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$500,000 in funding for grad’s startup

Norman Esch Award-winning project to launch in Buffalo after topping 43North competition
By: Will Sloan
November 29, 2016
Seyed Nourbakhsh

Photo: Seyed Nourbakhsh, founder and CEO of Formarum, is preparing to launch a self-powered automatic swimming pool system.

Ryerson external,chemical engineering 2013 grad Seyed Nourbakhsh will receive a $500,000 USD cash prize to launch his company.

external,Formarum, which seeks to manufacture the world’s first self-powered automatic swimming pool system, won the funding to launch its first product from the external,43North startup competition. The Richmond Hill-based business will move to Buffalo for a 12-month incubation period.

“I don’t think there’s one piece of advice anyone can teach you: you have to go through those years of learning on your own. But if you have an idea that sort-of makes sense, start it and see how it goes. You will learn along the way,” said Nourbakhsh, founder and CEO of the company.

The project was conceived in 2013, when Nourbakhsh worked at a Burlington pool company as part of a Ryerson co-op program. “We’ve taken an existing pool technology called salt chlorination,” said Nourbakhsh. “The technologies are very difficult to buy, install, and operate for a pool owner. What we’ve done is make it a very easy do-it-yourself product that can be easily bought, installed and operated. That makes it a lot easier for people to switch to salt chlorination, and that means they don’t have to add chlorine manually to the pool water. The pool takes care of itself.”

The business received crucial support early on from the Norman Esch Engineering, Innovation & Entrepreneurship Awards at Ryerson, where it won all three stages of the program (a total of $38,000 in seed funding within the first six months).

“Usually when you come out of school, your first instinct is to look for a job,” said Nourbakhsh. “As I was graduating, maybe 10 or 15 days before I graduated I applied for Norman Esch and got the first stage, which meant I could put looking for a job on a hold for a bit and think about my idea for this project. As I moved ahead, it became a more concrete idea and evolved.”

For the 43North competition, the eight winning companies were filtered from 540 applicants. “This was a many-months-long process starting in May,” said Nourbakhsh. “During that process, you learn what they’re looking for: it’s business fundamentals. Does the business model make sense? Does the product make sense? Is there a large enough market in Buffalo? We focused on those aspects.”

“It really boils down to the teams,” said Peter Burakowski, director of marketing for 43North. “It’s having the right people in place or knowing how to find the right people to make things work. A lot of investors say they invest in the people, because marketing environments change all the time, but the right people can handle that.”

43North will provide Formarum with incubator space in Buffalo, where it will operate for at least 12 months before seeking longer-term manufacturing operations. In addition, the company will be offered mentorship/networking opportunities, and will be enrolled in Start-Up NY, an initiative that exempts them from New York State taxes for up to 10 years.

“You’re treated like a rock star in the Buffalo business community,” said Burakowski. “Folks really open their arms wide—whether it’s to become customers or investors, or to mentor these companies. We work hard to get a great deal of exposure for these companies, holding demo days with investors, or, from a marketing standpoint, to push their story out there.”

For more information on Formarum, go to external,formarum.com