Viridiana Perez is a PhD, a CEO, a company founder, — and a problem-solver. After moving to Canada from Mexico City to study chemistry, she found herself facing a problem in her post-doc at Simon Fraser University.
“I was developing methods to measure toxic metals from a variety of samples,” she explains. “There was one machine in the whole university that could do this, and I was the only one who could operate it.”
She came up with the idea of automating some of what the chemist—in this case, her—does by using software, but this presented another problem: she possessed some knowledge of Python but was definitely not a coder. Her solution was to leverage a skill that would benefit her greatly in her second life as an entrepreneur.
“I’m very good at getting familiar with something in basic terms and then interfacing with experts to draw from.”
Viridiana took this experience and the identification of a market need to found NANOSentinel in 2020, a B2B platform as a service company. They provide a “lab-in-a-box” for trace metal testing to the clean-tech manufacturing industry. Their solution is portable, accurate, fast, and, most importantly, easy to use.
It’s a brilliant solution to a complicated problem—but she certainly didn’t do it alone.
Experience Ventures, powered by the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking at the University of Calgary, aims to cultivate entrepreneurial thinking skills in students from 12 post-secondary institutions across Canada and facilitate opportunities for those students to work with startups just like NANOSentinel. CEOs like Viridiana put out a requirement—a software engineering student, a chemistry student, a young person studying marketing—and Experience Ventures works with their network partners, in this case, VentureLabs at Simon Fraser University, to assemble a pool of early talent.
Viridiana connects with students to better understand their skills and interest to ultimately determine if a student is a good fit for mentorship. “You can teach skills, but personal skills are not so easy.”
For Canada’s startups and social ventures, identifying the right talent—and the right mindset—is a priority. Experience Ventures works with ventures to create entrepreneurial thinking placements (with honoraria) for college and university students with innovative companies in Canada. With Experience Ventures helping to create the opportunities, Viridiana can focus on assigning students tasks that best service their skills. However, it’s easier said than done.
“I have to be careful about protecting my company’s (intellectual property),” she admits, “so it can’t be anything that’s absolutely material to the business.”
It’s a delicate balance: NANOSentinel wants fresh eyes on a project that only students can provide, but they have to ensure that it isn’t too sensitive. Since NANOSentinel is deep tech, they have a lot of requirements, from science to hardware, to software.
It’s mutually beneficial for both parties. NANOSentinel gets a mind eager to apply their skills, and the student gets experience in a real-world setting they can add to their CVs—and a vital professional reference for when they graduate. Ultimately, mentorship may be the most valuable benefit.
“I like to encourage people’s creativity,” Viridiana says. “There’s a balance between shooting for the stars and knowing where you can actually get to.”
Thanks to CEOs like Viridiana Perez and Experience Ventures providing opportunities with honoraria to eager students, shooting for the stars, and getting there, feels a lot easier.