Meet The Chemical Engineer Who Accidentally Turned Into An Entrepreneur And Just Raised $36 Million For His App

An interesting story below about an engineer using his observations in water treatment to innovate and improve work-flow for lots of other companies. A chemical engineering education can lead in lots of different directions!

In 2014, freshly graduated UC Berkeley alum Ryan Chan was working as a chemical engineer at a water purification plant, when he realized that the company was constantly facing equipment downtime. The workers used a maintenance program that helped them track all the breakdowns, but there was a big problem with the software they were using that was slowing them down.

“Everything was desktop based, but the maintenance team, the people that were using it, never sat at a desk,” Chan says. 

So Chan realized there had to be a smarter, mobile-first solution for all the blue collar workers across facilities. He wound up teaching himself how to code at night and on weekends, and developed the app while he worked as a chemical engineer, and later as an iOS developer.

In 2016, Chan launched UpKeep, an app developed for facility managers and maintenance workers that allows them to flag things that need repairs and run equipment audits across facilities.

Source: Meet The Chemical Engineer Who Accidentally Turned Into An Entrepreneur And Just Raised $36 Million For His App

Life extending technology | TheRecord.com

A story at the link below about a company started by one of our nanotechnology engineering graduates (and a Masters in Mechanical Engineering, according to his LinkedIn page).  The technology is based on SPR, or Surface Plasmon Resonance, and interesting material property that appears at the nanoscale.  Some of my research work is based on this phenomenon, and this seems like a nice piece of equipment.

Kitchener startup’s ‘life extending’ technology helps researchers study disease and develop new medicines

KITCHENER — Ryan Denomme pursues cutting edge science from inside an old factory building where his grandmother used to work.

Denomme is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Nicoya Lifesciences, which recently launched the second version of its desktop device that measures interactions between some of the most important building blocks in the human body — proteins.

Source: Life extending technology | TheRecord.com

Problem Lab

Water Testing: From Research to Kickstarter

One focus of my research group’s efforts over the past 10 years has been collaborative R&D with small and start-up companies.  They often have some very interesting ideas and needs, but lack the facilities and technical team to do the work in-house.  So this is a perfect opportunity for us to help them out with creating new businesses and for my students to get some “real-world” research experience with commercialization projects.

One major effort has been in the development of nanotechnology for rapid water quality testing, in particular for bacterial contamination.  Traditional laboratory methods require 3 to 7 days to complete, which is a rather long time to wait if you’re concerned about your water quality.  Through our collaborative R&D projects, we’ve developed a test method that can give an answer in a few minutes.  This rapid feedback allows people to make informed decisions about what to do next, whether to treat the water further, or send samples to a lab for more extensive testing, etc.

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Prototype ExactBlue water testing system.

One recent development is the creation of a more automated, smart-phone based system that’s suitable for regular consumer use.  A prototype model is shown in the photograph.  We’ve been testing the prototype devices with our nanotechnology-based reagent (which goes into the test tube), and doing validation and calibration work.  Everything is looking good and everyone has been pleased with the results.  It’s reliably and quickly detecting microbial contamination in our water samples, and there are some other water tests under development that will be able to use the same platform.

To get to the next stage, which is production of the first batch of devices for sale, the company has just launched a Kickstarter campaign.  Have a look at their Kickstarter website to see much more information about the technology and where they are headed.

Engineering student design teams win $50,000 each to launch startups

(Follow the link below for a couple of interesting stories about fourth year design projects in mechanical and nanotechnology engineering.)

With a deadline approaching to commit to their fourth-year Capstone Design project, friends Phil Cooper and Michael Phillips were torn between two ideas: one of them relatively straightforward and the other extremely ambitious. They were still undecided when they went to listen to Chamath Palihapitiya, the celebrated Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Waterloo Engineering alumnus, as he urged students to set aside their fear of failure during an appearance on campus in September. That was it, the inspiration they needed to go for it instead of playing it safe.

Source: Engineering student design teams win $50,000 each to launch startups

Capstone Design Projects 2016

It’s that time of year when senior, final-year students complete and present their “capstone design projects”.  These are group design projects, usually based on industry problems or student innovation ideas.  The projects are meant to be completely open-ended (i.e. there is no obvious, single, correct solution) and require students to pull together concepts from a variety of topics they have learned over the years.  The projects are not assigned, it is up to the student groups to come up with ideas, either on their own or through faculty or industry connections.  This is where co-op education really helps, because most of our students already have pretty good ideas based on what they have seen in their 2 years of work experience during university.

The design project results are presented in “Design Symposia” for each program, and there is a website which lists the dates in mid to late March.  These are open to the public, so anyone can drop by and see what’s up.  By clicking on each program, you can also find a brief description about each project.  For example, here is a list of projects in my department, Chemical Engineering.  I highly recommend that high school applicants and future prospects take a look at all these program listings.  These are the best source of information on all the different types of things that students can do, and the wide range may surprise you.  For example, many people think that Chemical Engineering is just about oil & gas, but when you look at the list you’ll see electric vehicle batteries, rooftop greenhouse design, biodegradable orthopedic implants, and controlled release antibiotics, among many other things.  Anything that involves materials and energy transformations is a possible chemical engineering project.

I like looking at the Management Engineering projects too.  These projects nicely emphasize that Management Engineering is not a business program (a frequent misconception with some applicants), but it is an engineering program full of math, statistical and data analysis, and optimization.  The project on “Reducing Distribution Costs for Canadian Blood Services” looks quite interesting to me (stochastic modelling is always interesting!).

I haven’t had a chance to look through all the different programs and their projects yet, but I’m sure a few will soon end up as start-up companies, if they haven’t already.  These capstone design projects have probably been the biggest single source of Waterloo start-ups in the last decade, I suspect.  There are now quite a few sources of financial support and design awards for the most innovative of these projects, as listed on the webpage, together with the support offered through the Velocity entrepreneurship and Conrad BET Centre programs, and others.

Mentions in the News

There were a couple of unexpected mentions of Waterloo on the international stage recently.  In the first one, our Prime Minister Trudeau used Waterloo as an example of Canadian creativity and innovation, at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland.  A video clip from that part of his speech is below.  The Prime Minister points to our high intellectual standards, focus on entrepreneurship, and diversity.  (I should clarify that when he says that 50% of our graduate engineering students are international, he’s referring to our Masters and PhD students.  As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, we have only a bit less than 15% of our available undergraduate spaces available for visa students.)

In his speech, the Prime Minister refers to Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley startup funder and mentoring program.  Here is a video interview he did to explain why he is so interested in Waterloo students.

In another mention, British actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson mentions the HeForShe IMPACT Scholarships Waterloo launched last year, in support of increasing math and engineering gender balance.

Overall, it’s always nice for universities to attract attention for good reasons.