Partnerships and Innovation

Office of Partnerships and Innovation
Office of Partnerships and Innovation

UPstart Venture Challenge gives emerging startup a $30,000 boost

As originally posted on December 20, 2017 on the Smith School of Business News blog. Photo credit: Smith School of Business.

Tyler Whitney and Malcolm Eade of Spectra Plasmonics with JP Shearer, Associate Director of the Centre for Business Venturing at Smith School of Business.

Toronto, ON — On the evening of Dec. 7, eight emerging Queen’s startups pitched their businesses to a jury of angel investors during the second annual UPstart Venture Challenge. The event was organized by the Queen’s Venture Network and hosted at LoyaltyOne in Toronto.

Up for grabs was $30,000 prize money for the winning startups to accelerate their businesses. Teams had just 10 minutes to impress the judges.

This year’s pitches included:

  • a provider of customized CPAP masks (Dream Again)
  • an analytics and machine learning consultancy group (Hewitt & Campbell)
  • a makerspace for kids offering programs, camps and parties on topics such as coding, Minecraft and robotics (MakerKids)
  • an Internet of Things company targeting the janitorial industry (MERO Technologies)
  • a virtual relationship manager for ecommerce merchants (Scout)
  • a patent-pending SERS substrates technology (Spectra Plasmonics)
  • a phone charging service for large-scale events and venues (SWFTCharge)
  • and a web-based application for employer-matched travel saving (Vacation Fund)

“The judges ultimately decided to award one team all the money, so that it could really make a difference,” explains Elspeth Murray, Director of the Centre for Business Venturing at Smith School of Business and the event’s MC.  

The successful pitch came from Spectra Plasmonics, co-founded by Tyler Whitney, BCom’17 and ArtSci’18; Yusuf Ahmed, Sc’18; Malcolm Eade, ArtSci’18; Christian Baldwin, Sc’18, and Ryan Picard, Sc’17.

“We were very happy to have won, and also a little bit surprised,” says Tyler. “There were lots of great teams participating, and in past years the prize was split between a few groups, so when they announced that we won the full $30,000 we were incredibly excited.”

Launched as part of the 2017 Queen’s Innovation Centre Summer Initiative, the company has created a patent-pending technology that acts as an accessory to the user-friendly Raman Spectrometer, a device used for trace chemical detection. Spectra’s product increases the signal of chemicals scanned by these devices by one million times, thus decreasing the need for time consuming and more complex laboratory testing.

“The judges liked Spectra because the technology has many applications – from accurately detecting trace amounts of fentanyl to peanuts. Its potential uses are varied and span multiple industries. Ultimately, the technology can make a big difference in everything from law enforcement to food safety, the first two markets Spectra is planning to tackle,” Elspeth says.

Judges of this year’s event included Jason Capello, BCom’96, and chief investment officer of Merchants’ Gate Asset Management LP; Scott Affleck, Sc’01, and director of product at RateHub; Bryan Pearson, ArtSci’86, MBA’88, and president at LoyaltyOne; and Yafa Sakkejha, BCom’07, and general manager at Beneplan Co-operative.

Spectra Plasmonics is currently working toward a product launch in 2018. Tyler says the winnings from the UPstart Venture Challenge will be directed to the firm’s research and development department and affords the team more flexibility with experimentation and the ability to hire a research intern if needed.

“We’re polishing some minor kinks in the manufacturing process, and once those are done we will start sending our product out to other organizations for trials. This will give us valuable feedback and push us towards an actual product launch.”