition, my team's spirit was uplifted. On a personal level, this competition reminded me of the numerous resources available for young entrepreneurs at Waterloo."

The showcase was emceed by Waterloo alum Dr. Matthew Stevens (BASc ’04, PhD ’08), and the projects were judged by Wehuns Tan (BASc ’04), managing partner of Zero 21 Partners, Horst Hueniken (BASc ’82), president and CIO at Hueniken Asset Management, Chris Holt, director of the Master of Business Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) program and Roopa Reddy, lecturer in the Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business.

For the first time this year, each team walked away with an investment in their project to recognize the hard work that goes into getting to the competition stage. Six teams won $5,000 each and another six were awarded $12,000 per project. One project was also honoured with an additional $4,500 as the winner of the Sedra People’s Choice Award, voted on by the enthusiastic E7 audience.

The Esch pitch $12,000 winners

Symphonic — a wearable silent communicator that will unlock expression for individuals with difficulty vocalizing and enable new experiences with natural language applications. Presented by Avery Chiu, Alaina Hansen, Christopher Samra, Ben Waese-Perlman and Alex Zhang from mechanical and mechatronics engineering.

Hawaii Robotics — a custom robotic system that autonomously executes tasks learned from human demonstrations to create an efficient, intelligent robotic solution that enables software-defined manufacturing with the potential to evolve and gain capabilities over time. Presented by Omar AbuAbah, Ethan Childerhose, Clayton Haight and Jessie Ramseyer from mechanical and mechatronics engineering.

Winning teams on stage with large cheques at 2024 Esch competition Teams on stage with their big cheques following the Norman Esch Entrepreneurship Awards for Capstone Design. 

SpinStop — a device that connects any rescue payload to existing helicopter hoists and stops the uncontrolled spin of those being rescued. Presented by Cooper Cole, Jerry Lu, Samuel Roberge-Arnott and Phillip Shahviri from mechanical and mechatronics engineering.

Oscar — an autonomous unmanned surface marine robot that navigates to a drowning victim in open water using GPS data along with thermal and optical camera data. It then provides ergonomic floatation and broadcasts the location to nearby ships to help search and recuse teams quickly locate the victim. Presented by John-Paolo Casasanta, Gordon Fountain, Shahed Saleh, Maximo van der Raadt and Megan Gooch from mechanical and mechatronics engineering.

Adapt — a robotic device that connects to the back of a wheelchair to decrease the risk of falls during physical therapy in healthcare facilities. Presented by Christopher Macartney, Finnegan O'Hara, Ella Walsh and Adam Yu from systems design engineering.

Saturn — a myoelectric prosthetic device that improves users' ability to interact with objects in their surrounding environment by sensing force at the fingertips and delivering pressure information to the user's phantom hand map via inflatable air bladders placed inside the socket. Presented by Sam Burke, Kate Harvey, Amanda Johnson and Ceili Minten from systems design engineering.

The Esch pitch $5,000 winners

GeneDetek — a biosensor test that uses genetic information derived from saliva samples to test whether an individual will be genetically compatible with a mental health prescription to decrease potential side effects. Presented by Karla Castro, Andrea Parra, Sara Thompson and Nube Torres from nanotechnology engineering.

Braille Radar — an app and sensors that allow blind users to better navigate unfamiliar indoor spaces and locate nearby braille signage. Presented by Justin Mendes, Andrei Paraschiv, Harsh Patel, Raven Sim and Zeen Wang from electrical and computer engineering.

MicroMusic — an AI-enabled app that creates a synthesizer (Vital) preset from any WAV file within one second. Presented by Elliott Song, Peter Szczeszynski, Timmy Thorpe and Eli Williams from software engineering.

Kite — a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed for the inspection of high voltage power line insulators (HVPLI) to decrease human risk and create a more reliable electrical infrastructure. Presented by Lucas Arzoumanian, Josh Cai, Neil Fernandes, Samuel Sun and Stephen Wang from mechanical and mechatronics engineering.

MedSens — thin-film sensors in medical probes using advanced force-sensing in endoscopic sheaths to create safer and more precise medical procedures where small, improper force on the tissue can lead to damage. Presented by William Kim, Andres Miranda, Andrei Perez, Brian Periku and Yunheng Zou from nanotechnology engineering.

Sedra People’s Choice Award winner

ClarifEye (and winner of $5,000) for an app that integrates computer vision, LiDAR and machine learning technologies to offer individuals with visual impairment real-time feedback on outdoor obstacles. Presented by Charmaine Lam, Brian Li, Howard Nguyen-Huu and Anni Wang from systems design engineering.

Featured image: Kate Harvey, Amanda Johnson, Sam Burke and Ceili Minten of team Saturn pitch their project at the Esch competition.