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SFU’s first international entrepreneurship co-op students head to China

March 22, 2018
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Members of Zennea Technologies, a Simon Fraser University student venture, will be the first entrepreneurship co-op (eCo-op) students from SFU to cross international waters, joining the HAX accelerator program – the world’s first and largest hardware accelerator.

The team is one of 15 companies in the latest cohort intake to relocate to Shenzhen, China, considered the Silicon Valley for developing hardware.

“We are thrilled for the opportunity to join this year's HAX cohort,” said Rachel Chase, co-CEO of Zennea Technologies. “HAX will really help us to achieve our goal of hosting a soft launch of our device, ZENS, this summer; allowing people to try the product and experience a great night sleep. This is going to be an amazing personal and professional opportunity, taking our business to a global scale and helping people around the world.”

Zennea is a student venture that works out of the Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection incubator program at the SFU Surrey campus. They are developing a portable ‘sleep wearable’ device to support individuals suffering from sleep apnea. The discreet, battery-operated device aims to reduce snoring and provide insight into one’s sleep quality.

The HAX accelerator program helps startups scale their business by offering seed capital, in-house manufacturing and engineering expertise, access to mentors, and investor pitch training. By providing an environment of comprehensive support, ventures are able to fast-track their product.

“Getting the chance to build our own company and really help people with our device is already phenomenal, but getting the chance to do that in Shenzhen and San Francisco is a dream-come-true,” said Ryan Threlfall, co-CEO of Zennea Technologies. “This is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and we plan to show gratitude to those who helped us get to this point by making the absolute most of the experience.”

Zennea recently competed in SFU’s largest entrepreneurship competition, the Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize and took home the Best Overall Venture Prize award, a cash and in-kind package valued at over $35,000.

The team is composed of mechatronic systems engineering and business students from Technology Entrepreneurship @SFU, which was founded with donations from SFU alumnus Ken Spencer and the BC Innovation Council. Three of its founders then proceeded to participate in the paid, team eCo-op program. This eCo-op program is the first of its kind in Canada, offering student teams the opportunity to earn salary and university credit while pursuing their entrepreneurship ventures full-time.

The funding for these team eCo-Ops was made possible through a donation made by SFU Beedie alumni Charles Chang as well as in part support from the Ministry of Advanced Education and the BC Innovation Council. In June of 2016 Chang announced $10 million towards the establishment of the Charles Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship, which provides funding for a number of initiatives at SFU that support entrepreneurship.

Sarah Lubik, SFU’s director of entrepreneurship, expressed great pride in their accomplishments.

“The Zennea team have been incredible examples of the creativity, determination, adaptability and interdisciplinary collaboration we are working to support and amplify at SFU," Lubik said. "They have been pioneers in the rapidly growing constellation of SFU entrepreneurship programs. We are so proud to be able to support them as they pioneer this new initiative and become, I suspect, the first of many entrepreneurial co-op teams to represent SFU ingenuity around the world."

After 111 days in China, Zennea will showcase their final product at a HAX launch event in San Francisco.

FAST FACTS:

  • Two of Zennea’s founders, Rachel Chase & Nell Du, were recently accepted into Next 36, Canada’s entrepreneurship leadership initiative
  • Aside from taking home the Best Overall Venture Prize award at the Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize competition, Rachel Chase & Nell Du also won the Female-Founder award and a $2,500 cash prize recognizing female led ventures.
  • Teams spend 111 days scaling their business in Shenzhen, China and present the final product at a HAX showcase in San Francisco.
  • Only 15 teams are accepted in the HAX accelerator program bi-annually.