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In good company

In good company

The Queen's Summer Innovation Initiative brings together students to launch innovative businesses. Meet QSII's newest entrepreneurs.

For four frenzied months, a group of Queen’s ­students worked to create, launch and pitch start-up companies to a group of industry professionals. At stake was a pot of money to springboard their fledgling enterprises into the business sphere. They were taking part in the Queen’s Summer Innovation Initiative (QSII), a competitive program that provides student teams with seed funding to create businesses while learning skills related to ­entrepreneurship and business management.

[photo of members of QSII businesses]QSII company members in their workspace at Innovation Park. The shared space allows for collaboration among groups. Back row: Aditya Patel, Chris Labelle, Mitch Debora, Sean MacGillis, Heather Evans, Austin Lubitz. Front row: Jason Caldwell (member of Charge Centre, last year’s winning company), Madeleine Neiman, Oliver Blake, Chantal Tshimanga, Derek Vogt. Photo: Bernard Clark

Since starting in 2012, QSII has been bringing ­together students, who’ve often never met, to create ideas for new businesses. What began as a partnership between the Faculty of Engineering and ­Applied Science and the School of Business has grown to include all Queen’s faculties, and, new this year, students from St. Lawrence College.

After assembling into teams, the students are given an MBA-style crash course in business, $2,500 for development and then begin working out of offices in the Integrated Learning Centre in Beamish-Munro Hall. They’re given access to the newly opened SparQ Labs, a makerspace that includes workshops with tools, fabricators and even a milling machine. For teams creating devices, when they need a part, they can design and create it in minutes.

“The students make real companies and they run them independently, generating commercial revenue,” says Greg Bavington, Executive Director of the Queen’s Innovator Connector, who oversees QSII. “It’s a program that we wanted to be as realistic as possible, giving students a chance for experiential learning outside of the classroom. They’re learning how to create and manage ­businesses; we’ve just removed some of the risks of entrepreneurship.”

To make QSII available to a broader group of ­students, those participating are paid a stipend while they work on their businesses. “Paying our students to participate makes us an anomaly in ­university entrepreneur internships,” says Bavington. “This way we have the greatest number of applicants, making for a more intense competition process.”

Though they’re competing for the final prize money, the teams also work together constantly, meeting weekly to share their progress, chart their next moves and receive feedback from their peers. For the final pitch competition though, they go head-to-head to secure capital. While the teams ­believed they were competing for a share of the $60,000 that was at stake, they didn’t know how much that number would grow during the course of the competition day. Donors and investors came from all quarters to bolster the winnings available up to $140,000. That last minute ­injection of capital isn’t unusual, Bavington says, as each year people have come forward to ­contribute prize money after seeing the quality of the companies competing.

A number of QSII’s companies have moved to Innovation Park at Queen’s University, a collaborative hub for technology research and commercialization and business incubation. There, they have access to the expertise of established companies. They also continue to work together as they fight to break into the market.

Mosaic Manufacturing: 1st place

Chris Labelle, Com’14, Derek Vogt, Sc’14, Heather Evans, Com’16, Mitchell Debora, Sc’14, Danny Lloyd, Sc’16.

QSII’s winning company, Mosaic Manufacturing, has solved a problem most people didn’t even know existed. Desktop 3D printers can create just about anything by melting and restructuring ­plastic ­filament. When it comes to printing things in colour, though, they fall flat. Existing printers cause colours to bleed together, leaving the ­finished product covered in splotches.

[photo of members of Mosaic Manufacturing]Members of Mosaic Manufacturing: Heather Evans,Austin Lubitz, Chris Labelle and Mitch Debora. Photo: Bernard Clark

“Other printers haven’t really worked to develop the aesthetic side of their creations,” says Chris Labelle.

“We’ve created a stand-alone device that attaches to 3D printers that fixes the problem, leaving colours even and clean.” That device looks like little more than an opaque black box, but when it’s attached to a printer, its results are ­immediate.

Though 3D printers are only just beginning to take off, they hold promise for a future where the vast majority of household products can be made right in the home, allowing for customization in size, colour and materials. Mosaic is looking ahead to when that idea becomes a reality.

“We’ve spoken to a lot of people who have big ideas for 3D printers but they’re not yet viable. The technology just isn’t there yet,” says Labelle. “We’re working to push its abilities forward and if the pace of technology in the past 30 years has been any indication, this could be the next big thing.”

[photo of Mosaic Manufacturing equipment]The black box to the right of the 3-D printer is Mosaic’s secret weapon for polished 3-D printing in colour. Photo: Bernard Clark

In the next few months, Mosaic plans to hire more staff, further develop its device and create a crowdfunding campaign to secure finances so it can continue to grow. “The final win of $40,000 was fantastic,” Labelle says. “We’re thrilled and proud of the result. I think we have a great product and managed to communicate a complicated idea in an understandable way. The money we won is going to enable us to be fast enough to respond to whatever market changes come up.”

Borehole Analytics: tied for 2nd place

Oliver Blake, Sc’14, Sean MacGillis, Sc’14, Brett Kolankowski, Sc’14, Austin Lubitz, Com’17, Aditya Patel, Artsci’15

Cameras have been used in mining operations for decades, but Borehole Analytics wants to bring the process into the 21st century. Current competitors in the industry use analogue technology, recording video feeds to DVD or VHS, whereas Borehole’s Downcam XI uses digital tech instead. Video from a Downcam XI can be streamed from the camera directly to any screen with internet access.

[photo of Borehole Analytics team]Austin Lubitz, Sean MacGillis, Aditya Patel and Oliver Blake of Borehole Analytics. Photo: Bernard Clark

“We’re bringing smartphone technology to ­borehole cameras,” says Sean MacGillis. “Our product provides significantly improved video quality, allowing for better identification of fragmentation, fractures and changes in rock type, while also ­being capable of live-streaming video.”

Currently, to see the feed of a borehole camera, technicians have to either be present at the site or watch its recording afterwards. With the Downcam, the data can be streamed to anywhere off-site, allowing a remote team to provide analysis and ­instruction during the operation.

[photo of Downcam XI equipment]Video from the Downcam XI can be streamed  directly to a computer or smartphone. Photo: Bernard Clark

Inspiration for the camera came from mining engineering student Brett Kolankowski’s thesis project, which identified the need for the mining industry. “When I saw the work that Brett had done, I felt there was an opportunity to advance the camera out of prototyping and commercialize it,” MacGillis says. “QSII brought us together to do that and I’m so grateful we got to take part.”

Having tied for second place, Borehole will be using most of its $30,000 prize money on research and development, further improving the durability and quality of the camera while also running product tests to ensure it’s capable of standing up to field conditions.

Givway & Co.: tied for 2nd place

Chantal Tshimanga, Artsci’14, Lindley Kenny, Sc’15, Madeleine Neiman, Sc’15, Michelle Robinson, NSc’15

Hoping to use their company to create social good, the members of Givway & Co. surveyed a number of charitable Kingston organizations to find out what items their clients needed most. The answer they got was, “backpacks.” Givway then built its company around remedying this shortage by ­creating stylish and durable backpacks for the ­consumer market. With every backpack it sells, Givway donates another backpack to a Kingston charity. In order to maintain discretion, the company donates packs of various brands and colours.

[photo of members of Givway &Co]Madeleine Neiman and Chantal Tshimanga of Givway & Co. Photo: Bernard Clark

Working with the women’s shelter Dawn House and the Kingston Youth Shelter, where many clients lack stable housing, Givway made sure its donations would be well put to use. “We heard again and again that these places needed more backpacks and it’s simple to see why. They’re a ­versatile and useful product that’s easy to put to use,” says Chantal Tshimanga.

[photo of the Givway & Co's backpack]Givway & Co's backpack design depicts some of the items that might be inside, such as clothing, toiletries and keys. Photo: Bernard Clark

Dedicated to keeping their operations close to home, the Givway entrepreneurs source, create and distribute their product as locally as possible. Their backpacks are designed and manufactured in Kingston, and they hope it will enable them to ­create more partnerships so they can reach more people. The backpacks aren’t just eye-catching though, they are also conversation-starters.

“We want to encourage consumerism with a conscience,” says Tshimanga. “Hopefully when people see the backpack, they’ll not only think it’s cool, they’ll ask about it. Having a strong aesthetic value was very important to us, because we feel it’s easier to get ­people to make incremental changes that are ­beneficial to their community than it is to demand a big shift all at once.”

Limestone Labs: 3rd place

Taylor Mann, Artsci’14, Oleg Baranov, Sc’15, Geoffrey Hoy, Sc’14, Serena Li, Com’16, Scott Mason, Artsci’14

Smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices are increasingly used in hospital settings where the many hands that touch them turn them into sources of disease transmission. Using disinfectant wipes to keep them clean and sterile is time-consuming, unreliable and can damage devices, so to remedy the problem the company created the Clean Slate.

Requiring only the push of a button to operate, the Clean Slate prototype uses UV-C light to eliminate 99.99 per cent of germs and bacteria on handheld devices. The cleaner is small enough to fit on a desk or ledge, and Limestone Labs hopes it will reduce the spread of contagions through health-care institutions. In the coming months Limestone will pilot its product in a number of Canadian hospitals. 

[Queen's Alumni Review 2014 issue 4 cover]