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Two University of Waterloo startups Canadian finalists in annual James Dyson Awards

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October 18-20, 2023 / Tucson, AZ
The annual summit for research institution gap fund and accelerator programs, including proof of concept programs, startup accelerators, and university venture funds

The Story

The James Dyson Award has come calling again and two University of Waterloo projects have been named national runners up and are off to the international finals in October.

Winners of the prestigious award, named after the inventor of the famous vacuum cleaning system, can receive up to $50,000 to help commercialize their project, with another $8,500 going to their school to continue to support the academic work.

The award encourages ideas that  promote lean engineering, but deliver a big impact. More than 23 countries around the world participate in the competition with the intention of promoting inventions that are simple and practical while addressing a real world problem

The two UW finalists in the competition are Avro Life Sciences and Design and Build of an Atmospheric Water Generator.

Avro Life Sciences, founded by Shakir Lakhani and Keean Sarani at the Velocity program at UW, tries to solve the problem of administering allergy medication to children who aren’t always compliant.

Every parent knows how hard it is to get a kids to take their medicine if they don’t want it, and some of the delivery systems including pills and injections can become quite a battle.

Lakhani, a nanotech engineering student, and Sarani, who is studying pharmacy at UW, thought there had to be an easier way of delivering life-saving medicine while coming up with a colourful sticker that kids could put on their body.

The fancy name for it is a transdermal drug delivery system that uses a novel polymer matrix the duo have developed to deliver various small molecules through the skin and directly into the bloodstream.

It’s non-invasive, and if kids or their caregivers notice they are having a reaction they can remove it right away.

But with a market of more than 25 million kids who suffer from seasonal and other allergies, the need is great for a simple solution. And Avro Life Sciences think its proprietary work might be the answer.

“We naturally gravitated towards allergies,” said Lakani, who has suffered from horrible food allergies all his life along with his partner Sarani who also has seasonal allergies. “Our experience with drug delivery devices since I was working in labs in high school suggested a need.

“And as we drilled deeper and deeper down into the market, we realized this made a lot of sense.”

He knew how bitter the medicine was sometimes, so  he and Sarani figured out a better way with the topical treatment using kid-friendly stickers.

“Parents and children really wanted something that was different from what is on the market right now,” said Lakhani. “No matter how small you make the pill or how sugary you make the syrup, parents and children want something that turns that chore of giving medication into a more fun a rewarding experience. Children will want to wear the sticker whether its delivering the medication or not.”

They decided the solution fit in the guidelines of the Dyson competition and follow in the footsteps of other UW startups like Capstone Design, Suncayr, EyeCheck and Voltera V-One, which became the first Canadian team to win the international competition in  2015.

Avro Life Sciences already has an impressive track record in startup competitions earning $30,000 in the Velocity Fund Finals,  $1,000 plus $15,000 in in-kind donations from GSEA Entrepreneurs Organization, and $10,000 plus support from Bayer pharmaceuticals in the Bayer Grants4Apps Accelerator. They’ve also been named of the Top 100 Tech Startups in Canada in the Hello Tomorrow competition.

“Along the course of our product development we actually ended up with something was pretty nice from a design point of view as well as opposed to just a chemical/functional point of view,” said Lakhani, “Since we’re working on a product that is more efficient from a scientific point of view as well as appealing from a design and use point of view, we thought the James Dyson competition would be a great fit.”

The other UW team developed  an atmospheric water generation system that uses a Peltier device to cool warm, humid air, which leads to the condensation and separation of water vapour to collect water. It was pitched as a possible solution to growing water scarcity problems around the world.

The winner of the Canadian portion of the competition was ForceFilm, a thin surgical instrument add-on that accurately measures the force exerted on tissues during minimally invasive surgery. It was developed by two University of Toronto students.

But Jenna Blanton, James Dyson Foundation managing director, said she and the judges have noticed the strong entries turned in by UW startups in past few years.

“For the past three years students from the University of Waterloo have not only secured national winner status, but have made it to the international level reaching international runner up with 2014’s Suncayr and 2016’s Medella Health, both who won $8,500. In 2015, the Waterloo team Voltera V-One took the international top spot — the first Canadian team to do so —  securing $50,000 to further their project and $8,500 for the University of Waterloo’s engineering department,” she said. “We’ve been so wowed by the strength of projects, just this year we committed a two-year $10,000 upper year scholarship for engineering students at the school.”


Source: Two University of Waterloo startups Canadian finalists in annual James Dyson Awards | WaterlooChronicle.ca

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