April 22, 2021

We have Liftoff! UCalgary students pitch inspiring venture concepts

Eight 'Launchpad' teams present before a panel of judges, with agriculture startup yOIL taking home the grand prize

UCalgary students put their entrepreneurial ideas into action and imagined a different future. For farmers: a tool to monitor seed quality before harvest. For young women: an educational skin-care product. For vulnerable populations: EcoDome housing. 

Innovative new products and services like these, and more, occupied centre stage when the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking, in partnership with the Schulich School of Engineering, held the inaugural Liftoff! pitch competition. The event on April 14 marked the finale of the Launchpad program with more than 80 students and members of the community in attendance.

Launchpad is UCalgary’s flagship interdisciplinary early-stage entrepreneurship program, helping aspiring University of Calgary student entrepreneurs transform their ideas into startups and cultivating valuable entrepreneurial thinking skills and innovation networks along the way.

The second year of the program kicked off in October 2020 with 70 students from eight faculties working on 30 teams. It ran for six months and featured workshops, mentoring and coaching, prototype funding, and more than $20,000 in prizes to celebrate and reward student creativity and teamwork.

"The Launchpad program embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of the University of Calgary: students focused on innovative thinking and interdisciplinary work to tackle real problems together, to better themselves and affect change in their communities,” said Keri Damen, executive director of the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking.

Liftoff! is the culmination of months of hard work, highlighting founders of early-stage ventures who are allowing themselves to think differently and striving to become the entrepreneurial leaders of tomorrow.

The Liftoff! pitch competition was the apex of six months of experiential learning and new venture development. The top eight teams that demonstrated creativity and dedication to developing their entrepreneurial venture were invited to pitch their venture concepts live to a panel of judges for a chance to win a first-place prize of $5,000. The finale event was designed to encourage the teams to commit to their ventures and connect with relevant supporters who can help them take their next steps.

Student innovation on display

"I am constantly impressed with the innovation and multi-disciplinary thinking that I see on a daily basis here at the Schulich School of Engineering and the Hunter Hub," said Schulich Dean Bill Rosehart, one of the judges for the evening. "The Liftoff! event was a great way to showcase that talent to the UCalgary community and abroad."

In addition to Dr. Rosehart, the panel of 10 judges included many leaders from the university, as well as the Calgary innovation community, including Vice-President (Research) William Ghali and Derrick Hunter, president and CEO at Bluesky Equities Ltd., among many others.

Top eight teams presenting at Liftoff!

  • bAlm: Provides affordable skin care with a mission to educate young women on skin health, so they can have skin that they are confident in.
  • CICLO Technologies Inc.: Provides clean H2 for energy, transportation and chemicals by virtue of a self-sustaining loop technology energy sector division. This business is for companies looking to expand capacity while reducing carbon emissions.
  • EcoDomes: Provides alternative housing accommodation called EcoDomes, made from aerated concrete, for vulnerable populations based on the needs of the local community. Also provides an employment program for the vulnerable populations to build the housing on-site.
  • LunarOPV: Provides a sustainable power solution for wireless devices which requires no batteries, saving device manufacturers and operators money and helping the environment.
  • MyBuild App: Brings all car enthusiasts under one umbrella, where they can share, ask, and buy anything related to cars.
  • RenewCell: Provides second-life use cases for EV battery packs in the form of stationary storage to integrate more renewables and power more personal electronic devices, resolving the issue of cost for our customers as existing energy storage solutions are expensive.
  • Voltiply: Provides the average user with a professionally designed, fully customizable ebike battery system at an affordable price, requiring little-to-no mechanical experience.
  • yOIL: Revolutionizing seed grading by introducing an automated computer vision solution, providing farmers with quick and accessible information on their harvest quality. This gives them leverage in a competitive marketplace and keeps money in farmers’ pockets.

Recipients of team awards:

  • First Place Grand Prize: yOIL
  • People’s Choice Award: bAlm
  • Best Problem Definition: Coolaria
  • Best Prototype: yOIL
  • Most Transdisciplinary Project: EcoDomes
  • Best Project Presentation: LunarOPV
  • Clearest Development Trajectory: Ciclo Technologies
  • Best Pivot: Voltiply

The following awards were presented to individuals in the program:

  • Most Coachable: Dr. Raha Bahrehdar, PhD
  • Positively Spirited: Gilliam Alm, Schulich School of Engineering
  • Most Engaged: Meghan Van Arem, Schulich School of Engineering
  • Most Resilient: Camilla Fernandes de Oliveira, Schulich School of Engineering
  • Peer Supporter: Samaneh Ashoori, PhD candidate

Congratulations to the winners and to all students who participated in the Launchpad program this year!

Registration for the fall 2021 intake for Launchpad begins in August, open to students from all faculties who are third- or fourth-year UCalgary undergraduate, graduate, PhDs or postdoctoral scholars.

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