Justin left a major positive mark

I’m very sorry to write that Justin Policarpio passed away last night, having lived graciously and courageously with cancer.

Justin was a key community builder, entrepreneur and leader in the Hamilton startup community.

I first met Justin when he was running Women Entrepreneurship, an event series focused on celebrating female entrepreneurship, and working on his Campus Helper education company. He next co-founded and led edtech robotics startup Roboteurs as CEO.

His work with Women Entrepreneurship and his startups was already impressive enough, but where I feel he left a major positive mark on our community was his work with Spectrum / The Forge.

It wasn’t very long ago at all that people talked about a divide between the McMaster community and the Hamilton startup community. There was a “gap” in the pipeline between innovative McMaster students and the business community in Hamilton. There was also a “gap” in terms of support for student entrepreneurs on campus… there was no Velocity or Ryerson DMZ equivalent, and the existing efforts were more informal, sporadic, grassroots.

Justin was the manager of the new Spectrum program that started in 2014, intended to foster and encourage entrepreneurship on campus, and to act as a pipe into a formal incubator program (“The Forge”). This was a very important job, at a critical time. If the Spectrum program flopped, which was a real possibility given the state of things at the time, I don’t think we’d have the energy and number of startups that you see further up the pipeline today. Justin was the perfect person for this role, and he hit it out of the park. A slew of great events and regular programming, much of it done in partnership with others, made his work a complete success in terms of fostering entrepreneurship on campus and building a bridge from McMaster to the broader Hamilton community.

He was a great community builder in that way. He had an infectious positive energy, was wise beyond his years, kind and always eager to help other people, was a great listener, and knew how to make great things happen fast. I met with him before he took on the Spectrum role, and you could tell he really “got it” in terms of the bigger picture. He was really keen on partnering and working together with everyone. Beyond the programming he developed that supported startups, he would always find time to support various other initiatives happening around the city, whether it was a Startup Weekend or a new healthtech meetup group.

People from other communities have noted a collaborative spirit in Hamilton, they’ll say things like, “in Hamilton, you guys really work together compared to X”. Justin played a major role in creating that spirit and culture. His good work and good spirit will live on.

This is the second time I’ve written an article like this in the last year. I’m upset because Justin was so young. It’s really not fair at all. We should use the time we’ve got to make a positive impact the way Justin was able to do so.


And speaking of the time we’ve got, I was reading over some of Justin’s old posts, and I came across this video of life tips he gave to graduating McMaster students. I’ve posted the text of his life advice below, it feels like advice that’s relevant for everyone.


I’d like to take this time to talk about just that, time. It’s something we all have a limited amount of, we never get any more of, so in reality it’s our most valuable asset. That said, why would we ever want to waste it?

A lot of you are going to be graduating from McMaster or have graduated, and you’re starting to think, “you know, what do I spend my time on? Do my masters, my PhD? Do I get a job or travel the world?”.

And in reality you got to do whatever you want to do because it’s something that you want to do, and not something that you feel like you ought to do. And you’re going to get a lot of pressures from your friends, your family, your parents and society as a whole.

I look at the time I spend on my stuff, on my startup company, on this new initiative at McMaster that I’m spearheading called Spectrum for McMaster entrepreneurs and startups. I look at the countless hours I put into this stuff, and you know what? I love it.

It’s time that I feel is well spent because it literally makes me happy, and I see all the value I get out of it. So when I think about the time I spent I think of three main things, and I guess these can be my two minute tips for you.

One is have no regrets. Have no regrets on the time that you’re spending on the things that you want to do.

Two, you know, in a nutshell: be fearless. You’re going to come across a lot of obstacles, not just in your school, and not just in work, but also in life. And they’re going to hit you, but you’re going to have to get through them. So be fearless, be strong.

And three, you really just have to start. You have to start doing what you want to do, and that said you also have to finish it and get it done.


McMaster Spectrum awards $105k in Student Startup competition


Article via McMaster Spectrum

For the second year running, McMaster’s on-campus entrepreneurship initiative Spectrum made a big splash – this year awarding more than $100,000 to student entrepreneurs at its Spectrum Student Startup Competition.

CIBC Hall at McMaster was filled to capacity with well over 225 student entrepreneurs, McMaster staff and faculty, and members of Hamilton’s entrepreneurship community.

After a months-long process of narrowing down our original 50+ applicants to 10, The Top 10 finalists were given a slot in the Competition to compete for a prize pool of $105,000.

Thanks to McMaster Engineering, we were able to double our prize money this year!


Five winners each won $20,000 in cash and an automatic spot in McMaster’s accelerator The Forge. Plus, they were awarded in-kind prizes from our generous sponsors.

An additional $5,000 prize was given to the startup that the audience voted as The People’s Choice.

(Note: We had originally intended on awarding four prizes of $25,000 each. The calibre of startups was just too good! We decided, during the event, to instead award five startups $20,000 each.)

Judges, Winners and Competitors  

The panel of judges would decide the winners and provided the Top 10 Finalists with great feedback, pulling on their own experiences from their respective entrepreneurial successes. This year’s judges were: Adam Spence of the Social Venture Exchange and Mars Discovery District; Sean Van Koughnett, AVP and Dean of Students at McMaster University and founding director of UWaterloo’s Velocity; and Dr. Sunny Kumar an experienced venture capitalist and Executive-in-Residence at Innovation Factory.


Each startup team had to select only one person, who would present their 3-minute pitch to the audience. After hearing each pitch, and asking a few questions, the judges had to deliberate and choose the five startups who would go home as victors. They did this by taking into account the live pitch and all aspects of the application process.

The audience in attendance got to vote for their favourite startup, and award that team the People Choice Award.

After careful consideration and calculations, this year’s winners are as follows:

Eatable (Mohammed Ahmed) – $20,000,

FISH Technologies (Melissa Houghton) – $20,000,

HINT (Jacob Jackson) – $20,000,

TronClub (Gregory DeLaunay) – $20,000,

Virtual Possibilities (Mitch Wilson) – $20,000, and

People’s Choice to Cognosco (Akiv Jhirad) – $5,000.’

(See details on each company below)


We were astounded and proud of the quality of this year’s applications, semi-finalists, and finalists. At every stage of the process, the competition was incredible competitive and decisions were difficult. The feedback was overwhelming: the entire community is impressed with what McMaster student entrepreneurs are doing.

The Top Ten Finalist startups competing were: 20/20 Optimeyes, Cognosco, Eatable, FISH Technologies, HINT, KiDi SMS, Nectocare, TronClub, Virtual Possibilities, and Zentrella.




Company details

Eatable: Mohammed (Fawad) Ahmed, Wesley Kerfoot, Rishabh Moudgil, Avian Yuen, Steven Zhang

Eatable is about revolutionizing the way people create and connect through food. Our mobile app platform serves as a hub for students to search and share recipes.

University students have difficulty finding cost-effective, convenient, and healthy ways to cook – they also love to share what they create. Eatable provides student-friendly recipes in a home cooking community passionate about sharing self-made meals. Sharing on recipe apps is not compatible with how students want to showcase their food creations. Eatable will allow students to share recipes in a more personal and fun way.


FISH Technologies: Melissa Houghton, Robert Van Gemeren, Kris Cuachon, Vinod Chaudhary, Ali Sheikh

Farming Innovations & Sustainable Horticulture (FISH) Technologies is a company that is focused on reinventing the farming industry through innovation. This reinvention is focused on reducing the environmental impact of current practices while maintaining, or increasing, profitability of our clients. Our current focus is on the greenhouse industry, with the intention of introducing a commercially viable aquaponics system to replace current practices.

We plan on building a system that has a low initial investment cost that can be upgraded as finances become available. This system will feature automatic water balancing and hands free fish waste removal. We will focus on making the system easy to use, which will reduce the risk involved in investing in the new technology. We will also provide the opportunity for servicing which would help reduce the knowledge barriers associated with new technologies.


HINT: Jacob Jackson, Ahmed Elmeligi

At Healthcare Innovation in NeuroTechnology (HINT) we are developing a wearable monitoring device for high-risk patients that can detect a stroke in their sleep. Until now, a stroke during sleep resulted in either debilitating effects or death. This is because sleep strokes are unable to receive the highly effective, time-sensitive treatment. Our device provides continuity of care outside of the hospital for up to 250,000 patients and will save the lives of thousands of stroke victims every year, while maintaining quality of life. At HINT, we care for you when nobody else can.


TronClub: Gregory DeLaunay, Roslyn DeLaunay, Jennifer Bendle

Tron-Club™ lowers the barrier to entry for aspiring Makers by supplying them with monthly circuit building kits. Each kit starts easy and ends challenging. Tron-Club™ was founded in June 2015 with an initial $1,500 grant from the Ontario Summer Company. Tron-Club™ was the most successful company in the Ontario Summer Company for that year. To date, we have shipped over 1,600 kits, we have invested over $5,000 in equipment, have over 11,000 YouTube view for our commercial [ref], we have a total revenue over $60,000, and our projected sales for the year will be over $100,000. We have been featured in many blogs and in TechCrunch.


Virtual Possibilities: Mitch Wilson, Dr. David Langlois, Lawrence Schembri, Dr. Tian Zhang, Stephanie Hoeppler, Amy Dyck, Mo Khan, Xiaoyue Wang, Gavin Zhang, Kyle Arscott

Virtual Possibilities Inc. (VPI) is commercializing a novel surgical navigation system technology (“LaparoGuard”) designed to markedly improve the safety profile and accuracy of laparoscopic procedures. Our solution will reduce surgical tool-patient tissue collisions, reduce costly readmission procedures and improve the efficiency, workflow speed and intraoperative planning in an operating room, by increasing surgeon’s confidence in the correct placement of hardware therapy. VPI estimates that its predictive, error-prevention imaging & navigation technology could play a pivotal role in allowing the 90% of North American hospitals that lack the resources for surgical navigational systems to afford a flexible, affordable solution.


Cognosco: Akiv Jhirad, Mandakini Jain, Larona Toteng, John Barberiz

Cognosco was inspired by the increasing rate of traumatic brain injury due to vehicle accidents, falls, violence and sports. We are a medical device startup aimed at creating non-invasive solutions to prevent the detrimental effects of traumatic brain injuries in victims, through early detection. Currently, our research and development is being focused towards a portable device that uses near infrared spectroscopy technology to noninvasively examine the presence of a bleed underneath a patient’s skull. A time and cost effective solution using this technology has been created by our group. The portability of our device allows it to be a diagnostic tool on site of the accident, which makes it an essential tool for paramedics to possess. It is also accurate enough that hospitals will find it diagnostically useful, and inexpensive enough that emergency caregivers (safety officers in sports centers, emergency dispatchers) will also find it to be resourceful.

Spectrum: Dale Mugford on Starting a Software Company

WHEN: Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

WHERE: TwelvEighty Bar & Grill at McMaster University (1280 Main Street West)


REGISTER: eventbrite.ca/e/how-to-start-a-software-company-tickets-21457047607

COST: Free

FOOD: Free. Yum.

Come and hear from a co-founder at Brave New Code! Dale Mugford will take us through his tale of launching Brave New Code and running it successfully for close to a decade. You will have a chance to learn from his mistakes, be inspired to make your own, and meet-and-greet with other ambitious students.

Brave New Code is a successful, Hamilton-based software company. They’re the creators of WPTouch and several other pluggins like WordTwit, Piggy and BuddyPress Geo. Since launching in 2008, they have more than 50,000 customers in over 100 countries.

Beyond hearing Dale talk, there will also be a chance to eat, hang out with other students and expand your network.




Spectrum Summer Startup



This past weekend McMaster’s Spectrum program ran their first ever ‘Summer Startup’ event. The event was a bit like a Startup Weekend in terms of format, with teams working over 36 hours on a startup idea (business pitch and prototype).

The event attracted about 100 highly motivated participants, which is excellent considering that school is out! It was nice to see some representation outside of McMaster too (e.g. Mohawk students and others). The event had $3000+ cash in prizes for best prototype, most viable business and most socially innovative projects.

I got to be a judge at the event and it was an excellent experience (Robyn Larsen of Normative Design, and Andrew Holden of Weever Apps judged as well). The teams were really passionate about their projects and some stayed for 2 hours after the event was over just to keep asking questions. I’ve never seen that happen at one of these sorts of events before.

The pitches were excellent, the ideas, prototypes and plans were interesting, and the energy was inspiring. But the eagerness to obtain feedback, openness to pivoting or changing course, and the interest teams showed in continuing after the competition shows a maturity that was really encouraging.

Check out the winning teams and video coverage of the event below!


Winning teams

E-Dopa, a startup dedicated to a product which will detect Parkinson’s Disease early and in a cost-effective way, was given the Most Socially Innovative award and $1000.

Avaro, a team with a prototype for a new kind of computer cursor, using only a wave of the hand or the flick of a wrist, was given the Best Prototype Award and $1000.

Clear Roots, a startup looking to bring easy and convenient urban farming into our homes and offices, went home with the awards for both Most Viable Business and the People’s Choice award. They walked away with $1250.



Spectrum competition to award $50k this month



When: Tuesday March 31st 2015 from 5:00pm to 8:00pm

Where: McMaster University Student Centre @ 1280 Main Street West

Register: eventbrite.ca/e/spectrum-student-startup-competition-tickets-15977832126

The top 10 teams to participate in the first annual McMaster Spectrum Student Startup Competition have been revealed!

In alphabetical order, the teams are:

– Blue Orchid Care
– Comikka
– FriendlyRentr
– Ranggo
– RotaNovus
– Sound Options Tinnitus Treatments
– Start the Cycle
– Syntegra Labs
– Uwallet

Join us as McMaster’s top student entrepreneurs compete for more than $50,000 in cash prizes. The FREE event will feature pitches from each Top 10 team, an opportunity to award your favourite pitch with the People’s Choice Award ($5k), and free food! RSVP today!