Inspiring entrepreneurial thinking to create innovative ventures
Unless you are a parent or caregiver of a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, it is difficult to know the challenges that simple everyday tasks that most of us take for granted can bring. Imagine taking your eight-year old son to the department store and, without warning, he has overturned a store shelf, hit his head on the wall and is on the ground, kicking, crying and screaming. It takes two men to wrestle him back to your car and three hours for you to calm him down when you get home. Now imagine that there is a wearable device that can monitor your child’s rising stress levels, providing advanced warning of these kinds of behaviour meltdowns, which can be an everyday occurrence for those managing an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
UBC Engineering alumna Andrea Palmer founded her startup, Awake Labs, to develop this innovative technology. The device, called Reveal, measures three indicators of anxiety — sweat, heart rate, and skin temperature —using sensors. The readings are transmitted to the parent’s smartphone in real time, allowing the caregiver to step in before the situation escalates.
“One in 68 children is diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder,” says Palmer. “We want to help children become more independent and self-regulating so they can live happier and healthier lives.”
Palmer developed the concept for Reveal while taking New Venture Design, a fourth-year course offered to Engineering and Commerce students to help them get new projects off the ground. Through the course she competed in the Global Impact Competition, which identifies innovations that will positively impact the lives of Canadians. Palmer won the grand prize of attending the Graduate Studies Program at Singularity University in the Silicon Valley. She says the experience helped her set her sights even higher for Awake Labs, and she now hopes it will positively impact a billion people’s lives.
Palmer is working towards that goal with the help of entrepreneurship@ubc (e@ubc). A unique program that delivers an unprecedented combination of education, venture creation, and seed funding, e@ubc helps to maximize the number of successful ventures coming out of the university.
The e@ubc Seed Fund is a key component of the program, investing risk capital in new and innovative startups founded by UBC students, alumni, faculty and staff. Created through the generous charitable contributions of UBC alumni and others, these early investments are key in helping startups like Awake Labs build momentum in their businesses and serves as a bridge to additional outside investment.
This funding makes it possible for e@UBC to unlock the potential for UBC startups to become world-class companies underpinning a healthy economy and society. Palmer says participating in e@ubc has already helped take her startup to the next level.
Awake Labs now operates out of the e@ubc space in the new Graham Lee Innovation Centre at the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre, and seasoned business leaders and entrepreneurs are guiding Palmer through Reveal’s critical growth and development phases.
“They provide us with world-class mentors who help us through the process. As a first time entrepreneur, having someone point out things we haven’t thought of as we go and giving us advice has been really helpful.”