JS Rancourt, Tech Entrepreneur
President, Hockey Robotics
Hockey Robotics’ claim to fame is that it mashes up computing with robotics to help create hockey sticks capable of handling devastating slap shots!
JS and his team cut the ribbon on Hockey Robotics one hour after they received their University of Waterloo engineering diplomas. A month later, they initiated product testing for their first customer.
As leader of the innovative start-up Hockey Robotics, JS mashes a love of sports with passion for technology and business. Hockey Robotics calls itself the leading technology, research and development and testing firm in the game. “Our goal is to bring in many novel technologies to improve the game, help the brands, the players, and the fans,” he says.
Hockey Robotics works with manufacturers to test and improve the strength of hockey sticks. Its technology is a robotic arm that mimics a human slap shot. The robot communicates with a computer program that delivers data to JS and his team so they can determine what causes breakage. JS hopes Hockey Robotics will lead in creating hockey stick standards that will ultimately improve the game.
As a University of Waterloo student, JS worked with John McPhee, a professor and sports engineer. Professor McPhee is a scientific advisor to Golf Digest magazine. He noted there is no equivalent in hockey to the way the golf industry uses robotic testing to help standardize and improve golf clubs. He began drafting ideas and word spread to JS and his friends, who were preparing for their major fourth year engineering project.
“When our team heard about this idea, we came together and said we can take Professor McPhee’s basic design and upgrade it, improve it, design a control system, raise funds and find industry partners to build a prototype. Slowly as we went along and looked at the industry and market for this, we became Hockey Robotics,” JS said.
A day in the life
As president, JS oversees the small company, introduces its ideas to potential customers, secures deals, promotes the image, does media interviews and expands the business. “I try to understand what is going on in the industry, in other sports industries, and bring different technologies into the game. I also did a lot of raising of capital when we were in fourth year engineering,” he says.
The company has already expanded to other lines of business. For example, Hockey Robotics is testing a nanotechnology coating on hockey sticks to improve durability. The coating is typically used in the military and aviation industries because it is incredibly strong, but light. It protects against wear and tear, the main cause of stick breakage. The company announced the coating would be tested on SBK hockey sticks. The announcement received great support from Montreal Canadiens’ legend Guy Lafleur, who sits on SBK’s board of directors.
JS wants Hockey Robotics to be known for technological innovation in hockey. “Whenever someone wants to innovate, bring something new, or when a league wants to figure out something going on in the game, they’re going to come to Hockey Robotics because we’re going to be the leaders.”
Why this job rocks
“When you see things come through, even the slightest achievement, it’s amazing and rewarding,” JS says. “I don’t think any true entrepreneur or CEO does it because they want to be their own boss – they all do but that’s not the main reason – it’s the challenge and strategizing of business, taking care of today while preparing for tomorrow, and the reward when your team is proud of you, the team succeeds and the client is happy.”
- JS knew early on he wanted a career that combined business and technology, so he got an honours degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Waterloo.
- While in university, JS worked a variety of tech related jobs to expand his business, customer service and tech skills. As a technology consultant at Deloitte, he helped his team secure millions of dollars in capital funding.
- He spearheaded a couple of start-ups, including the innovative Resume Cards. The company creates business cards in partnership with universities that include brief summaries of student resumes.
- He began working alongside Professor John McPhee to study sports engineering, a passion brought on by his love for hockey and years spent playing varsity golf with the university’s award winning team. He decided to turn McPhee’s vision into reality.
- In 2010, JS co-founded and became president of what would become Hockey Robotics. In June 2011, the company officially launched and JS took the job full-time.
“Something I’ve learned is things will go wrong and you have to expect it,” JS says.
“When you work with novel technology, things that have never been done before, you face challenges you wouldn’t expect or think of and they multiply. It takes time and it involves the entire team in order to solve it.”
At only 23, JS has had to learn how to run a business successfully. “We have the best team I could ever possibly conceive, guys that are extremely talented in their fields and very business savvy, but it’s still difficult and challenging to manage the team,” he says.
In order to succeed, JS plans ahead for challenges that may arise in the future. “As a young president in an industry like hockey, with a lot of veterans, it can be hard to gain credibility. I plan to leverage our titles as engineering students from the top university in Canada, our affiliation with the university, and the fact that a well-known professor is on our team, in order to gain credibility and help earn money and investments down the road. I wish I had a lot more experience in some things like the legal side, but those are things you learn.”
Tips for success
Do your math and science! “The truth is not many can tell you in grade 9 or 10 what they’re going to do, but when you get to grade 12 and you didn’t do your math or sciences you just closed so many doors behind you. You might not know in grade 10 that you want to be an engineering student when you go to university or that you want to go to med school or accounting, you don’t know that. Even in grade 10, I didn’t know. It’s the lack of math and science courses that close the most doors. My advice is to open all the doors, take all the math and all the sciences, and when you sit down in grade 12 at least you can go into anything. Grades are important – that’s how you go to a topnotch university like the University of Waterloo.”