Last Wednesday, 14 student-led start-ups from across Ontario were invited to participate as part of the University of Toronto Entrepreneurship Hatchery’s 2019 Demo Day. The event, held in the Myhal Centre for Engineering, Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the St. George campus, was judged by an interdisciplinary panel of over 10 U of T faculty and investors.
Demo Day is the culmination of a four-month process which pairs student teams with experienced mentors—including executives, lawyers, and entrepreneurs—to develop their businesses and potential start-up ideas. Students receive detailed feedback on their business plans, explore their proposed market, learn about patents and marketing, and build prototypes using 3D printers and other fabrication resources.
As part of the event, start-ups gave a brief pitch to the audience to advocate for their product’s potential social and market value. Audience members were then given the opportunity to vote if they would “invest” in the presenter’s product. The panel of judges then deliberated and reached a conclusion on which start-up would be awarded a grand prize of $20, 000. A smaller prize, valued at $2,500 and nicknamed “The People’s Choice,” was given to the start-up with the most “yes” votes in the audience poll.
Among the presenters at this year’s Demo Day were projects aimed at improving the access to electricity in developing nations, apps designed to improve wellness and physical activity, and public health technologies geared towards reducing the risk of health-acquired infections (HAIs).
Fian Technologies, one of the 14 presenters, designed a wall-mounted sensor attached next to handwashing stations in hospitals and clinics. Their innovation intends to guide healthcare providers through proper hand-cleaning etiquette.
“Our hand washing companion device takes the guesswork out of handwashing to combat HAIs at their source,” explained Parhal Chinikar, a founder at Fian Technologies. “We use sensor technology and instant feedback to guide users through three simple stages of proper handwashing.”
In an interview with The Medium following his presentation, Chinikar explained his team’s experience in devising Fian Technologies in greater depth.
“We actually started out trying to make an automated handwashing station. Holistically, handwashing is outdated and hasn’t been modernized in a very long time. Turns out that it would be expensive and impractical to convince people to replace sinks with what we originally envisioned. At around the same time, my grandmother fell and broke her hip and had to go through surgery. She also developed an HAI and had to go through even more surgery to resolve the issue. We realized quickly that there was, even today, a big problem in the healthcare industry with sanitation. We shifted away from our original concept and reached what we have now—a device that walks you through the entire handwashing process and gives you hints on all the steps you need to take.”
“We had the original concept last summer,” continued Chinikar. “We filed for a patent this March and finished our prototype just last month. We’re hoping to implement these as part of a trial over the next two months. From there, we hope to take it to the broader market.”
Brainloop, another presenter, developed a diagnostic aid for reducing the incidence of misdiagnosing epilepsy. In partnership with physicians from Toronto Western Hospital, Brainloop’s project is scheduled to be piloted in their emergency rooms over the 2020-2021 year.
Esteban Arelano, one of Brainloop’s founders, shared with The Medium his inspiration for developing their product.
“Three years ago, we met Sheila. Sheila suffered a seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy eight years ago. Only recently, her diagnosis with epilepsy was found to be a misdiagnosis. Sheila experiences non-epileptic seizures, which can be treated without the use of medications and pharmaceuticals,” Arelano said.
“Over those eight years, she subsequently developed a drug dependency. Sheila’s case is not unique. One in five people are misdiagnosed with a brain disease every year. That’s what led us to develop Brainloop, which harnesses machine learning and artificial intelligence to help a physician with his diagnostic abilities.”
Brainloop received the $2,500 People’s Choice Award for their innovation.
Toronto-based start-up Aeroflux received the grand prize of $25, 000 at the U of T Entrepreneurship Hatchery’s annual Demo Day. Aeroflux developed a working prototype of a contactless, wear-free, maintenance-free aircraft brake that never needs to be replaced. Aeroflux reports that “contactless brakes on a single Airbus A320 would save $7.2 million in operating costs.”
In an interview with The Medium, Nikola Kostic, the project manager and an Engineering student at the University of Toronto’s St. George campus, explained the magnitude of Aeroflux’s winnings.
“It is a huge reward,” Costic said. “It’s something that validates our work over the whole summer. My team and I spent so many days in the workshop and in the prototyping space to make this a reality. To have had the support of the U of T Entrepreneurship community means so much.”
Costic elaborated that in his opinion, the most important aspect for any start-up’s success is patience.
“It’s one of those things where I would say I’ve had a lifelong interest in it. I just had the right inspiration at the right moment,” he said.
“Don’t worry about artificially forcing that moment. Educate yourself in entrepreneurship. The right idea, the right skillset, the right people—it’ll all come together eventually. Stay positive. You can get there.”
Demo Day 2020 is expected to take place in September of next year. Applications to join the U of T Hatchery are now open and available on their website.