Remembering Nepal one year later: Toronto startup reaches new heights in protecting buildings from natural disasters

As the one-year anniversary of the devastating 2015 Nepal earthquake approaches, a Toronto-based start-up is taking action to ensure future high-rise buildings are protected from earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters.Kinetica, which grew out of the University of Toronto Civil Engineering Department, has developed a ground-breaking, earthquake and wind-resistant technology to safeguard tall buildings against strong vibrations and potential damage. The first Canadian building to install the company’s innovation is Toronto’s YC Condos, a development by Canderel under construction at the intersection of Yonge and College Streets.

Working behind the scenes on Kinetica’s innovative solution is Deepak Pant, a postdoctoral fellow at University of Toronto with ties to Nepal.

“Being born and raised in Nepal, I was constantly reminded by my elders how vulnerable our country was to natural disasters,” said Pant, whose friends and family members were directly affected by the Nepal quake on April 25 last year. “Communities around the world are at an increased risk of natural catastrophes today and a disaster-resilient infrastructure is important for the health and well-being of all people, including Canadians.”

Why an earthquake may not have you fleeing your home in the future

Still recovering from the fallout of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Japan was hit with back to back earthquakes April 14 and 15, registering a 6.2 and 7 magnitude, respectively. The following day, a 7.8-magnitude quake hit Ecuador, and the death toll is now more than 500 people. These reminders of nature’s destructive power come as the world gets set to mark the first anniversary of the worst earthquake in generations to hit Nepal, one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia.

The 7.8 magnitude quake that hit Kathmandu on April 25, 2015 was followed 17 days later by another of almost equal magnitude. The cost was massive: 8,617 lost their lives, 2.8 million people were displaced, 26 hospitals were damaged and 473,000 homes destroyed, the United Nations says.  The estimated cost to rebuild was pegged at US$5 billion.

One Toronto-based startup aims to help make buildings that can withstand earthquakes of any magnitude. Kinetica is set to launch its Viscoelastic Coupling Damper (VCD) technology in the YC Condos development underway in downtown Toronto.

“Right now, buildings in Canada are designed to ride out an earthquake. This means they are designed and built to remain standing. That’s what the building code requires,” said Michael Montgomery, chief executive of Kinetica, who founded the company with University of Toronto professor Constantin Christopoulos.

New therapy app reduces barriers to mental health counselling

At 24, Chakameh Shafii seemed to be doing everything right. She’d just graduated from a top university and landed a job at a Fortune 500 company. But something was amiss. “At work, I’d get these headaches and there was no one that could explain what that was,” said Shafii, who was having trouble eating and sleeping, too. “I had anxiety and I just didn’t know it.”

Encouraged by an aunt, Shafii underwent cognitive behavioural therapy, which helped with the anxiety. But she saw three therapists before landing on the one that suited her best — and at up to $180 per hour, that’s not something most can afford.

Now almost 26, she’s launched a startup in response to a mental health system she says is riddled with hurdles. TranQool, the website she and former classmates Saeed Zeinali, Babak Shahabi and Mohamad Ahmadi created, matches users with cognitive behavioural therapists for 45-minute sessions over encrypted video chat that can be scheduled outside of business hours. Weekends are an option, too.

CREATE grants boost U of T Engineering research into optical technology and lab-grown human tissues

Two international collaborative research programs led by University of Toronto Engineering professors have received major grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

The funding will help train a new generation of experts in leading edge technologies, from more efficient data transfers for cloud computing to new treatments for disease based on lab-grown human tissues.

The two projects are led by Professor Peter Herman and Professor Milica Radisic.

Through Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grants, each worth $1.65 million over six years, the research programs are designed to help train teams of highly qualified students and postdoctoral fellows from Canada and abroad. With the latest announcement, there are now eight CREATE grants active across U of T Engineering.

“Professors Herman and Radisic are leading innovative programs that address key challenges in communications technology and human health,” said Professor Ted Sargent, vice-dean of research in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. “This support will help us nurture a new generation of engineering leaders who can bring solutions from the laboratory into the marketplace.”

Refugee initiative from U of T startup helps newcomers navigate Canada’s health-care system

After living amid the Syrian refugee crisis in Turkey for a year after graduating from the University of Toronto,Nouhaila Chelkhaoui knew she wanted to help make a positive impact on the lives of newcomers.

Her return to Toronto gave her the opportunity to do just that, as she joined U of T startup iamsick’s newest initiative, which helps refugees navigate Canada’s complex healthcare system.

iamsick is a digital health platform that focuses on providing people with access to healthcare services. Whether it’s a doctor accepting new patients, a walk-in-clinic that’s open late, a pharmacy, a diagnostic lab or nearby emergency room, iamsick shows users their nearest healthcare option anytime, Canada-wide.

Poverty can both hinder and stimulate entrepreneurial creativity, says U of T prof

Does poverty hinder or encourage market creativity? That’s the question Laura Doering, an assistant professor at U of T’s Rotman School of Management, set out to answer when she traveled to Panama to interview poor entrepreneurs.

Doering’s research was recently written up in the Sunday New York Times and will soon be published in the journal Sociology of Development.

In the paper she writes that entrepreneurs are both catalyzed and constrained by conditions of poverty. Ultimately, poverty limits entrepreneurs’ capacity to profit from the creativity they bring to the marketplace, Doering concludes. She discussed her findings with U of T News recently.

University of Toronto and RBC create startup accelerator for young innovators

The University of Toronto and the Royal Bank of Canada today announced ONRamp, a major new initiative that will help support Canada’s innovative entrepreneurs.

Located in the Banting & Best Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (BBCIE), ONRamp will provide new collaborative workspaces for students, entrepreneurs and startup companies to support them in developing commercial ideas.

Aspiring entrepreneurs combine artificial intelligence and medicine at U of T

Imagine you’re one of the 50,000 people in Ontario addicted to opioids. You have a panic attack in the middle of the night. You may live in a remote area with little access to counselling services — but even if you have regular access to a therapist, no one’s around at that moment to talk you through it.

Instead of reaching for pills, you turn to the support of your “pocket counsellor,” right on your smartphone. This virtual counsellor will have an actual conversation with you — asking questions, and “listening” to your responses.

“It asks intelligent questions depending on your answers just as any human would do in a real conversation,” says Dr. Raad Yameen, a recent medical school graduate and master’s student in the Faculty of Medicine’s new Translational Research Program.