VeloCity Makes Dorm Into an Incubator at UWaterloo

velocityWaterloo, ON may be a small city who’s population only breaks 100,000 when school is in, but it has also become one of Canada’s tech startup hotspots thanks to the minds and ideas that come out of the University of Waterloo. Graduating students needn’t even leave the city to find a startup incubator. This school year, the University has brought the incubator to dorms with the VeloCity program.

VeloCity is no ordinary student residence.

It’s a place where some of UW’s most talented, entrepreneurial, creative and technologically savvy students will be united under one roof to work on the future of mobile communications, web and new media.

It’s a place where students, faculty and corporate partners will be active collaborators and beneficiaries of the talent, ideas and innovations that evolve.

As someone not too long out of school, this idea makes me drool, and not just at the thought of having all-geek, jock-free dorms. The rapidly changing pace of both web app development techniques and business models makes it very difficult for schools to prepare students for the modern web market. If students are still learning Java development and waterfall-style project management, their education is already obsolete before they’ve graduated. VeloCity is no cakewalk though, the startup projects are extracurricular to regular coursework, and a school year isn’t a lot of time for forming a product and business.

This week StartupNorth and Joey DeVilla covered VeloCity’s Project Exhibition. Both expressed some disappointment with the projects the saw, but offer advice to the students and others…

Look Beyond the Consumer Market
A lot of people come up with product ideas for the consumer market because they’re graspable: they’re easy to think up and easy to implement. There’s a world of problems beyond consumer applications, and sometimes even a small solution can make a big difference. Think of the big issues that are on people’s minds today: the economy, the environment and healthcare, for starters. —Joey Devilla

My first piece of advice for any of the VeloCity student is be realistic about what you are building. So many entrepreneurs appear to take the “Field of Dreams” approach to project selection. There is nothing wrong with this approach, however, just because you’ve built software that solves your problem doesn’t mean that there are customers, a potential market or any reason to raise funding. A programming exercise does not by default equal a multi-million dollar company. There are a great number of projects and tools that were developed as to solve problems for a developer (look at rake, ant and Capistrano) that are not businesses. They enable developers to be more productive but are not great businesses. —David Crow, StartupNorth

Certainly many of the lessons need to successfully start up an idea aren’t found in textbooks. Best of luck to the students, and it will be interesting to see what comes out of VeloCity at the end of the next semester.