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Engineering grad set to make waves in business

By Sharon Aschaiek

Seyed Nourbakhsh

Seyed Nourbakhsh, right, shows his innovative technology to Dave Esch (Norman Esch's son). Nourbakhsh has launched his company with the help of the Esch Foundation.

The first student in Ryerson University’s Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science to win all three stages of the Norman Esch Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship Awards is now using the business knowledge and financial support he gained from the process to take the plunge into business.

Seyed Nourbakhsh, a 2013 chemical engineering graduate, is the founder of Formarum, a new company offering the first-ever automated recreational water disinfection system. The product, called Dive, uses an advanced ionization technology to automate pool disinfection and significantly reduce the amount of chlorine and other chemicals used to maintain water in pools and spas, which can improve convenience and safety and save owners considerable time and money.

Nourbakhsh hit on his idea while completing a four-month co-op placement at an engineering company doing work in a similar field. While there, he discovered a common frustration among their pool wholesaler clients: their customers complained about the work involved in maintaining their pool’s chemicals. Nourbakhsh, who got hired by the company and worked there part time for two years, realized the answer lay in an automated approach.

He was able to develop that idea and turn it into a business through the Esch Awards, which provide funding to engineering and architectural science students with ideas for viable products, inventions or technologies. The Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science administers the awards, made possible by financial support of the Norman Esch Foundation, which supports the development of Engineering and Architectural Science students. The awards offer three stages of funding: 1) $5,000 to research the target market; 2) $8,000 to develop a business plan and create a prototype; 3) $25,000 to launch the enterprise.

To help prepare award applicants and winners, the Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science has cultivated an Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem that provides aspiring entrepreneurs with mentorship, incubator and design space, training, and access to external matching funding. Nourbakhsh participated in workshops on topics such as protecting intellectual property and attracting investors, and received mentoring from an Esch Awards committee member who is an experienced chemical engineer.

Meanwhile, the $38,000 he gained from winning all three Esch Awards boosted his credibility, which helped him attract an additional $66,000 in investment from the Ontario Centres of Excellence, and from friends and family. He has used that money to rent an office and workshop in Etobicoke, buy equipment to build his prototype, pay himself a salary, and hire another engineer and a business development manager.

Nourbakhsh is now connecting with potential customers — pool equipment wholesalers, property owners and retail home supply stores such as Home Depot— finding a manufacturer and completing Formarum’s website. He plans to bring Dive to market by January 2015.

“There were many uncertainties throughout this process, both technical and business,” says Nourbakhsh, 24. “But Ryerson and the awards helped me gain the knowledge and the confidence to solve problems and make this happen.”