In 2020, Sarim Malik (Mech.Eng ’21) had completed co-op programs in banking, aircraft engineering, and console game development. Nothing seemed to be holding his attention until he and his classmates came up with an idea. They would minimize the number of meetings it took to run a company. They named their company Neat.
Over time, the idea evolved into a notification system. Now Neat is a company of startups. As it has grown, the company has developed software that is used to help other startups until they’ve attracted a base clientele. Neat has a team of engineers, a single software, and their goal is to scale what they’ve learned since starting out 3 years ago.
As well as Sarim, the founding group of the company includes (from left to right above) Nuel Edeh (Chem.Eng ’19) who has a Minor in Technological Entrepreneurship; Kamal Malik (Elec.Eng ’22) whose Minor is in Business Management from Desautels (and who is not related to Sarim); Sarim; and Ted Spare (Mech.Eng ’21)
In late 2019, Kamal reached out to the Engine to find out more about the resources available to help them with their tech startup idea. Kamal and Katya Marc, MEng, MBA, Associate Director of the Engine, already knew one another from the previous year when Kamal served as president of the McGill Entrepreneurs’ Society.
Neat got into the Google Cloud for Startups program via the Engine and were introduced to one of the Engine’s technological Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, Dr. Andrew Csinger. When they later applied and joined the Engine’s Fall 2020 TechAccel program, Andrew ended up being one of their mentors.
In early 2020, Katya connected them to a past TechAccel participant and grantee, Max Musing, founder of Basedash and a software engineering student at the time. “I thought it would be a good fit,” she said. “Not only based on Basedash, which also serves startups, but also because Max had been accepted into the hyper competitive Y Combinator accelerator program in summer 2020.” The Engine was integral to Max’s progress also. Katya helped him when he was in the TechAccel program in the summer of 2019. “I was able to connect Max with alumni who helped him prepare for an interview with Y Combinator and advised him for his capstone project.”
Team Neat had heard of Y Combinator and lived vicariously through Max, gathering insight as Y Combinator helped Max build his product. “As soon as he started talking about Y Combinator, we knew we were with the right guy to help build our product,” says Sarim.
In the spring of 2020, Neat applied to another Engine program, Startup Summer Internship, which provided the team with a full-time intern. “Rahul Behal worked with us full-time for the entire summer of 2020, which was the period we built the first version of our software,” says Sarim. “Rahul is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. Really.”
“Fortunately, we had Ted and Nuel on the team, who had both worked on startups, so they knew about the ups and downs,” says Sarim. After completing the TechAccel fall program, the group entered the McGill Dobson Cup startup competition and made it to the semi-finals. “Ted and Nuel had been in the place where you don’t get where you want to go on your first try. Their experience helped us keep our spirits up and our eye on the ball.”
At that point, the founders were far from being where they wanted to be. They started to ask themselves why they were doing what they were doing, where were they headed? Sarim knew he wanted to have a positive impact on people by helping them solve their problems. That was when Neat pivoted towards their current company, helping other startups.
Since then, the company has grown. Three years later, Neat is fully backed by a US investor. They support companies in enterprise software, climate science, logistics providers and e-learning platforms, approaching them with a problem-solving framework. The team builds software to support early-stage businesses. To do this, they must understand a business, and when the software gets built, what they learn goes back into their offering. “We’re an incubator for startups. We’re a metalab for building software,” says Sarim.
Now Sarim has come full-circle and volunteers as a TechAccel mentor. “I realized when we were working with Max, it was like we were waiting for permission to go ahead. When I talk to students who are starting out, I tell them to go ahead. Go ahead and solve the problem you want to solve, don’t wait for a blueprint or external validation.”
He also advises students not to get bogged down with complexities. “Subject matter experts are helpful to a point, but the more you know, the harder it is to stay simple. When we worked that first summer with Rahul, he taught us the mindset of Fail – Learn – Fail – Learn more. That has also been incredibly important to our success. Rahul is now working as a developer at Amazon.”
Sarim realizes he’s in a privileged position to be able to take risks, and he points out that being in that position was helped by the Engine, to be able to take risks while he was still in school. “I’m grateful that the Engine team were able to get us resources and connections when we needed them most.”
Katya is always happy to see entrepreneurs come back to mentor after they’ve been helped by the community that the Engine has built. As well as mentoring, Sarim participated in the Engine’s speaker series during Fall 2021.