OMSCS Alumnus and Co-Founder of SnapTravel Gives Back with New Fellowship Program


In honor of their co-founder’s recent completion of the online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMSCS) program, Toronto-based SnapTravel has created two new fellowships for OMSCS students -- the first gift of this kind in program history. The OMSCS SnapTravel Fellowships will provide partial funding for students who demonstrate entrepreneurial engagement and/or who identify as an underrepresented minority in the field computer science. These fellowships are inspired by Henry Shi’s own experiences as an entrepreneur and the CTO and co-founder of the popular hotel booking service.

Henry Shi always knew that he wanted to start his own company, it was just a matter of figuring out what and how. Shi was born in China but moved between the United Kingdom, Japan and finally, Canada, and grew up in a world familiar with technology – his mother was a computer scientist and his father was an aerospace engineer. After earning a dual bachelor of science in computer science and economics from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, Shi made the leap and moved to the San Francisco Bay-area.

He eventually found himself working at Google as a software engineer. Many people would stay and reap the benefits of a job with a company like Google, but not Shi.

“I’ve always been a startup person and Google was a great company, but I wanted to do something on the side to continue learning the theoretics of computer science,” said Shi. “So, in the fall of 2015 I quit my job in search of the right idea, to try to create something new. That’s also when I found out about OMSCS.”

Around the same time as his application and acceptance to OMSCS, Shi and his co-founder Hussein Fazal, noticed a hole in the app market, a space for a company that would utilize AI chatbots to drive commerce. They had also been toying with the idea of working in the travel sector. That is when the idea for SnapTravel was born.

“While I was fundraising and getting this new app idea off the ground, my time in the United States had come to an end and I decided to move back to Canada to to continue growing our venture. Because OMSCS is online and remote, it enabled me to continue my education in spite of moving countries and moving companies and work.”

Shi and his small but growing startup relocated to Toronto where the company successfully raised their Series A funding in July 2017 and grew from two people working out of his apartment to 50 employees across three countries. According to Shi, that is when “things really started to get really busy.”

In the midst of all of this, Shi continued to progress in OMSCS but began to wonder if he could balance the chaos of running a successful company while finishing his master’s degree.

“I would work from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. the next day and then realize, “Oh no, I forgot to do my project and it’s due the next day!” said Shi. “But, I became better at time management. A lot of the time it was a matter of finding time when I could. When I was commuting, I would watch the lessons. When I needed to pause after work and collect my thoughts, I would watch lectures. It comes back to balance and growing a startup and finding balance within the chaos.”

“I decided that it would be worth it to stick it out. It’s definitely a world class education and the fact that you can do it online, from anywhere -- that flexibility allowed this extraordinary combination of events to happen.”  

As Shi progressed towards the OMSCS finish line, he began to reflect on his circumstances and time in the program. During his undergraduate studies at the University of Waterloo, Shi was able to participate in Velocity, an incubator program that helped to inspire his entrepreneurial spirit. He discovered a continued expression of this “entrepreneurial spirit” within the OMSCS program where faculty and students find ways to support others in achieving their dreams.

To help kindle this entrepreneurial spirit, Shi and SnapTravel have provided OMSCS with the program’s first academic fellowships. The day that Shi arrived in Atlanta – his first ever visit to campus  – to join his fellow OMSCS students in walking across the stage at commencement, was the same day that the first OMSCS fellowships were established, thanks to SnapTravel.

Two equal, annual, expendable fellowships of $1,000 each, established for graduate students who are pursuing the OMSCS program will soon be open for applications. One fellowship will be awarded to a qualified student who demonstrates entrepreneurial engagement through his/her own start-up activity and/or involvement with entrepreneurial activities. The second fellowship will be awarded to a qualified student with first preference to a student who identifies as a member of an underrepresented group in tech. Fellowship recipients will be based on applications and selected by SnapTravel, with input from the Dean of the College of Computing, or his/her designee.

“I’m a young founder and I feel like a lot of young founders aren’t necessarily thinking of giving back so early in their startup careers,” said Shi. “For me, it’s incredibly important to pay forward my experiences -- especially with a program like OMSCS, an idea that’s so new and mission-driven that it wasn’t even possible just five years ago.”

“It’s something small but I hope that it can be meaningful.”

Interested OMSCS candidates can visit the SnapTravel website to submit an application for one of the two available OMSCS SnapTravel Fellowships. Applicants must be students currently enrolled in the program or those who have applied and have been accepted to the program. The deadline to apply is Dec. 31, 2019.