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U of O students look to create next business success story

Photo: Eric Davidson.

If you think U of O students don’t use their brains much during the summer months, think again.

“Let’s say you’re a drone designer, and you have hundreds of propellers to choose from, hundreds of thousands of motors to choose from, and you don’t know how to decide,” said Charles Blouin, co-founder of a company called Tyto Robotics, one of many University of Ottawa students who spent their summer developing companies to tackle large issues in business and beyond.

Aug. 27 marked the end of a 90-day incubator program, called Startup Garage, designed to help develop new startups created by students, many of whom attend the U of O.

“The program was born out of the technology transfer office at the University of Ottawa in an effort to encourage student entrepreneurship at the university,” said Nolan Beanlands, coordinator of Startup Garage and Technology Partnership Associate at the U of O.

The six-year-old program has since grown to include university students from any post-secondary institution in Ottawa, and anyone aged 18-29.

Throughout the summer participants received funding and mentorship to develop their companies. “A lot of the participants come in with a very good technical idea, but there are a lot of things that they haven’t learned in school,” said Beanlands.

“We had never learned the legal side, the accounting, the pitching, the program helped us focus and make an actual business,” said Marvin Reyes, cofounder of GameStrat, a software company that helps coaches perform in-game analysis.

On the final day of the program, the fledgling companies showed off to potential investors, displaying their products and pitching their ideas.

It was a glimpse into the minds of innovators looking to disrupt a number of industries.

These new companies are part of a wider movement of entrepreneurship in Ottawa, which has left the city with the nickname of Silicon Valley North, a title that was reinforced after the $100 million initial public offering of Ottawa-based company Shopify.

It was clear that there was not only an abundance of talent at the event, but also an impressive range of ideas. Tyto Robotics marketed a tool that allows drone designers to better test their products. The company GameStrat developed a tool to improve the in-game analysis capabilities of football coaches.

But it wasn’t just high-tech innovation. One company, CigBins looks to better dispose of cigarette butts. Another, eCelery, wants to make multicultural cuisine your new favorite takeout, and in a delicious display, Oat&Mill showed off their oat-based ice cream.

One of the program’s success stories is Gymtrack, a company founded by a U of O student, Lee Silverstone, and a Carleton student, Pablo Srugo.  The company provides sensors that send detailed workout data to your smartphone. Gymtrack came out of last year’s program and has recently raised $2.5 million to grow their company. They have also been featured in the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

“We take pride in that we are a very diverse program,” said Beanlands, who is excited to watch these new companies grow.

“This group especially had a lot of energy, they’ve made enormous strides,” he said. “They’re learning, they’re pivoting… it’s really great to see how far they’ve come.”