Six engineering startups to watch
Creativity, drive, passion for changing the world. If you list the traits that make up a good engineer you may realize that they are remarkably similar to the ones of an entrepreneur. In fact, out of the 133 companies that have come out of the Forge, Hamilton’s startup incubator, 82 have been engineering-driven.
At the Forge’s $100,000 Student Startup Competition in March, 2019, 11 out of the 12 finalists were from the Faculty of Engineering. Here’s a look at six thriving companies founded by McMaster engineering students, faculty, and alumni.
It guides and supports hand movements, reducing pain and hand fatigue in people living with dystonia, ALS, Huntington’s Disease, arthritis, strokes, spinal cord injuries and many others.
Guided Hands, the company’s first product, assists people experiencing limited hand function in writing, painting, drawing, and using a tablet/ computer. The device has a custom 3D printed ergonomic handpiece tailored to the individual’s medical condition. On top of a full engineering course load, Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering student Lianna Genovese finds time to run her own startup, ImaginAble Solutions, a company devoted to solving accessibility issues.
“After seeing the smile on a 12-year-old girl’s face, who lives with dystonia, as she painted with Guided Hands, I knew I had to help more children like her,” said Genovese.
She designed the first prototype along with classmates Laura Carter and Alex Yeh during their first year in the Integrated Biomedical Engineering & Health Sciences program.
While working at the McMaster Manufacturing Research Institute (MMRI) for a summer co-op term, Genovese manufactured and perfected the design for Guided Hands, with help from her supervisor, Steve Remilli, and other engineers and lab technicians. This summer, she brought the device to market, meeting with medical professionals and patients from hospitals, rehabilitation centres, and nursing homes across Hamilton.
The design won first place in the Innovative Design for Accessibility student competition sponsored by Universities Canada in 2018 and recently won the People’s Choice Award at the Innovation Factory Pitch Night in October.
Recently, she was featured among 21 student-led projects in the areas of sustainable development, social enterprise and non-profit innovation as part of RISE, a showcase and contest launched by Universitas 21, which empowers students and staff from 28 world-class universities, including McMaster, to share excellence, collaborate across borders and nurture international knowledge exchange. Winners will be announced on Dec. 16.
Genovese is working on conducting an extensive research study with Guided Hands, filing for a patent and creating a website to sell the prodcut directly to consumers. She attends the Forge’s Startup School every week to build her business background.
Longan Vision is a startup founded in May 2018 by a group of graduate and undergraduate engineering students from McMaster: Enzo Jia (CEO), Leno Zhao, Jerry Xu, Chang Liu, Martin Shi and Alex Shortt.
The word “longan” translates to “dragon” in Chinese. The startup aims to provide firefighters with “Dragon Vision” by developing an augmented reality (AR) visor that enhances human vision, allowing them to better locate victims.
The AR visor will allow firefighters to see through smoke and share their images with their command centre. Features such as edge detection, fire source detection, a real-time communication system and indoor localization will help firefighters keep themselves and others safe.
“I [built] a portable HUD device for vehicle for my capstone project, and this is how I [got] the idea of building a vision device to enhance human vision,” said Jia.
In 2018, Longan Vision won the Forge’s Student Startup Competition. They have raised an impressive $1.2 million from investors and government sources.
The team is hoping to release the product by the end of 2020. They are working on other products as well, including a UAV drone system that inspects the fire’s conditions from the sky.
AgeRate is a company founded by B.Tech Biotechnology graduates, Cole Kirschner (Chief Executive Officer) and Nathan Cawte (Chief Operating Officer), classmates who met at an undergraduate chemistry lab. They wanted to create an innovative biological age test, an idea sparked by the research of Dr. Guillaume Pare, (Chief Scientific Officer) and professor at McMaster University.
AgeRate provides the general public with accurate and affordable biological age testing, using DNA-methylation analysis and machine learning. Individuals provide a saliva sample through an at-home test kit and send it to AgeRate’s lab. The results are then delivered through an interactive web portal, which includes their prediction of biological age, factors affecting aging, and lifestyle recommendations to improve health.
“One of the most exciting aspects of DNA-methylation is that these epigenetic changes are reversible,” said Kirschner, “We strive to empower millions of customers with our biological age solutions to achieve an extended quality of life.”
They brought in two other McMaster alumni as well, Kevin Peters (Chief Technology Officer)) and Michael Chong (Chief Research Officer) and incorporated the business in May 2018.
What started off as a capstone project quickly snowballed into a growing startup for software engineering graduates Jacoby Joukema, Mikhail Andrenkov, Daniel Wolff, Ori Almog, and Chamu Rajasekera.
Inflow is an innovative people counting analytics system which provides large facilities with information on their traffic densities, directions and peak times. Inflow uses a combination of pre-installed surveillance cameras, artificial intelligence and a cloud analytics platform.
The technology allows for better facility management including strategic advertising and faster security deployment. The team was a finalist in The Forge’s Student Startup Competition and attended The Forge’s Summer Startup Academy, a four month program where startups attend workshops and get advice from mentors. “Over the extent of the program, we’ve worked hard to grow our network, gather potential clients, and re-engineer our system to be a highly scalable and reliable solution,” said Joukema. Recently, the team took home first place at the Innovation Factory Pitch Night. They are looking to expand their team and are officially launching the product this fall.
Sensominds specializes in products that help children with developmental disabilities manage their sensory needs. The company’s main founder is fourth year Computer Science student Ryan Ticlo. Their first product, the Sensory Chew Necklace, is a colourful, safe and stimulating chew toy that has helped over 30 000 children cope with their sensory needs and changing environments. “Children with sensory needs, tend to chew continuously, to satisfy their sensory needs,” explained Ticlo, “This resulted in chewed up shirt collars, sleeves, and even bruised fingers.”Made of food-grade silicone, the necklace allows children to be comforted in a safer way. Last month, the startup launched six new sensory products. They have attracted a growing community of parents and supporters. The team also includes Electrical and Biomedical Engineering program graduate, Mark Suan.
McMaster Engineering professor, Adrian Kitai, who is cross-appointed between Engineering Physics and Materials Science and Engineering, and Mechatronics Engineering graduate, Chris Cavalieri co-founded Advanced Video Technology (AVT) Solutions in 2017. The startup provides optoelectronics services and expertise in the display and lighting industry. Though initially formed as a consulting company, they have recently developed their own products, the Obsidian™ Premium Ambient-Light Rejecting (ALR) Front Projection Screen and Custom Fabricated 2D and 3D SHAPES.
The company uses nano-filter technology to create innovative and eye-catching digital displays. Kitai and Cavalieri started working together while Cavalieri was a student completing his capstone project on display technology. They attracted several clients and partners after an initial contract project on an electronic outdoor billboard for a client and have been growing the company ever since.“ AVT is driven by irrefutable passion for innovation, impact and change,” said Kitai.
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