Three Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine spin-off companies brought home 2019 TEC Edmonton Innovation Awards last night, showcasing University of Alberta’s innovation and impact in health and tech.
Since 2013, the Innovation Awards have honoured University of Alberta researchers, their ground-breaking technologies and the commercialization community that helps bring their innovations from out of the lab and into the world, recognizing some of the university’s best and brightest innovators.
Among the ten spin-off companies awarded were 3Ft. Reach Inc. (3Ft. Reach), True Angle Medical Technologies Inc. (True Angle) and Click&Push Accessibility Inc. (Click&Push).
Keith Fenrich, co-CEO and CTO of 3Ft. Reach is a research associate and adjunct assistant professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. He and co-CEO and CFO Bang Thai have developed a low-cost, low-tech adapter for light switches to improve home and work accessibility without the need for costly renovations or high-tech solutions. The switches maintain the look and functionality of a normal switch and can be installed or removed in under five minutes.
Keith Fenrich accepted the 3Ft. Reach Spin-Off Award.
(Photo supplied by TEC Edmonton)
“Many people with motor impairments, especially individuals with limited arm and hand function (e.g., individuals who have had a stroke or spinal cord injury), have difficulties performing tasks such as using a light switch. The same is true for small children who are not tall enough to reach light switches.
Adapting a home and/or workplace to improve the accessibility of light switches is a high priority, but can be very expensive, often requiring either home renovations to lower the switches or retrofitting switches with digital switches that are connected via, for example, Bluetooth, both of which can be very expensive. We developed the adapters as a simple, low-cost alternative,” explained Fenrich.
“We are in the final design stages for mass production. In parallel, we are developing business relationships with potential distributors and finalizing plans for packaging and marketing. We aim to have our first run of adapters ready for sale in early 2020.”
True Angle, led by Jana Rieger, professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and director of research at the Institute for Reconstructive Sciences in Medicine, has developed a device, the Mobili-T—or mobile therapist—that is the only mobile, home-based swallowing therapy device that pairs real-time visual biofeedback with a "smart" software-based therapy coaching system, all while maintaining a direct connection to a prescribing clinician, who can for the first time ever, reliably track patient progress and adherence.
The True Angle team, Dylan Scott, Jana Rieger and
Gabriela Constantinescu with their Spin-Off Award.
(Photo supplied by TEC Edmonton)
The Mobili-T assists patients with swallowing disorders (also known as dysphagia) to retrain throat muscles to swallow. The ability to eat normally can be destroyed by medical conditions such as head and neck cancer, stroke, traumatic brain injury, and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis. Swallowing disorders affect as many as two in 10 adults over the age of 50. But while research has demonstrated that intensive swallowing therapy using biofeedback systems can improve the condition, current treatment requires patients to regularly visit a clinic, an inconvenience which leads to many patients not getting the therapy that they need, explained Rieger.
The True Angle team, including Gabriela Constantinescu, chief product officer, and Dylan Scott, chief technology officer, was able to miniaturize the current biofeedback technology, and develop a wireless piece of hardware that senses muscle activity when placed under the chin. It gives patients direct feedback about swallowing muscle activation. An app that provides real-time biofeedback on a mobile device leads them seamlessly through a therapy protocol.
“Patients tell us that this makes therapy easy and motivates them to stay on track, which the data from our latest trial confirms. All patient data is sent to a portal so that their clinician can track progress. The Mobili-T’s greatest advantage is that it allows 100 per cent of potential customers to access the technology anywhere in the world,” said Rieger.
“We are gearing up to go to market next year. This requires many steps including continuing our clinical trials, publishing data from our completed trials, getting regulatory approval, developing and rolling out a marketing strategy, testing and validating our business assumptions and getting the Mobili-T into as many patients’ hands as possible.”
The Click&Push team, led by Martin Ferguson-Pell, professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine and co-PI for the Rehabilitation Robotics Lab
(RRL) at the University of Alberta, has developed an app that allows wheelchair users to plan travel routes based on maps that show exertion difficulty scores for different destinations.
Click&Push team members Sydney Hampshire,
Martin Ferguson-Pell, Yilina Liubaoerjijin, John Christy
Johnson and Nathanial Maeda celebrating their win.
Not pictured: team members Musi Ala and Kenton
Hamaluik. (Photo supplied by TEC Edmonton)
The project builds off of technology built in the RRL called Redliner—a wearable device for manual wheelchair users that can be attached to their wheelchair to measure distance and speed travelled and the force
required to travel, similar to a ‘FitBit’ for a wheelchair. Using data gained from Redliner, the team creates maps of public spaces such as conference centres, museums, recreation centres, universities and national parks that convey how difficult they are to navigate in a wheelchair.
“Enhancing personal mobility allows manual wheelchair users to live with dignity, enjoy a higher quality of life and participate as functional members of society. At the same time, it enables planners and designers to mitigate, repair and remove hazards in the environment,” said Yilina Liubaoerjijin, chief administrative officer of Click&Push.
“We are currently negotiating with a few post-secondary institutions to develop accessibility maps and further develop our software capabilities. We are looking forward to building more relationships with community organizations and addressing the problem from ground-up by consulting those with mobility impairments.”
Grateful for TEC Edmonton
As the companies all prepare for their next steps, they took the time to reflect on what they have already accomplished and what receiving the TEC Edmonton award means to them.
“We are very excited to get this award. A lot of work goes into getting a spin-off company going, especially since I don't have a lot of business experience. The award is a very nice recognition of the efforts we've put into the business so far and is helping motivate us to make this company a success,” said Fenrich.
“It is an honor to be recognized by TEC Edmonton with this award. They have been with us through many aspects of this journey, like they are for many University of Alberta spin-offs. So, to receive this special validation of our efforts from them is really wonderful,” said Rieger.
“We are humbled and honored to receive the spinoff award and encouraged to do more to promote universal access and inclusivity for all,” said Liubaoerjijin.