UToday Annual Innovation Reactor sparks entrepreneurial spirit on campus and in community

Annual Innovation Reactor sparks entrepreneurial spirit on campus and in community
«UToday»

Proud of Teddy Seyed, Market Grade Technologist, for pitching our Doppio smartwatch and winning the Calgary Tesla Society Award at University of Calgary‘s 2017 Innovation Reactor.

Faculty of Science hosts showcase for student-led innovations

By Mark Lowey, for the Faculty of Science

 

As an undergraduate student at the University of Calgary, Teddy Seyed was the shy guy who sat at the back and seldom spoke up in class. All that changed as he grew into one of the hottest entrepreneurs on campus, joining the university’s expanding community of innovators.

“I think everyone is an entrepreneur, they just don’t know it,” says Seyed, who’s working on UCalgary’s first-ever entrepreneurial PhD degree, in the Department of Computer Science in the Faculty of Science.

“Everyone has a passion about something, and there’s always a problem that everyone wants to solve that’s related to his or her passion,” he says.

Seyed received the first Calgary Tesla Award, presented mid-September at the Innovation Reactor event, organized by the Faculty of Science and the Skunkworks Innovation program. His bright idea — a dual-screen smart watch that prioritizes emergency pager messages for doctors — received $1,500 and a statuette of genius inventor Nikola Tesla from the Calgary Tesla Society.

“The Innovation Reactor solidifies the university as a great place for innovation and sparks interest in the community,” says Lesley Rigg, dean of the Faculty of Science. “We have resources and expertise in the community and we have the same here on campus, so we want to make sure they’re linked,” she says.

“Young people are energetic and innovative, they just need time and space,” says one of the event organizers, Steve Larter, professor in the Department of Geoscience and Canada Research Chair in Petroleum Geology. “Innovation has to be a scheduled activity, not just fit into the cracks between current programs. It’s great to see the new innovation initiatives underway.”

An innovator himself, Larter and research group colleagues, together with Ian Gates, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering in the Schulich School of Engineering, started the spinoff company Gushor, led by one of Larter’s former PhD students. Larter’s subsequent students and postdocs have since launched several spinoffs in an array of energy and environmental areas.

 

Teddy Seyed, far right, receives the first Calgary Tesla Award at the Faculty of Science’s Innovation Reactor event from Calgary Tesla Society executives Ana Milanovic, left, Jagos Radovic and Milan Todorovic. Photos by Mark Lowey
Teddy Seyed, far right, receives the first Calgary Tesla Award at the Faculty of Science’s Innovation Reactor event from Calgary Tesla Society executives Ana Milanovic, left, Jagos Radovic and Milan Todorovic. Photos by Mark Lowey

 

Student-led teams of entrepreneurs had a chance to network and talk about innovations at the recent Innovation Reactor event.
Student-led teams of entrepreneurs had a chance to network and talk about innovations at the recent Innovation Reactor event. 

 

Students in ideal position to be innovators

“The best time to start being an entrepreneur is when you’re a university student because you have little to lose,” says Milan Todorovic, president of the Calgary Tesla Society. The society aspires to raise a full-size statue of Tesla on campus, “to inspire even more students to — as Tesla did — dream big, work hard and be selfless,” Todorovic says.

The Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking at UCalgary presented the other $1,500 award of the night. The Hunter Hub Student Innovation Award went to Maggie Young and Alex Chalamova. Young is a communication student in the Faculty of Arts and Chalamova a computer science student in the Faculty of Science.

The pair co-founded ParkChamp, a Calgary company whose software application enables drivers using their mobile phone to find, reserve and pay for affordable and convenient parking, and property owners to rent their empty parking stalls.

“By being a part of the Innovation Reactor, we were able to make connections with important people, learn from experts in the field, and share our new business with people just as passionate about entrepreneurship as we are,” Young says.

 

Celebrate and learn from failure

Six UCalgary student-led teams, selected from more than 20 entries, made three-minute pitches about their innovations in front of about 200 people. The fledgling entrepreneurs also heard words of wisdom from a panel of speakers who started or work at successful, innovation-driven companies originally initiated at the university.

UCalgary alumnus Mark Blackwell, chief operating officer at GNS3 Technologies, moderated the panel, during which he stressed the importance of entrepreneurs “celebrating failure and learning from it.” Blackwell launched and sold a technology company in Silicon Valley before returning to Calgary, where he opened an innovation centre downtown last week.

“Students need to hear the stories of people who have gone before them, to understand that it’s not as scary as it seems to make the leap and start a business. It’s mission critical,” Blackwell says.

Smartwatch developer Seyed is happy he made the leap. He received a scholarship early in his PhD from the Hunter Hub that allowed him to expand his entrepreneurial skills with classes on business, marketing and entrepreneurship.

Last year, he won a Google scholarship to participate in an academic retreat that included students from MIT and Harvard, and he was invited back this year as a student mentor. Google is now interested in commercializing his smart watch with Android Wear.

“If I can show that this kind of innovation can be done in Calgary, then I think it will open the doors for other students to do these ‘crazy’ things that are in their heads,” Seyed says.

The second annual Innovation Reactor was also supported by the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Hunter Hub, W21C, and Innovate Calgary.

 

Innovation Reactor’s panel of tech companies and their speakers:

 

Innovation Reactor’s pitching teams and their innovations:

BClean — a wearable device that reminds, records and reports all hand hygiene activities in health care institutions, to prevent and reduce infections.

  • Ziad Paracha (Haskayne School of Business)
  • Shahum Chaudhry (Haskayne School of Business)
  • David Garett (Department of Electrical Engineering, Schulich School of Engineering)
  • Alex Sheldon (Department of Electrical Engineering, Schulich School of Engineering)

 

Doppio — a smart watch that enables doctors and other health care professionals to view and prioritize pager messages and respond proactively to emergencies.

  • Teddy Seyed (Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Science)
  • Xing-Dong Yang (Dartmouth College)
  • Daniel Vogel (University of Waterloo)
  • Kris Hans (Market Grade)
  • Sonny Shoker (Market Grade)

 

DME (Dyes, Materials and Energy) — lightweight, flexible and inexpensive solar cells made from chemically modified organic dyes.

  • Jonathan Cann (Department of Chemistry, Faculty Science)
  • Greg Welch (Welch Research Group, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science)

 

ParkChamp — a website application that reinvents the parking experience and helps solve everyday parking pains.

  • Maggie Young (Department of Communication, Media and Film, Faculty of Arts)
  • Alex Chalamova (Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Science)

 

Heartspoon — a website application that enables people to buy food directly and safely from at-home cooks.

  • Hong Jing Feng (Faulty of Law)
  • Thuy Anh Nguyen (Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Schulich School of Engineering)
  • Priyaa Varshinee (Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Science)

 

MJam — a social networking application to pair up music teachers with students who want to learn how to play an instrument at an affordable price.

  • Negin Aliyeva (Schulich School of Engineering)

 

 

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