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UOIT students and alumni capture entrepreneurial awards in the 2014 Ignite Competition

UOIT alumni Brandon Wetzel (left) and Dan Miguel of National ProStaff celebrate Ignite Competition 2014 Young Entrepreneur Award presented by Spark Innovation Centre (absent: Chris Lazarte). All award images courtesy: Jason Chow Photography.
UOIT alumni Brandon Wetzel (left) and Dan Miguel of National ProStaff celebrate Ignite Competition 2014 Young Entrepreneur Award presented by Spark Innovation Centre (absent: Chris Lazarte). All award images courtesy: Jason Chow Photography.

Three groups of University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) students and graduates are being recognized by Spark Innovation Centre for their innovative ideas and successful creation of new business enterprises in Durham Region. All groups are winners in the 2014 Ignite Competition, a contest designed by Spark Innovation Centre to support young entrepreneurs with the resources they need to accelerate their business plans into startup companies.

Tiko 3D
Tiko 3D (from left): Matt Gajkowski, CEO; Sharon Charitar, Business Analyst; Michael Zhang, Supply Chain Manager.

In the General Entrepreneur category, Ignite presented the $25,000 prize to Tiko 3D, a cutting-edge Oshawa-based company that has created an affordable and easy-to-use 3D printer. Tiko 3D is the creation of fourth-year UOIT Mechanical Engineering students Matt Gajkowski and Michael Zhang. Together, they hope to bring their amazing 3D printing technology into the hands of students and entrepreneurs, empowering them to develop the products and technologies of tomorrow.

"Winning Ignite is a huge door opener,” said Matt Gajkowski, CEO, Tiko3D. “There are so many amazing things we wanted to do before releasing the product, and the $25,000 will allow us to keep pushing the limits of what's possible while refining what we've already made. Even more valuable is the support from the Spark Centre and their team of startup experts."

National ProStaff (NPS), the Young Entrepreneur winner (also $25,000), is a social commerce platform that has grown to become the premier fishing website and app for anglers across Canada. Based in Ajax, Ontario, NPS is the creation of three UOIT alumni who were all part of UOIT’s first-ever graduating class from the Faculty of Business and Information Technology: CEO Dan Miguel (Commerce ’07), President Brandon Wetzel (Commerce ’07) and CFO Chris Lazarte (Accounting ’07).

"Winning the ignite competition is an amazing honour when you consider how great our competition was this year," says Dan Miguel. "This award now offers our company a great opportunity to grow and scale that much faster. Not only will we use the money to expand our business into the U.S. market and other industries, but this prestigious title alone will certainly give us the credibility we need to attract future investment."

Turnkey Aquaponics
Jay Fisher, School of Business, IT and Management, Durham College; Stephen Rose, Associate Dean, Faculty of Business and Information Technology, UOIT; Michael Veneziano (Turnkey); Daniel Veneziano (Turnkey). Absent: Turnkey’s Timothy Sarvendran and Tony Veneziano.

The winner of the $5,000 Student Entrepreneur Award (for those currently attending a post-secondary institute in Durham Region) is Turnkey Aquaponics, co-founded by Michael Veneziano and Timothy Sarvendran, third-year UOIT Energy Systems Engineering students. Turnkey’s aquaponics system mixes aquaculture (fish farming) with hydroponics (growing plants in water). The fish eat the plants, while the plants feed off fish waste. Commercial farmers, growers and hobbyists can just plug in the system and start using it right away. The innovative designs that allow for reduced water and energy consumption and year-round growing in any environment.

“We are very excited to be the Ignite 2014 Student Entrepreneur winners, and we will use the money to further prototype our designs,” says Michael Veneziano. “We will continue to explore the market and make contacts as we develop our business. We are extremely grateful for all the support from Spark and the Durham community for helping us take next step.”

“We are very proud of the outstanding young entrepreneurs and innovation leaders emerging from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology,” said Dr. Michael Owen, Vice-President, Research, Innovation and International. “The university is committed to working with fantastic entrepreneurial resources like Spark Centre as we support students and our alumni in their endeavours to not only to establish their startup enterprises, but also to grow their business ideas into successful operations.”

The 2014 Spark Innovation Centre's Ignite Competition awards were presented at the Durham Region Art of Transition Creative Awards on November 27 at the Heydenshore Pavilion in Whitby, Ontario.

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