Career Conversions – Harleen Kaur


Harleen Kaur

From Rocket Science to Social Media

Born in India, Harleen Kaur had worked hard to build a remarkable career in the aerospace industry. She was the only woman among 80 students in the aerospace engineering program in her 2004 class at Ryerson University in Toronto. After receiving her master’s from the International Space University in France, Kaur designed, built and helped launch NASA rockets that blasted as far away as Pluto, plus Earth-observation satellites that continue to orbit the planet. In 2009, she moved to the jet engine department of Rolls-Royce, where she was a vice president.

But in 2013, Kaur jettisoned it all for a startup social networking app, uCiC (as in, “You see, I see”), which she cofounded with her brother, Sukhsagar Singh, in 2014. The app allows users to ask each other for real-time photographs and videos of locations they’re interested in viewing. For example, if you’re looking for a certain Korean taco truck, uCiC users deliver the information, with images and videos, in real time. Is that smoke in the distance coming from your house, as you fight traffic to get close? Those at the scene will let you know.

The marketplace for new apps is incredibly competitive, and uCiC is far from a guaranteed success. So why did Kaur make the leap from space travel to mobile apps?

“I was finding it difficult to answer the question, What difference have I have made today?” she says. “Being in a big organization is like being a cog in a big machine, and sometimes it is very hard to point out your own contribution. Also, I felt like I had peaked in my learning curve. At Rolls-Royce, I was an anomaly for being the youngest and the first female VP. I knew I had to wait at least five years, perhaps 10, before I could move to the next challenge”

Starting her own company has been a totally different kind of challenge for Kaur. “I love it, but it is much more difficult than I thought it would be,” she says. “Building my own startup has been by far the most challenging thing I have ever done. In a job, you go in with a title, and there are certain assumptions people attached to that title—people listen to you more intently. As opposed to me being a founder of a no-name startup, where you must fight for everyone’s attention.”

The initial round of funding for uCiC, under the DBA name Snapwise Inc., came from Kaur’s and Singh’s savings. Now based in Toronto, they won a grant from the Canadian government and used an angel round of funding to continue the business.

According to Kaur, uCiC has been used more than 2 million times as of early 2017, in 180 countries and by 350,000 users. Her first corporate partner is the Weather Channel (think about getting storm predictions and damage assessments from those on the spot). And uCiC won the Best New App award at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2015.

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