Innovative business ideas related to health care and lighting design won the top prizes at the 2018 Mel Woodward Cup on March 28.
BreatheSuite, VitalMIST and WARPAR Corp. won $10,000 each during the business idea competition for Memorial University’s student entrepreneurs. The trio of companies were among eight finalist teams that pitched their ideas to a panel of judges from the business community during the 2018 Mel Woodward Cup, hosted by the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE) on March 28 at the Johnson GEO CENTRE.
“We are extremely excited to be selected as one of the winners,” said Brett Vokey, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student and founder of BreatheSuite.
“Winning the Mel Woodward Cup not only opens up many opportunities for BreatheSuite financially, but we also gain recognition in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, helping us to develop connections that will be useful for us in the future. We would like to sincerely thank the Woodward family for their generous donation to student entrepreneurship at our university.”
Mr. Vokey is developing an add-on device for inhalers that will train patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to receive optimal dosages of medication.
“The idea actually evolved through a completely different idea that was still related to asthma,” said Mr. Vokey.
“As we started to speak with some pulmonologists across the country about our initial idea, we found that all of them kept bringing up the same problem, which was poor inhaler technique in practically all patients they saw. We did extensive amounts of research and came up with BreatheSuite, which is something that we think could really change the way inhalers are used today.”
Accessible health-care technology
VitalMIST, founded by Anna Gosine, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student, also tackles the challenge of helping patients maximize doses of medicine. The company is developing a nasal optimizer that allows physicians to administer liquid medication effectively.
“Having worked in Malawi last summer, I saw some of the issues with access to health care. So, when I came home I wanted to find a way to design for more accessible health-care technology for families like the one I stayed with in Malawi,” said Ms. Gosine. “We currently have our first prototype complete and are working on testing it in a fluids laboratory at Memorial University.
“I am so grateful for the Woodward family for investing in student entrepreneurs,” she added. “Being named one of the winners, I hope we are able to inspire other student entrepreneurs to jump headfirst into whatever it is they are passionate about. I’m excited and motivated to see where this project goes and how it begins to take shape over the coming year.”
Both Mr. Vokey and Ms. Gosine completed entrepreneurial work terms in health care through a pilot project at the MCE this semester.
‘Grateful for the opportunity’
The third winner, WARPAR Corp., is founded by Warren Parsons, a fifth-year electrical engineering student. The company makes a light dimmer called Enzo, a WiFi-enabled light-dimmer switch that provides power-monitoring, is compatible with most bulbs on the market and can be controlled through a smartphone or other device.
“It feels surreal to have won. Soon after the competition, I realized how much work is now ahead of me, but I’m grateful to now have the opportunity,” said Mr. Parsons.
“The dimmer makes use of a unique dimming control circuit that was developed over an entrepreneurial work term through MCE. It’s an updated design of an already successful alternating current dimmer controller board, which I’ve sold to over 800 hobbyists for prototyping,” he added.
The controller board was developed through a different company.
He says he will use the prize money to design the rest of the electronics. Once complete, he will modify his existing mechanical design to fit the new electronics and then look into manufacturing the plastic, glass and metal parts.
Biggest challenge for student entrepreneurs
The Mel Woodward Cup provides up to three prizes of $10,000 each to teams of Memorial University students for their innovative business ideas. Winning teams are reimbursed for up to $1,500 in approved marketing and legal expenses and will receive a reserved spot in MCE’s co-working space at Memorial University, enrolment in the Genesis Centre’s Evolution Program, a free seminar from the Gardiner Centre, mentoring and other services.
Two honourable mention prizes were also awarded. Delta Innovations (Mark Belbin and Nathan Hollett) won $3,000 and BlueBrick Design & Development (Bailey Dalton, John Ennis, Ms. Gosine, Luke Tremblett and Nick Warren) won $2,000.
“One of the biggest challenges that student entrepreneurs face in starting their businesses is funding,” said Florian Villaumé, the centre’s director.
“Through the Mel Woodward Cup, we’re supporting entrepreneurial students in their business development journeys, providing them with much-needed funding so they can take their business ideas to the next level. By supporting these student entrepreneurs, we’re also providing a pathway for young people to stay in Newfoundland and Labrador as the province’s future business leaders.”
Forty applications were received for the 2018 Mel Woodward Cup, from which eight finalists were selected to present their business ideas to the panel of judges.
The Mel Woodward Cup was created from a donation in 2017 by the family of the late Dr. Mel Woodward, a well-known entrepreneur who founded the Woodward Group of Companies. Peter, Melvin and Tana Woodward collectively donated $1.13 million to Memorial’s Faculty of Business Administration, in memory of their father, to support student entrepreneurs through the MCE. The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency provided a further $130,000 for the competition.