On September 4, the Entrepreneurship Hatchery’s NEST program hosted its ninth annual Demo Day for student-led startups. The event, hosted by the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, took place at the Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship. The 14 finalists from the program pitched innovations, ranging from addressing energy poverty in developing nations, to pre-emptive brain disorder diagnosis, and more.
A panel of professors, industry leaders, philanthropists, and Hatchery alumni awarded $42,500 in seed funding; $20,000 went to the first-place team, $10,000 to each of the two runners-up, and a $2,500 Orozco Prize to one crowd-favorite presentation.
The contactless airplane-braking company Aeroflux was awarded first place for its working demonstration of its patent-pending magnetic-field brakes. The team, composed of Nikola Kostic, Stevan Kostic, and Roshan Varghese, demonstrated its device, which minimizes the wear and tear on braking gear and could save airplane operators up to $7.2 million during a plane’s lifetime.
The team won the Clarke Prize for leadership in engineering design in May of this year. It plans to continue developing the technology within the U of T startup community.
Sparrow, an e-sports analytics tool, and eXamify, an end-to-end assignment marking solution, each won $10,000 Hatchery Prizes as runners-up. The team behind Sparrow developed an artificial intelligence agent which was fed by tracking in-game movement and post-game statistics. Sparrow delivers player-specific coaching suggestions in League of Legends, an online multiplayer game, with plans to expand into other competitive titles in the coming year, and eXamify is an all-in-one online test management suite that simplifies test grading for TAs and professors.
Crowd-favorite startup Brainloop was awarded the Orozco Prize for its predictive brain diagnosis platform. Up to 20 per cent of brain disorders are misdiagnosed, and Esteban Arellano and Juan Egas aim to use artificial intelligence to analyze test results to improve upon this rate. The duo hope that hospitals will adopt the tool to support diagnoses as early as April 2020.
Throughout the course of the four-month NEST program, the cohort developed products spanning a variety of markets. Other teams shone as well: Team Connct focused its efforts on predictive content suggestions and auto-replies for Instagram influencers, while Team OpenRace developed a platform for runners to compete in real time, from around the world.
As an early-stage startup incubator, the NEST program helps new founders understand the markets they’re trying to enter.
“In 10 or 15 years, we’ll be able to point at successful startups and serial entrepreneurs and say that they had a formative and enabling experience here. In that sense it’s quasi-educational,” said Professor Jonathan Rose, Chair of the Hatchery Advisory Board.
“The key for engineers is to pay attention to the business. Engineers have lots of great ideas, but they need to know if there’s a market for it.”
Disclosure: Nikhi Bhambra was The Varsity’s 2018–2019 Front End Web Developer.