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Community entrepreneurs bank on HELIX

Seneca helps launch new wireless venture


Farhoud Shirzadi (left) and Cliff Benson are community participants of Seneca HELIX, where they launched their wireless venture, VSETA.

Farhoud Shirzadi and Cliff Benson have a deep network of software and hardware engineers between them. Both worked for BlackBerry, where they met. Both know how to make sensors and buildings talk and have done so in the past.

When the pair had an idea to start a new wireless venture, though, they turned to the one place they knew could help them launch it: Seneca HELIX.

Within less than a year of coming to Seneca in 2017, Farhoud and Cliff went from looking for a pilot test site for their own wireless connectivity network to partnering with Microsoft and expanding their business south of the border.

“It’s like swimming out into the ocean. It’s completely dark, and you just keep going,” Cliff recalls. “But if you’re going to do this, you better do it 110 per cent.”

Farhoud and Cliff are community participants of HELIX, which offers like-minded individuals, free of charge, a home to turn their business ideas into successful startups. Their venture, VSETA, provides facility-monitoring solutions using smart sensors that don’t depend on Wi-Fi.

“We knew we needed to be part of an incubator to move ahead and have access to resources, mentors and other entrepreneurs,” Cliff says. “We liked HELIX the best because it enabled us to grow. The entire year moved really fast. Without the support of HELIX, we wouldn’t be able to catapult the way we have.”

Through HELIX, Farhoud and Cliff were introduced to Don Forster, Seneca’s Senior Manager, Custodial and Support Services, who had been looking for a solution to monitor the traffic flow of washrooms and allocate staff resources to the busiest location based on needs.

“Most of the complaints we get are to do with washrooms,” Don explains.

With Newnham Campus serving as the VSETA pilot site, Farhoud and Cliff worked closely with Don and his team to install sensors outside all 58 washrooms. The application was then fine-tuned to detect unusually high traffic, sending a notification wirelessly to custodian supervisors like Michelle Freeman.

“VSETA has revamped our routines from top to bottom,” Michelle says. “In addition to making rounds, I can now see spikes on my computer and we can better utilize our staff and their time to maintain and resupply the overused washrooms in a timely manner.”


With the VSETA application, Michelle Freeman, Custodian Supervisor, can see from her computer monitor which one of the 58 washrooms at Newnham Campus requires immediate attention.

From Seneca, Farhoud and Cliff quickly got the ball rolling with VSETA.

“Don and his team’s involvement has been beyond purchase and usage,” Farhoud says. “They helped us design and focus on valuable features, and to bring them into the industry. Their involvement helped us resonate well with other clients and grow faster.”

VSETA now counts other colleges and municipalities in the province as well as colleges in the United States among its clients. In addition, the company has been engaged with the military defence community in facility monitoring.

“Our vision is to be in every building, every college, every university,” Farhoud says. “We want to be everywhere and anywhere.”