Student-led companies focused on engineering software and waste management efficiency were the big winners at the 2023 Mel Woodward Cup.
Notch Embedded, founded by computer engineering student Shane Williams, won the $25,000 top prize for his software tool that allows engineers to quickly support new chips in electronic designs.
Mr. Williams says the idea for Notch was sparked during his co-operative education work terms.
“I was frustrated with the outdated tools and process we were using,” he said. “It was a classic, ‘There has to be a better way!’ moment.”
He began creating the software and working on it full time in January.
“It was a classic, ‘There has to be a better way!’ moment.”— Shane Williams
“I’m ecstatic to win,” Mr. Williams said. “It was amazing to pitch amongst a cohort of impressive founders, and the money will help me grow my business in the future.”
Mr. Williams is currently completing an entrepreneurial work term at the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE), which hosts the startup competition.
He has developed a prototype and plans to begin beta testing in the near future.
He will use the prize money to purchase parts, equipment and software tools to service customers.
The $15,000 runner-up was SmartBin, which has developed a sensor to detect when waste bins are full to save companies time and money and plan more efficient collection processes.
SmartBin was founded by Aneesh Raghupathy, an undergraduate student doing a joint degree in computer science and economics, and Niraj Shukla.
“We are super excited,” said Mr. Raghupathy. “It was totally unexpected and we are very happy that our efforts have been recognized.”
The company is currently running a pilot project with Heave Away Waste Management with plans to launch commercially in July.
Both the winner and runner-up will receive in-kind prizes from Altitude Media, Gardiner Centre, Genesis, HeyOrca!, KMPG, McInnes Cooper, Perfect Day and techNL.
Students are ‘eager and capable’
Two other awards were handed out at the event, courtesy of the Fry Family Foundation.
Stephanie Roberts, co-founder of Med SimuLabs, won the award for women or non-binary leadership and CodeDoc Hub, founded by Tashin Ahmed Prottoy and Shawon Ibn Kamal, won for an early-stage idea.
“The Mel Woodward Cup has become a critical event for student entrepreneurs,” said Ed Martin, MCE director. “Our goal is to give them the boost they need to take the next step, whether that’s developing a prototype, leveraging funding, hiring staff or more. The growth of this competition is exciting, and shows that Memorial students are eager and capable of creating innovative businesses right here in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Prior finalists hit milestones
Prior cup finalists include CoLab Software, PragmaClin Research Inc., SiftMed, BreatheSuite and Nucliq Biologics Inc., all of which have achieved significant milestones since participating in the competition.
CoLab Software won in 2017. Since then, it has grown its staff from two to 82, been twice named one of Canada’s Top Small and Medium Employers and, in 2021, it closed US$17 million in Series A funding.
PragmaClin, the 2022 winner, has been awarded more than $200,000 in pitch competitions since last year and its co-founder, Bronwyn Bridges, was named one of Atlantic Business Magazine‘s 30 Under 30 Innovators for 2022.
SiftMed, formerly ReportMate, was a finalist in 2020 and recently closed a $2.7-million seed round.
BreatheSuite became the first company in the province to receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Nucliq Biologics was the first company in Canada to launch a gut microbiome test.
The seventh edition of the Mel Woodward Cup saw five finalist teams compete at the Emera Innovation Exchange, Signal Hill Campus, before a panel of expert judges.
The other finalists were as follows:
- AbbaTek Group Inc.: a software company that aims to increase capacity to collect and analyze certain environmental data, starting with microplastics (founders: Jean-Samuel Poirier, a master of business administration student; Abdul-Iatif Alhassan, a PhD student at Grenfell Campus; and Ivo Agbor Arrey);
- Bonocle: a platform that makes braille education and entertainment accessible, portable, affordable and fun to reduce braille illiteracy and empower persons who are blind (founders: Ramy Abdulzaher, a master of engineering student, and Abdelrazek Aly);
- Songflow: a software-as-a-service platform for songwriters to collaboratively create and manage songs (founder: Jacob Critch, a bachelor of science student, and Rikki Lee Scicluna).
The Mel Woodward Cup was created through a donation to the Faculty of Business Administration in 2017 from the family of the late Dr. Mel Woodward, founder of the Woodward Group of Companies.
The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency also provides support for the competition.
The MCE, based at St. John’s campus, aims to inspire and support aspiring entrepreneurs at Memorial by offering foundational training, guidance and access to funding and connections to create high-growth businesses.