Communitech photo: Trish Crompton SnapEDA chosen for Blackbox Connect female-founder edition Trish Crompton April 15, 2015 Communitech, Ecosystem, Featured, Startups Google for Entrepreneurs has chosen 18 startups, including one from Toronto, to take part in the female-founder edition of its Blackbox Connect program in California later this month. Natasha Baker, founder of SnapEDA, a MaRS client, will head down to Palo Alto on April 27. “You don’t meet too many women in tech, so I think for me it’s this opportunity to meet other women like myself, which is pretty cool,” Baker said. Communitech nominated the online electronic component design library for the Blackbox program through its network partnership with Google for Entrepreneurs (GFE). Baker, an engineering graduate from the University of Toronto, quit her job at an electronic design tool company in 2011 to solve a fundamental problem in her industry. SnapEDA is reminiscent of other open-source platforms such as GitHub, but it’s more than just an archive of millions of CAD design components. It runs a diagnostic algorithm to certify each design as viable, ensuring that engineers have accurate designs when they go to manufacture circuit boards. The comparison can be made between electronic design of circuit board chips and cooking, where you have to chop and measure the ingredients before you start assembling the dish. Similarly, when designing a piece of hardware, a lot of preparation goes into to representing the different components before creating the complete design. The big moment for Baker came after talking to a scientist from Berkeley Lab, a scientific research lab near San Francisco, who was designing a particle accelerator, a device used to control charged particles. His design process required him to create the data from scratch, which amounted to data entry. Baker knew there had to be a better way. Although all signs pointed to a declining electronic design industry, plagued by commodification and outsourcing to places such as China, Baker noticed her affinity for her iPhone and saw the Nike FuelBand taking off. In the last couple of years, devices such as the Nest thermostat and wearables have exploded, with the Internet of Things coming to the forefront of innovation. “Sometimes, I think that you should trust your gut rather than numbers,” she said. Baker had some doubts, but continually came back to the same problem and became determined to make electronic design standardized and data accessible to electronic engineers. At the time, she didn’t know how to code, so she set out for San Francisco in search of a technical co-founder to help make this dream of changing her industry a reality. After spending three months there in early 2012, Baker came up empty handed “Everyone there was like, ‘I want to build the best Yelp for finding the best restaurants nearby, or the next Twitter,’” she said. Undeterred, Baker returned to Toronto and started learning how to code. She thought that “if you build it, they will come,” referring to her still nonexistent co-founder. Baker was excited by this newfound ability to code. “I decided to build an MVP (minimum viable product) and I probably built it out more than I should have, because I was so excited,” said Baker, who started adding feature after feature. Drawing from Toronto’s universities and colleges, Baker enlisted the help of interns to help get her private beta off the ground. By the end of 2012, SnapEDA was in the hands of engineers and Baker began the feedback and iteration process. “We did a ton of Skype interviews with engineers all over the world and we saw, ‘Wow, there’s really a need here,’ and I just grew it from there,” she said. Finally, in October 2013, the public version of SnapEDA launched, thanks to a little push from a TechCrunch article. By September 2014, Baker had landed a spot in the Creative Destruction Lab at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. As part of the program, she was assigned the goal of adding to her team, so she went searching for a co-founder again. As luck would have it, an old acquaintance, Garret Fick, emailed her around the same time. Fick, an experienced developer of electronic design applications, was looking for his next opportunity as he returned from an assignment in China. Fick had actually pitched the same idea internally at a former employer, shortly after SnapEDA was started – “ that’s how much synergy was there,” Baker said. Since Fick joined the company last month, he and Baker have been bringing transparency to a mature industry that, as Fick states, “hasn’t really embraced the Internet.” “Our vision is that we want to structure electronic designs in the same way that Google structured information,” said Baker, adding that, “If we can help the electronic designer, we can get them into our community, and then target all hardware development.” Since Baker quit her job, it has been a long journey, and one that has recently had her making the trek from Toronto to Waterloo Region. “I think what’s really interesting to us is that we can come somewhere and get this business advice that is nuanced in technology,” she said of her weekly trips to Communitech for the Business Fundamentals program. And with Blackbox around the corner, Baker is looking forward to telling the SnapEDA story in California. “I think for us, what we are really excited to get from [Blackbox] is the fundraising; we want to learn more about pitching and refine our communications.” Photo: Natasha Baker and Garret Fick, co-founders of SnapEDA.