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Four student teams take home $5,000 each at Concept $5K Finals

During Global Entrepreneurship Week, finalists competed for $5,000 grants to help them kick-start their businesses and turn their concepts into realities. From a fully autonomous commercial airline service to an innovative online food court, each competitor had just 3 minutes to pitch their tech-based business idea to a panel of judges.  

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Management Engineering student, Stephanie Mills pitching for CodeGEM

The Concept $5K Finals competition (previously known as the Velocity Fund Finals $5K) was hosted in the Student Life Centre at the University of Waterloo and drew in an audience of over two hundred. Having advanced from the Semi-Finals round, nine finalists took to the stage to pitch and compete for one of four Concept $5K Grants. The competition is held three times a year, and students from any faculty who want to build an early-stage startup can enter. 

This competition is about winning, but it’s also about inspiring the campus and other students to pursue their ideas too.
– Camelia Nunez, Director of Concept 

Winners of the Concept $5K Grants on Wednesday, November 20 fall 2019
Winners of the Concept $5K Grant on Wednesday, November 20.

Now we can add four more winners to our ‘Ones to Watch’ list:


CodeGEM is developing a feedback management system to quantify code improvements and promote better feedback. CodeGEM has had 20+ users install their system and will use the $5,000 to continue market validation. 

Team members: 
Stephanie Mills, Management Engineering
Ian Kemp, Management Engineering
Kaylyn Lau, Management Engineering


Flowy is building AI-powered digital transformation tools to commoditize frictionless automation. They currently have two demos in the pipeline and a letter of intent. Flowy will use the $5,000 to refine their software and implement their first pilot in 2020.

Team members:
Neil Liu, Computer Science
Kevin Cheng, Mathematics
David Zhao, Accounting and Financial Management


Ribbit aims to create the world’s first fully autonomous commercial airline service. Ribbit will use the $5,000 to validate its software on an actual flight marker, and in the future plan to buy a recreational plane to retrofit. 

Team members: 
Jeremy Wang, Ph.D. of Mechanical Engineering
Carl Pigeon, Master of Aerospace Engineering, University of Toronto


Scope is building lenses with electronically tunable optical power. Scope will put the $5,000 towards advanced prototyping materials and testing. In 2020 they aim to have a zooming system complete and to file their patents.

Team members:
Fernando Pena, Nanotechnology Engineering
Zhenle Cao, Nanotechnology Engineering
Ishan Mishra, Nanotechnology Engineering
Alisha Bhanji, Nanotechnology Engineering
Holden Beggs, Nanotechnology Engineering

The people who made the difficult decision of selecting the winners were three high-caliber judges. 

  • Amber French, Managing Partner and Co-founder of Catalyst Capital Inc
  • Sasha Herakovic, Vice President of Global Enterprise Support at BlackBerry
  • Oni Prisecaru, Vice President of Mergers and Acquisitions at Deloitte

Asking industry professionals with busy lives to judge the competition is a big ask, but all three found it worthwhile. 

“I’m really impressed with the caliber of presentations we saw. What you’re doing at this point in your career is fantastic, continue on your drive forward with passion. There was a strong deliberation period, and it came down to defensibility and which teams can best disrupt the market segment.”

– Sasha Herakovic, VP of Global Enterprise Support at BlackBerry

Before the pitches began and winners were announced, we hosted a fireside chat with a highly accomplished entrepreneur, Marcelo Cortes, Co-founder of Faire and Jay Shah, Director of Startups at the Velocity Incubator. Marcelo leveraged the support of the Velocity Incubator for his company Faire, a wholesale marketplace for independent local retailers and makers. Faire has been growing at an astonishing pace and on the heels of that growth recently secured a US$150-million Series D. Marcelo had many words of wisdom for the campus audience, including advice on career paths, choosing a co-founder, and operating a company.

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Marcelo Cortes and Jay Shah having a conversation during the fireside chat.

“A lot of our success is having learned from a high-performing startup like Square. In my opinion, if you can find the right startup to work for, that would be the best option. I had almost 10 years of experience before I started working at Square. There is a whole different world out there. There is chaos and constant change and you have to be comfortable in that environment to start a business of your own.”

– Marcelo Cortes, Co-Founder and CTO of Faire

Join us again in March 2020 to see what startup ideas are on the horizon and to hear from another notable alum. Thank you to the School of Accounting and Finance, specifically The Student Venture Fund for being an outstanding partner again this term. The Student Venture Fund proudly funded one of the $5K prizes today and members of the Fund were actively involved in the application process. 

For a complete list of the Fall 2019 finalists, read our earlier blog post. If you missed the event in person, you can view the live-stream recording on Facebook.

Photo Credit: Gary Evans Photography