Queen’s Innovation Connector Summer Initiative start-ups win funding at pitch competition

OISE Open House

Two prize winning teams talk about the competition

Ozira Foods team.
Credit: 
Photo supplied by Rachel Amirault

About QICSI

For the past six years, Queen’s Innovation Centre Summer Initiative (QICSI) has provided paid internships for Queen’s students to pursue start-up companies and business ventures. 

QICSI student ventures are supported with resources provided by the university, many outliving program deadlines. Resources range from workshops, guest speakers and mentorships to providing seed funding as well as industry contacts. Program Coordinator Amanda Gilbert told The Journal in an email that QICSI “allows young entrepreneurs to hit the ground running when developing their teams and ventures.”

“Our funding comes from many sources,” Gilbert wrote. “Part of the program’s funding comes from the central university funds, some comes from government grants, and some of it comes from various philanthropic donors such as the Dunin Foundation and Desh and Jaishree Deshpande.” 

A major aspect of the program forces participants to work with students from a broad range of faculties at the university. 

“Perhaps the most common roadblock we’ve seen over the years is team dynamics. Learning to work with a small group of individuals to develop a venture in a short amount of time can be stressful.” 

This summer, team Fitra was awarded $30,000 for their pitch and spoke to The Journal in August about their success. Additional winners following the competitions, team Dream Again and Ozira Foods won $15,000 and $10,000 respectively. 

Ozira Foods

Ozira Foods is a QICSI-born company that was awarded $10,000 following this summer’s Dunin-Deshpande pitch competition. Team member Rachel Amirault, Sci ‘18, believes the money will serve as the jumpstart the team needs to push their company to large-scale growth. 

“The judges at our pitch competition had a tough time deciding who was a winner,” Amirault said. “We had an idea with a lot of market demand.” 

Ozira Foods is focused on a sustainable approach to protein consumption using an aquatic plant known as duckweed. By grinding the plant, which the team has been growing in a controlled environment on campus, a protein-rich powder can be produced. 

“This is a product that could be seamlessly added to any meal for conscience consumers looking to reduce their meat consumption,” Amirault added. “We hope to obtain a minimum viable product by February this year, and see where this idea could take us in the future.”

Dream Again

Team Dream Again structured their business venture around creating custom-fitted continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) masks to treat sleep apnea. Their goal is to counter the standard mask size by allowing their product to fit the patient’s facial structure. The team won $15,000 at the pitch contest following their QICSI experience.

Team member Florian Ntibarigobeka believes the team dynamic was a challenging aspect of the program, but one they quickly overcame. 

“Another obstacle was defining set roles,”  Ntibarigobeka wrote in an email to The Journal. “Because naturally when you are in an early-stage start-up, everyone wants to be involved with everything.”

Albeit just a few short weeks since the program, Ntibarigobeka said they know where the money will go. 

“We plan to allocate funding towards product development, regulatory approval, provisional patent filing and, potentially, pilot projects,” Ntibarigobeka wrote.

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