Chanakya Ramdev doesn’t mind being chief guinea pig as well as founder of Sweat Free Apparel, a startup company inspired by sticky personal experience during a Waterloo Engineering co-op work term overseas.
As he anticipates going into production and graduating with a degree in management engineering this fall, he credits his education with giving him the nimbleness needed to start from scratch and, hopefully, succeed in business.
“One of the really cool things about management engineering is that it provides you with a diverse skill set,” says Ramdev. “You need that when you are running a company because at one moment you are the janitor cleaning the place and the next you are trying to understand how Google ads work.”
The idea at the core of the startup came to Ramdev while he was doing a work term at the University of Waterloo’s offices in Hong Kong, a city known for its high humidity. Required to dress up, he arrived for work every morning drenched in sweat.
Convinced there must be a better way than ducking into a washroom to dry off with paper towels, he recruited a core team of about four other students when he returned to Waterloo and got to work on a special undershirt to do the job instead.
The latest prototype combines layers of bamboo and cotton fabric in the underarm areas to first absorb perspiration and then block it from passing through to outer garments.
Ramdev can personally vouch for the T-shirt’s double-pronged benefits – the wearer feels dry, while their clothes never get unsightly stains.
“I am the main tester, so I wear it a lot,” he says. “It works perfectly.”
Working out of lab space at Velocity Science, an on-campus incubator through which it received $25,000 in funding, Sweat Free expects to soon apply for a patent and seek financial support on the Kickstarter crowdfunding website.
The goal is to generate enough pre-orders to contract a manufacturer for an initial production run of the form-fitting undershirts.
“We will be doing our level best to not only reach but exceed our target,” says Ramdev, who made an impromptu pitch to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he was on the campaign trail in Waterloo last fall.
Waterloo culture gave startup confidence
That kind of chutzpah is a product, in part, of the confidence he has developed since coming from India to study at Waterloo Engineering and catching its passion for applying theory in the real world.
“It provided me with the courage and the conviction to go out and do this because I am not the only one,” Ramdev says. “There are hundreds of entrepreneurs in engineering and other faculties who are trying to solve big problems.”
The example set by other enterprising Waterloo students and graduates has been backed up by crucial, practical guidance and support, especially during rocky periods in the development of the startup.
“Being part of the entrepreneurial community helped us overcome those times when things were not going the best,” Ramdev says. “That’s why we have been able to survive until now.”