Waterloo startup Epoch to help newcomers to Canada use their skills

Epoch is a social startup that helps refugees and newcomers to Waterloo region trade their skills in exchange for services that they need.
Jade Choy co-founded Epoch, an app that helps newcomers to Canada better integrate and use the skills they have. (Jason Zhai)

A new Waterloo startup is looking to make life easier and more convenient for refugees and other newcomers as they settle in the region.

Epoch is a social platform that helps people trade their skills for other services they might need.

Co-founder Jade Choy is a recent graduate of the University of Waterloo, and was inspired to start the platform after seeing the plight of many migrants during an exchange trip to Europe last year.

"That's when I [realized] it's beyond the refugee crisis," she told The Morning Edition's Colin Butler on Wednesday. "It's kind of a humanitarian crisis, a call to action for everyone to help out." 

Choy developed the idea for Epoch along with her brother, also a recent graduate of the University of Waterloo, and Lisa Tran, a science and business student at the university.

No money involved

Epoch works on a "time credit" system, meaning that if a newcomer were to provide an hour of their time helping someone in the community, they would in turn be entitled to one hour of whatever service they might need. 

"There are so many things, we found, that just [don't] have a monetary value, and people are an amazing asset as well," said Choy.

The platform also makes it easier for people who can't afford to pay for those services, but have something to offer in return.

Epoch co-founders Lisa Tran, Jade Choy, and Keith Choy (Jason Zhai)

Choy spent four months in Europe, but said that wasn't her first exposure to the struggles of life in a new country.

She comes from a family of immigrants herself, and saw her parents and grandparents try to fit in.

"Refugees kind of go through the same thing, except they're coming from extreme, impossible situations," she said.

For the newcomers who are now going through that integration process, Choy says Epoch proved to be a welcome relief from some of those difficulties.

Jade and her co-founders beat over 30 other University of Waterloo startups to represent the school at the annual Hult Prize competition.

The contest challenges students from around the world to come up with solutions to global social issues. For this year's prize, the focus for all competitors was the migrant crisis.

The Epoch team will will be going to London, England to compete in the next stage of the Hult Prize in March.

If successful, they will win $1 million US in seed funding.