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Economics students win top awards at Venture Prize 2020
For almost a decade, Simon Fraser University (SFU)'s largest entrepreneurship competition, the Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize, has celebrated the achievements of SFU business ventures. This year, two start-ups co-founded by economics students walked away with the top prize in two categories.
TOP IDEA PRIZE AWARD
A love for gaming and a desire to create a vibrant esports culture in BC high schools led to the creation of GameSeta by economics student Tawanda Masawi and mechatronics engineering student Rana Taj. In recognition of their work turning a great idea into a viable venture opportunity, this year's Venture Prize awarded the esports start-up with the Top Idea Prize award.
Masawi sees esports as a valuable learning tool for high school students, and hopes to integrate it into schools by making it easier to establish, manage, and compete in an esports league. This is where GameSeta steps in.
The start-up handles the logistics and provides a secured platform for schools and students to monitor game performance, conduct training sessions, and manage teams. As Masawi explains, "At GameSeta, we're creating a safe and inclusive community for students to participate in competitive gaming while also developing problem-solving, teamwork, and communication skills."
A Surrey Board of Trade's Top 25 Under 25 Award recipient, Masawi credits his economics education for equipping him with the skillset to excel in the venture competition.
"Economics has played a central role in my ability to be agile," says Masawi. "The most important skill I've honed is to leverage industry data and statistics whilst effectively communicating complex ideas to different audiences."
With their Idea Prize win and admission into SFU's Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection Incubator, this is only the beginning for GameSeta. The team is working on establishing partnerships with schools and sporting organizations across the Lower Mainland, and is currently in round two of the New Ventures BC competition, BC's largest venture competition.
TOP DIGITAL PLATFORM AWARD
Managing a successful fintech start-up while pursuing a second degree in economics and business administration is no small feat but Mehdi Asadollahi has excelled on both counts. Together with health sciences graduate student Peyman Namdari, their start-up LumenWire earned the Top Digital Platform Award at this year's Venture Prize.
The vision behind LumenWire stemmed from Asadollahi and Namdari's personal challenges. Like many in the Iranian-Canadian community, they had limited options for international money transfers between Iran and Canada, often facing hefty transaction fees and long processing times.
They saw that their community needed a better way to manage their financial transitions. So Asadollahi and Namdari set out to meet that need, founding LumenWire, an online money transfer service supporting marginalized communities.
"Our mission is to create a fair and equitable financial hub for marginalized communities that have been overlooked by the financial sector," says Asadollahi.
Since establishing LumenWire in 2018, Asadollahi and Namdari have poured their hearts and souls into the venture. They spent close to a year planning and conducting market research which included creating a Farsi version of their platform and travelling to meet with Iranian communities across Canada.
While LumenWire currently only supports financial transactions between Iran and Canada, they hope to expand their services to support Mexican seasonal workers and the Zimbabwean community in Canada.
"When starting their own business, enterpreneurs need to find their 'why' as it's hard work creating something from the ground up," says Asadollahi. "For us, it is not about making money; it is about making a difference and improving the lives of our community."
With the support of SFU's Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection Incubator, LumenWire has been growing exponentially—there are now 17 people working on the team and the start-up has so far processed around $7 million in money transfers within seven months of launching their platform.
Despite these momentous milestones, Asadollahi considers his community's gratitude as his biggest achievement.
"Despite knowing that we're a start-up and the problems we had in the beginning, but we received a lot of appreciation from our customers and it means a lot to me."