Innovation Onboard opens start-up world to undergraduates


When you hear that word, does Silicon Valley come to mind? Do you imagine a bunch of guys that look like TJ Miller huddling around a computer trying to devise the next hot app to break into the market?

In reality, start-ups are much more diverse than those images thanks to organizations such as Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) and Entrepreneurship at UBC (e@UBC). Both organizations have opened up the playing field both internationally and locally at UBC for innovators of all kinds.

Both organizations are designed around creating platforms for teams — or in some cases individuals — to develop, pitch and commercialize their creations with the aid of mentors and investors.

However, at the Innovation OnBoard Resources for Entrepreneurs Workshop on September 13, attendees found out that the process to make your ideas a reality is far more difficult than it appears.

At the workshop, Blair Simonite of e@UBC described the step-by-step process of funding a venture. It starts with breaking into Lean Launchpad Accelerator Program and receiving additional ‘education’ needed to enter the entrepreneurship world. After that, HATCH, UBC’s incubator, can help prepare a marketable prototype which can then be presented to potential backers or receive seeding funds from UBC itself to begin commercialization.

Off the UBC campus, CDL is a program designed to help innovators by providing mentors and connecting them to resources needed to make their concept a reality akin to e@UBC.

Daniel Wanis-Ruiz of CDL recounted the arduous process of having ideas presented, criticized and potentially scrapped over and over again. It was made clear that the learning curve for the start-up industry is immense. The tenacity required to face rejection again and again is incredible, but the resources offered by these organizations are equally helpful in offering these creative teams continue their pursuit as long as the will remains.

After the successful event, which saw over 100 first time innovators, The Ubyssey sat down with Innovation OnBoard founders Vasilli Triandafilidi and Athanasios Kritharis.

The two students started Innovation OnBoard with co-founder and marketing manager Said Zaid-Alkailani with the goal of helping undergraduates become entrepreneurs. What brought them together was their shared mutual experience in trying to break into the entrepreneurial world.

Triandafilidi is a third-year PhD candidate in chemical and materials engineering at UBC. Kritharis, on the other hand, is finishing his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering after taking time for both working co-op positions and running the UBC Chemi-Car project for the last few years.

Triandafilidi expanded on the necessity for an organization like Innovation OnBoard, even though others like e@UBC and CDL exist.

“We feel like these organizations … helped us so much in supporting us with resources, with mentors, etc,” he said. “The problem with organizations such as e@UBC and CDL is that there is a gap between students, with the skills they have and the passion that they have, and the level that you need to get into these programs.”

The founders hope that Innovation OnBoard will fill this gap by helping students learn the skills necessary to join HATCH, e@UBC or CDL. They also hope to have a positive impact in the world through technology.

“We felt like we wanted to make a difference. We felt like we wanted people to be empowered to develop technology that can benefit the quality of life as a whole and revolutionize life for everyone,” said Kritharis.

Blair Simonite addresses the crowd at the September 13 workshop
Blair Simonite addresses the crowd at the September 13 workshop Courtesy Dominic Bartlomowicz

Innovation OnBoard sought to build a platform for technology revolving around clean energy, environment, food and healthcare. They wanted to create a means of bringing together mentors to those UBC creators who had the drive and passion to bring their ideas to life.

The three founders’ idea is taking shape in the form of a combination of workshops that will take place over the course of the first semester of UBC, and culminating into a second two-part contest in term two. This first part of this contest is an idea fair in which all UBC students can ‘rank’ ideas generated by the teams participating in Innovation OnBoard’s competition.

The participating teams will have the chance to develop their ideas alongside various professional mentors provided by Innovation OnBoard. After voting by the UBC student body, the most successful ideas will be brought to a Dragon’s Den style finale in which the top teams will present their ideas to potential investors and industry veterans.

The grand prize is not just the honour of winning the competition, but also potential pre-seed funding provided by Innovation OnBoard to help jump-start the winning ideas.

Innovation OnBoard will be hosting their next event on October 4 and plans on hosting events on topics ranging from patent law to other key aspects of the world of entrepreneurship throughout the year.

With a lineup of knowledgeable speakers, future Innovation OnBoard events encourage the participation of UBC undergraduates seeking to gain entrepreneurial know-how.