UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day: Celebrating Waterloo founders
Waterloo women are leading startups that will allow you to use your smartphone to detect eye problems and a medical fabric to promote faster healing
Waterloo women are leading startups that will allow you to use your smartphone to detect eye problems and a medical fabric to promote faster healingBy Staff Velocity
Rachel Friesen studies international development and business and is the co-founder of EyeCheck, a company that is working to eliminate preventable blindness by making vision assessment more accessible.
She describes her entrepreneurial journey as a winding path, based on a diverse range of opportunities to explore her interests within the University ecosystem. “I have never been on a one-track lane. I just wanted to try everything!”
Friesen has these words of encouragement to prospective women entrepreneurs: “There’s no better time than now to be a woman entrepreneur, so don’t undervalue what you can bring to a situation. Apply to industries that don’t necessarily fit with your background, and don’t feel like you have to prove yourself because you’re a woman or because you don’t come from a STEM background.”
Alexa Roeper is a biomedical sciences student, and co-founder of Penta Medical, which is developing a medical fabric to promote faster and less painful healing. Roeper got to where she is today through hard work, but also credits the startup community at the Velocity Foundry as a source of support.
“You want your mentor to be someone who is six months ahead of you to help you with the tiny, but critical, things,” says Roeper. She notes that the community is “a great resource because everyone is willing to help one another and it doesn’t feel like a competitive environment at all.”
Penta Medical has built a strong team, which Roeper believes is a testament to the University of Waterloo’s co-op program, and applied academic programs. “New programs like materials and nanoscience and biomedical engineering fill the knowledge gaps that are coming up as new technology is being developed.”
Laura Smith, is a computer engineer and co-founder of Pout, an app to show and tell, inspire, discover and explore the fashion industry. Smith discovered her passion for science and math at an early age, leading her to pursue her engineering dream.
Smith values the applied work experience she acquired as a student: “I pursued mobile internships because I knew that’s where everything was going, and as a teen I was interested in fashion and beauty, and figuring out that part of who I was.”
Smith also recognizes the importance of community and mentorship: “We became pretty tight with Ted Livingston from Kik. He has helped us make some key decisions.” Smith also notes that due to limited early-stage resources, "the free workspace at the Velocity Garage where we work every day is a huge asset.”
With active users in over 150 countries, Pout is taking the fashion world by storm. Laura wants to make sure women entrepreneurs know to continually push their boundaries. “Always continue to question. ‘Why can’t I do this? Why not me?’ ”
Both EyeCheck and Pout are former winners of the Velocity Fund Finals, a pitching competition that offers $125,000 in grants to emerging startups each term. Penta Medical is a finalist in this term’s Velocity Fund Finals on November 26. Register here to watch. Find out more about entrepreneurship opportunities at the University of Waterloo.