Posts Tagged: entrepreneurship

EngSci entrepreneurs advance to next stage at U of T Engineering’s Hatchery Demo Day 2022

Members of the four selected teams at the Hatchery’s Demo Day 2022 stand together at the Visualization Facility in the Myhal Centre. (Photo: Aaron Demeter)

 

EngSci students were among successful competitors at the Entrepreneurship Hatchery’s recent Demo Day 2022.  The team of Aidan Dempster, Mustafa Khan (both Year 3 EngSci ) and Ankit Batra (University of Waterloo) were one of four selected to move on to the Hatchery’s Go-To-Market stage.  The event also launched the Hatchery’s new Build a Team tool, which matches individuals and startups based on skills and interests.

Dempster, Khan, and Batra developed MoveMatch, a platform for advanced motion analysis for use in at-home physiotherapy.

Read the full story in the U of T Engineering News.


EngSci alumna bolsters U of T’s rapid rise in entrepreneurship space

Phot of Jiayue (Jenny) he wearing a red dress and smiling

Jiayue (Jenny) He (EngSci 0T3 PEY) is the co-founder of a Silicon Valley startup that’s rethinking how home construction and renovation services are delivered (Photo: Jenny He)

By Rahul Kalvapalle

When you think of industries that are being disrupted by technological innovation, fence installation and driveway construction don’t immediately leap to mind.

Jiayue (Jenny) He (EngSci0T3 + PEY) is looking to change that. She’s the CEO and co-founder of Ergeon, a Silicon Valley startup that’s transforming how outdoor home construction and renovation services are delivered.

Ergeon uses video calls and satellite imaging to conduct remote assessment of clients’ properties, before sub-contracting the labour to skilled contractors — essentially owning the process end-to-end. Founded in 2018, the company has completed over 8,000 projects in California alone (it also operates in Texas) and has raised nearly $35 million from investors.

“We’re trying to empower the world to build,” says He, who earned her Bachelor of Applied Science from the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto.

“We’re trying to take a pretty traditional industry — construction is one of the oldest industries since the beginning of time, as long as people have had houses — and bring in innovation, transparency and more access.”

Ergeon is one of more than 400 promising startups that have played a role in U of T’s status as the fastest riser in the 2021 PitchBook rankings for undergraduate programs, which rank universities on how many undergraduate alumni become founders of venture capital-backed companies.

U of T leapt to 27th from 33rd in the rankings last year. The rankings consider companies that received a first round of venture funding between January 2006 and November 2021 — a period in which companies founded by U of T undergraduate alumni raised over $17 billion.

The biggest fundraisers include AI research company OpenAI, enterprise software firm Databricks and pharmaceutical firm Moderna — which is now a household name thanks to its ubiquitous mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine.

He says her time at U of T Engineering was foundational to what she went on to achieve. That includes getting comfortable with numbers and instilling a data-driven approach to problem-solving and decision-making. She adds that her engineering education also helped her hone the ability to structure and solve problems.

“I find that universally applicable, no matter what kind of problem I’m solving,” He says.

She also credits the Faculty’s Professional Experience Year Co-op Program (PEY Co-op) with an all-important first exposure to Silicon Valley, where she worked for a semiconductor company.

“That made it very easy for me to make the decision a few years ago to move out here,” she says.

She launched Ergeon after recognizing the home renovation and construction sector needed to become more customer-friendly and transparent — as any homeowner can probably attest — as well as her observation of there being a lack of technology to facilitate skilled blue-collar work.

She says clients have largely embraced the novelty of remote video and satellite-based assessments, but a bigger challenge — especially early on — was convincing workers in the skilled construction trades to interact with a tech startup.

Ergeon’s solution?

“We literally make our app look like texting because that’s what they’re OK with,” He says. “We make all the interfaces look much more old-school — our interface looks like a calendar because that’s in their comfort zone.”

Ergeon has also had to adapt to several non-tech challenges, including the volatility of lumber prices.

“Lumber has been oscillating as wildly as Bitcoin, so that’s been the biggest challenge we’ve had to manage,” He says, adding that the issue has forced Ergeon to take greater control of its supply chain and ordering processes, which has paid off in other ways.

By contrast, when it came to scaling her company to match a rapid uptick demand, He says she found herself better prepared than most. That’s because her previous job at EZ Home, a startup that offers lawn care and yard maintenance services, ballooned from about 10 employees to 250 over a period of just three years.

“When I started Ergeon I wanted to do a lot of things with scalability in mind much earlier,” He explains. “So, we made a few decisions including having super-clear company values and investing in scalable processes and tools from day one.”

She adds that Ergeon’s status as a fully remote operation has also helped the scaling process — and gave the company a head start adapting to the pandemic. As a result, Ergeon this year became one of 32 new U of T entrants in the PitchBook rankings — and among the top three raisers of venture capital in the group.

Going forward, He says she envisions Ergeon progressing from outdoor projects to servicing “the whole home.”

“We started with outside the home first since that’s where technology has the biggest power to do remote assessments, etc.” says He. “But with the latest iPhone, you can now do that much better inside as well.”

“I think we’re just a few years away from that being pretty common and ubiquitous.”

Interested in entrepreneurship?  Check out the upcoming U of T Entrepreneurship Week.


ParkinSense: EngSci alumnus helps design award-winning medical monitoring system

ParkinSense is a medical monitoring system that uses wearables to provide detailed, real-time data on the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. It can be used to objectively determine the effectiveness of treatment. (Image courtesy of ParkinSense)

 

EngSci alumnus Christopher Lucasius (1T7 PEY, ECE PhD candidate) and his colleagues are among the five winning teams from Hatchery Demo Day 2021 that will share $80,000 in seed funding.

They have designed a system called ParkinSense that can provide real-time information about tremors in people living with Parkinson’s disease to their physicians.  The system can expedite treatment and track its effectiveness.

Read the full story and watch their video in the U of T Engineering News.


U of T startup Kepler Communications raises US$60-million for aerospace venture

rocket taking off

A rocket bearing one of Kepler Communications’ satellites launching in 2018. (Courtesy: Kepler Communications)

 

Kepler Communications, a startup founded by EngSci and UTIAS alumni that provides space-based telecom services, has raised US$60-million for its growing fleet of miniature satellites, according to the Globe & Mail.

The company recently became became Canada’s largest satellite operator with 15 satellites in orbit.

Kepler’s founders Wen Cheng Chong (EngSci 1T3), Mark Michael (EngSci 1T2, MASc MIE 1T4, PhD 1T6), Mina Mitry (EngSci 1T2, AeroE MASc 1T4), and UTIAS graduate Jeffrey Osborne (AeroE PhD 1T6) first met as students.  All four were part the U of T Aerospace Team (UTAT), a student-led design team with focuses on rocketry and satellites.  Their startup was supported by U of T Engineering’s Entrepreneurship Hatchery and Start@UTIAS, and aims to build a global satellite network.

Read the full story in the Globe & Mail.


EngSci alumnus helps launch tool for breast cancer surgery

MOLLI Surgical's Ananth Ravi (left) and Fazila Seker (right)

MOLLI Surgical was launched in 2018 by alumnus Ananth Ravi (EngSci 0T4, left), an associate professor in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, and U of T alumna Fazila Seker (right), who serves as president and CEO of the company (photos courtesy of MOLLI)

 

University of Toronto researcher Ananth Ravi (EngSci 0T4) and U of T alumna Fazila Seker founded MOLLI, a company that has developed magnet-based technology that helps surgeons locate breast tumours more efficiently, causing less pain for patients.  Their streamlined process could help reduce surgery backlogs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the full story of their innovative technology in the U of T News.


Company founded by EngSci alumni receives $3.8 million for nanosatellites

satellite above Earth

Kepler Communications recently became Canada’s largest satellite operator. (Image:  Kepler Communications)

 

Kepler Communications, a satellite communications startup founded by EngSci and UTIAS alumni, has received $3.8 million of federal funding to create a nanosatellite manufacturing facility, according to the Toronto Star.

After the recent launch of two new satellites, the company became Canada’s largest satellite operator with 15 satellites in orbit.

Kepler was co-founded by EngSci alumni Wen Cheng Chong (EngSci 1T3), Mark Michael (EngSci 1T2, MASc MIE 1T4, PhD 1T6),  and Mina Mitry (EngSci 1T2, AeroE MASc 1T4), and UTIAS graduate Jeffrey Osborne (AeroE PhD 1T6).

The team first met as students when all four were part the U of T Aerospace Team (UTAT), a student-led design team with focuses on rocketry and satellites.  Their startup was supported by U of T Engineering’s Entrepreneurship Hatchery and Start@UTIAS, and aims to build a global satellite network.

Read the full story in the Toronto Star.

 

 


U of T Entrepreneurship Week: EngSci-led startups to watch

Ali Punjani and Saara Virani

U of T PhD candidate Ali Punjani (EngSci 0T2, right) is CEO of the U of T startup Structura Biotechnology. His sister, Saara Virani (left), is the company’s chief operating officer (photo by Chris Sorensen)

 

The University of Toronto’s three campuses are home to nearly a dozen startup incubators and accelerators.  Many EngSci students and alumni have launched successful ventures through incubators like the U of T Entrepreneurship Hatchery, or serve as mentors to help students bring smart ideas to market.

To mark U of T’s virtual Entrepreneurship Week, here are some startups launched by EngSci students and alumni to keep an eye on in 2021:


Structura Biotechnology

The startup Structura Biotechnology arose from research by PhD candidate Ali Punjani (EngSci 0T2), who serves as the company’s CEO.  Its software helped researchers to quickly understand the 3D structure of the coronavirus spike protein early in the pandemic, the first step on the road to vaccine development.

Read about Punjani’s work in the U of T News.


LSK Technologies

Co-founded by alumna Seray Çiçek (EngSci 1T6 PEY), LSK Technologies has developed a portable diagnostic system for rapid testing for infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

Read about  Çiçek’s work in the U of T News.


Themis

Cindy Chen (Year 4 EngSci) is co-founder of Themis, a startup that uses AI to decrease the time it takes to draft legal contracts.

Read  Chen’s work in the U of T Engineering News.


EngSci students and alumni recognized for social enterprises

Lo Family Award winners 2020

Clockwise from top left:  Seray Cicek (1T6 PEY), Shrey Jain (Year 2), Zain Hasan (1T4), and Ryan Tam (1T8 PEY) have won Lo Family Social Venture Fund Awards.

A current EngSci student and three EngSci alumni are among the winners of the 2020 Lo Family Social Venture Fund Award.

The awards, established in 2020 Kenneth and Yvonne Lo and family, help U of T students and recent graduates take promising social enterprises to the next level.  They provide support for student-driven ventures that will positively impact the global community – particularly in Asia.

A total of 18 U of T students and recent alumni received up to $30K in funding, including:

Shrey Jain (Year 2 EngSci) for Flatten, a non-profit organization developing self-reporting surveillance tool for the COVID-19 pandemic internationally.

Seray Cicek (EngSci 1T6 PEY) for her company LSK Technologies, which makes rapid COVID-19 and other tests for use in doctor’s offices and workplaces.

Zain Hasan (EngSci 1T4) for Vinci Labs, which uses uses technology to address barriers to quality healthcare including geographical remoteness and social inequity.

Ryan Tam (EngSci 1T8 PEY) for Aerlift, a drone delivery system that helps governments to provide life-saving healthcare services to some of the hardest-to-reach populations around the world.

Learn more about the award winners here.


Engineering Holiday Gift Guide

wrapped gift

Spread seasonal cheer — and Skule™ pride! — with this selection of 14 gift ideas, all of which have roots at U of T Engineering

From a brain-sensing headband to a contemporary culinary cult classic, we’ve collected our top picks — all with ties to U of T Engineering — for a holiday season unlike any other.  The collection includes a new book by Jonny Sun (EngSci 1T1 PEY) and a new Netflix series co-starring Robert Bazzocchi (EngSci 1T9).

See the full gift guide in the U of T Engineering News.


flatten: Leveraging big data to fight COVID-19 in Mogadishu


A volunteer uses digital tools created by flatten.ca to collect information on COVID-19 symptoms and spread in Mogadishu, Somalia. (Photo: Durable Solutions Unit)

By Tyler Irving

Six months ago, Shrey Jain (Year 2 EngSci) was a first-year engineering student who just wanted to do his part to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. He could never have imagined that doing so would take him halfway around the world, into the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia. 

“It’s been really amazing to see the realness of it, the tangible outcomes we can have by applying what we know about gathering and analyzing data,” says Jain. 

Back in March, as the world awoke to the threat posed by the pandemic, Jain led a team of volunteers in an initiative that would become known as flatten, as in “flattening the curve.” 

Their first project was a real-time heatmap of potential and confirmed COVID-19 cases in Toronto, created from self-reported, anonymized data via screening questions developed in consultation with public health officials. 

Within days, flatten had garnered national headlines, and the team was fielding calls from public health officials who wanted to work with them. 

“We had collaborated with the City of Montreal and other public health bodies in Canada,” says Jain. “That was great, but what we really wanted to do was use our tool in a way that would lead to concrete changes in policy.” 

The opportunity came when the team was contacted by Dr. Ian Furst, a Canadian oral and maxillofacial surgeon who is also CEO of the Swisscross Foundation, which provides access to high quality healthcare for victims of war. 

Via a group called Global Women Leaders, Furst had been working with Hodan Ali, a Senior Advisor to the mayor of Mogadishu and a key member of the Durable Solutions Unit, part of the local Benadir Regional Administration (BRA). 

“Our models indicated that social measures could be key to reducing the spread, but they needed to be guided by information on disease prevalence,” says Furst. “Since Mogadishu had little access to testing, we thought that tracking the disease via symptom surveillance might be possible. The flatten project was an exact match to what Hodan and I thought might help.”

Adapting the tools that flatten had developed for Mogadishu meant building and drafting a new set of screening questions, but it also required a new approach to deal with challenges related to access and use of the technology. 

“In Mogadishu, not everybody has a smartphone, and internet access can be unreliable,” says Jain. “To get robust, valuable data, we realized that we needed people to mediate the collection process.” 

 Funding from the European Union and the United Nations Development Program enabled the BRA to provide stipends for 400 local volunteers to survey citizens across the city for two months. 

 Using customized tools created by flatten, these volunteers gathered data on COVID-19 symptoms and other public health parameters from more than 115,000 people, including many living in Internally Displaced Persons camps. Throughout the data collection process, members of the flatten team were responsible for data monitoring, cleaning and quality assurance.  

 Insights extracted from this data informed practical strategies that have already been implemented in the city by the BRA, including rapid emergency shelters in areas where household overpopulation was identified as a risk factor, and 205 wash stations set up in districts where hand hygiene was a key need. 

 Other key findings of the project included a recognition that health literacy and income were key factors affecting both testing and infection, and the BRA is working to develop programs to address these needs. 

 Jain says that the flatten technical team as well as the multidisciplinary advisory team were key to the success of the project. Members included: 

  • U of T Assistant Professor Dr. Marzyeh Ghassemi (Department of Computer Science and Department of Medicine), Canada Research Chair in Machine Learning for Health and Canada CIFAR AI Chair 
  • Professor Leo Anthony Celi, Principal Research Scientist at the MIT Institute for Medical Engineering and Science and an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School 
  • Marie-Laure Charpignon, PhD candidate at MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS) 
  • Mathew Samuel, Data Scientist at Facebook  
  • Nick Frosst, Founder of Cohere.AI and a former researcher at Google Brain 

Going forward, Jain hopes the project can serve as a model for anyone interested in leveraging the power of big data to improve public health in resourceconstrained settings. 

With this international collaboration, we have set a precedent for data collection in Sub-Saharan Africa, and demonstrated that even a small start-up like flatten can make positive difference globally, says Jain.  

“We’re already talking to academics who work in global health about further anonymizing and characterizing this dataset, and using it to promote open science research in public health. This approach can continue providing beneficial insights to humanitarian aid organizations, like the BRA.”  

Furst also sees a lot of potential for the tools that flatten has developed. 

“Imagine a nimble, scalable, mobile system that captures and organizes humanitarian health needs so that local healthcare workers can act on them, but also match them to organizations in a position to help,” he says. “I think that would make a big difference, and flatten is the first step toward that dream.” 

This story was originally published in the U of T Engineering News.


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