A group of ten startups will spend the next 13 weeks coming up with innovative caregiving solutions for aging adults.
Melinda Gates’ Pivotal Ventures and Techstars unveiled the first cohort for the new Future of Longevity Accelerator, a program that supports startups building products and services for caregivers.
Companies range from device makers to software platforms. Seven of the 10 CEOs are women, and nearly half of the founders are Black or Latinx. See the full list of companies below, with descriptions from the program.
- Braze Mobility: Braze Mobility has developed the world’s first blind spot sensor system that can be attached to any motorized wheelchair, transforming it into a “smart” wheelchair. With Braze Mobility, users can more easily spot obstacles, helping to reduce the risks of injury and wheelchair damage and help users maintain their dignity and independence.
- Candoo Tech: Candoo Tech provides on-demand tech support and training specifically designed to help older adults stay safe, independent, and connected. The company provides one-off sessions, device setup, and ongoing support for members looking to use technology to connect with family members, attend telehealth appointments, and go online.
- Naborforce: Naborforce connects a network of community members, “Nabors,” to older adults for assistance with basic tasks and social engagement. These “backup” sons and daughters address the caregiver shortage while also helping combat loneliness.
- UpsideHōm: UpsideHōm offers the only fully managed, shared living option for older adults to address the problems of loneliness and cost of housing.
- ConnectCareHero: ConnectCareHero is an activities management platform that enables the teams supporting senior citizens to streamline state-required documentation, keep families easily connected, and provide a place where they can plan curated activities.
- MemoryWell: MemoryWell is a digital platform that uses storytelling to improve the care of older people. Using its network of professional writers, MemoryWell works with families, senior living communities, and home- and community-based providers to replace intake questionnaires with brief, intimate stories designed to build empathy and be poignant keepsakes for families.
- Rezilient Health: Rezilient’s robotic telehealth platform allows physicians to not only provide standard video visits, but also remotely control the positioning of medical devices that are located with the patient at another physician’s office, pharmacy, or nursing home, among other locations.
- Rubitection: Rubitection’s skin health and care management tool improves the detection, risk assessment, and care management of dermatological and vascular conditions with an initial application to bedsores and diabetic foot ulcers for seniors at home, in nursing homes, or in hospitals.
- Authored: Authored creates apparel that is thoughtfully engineered with discreet openings that adapt to body needs and limitations. The startup’s clothing promotes and prolongs independence, enables safer dressing, and reduces stigma and injuries.
- Wysefit: Wysefit is a fitness app created specifically for older people. Taught by certified instructors and health professionals, the app’s programs address the needs of people as they age—from stretches to help with arthritis to exercises to build muscle and reduce lower back pain.
Alex Smyth learns about Braze Mobility, a company making blind spot detectors for wheelchair users, and chats with the CEO, Dr. Pooja Viswanathan, and a client to discover more.Read More
Bethel University Students, Toronto Entrepreneurs take home top honors at Destination Medical Center’s Assistive Tech Challenge Virtual Pitch Competition
Braze Mobility from Toronto placed First in the Professional Division for its patent-pending blind spot sensor system that can transform a wheelchair into a ‘smart’ wheelchair that automatically detects obstacles and provides multi-modal alerts to the driver. Dr. Pooja Viswanathan, co-founder and CEO pitched the product. Other team members include Namit Sharma, Dr. Alex Mihailidis and Madeleine Rawling.
“The DMC Assistive Tech Challenge was a great virtual experience,” said Viswanathan. “It was incredible to see so many companies working on assistive technologies that will impact millions of lives. Braze Mobility will be using the prize money to help accelerate development of sensor technology that will enable safe and independent wheelchair navigation.”
Read the full article here: https://dmc.mn/bethel-university-students-toronto-entrepreneurs-take-home-top-honors-at-destination-medical-centers-assistive-tech-challenge-virtual-pitch-competition/Read More
Finalists announced in startup competition that will showcase technology-based solutions for seniors and caregivers
Fifteen Canadian startups have been chosen to compete in this year’s AGE-WELL National Impact Challenge, it was announced today.
Finalists will be challenged to explain how their technology-based solution can positively impact older Canadians or their caregivers.
Five finalists will compete in each of three virtual events reflecting the broad spectrum of innovation that exists in Canada’s AgeTech sector. The winner at each event will receive $20,000 in cash, plus in-kind prizes.
Finalists in Competition #1 (June 18 livestream):
- eNable Analytics
- ServUs Health
- Sparrow Acoustics
Finalists in Competition #2 (July 9 livestream):
- Able Innovations
- Braze Mobility
- Stabilo Medical
Finalists in Competition #3 (Sept 29 livestream, in conjunction with the BC Seniors Living Association annual conference):
- Seven Movements
- Tochtech Technologies
- Virtual Gym
Read about the finalists here.
To register to watch the first two pitch events via livestream, please visit the competition main page. Registered audience members will have a chance to win a Kobo eReader.
Each event also includes a lively panel discussion on the future of AgeTech and its impact on areas such as brain health.
“The need for technologies and services that benefit older Canadians and caregivers is more apparent than ever in these challenging times,” said Dr. Alex Mihailidis, Scientific Co-Director and CEO of the AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence. “This competition will spotlight top Canadian startups whose innovations can support the health and quality of life of seniors and those who care for them.”
The competition will also support entrepreneurship in Canada’s AgeTech sector, and advance our country’s leadership in technology-based solutions that benefit people everywhere, Dr. Mihailidis said.
AGE-WELL, Canada’s Technology and Aging Network, brings together researchers, older adults, caregivers, partner organizations and future leaders to accelerate the delivery of technology-based solutions that make a meaningful difference in the lives of Canadians.
AGE-WELL thanks all startups and entrepreneurs who submitted applications to the AGE-WELL National Impact Challenge, and congratulates the finalists. Each finalist will deliver a 5-minute pitch, followed by a 5-minute Q&A with a panel of expert judges.
Thank you to the sponsors of this competition: Aging2.0 Local I Halifax Chapter, BC Seniors Living Association, Bereskin & Parr LLP, CARP, IBM Canada Ltd., Impact Centre, Innovacorp, Innovation PEI, New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, Ontario Brain Institute, Spectrum Health Care, and YouAreUNLTD.
Robotics have the potential to impact CRT in a big way. How are startups and researchers tackling the complicated landscape?
When Dan Ding first started as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh in 2001, she had never heard the term “rehabilitation robotics.” She attended robotics conferences while earning her Ph.D. in Hong Kong, but rarely saw sessions on healthcare applications, much less the type of work that would soon change the complex rehab technology (CRT) industry.
“I don’t think at the time the term was coined,” Ding, now an associate professor in the university’s Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, told Mobility Management. “I definitely witnessed the whole growth of this technology’s involvement in rehabilitation and assistive technology, so I feel very fortunate that, before that happened, I was able to get into this field.”
Ding’s early experiences are a far cry from the landscape of robotics in complex rehab today, where new startups have introduced technology ranging from eye-gaze wheelchair controls to blind-spot sensors that can be mounted on several parts of a power chair. Large manufacturers are following suit by integrating new developments, such as patient monitoring technology, into their seat cushions and chairs.
While there is a sense of unlimited possibilities for the applications of robotic technology, experts in the field say there are also immense challenges facing the industry, particularly in terms of the high costs for patients seeking the latest equipment and the regulatory hurdles for CRT companies trying to bring innovative products to market.
Braze Mobility’s sensor system
For Pooja Viswanathan, the CEO and founder of the Toronto-based blind-spot sensor manufacturer Braze Mobility, the CRT industry is just “skimming the surface” of what’s possible in terms of finding solutions for patients.
“I think there’s tremendous opportunity for growth as long as it’s customer-centric,” Viswanathan said in an interview. “The challenge in robotics is that it often ends up being a technology push. As long as the focus stays on the problems rather than the solutions and on the customer rather than the developer, there is tremendous opportunity.”
A WINDING ROAD FOR IBOT & TOYOTA
The path for robotics in complex rehab has been long and winding over the past two decades, including the widely publicized production (and later discontinuation) of the iBOT stair-climbing wheelchair system.
In 2003, Independence Technology — a division of healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson — introduced the iBOT to rave reviews from mainstream media, who hailed the wheelchair as a revolutionary device that “will force [wheelchair users] to reconsider virtually all the presumed boundaries in the world,” according to one Dateline NBC reporter.
But as Mobility Management reported at the time, Independence Technology hit several snags in its quest to sell the iBOT directly to consumers via clinician assessment and cut CRT providers from the distribution chain. The chair cost $26,000 at the time the company ceased production in 2009, and Medicare declined to classify its seat elevation or stairclimbing abilities as “medically necessary.” While popular with veterans and some clinicians, the iBOT also did not offer typical rehab functions, such as tilt, recline or elevating legrests. In addition, users needed the ability to use a traditional joystick.
Mobius Mobility’s iBOT
In turn, Independence Technology struggled to sell the chair, citing low demand before dissolving in 2009. The iBOT has continued to be revived by other companies, including Toyota North America and most recently by Mobius Mobility, which began promoting the chair last year with some added rehab functions.
Toyota is no longer involved with the iBOT nearly four years after signing an agreement with inventor Dean Kamen to develop the “next generation” of iBOT, according to Doug Moore, GM, Technology for Human Support at Toyota North America. Instead, Toyota has been at work on several mobility-related projects, demonstrating the Japanese mega-corporation’s commitment to becoming a “mobility company” rather than an automotive company, Moore said.
“We have been spending a ton of time, especially in this complex rehab area, making sure that we understand the real needs,” Moore told Mobility Management in an interview. “We’ve been looking at the end customers, whether it’s direct users, caregivers, care receivers or ATPs, PTs, DMEs, all these individuals. We’ve been having conversations across the whole world to understand what are the real challenges and what are the real needs that are out there.”
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2020 in January, Toyota’s display featured examples of mobility products that would be included in the company’s ideal “Woven City.” Those products included the Human Support Robot (HSR), an AI robot with voice-control capability, and a wheelchair-link battery electric vehicle (BEV) designed for “those who have difficulty walking and those in wheelchairs,” according to a press release.
Moore, who has risen to the top of the robotics team since joining Toyota in 2011, stopped short of committing to any mobility product releases from the company. He noted his experience working on Project BLAID, a wearable device for blind and visually impaired people that the company first publicized in 2016. While that and other mobility products have not been released yet, showcasing that Toyota is focused on developing inclusive products is important, Moore said.
“I’ve intentionally tried to make sure we don’t over-promise and under-deliver, because there’s still a lot of thinking that has to go into these platforms to make sure we can execute it right,” Moore said. “We want to show people that we are thinking and considering the true needs and the true value of what it means to bring solutions to the whole broad community, but at the same time we have to be careful and cautious about what we put out there.”
ROBOTICS PRODUCTS COME TO COMPLEX REHAB
Robotics engineers in the CRT and mobility world have one trait in common: a desire to see their algorithms and technical work turn into an application that changes people’s lives.
For Jay Beavers, a co-founder and managing member of Seattle-based Evergreen Circuits, the inspiration came from Steve Gleason, the former NFL player turned ALS activist. When Gleason challenged a group of Microsoft employees to create a system allowing him to drive his wheelchair with his eyes, they answered the call.
After Microsoft decided not to proceed into the medical device sector, Beavers and his partners created their own company and began to sell the Independence Drive system, which combines a power wheelchair, tablet computer and eye-tracking camera, in 2018.
“The thing that I think robotics will do that will really impact this industry is provide for more independent living and reduce the need for 24-hour caregivers,” Beavers said in an interview. “Japan is kind of on the cusp of this because they’re ahead of us in terms of having an aging population and not having enough caregivers. We in the U.S. are going to need to address the same issue in the next 20 to 30 years. That’s the biggest opportunity.”
Read the full article here: https://mobilitymgmt.com/Articles/2020/03/01/Robotics.aspxRead More
Soon after turning 70, Marianne Buzza knew it was time to downsize. But it wasn’t about the size of the house. “I love to garden and had created a bit of a monster. We needed a smaller yard!” she says with a laugh.
She and her husband, Wally, also wanted to live in the town of Wasaga Beach, ON, so they didn’t have to rely so much on driving. They found a townhouse that’s “perfect for us,” with plenty of extra space in the basement and a loft for visits from the kids and grandkids.
The new home also came with two flights of stairs. While Marianne, now 75, and Wally, 86, are both mobile, they recognized that the stairs put them at greater risk for falls. “A lot of people our age have mobility, but our balance is sometimes not what it used to be. We need that extra bit of stability.”
The couple found the solution in a new product called StairSteady (see below for details), manufactured in Whitby, ON. The fixed handrail uses a moveable support handle for users to grasp when going up or down stairs (see sidebar). “It goes at your pace because it’s not motorized. It can take a lot of weight and you can really lean into it,” says Buzza, adding that it blends right in with the décor. “It will be a selling feature because a lot of retirees move here.”
As more baby boomers enter their 70s and 80s, home safety will become increasingly important. For example, products and services to prevent falls, or to reduce the risk of wandering for people with dementia, are fast becoming available. Perhaps it’s time to update the old saying to, “There’s no place like a safe home.”
And it’s not just about safety. It’s increasingly about building and equipping homes that better support the changing needs of older adults, particularly in the areas of mobility and memory. Such foresight may help avoid moves to retirement homes or assisted living. In fact, Mary Huang, a family caregiver who helped move her 86-year-old mother and 90-year-old father out of their house to a condominium, would describe home-based support as a societal priority.
“Many people have no option but to stay home,” says Huang, an information technology consultant. “Retirement homes are expensive, and the waiting lists for long-term care are crazy. We need to be more creative, and this is where technology can come into play.”
Big plans for high tech
In 2016 Huang became involved with AGE-WELL, a national network of researchers partnering with government, businesses and non-profit organizations to develop innovations that support “aging well,” ideally in the comfort of one’s own home. As a caregiver and with her background in technology, Huang is excited by what’s coming from the network. “It’s good to see the federal government investing money in research outside the current models for healthcare and homecare.”
Smart sensor technology, for example, is a big focus for AGE-WELL. From garbage cans that signal when they need to be emptied to furniture that monitors vital signs and movements, homeowners can live more independently, and caregivers can provide support more efficiently. Artificial intelligence and non-intrusive computer vision will lead to devices, such as “social robots,” that learn people’s habits, interact with them and notify caregivers if issues emerge.
One of the first AGE-WELL products to become commercially available is Braze Mobility’s sensor technology for wheelchairs, to help people (of all ages) navigate their chairs more safely (see below). More than 60 products and services are in the works, all of which aim to transition from research to reality in the near future. “The start-up companies coming out of AGE-WELL are going to accelerate, which will lead to competition and more options for consumers,” says Dr. Pooja Viswanathan, a Toronto-based researcher and CEO of Braze Mobility. “This is especially important for the aging population, because so many of their needs are currently unmet.”
YouAreUNLTD.com is pleased to launch “No Place Like Safe Home,” a series of articles about what you can do to continue living safely and independently at home. Coming next: how building standards are changing, and retrofitting options for your current home.Read More
Dr. Pooja Viswanathan, CEO and Co-Founder of Braze Mobility appeared as a guest speaker at AGE-WELL’s National Conference in Vancouver last year. See how she created a new technology to help power wheelchairs and scooters detect obstacles, helping older adults increase their spatial awareness and maintain their independence. Watch the video for some notable highlights.
You can find out more about all the important work AGE-WELL is doing here.
More experts and disruptors will be on hand at the AGE-WELL’s 5th Annual National Conference in Moncton, New Brunswick, from October 22–24, 2019. Get all the details here.
Launched in 2015 through the federally-funded Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) program, AGE-WELL NCE (Aging Gracefully across Environments using Technology to Support Wellness, Engagement and Long Life NCE Inc.) is Canada’s technology and aging network. AGE-WELL is dedicated to the creation of technologies and services that benefit older adults and caregivers.Read More
Building a startup company is a daunting prospect – often more so if you’re a woman. But things may finally be starting to change.
That was one takeway from a panel discussion, held on the eve of International Women’s Day, featuring three female founders from the University of Toronto.
While all three panellists – Leila Keshavjee, Saara Punjani and Pooja Viswanathan – acknowledged the myriad challenges women founders still face in the business world, two of the entrepreneurs said gender had relatively little to do with the roadblocks they faced while trying to launch their companies.
“I’ve been lucky to not have the fact that I’m a woman get in my way,” said Punjani, who is the chief operations officer at Structura Biotechnology, which uses artificial intelligence to help pharmaceutical companies visualize proteins for drug discovery.
She attributed her positive experience, in part, to the support of her team, which includes Structura co-founder and CEO Ali Punjani – her brother.
Viswanathan, meantime, credited the fact she had a PhD when she started building “smart” wheelchair company Braze Mobility for helping to dull any gender discrimination she might have faced while dealing with male clients and investors.
“We’re in a good place right now – we’re seeing a lot of support,” said Viswanathan, citing various entrepreneurship programs at U of T and elsewhere in Ontario.
The discussion, part of the RBC Innovation & Entrepreneurship Speakers Series, drew a crowd to U of T’s ONRamp co-working and collaboration space on College Street. It was moderated by Professor Christine Allen of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, who is involved in two startups herself.
Referring to the new ground each panellist was breaking in their respective sector, Allen called the three entrepreneurs “female pioneers.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all smooth sailing gender-wise for the panellists.
Keshavjee said she definitely felt like she was treated differently while trying to get her all-natural ice pops company Happy Pops off the ground. She even recalled dealing with a businessman who didn’t believe Happy Pops was actually her company.
With a bachelor’s in kinesiology from U of T, Keshavjee said things began to change last fall after she appeared on the season premiere of the CBC program Dragon’s Den, walking away with a deal with Arlene Dickinson. But while the show helped elevate her personal brand, Keshavjee said she feels for women entrepreneurs who don’t get similar opportunities.
“Women shouldn’t have to go through that to be credible,” she said.
The bulk of the evening, however, was spent talking about the specific challenges each panellist faced while trying to turn their ideas into a money-making enterprise.
Viswanathan called the experience “terrifying” because she had no idea what to expect each morning when she woke up – a feeling she said continues to this day. Even so, Viswanathan said she is “laser-focused” on trying to solve a problem after witnessing, as an undergraduate student, residents of a long-term care facility slumped over their wheelchairs and unable to get around.
Her solution? Sensors and software that help motorized wheelchair operators navigate their environment, giving them back their freedom.
She heaped praise on the Impact Centre, one of nine on-campus entrepreneurship hubs, for helping her problem-solve a way to a viable product.
“For me, as someone with no business background, that was a home away from home,” she said.
Punjani, similarly, said Structura tapped into the vast expertise at U of T – both while trying to build a product and for getting advice on how to deal with Big Pharma customers. She said the startup received support from UTEST and the Department of Computer Science Innovation Lab, or DCSIL, and is benefitting from being based at the nexus of the Toronto’s burgeoning innovation ecosystem.
“We’ve been fortunate to work with some of the incubators and accelerators here – and through ONRamp,” she said. “That proximity really helps.”
As for Keshavjee, she also credited the Impact Centre for helping her launch Happy Pops, despite the fact that it’s not a typical, research-based university startup. “They really helped me grow the business,” she said.
That growth appears set to continue. After working with Dickinson’s packaged-goods focused accelerator in Calgary, Keshavjee is now preparing to relaunch the brand this spring.
“We’re projecting half a million in sales this year,” Keshavjee said. “I knew the day would come when we didn’t just have a seasonal business – where it wouldn’t just be a summer treat for kids.”
Braze Mobility uses sensors to help motorized wheelchair users avoid collisions with the obstacles that surround them. Now, with its latest product, Braze hopes to one day help eliminate the obstacles themselves.
Pooja Viswanathan, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Toronto and the CEO and co-founder of Braze, says she’s hoping to use the data collected by her startup’s sensors, which can be attached to motorized wheelchairs, to create a sophisticated data analytics platform.
The crunched data could then be used by clinicians, insurance companies and even city planners when making decisions that could impact wheelchair users.
“This could collect data on where collisions are actually happening in the environment,” Viswanathan told attendees at a recent health-care pitch competition.
Braze was one of four startups to take home $7,000 in prize money at H2i’s HealthEdge Challenge. The competition is organized by three U of T accelerators – Health Innovation Hub (H2i), The Hatchery and the Department of Computer Science Innovation Lab (DCSIL) – and is designed to encourage innovation to address real-world health-care problems.
Also taking home a prize was surgical device startup Xpan. The company, co-founded by U of T biomedical engineering alumnus Zaid Atto, makes an expandable version of a surgical device called a trocar that’s used to create a tunnel into the abdomen for laparoscopic surgeries.
At present, surgeons must swap out trocars if they need to insert larger instruments, which can slow down procedures and raise the risk of complications, Atto said.
Xpan won a similar H2i pitch competition back in October and another in September organized by The Hatchery, which is affiliated with the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.
The other two winners of this week’s competition were Sunny Stroke, which connects physicians providing care to stroke patients and was represented by U of T biomedical engineering graduate student Shaurya Gupta, and Opti-fold Cosmetics, which makes a special tape to encourage double eyelids and is led by Ray Tang.
In addition to the cash, the four winning startups will receive further support from the accelerators supporting HealthEdge competition as they fine-tune their business plans.
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