Waterloo's Neverfrost hope to give windshield ice the brush-off
Fed up with the dismal winter ritual of chiselling ice off their car windows, a group of engineering students from Waterloo, Ont. came up with a way to ensure they never have to scrape another windshield again.
What began as university project two-and-a-half years ago to solve a pet peeve has evolved into Neverfrost, a startup company that's developed a transparent film for vehicle windows to prevent frost and deflect harsh elements like snow and freezing rain.
The concept has already grabbed the attention of the trucking industry and its founders are so confident in Neverfrost's future that one of them brushed off a job at Facebook and another sidelined plans for grad school, to chase their dreams of making the ice scraper obsolete.
"Cars have been around for a century, but this problem hasn't been fixed," said Khanjan Desai, one of the creators of Neverfrost. "It was something so practical and we felt every winter morning we never had a solution."
Neverfrost isn't the first company to want to eliminate frost. Anti-freeze developer Prestone sells chemical sprays that create a "resilient barrier" between glass and the outside world - but some critics says it also puts a greasy film on the windshield.
Drivers have even struggled with their own household remedies. Online resources suggest creative approaches that range from spraying a mixture of vinegar and water on your windshield to rubbing a raw onion on the window.
Neverfrost uses nanotechnology
Neverfrost hopes to vault all of the alternatives with a patented, transparent film permanently applied to the outside of a
The film incorporates nanotechnology, or the manipulation of objects on a molecular level, to prevent the windshield surface from reaching the conditions necessary for condensation and temperatures low enough to freeze.
Neverfrost also claims to be resistant to the impact of stones and insulates the vehicle cabin from outside elements, which its founders say can lessen the scorching heat of the summer sun.
"There's no comparison in the world today because these are new materials we're building," Desai said. "These things haven't existed before."
The concept was imagined by four University of Waterloo students who were stunned by Canada's harsh winters after they immigrated from warmer climates.
"All of the sudden you're stuck in this refrigerator," said Desai, 24, who moved from India. "Your parents are busy trying to put food on your table, so they're like, 'Go scrape."'
After too many icy mornings, Desai and three classmates put their heads together for a fourth-year design project and came up with a spray that prevented frost when you applied it to a windshield.
Almost instantly the idea resonated with their peers, winning the People's Choice and Most Innovative Product awards at a Waterloo technology competition in mid-2013. Within months, the creators were pushing forward with tests which
helped them realize that a spray which needed to be buffed onto windows was too labour intensive for drivers in the cold of winter.
So they returned to the drawing board to craft a more practical version of Neverfrost.
Startup chosen for Y-Combinator program
It was about the same time that Desai and co-founder Chong Shen got serious about the start-up, with Desai turning down a full-time job at Facebook and Shen putting off his plans for grad school.
When two other co-founders from the original school project stepped away, Desai and Shen were left to lead the company during a pivotal stage in its growth in early 2014.
Neverfrost had been chosen for the prestigious Y-Combinator investment program, a funding launchpad based in Silicon Valley that once helped Dropbox and Airbnb get off the ground.
The program invests US$120,000 into promising tech companies in exchange for a seven per cent equity stake, and tosses the founders into a rigorous industry bootcamp.
Desai and Shen arrived in California with aspirations for Neverfrost and were soon calling up American trucking companies making a case for why their fleets would be the perfect guinea pigs for an idea that was still in its infancy.
"We got cursed at on the first few calls," Desai said.
The most effective sales tactic came when the co-founders met with a trucking executive and demonstrated the film's resistance to the impact of stone chips. They pulled out a sling shot and fired a steel pellet at a truck windshield. The impact was negligible.
"He could not believe it, and signed a pay pallet on the spot," Desai said.
This year, the founders will be focused on the final development of the film before it's released to the trucking industry next fall. A small rollout will begin at some car dealerships, with a plan for a bigger expansion into the consumer market in the future.
The company plans to add eight people to its five-person staff this year.
Desai said he wants to maintain Neverfrost as a Canadian operation, rather than shopping it around to large foreign buyers.
"We started out with this big vision," he said. "It would be a shame if we gave up halfway through if a cheque came around."