Lisa Tran, Keith Choy, Jade Choy, and BETS student Ryan Schmied

Epoch team: Lisa Tran, Keith Choy, Jade Choy, and BETS student Ryan Schmied

A University of Waterloo startup team that hopes to support refugees once they’ve settled in Canada, has won the regional Hult Prize in London, England, bringing them one step closer to $1 million in seed funding for their social venture.

As a result of winning the regional title, the Epoch team will head to the Hult Prize Accelerator in Boston where they will develop their venture further. Then it’s on to Washington D.C., where Epoch will compete with four other ventures for the $1 million grand prize.

“The Epoch story so far has been Waterloo at its very best,” says Mark Weber, Eyton director of the Conrad Centre. “Students from different faculties came together in an interdisciplinary way to solve a real and important problem with the support of faculty members, peers, and the entrepreneurship support system of the University."

Successes like Epoch are possible when talent and purpose meet opportunity and support.” - Mark Weber

This year’s Hult Prize challenge, selected by former US President Bill Clinton, focused on building social enterprises to restore the rights of 10 million refugees by 2022. Epoch members include science and business student Lisa Tran, accounting and financial management student Jade Choy, and masters of accounting alumnus Keith Choy.

Helping refugees integrate into Canada by trading skills for services

The team’s online platform will help refugees integrate into Canada by trading their skills for other services. It acts as a matchmaker between people who have something to offer and those who need help. Epoch works by giving newcomers to Canada “time credits,” which means every hour a newly settled refugee helps someone, they bank an hour that can be used for services they may need in the future.

“As a team, we have seen firsthand the challenges that newcomers face in Canada,” says Tran. “Our solution gives access to community support and gives newcomers a way to contribute as well.”

Epoch’s journey began at the Hult Prize @ UWaterloo campus qualifier in November, led by Professor Nada Basir of the Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology Centre and sponsored by the Eyton Directorship of the Conrad Centre.

With the help of Basir, and supporters at the Conrad Centre and Waterloo’s School of Accounting and Finance, the team eventually moved into the Velocity Garage and hired first-year engineering student Ryan Schmied through the Conrad Centre’s Bridging Entrepreneurs to Students (BETS) program. BETS places entrepreneurial co-op students with early stage startups for project-based micro placements.