What is the Problem Pitch Competition?
The Problem Lab presents the Quantum Valley Investments® Problem Pitch. The competition invites teams of up to four students to choose an important industry problem and thoroughly research its history, scope, and impact. Students pitch their findings to a panel of judges to compete for a share of over $30,000 in funding.
Can I work independently/with a team?
We accept teams of 1-4 people. At least one team member must be a current University of Waterloo undergraduate or graduate student, full-time or part-time.
What do the winners receive?
Judges can award up to two teams with $7,500 in R&D funding to be spent within 1 year following the competition. This amount is eligible to be doubled if winners show adequate progress and financial need one year following the competition.
The Problem Pitch Competition is made possible by $300,000 in funding from Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, principals of Quantum Valley Investments® and founders of Blackberry.
What can the prize money be used for?
Funding from the Quantum Valley Investments® Problem Pitch is used by the teams to reimburse their research and development (R&D) expenditures. After the competition, those eligible for funding are provided with a reimbursement guide and overview of the existing process in place for expense claims. Teams are always encouraged to notify Problem Lab of the R&D purchases they intended to make to ensure they are eligible.
What is the process for using Problem Pitch funds?
Those student teams with access to Problem Pitch funding are given 1 year to spend the funds they have been awarded. Winners have the opportunity extend this deadline by completing and submitting a proposal template created by the Problem Lab.
There are existing processes within UWaterloo for submitting expense claims and invoices, and teams are provided with an overview of these processes after each Problem Pitch finals. Teams should contact the Problem Lab to notify them of the R&D purchases they wish to make or risk being denied reimbursement if their purchases are deemed ineligible. Once submitted to Finance, expense claims are paid at the end of each month, in accordance with UWaterloo’s existing payment/payroll schedule. In order to ensure expense claims are paid in a timely manner they must be submitted prior to the pay date submission cut-offs provided by UWaterloo Human Resources.
How are the winners determined?
The competition will culminate in a final pitch, where selected teams will pitch their problem to a panel of qualified, industry experienced judges. Judges will be provided with scoring criteria to determine which team has the best understanding of their chosen problem. Teams will deliver their pitches live, followed by up to 10 minutes of Q&A between the judges and each team.
How do I know if my problem is important or not?
Important problems are usually:
Repeatedly and urgently discussed
Systemic, affecting many different outcomes
If your problem meets most or all of these criteria, then it is likely an important problem. If it does not meet these criteria, it is likely not a problem worth solving. Our methods can further help you to identify important problems.
What research support is available?
The UWaterloo Library has a number of research databases to help you reseearch your chosen problem in their guide for Entrepreneurship & Innovation.
UWaterloo's Engineering & Entrepreneirship Librarian has created a research guide specifically for students in the Problem Pitch.
How do I apply?
You can apply using the online form on the Quantum Valley Investments® Problem Pitch page.
To apply, we ask that you choose a problem and complete an initial problem analysis, filling in each section. You may find it helpful to review our methodology as you complete the application.
Connect with a Problem Lab staff before the application deadline if you have any questions or just want to discuss your problem in depth.
Is there a rubric I can work from?
Though we cannot provide you the scoring rubric, we strongly suggest that you strive to answer the the relevant questions on our methodology page in each section of your application.
Should I include sources?
Teams are expected to provide a list of their references at the application stage of the competition. Our reviewers will make attempts to verify information provided within Problem Pitch applications.
How can I find information about the scale of an industry or company?
Market reports are invaluable for uncovering the scale of industries and companies. The UWaterloo Library pays for access to three major market report companies, IBISWorld, MarketLine and Frost & Sullivan. Visit the UWaterloo Library website to access these databases and search for the companies and industries affected by your chosen problem.
If you know the companies affected by your chosen problem are publicly-traded, another source of financial information is annual reports. Public companies are obligated to accurately report their financial wellbeing in publicly-available annual report documents that you will likely find on the company’s website. While you can find these reports on each company’s website or their associated investor website, aggregators, like AnnualReports.com, can be used to quickly search for annual reports. These annual reports are great resources to check out even if you have a found reports from IBISWorld and MarketLine. It is likely you will find a company discussing their direct competitors, industry challenges/risks, product challenges and how challenges are creating risk or affecting company performance.
What do I need to include in context?
Think about the type of information a person unfamiliar with your problem would need in order to fully understand it. This section is about explaining all the necessary information surrounding your problem as it relates to the present time. It may help to think about it this way, the context section could start where the history section ends.
For example, is there a new technology that needs to be explained for your problem to be understood? Is there is a highly scientific factor to the problem that readers/audiences need to be quickly educated on to understand your problem? In the past, we notice that engineering- and science-heavy problems tend to require greater explanations of the technical components to make sure the audience has a better understanding of the context and problem as a whole.
How should I organize the history?
While the length the history section may vary between subjects and teams, organizing the history as a timeline is a good way to present the information in a pitch. Start at the beginning and work your way to the present-day information. There is not a specific way to break up the section in terms of years, just make sure the reader knows when the discussed activities/information is taking place, (i.e. 1900s, 1970s, 1980s, etc.).
How far back in time does the history section need to go?
Go back as far as is relevant but do not dwell on events from ancient history. For example, authentication dates as far back as Mesopotamia but you are not expected to discuss authentication in the ancient world in incredible detail. Acknowledge that the history of the problem goes as far back as it does and devote the majority of your time to discussing the most important events in the history of your problem.
It is also important to remember that history goes beyond the digital age. This can also help to identify why a solution failed. For example, are solutions in law enforcement from the pre-digital era being applied to the same problem without being adjusted for the digital era? This could be a factor or even the main reason for a failed solution.
My problem is new, so the history doesn’t go back very long. What should I do in this section?
While it is possible to have identified a newer problem that does not have a long history, it is likely there are parallels between your identified problem and another problem. For example, the history of marijuana legalization is brief, but the history of alcohol legalization goes back much further. There are parallels that can be drawn between these two substances, like policy decisions, enforcement of intoxication laws, and the detection of intoxication levels.
Alternative answer: If the history of your problem is shorter, with no clear parallels to draw upon, you must make sure you understand all the attempted solutions and mistakes within the short history. It may also be wise to consider whether your Context section should be longer because the problem is newer and therefore, we need to understand more about the modern context of the problem.
I can’t find accounts that tell exactly why a solution failed. Where do I find this information?
You are not likely to find documentation that outlines all the ways an attempted solution failed. This is where your detailed knowledge of the problem helps you explain why a solution failed.
Given what you know about the chosen problem, what are the attempted solutions not addressing or taking into account? For example, if you know water treatment solutions are focusing on treating pathogens and know the amount of inorganic materials that reaches our water sources is increasing, makers of these solutions may be mistaken about the rising amounts of different contaminants.
When researching past solutions and why they failed to fully solve the identified problem, think about the incentive mechanisms that are inherent or produced by the solutions. For example, do increasingly complex password requirements incentivize users to use a small number of repeated passwords for all their logins?
Can you share examples of past winners’ pitch decks?
You are welcome to visit our YouTube page and watch videos submitted by a cohort of previous Problem Pitch finalists.
Please keep in mind that the requirements of the pitch (ie. length, content, stakeholder information, etc.) change from term to term. Current requirements and expectations may not be reflected in the videos on our Youtube page. If you have questions about how the competition has changed, ask one of the Problem Lab coaches!
How many slides should the deck be?
This will depend on your problem and your unique presentation style. Whether you use 6 slides or 30 slides to present your problem is up to you and how you construct your deck.
Should I include sources or a bibliography in my pitch deck?
You do not need a bibliography but you must include references to your sources. We recommend you add your references as footnotes on the bottom of the slides (but not in the Note section).
These references only require the following four pieces of information: author, date, title of article and title of the publisher; for example, Day, M. (6 June 2019). Amazon's Satellite Project Will Cost Billions, Jeff Bezos Says. Bloomberg.
What content should be included in my pitch deck?
The pitch deck should expand upon the initial research included in your pitch application. A simple way of “staying on track” is by answering all of the questions in each of the Scale, Context, History, and Failure Analysis sections on The Problem Lab Methodology page. However, given the unique qualities associated with a team's problem, teams will have the freedom to build their pitch deck as in a way that suits their problem.