June 8, 2015 — Could engineering improve your basketball jump shot, optimize your sleep schedule or help you make smarter investment decisions? These are just a few of the challenges that are motivating the next generation of entrepreneurs in U of T Engineering.
The Faculty is creating more student startups than ever — due in part to the growth of incubators such as the Faculty’s Entrepreneurship Hatchery and extensive experiential learning opportunities that equip engineering students with critical competencies to solve pressing problems.
In addition to working within U of T Engineering, The Hatchery is also part of a cross-campus network of entrepreneurial resources coordinated by the Banting & Best Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, including local incubators, courses and other activities.
Here are five of the latest U of T Engineering student startups to watch:
It’s hard to be at your best when you don’t get enough sleep, but for military personnel or airline pilots, fatigue is a serious safety issue.
Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) the research arm of the Canadian military, has studied the problem for more than a decade. Two years ago, DRDC approached a team of undergraduate engineers in APS 490 Multidisciplinary Capstone Course with a simple question: could they use this extensive body of research to develop an app that would allow military personnel to better manage their sleep cycles and avoid fatigue?
The team, which included Hanna Janossy (IndE 1T3 + PEY, MEng Candidate), successfully produced an app that helps users mitigate the effects of jetlag. Based on DRDC’s research into fatigue science, the app gave users advice about when to sleep, nap, seek and avoid light, and take melatonin. But there was a feeling around the table that more could be done. “Our contact at DRDC was very entrepreneurially-minded,” says Janossy. “Right from the beginning, he encouraged us to turn it into something commercial.”
He couldn’t have asked for a more receptive audience. “My father is an inventor, and I grew up going to trade shows all around the world,” says Janossy. “I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur.”
In 2014, Janossy co-founded Syncadian Inc. with Ryan Love, a post-doctoral fellow in computer science at U of T and at DRDC. “What we want to develop is a small device that can test for melatonin and other hormones associated with sleep from samples from saliva,” she says. “Ideally it would be able to plug into a smartphone and interface with our app.” The team is currently receiving support from the University of Toronto Early-Stage Technology (UTEST) program.
Janossy, who is working on the company part-time while she pursues a Master of Engineering degree, says that her desire to start her own business is part of what attracted to U of T Engineering in the first place. “It seemed to have a stronger overall entrepreneurial ecosystem than some of the other schools I looked at,” she says.
In addition to the problem solving and critical thinking skills she developed in engineering, Janossy credits her experience as director of Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) for preparing her to be a CEO. “I made all the mistakes of the beginner manager,” she says. “What I learned was that when people are given responsibility and ownership over the problem, they’re much more likely to perform. That still influences my thinking today.” Read more about Syncadian in U of T Magazine.