Co-Founders: PetroPredict

Nachiket Sherlekar - 3B Nanotechnology
Posted on: October 26, 2014

The Iron Warrior recently asked Andrew Andrade to share his start-up story and his secret to success. He seems to have acquired an ability not many people have – to remain dedicated and hard-working while still being constantly inspired to innovate. Along with uWaterloo grad Dominic Toselli, Andrew is the co-founder of PetroPredict, a company that uses advanced data analysis techniques to optimize the efficiency of the energy industry while simultaneously solving environmental problems. Since its inception, the company has gotten a lot of attention: from winning the $25,000 Velocity Fund Finals award in May, to publishing a paper that went on to win the third place at the Society of Petroleum Engineers student paper contest at the Master’s level, as well as participating in numerous hackathons over the past year, they seem to have made their mark in the start-up scene.

Andrew, who is a Mechatronics Engineering student, comes off as quite unassuming when it comes to his achievements – “…I don’t think that I am as successful as others in the Velocity community”; however his success is not to be taken lightly. I recently asked him some questions via email about his company, his experience with entrepreneurship in the KW region, and his plans for the future. An edited version of his replies follows:

Q: What is PetroPredict about, and how was it conceived? Could you give a brief technical explanation of what your product is and how it works?

A: It began with a presentation by economist and [uWaterloo] professor Larry Smith.  He spoke about building great ventures.  You can check out beastar.uwaterloo.ca to learn the secrets on how to have a great career and start a great venture.  His secret to getting instant traction in the industry requires solving problems that urgently require solutions. He said an easy way to do this was to look at your co-op terms for problems which severely affect or imperil the industry, and all I could think about was my experience in the energy industry.

I learnt that while there are great renewable technologies, many things in the world are fueled by petroleum, especially in developing countries like India or China.  There are huge environmental problems which sometimes occur during the production of oil and gas, and while companies try and make every attempt to prevent these from occurring, they do not always have access to the newest technologies used in other industries.  That is where the idea for PetroPredict came from.

PetroPredict enables energy companies to use artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to model risk and solve environmental problems before they happen. Data exists in many different forms, and is difficult to understand and make actionable decisions from.  We build technology which uses different sources of data for engineers to use to identify low capital and high reward optimization opportunities in their fields which also benefits the environment.  Our vision is to revolutionize the way the energy industry makes decisions to improve their profitability and efficiency. Our mission is to apply quantitative engineering, distributed computing techniques, and geospatial analysis to allow the petroleum industry to make smart enterprise decisions.

Q: What has your experience been with regards to setting up a company in the Kitchener-Waterloo region, and in uWaterloo specifically? How was the environment conducive to the establishment of your company? What sort of help did you get along the way?

A: The KW region is one of the best places to start a company.  Similar to my experience working at Silicon Valley, everyone here talking technology and is really smart, hardworking and driven.  It is one of the best places to hire since the talent pool is so great.  There is a reason why most of the world’s best and largest companies hire from Waterloo.

The University of Waterloo provides so much support for entrepreneurs. One of the biggest things is Policy 73, stating that all members of the University own their own Intellectual Property without having to give royalties to the school.  We also have really amazing professors, especially in engineering, who provide guidance and support to our endeavours that give us a real competitive advantage.  In addition there are amazing programs such as Enterprise Co-op and support from the Conrad Center for business and entrepreneurship, the Velocity Alpha, Residence, Science, Garage and Foundry program, and even success coaches at the Student Success Office.

The school also has many integrations with clubs and societies which help [you] network and speak with like-minded people.  Specifically for me, the Society of Petroleum Engineers Student Chapter was a great way to network and where I met my co-founder Dominic Toselli.  Another society is the Entrepreneurship Society which also runs great events for networking.

Along the way, through the Velocity program and Enterprise co-op, I have met countless mentors who have really helped and supported me, and I wish I could list them all here. They provided advice, connections to industry, and most of all inspiration. Watching other people graduate from the same program as myself and becoming successful is really inspiring.

Q: What is your opinion of the start-up culture in general at the university? Does it live up to the hype?

A: If anything, I would say that the start-up culture in Waterloo is under-hyped compared to the Valley, which is considered one of the hottest places to work. Free snacks and lunch offered by more established companies hiring out of Silicon Valley has its appeal, but the experience you can get from working for a pre-Venture Capital backed company is even better.  For example, working for a company out of the Velocity Garage or Foundry or even the Accelerator Centre lets you have a far greater impact, and you learn much more than from a more established start-up.

Q: What are your plans for the future? For the company and for yourself?

A: I envision a future where information technology allows humans and computers to make better decisions and control complex situations without relying on pre-programmed solutions.  Over the past half century, the foundations for artificial intelligence have been laid out and most recently we have the technology to implement it.  I have really strong research interests in artificial intelligence, robotics and man-machine symbiosis. I can’t wait to be able to have access to many unique sources and solve problems which were otherwise not possible to solve.

With PetroPredict we see a paradigm shift in the energy industry where equipment is becoming intelligent and we can create a Digital Oil Field, industrial internet-of-things style. Insights, trends and actionable information from existing data allows us to symbolically find hidden treasure which is worth millions of dollars and really beneficial to the environment. We look to continue to solve difficult problems enabling the industry to make better decisions.

Q: What are some of the things you feel have helped you, personally, gain such a level of success as an entrepreneur at the undergraduate level? What advice do you have for other budding entrepreneurs?

A: Mechatronics Engineering provided me with enough background to enter the energy industry and most importantly taught me the basics of artificial intelligence and machine learning.  This AI background allowed me to some things in the energy industry which are otherwise not possible.

Jackie Lee, another Waterloo Entrepreneur, once told me that an entrepreneur is someone who can hack the world in their favour to make the impossible possible. Being able to make things happen quickly as an entrepreneur is one of the greatest skills and it includes soft skills like communication as well as hard technical skills. Soft skills take time to learn and can be found by observing others. Technical skills can be acquired quickly by taking online courses/reading and building things.  Specifically, Udacity.com is an awesome site to rapidly increase your technical skills with free content and to actually learn to build things quickly.

As Mike Kirkup (director of velocity) constantly tells us, no one is born an entrepreneur. It is a skill which can be learnt by anyone and only improves with practice. Many of the best entrepreneurs have many start-ups under their belt.  If you are interested in being an entrepreneur talk to Wayne Change and do an enterprise co-op term working on your own company.  You can also learn the basics of being an entrepreneur for free from Steve Blank’s Udacity course on how to build a start-up (udacity.com/course/ep245).

Also, Stephanie Johnstone’s success coaching taught me many of the fundamentals of time management and goal setting. It lead to me following David Allen’s getting things done system and combining many techniques for accelerated learning and rapid knowledge acquisition.  Some of them include the basics of using spaced repetition techniques to destroy the curve of forgetting to some really advanced techniques such as being able to work for days without sleep.  The biggest advice I can give is a Facebook philosophy: focusing on impact and doing what takes the least effort to give the most return.

If you are interested in learning more about the Petroleum Industry, Andrew is currently launching a Petroleum 101 tutorial series with the Society of Petroleum Engineers found at speuwaterloo.ca/blog. This blog will go over the fundamentals of the industry and present technical aspects of the business in terms that everyone can understand. This aims to be a great resource for gaining an understanding of possible careers in the industry as well as technical knowledge for both employment and coming up with the next innovation in the industry!