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Sami Siddique didn't realize the magnitude of the situation until he was face-to-face with the five 'dragons' on CBC's Dragons' Den.
As the UHN PhD student walked onto the set and introduced his company, Synaptop, to the famous five that make up the Dragons' Den panel, it hit Siddique that this was his chance to make it big.
"I had found out the day before that there was an open call for pitches," he recalls. "I really hadn't known whether I was ready."
Dragons’ Den is a CBC show during which entrepreneurs pitch their business concepts and products to a panel of five Canadian business experts who are willing to invest in the most promising ideas.
The panel of five dragons includes:
Synaptop (pronounced sin-APP-top) is an online desktop that allows people to collaborate in their experiences on the web. Users can watch videos, play games, shop, read, and study with their friends while simultaneously video chatting with them.
"We haven't realized the full potential of the Internet yet," Siddique explains. "The web can allow us to do things together despite a difference in location. I want to fill that void with Synaptop and bring us one step closer to using the Internet to its full capacity."
Synaptop was born to fill two needs, Siddique says. First, he hoped to increase the efficiency of the Internet. Second, he wanted to be able to support himself through his PhD in image guided therapy at the University of Toronto and UHN under Dr. David Jaffray, Director of Techna and senior scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
Siddique launched the company a few years ago and Synaptop started to gain traction in the past year. Now, Siddique has a team of 12 people working for him and over 500,000 active Synaptop users.
"I never expected it to get this big," he admits.
For him, juggling a start-up with his PhD was never a difficult task.
"When you have passion for something, you always find time for it."
The dragons pounce
Evidently the dragons witnessed that passion in Siddique's pitch, and as soon as he explained his project, they began to outbid one another.
Eventually, Dickinson and Wekerle offered to invest $500,000 for 20 per cent of the company.
"In my mind, I screamed, 'yes!' I knew I had won," Siddique says.
Since then, Synaptop has started working with the two dragons to see how to turn the organization into an international success.
One of the next steps is to launch the site in seven different languages, Siddique says. He sees potential partnerships in companies like Netflix and Warner Brothers.
Forever a UHNer
Siddique recently submitted his PhD thesis and is getting ready to defend it later this month.
"The dragons provided a great training ground for my PhD defense," he jokes.
At first, his UHN supervisor, Dr. Jaffray, had a hard time believing what Siddique was up to. He had to come see the company and the team for himself, Siddique recalls.
"I knew he was working on something, but I was not aware of how far he had taken it," Dr. Jaffray explains.
"Sami's success makes me proud. He has always been very creative and I am happy to see him take his ideas so far," he says.
As Siddique prepares to turn his role as CEO and President of Synaptop into a full-time job, he says he won't forget his time at UHN.
"As I learned at UHN, research is all about solving complex problems. You need to learn and then solve and conquer," he says. "With Synaptop, my team and I are solving problems and filling gaps in the Internet every day."