Sustainable innovations shine at the Velocity $5K finals
Four student teams received a total of $20,000 in grants to further develop startups
Four student teams received a total of $20,000 in grants to further develop startupsBy Naomi Grosman Velocity
The University of Waterloo community came together to cheer on eight finalist teams as they pitched to a panel of judges and a chock-full room of attendees at the Velocity $5K finals on March 30th in the Black and Gold Room at the University’s Student Life Centre.
This flagship event is the culmination of students’ hard work — from ideation to laying the foundation of their startup.
Winning teams Trash Talk, Foodage Inc., Metacycler Bioinnovations, and Whale Safe each received $5K, in recognition of their high-quality business ideas and pitches.
The student startup teams had three minutes to pitch, and three minutes to answer questions from Judges Sarrah Lal, director of the Velocity Incubator in downtown Kitchener, Armen Bakirtzian, co-founder and CEO of Kitchener-based medical device company Intellijoint Surgical, and Lakshmi Khatri, student in the University’s Masters of Accounting program and Student Venture Fund analyst.
While their roads all led to being $5K finalists, the four teams became involved in the University’s entrepreneurship community in four different ways.
Metacycler Bioinnovations tackled their problem in the lab, with the vision of commercializing it.
The team, Nicole LeBlanc, Aranksha Thakor and Eugenia Dadzie, biology PhD students in Faculty of Science, Shirley Wong, post doc in Faculty of Science, and Jonathan Parkes, has created a strain of bacteria that can transform food waste into biodegradable plastics.
“I came to the University of Waterloo specifically for this research project, I was passionate about it and always thought about it through a commercial lens, as a tangible product to sell,” LeBlanc says, who is a PhD candidate in microbiology.
Whale Safe Fishing Gear teammates Collin Bolt, Ben Beazley, Jake Chateauneuf and Syl Yoston, mechanical engineering undergraduate students are all fourth-year mechanical engineering undergrads, graduating this spring. They pitched a business based on Yoston’s own experience as a fisherman.
Their solution is a whale safe fishing device for lobster and crab fishers.
“We are engineers by training and having the business help from Velocity was a great opportunity,” team member Ben Beazly says. “Having a great team and having found this success with Velocity $5K and now a process going forward, it’s hard to measure that value.”
Osose Itua of Foodage Inc., who is fourth year mechatronics engineering student, says she has always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but she couldn’t envision running her own business.
That was before tapping into University of Waterloo and Velocity entrepreneurship resources.
“Once I saw my peers working on their business … I could see myself doing it and realized I didn’t have to wait to become an entrepreneur,” Itua says, whose startup helps restaurants reduce food waste by predicting demand and other factors using machine learning technology.
“This is not just a win for funding, this is huge validation because Velocity pitch quality is so high,” she adds. “I encourage anyone who has identified a problem to pursue their ideas — using the [University of Waterloo and Velocity] resources, anyone is more than capable of solving the problem.”
For Trash Talk’s Thanushon Sivakaran, mechatronics engineering undergrad, seeing his peers at previous Velocity $5K finals was the spark that eventually led to the pitch competition.
“I had looked into Velocity and attended workshops and brought my friends along,” Sivakaran says. “We created Trash Talk though our Capstone project, and when we saw last term’s pitch competition we thought ‘we can do that.’”
Trash Talk has designed an artificial intelligent mechanism to retrofit wastebins, directing users how to dispose their waste into the appropriate category, diverting waste from landfills. Trash Talk has started a pilot project with the University.
“It’s incredible to have access to resources at Waterloo, and it’s accessible to anyone who wants to make their dreams come true,” Faisal Sabri says, who pitched on behalf of the team.
Milk it!, a team of biomedical engineering undergrads Aarzoo Chennankunnath, Camryn MacDougall, Megan Richer and Leah Veldhui, won the People’s Choice Award. Their business idea is a device for HIV-positive, breastfeeding mothers that prevents transmission by deactivating the virus with UV-C light, while preserving the taste and nutritional value of breastmilk.
During the finals, Grand River Hospital Foundation’s CEO Paul McIntyre Royston (BMath '01) kicked off the Health Innovation Challenge, a partnership event with the University of Waterloo and Velocity. As part of the foundation’s Care Never Stops fundraising campaign, the challenge aims to unite the community to create a world-class health-care system in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.
“We can't sit still and assume things will get better,” Royston said. “We need your minds and brains to solve these problems — with Velocity and the University of Waterloo community.”
The Health Innovation Challenge takes place May 16 to 27 and includes roundtables, workshops and a live pitch competition finale with three prizes of $6K up for grabs.
The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is co-ordinated within the Office of Indigenous Relations.