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Graduate Student Startup Fund Winners

While Concept may be best known for the $5K Pitch Competition, we provide so much more for entrepreneurial UWaterloo students. Recognizing their deep specialized knowledge and commitment to their research, last year we created a fund exclusively for Grad Students and Postdocs. Thanks to the incredible generosity of Sam Pasupalak, co-founder of Maluuba (acquired by Microsoft in 2017) we are able to provide funding for promising Grad Students and Postdocs to help commercialize their research and create startups. 

The Graduate Student Startup Fund runs once a year and awards $35,000 to three graduate students or postdocs looking to turn their research into a startup. First place receives $20,000, second place $10,000 and third place $5,000. 

This year, we received twenty four impressive applications from Masters and PhD candidates, as well as postdoctoral fellows across all six faculties. From those, eight were invited for an in person interview. A unique feature about our Grad Student Startup Award is that it is awarded through an in person interview rather than a pitch competition. All of the teams showed great potential and wowed our judges with their knowledge and passion, which made the decision making process even more difficult. Ultimately, three teams stood out above the rest. 

Taking home the prizes this year are the following high-potential grad students: 

1st Place: Majid MirzaESG Tree

PhD Candidate in Sustainability Management, Faculty of Environment

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Majid is looking at new ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) legislation, disclosure, compliance and reporting requirements for investment managers as well as widely adopted responsible investment frameworks like the UNPRI, SDGs and B-Corp. As part of this research, he is assessing whether these regulations and frameworks can be aggregated into an automated, cloud-based system for ESG management to serve investment managers and the companies they represent.

The funding received will help Majid and the ESG Tree team to create a minimum viable product to be implemented by a partner who they have signed a letter of intent with. This will enable ESG Tree to start collecting, analyzing and reporting data through this system and go through an R&D process to improve their product before full commercialization.  They are aiming to commercialize on a year timeline, which was greatly accelerated as a result of this big win! 

2nd Place: Jeremy Wang – Ribbit

PhD Candidate, Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, Faculty of Engineering

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Jeremy, a previous Concept $5K Winner is developing aircraft collision avoidance algorithms that allow airplanes to fly themselves safely and efficiently. This research is being applied to Ribbit, a startup that is retrofitting planes to make them fully autonomous and eliminate the need for pilots to transport cargo. They plan to start the first ever cargo airline with fully autonomous planes. 

Jeremy and the Ribbit team will use this grant to purchase parts for the plane they are currently retrofitting. The plan to buy radar and sensors that will let the airplane monitor the airspace, similar to the way self-driving cars monitor other cars and road conditions. This summer they plan to conduct proof-of-concept test flights, so next time you see a plane overhead, don’t worry about waving, it may be pilot free! 

3rd Place: Kate ElliottChanging the Flow

MA Candidate Public Issues Anthropology, Faculty of Arts

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Kate is researching the challenges that women experiencing homelessness face when trying to manage their health. Her startup, Changing The Flow aims to de-stigmatize menstruation with public engagement, providing education on period poverty, and supporting organizations in how to implement menstrual equity. 

This grant will enable Changing The Flow to further establish themselves as a leading organization offering consulting services on menstrual equity. They will continue to work with local organizations and plan to launch data collection on menstrual equity beyond women experiencing homelessness. 

Keep an eye out for these promising startups from some incredible University of Waterloo Grad Students! Our first place winner from last year, Jason DeGlint, is currently working on his AI powered water quality monitoring startup Blue Lion Labs in the Velocity Incubator. If you have an interest in commercializing research of your own, you can get started on this path by talking to one of our Concept Coaches, they can help you prepare to compete in this competition and win funding of your own!