Posts Tagged: startups

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.


EngSci alumnus helps teachers gauge student understanding in virtual classrooms

As students around the world shift to online learning, two U of T Engineering graduates have designed a software platform for mathematics practice that provides real-time insights into student understanding. (Photo: Thomas Park via Unsplash)

Around the world, hundreds of thousands of kids are attending virtual classrooms for the first time. The move to online learning has come with its own challenges, for students and teachers alike. Without being able to see students working in person, it can be hard for instructors to gauge how well their lessons are being absorbed.

Now EngSci alumnus Aiden Carnegie (EngSci 1T7 +PEY) and fellow U of T Engineering graduate Nived Kollanthara (IndE 1T7 + PEY) have created a new tool to help teachers get real-time information about how well their students are learning math and where they could use more support.

Their platform, called Kanak, uses artificial intelligence to provide immediate feedback so that teachers can adjust their lesson plans to their students’ needs.

Read more about their work in the U of T Engineering News.


Entrepreneurial students get a boost

Nov. 19, 2019

EngSci alumna Isi Caulder and her firm, Bereskin & Parr LLP, have been long-time supporters of U of T’s Entrepreneurship Hatchery.

 

A generous donation from law firm Bereskin & Parr LLP will support student teams in U of T’s Entrepreneurship Hatchery as they take their ideas from initial spark to viable startup.

Read the full story here.

EngSci alumna Isi Caulder (EngSci 8T9, ElecE MASc 9T1, LLB 9T5) is a Bereskin & Parr partner and has been an enthusiastic student team mentor for over five years. “More and more EngSci students are pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities,” says EngSci’s Interim Chair, Professor Will Cluett.  “The Hatchery is a wonderful place for nurturing our students with this passion. Isi and her firm are providing the kind of support needed to make this possible.”

Companies that were founded by EngSci students and got their start in the Hatchery include Pheedloop, Kepler Communications, and MedChart.

Are you an EngSci graduate who would like to engage with entrepreneurial students?  Join the Entrepreneurship Hatchery Group in U of T Engineering CONNECT.


Tiny sats, big impact – satellites built by EngSci graduates take off

The rocket bearing Kepler Communications’ satellite, Long March 11 launching on January 19th at 12:11PM BST marking the 100th successful launch from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China. (Courtesy: Kepler Communications)

A team of U of T Engineering alumni including several EngSci graduates has taken the first step to creating a new global communications network. Kepler Communications, co-founded by Mina Mitry (EngSci 1T2, AeroE MASc 1T4) and Wen Cheng Chong (EngSci 1T3), launched their first breadbox-sized communications satellite into orbit on Jan. 19. It is the first of what they hope will be a constellation of dozens of similar satellites providing vast data transmission for the Internet of Things–the millions of interconnected devices here on Earth.

It’s an impressive development for a company that had its start at U of T Engineering just a few years ago, when Mitry and Chong were still students. “It was at EngSci that I got meet my like-minded and driven co-founders,” says Mitry. “We worked exceptionally well together then and it carried through in our work today.”

The nanosatellites developed by the team could soon provide real-time communication for large amounts of data in remote location. This could have applications for tracking of shipping containers, remote sensing of seismic monitors, and giving communities in isolated locations high-speed access to the web.

Read about Kepler’s plans in more detail here.

Read a Q&A with Kepler co-founder Mina Mitry.


Two EngSci startups to watch

Team Xpan (left to right: Zaid Atto (EngSci 1T6 + PEY), Seray Cicek (EngSci 1T6+ PEY), Chevis Dilbert (MechE 1T6 + PEY)) has created an expandable tool to help with laparoscopic surgery.

EngSci students are behind two of the winning startups from this year’s Hatchery Demo Day, held September 6 at U of T Engineering.

Zaid Atto (EngSci 1T6 + PEY) is the founder of Xpan, a company developing improved devices for laparoscopic surgery to increase surgical efficiency and reduce patient risk. Team Xpan — consisting of Atto, Seray Cicek (EngSci 1T6 + PEY) and Chevis Dilbert (MechE 1T6 + PEY) — took home the $10,000 Lacavera Prize. Their work has also been recognized with awards within and outside of the university.

Aakash Goel (EngSci 1T6 + PEY), the driver behind enginehire, won the $2,500 Orozco Prize for his development of a career matchmaking system for young engineers. The system uses proprietary algorithms to match companies with their ideal candidates at a low cost.

Click here to read the full story of how these entrepreneurial students are putting their EngSci education to work!


Messaging company Kik acquires Blynk, a company co-founded by EngSci alumnus

Blynk was co-founded in 2013 by EngSci alumnus Shums Kassam and Jaclyn Ling while still undergraduates, and began as a fashion endeavour. The company has recently been acquired by Kik for use in the messaging app.

For more information, check out the following articles:

Globe and Mail

TechCrunch


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