“CyberNorth Ventures presents the next potential $1 Billion Companies”
By Rachel Bartholomew, CyberNorth Ventures
Taking inspiration from Marc Andreessen’s “The 55 Unknown Rock Stars in Tech”, CyberNorth Ventures presents “The 55 Rock Stars of Waterloo”, a list of innovators in idea creation and community support.
The State of Entrepreneurship in Waterloo
Over the past 5 years, manufacturing has been replaced by technology as the dominant industry in Waterloo Region, driven in part by the University of Waterloo’s Intellectual Property (IP) Policy, which grants IP rights to the creators. Government, university and local incubator support of capital and resources to the entrepreneurial eco-system has fostered a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. However, the individuals driving the development are largely unknown outside the Waterloo technology community.
Mike Lazaridis, co-founder of BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion) put Waterloo on the map globally with the BlackBerry smartphone. A graduate and supporter of the University of Waterloo, he has inspired the next generation of innovators to become entrepreneurs and turn their ideas into products. Start up companies, such as Thalmic Labs, Clearpath Robotics, Kik, Miovision and BufferBox have grown through the local ecosystem and their success has stimulated a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship for others to follow.
Howard Armitage, special advisor on entrepreneurship to the University of Waterloo’s president Dr. Feridun Hamdullahpur states, “Waterloo has a unique ecosystem that was established through the cooperation of influential and concerned business individuals, corporations, universities and government. Together, they have created the foundation for the next generation of business leaders and innovators. The University is at the nucleus of this remarkable ecosystem. Working closely with community, business and government partners, it is creating opportunities for young innovators to develop the core knowledge and entrepreneurial skills resulting in enormous contributions that will transform business and society”
The academic and business community is fostering this spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship in Waterloo Region, with many companies vying to be the next billion-dollar company, but without development and growth stage capital, their dreams may never happen. Funding from business pitch competitions, incubators, accelerators, the universities and the government is only taking these companies so far. Start-ups are left starving for capital and choose to leave the Waterloo Region for Silicon Valley or New York City to discover funding opportunities or be acquired by larger, US-based companies.
Why 55 Rock Stars?
CyberNorth Ventures Inc., a Waterloo-born Venture Capital firm that was founded by University of Waterloo graduates and has been in business for over 19 years with a strong track record of transforming technology to successful companies. Gary Bartholomew, CEO of CyberNorth Ventures believes “investors worldwide are recognizing the opportunity to invest in the Waterloo Region. They acknowledge that Waterloo infrastructure rivals Silicon Valley at a fraction of the cost, and that the Regions talent is on the cutting edge of commercializing some of the most disruptive technologies. The investment opportunity right now is immense” and the 55 Rock Stars are indicative of the brilliant ideas that are being implemented in the region today.
What he does: Medella Health is developing a nano-technology, smart contact lens that monitors glucose levels and transmits the data to a mobile device in real-time, to help patients better manage their diabetes.
What makes him a Rock Star: Culture. “We pride ourselves in the culture that we’ve built as Medellians. It’s not just about the lunch get-togethers and the team sports, but it’s also about how well we work as a team during the troughs and difficult patches.”
What he does: MAJiK Systems provides software solutions to help manufacturers with complex workflows keep their production on schedule.
What makes him a Rock Star: “Based on industry feedback, we have been making great advances in our technology, enabling manufacturers to track their actual production attainment and make adjustments to their scheduling based on workflows and upcoming demand.”
What he does: Hive is a platform that helps artists and celebrities build, engage and sell directly to their fan base.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We have done over $2 million in sales since starting the company in January 2014 and just returned to Waterloo after graduating from the Y Combinator summer ’14 batch.”
What he does: Rock Star Café is Canada’s first youth-centric, entrepreneurial and sustainable coffee house.
What makes him a Rock Star: “The success of our pilot event, which proved the concept and made initial revenue. The partnerships we built with the startup community were also vital and continue to grow. Lastly, the energy that came from our launch event was truly inspiring and validated the fact that our business was something that students actually want.”
What they do: Suncayr is developing a nano-technology, pen-like marker that changes color when your sunscreen is no longer protecting you, which gives you the awareness you need to fully enjoy every day you spend outside.
What makes them Rock Stars: “After just six months from founding, we created a working prototype that led us to finish 2nd in the world at the James Dyson Award competition.”
What he does: Vitameter is a handheld device that measures vitamin levels from a single drop of blood and tracks deficiencies over time on a smart phone.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We are a proud member of the Velocity Science program at the University of Waterloo.”
10. Chase Denomme
What he does: POET (Point of Experience Technology) is an interactive customer engagement platform that helps retailers increase sales, gain insights and improve the in-store experience.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We won ‘Best of Best’ for integrated media at Digifest 2014.”
What he does: Grobo is a personalized, app-controlled, in-home gardening system that lets anyone grow a successful garden at any time of the year.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We won $25k in the Velocity Fund Finals 2014.”
What he does: Boogaloo Bunks is developing modular privacy pods for shared sleeping spaces such as travel hostels, university residences, and low income housing.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We have sold 20 Boogaloo’s to the University of Waterloo residences to solve roommate issues surrounding privacy, light, and sound.”
What he does: NERv is a nano-technology platform capable of detecting post-operative complications.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We built partnerships with hospitals, such as St. Joseph’s Hospital in Toronto, specialized medical centers and Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, to help develop and benefit from the technology.”
What he does: Lani makes 3D printing easy and automatic for everyone.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We design, upload a model and send to print in 2 minutes to high-end printer (currently working on handling about $1.5M in equipment). We make 3D printing 90% more efficient and reduce it to 3 simple steps: Upload, Pay, and Get.”
What he does: SponsorsOne is a social commerce platform that brings elite sponsorship to the masses as a new form of digital marketing and commerce within the social economy.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We completed an RTO, listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange (CSE:SPO) and raised over $3.5 million in Toronto with some of Canada’s top Small-Cap fund managers.”
What he does: PiinPoint is enabling businesses to find the best location for expansion.
What makes him a Rock Star: We work with some of the largest brand names in the world to identify optimal sites for expansion.
What he does: Local Line is a system to connect chefs with local food sources in their communities. The platform maps out local sources of food for chefs and facilitates direct transactions from farm to fork, promoting relationship building between chefs and farmers.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We have been nominated for Small Business of the Year by the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce.”
What he does: Ticketfi is an online event discovery and registration platform for universities. Students can find and register for events and provides analytics to the event organizers to help them understand their attendee demographics, engagement level, and key metrics.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We launched our beta in September and have since penetrated 7 university campuses, sold over 3000+ tickets and hosted over 80+ events. We are used by the University of Waterloo Public Affairs Office, Federation of Students, Conrad Business Entrepreneurship and Technology, TEDx and DECA”
What he does: Reno is a wristband that generates electricity from waste heat, such as body heat, to charge smart watches or smart phones.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We have won both Most Innovative and People’s Choice awards at the 2014 Velocity Fund competition.”
What he does: Doppel is a wearable technology startup that has developed a motion tracking smart garment to assist coaches and athletes to track form and technique in real time.
What makes him a Rock Star: “A number of varsity athletes, provincial league amateurs, and even professional NHL players from 4 different teams have signed up to test our product.”
What he does: Chalk.com provides K-12 teachers with a suite of tools for lesson planning, marking and collaboration.
What makes him a Rock Star: “Our platform is used in 20,000 schools by over 100,000 teachers.”
What he does: SparkGig is the up and coming online marketplace building international communities of live performers and event hosts while making a change for charitable causes.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We started in Kitchener-Waterloo and are now expanding to NYC, working with the big players like GQ, UN and PwC.”
What he does: Neverfrost is a nano-technology clear film designed to protect windshields from natural and seasonal elements, such as insulating against summer heat, preventing frost during winters and avoiding stone chips on windshields.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We recently graduated from Y Combinator’s S14 batch and we are one of the first nanotechnology start-ups to have been through Y Combinator.”
What she does: Plum scientifically measures job applicants’ fit to the hiring company’s unique role. The Plum hiring system provides crucial information about who your applicants are, and how they will perform on the job, before you even read a resume.
What makes her a Rock Star: “We bootstrapped to over 80 paying customers with over 150 hires and over 30,000 applicants.”
What he does: Voltera‘s circuit board rapid prototyping printer enables hardware professionals and hobbyists to cut down their development time from weeks to minutes, drastically reducing their time to market.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We won the 2015 TechCrunch hardware battlefield championship and blew past our Kickstarter goal in 35 minutes with over 100 printers sold in 8 hours.”
What she does: Apartmint is a one stop location to find your next rental home.
What makes her a Rock Star: “Growing our team. As we grow and expand our team, we bring on people that are dedicated to building a business that will ultimately change how we find rental homes. Everyone on our team has something to bring to the table and that diversity enables us to grow and build out our business.”
27. Renishaki Kamal
What she does: theBIKEproject has designed a device called the ‘the Fidget’ that facilitates movement for children with Autism.
What makes her a Rock Star: “We were one of the 113 semifinalists for a worldwide competition across 96 countries with over 7000 applicants. Also, we were one of the top 25 women entrepreneurs out of 96 interviewed applicants across Canada for Google’s women entrepreneur boot camp. Lastly, we were one of the top 10 companies who qualified to pitch for $15K at the end of a two week boot camp.”
What he does: Palette is the first free-form hardware interface that offers tactile control of your favorite software.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We exceeded our Kickstarter goal raising $158k, and we start shipping to customers this April.”
29-31. Christophe Biocca, Paul Donald & Ronuk Raval
What they do: Encircle is a home inventory solution for homeowners with the easiest claims and pack out tool for insurance industry professionals.
What makes them Rock Stars: “We are used by both Gore Mutual and North Waterloo Farmers Mutual, as well as many restoration companies across southern Ontario.
What he does: Blitzen enables SMBs to simplify and automate customer data workflows.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We surpassed our $500K ARR milestone and we are an AngelPad accelerator alumni.”
What he does: Structur3D Printing is bringing soft materials to the 3D printing market, beginning with the Discov3ry extruder.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We were told by a major retail partner in our market that no competitor even comes close to what we do.”
34-35. Daxal Desai & Ashutosh Syal
What they do: EyeCheck is working to eliminate preventable blindness by making vision assessment mobile and accessible.
What makes them a Rock Star: “After winning Velocity Venture Fund in Fall 2014 and a sales and testing trip in India our team is regrouping and preparing a beta test round.”
36. Mohamed Musbah
What he does: Maluuba is a technology startup building the go-to Natural Language Processing platform for voice interactions, conversational dialogue and natural-language search.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We are currently powering natural language experiences on tens of millions of devices for multiple platforms and verticals across the world.”
What he does: Eve revolutionizes evenings and events by connecting people to the best local events in real-time and empowering them with a on-demand VIP experience.
What makes him a Rock Star: “After launching our mobile apps, in 4 months we achieved a 5% free to paid conversion rate.”
What he does: Kue manufactures a time-release caffeine capsule that is taken before bed, but activates 8 hours later, ensuring you wake up with energy for the day ahead.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We have got our mechanism to work in the lab and release after 8 hours consistently, which proved that our product will be ready for release in the near future.”
What they do: Plasticity is building the happiest workforce. The first-of-its-kind platform measures, connects and trains in the traits of the highest-performing teams while analyzing data to prove the ROI of happier workplace cultures. (Lance not shown)
What makes them Rock Stars: “Our third customer loved and believed in our product so much, they invested $1.9 Million in us.”
What he does: Ourotech makes medical 3D printers that turn MRIs and other medical scans into realistic, physical models. This allows surgeons to prepare and practice for an operation before putting a patient’s life at risk; increasing the success rate, saving money, saving time and saving lives.
What makes him a Rock Star: “He came up with the idea for Ourotech at the age of 18 and is a candidate for Canada’s Top 20 Under 20.”
What he does: Anokasan Capital facilitates training and relationship building between East Asian investors and Canadian Aboriginal communities to establish mutually beneficial investment partnerships.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We won first place at the University of Waterloo Asia Entrepreneur Series in Beijing, China in the categories of ‘most innovative’ and ‘most likely to receive investment’.”
What he does: Videostream allows a user to stream videos from their computer to their TV, wirelessly and in HD with one click.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We have had massive growth to hundreds of thousands of weekly actives and almost a million downloads in under a year.”
45. Ryan Gerakopulos
What he does: NanoQuan produces and sells nano-composites that deliver a new level of material performance not previously possible.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We have engaged with senior scientists from leading global material manufacturers that have spent decades trying to produce materials with the properties that NanoQuan can deliver today. NanoQuan is creating new technologies to tackle critical, unmet performance and processing needs of global plastic, rubber, and elastomer manufacturers.”
The Community Supporters
What she does: HackerNest is a not-for-profit organization working to connect and build a sense of community within 20 different technology communities around the world.
What makes her a Rock Star: “We have over 1000 members in our group and typically get 150-250 at our bimonthly tech socials.”
What he does: Hack the North is Canada’s premier hackathon. It’s an event where students form teams around a problem or idea, and collaboratively code a unique solution from scratch.
What makes him a Rock Star: “We bring together 1000 students from all over the world with different technical backgrounds and skill levels to create amazing products in a weekend.”
What they do: UW Entrepreneurship Society is a hub for the students and community of the University of Waterloo to learn more about the innovation space in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.
What makes them Rock Stars: “We had over 400 students and members of the entrepreneurial community reach out during a week long entrepreneurship event called “What’s Your Idea Week” focusing on idea generation, mentorship, networking, and pitching.”
Twitter: @chinyeamanda, @michaelwithana, @UWEntSoc
50-51. Darren Conley & Stephen Campbell
What they do: We are hosts of the Tech Startup Podcast (TSP Weekly), a podcast where we interview a different Kitchener-Waterloo tech start-up each week so that the world can know about the awesome ideas developing in the region.
What makes them Rock Stars: “We gained the respect and support of the movers and shakers in the Kitchener-Waterloo start-up ecosystem after starting 30 episodes ago, while initiating, creating and producing over 30 hours of unique content with nothing more than an idea and some microphones.”
What he does: Canada’s Technology Triangle Inc. is a not-for-profit, public-private regional Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) partnership that markets the competitive advantages of the Waterloo Region to the world, to attract businesses, investment and talent to the Region.
What makes him a Rock Star: He recruited Sysco Connect Canada, a Fortune 100 company that generated more than $44 billion in sales in 2013, to the Waterloo region to open an office for over 95 new jobs in sales, customer support, administration and management.
Twitter: @techtriangle, @jason_kipfer
What he does: He is a mentor at the Accelerator Centre working with startups, emerging and established companies that need to drive more revenue, build better customer retention and grow a sustainable business.
What makes him a Rock Star: “He has 7 years of mentoring experience with 130 early-stage technology startups at the Waterloo Accelerator Centre, creating 1100+ new jobs, and generating over $120 million in revenue. 40 companies have graduated from the Accelerator Centre, with more than 85 percent of these companies remaining in Waterloo Region.”
What she does: St. Paul’s GreenHouse is a live-in social innovation community where students work collaboratively in an entrepreneurial atmosphere to develop solutions to pressing social and environmental problems.
What makes her a Rock Star: She has helped take the 2 year old GreenHouse program from a well-meaning idea to a viable social community that has doubled its number of innovators in one year.
What he does: He works at the Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship & Technology Centre, a Faculty of Engineering at the University of Waterloo, working with undergraduate startups through the Enterprise Co-op program. He supports the start-up ecosystem of student programs and organizations on campus and in the Waterloo Region by actively encouraging networking processes, guest speaking and identifying new opportunities with start-ups.
What makes him a Rock Star: “He has developed processes at the university to directly foster entrepreneurship. In his 6 years at the university, he has taught and mentored over 300 student run start-ups. He is also nominated for BDC’s “Mentor of the Year 2015” award.