The plan board team

The Planboard team: Suraj Srinivas, William Zhou, Tony Cui and Ryan McKay.

When William Zhou started his computer science degree at the University of Waterloo he was also in the midst of launching his first company.

It was 2010, but after spending his first term as tech support for the startup that eventually got sold to a UK firm, Zhou vowed to focus on his studies.

But apparently, you can’t keep a good entrepreneur down.

In 2011, Zhou’s company Vetica Interactive launched a new venture called Planboard, which helps teachers from kindergarten through grade 12 plan lessons and share resources collaboratively. With more than 15,000 users and eight institutions signed on, as well as endorsements from the likes of the Ontario Teachers Federation, the tool is available as a free download with a school-wide offering that has additional features available as an upgrade. The iPad app launched recently.

The team’s goal is nothing short of becoming the name to know in educational technology. “There’s a lot of technology in every other sector, but education has lagged behind,” says Zhou. “At a student/teacher level for K-12, we think there’s a great opportunity.”

Waterloo connections help build startup

Waterloo connections abound in Planboard’s origin story: Zhou met partners Tony Cui and Ryan McKay-Fleming in classes and dorms at the University. He even met sales and marketing partner, Suraj Srinivas, during a co-op term at software company Sugar CRM in Silicon Valley.

Beyond personal contacts, the entrepreneurial support he got from Waterloo also provided a boost. Vetica won $25,000 in funding from the VeloCity Venture Fund last year, earning the team a spot in the VeloCity Garage. Planboard is one of 30 teams working in the Garage, which is part of the University’s student startup program. It provides free office space and opportunities for networking and entrepreneurial skill development. VeloCity, which has helped launch more than 45 companies, is celebrating its 5th anniversary this month.

“It’s a really great working space and community,” says Zhou. “VeloCity and Waterloo gave us a stamp of validation on our idea, and that really helped us out.”

After an exciting summer that saw Vetica take on a three-month summer fellowship in Silicon Valley and a second-place finish at a business plan competition in Singapore, the team has returned to Waterloo.

Following an eight-month term with Enterprise Co-op, a Waterloo program that allows students to develop their businesses, Zhou and McKay-Fleming have taken a leave of absence to continue working on the company full-time. Along with expanding their user base, the company is also growing its product line to include tools that focus on essentials like attendance and marking.