Students in ideal position to be innovators
“The best time to start being an entrepreneur is when you’re a university student because you have little to lose,” says Milan Todorovic, president of the Calgary Tesla Society. The society aspires to raise a full-size statue of Tesla on campus, “to inspire even more students to — as Tesla did — dream big, work hard and be selfless,” Todorovic says.
The Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking at UCalgary presented the other $1,500 award of the night. The Hunter Hub Student Innovation Award went to Maggie Young and Alex Chalamova. Young is a communication student in the Faculty of Arts and Chalamova a computer science student in the Faculty of Science.
The pair co-founded ParkChamp, a Calgary company whose software application enables drivers using their mobile phone to find, reserve and pay for affordable and convenient parking, and property owners to rent their empty parking stalls.
“By being a part of the Innovation Reactor, we were able to make connections with important people, learn from experts in the field, and share our new business with people just as passionate about entrepreneurship as we are,” Young says.
Celebrate and learn from failure
Six UCalgary student-led teams, selected from more than 20 entries, made three-minute pitches about their innovations in front of about 200 people. The fledgling entrepreneurs also heard words of wisdom from a panel of speakers who started or work at successful, innovation-driven companies originally initiated at the university.
UCalgary alumnus Mark Blackwell, chief operating officer at GNS3 Technologies, moderated the panel, during which he stressed the importance of entrepreneurs “celebrating failure and learning from it.” Blackwell launched and sold a technology company in Silicon Valley before returning to Calgary, where he opened an innovation centre downtown last week.
“Students need to hear the stories of people who have gone before them, to understand that it’s not as scary as it seems to make the leap and start a business. It’s mission critical,” Blackwell says.
Smartwatch developer Seyed is happy he made the leap. He received a scholarship early in his PhD from the Hunter Hub that allowed him to expand his entrepreneurial skills with classes on business, marketing and entrepreneurship.
Last year, he won a Google scholarship to participate in an academic retreat that included students from MIT and Harvard, and he was invited back this year as a student mentor. Google is now interested in commercializing his smart watch with Android Wear.
“If I can show that this kind of innovation can be done in Calgary, then I think it will open the doors for other students to do these ‘crazy’ things that are in their heads,” Seyed says.
The second annual Innovation Reactor was also supported by the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Hunter Hub, W21C, and Innovate Calgary.
Innovation Reactor’s panel of tech companies and their speakers:
Innovation Reactor’s pitching teams and their innovations:
BClean — a wearable device that reminds, records and reports all hand hygiene activities in health care institutions, to prevent and reduce infections.
- Ziad Paracha (Haskayne School of Business)
- Shahum Chaudhry (Haskayne School of Business)
- David Garett (Department of Electrical Engineering, Schulich School of Engineering)
- Alex Sheldon (Department of Electrical Engineering, Schulich School of Engineering)
Doppio — a smart watch that enables doctors and other health care professionals to view and prioritize pager messages and respond proactively to emergencies.
- Teddy Seyed (Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Science)
- Xing-Dong Yang (Dartmouth College)
- Daniel Vogel (University of Waterloo)
- Kris Hans (Market Grade)
- Sonny Shoker (Market Grade)
DME (Dyes, Materials and Energy) — lightweight, flexible and inexpensive solar cells made from chemically modified organic dyes.
- Jonathan Cann (Department of Chemistry, Faculty Science)
- Greg Welch (Welch Research Group, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science)
ParkChamp — a website application that reinvents the parking experience and helps solve everyday parking pains.
- Maggie Young (Department of Communication, Media and Film, Faculty of Arts)
- Alex Chalamova (Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Science)
Heartspoon — a website application that enables people to buy food directly and safely from at-home cooks.
- Hong Jing Feng (Faulty of Law)
- Thuy Anh Nguyen (Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Schulich School of Engineering)
- Priyaa Varshinee (Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Science)
MJam — a social networking application to pair up music teachers with students who want to learn how to play an instrument at an affordable price.
- Negin Aliyeva (Schulich School of Engineering)