It’s been a month since University of Toronto undergraduate student Samin Khan and his teammate from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology were on the world stage, pitching their smartARM to a panel of industry judges at the Imagine Cup, Microsoft’s annual student innovation competition.
The hook of their pitch was a demonstration of how the robotic, prosthetic hand can recognize and grasp objects, such as a set of keys. But when they needed it most, their technology didn’t work. Khan and his teammate, Hamayal Choudhry, were sure they had lost the competition.
“At the Canadian finals, there was applause in the middle of our presentation because people were just so blown away by it,” says Khan, a University College student who is entering his fourth year of studies in cognitive and computer science.
“Feedback from Microsoft was that these things happen all the time in presentations,” he says. “We moved on quickly and didn’t get too nervous. They could tell that we’d thought through our idea from beginning to end.”
Shiz Aoki has a simple but powerful way to demonstrate the need for BioRender, a University of Toronto startup whose web-based tool helps bioscience researchers produce eye-catching illustrations of their work.
She flips open her laptop and loads a page featuring a dozen garish diagrams – each a mish-mash of jagged starbursts, flattened ellipses and multi-coloured arrows.
“These literally show the same biologic process in 12 different ways, which is just crazy,” says Aoki, a medical illustrator who is BioRender’s co-founder, CEO and an occasional lecturer at U of T’s Faculty of Medicine.
“Some of these are Nobel-winning scientists who are making the front page of really prestigious science journals, but when you open it up and read the articles, the images that are supposed to capture that science are completely unstandardized, which is obviously an issue for educational purposes.
“The quality is pretty crappy, too.”
The issue, Aoki says, is there’s currently no widely accepted way for researchers working in fast-growing fields like immunology and microbiology to communicate their work visually – let alone software tools to help them do it. After all, she adds, you can dissect the body and draw the heart as you see it, but the same isn’t true when it comes to protein structures and chemical pathways.
It’s a problem she’s hoping BioRender can solve.
When Stephen Ayeni and Naafiu Mohammed first met in a math class at the University of Toronto in 2015, they had plenty to talk about.
As international students from Nigeria, the two instantly hit it off. They talked about life in Canada and started studying for calculus exams and assignments together.
But it didn’t take long before the inevitable came up: how much they missed the food back home in Nigeria.
“One of the first things I noticed was how much I missed my mom’s cooking,” Ayeni remembered of his first days in Canada.
The 20-year-old wasn’t much of a cook when he left Nigeria. But at his first Canadian home in Port Dover, he faced an even bigger challenge when he tried to whip up some of his mom’s old classics.
A new partnership between Medicine by Design and the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), founded at the Rotman School of Management, will strengthen Toronto’s biomedical ecosystem by bringing together the University of Toronto’s world-class research in regenerative medicine and the CDL’s proven seed-stage program for science-based companies.
The two organizations are collaborating to launch a health-themed cohort at CDL-Toronto, expanding on a stream pioneered in 2017–2018 at CDL-West in Vancouver that helps technical teams take their health innovations to market by providing access to accomplished mentors and investors in life sciences.
Medicine by Design will provide ventures with technical advisory support from among its community of more than 110 scientists, engineers and clinicians across U of T and its affiliated hospitals who are working at the frontiers of regenerative medicine. The projects, technologies and companies that Medicine by Design researchers are building will also provide a robust pipeline of potential candidates for the CDL health stream.
“Medicine by Design is delighted to work with the CDL to advance the commercialization of regenerative medicine therapies and technologies,” said University Professor Michael Sefton, executive director of Medicine by Design. “By combining Medicine by Design’s research expertise and CDL’s success in scaling seed-stage science-based companies, this partnership promises to take Toronto to the next level as a global leader in the field.”
A cardiovascular researcher herself, Soror Sharifpoor knows just how much cutting-edge heart research is being done at the University of Toronto and its partner hospitals – which is why she was surprised to discover a dearth of related startup companies.
It’s a gap she’s now seeking to bridge.
The research program manager for the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research’s translational biology and engineering program spent the past year building a new entrepreneurship program from the ground up.
Called Entrepreneurship for Cardiovascular Health Opportunities, or ECHO, the program introduces cardiovascular researchers to the world of startups and provides them with basic training, networking and funding opportunities.
“Canada is an internationally recognized hub for cardiovascular research with exceptional scientists and clinicians developing ideas with high translational potential,” Sharifpoor says.