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Oct 18, 2016   |   The QEC
At the QEC 2016, Suncayr impressed the judges and moved on through the final rounds to win the QEC’s $50,000 grand prize, sponsored by Somen Mondal. We spoke with Derek Jouppi, Suncayr’s Co-Founder, about his experience at the QEC 2016. Read on for some valuable insights from Suncayr’s entrepreneurial journey!
What was the inspiration behind your brand and product, and how did you assemble your team?
In fourth year engineering, you have to design something. My friends and I got together and locked ourselves in our room for a couple of hours. We asked “what problems do we face?”, and there were two things we decided on when doing our brainstorming. One: We wanted to be able to commercialize our product. We knew we were going to put in a thousand man hours into this project, and we wanted to be able to commercialize it at the end of the day. And at that time, we had no idea what entrepreneurship or commercialization meant. We came up with this idea when we all thought: we all use sunscreen, but we all come back with these sunburns – how does this happen? For Andrew, there are multiple members of his family who have had skin cancer.
We met up with a professor on campus. He was an advisor for another startup at Waterloo, and he told us that there’s this program called Velocity and he had some ideas on how we could turn this into a business if we were interested.
That’s kinda where it all started. We had this reoccurring theme of sunburns. We’re all engineers, and we were looking to design an idea that’s a solution to a problem that hasn’t been solved yet.
What was the most impactful piece of feedback or encounter you had with judges?
We were lucky to end up with a judge in our room, whose wife directed the most successful skin cancer awareness campaign on Youtube. After the competition we were able to connect. Since then, they’ve both been communicating with us. We signed on three of our four judges as mentors for Suncayr – they really loved us.
Of the three, we meet with two on a semi-regular basis on a once a week or once every other week basis. The quality of people and the quality of the judges that we met – I have no idea how you guys pulled the strings. I had no idea this was the sort of network that Queen’s could pull. In Waterloo, you get the people in your area as mentors. But at the QEC in Toronto, there are so many people you could meet as potential mentors. We really got to know the judges and then work with them after the competition.
Can you attribute your success to a certain aspect of your business plan or pitch?
For us, Suncayr is an obvious solution to a problem. The product’s cool, and people like it for what it is. There are no other competitors in our space and so it makes a lot of sense. There’s a lot of market validation and a lot of market demand, but no other engineering work has been done.
At the time of the QEC, we were still pitching two drastically different business models. The night before the final presentation, I was redoing our financials until about 12:30 in the morning. Then the next morning, I made a whole new pitch, given the feedback from the judges from the first round. These judges are much smarter and more knowledgeable than us, so it makes sense to use their feedback when you can.
If you had to attribute Suncayr’s ongoing success to one thing, what would that be?
Suncayr has won twenty pitch competitions. Of those, I’d say between Andrew, Rachel (who is no longer with our team) and myself, the wins are probably split 1/3, 1/3 and 1/3. My biggest piece of advice is:
Be able to say “hey none of us are good at anything”. Let’s all work together and figure out a way of making good decisions as a team and how to share the business development risk as a team. One of your teammates has to go out there, and someone else may have already proven to be a good public speaker, but you have to be able to trust anyone on your team to get on stage.