Ten 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 tasked with awarding $60,000.   

All 10 pitches showcased innovative thinking and entrepreneurial skills. The teams presented creative solutions to challenges ranging from an affordable at-home robot that helps non-verbal autistic children learn how to communicate, to a smart intervention that prevents tennis elbow.

“When it comes to innovation, engineers have a tendency to put the solution first which can result in a very cool project, but might not solve a real-world problem,” says Osose Itua, the fourth-year mechatronics engineering student who delivered a winning pitch for the Bexter team. “My entrepreneurial pursuits so far have taught me that it’s critical to put the end-user's needs first so that regardless of how cool the solution seems, it gets to the heart of a problem that actually exists.

“Supporting entrepreneurial engineers with funding is so important because it helps us deliver much-needed innovation faster. Thanks to this grant we plan to move forward with R&D and apply for a patent!”

Back live and in-person after two years of COVID-19 restrictions, the pitch contest was packed to the brim and buzzing with excitement as emcee and alumnus Dr. Matthew Stevens (BASc ’04 and PhD ’08, chemical engineering) timed each team’s three-minute pitch down to the second.

Six teams delivered winning pitches and walked away with $10,000 each to invest in their projects’ commercialization.

A seventh team claimed $6,000 for the Sedra People’s Choice Award as voted on by the event’s lively audience in Engineering 7.

An impressed Stevens summed it up well, “Waterloo grows great engineers.”

The Esch pitch winners

Bexter (Ihn Hwan Kim, Daeun Han, Dylan Policelli, Stephen Del Grosso Milek and Osose Itua – interdisciplinary team) for an at-home robot that teaches non-verbal autistic children how to communicate using an Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) board.

extensiLE (Cedric Attias, Milena Galaszewicz, Rebecca Wyllie and Teresa Marotta – biomedical engineering) for a preventative solution for tennis elbow that includes tensile inserts and an app to analyze wrist flexion, improve form and prevent injury based on data feedback.

PoweRFul Meter (Tom Paraschuk, Francis Chambers, Richard Joung, David Hardy, Jonathan Singh and Erik Kuhne – electrical and computer engineering) for a cheap, portable device that can help companies and business owners without specialized RF knowledge measure the effective isotropic radiated power (EIRP) at the rated industrial-scientific-medical (ISM) band and get their wireless/IoT products off the ground with the necessary FCC government regulatory approval.

Siliboat Coat (Alice Tong, Jazmin Catly, Angeline Nguyen-Dang and Danielle Joy Vinzon – chemical engineering) for an eco-friendly antifouling boat coating to protect fibreglass-bottom boats with a safer and more effective alternative to antifouling boat coatings with biocidal properties.

SWEATsens (Alyssa Leon, Kate Pearson, Paul Shen, Teresa Tang and Xinmei Yan – nanotechnology engineering) for a wearable sweat-based biosensing health monitoring patch with integrated sweat stimulation to allow for continuous measurement of blood analyte levels.

VIZZ (Simon Yan, Max Zhu, Sebastian Ouslis and Jason Liu – electrical and computer engineering) for a tool that allows developers to understand how different components in their code call other files and microservices without having to read any code, thus improving their understanding of complicated and interconnected systems.

The Sedra People’s Choice Award went to SmartWalker (Andrea Chakma, Kamila Neliba, Lania Philia Terisno, Joanna Diao, Longchen (Mason) Niu – mechatronics engineering) for an assistive device that uses smart grip and obstacle detection technologies to make rollaters safer for users.

The pitch competition’s 10 qualifying teams were drawn from more than 300 projects developed by over 1,500 fourth-year engineering students and showcased at the University’s annual Capstone Symposia.

The pitch competition, funded by the Esch Foundation, launched in 2014 to support creative and entrepreneurial senior engineering students who are pursuing research and development and its commercialization for the benefit of Canada.

*Banner photo from left to right: Esch Foundation trustees Ross McGovern, Jim Sharples and David Esch; Waterloo Engineering dean Dr. Mary Wells; Bexter team Heidi (Daeun) Han, Osose Itua, Ihn Hwan Kim, Stephen Del Grosso Milek and Dylan Policelli. 

Photo credit@ Brett Nelson, P.Eng, PEO Grand River Chapter.