The University of Waterloo's (UW) Velocity program has had an enormous impact on the entrepreneurial and innovative culture of Kitchener-Waterloo, cementing the area's reputation as a leading technology and start-up centre. "Velocity's concentric approach of layering start-ups of varying stages and verticals creates network effects, allowing young entrepreneurs to see a version of themselves six months in the future; it creates a community of start-ups that lean on one another," says Mike Kirkup, Director of the UW Velocity Program. Invest in Ontario had the opportunity to sit down with Mike Kirkup to learn more about the program, and to hear about a few of the many success stories that have emerged from it.

Velocity helps entrepreneurs each step of the way

Velocity is unique in its breadth of programming, which helps entrepreneurs at each step of their early-stage start-up, from conception and idea validation to team-building, prototyping and product development to investment opportunities and commercialization.

If you ask any of our companies who graduate what they got out of the program, they don't talk about me; they talk about the companies that sat beside them.

– Mike Kirkup, Director of UW Velocity Program, in an interview with BetaKit

Services from various organizations are available to UW Velocity companies giving them the confidence to take on all the intricacies of building and managing a business on their own. In addition, UW Velocity companies benefit from the power of the Waterloo Region's supportive infrastructure and the partnerships between these programs.

What new technology is coming out of Waterloo?

From wearables to unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), robotics and autonomous vehicles, it seems everywhere you turn there is an innovative, new product coming out of the University of Waterloo. "These days, we are seeing huge growth in start-ups that produce drones, robotics and those in the life sciences space," says Kirkup.

  • AVIDBOTS is defining the future of commercial cleaning with its autonomous, floor scrubbing robots.
  • Varden Labs is developing a fully autonomous electric shuttle that will bring effortless transportation to campuses around the world.
  • Lanilabs is a payment and management system that allows 3D print centres to manage users, designs and materials while automating the payment process.
  • DraftingSPACE, which recently joined Building Direct, is envisioning the day that every homeowner designs his or her own house.
  • Smarter Alloys is an innovator in shape memory materials. Their technology is enabling materials to function like machines, making an impact on all kinds of applications from wearables to medical devices.

The above is just a small sample of the many ideas coming out of UW Velocity.

What sets the Waterloo Region apart?

"One of the things that sets Waterloo apart," says Kirkup, "is that it has a really amazing community. You can get anywhere in the city within 10-15 minutes, and you are one level of interaction from everybody. It only takes a couple phone calls to find out about a person, and that helps build a trusting environment."

For those who look to the Waterloo Region as a role model for building an outstanding start-up ecosystem, Mike Kirkup has some advice:

"It has taken decades to get here. Everything from formative elements like the IP policy here at the University of Waterloo, to spin off companies like Open Text, to the co-op program, to the shift in general toward software and technical skills, to the fact that the University is the top-ranked school in Canada for that skill-set. Yes, it is replicable in the sense that each community has its own assets. But the goal of building those communities is not exactly like Waterloo's. Communities need to ask themselves: 'how do we leverage our assets to build a great community?' Answer this question, and have a long-term viewpoint, and you will be successful."

The UW Velocity Program is always looking for great investors and people: reach out to Mike and his team to learn more


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