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World stage

Memorial entrepreneurs first Canadians to vie for world cup title

Student Life

By Jackey Locke and Susan White

Two Memorial University entrepreneurs are heading to the University Startup World Cup in Denmark next week.

Duncan Wallace, who graduated from the bachelor of business administration program in the spring of 2018, and Brett Vokey, a fifth-year mechanical engineering student, will be the first Canadians to compete at the world cup, where $25,000 USD is on the line for the winning startup.

Brett Vokey, left, and Duncan Wallace will represent Memorial at the University Startup World Cup.
Brett Vokey, left, and Duncan Wallace will represent Memorial at the University Startup World Cup.

“I was pretty excited,” said Mr. Wallace of learning he’d been chosen to participate. “It’s a big opportunity. I was glad to be selected and excited to represent Memorial with this opportunity.”

The University Startup World Cup is being held Oct. 8-12 in Copenhagen. Sixty-three teams representing 27 countries will spend a week developing and presenting their business ideas, exploring the local startup scene, meeting with potential investors and competing to be named the best student startup company in the world.

Industry revolution

Mr. Wallace’s team is attempting to revolutionize the drone industry with a comprehensive flight management system called UAV Control Tower, which aims to ease the regulatory process for commercial and private drone flights while also providing historical data for all drone flights within regions using the system. Currently, drone flight data are not recorded.

“Drones are advancing at a neck-breaking pace … and they’re being held back by the regulation process, which is quite behind,” said Mr. Wallace. “It’s affecting the drone industry as a whole [and] holding it back.”

Mr. Wallace’s partners in UAV Control Tower are Jon King, Alex Robbins (also Memorial graduates) and Mathias Nielsen. In May, UAV Control Tower was one of five Atlantic Canadian technology startups to each win $25,000 from Volta Cohort.

Worldwide exposure

Like Mr. Wallace, Mr. Vokey was excited to learn he was selected.

“A lot of the big pharmaceutical companies are based out of Europe and the United Kingdom, so meeting people who may have connections to companies over there will be exciting,” he said. “The opportunity to gain worldwide exposure and being able to network outside of North America will be super valuable.”

Mr. Vokey’s company, BreatheSuite, is developing an inhaler add-on device that will help train patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) on proper inhaler technique and proper adherence to ensure optimal dosages of their medication.

“Statistics indicate that 94 per cent of patients do not take their inhaler properly,” he said. “This means that those patients aren’t getting the proper dosage of medication they need to their lungs.”

The device pairs with an app that tells patients how well they are adhering to their medication plan, gives feedback on inhaler technique and ensures they receive optimal dosages of their medication.

“Everyone is starting to realize how important entrepreneurship is and creating new companies.” — Brett Vokey

BreatheSuite is also beneficial for doctors in that it enables them to remotely monitor their patients’ inhaler usage for maximum effectiveness.

Student support

Mr. Vokey has benefitted from the support of local and international entrepreneurial opportunities and competitions to grow his company. In less than a year, BreatheSuite has grown from one to seven team members including a doctor and a pharmacy doctoral student.

“As a student entrepreneur at Memorial you get all the resources from the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE), the Bounce Health Innovation Lab and Genesis,” he said. “The resources we get from our local entrepreneurial community is wonderful. Everyone is starting to realize how important entrepreneurship is and creating new companies.”

Mr. Wallace and Mr. Vokey both participated in the 2018 Mel Woodward Cup, a startup funding competition hosted by the MCE, at which Mr. Vokey was one of three $10,000 winners. Mr. Vokey was also one of the winners of the Genesis Centre’s Pitch & Pick competition this past April and won the inaugural Embryo Grant competition last month.

All 40 applicants for Mel Woodward Cup were invited to apply for the world cup with two delegates being chosen by a panel of judges that looked at each company’s growth since that competition.

“With competitions like these, the funding is definitely a huge benefit but the biggest thing is getting your name and your company name out there,” said Mr. Vokey. “The follow-up conversations that come out of networking are the true benefit.”

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