Engineering health care: Business development via local and international opportunities
And even though Brett Vokey and Anna Gosine are both full-time students, the undergraduates are finding innovative ways to develop their products through the support of local and international opportunities and competitions.
Mr. Vokey and Ms. Gosine recently completed entrepreneurial work terms through the university’s Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE) in partnership with the Health Innovation Initiative.
This experience allowed them to job shadow professionals within Eastern Health to help them identify areas within the health-care system that needed solutions. As a result, BreatheSuite and VitalMIST were born.
Mr. Vokey’s company, BreatheSuite, developed an add-on device for inhalers to help people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The device trains patients to receive optimal dosages of their medication.
The device pairs with an app that tells the patient how well they are adhering to their medication plan, gives feedback on inhaler technique and ensures they receive optimal dosages of their medication. BreatheSuite is also beneficial for doctors in that it enables them to monitor their patients’ inhaler usage remotely for maximum effectiveness.
“I’ve had asthma and COPD patients approach me to tell me their stories about how this product can and will help them,” Mr. Vokey said. “It’s really exciting to see everything about BreatheSuite move so quickly, and the team working with me plays a big role in that.”
Ms. Gosine’s VitalMIST is an intranasal drug delivery device.
While there is a similar device currently on the market, it is more expensive and has had previous issues with lack of functionality.
VitalMIST aims to create a more effective nozzle that is also safer and more accessible.
“Having spent last summer in Malawi, I saw the issues with access to healthcare and was motivated to find a way to combine my love of international development with my engineering and biomedical experiences to develop a product that could benefit people, like the incredible family I lived with while in Malawi,” said Ms. Gosine.
With their common goal to improve healthcare for people on a global scale, the fifth-year mechanical engineering students are utilizing entrepreneurial competitions to advance their businesses.
This past March both companies were winners of the Mel Woodward Cup, an annual student idea competition organized by the MCE that provides up to three prizes of $10,000 each to teams of Memorial University student entrepreneurs for their innovative business ideas.
“I remember being more nervous to get into the top eight than the actual competition, because I wanted to bring local recognition to the company and pitch in front of the local entrepreneurial community,” said Mr. Vokey. “When I was named a winner, I realized that other people saw value in this product. That really inspired me to bring BreatheSuite to the next level.”
A month later they were winners in the Genesis Centre’s Pitch & Pick competition with VitalMIST placing second and BreathSuite placing third, each receiving $300 and $200, respectively. The competition is part of the Genesis Centre’s Evolution Program for early stage technology-based start-ups.
This past May, BreatheSuite was one of only two Canadian companies accepted to participate in the New York Health Challenge, an international health-care entrepreneurship community challenge. Mr. Vokey will also represent Memorial in the 2018 University Startup World Cup from Oct. 8-12 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The competition identifies the very best startups from around the world; more than 65 teams from more than 30 countries will compete for $25,000.
The students’ most recent competition is the Embryo Grant competition. The competition is divided into three, two-month-long phases with each successful round worth an additional $15,000.
At the end of each phase, participants must submit a progress report and pitch their developing product. Both companies were admitted into phase one this past June and to phase two earlier this month, which means they are the final two companies in the competition. The final phase will take place this fall.
Ms. Gosine has also been invited to participate in the Communitech’s Fierce Founders Bootcamp this fall. The boot camp is a fast-paced business and personal growth program open to female entrepreneurs with a tech or tech-based company. Ms. Gosine is one of 23 female founders who will receive hands-on mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs and experts as she builds her business model and works towards refining her product. At the end of the boot camp, the companies will compete for the final prize of $100,000.
“Taking part in an entrepreneurial work term was an incredible opportunity to jump head first into the entrepreneurial ecosystem here in St. John’s,” Ms. Gosine said. “Access to mentors and programs were really beneficial in pushing my business forward. On top of that, growing my network and having the opportunity to speak to a wider audience about my passion as well getting access to funding has enabled me to grow my team and my product.”