The (high-tech) future of entrepreneurism
Out and about at the Tec VenturePrize awards
Tim Querengesser is senior editor with Alberta Venture. He once snowmobiled to the Arctic Ocean to interview a guy in elf shoes about reindeer. Really. Peace Pipe is his critical look at the intersection between Indigenous peoples and industry. Email Tim
by Tim Querengesser
If I were to predict what the future of business in Alberta looks like, based solely on the recent Tec VenturePrize, oil and gas wouldn’t be in the picture. Instead, the future would be at the centre of the intersection between health, technology and entrepreneurship.
Take Dr. Breanne Everett, the CEO of Calgary-based Orpyx. At the VenturePrize awards on Wednesday, held in Edmonton, she became the first female winner of the $100,000 prize in the event’s 11-year history, as well as its first winner from Calgary. But like many of the business proposals at this year’s event, the potential for Everett’s idea to create meaningful change for our health positively hushed the 400-plus crowd as she described it.
Orpyx has developed technology to create what’s called ‘sensory substitution’ for people with diabetes, a rapidly growing number of Canadians. Diabetes in its more serious forms can lead to people losing sensitivity in their legs and later to amputations due to unfelt injuries or infections. Orpyx’s technology alerts people of these potential injuries. Further, its shoe insoles offer the potential for those who have lost sensation in their legs to regain some feeling again, through artificial stimulation. The company’s website says it is weeks away from releasing this technology commercially.
Tec Edmonton is a joint venture between the University of Alberta and the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation. It has held the Tec VenturePrize since 2002, and offers entrepreneurs multiple forms of support to develop their ideas into businesses.
At the event, before the big cheque was handed to Everett (as an aside – have big cheques as awards become cliché yet?) a monetarily smaller ($20,000) yet still-oversized cheque was handed to MyoNexus Diagnostics for the student business plans category. The company mostly won the crowd, however. When Naga Siva Kumar Gunda displayed the company’s CardioChip technology – a stamp-sized chip, encased in what looked like translucent plastic, and said it can detect, from patients’ blood, if they are about to have a heart attack – the event hall buzzed at the novelty.
Surface Medical was another health-related startup in the running for the top prize. While it ultimately wasn’t successful, the company did pick up the people’s choice award for its product proposal that could cut down on infectious diseases spreading in hospitals and other institutions.
Here’s a video by Orpyx about their technology: