Upper year students have a variety of options when deciding which courses and experiences they want to pursue: some choose to complete an industry-funded capstone project, a self-directed capstone project or becoming increasingly popular among students, enrol in the Tech Entrepreneurship (Tech-E) program. The Tech-E program is a unique program developed in partnership between the School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering and Beedie School of Business at SFU where students conceive their own solution-driven product with the guidance of industry experts. Alumni startup teams from the Tech-E program output products in a variety of market sectors including energy solutions, health devices, healthy ageing and automated monitoring.
Recent graduates of the Tech-E program and winners of the global Enzen Hackathon, Refayet Siam, John Nguyen and Devpreet Bhullar are the founders of Novion which is an Internet of Things (IoT) tech solution for real-time water utilization management. Developing an incredible solution for a commonly increasing problem, the stars are aligning for this team however there is a huge journey through and beyond the Tech-E program and countless days of no sleep behind the product.
Now Strategy Lead of Novion, Refayet has been well involved with the SFU community by being the President of the Mechatronic Systems Engineering Student Society, Co-President of Technovus and completed multiple coop terms under the supervision of Dr. Carolyn Sparrey working on smart technology foot insoles and a high precision 3-axis neurosurgical tool. He shares his experience and thoughts on the Tech-E program through the Q&A below:
Q: Can you describe your developed technology and the concept behind the Novion initiative?
A: Water infrastructure in a building can be complex and difficult to troubleshoot since most of it is hidden behind walls. For most office and institutional buildings, a handful of water meters, which are often read infrequently is the only insight most facilities managers have towards understanding their water usage. This leads to a lot of water waste being unnoticed or simply being accepted as part of the day to day operations.
Novion’s water data analytics platform provides detailed water usage insight into buildings and facilities managers to avoid unnecessary water waste.
Q: What influenced you to enroll in the Tech-E program?
A: I always knew I wanted to invest in myself and start a company and Tech-E program was a no brainer. It provided funding, dedicated mentorship from industry experts and literally taught you how to make a business from scratch.
Q: What was the experience of working with students from different disciplines of study? What was your experience informing your team?
A: Being a part of a multidisciplinary team is an accurate depiction of what it is like to closely interact and work in teams outside of schoolwork. Alongside understanding what and how the different disciplines equip each team member uniquely to solve problems in a different way, this also forces students to learn to communicate technical details with specificity and context.
Q: What is the dynamic around conceiving your own startup? When do you find the greatest level of stress?
A: Starting up your own company, as a young entrepreneur with a lot of missing skills, knowledge and experience can be quite challenging. You can read books to try to understand the theories on how businesses are formed, markets are segmented, and contracts are signed but the only thing that truly helps is the experience of going through the process; these are things I believe you can only learn on the job. This means almost everything you do, are you dealing with uncertainty, and dealing with uncertainty is stressful. So, it is stressful most of the time.
Q: Through the Tech-E program how would you describe the experience of the program and level of support?
A: The Tech-E program provides a great deal of support through SFU’s Coast Capital Savings Venture Connections, mentors in residence. These mentors are backed by a great deal of experience with almost all the things a young entrepreneur has to go through. Their experiences and perspectives of dealing with the uncertainty act as a powerful support mechanism throughout the program.
Q: After graduation, has there been continued support from Tech-E mentors? Other avenues of support?
A: Our team is in regular contact with the mentors we started out with. Alongside the mentorship, two of our founders joined the E-Coop program and continued to work on our startup after the program ended.
Q: What advice do you have for students considering the Tech-E program?
A: Do not join Tech-E because of a school-related requirement or treat Tech-E like a general school project for credits. This program has the ability to significantly change the way you look at the world regardless of if you start-up your own company or not. Use the mentors and the lecturers as much as you can, they will be excited to transfer their knowledge to you, which in turn will greatly accelerate your progress.