UBC dives into tech startup scene with HATCH

UBC's newest startup venture is looking to break into the tech world.

HATCH, a lab and office space designed to foster technology and social ventures as they bring their products to market, was recently launched at UBC. The space is a collaboration between the Institute for Computing, Information and Cognitive Systems (ICICS) and Entrepreneurship@UBC (e@UBC).

HATCH has partnered with 11 ventures founded or staffed by UBC students, staff and alumni. Its goal is to provide an environment where companies can receive the support and resources they need to accelerate their growth. 

Besides the benefit of the lab and offices — a rare asset in property-scarce Vancouver — ventures also have the benefit of an entrepreneur-in-residence. These are experienced entrepreneurs who know the ins and outs of running a startup from developing a product to raising capital. 

While most of the ventures possess technical talent, some lack the business acumen and experience that is necessary to growing a company. 

“[The entrepreneur-in-residence] drops by twice a day just to check on us, to see if we have any business related questions, which is really helpful because in most cases, not a lot of people here are business people. We’re mostly technical people, so that’s very valuable,” said Microdermics co-founder Sahan Ranamukharachchi. 

“[My job] is taking their ambition and helping it find the right context, and taking the right steps to help them get to the right goal,” said entrepreneur-in-residence Francis Steiner.  

Ventures also have access to financial support through the UBC concept fund. This donor-supplied fund is granted to companies for specific goals. 

“If they need to buy a prototype, or if they need to go to a trade show to meet potential customers, or if they need to go pitch their idea to a venture capitalist … they can apply to the concept fund,” said e@UBC program director Blair Simonite

e@UBC also offers its own seed fund which is owned by the university and is available to ventures outside of HATCH. 

Ideally, the ventures will stay in the space for about 12 months until they are self-sustaining. 

“The hope is that at the end of 12 months, you will have grown enough that you are too big for us,” said ICICS financial officer Fatima Damji. 

Current projects in the HATCH lab range from a laser that can detect pipeline leaks, to an autonomous robot, to Microdermics’ small metal microneedles that could result in less pain for patients and a lower dose of vaccine than is usually required with a regular needle. 

The lab offers equipment that might otherwise be unaffordable for new companies. 

UBC alumnus Nima Nabavi and his company ExcelSense Technologies are developing a camera lens that never gets dirty. 

According to Nabavi, the most beneficial aspect of HATCH is the experience of the entrepreneurs-in-residence and the sense of community and shared knowledge that comes with inhabiting a space with other companies. 

The HATCH team hosts regular social events, meetings and workshops where the ventures are trained on business topics. 

Being in such close proximity allows the companies to learn from each other. These “water-cooler moments” allow junior companies to learn from those with more experience and expand their network, said Steiner. 

Saadan Sulehri, founder of LET’s International Charitable Association, is developing a device that acts as its own web server. According to Sulehri, the space and resources HATCH provides is crucial.

“You need a lot of information that you never really think you would actually need [when starting a company],” said Sulehri. “You need a lot of guidance from people who have done this before.”