Nearly all entrepreneurs experience a defining moment that leads them to taking a leap of faith and starting their business. For Matt Rendall, a Waterloo mechatronics engineering graduate, it happened in Pearl Sullivan’s office, back when the current Dean of Engineering was the chair of the mechanical and mechatronics engineering department.
Rendall, an excellent student by all accounts, was weighing the pros and cons between doing a business and engineering master’s versus launching a new robotics startup. Considering that he would likely bring numerous research grants to the university, he assumed Sullivan would convince him to take the academic route.
Instead, she encouraged him to focus on his business and to return to school if it didn’t pan out.
It’s advice that shows how Waterloo Engineering supports entrepreneurship and real world change through research. It’s also advice Rendall is glad he followed.
Today, he is the CEO of Kitchener-based Clearpath Robotics, a multi-million dollar company with an international reputation for offering reliable, easy-to-use robotic platforms, open source technology, and world-class support. The 76 employees, many of whom are Waterloo Engineering graduates, have designed, built and shipped over 1,000 robots to clients ranging from NASA to the Department of National Defense, the Canadian Space Agency and even Ivy League universities.
“Our focus is on dull, dirty and deadly. We want to be automating jobs that humans don’t like,” he explains, saying that the company is beginning to focus on industries such as mining, the military, agriculture and aerospace. Particularly in dangerous situations, Clearpath Robotics robots could save lives.
Waterloo Engineering had influence on his success
Rendall is the first one to say that the University of Waterloo had – and continues to have – a massive influence on his success. Not only did he meet his business partners, Ryan Gariepy, Patrick Martinson and Bryan Webb on the school’s robotics team, but the business experience he picked up on his co-op terms made him realize he enjoyed working for himself. In fact, co-op, offered something even more tangible and just as important: a salary.
“If I’d had a tuition’s worth of student debt to pay off, I probably would have had different priorities when I graduated,” he says now. “We didn’t have that debt though so that allowed us to take two hundred bucks and start a business.”
His time as a Waterloo Engineering Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) student also made the world of difference. After originally graduating with his mechatronics undergraduate degree and trying to launch his first startup, he realized he was missing some crucial business skills. Rendall went back to school and Clearpath Robotics grew out of his thesis.
Knowing how well trained Waterloo’s engineering graduates are, the company hires many of its employees from the university and is building a larger program for co-op students too. The business still works closely with faculty such as mechanical and mechatronics professor Steven Waslander, who guided Rendall over the years.
And now that the University is a customer of Clearpath Robotics Rendall jokes that it’s as if the partners are receiving a dividend from their education.
“We’ve maintained a very tight research affiliation with the university now that our business is off the ground and growing,” says Rendall. “I owe so much to Waterloo.”
Opening office in Silicon Valley
Rendall says it plans to open a product design facility in the San Francisco Bay Area before the end of the year.
Clearpath has 80 employees at its assembly and design offices in Kitchener and plans to use the new California office to recruit talent. The company aims to hire another 40 people before the end of this year.