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ExoShield began as a University of Waterloo fourth-year design project in the spring of 2013. Today, it’s a multimillion dollar business.
The brainchild of four nanotechnology engineering students, ExoShield is an eco-friendly, thin, transparent film applied to the exterior surface of a vehicle’s windshield to prevent stone chips and harmful UV radiation. It also keeps the vehicle cooler by rejecting nearly 100% of solar infrared radiation.
The journey from student project to commercialized product took just over two years, thanks, in large part, to the help the young entrepreneurs received from the University of Waterloo.
“Our goal initially was to create a spray that prevented frost when you applied it to a windshield,” says Khanjan Desai, one of the creators of ExoShield.
Not only did it work, it quickly won the People’s Choice and Most Innovative Product awards at a University of Waterloo technology competition.
“We were sure we were on to something with great potential,” says Desai.
In fact, Desai was so convinced of ExoShield’s ultimate success, he turned down a job with Facebook. Partner Chong Shen put off plans for grad school. The other two originators stepped away, and the company Neverfrost was born.
With free lab space courtesy of the Waterloo Institute of Nanotechnology, and start-up funding by way of awards from University of Waterloo pitch competitions, and a Scientists and Engineers in Business (SEB) grant that helps recent alumni kick-start early-stage businesses, Desai and Shen were off and running.
Recognizing that a spray was too labour intensive and tended to leave a greasy film on the windshield, the partners spent six months coming up with a more practical version of their product: a thin, protective coating applied like window tinting. They were also able to add features to prevent stone chips while reducing infrared heat to keep the interior cooler.
Then, Y-Combinator, a prestigious funding launch pad based in Silicon Valley, stepped in. It offered Desai and Shen US $120,000 and a three-month industry boot camp in exchange for a 7% equity stake in their company.
While they learned a great deal and signed contracts with a number of fleet operators, they quickly determined that building the company in Ontario made more sense. The partners found California a very expensive place to live and to operate a business. Plus, Waterloo gave them access to talented, helpful professors and lab facilities. The University of Waterloo also offers entrepreneurs an appealing inventor-owned intellectual property policy.
Back in Ontario, they were accepted to the University of Waterloo’s Velocity Garage. It’s part of the largest free incubator start-up in the world, supplying fledgling hardware and science companies with lab, office and assembly space, a mentor network, and introductions to investors who can help build their business.
The University of Toronto followed quickly with an offer to take part in its Creative Destruction Lab program, which offers step-by-step business coaching from a group of prominent Canadian entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. With their help, Desai and Shen fine-tuned their business plan.
“The help we received from the universities of Waterloo and Toronto has been critical to our success,” says Desai. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without it. We had an innovative product, but no real idea of how to get it to market.”
Desai and Shen’s goal? “We plan to build on our expertise and technologies to create new product lines —and build the next great nanotechnology company – in Ontario.”
December 9, 2016
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All figures are in Canadian dollars unless otherwise noted. Information is accurate at the time of publication.