Vitameter co-founder James MacLean had multiple causes for celebration when I ran into him at the Bombshelter pub after the Velocity Fund Finals at the University of Waterloo. A crowd of his fellow Velocity Science classmates had overtaken a corner of the pub to wish a student happy birthday; MacLean’s company had also just secured $35,000 in prize money.
“The very first thing I thought of when we found out that we won was, ‘this is great because we have so much more work to do.’ Now we can get the ball rolling faster and get the device out to market as soon as possible,” MacLean told me.
“The barrier for hardware and science is much larger than for any other startup. You need more than a computer and ramen noodles.”
MacLean might seem single-minded, but sitting at the head of a hardware-based health tech company, his role requires balancing a long list of needs. In an extended interview prior to the VFF, which can be heard below, MacLean enumerated the myriad challenges Vitameter faces, from the higher development cost of hardware, where a delay can halt the whole company for a week, to the additional resource needs of labs and safety equipment.
“The barrier for hardware and science is much larger than for any other startup,” he said. “You need more than a computer and ramen noodles.”
MacLean was quick to note, however, the significant role the Velocity Science program has played to smooth out the rough edges as the University of Waterloo student builds his company. “Velocity is taking the community behind the Garage, and applying it to Science,” he said. “Velocity is a tight-knit community, and Velocity Science is a community within that. Without places like the Foundry or the Science program to focus these [communities], you kind of feel out of place in the software world.”
With $35,000 of extra runway, Vitameter has the ability to accelerate its path to market and deliver a device that measures your vitamin levels. Again, the process is a constant balance between startup MVP and the potential behind the hard science.
“The idea of tracking your health is something that is really catching on, and breaking the blood barrier – not just tracking what an accelerometer and a heart meter can track, but looking at the chemistry of your body on a daily basis – is a huge deal,” MacLean said. “Consumers might not realize how big it can get with data analytics and everything that can go with it, so we’re starting them off small with something they already care about.”
“We’re riding a number of market trends, so it is important to get this out while wearable tech is hot,” MacLean continued. “The goal is to have our device fit in that market while still maintaining the hard science.”
Image courtesy University of Waterloo.