U of T entrepreneur to make leather goods out of old airline seats

Lynne Corvaglia, a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto, recently took home a $5,000 grand prize for her startup idea: turning old leather airline seats into handbags, notebook covers and other items – all while employing female artisans in Costa Rica.

She plans to launch her startup, called S.O.S. Leather, while doing an extended co-op placement at the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE) through U of T Scarborough’s international development studies program. 

Her proposed business will use 64 tons of leather donated to CATIE in the name of sustainability by Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which decided to remove the leather seats from its fleet of about 750 Boeing 737s to reduce weight.

“I’m extremely happy,” said Corvaglia after winning a recent pitch competition hosted by The Hub, a startup accelerator at U of T Scarborough. “This all came to fruition in a relatively short time.”

2017 grad co-founds healthcare startup

The first thing you see when you go to the website of Hypercare, the start-up co-founded by Faculty of Information alumnus Albert Tai, is its sales pitch to health care administrators: “No more pagers. No more phone tag.”

Tai says people who don’t work in the healthcare sector are often stunned to find out that the old-fashioned pager remains ubiquitous in hospitals. “There’s a joke about it,” he says. “It used to be only doctors and drug dealers using pagers. Now it’s just doctors.”

According to Tai, the omnipresent pager is but one symptom of the healthcare sector’s serious malaise. Other symptoms include the ongoing use of fax machines and dependency on old-fashioned call centres within the hospital to track down doctors on call. “Everyone knows healthcare is lagging usually 10 or 15 years behind every other industry,” says Tai, who completed his Bachelor’s in computer science and medical science before enrolling at the Faculty of Information in 2015.

iMerciv makes life more navigable for pedestrians with vision loss

Whether you are driving or hopping in an Uber, you probably depend on a navigation app to get where you need to be.

But as handy as these tools are, they have significant drawbacks that leave behind many potential users, especially those with accessibility needs who travel on foot. University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering alumnus Bin Liu aims to change that.

“Anything physical has an impact on the way we travel,” says Liu. “Potholes, narrow sidewalks, low hanging tree branches, construction – none of these things are considered by current solutions.”

Liu has spent a lot of time thinking about barriers to mobility. Five years ago, while studying civil engineering with a minor in engineering business, Liu met Arjun Mali, the future co-founder of their company iMerciv, at a poker game. The two students quickly discovered that they shared a love of entrepreneurship, as well as experience working with people who have impaired vision.

“I had recently learned that my dad has glaucoma, and Arjun grew up working at an orphanage and school for the blind in India,” says Liu. “We wanted to see if we could do anything to help.”

Deep Genomics, founded by U of T’s Brendan Frey, named to CNBC list of most promising startups

Deep Genomics, the genetic medicine startup founded by University of Toronto Professor Brendan Frey, was one of five Canadian companies that cracked the 2019 CNBC Upstart 100 list unveiled on Tuesday, a ranking of the world’s most promising startups.

Frey tells CNBC his company has benefited from the thriving startup ecosystem in Canada and the openness of universities like U of T to let researchers take their intellectual property with them. 

Deep Genomics, which harnesses artificial intelligence to develop treatments for genetic diseases, has raised $20 million in funding and hired 40 employees. The company has recently declared a drug candidate for the genetic disorder Wilson Disease, CNBC says, and plans to announce nine more candidates next year. 

Collectively, the five Canadian startups named in the Upstart list have raised more than US$77 million in startup capital. Executives cite the country’s rich talent pool supplied by universities as one of the keys to their success. 

A brake from school: In conversation with engineering graduate Nikola Kostic on aircraft brake shortlisted for the James Dyson Award

The design of an innovative aircraft brake by Nikola Kostic, a recent mechanical engineering alum from the University of Toronto, has been selected as one of the top 20 finalists for the James Dyson Award (JDA).

The prestigious annual international engineering design award has been promoted in engineering design courses at U of T. It rewards a cash prize of $50,000, and the finalists’ designs are reviewed by the renowned innovator James Dyson himself.

The Aeroflux contactless brake, Kostic’s design, previously won first place at Hatchery’s demo day where its team of Nikola Kostic, together with Stevan Kostic and Roshan Varghese, received initial funding to develop their idea as a result.

How Aeroflux works

‘I went out and started my own thing’: U of T grad on his decision to build a cryptocurrency-focused startup

Christian Cordero, who graduates this week with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Toronto Scarborough, is someone who gets things done.

So, it should come as little surprise to anyone who knows him that, during his undergraduate career, he participated in three co-op terms and, during his third year, collaborated in an online business that is already making modest profits.

“I learned a lot of theory in class, but I wanted to apply it – so I went out and started my own thing,” Cordero says.

That “thing” is www.febbit.com, a website that teaches users about cryptocurrency mining via a videogame that illustrates the process. Players earn cryptocurrency rewards as they progress, an incentive to keep returning to the site. “It’s such a new industry and I latched onto it,” Cordero says.

Cordero’s path to becoming an entrepreneur began reading and researching about cryptocurrency technology and investing some of his own money. During his fourth year at U of T Scarborough, he completed a co-op term with TD Bank’s blockchain group. The experience gave Cordero the confidence to look for opportunities in the world of cryptocurrency. Before long he was assisting clients in the industry.

Announcing FACIT and U of T’s new precision medicine company: Cellular Analytics

FACIT, a commercialization venture group, together with the University of Toronto (“U of T”), announced the creation of Ontario-based Cellular Analytics (the “Company”). Cellular Analytics is founded upon a proprietary microfluidic platform that enables molecular characterization of cancer at the level of single circulating tumour cells. The technology quantitatively detects sensitivity to immune-oncology agents ‘on-chip’ at both significantly lower sample volumes and at a fraction of the cost. Seed capital from FACIT’s Compass Rose Oncology Fund will be used to develop the non-invasive, commercial prototype of the Company’s lead product. This critical capital also allows Cellular Analytics to maintain its momentum and continue strategic discussions with potential partners and investors to attract follow-on financing.

The platform, with an initial application in lung cancer, was discovered at the U of T lab of Dr. Shana Kelley. The professor and serial entrepreneur will act as the Chief Scientific Officer of Cellular Analytics. “Dr. Kelley’s technology is rapid, exquisitely accurate and inexpensive, which positions the Company well for clinical application across a range of cancers and competing in the diagnostics market,” said Dr. David O’Neill, President, FACIT. “Partnering with the University of Toronto on exciting new biotechnology companies like Cellular Analytics is aligned with FACIT and OICR’s joint strategy to support entrepreneurship and translate the benefits of research to patients and the Ontario economy.”

U of T entrepreneur creates his own job post-graduation: Delivering clean, affordable energy to Nigeria

For Olugbenga Olubanjo, the lightbulb moment leading to clean energy startup Reeddi came when the lights went out.

The graduate student at the University of Toronto was often frustrated speaking to family and friends in his native Nigeria over the phone only to have the calls cut short by power outages back home. So he decided to do something about it.

Barely two years later, Olubanjo is set to graduate with a master’s degree in applied science and a job that he created: CEO of Reeddi, the startup he founded and incubated at U of T to bring clean and affordable electricity to energy-starved communities in Nigeria and beyond.

“Energy shortages affect a lot of people I know, love and care about,” he says.

Reeddi provides portable energy via compact capsules that are charged at solar-powered stations located in communities. Customers rent the capsules at an affordable price and are incentivized to return them on time by earning credits that can go toward future rentals.  

The Creative Destruction Lab encourages slow movement on AI

Amid the exponential growth of artificial intelligence in both the fields of research and business, some in the industry are carefully considering how emerging technology will influence the way we will continue to live and work.

This week, 24 industry veterans took to the stage at The Machine Learning and the Market for Intelligence at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, to deliver their insights on how artificial and machine intelligence will affect power and society.

“We want to think about ways that we can reduce the price of disruption and creation of innovation, and [if we can], we’ll probably get more innovative.”

The conference, now in its fifth year and hosted by Canadian accelerator Creative Destruction Lab, aims to investigate applications of machine intelligence in a variety of domains, like public health, enterprise strategy, self-driving vehicles and more. This year’s event took a particular focus on the wider societal consequences of AI, and how AI will affect emerging issues such as labour market concerns and income inequality.


Fresenius Medical Care makes breakthrough with new dialysis product

Fresenius Medical Care North America (FMCNA), the nation’s leading provider of kidney care products and services, announced today that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted breakthrough device designation to a new hemodialysis system, currently in development, that aims to prevent blood clotting without the use of blood thinner medication in most patients.

The antithrombogenic additive, Endexo®, is being incorporated into the manufacturing process of dialyzers and bloodlines. Endexo is a polymer made of surface modifying molecules that are designed to inhibit the adsorption of protein and platelets, which in turn can potentially reduce clot risk and increase hemocompatibility. Citrasate® dialysate would be used with the new dialyzers and bloodlines as part of this novel system.