Problem Pitch f17

Announcing the six finalists pitching industry problems at the Problem Pitch Competition

The best business ventures are built on a thorough understanding of the problem they aim to solve. That’s why Velocity and the Problem Lab have teamed up once again to host the Problem Pitch Competition, where student teams were tasked with the challenge of identifying important industry problems and conducting research, before pitching their findings for the chance to win a share of up to $7,500 in funding.

Six teams were selected as finalists from fifty-two applicants, and they will each make a five-minute pitch on their research to a panel of judges this Thursday, February 15, competing for $5,000 (1st) and $2,500 (2nd) in funding. Both teams will also have the opportunity to double their funding following the event, as they work with the Problem Lab to develop a solution to the problem identified. This term, the finalists have identified problems ranging from the research-practice gap in scientific research to armyworm infestations in agriculture. Below are the finalists and the problems identified:

  • Cultured: The research-practice gap in scientific research.
  • Dissolv: Readmitting patients to the healthcare system because of a lack of adherence to medications.
  • Exor: Fall armyworm infestations in agriculture.
  • Predicto: Industrial accident prevention.
  • ShopChain: A lack of online infrastructure for the exchange of second-hand goods.
  • Gazeify: There are no scaleable solutions for eye-tracking technology on mobile to help companies in e-commerce track and improve user experiences.

At the Fall 2017 competition, SannTek won first place for their thorough research and pitch on the lack of THC detection methods that accurately quantify marijuana intoxication in real-time. They explained that the scientific basis for determining marijuana impairment (as opposed to the mere presence in the body) is not as clear as the basis for establishing alcohol impairment. This is because marijuana is soluble in fat rather than blood, so a user can have THC in their muscle tissue for longer without being inebriated, making it much more difficult to determine intoxication.

“In our winning pitch, we related marijuana legalization to what happened with alcohol after prohibition. This connection allowed the audience to connect with something they are familiar with today – the legal limit for blood-alcohol level and breathalyzers for easy testing and showed the audience that something similar is needed for the approaching legalization of marijuana. The funding we got from the Problem Pitch Competition has helped us with materials procurement for research and development since creating a science-based product is expensive.” – Karolyn Mackowiak, Co-founder of SannTek

Since their win, founders Karolyn Mackowiak, Thomas Dunlop, Ben Milligan, Noah DeBrincat, and Chris Taylor have worked out of the Velocity Science lab to develop their technology. They have also contacted potential customers to find out their perspective on the problem and what they need from the solution, which has helped tremendously in the product design process.

The panel of judges this term includes three University of Waterloo alumni, each with their own entrepreneurial experience they’re bringing to the table:

Tommy Rakic: An electrical engineering graduate with experience in both Waterloo Region and San Francisco startups. He is the founder of local real estate development firm Vanguard Developments and Copper Bay Homes.

Julie Ellis: An arts graduate with financial industry experience. She is the co-founder of Mabel’s Labels, now part of CCL Industries, and is now COO of Snuggle Bugz, a multi-million-dollar Canadian retailer.

Joseph Bou-Younes: A math graduate and design executive with experience in global consulting and in Silicon Valley at Yahoo and 500px. He is currently the Data Growth Coach at Communitech.

The Winter 2018 Problem Pitch Competition will be held from 7:00pm – 10:00pm on Thursday, February 15 in Room 2002 in the Environment 2 Building (EV2), on the University of Waterloo campus. Attendees from the university and the broader community are all welcome to watch the pitches.


The Problem Pitch Competition is made possible by $300,000 in funding from Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, principals of Quantum Valley Investments® and founders of Blackberry.

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