On November 30th, the University of Waterloo community came together to support eight finalist teams as they pitched their business ideas for their chance at a slice of more than $20,000 in grants.

The Fall 2023 Velocity Pitch Competition received 100 applications, a new record, from students in all of Waterloo’s faculties. From the initial pool of applicants, 28 teams advanced to the semifinals. At the finals, eight innovative startups — DuTax, BatBall, Blackbird, Mapmate, PatientCompanion, Plant Support and Pliantech — showcased their business ideas in the Theatre of the Arts, competing for the win in front of a panel of distinguished judges.

Finals panel of judges 

  • Rebecca Allan, senior analyst at BoxOne Ventures
  • Amr Abdelgawad, co-founder and COO of FluidAI
  • Anthony Lau, associate at University of Waterloo Venture Fund

Through programs and events like these, Velocity helps transform the way businesses are built by rallying resources, building community and breaking down barriers for founders to bring to market solutions that address cross-disciplinary challenges.

Four finalist teams take home the Velocity $5K grants and people's choice award

Kwaku Owusu Twum

Kwaku Owusu Twum pitching for Mapmate

Kwaku Owusu Twum, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Environment, pitched a platform called Mapmate, co-founded by Daniel Buston Yankey. Their platform establishes connections between food processors and small-scale farmers, offering analytics to enhance sustainable farming practices and ensuring traceability in the supply chain across Africa.

Twum had worked in the food manufacturing sector in Africa for more than five years and had the opportunity to work with rural communities and saw the opportunity to help address some of the challenges farmers face.

“Our solution revolves around connectivity, bridging the gap between rural farmers and food manufacturing companies. It's a win-win situation — farmers gain credibility, and food manufacturers can reliably access these farmers. That's the essence of our approach,” Twum said.

Robert Chlumsky

Robert Chlumsky pitching for Blackbird

Robert Chlumsky, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Engineering, pitched for Blackbird, a rapid web-based flood mapping solution. Blackbird's innovative flood maps distinguish themselves by being real-time and two-dimensional, providing a significant advancement to existing models. This enhanced technology promises to optimize emergency responses during flood events. The startup is co-founded by engineering professors James Craig and Bryan Tolson and Chlumsky.

"Blackbird surpasses current technologies by efficiently calculating and producing understandable results at a speed suitable for large-scale applications,” Chlumsky explained. “It's capable of real-time predictions, providing valuable insights into flood events as they evolve hour to hour."

Chlumsky noted that Blackbird's technology, initially serving conservation authorities, government and industry, could eventually be accessible to the general public. This would provide consumers with a clearer understanding of flood risks when purchasing or evaluating properties. Before winning this competition, Blackbird secured funding from Up Start, a Velocity and WatCo initiative supporting student researchers, founders and recent alumni turning their research into commercial ventures.

Doris Wenbo Yi

Doris Wenbo Yi pitching for Plantal Support

Doris Wenbo Yi, an undergraduate student in the Faculty of Mathematics, introduced her Plantal Support product. A solution for effortless plant care, the custom designed display case kit ensures optimal plant growth with minimal effort from plant enthusiasts.

“Our product is a visually stunning greenhouse — a showcase you can proudly share with guests in your home,” Yi said. “We're establishing the ideal environment for plants, ensuring they feel at home, making it simpler for caretakers to nurture their growth and promote happy, healthy plants.”

Yi is also working with Velocity Science to test the product for growing produce which would expand Plantal Support’s customer base from houseplants aficionados to people who want to grow their own food indoors.

Jonah Leinwand

Jonah Leinwand pitching for Pliantech

Jonah Leinwand, an undergraduate student studying biomedical engineering, pitched a new design for spinal implants that moves more naturally and lowers the chances of post-surgery complications, thanks to an innovative support mechanism.

“Pliantech specializes in a game-changing design for a cervical spine disc in the neck, aiming to restore mobility and reduce the likelihood of additional surgeries,” Leinwand said. “Our approach combines mechanical design with cutting-edge manufacturing techniques, utilizing 3D printing and titanium flexors that mimic the natural flexibility of the neck.”

Another Up Start venture, Pliantech is in the early stages but is exploring patenting options and is committed to taking their product through the various stages of human trials as a Class III medical device. In regulatory terms, this class of device is considered to have the highest level of risk among medical devices which means they are preparing to meet very stringent regulatory controls.

Leinwand’s compelling pitch for Pliantech also garnered his team the people's choice award, adding an additional $500 to his prize money.

As these entrepreneurial journeys unfold, the Velocity Pitch Competition shows Waterloo's commitment to fostering innovation and bringing transformative solutions to market.

You can explore opportunities like Velocity’s Pitch Competition and more in our innovation centres, programs, courses and extracurriculars. Whether you're exploring, building or scaling, Waterloo has a program for you.