Five entrepreneurs who are part of the University of Waterloo’s startup ecosystem have been chosen to be members of the prestigious Next 36 program.

The Next 36 entrepreneurs will spend seven months building their companies with up to $80,000 in seed money, the support of mentors, a unique academic program and a pool of business advisors. The program has contributed to the success of industry-changing startups including Thalmic Labs, founded by Waterloo mechatronics engineering graduates.

Four of this year’s Next 36 members are current Waterloo students and one graduated last year:

  • Amin Ghafelehbashi, a fourth-year systems design engineering student
  • Mark Kryshtalskyj, a fourth-year science & business student and founder of Rockstar Café
  • Dezhen Li, a computer science student
  • Michael Reid, a third-year management engineering student, and co-founder of SparkGig
  • Farzana Yusufali, a 2014 nanotechnology engineering graduate, and member of Grayscale Coatings startup team

Reid, says his team which connects talented performers with event planners, is in the process of brainstorming ideas for a startup to work on in The Next 36 program. Waterloo Engineering provides students with a good framework for solving problems and learning new concepts quickly, says Reid. "These two skills are very helpful in entrepreneurship," he adds.

Waterloo students connect startups to co-op 

Michael ReidReid, along with Ghafelehbashi and Kryshtalskyj, have also been part of the University of Waterloo’s Enterprise Co-op program run by the Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology Centre.

Ghafelehbashi said he wouldn't be part of N36 without, “Waterloo Engineering’s unique programs and support for new venture creation. Our engineering environment has nurtured a culture of collaboration, creativity and relentless risk-taking."

Micheal Reid

Waterloo's entrepreneurial students travel

Amin GhfelehbashiAmin Ghafelehbashi

During the last five years, Ghafelehbashi has worked at five different companies in five different cities. During his last co-op term, he worked as an API Technical Writer at Google in New York City where he was recognized for going above and beyond expectations. He was offered a full-time position with Google but turned it down to pursue his dream of becoming an entrepreneur.

Yusufali is part of the Grayscale Coatings startup developing a reflective roof coating that will cool in warm months and heat in cool months. Yusufali and Reid have both won Norman Esch Entrepreneurship Awards, sponsored by the Conrad Centre.

Since graduating from nanotechnology engineering last spring, Yusufali has attended OCAD to pursue her interests in visual arts and industrial design and is working with her fourth-year Capstone Design project team to bring Grayscale Coatings to market.

Science student launches youth-centric coffee house  

Mark KryshalskyjMark Kryshtalskyj

As the founder of the Rockstar Cafe, Kryshtalskyj is creating Canada’s first youth-centric, sustainable and entrepreneurial coffee house. In addition to committing to a goal of zero consumer waste, the Rockstar Café will offer a place for ambitious youth to meet  peers, develop ideas and find resources, tools, and funding for their projects. The café connects students with real world opportunities by hosting events featuring local business leaders. “We want to help students find their passion and purpose so they can make a tangible impact today,” says Kryshtalskyj.

The successful applicants for the N36 program competed in an intense National Selection Weekend. "On the Friday we had about six hours of back-to-back interviews," says Reid. "The most valuable takeaway for me was networking." 

Farzana YusufaliFarzana Yusufali

Yusufali says that besides the interviews with CEOs and the general pressure of the situation, meeting all of the finalists was inspiring and intimidating at the same time.

"The educational experience through the guest speakers, panel discussions, and meetings with our mentors was also very insightful in what starting a business would entail and what would be expected of us," she says.