Nfld. & Labrador

Local tech company is Atlantic Canada's 1st to join exclusive Silicon Valley program

"It's almost like the small business equivalent of getting into Stanford or MIT," says Jeremy Andrews, CTO and co-founder of CoLab Software.

It's 'the small business equivalent of getting into Stanford or MIT,' says co-founder of CoLab Software

Jeremy Andrews, left, and Adam Keating will spend their summer between Silicon Valley and St. John's. (Paula Gale/CBC)

A summer in Silicon Valley taking part in a program that helped get companies like Airbnb, Twitch and Reddit off the ground will likely mean big things for a St. John's-based technology firm.

"It's almost like the small business equivalent of getting into Stanford or MIT," says Jeremy Andrews, CTO and co-founder of CoLab Software.

Andrews and fellow CoLab founder and CEO Adam Keating are taking their company to the exclusive Y Combinator program in California.

In March, CoLab applied to the program, which invests a small amount of money every year into a large number of startups that will move to Silicon Valley in California for three months.

The Paradigm Hyperloop team finished second in the SpaceX Hyperloop Competition in 2017 and made history with the world's first successful run of an air bearing model. (Paradigm Hyperloop/Facebook)

Y Combinator brings in some of the tech industry's best-known names as mentors, who will give these startups — like CoLab — a chance to ask questions and refine their pitch ahead of an invite-only Demo Day in August.

"They have a value of over $100 billion right now and their measure of success is how many billion-dollar companies can we create? So for us, being the first company in Atlantic Canada to do that, it's a really positive indication for the company," Keating said.

"It's also just going to be an amazing opportunity for us to be able to grow and learn from some of the best in the world."

Billion-dollar plans

Keating and Andrews will spend much of their summer between St. John's and Silicon Valley, working to get their company in a position to pitch to some of the biggest tech personas.

"It's really cool," Andrews said, joking that the summer for him will likely consist of "a lot of planes."

"Our plan is to become a billion-dollar company. We want to be the solution that companies turn to for engineering collaborations," Keating said.

CoLab Software co-founders Adam Keating, left, and Jeremy Andrews at the 2019 SAE WCX in Detroit in April. (Submitted by Adam Keating)

"I think the ceiling is not really defined at this point. For us, we would love to have a company that's headquartered here and then [expand] around the world."

Andrew and Keating founded CoLab Software in January 2017. It's made up of the same team that led the Paradigm Hyperloop, which had a second-place finish at the 2017 SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition.

CoLab was born out of the frustration the team felt after encountering some design problems during the competition, said Keating.

Those problems weren't unique to their project, it turned out.

"We saw the same thing with big companies around the world and we said, you know, there's gotta be a better way to actually solve this problem and help teams collaborate on global mechanical projects," Keating said.

A bit of excitement around meeting some people we consider to be idols in the tech industry.- Jeremy Andrews

"We said, 'Why not start it ourselves?'"

The company's 14-person team developed Gradient, a cloud-based tool that would enable engineering teams to streamline their processes and simplify management of their programs.

"We build collaboration solutions for mechanical engineers, to put it very simply," Andrews said.

"Typical engineering teams will print out drawings, mark them up by hand and scan them off, share them with other people, and that's how they typically communicate feedback, but we build a digital platform essentially to do that."

'Bit of an exclusive thing'

Gradient has been redeveloped from its initial iteration, and Keating wouldn't get specific about the kinds of companies using the program — they can't say yet who they're working with — but he said they're familiar names.

"We're working with some really cool companies right now in automotive, energy, industrial space — some of the biggest companies in the world, actually, which is kind of how it all stemmed into doing this Y Combinator program," Keating said.

The 14-person CoLab Software team is looking to expand. (Submitted by Adam Keating)

It will be a busy summer for the company, Keating said — and that's why they're now looking to double their team size by hiring new talent, and are hosting a registration-first open house at their St. John's headquarters on May 9.

But as for what their day-to-day will look like in California from June to August, Andrews said it's pretty hush hush.

"We're wondering ourselves," he said.

"It's a bit of an exclusive thing. We've been to their office, we've at least seen that much. I think it's gonna be a lot of meetings, a lot of travelling around the Bay Area, a bit of excitement around meeting some people we consider to be idols in the tech industry."

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from the St. John's Morning Show

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