The VeloCity Venture Fund can open doors…even to the Dragon’s Den

By Jodi Szimanski, Manager, Communications, Student Success Office

Connections, credibility and much-needed capital – key components of startup success – are on the line when entrepreneurial students at the University of Waterloo compete for a piece of the VeloCity Venture Fund.

Kira Talent, PumpUp, Thalmic Labs and Oikoi – little known names now – each just received a $25,000 injection into their businesses through the latest VeloCity Venture Fund competition. MappedIn (Fall 2011 fund winners) gained national attention on CBC’s Dragons’ Den with a successful pitch on October 31, 2012. “The VeloCity Venture Fund allowed us to purchase equipment and ship the product,” said Hongwei Liu, CEO. “More importantly, it gave us the motivation to spend a year working on MappedIn full-time.” That work paid off: all five dragons wanted in – on camera three of them made a deal with MappedIn. Off the air, during due diligence, MappedIn decided not to go through with the deal, but they have since partnered with Esri Canada.

A generous donation by Ted Livingston, CEO and Founder of Kik, a company founded in the VeloCity Residence, inspired the first VeloCity Venture Fund in the spring of 2011. “With talented minds and limited responsibilities, Waterloo students are uniquely positioned to start world-changing companies,” Livingston said. “Unfortunately, few investors are willing to bet on young entrepreneurs, especially in Canada, so getting start-up funds is a huge challenge. The donation was a step towards changing that.”

Each term students apply via an online form. A panel of entrepreneurial-minded judges from the community selects a number of teams based on the applications for an interview. The Top 10 then compete for four prizes of $25,000.

In addition to MappedIn, other previous winners of the VeloCity Venture Fund have found that winning has meant more than $25,000 – it provided connections and credibility. BufferBox has 10 devices in pilot-test locations with plans to launch 100 more in Toronto in the next year, several in the Google headquarters and it’s currently working with Wal-Mart. “On a local level, our success allowed us to secure additional grant funding, as well as raise a small angel round of funding,” said Mike McCauley, one of the three BufferBox founders. “Beyond Waterloo and Canada, VeloCity Venture Fund gave us the credibility that helped get us accepted into Y Combinator, a world-renowned startup accelerator program in Mountain View, CA.” For Maluuba the capital was important in helping them build a prototype they demonstrated to Samsung and it opened doors to additional funding.

What does funding mean to the newest recipients? For Kira Talent, a product that helps employers interview applicants around the world, and Thalmic Labs, creators of new human computer interaction technology, it means they can hire more engineers and computer scientists. For PumpUp, a fitness app, the money will help the team get the product to market faster through funding development and customer acquisition.

VeloCity is proud to see early stage startups compete and use the experience to take their innovation further. “The VeloCity Venture Fund provides a great learning experience for early stage startups by providing feedback, business pitching experience and pressure to really hone their message in three short minutes,” said VeloCity Director Mike Kirkup. “The process of ranking the teams helps to generate really important feedback for each of the teams as they push towards making their companies a reality.”