Students soaring with Vanhawks
June 11, 2014
By Andrew Stokes, Communications Officer
Queen’s student entrepreneurs have created Canada’s most-funded Kickstarter campaign ever. Ali Zahid (Cmp’14) and Niv Yahel (Cmp’14) are working together on a carbon fibre bicycle that connects to a smartphone to provide feedback and directions while you ride. Their funding campaign, which closed on May 31, raised $820,000, meeting their goals more than eight times over.
Along with two partners, Mr. Zahid and Mr. Yahel created Vanhawks, a startup company to produce their new Valour bicycle. Besides tracking route, distance, speed and time, the Valour also has a number of features to improve rider safety. The handlebars vibrate to alert the rider to objects in their blind spots. Sensors on the wheels collect data on potholes and other dangers and offer directions to help the cyclist avoid these hazards.
Mr. Zahid, Chief Operations Officer, and Mr. Yahel, Chief Technology Officer, met one another as frosh leaders at Queen’s in 2010. When the opportunity arose to work with Vanhawks, both put their degrees on hold to pursue their business interests.
“We took a leap of faith with this project and we’ve been extremely lucky to have such supportive backers,” says Mr. Zahid.
Working as a graphics editor at The Queen’s Journal and then as a marketing officer at the Alma Mater Society helped Mr. Zahid prepare for life as an entrepreneur. “Balancing school and extracurricular commitments really cultivated a strong work ethic in me. I learned a lot from those positions and they’ve been a big help in my time with Vanhawks.”
Mr. Yahel was especially thankful to the professors who encouraged him and taught him the skills he’s using now. “A lot of my professors felt more like mentors than instructors. I owe so much to Margaret Lamb and David Dove in the School of Computing. They took extra time to help and support me; they really care about what they’re doing.”
While their first project has been creating a better bike, Mr. Yahel says they have bigger goals. “We think the Valour is the first step in making big changes. Personal urban transportation needs to be safer and better and we want to explore the ways technology can make that happen.”
Leaving Queen’s to follow that vision wasn’t an easy decision though. “I really miss Queen’s,” he says. “I love the place and I’m so glad I went there. It has a strong community that’s uniquely supportive. I don’t think I would have had the same opportunities if I went anywhere else.”