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New Brunswick Biotech Startup Helps Engineering Firms Make Better Decisions

WEnTech is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company specializing in biomass and the waste-to-energy industry. The company’s software solution, WEnTech Smart Analysis System (W-SAS ™) provides engineering consultants with up-to-date information allowing for proactive decision making regarding waste-to-energy opportunities.

CEO Amir Akbari and CTO Farough Motasemi both immigrated to Canada from Iran. Their entrepreneurial journey began at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) in Fredericton, the country’s most entrepreneurial post-secondary institution.

ONB caught up with both men to discuss living in Canada and launching a business from New Brunswick.

ONB: Where did the idea for WEnTech’s solution originate?

Farough: Our solution was created in response to an identified need we encountered during a municipal waste-to-energy consultation project. In that particular project, the municipality’s solid waste was dumped in a location outside the city for over 25 years, and there was potential for environmental and waste management issues as a result. The objective of the project was to identify a proper conversation technology and offer a viable business solution to remove waste material first, and then produce energy.

The preliminary assessment of the waste conversion technology systems took five months, and the subsequent financial evaluation was only conducted on a few of the identified technologies leading to an incomplete evaluation.

During this project, we worked closely with a number of other consulting firms and found that they typically identified conversion technology systems they were aware of or had previous experience with. This identified a major problem in the preliminary assessment of the conversion technology selection process – a major problem that exists for all consulting engineering firms – their evaluations were all limited to a few technologies, increasing the risk of selecting a sub-optimal solution and resulting in lost opportunities. In all cases, these assessments were also being done manually which increased assessment times and costs.

Amir: Back then we tried to find a solution for this problem and we couldn’t, so we decided to create one.

ONB: Do you have any early adopters yet?

Amir: Yes, we already have two paying customers. We completed our first project with one in early January, and the second should be finished by the end of March.  We are negotiating actively to finalize three more projects and have more than 10 potential customers in our pipeline.

ONB: What has it been like launching a business from New Brunswick? Can you talk about the support you’ve received?

Amir: When we launched in 2015 we began working with BioNB; their Executive Director Meaghan Seagrave is actually now on our advisory board. Her team connected us with all the right people, including the Pond-Deshpande Centre (PDC). It was through PDC that we received our earliest funding, which helped secure our first two customers. That early financing is what allowed us to attend the conferences where we met both of those early adopters.

BioNB also introduced us to the National Research Council’s IRAP program. We did a small project with them, and via that experience added UNB’s Dr. Kenneth Kent to our team.

We’ve also received great support from groups like Knowledge Park/Ignite Fredericton/Planet Hatch, as well as the Propel ICT accelerator. I should also mention Chris Mathis, CEO of Springboard Atlantic, a great mentor who has joined Meaghan on the advisory board. He helped a lot in the business challenges that we have faced, and even if he doesn’t have the answer to a problem he introduces the right person to help us.

Most recently we entered NBIF’s Breakthru program, where we made the finals. We’ve been through two of their boot camps and have received great feedback thus far from the NBIF team.

Then, of course, there’s ONB. Your group has also provided us financial support for travel outside Atlantic Canada. Due to our connections in the Middle East, we are looking to that region, and the United States, for major export opportunities. We expect to work more closely with the ONB team to fully develop our export strategy and find new markets.

We are engineers, so it’s wonderful to have access to so many people with the business acumen we need to take it to the next level. Fredericton is certainly a great place to launch a company like WEnTech.

ONB: What brought you both to Canada from Iran?

Amir: It’s simple, UNB. It’s an outstanding university. My wife and I came here in 2011 to study, I completed my Master’s and she did her Ph.D. Our initial plan was to do our studies in Fredericton then move to a big city like Toronto. After two years of living here, however, we came to love it. We decided to stay and launch the business from here and grow our family in Fredericton.

Farough: My story is similar, I came here in 2012 to pursue my Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at UNB. Amir and I met along the way and started working on this project that ended up being a great business opportunity. We absolutely intend to stay and grow the business from here. I believe New Brunswick has the potential to be a leader in cleantech solutions. The resources for companies like us are certainly here.

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Team image via Stephen MacGillivray