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How a Fourth-Year Design Project Became a Startup: The Story of Palette

The end of winter signals an important time for University of Waterloo engineering students as they showcase their fourth-year design projects at the Capstone Design Symposium. Groups of up to four students have the opportunity to conceptualize and design a project related to their discipline in their final year of study. We connected with Calvin Chu from Palette, to learn how their startup grew from a Capstone Design project in 2013, after he and three other Mechatronics Engineering students focused on solving the problem of human computer interaction through a hardware project.

Inspired by professional DJs and the audio world, who have dedicated tools of the trade, Palette is made for creatives, and puts an interface that controls any software in the hands of ordinary users. Simply snap together sliders, dials, and buttons magnetically to create a personalized interface for your favourite software, like Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop or Final Cut Pro. Its modularity and customization is valuable for photographers, videographers, and designers, allowing them to edit faster and with heightened precision.

“We are surrounded by a world of diverse digital experiences, yet we’re using a one-size-fits-all interface. That’s why Palette is making a tool that’s as diverse as its users, and their work.” – Co-founder of Palette, Calvin Chu

After Calvin completed his undergrad in the spring of 2013, he packed his bags for Shenzhen, China to join 10 companies in the 3rd cohort of HAX Accelerator, the world’s first and largest hardware accelerator. Once their hardware was nailed down, Palette began a Kickstarter campaign that successfully raised over $150K in sales. Then in 2014, Palette won $25,000 in funding at the Velocity Fund Finals, and started working full-time out of the Velocity Garage. Given the initial Capstone project’s focus on design, it’s also fitting that Palette won for the prestigious UX Design Award Gold at Berlin’s IFA. Palette gear is now available for purchase worldwide, with retailers like Henry’sB&H Photos and Video, and Light+Byte carrying their products.

As much as Calvin says they love being part of the Velocity community, they are currently searching for an office space to call their own. Palette now has 9 members, and if you are looking for a job they are actively hiring a Product Design Engineer, Embedded Systems Lead, Digital Marketing Manager, and Software Tester to grow their team.