Innovate BC’s Innovator Skills Initiative (ISI) grant program is helping B.C. tech startups hire post-secondary students get funding to grow their teams while helping students get hands-on work experience and entrepreneurial training.
We chatted with Jacob Steiner, Founder of Homer Bot, and two of their student interns, Curtis Kim and Phillips Halim, to discover how the program has impacted the startup.
Q: Tell us a bit about Homer?
Jacob: Homer helps people find their perfect home. As a chat platform, we start by asking users the right questions about their preferences and Homer Bot then explores the world wide web for the best matches. Homer is integrated within internal communications tools, like Slack, to help people quickly and seamlessly find the best home in a new city or country. Homer uses machine learning to understand the people, places and neighbourhoods that make up our communities.
Q: How did hiring students help your startup?
Jacob: Hiring students helped Homer develop and grow our software’s features on a shorter timeline. Phillips and Curtis owned the product development cycle from testing to integration and execution.
Q: How did you find the students?
Jacob: We advertise career opportunities on our website, but Curtis and Phillips came from the continuation of a previous BCIT student co-operative semester project. It was a good fit and they wanted to continue contributing to Homer’s vision, which was a win for us! Alternatively, students can contact their university’s career centre to establish a relationship and organizations can post a project through Riipen, which is generally a fast way to reach students for internship opportunities.
Q: Any success stories?
Jacob: Curtis and Phillips developed functions that enable dynamic recommendations and notifications for users based on personal needs in a rental home. Their complete feature was beta tested with WeWorkers and will join Homer’s core product. The ultimate achievement is supporting and enabling students to deliver a real impact to Homer’s users and customers. Our hope is that we inspired them to create their own startup… or if we’re fortunate, to join the Homer’s Emerging Technology team again once they graduate from BCIT.
Q: Would you recommend the program?
Jacob: Highly recommended! Students bring a fresh perspective, energy, talent, and the ISI grant program helps provide the perfect introduction.
Q: What’s next for Homer?
Jacob: Our vision is to fundamentally change the way people interact with cities. We are engaged with some of the largest companies in Vancouver to help their employees find new places to live. We have multiple projects on the go — from pursuing partnerships for full-service moving and leasing services, data projects with UBC, and multi-media marketing software. With all of our work, we are focused on understanding the intangible feeling of home, it’s different for everyone and we want Homer to be the best choice for people in all housing situations.
Q: How did it benefit you (students) to work with the company?
Phillips: The team gave me real-world training and trusted me to build my own function from scratch and helped me with testing until we felt it was ready for production. They provided the perfect balance of autonomy and support to learn and test and demonstrate my skills and abilities.
Curtis: Working with the Homer team gave me an in-depth look and experience of how a real software startup solves problems.
Interested in applying to the ISI grant program? Applications are open. Your B.C.-based tech company or startup could receive up to $10,000 a year to hire a post-secondary student.