Concept has a large network of coaches that give University of Waterloo students directions on their entrepreneurial journey. You can get a glimpse into their experience on our website, but there is so much more to them than a quick sentence! Well, look no further! Our Concept blogger sat down for a candid chat with Abdallah to talk about his entrepreneurial experience and what being a Concept Coach is all about.
Interview with Abdallah
This interview was conducted by Nicole Smedley. Some answers have been edited to be more concise.
You’re the CTO of NERv Technology. For those of us who don’t know, what is NERv Technology’s mission?
We’re a medical device company, centered out of the University of Waterloo. Our mission really is to bring post-operative care into the 21st century. Especially for higher risk surgeries, a lot of the risk actually lies in the post-operative (recovery) period. In our observation and learning of that space, we were surprised by how little tools healthcare teams have to support the monitoring and diagnosis of patients after surgery. As is the case in many fields but especially in medicine, early intervention is always key to higher efficacy and lower morbidity.
Can you tell me some of your work experience (before NERv)?
My work experience was diverse between academia and industry. During my undergrad, which was in Biomedical Engineering, I did a lot of work in research assistant positions, all engineering related. I worked in media, software, a bit of robotics, hardware and imaging.
From there I did a thesis-based Masters in Electrical Engineering, which was really practical in terms of the project. It allowed me to hone my skillset a bit. Then I worked in imaging for medical applications. Also during my Masters, I took an internship at Apple on the camera team at their headquarters.
Finally, after my Masters, I took on a job at a design house where we worked on high-tech integrated circuits for things like cutting edge capacitive touch technologies, high-speed communications for satellites across space and some new processing techniques to speed up and enable the AI revolution.
Can you tell me about NERv’s connection to Concept by Velocity?
NERv started off as a fourth-year design project by two founders- Yousef and Amr, who were nanotech undergrads. When they started, they did their work out of Velocity Science, which has evolved to Concept Science. This was instrumental because it gave our early founders the space, but more importantly the mentorship and access to guidance that they needed to start a company and understand what it means to take the technology from the lab into the commercial world.
From there, we moved into the Velocity Incubator. This was around the time that I joined. The incubator just really ramped up the amount of mentorship that we got from people like Adrien Côté and Jay Shah, as well as the general ecosystem of startups. There’s a lot of shared experience- sometimes something you would normally have to research for a few days can be found by speaking to the person sitting a few desks over. Even now, we’re still very much affiliated with Velocity.
NERv has also won some very impressive awards, hasn’t it?
Absolutely! From early on, we were trying to participate in every possible pitch competition we could. We participated in Enactus through the University of Waterloo and won the Enactus award. There were many other smaller competitions here and there. We also participated in DFF, but did not end up winning there, which was unfortunate but our competition was fierce and they were very much deserving.
The biggest highlight for us recently was participating in the Entrepreneurship World Cup, which was an international competition that brought together over 100,000 applicants from across the world. We participated in the regionals in Canada and won, then represented Canada on the international stage in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia last November. There were 96 finalists from across the world. After making it through several elimination rounds, we won first place! We felt very proud because of NERv and being able to showcase the mission that we have on an international stage, but also because we were able to represent Canada on the world stage. Canada really does have a strong ecosystem and I think it’s worth letting others around the world know about the sort of support and entrepreneurial culture we’re building.
So as someone who has experience as a winner of numerous entrepreneurial competitions, do you have any advice for students entering a competition, such a the Concept $5K Grant?
It’s easier said than done but- be fearless. My other advice would be to be very obsessive about the problem, but not so much about your one idea of a solution. You want to start off understanding and validating that the need is real, without being so married and attached to one particular way of addressing it.
I could bet my kidney that most applicants stop at the application stage and don’t even put an application through. I understand why. The kind of feeling that you have in your gut that what you’re working on is not good enough and that someone else is going to be better. But there are plenty of problems in the world that could really use your time and energy and be really rewarding for you as an individual. So submit that application, beat those guts. If it doesn’t work out this time, that’s fine! People often feel pressure to shine really early on, but the reality is that for most of us, it comes whenever it comes, often later in life. You’ll learn a lot along the way through your entrepreneurial journey and that supports you and makes your chances of success a lot higher.
So now that you know a bit more about Abdallah and coaching sessions, why not book one for yourself and experience his expertise? Our extensive network of Concept Coaches have a wealth of experience that they will gladly share. Whether you need advice on your startup idea, some guidance on next steps, pitch coaching, or just general inquiries about how to get your foot in the entrepreneurial door, they can help!