The kids are alright: How these entrepreneurs plan to beat diabetes

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Monthly Archives: August 2017

The kids are alright: How these entrepreneurs plan to beat diabetes

It’s 9:45 p.m. on a run of the mill Tuesday and Shaan Hooey is tired.

It’s been a long day for the Canadian entrepreneur who spent most of it talking to investors and answering media calls but you wouldn’t know it by how excited he is when discussing his medical startup, GlucaMed. The company has created its first prototype for an injectable pen that contains glucagon, a medication used to treat low-blood sugar in Type 1 diabetics.

From his home, Hooey describes over the phone how he and his partner, Sameer Jessa, managed to get the business off the ground in great detail. But, perhaps, the most compelling part of his story is that the co-founders behind this game-changing piece of technology are only 15 years old.

“Innovation is my motivation,” he says, with a laugh. “I was inspired to create the [Glucopen] because my sister has diabetes and I saw the pains she had to go through. I saw when she would have to sit on the sidelines [because of] low blood sugar and I thought there had to be a better way.”

Jessa agrees.“I’ve actually met with Shaan’s sister and I’ve seen how she’s struggled with her diabetes,” he says. “No diabetics should have to live with their life in danger.”

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Although current products on the market today work just fine, Hooey explains, they’re counterintuitive. The first time he practiced using one of the injection needles — his sister often carries with her for safety — it took him 10 minutes before he could get it to work. “That’s too long in an emergency situation,” he says.

But why did it take so long? Before contemporary glucagon injections are ready to be used, individuals need to mix together two compounds (a powder and a liquid) stored separately by hand. Most diabetes kits intentionally store the compounds separately because when mixed it has a limited shelf life and costs more than approximately $200 per kit making it too expensive to waste. However, this setup can also prove tricky for first-time users (or even experienced diabetics) under pressure.

GlucaMed changes that by making the mixing of the two compounds as easy as pushing a button — think of it like an Epipen for diabetes. In order to inject the device all a user has to do is pull off the safety cap and push a button to deliver the substance. No hard work required. It’s a great idea that has even garnered interest from some of the industry’s biggest names, like California-based entrepreneur Navid Nathoo, founder of Airpost, and Accenture consultant Alexis Tremblay.

Their idea behind the device is so popular, in fact, that the teen entrepreneurs now have an investor and impressive board of directors by their side. Their impressive list of cheerleaders also includes the duo’s supporters from Sandbox, the outreach arm for the DMZ an outreach organization based at Ryerson University and The Knowledge Society, a student-focused tech incubator based in Toronto.  

For now, Jessa and Hooey are focused on clinical trials and bringing their product to market. Since they’re underage, working out trials is an unusual hardship as most labs won’t even let minors enter their facility. But, they’re not letting that interfere with their plans.  

“We’re going to keep working at this,” explains Hooey. “We think this could change the world.”


The best tech conferences left in 2017

Tech conferences are more popular now than ever before. From Toronto’s Elevate to TechCrunch in San Francisco there are a bevy of industry-focused events entrepreneurs and business owners can choose from nowadays.

If you’re interested in diversifying your personal network, learning new skills or trying out the latest gadgets on the market now is the time to do it. Here’s your guide to the top tech conferences in North America

So many tech conferences, so little time:


Elevate Toronto


Dates:
Sept. 12 – Sept. 14, 2017
Location: Toronto
Ticket price: $647 CAD

This three-day conference in the heart of Toronto is designed with techpreneurs in mind. Founders from Canada’s top companies will be on site doling out advice, guidance and tips to those lucky enough to score a ticket.

Early-stage startups can rub elbows with talend developers looking for work and pitch the city’s lawmakers and top on their home turf. Investors like Michelle Scarborough (from BDC) and Bruce Croxon (from Round 13 Capital) will dole out advice. Those willing to splurge on conferences can take a private tour of Toronto’s most innovative tech companies.

Bonus: This year festival organizers will provide 40 free passes to minority and low-income conference goers. To apply make sure to check out their website starting August 25, 2017.

TechCrunch Disrupt SF


Dates:
Sept. 18 – Sept. 20, 2017
Location: San Francisco
Ticket price: Starting at $1,995 USD

If you’re a Canadian entrepreneur looking to meet new clients, drum up some media publicity south of the border or just learn new industry tricks from some of the best and brightest influencers then TechCrunch Disrupt is for you.

Entrepreneurs can take part money-making startup competitions, attend conference showcases presented by well-known investors or attend one of the many networking and skill-based sessions. Tickets for this showcase aren’t cheap – early-bird tickets start at $1,900 US, (link) which doesn’t include airfare, accommodation or food – but for companies looking to build traction in the U.S. it can be worth the cost.

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Money2020


Dates:
Oct. 22 – Oct. 25, 2017
Location: Las Vegas
Ticket price: $2,995 USD (discounts available for eligible startups)

If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about the fast-paced world of fintech then Money2020 — billed as “the world’s largest payments and financial services innovation event” – is the place to go. Last year’s event included attendees from over 85 countries and this year features hour-long sessions on everything from data privacy to new-age mobile banking in developing countries and blockchain technology.

A range of skill-testing startup competitions and hackathons are also on offer for developers hoping to showcase their skills or find new employment opportunities. Regular tickets retail for $2,995 but discounts of up to 50 per cent are available for select retailers and startups (link).

TEDxToronto


Dates:
Oct. 27, 2017
Location: Toronto
Ticket price: $500 – $1,000 CAD

A good conference is about more than just networking and tech demonstrations. A great event will push participants to be better and inspires attendees to try new things.

While TEDxToronto isn’t exclusively focused on technology its seminars, presented by local influencers, tackle subjects and ideas that impact every facet of life and often touch on technology in some form. These profoundly inspiring talks deal with everything from company leadership and career motivation.

This year’s speakers include Paul Rowan (co-founder of home design store Umbra), Gimmy Chu (co-founder of green technology startup Nano Leaf) and Peter Sloly (partner at Deloitte Canada). Torontonians who can’t afford the $1,000 price tag can also watch highlights online in the weeks following the event.

Mesh Marketing


Dates:
Nov. 6, 2017
Location: Toronto
Ticket price: $299 CAD

If you’re a professional who deals with both marketing and technology, then Mesh Marketing might be the most useful for your long-term goals.

This international event deep dives into operational issues and discusses strategy-focused topics to help attendees better understand marketing technologies. Attendees also take part in the invite-only networking events that take place after the conferences and get a front-row seat to other related marketing events the company throws throughout the year.

Meet Zensurance, the company disrupting the insurance industry

Technology is changing how businesses around the world operate. Cutting-edge innovation is no longer confined to the type of industries found in science fiction novels, like biotechnology and artificial intelligence.

Traditional trades, like insurance, are now getting a much-needed boost and proving that there are new (and arguably better ways) to provide their services.

Who they are

 
Toronto-based startup Zensurance is one of the few emerging leaders in the insurance space disrupting how small- and medium-sized businesses find products they need. While insurance isn’t the first thing most think of when thinking about technological innovation, Sultan Mehrabi, Zensurance’s CTO, says his company’s work is changing the industry for the better.

“It’s about more than just selling insurance. What we’re doing is changing how people find the protection they need whenever they want,” he adds. “It’s about finally having Canadians be able to choose what they want.”

Danish Yusef, CEO of the Toronto-based startup, agrees. He’s excited about how Zensurance is turning the industry upside down and why (more importantly) the work they’re doing should matter to Canadians. “We’re excited to change how the insurance game works.”

Why it matters

 
The insurance startup’s impact in the industry is all too easy to see. Before Zensurance launched its services, commercial insurance — products sold to businesses and homes — was sold almost exclusively through specialized brokers that acted as the middleman between customers and insurance agencies.

They often prioritized in-person meetings over online communication and charged customers a fee to connect them with the insurance packages they needed the most. Zensurance does away with middleman charges by using its own AI-influenced technology that connects customers with their products.

“The insurance industry hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years. Most small business owners still have to fill out and fax 10-page forms, wait weeks and pay by cheque to get their insurance approved,” Yusef explains. “It’s outdated,” Mehrabi adds. “Business owners don’t have time to wait on hold to find out if they’re business is protected.”

Instead of relying on humans to coordinate insurance rates, the startup does something a bit different. Its own proprietary technology digitizes the experience and provides accurate quotes for businesses in mere seconds instead of the minutes it might take over the phone. Real-world data taken from interviews with insurance providers and brokers is also incorporated into the system so that it mimics a similar experience clients would encounter with a live agent.

How it works

 
The company’s digital-only process is easy to use. Startups and business owners can avoid the login hassle found on most websites and get a quote in minutes. Individuals merely type in their email address, answer a few questions about their product or business and are the emailed a quote with today’s biggest insurance providers. For those who still prefer an over the phone experience, agents are available 24-7 as well.

Zensurance’s easy-to-use process is just one way the company is lowering fees and also demystifying the insurance industry in the process. “When people learn more about the industry, they’re also able to make better decisions about prices and what products they need,” adds Mehrabi.

Since Zensurance is only available online (and not face-to-face) that means the company’s customers never have to worry about after-work hours or out of office messages when they need agent help..

“A lot of these insurance providers are only open during the day when these small businesses are at their busiest and don’t have the time to wait. The great thing is you can use our platform day or night, so you can do it when you have time,” explains Yusef.

For Mehrabi one an unexpected benefit is seeing how his company’s approach to insurance is actually shaping how their competitors tackle problems, which makes the industry better for everyone overall.

“We’re a technology company helping small business customers get the best insurance coverage. The [providers] we work with see what we’re doing and end up partnering with us and improving their systems, too.”

24 hours with real estate startup Casalova

The real estate startup is located in downtown, Toronto — one of Canada’s most competitive real estate markets — which means employees have to always be on their toes since local listings can change in the blink of an eye.

Unlike some of its competitors, Casalova is a one-stop shop that brings together prospective renters, landlords and agents all in one place. Users who sign up get access to new homes and a certified agent, while landlords have their properties listed and also get a $100,000 insurance package so they can rest easy knowing that if a tenant damages their homes they won’t go into debt to fix it.

Here’s an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of Casalova’s team and their founder.

The agent: Jennifer Meade (9 a.m. to 12 p.m.)

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Jennifer Meade, one of the company’s newest agents, knows all too well how volatile Toronto’s real estate market is these days. She’s seen up-close-and-personal the city’s property market jump more than 20 per cent in the last year, and more importantly, the impact it’s had on prospective renters and buyers.

“Everything moves so fast now,” she explains. “If you want something in this market you have to be ready to move quickly because property can go just like that,” she says while snapping her fingers for added effect.

For Meade, most days involve checking her email to see which new clients she’s been matched with through Casalova or connecting with new renters through her own personal network. Today her client, a nurse moving from Barrie to Toronto, is looking for a condo to call home in the downtown core, which Meade confesses “can be tricky” since the prospective renter’s 14-hour job makes it difficult to view properties during normal hours.

Today her day starts at 7 a.m. when she scours local listings for new condos. When she finds one that matches her client’s needs (in this case parking and access to shopping and entertainment) she calls the property manager to book an appointment and waits for her client to make the long drive downtown.

Two hours later she shows the nurse around a lovely condo near the city’s waterfront while rattling of its impressive amenities — inclusive gym, pool and hot tub, to name a few. It’s a one bedroom, 778 square feet, home that overlooks Lake Ontario. While Meade thinks she may have found her client the perfect home although she isn’t so sure and wants to look at a few other places before making a final decision.

Keen to see her client view as many places as possible she hails a taxi that will shuttle both of them to their next destination. She also informs the condo owner over the phone that her client is interested in the property but needs a little more time to make a decision. “It’s important to keep every door open,” she says with a smile while juggling two phones.

Two hours and three condo viewings later (a cancelled showing due to a lost lockbox means the day ends early) just reinforces how much her client loved the first apartment she viewed earlier in the day. Meade later makes an official offer that day with help from Casalova’s customer service team and then make plans to meet tomorrow to follow-up on signing details.

“It always feels good when you find the perfect home for someone,” Meade explains.

The front-line staff: (1 p.m. to 3 p.m.)

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Naveed Marzook, Casalova’s vice-president of customer success, loves his job. It’s easy to see that he and his team shoulder most of the face-to-face customer and agent work the company deals with on a daily basis. Any questions about properties, or payment requests go through his team.

The customer service team also helps customers navigate the website if necessary and add new homes to the company’s growing list of real estate options almost hourly.

For all intents and purposes, Marzook and his team are like the swiss army knife of the company, although he refers to his team as the startup’s “helpers”. They go “above and beyond” what they’re expected to do all the time, he explains. “Everyone pitches in and we appreciate it.”

Marzook and his team believe that the company’s success boils down to the fact the team actually like working together. In an attempt to prove his point, he holds up a golden owl, fondly named Hooter, which is given to the employee who happens to “pitch in the most.”

Today it might be him, and the next day it could be Jess Shulist — one of his colleagues whose computer is decorated with Rihanna stickers and works with agents to get client documents ready.

“It’s a fun place to work,” Shulist says while looking fondly at Hooter. “I think it’s cool how we never forget to recognize how hard each other is working.”

The co-founder: Ray Jaff (3 p.m. to 8 p.m.)

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Ray Jaff wakes up at 6 a.m. everyday to workout. He works through company problems while running on the treadmill and brainstorms new solutions while lifting weights. “It’s what gets me through the day,” he explains.

The entrepreneur is dressed in a fitted oxford shirt and pleated pants, but says he would be just as comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt.

This afternoon he’s focused mostly on checking in with team members, going over the website’s latest updates and the company’s plans to move to a new office on the westside.

At a meeting with the team’s engineers, Jaff and the developers hunker down at their desk to come up with solutions and a tentative timeline for new product updates. Forty-five minutes later they’re done and the founder is already on his way to his next meeting. His phone blinks throughout the afternoon proving just how in-demand he is these days, especially now that the company has launched its services in Vancouver.

It’s a real coup for the startup, he says. “We’ve been working towards this for a while.” When asked how he manages to avoid burnout, Jaff merely laughs and shrugs. “It’s a team effort, we’re all working on this together and we aim to only hire A-players who are dedicated to the Casalova mission. It’s makes everyone’s life a lot easier.”

Later on the company’s real estate agents, front-line staff and Jaff convene to celebrate their quarterly wins at a complimentary lunch while munching on sushi, chips, cupcakes and champagne. Despite its seemingly small team, the event is an important way to show employees how much their hard work is appreciated.

“Casalova is like a family. We value everyone and just because the agents aren’t in the office with us doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be here with us to celebrate.”

The award categories include ‘Rookie of the month’, ‘hardest hustler,’ and ‘MVP of the month.’ After the awards are given out, Jaff motions for people to move to the front of the room for photos with the honourees.

Once the meeting is over, it’s back to meetups with staff, responding to more emails and later one-on-ones about Vancouver. It’s almost 8 p.m. by the time his day is finished.

As he readies his things to leave for the night the entrepreneur’s eyes are still glued to his smartphone.

From science fiction to science fact: Tech that actually exists

For many, it serves as an inspiration and more importantly a peek into what the near future might offer. Everything from smartwatches to relatable robots can arguably be traced back to a fictional piece of work.

Thankfully technology moves at breakneck speeds and what was once considered impossible has quickly become reality. If you’ve ever wanted your very own hoverboard or a robotic servant to call your own, you’re in luck. Here are some of the best fiction-influenced technologies that now exist.

Hoverboards

Fans of Marty McFly – the wonder kid from Back to the Future – can finally rejoice. The hoverboard that helped propel the smart-talking, wise-cracking teen to new heights is now a reality. In 2015, car company Lexus introduced its own version of the device that relies on “magnetic levitation” (read: magnets that repel gravity) to achieve lift-off.

Since then other companies have stepped up and created their own. U.S. startup Hendo Hoverboards introduced the world to its first levitating device on Kickstarter two years ago and since then has launched four different versions of the board that look and move like a traditional skateboard.

Embeddable microchips

In most dystopian movies, GPS-tracking microchips are tools oft used for nefarious reasons. Bad guys inject the tiny, plastic devices at underneath the skin of the heroic protagonist (or protagonists) in an attempt to track, manipulate and in some cases even kill. Thankfully, in real life, things aren’t so bad.

While tech startups (and a few forward-thinking innovators) have long flirted with the idea of embeddable tracking technology it’s only in recent years that it’s become a real possibility.

Wisconsin-based Three Square Market is one of the first in North America to provide its employees with tracking chips that allow them to enter and exit a building at will and make cashless purchases from company kiosks. The devices, the size of a single grain of rice, use radio-frequency identification (RFID) — the same technology found in key fobs and smart wristbands. While Three Square Market’s chips don’t include in-depth tracking by choice the Swedish company — called Biohax International — behind the device does include that feature in its other smart embeddable products.

The Jetson’s ‘Rosie the Robot’

Robots are all too often employed by Hollywood as a way to demonstrate just how modern and advanced a society is without being explicit. It’s a popular trope that can be found in Star Trek’s Data, Ava from Ex-Machina and even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in The Terminator. While the characters from our favourite science fiction novels aren’t feasible just yet, several companies have figured out a way to emulate some of their best features.

Sophia, a humanoid robot created by Hanson robotics, is as close as it gets to a Rosie from The Jetsons. She can converse in up to 20 languages, easily mimic human emotions, clean and respond to questions in real-time. Her skills have even garnered her a vocal and enthusiastic following online and since being launched last year has appeared at the UN, Jimmy Kimmel Live and CNBC.

Driverless cars

Hiring a human driver is so passé. If science-fiction movies are to be believed the best way to travel is with an artificially intelligent and self-aware driver behind the wheel. Knight Rider’s Michael Arthur Long and his trusty sidekick — the smooth-sounding Pontiac Firebird Trans Am — were for many the epitome for what a smart car should act like.

The growing roster of driverless cars on the market, unfortunately, lack the spunk found in KITT (the affectionate nickname for the car) but they do showcase some of the basics that consumers will likely want in a vehicle.

Google, one of the top companies in the AI driving market, has seen its cars rack up a total of three million self-driving miles so far. It’s autonomous fleet rely on sensors to differentiate between pedestrians, other cars and cyclists and can transport individuals to their chosen destination, just like KITT.

 

Parent trap: Here’s how entrepreneurs with kids make it work

Being an entrepreneur is hard, but being a parent (one of the toughest jobs in the world) and running your own business at the same time is even harder.

While most people would assume that combining children and a career in tech could end up being a hindrance, it’s actually a boost to an entrepreneur’s bottom line if they can manage to pull it off.

Children and careers can make the perfect combination

 

The startup life usually comes with late nights, negligible pay and unpredictable schedules. That added stress can easily become overwhelming. For some founders being a parent is a boon because it forces them to be smarter, faster and better at prioritizing what really matters in life and work.

“The best part is that you get to cut the crap out of your life — no watching YouTube or on Reddit when I’m at work,” explains Matthew Karabela, co-founder of Fetchit. The DMZ-based startup connects businesses and Canadians with pick-up drivers, truckers and other hauling equipment operators from across the country.

“Having kids teaches you how to give [work] your all when you have free time and really focus.”

Karabela’s company – which he describes as an “Uber for pickups and deliveries” – is especially unique in the startup ecosystem because two out of three of its founders are parents. “Not many companies have one founder with kids and we have two but it hasn’t stopped us from being successful.”

Since launching last year, Fetchit has seen its membership increase to 1600 users, partnered with over 20 businesses in Toronto, and now has approximately 220 drivers using its service. Despite its early success, the father of two is quick to admit that his company gains didn’t come easy.

Having an eight month old and toddler at home means he’s missed a few bed night stories throughout the year, which has also coincidentally made him a master at multitasking.

Changing nappies with one hand while holding town hall meetings or working late into the night to accommodate sick kids comes with the territory, he says. “It’s hard work, that’s true, but I wouldn’t change anything” he explains. “When you think about it like a business, raising kids gives you a better return in the long run. My family makes me a better person.”

Benefits of being a parent: Advice from the other side

 

Sharn Kandola, cofounder of real estate startup Feed Duck and mother of two, believes the difficulties that go along with raising kids sometimes overshadows how beneficial they can be for a founder’s business.

In the startup world, where networking is a crucial part of the biz, being a parent can open up social and professional circles in a way that cocktail mixers and after-hour meet-and-greets can’t. “You meet so many people just by going to parent events or school activities,” she explains.

Parenthood also helps entrepreneurs stand out among the competition and be a better boss.

“Being a parent gives you a better perspective, because you know what it’s like to lead and guide someone else,”

Kandola later adds: “If you’re an entrepreneur and a parent you can help support other entrepreneurs and your business as a whole because you spend so much of your time doing it at home.”

Secrets to success

 

For Karabela, balancing both worlds and the responsibilities that go along with it requires hard work. Unlike at regular nine-to-five jobs, sick leave is poor and maternity leave almost non-existent. Understanding your personal limitations, leaning on friends and making exceptions in the short-term to help your business get ahead should be a given.

Kandola agrees. The entrepreneur wakes up early so she can focus on her business and get a head start on the day. A 5 a.m. wake up call during the work week might be daunting for some but it’s one of the few constants in her busy, hectic life that ensures that her business doesn’t suffer if her family needs her.

“You make sacrifices for what matters. It’s no different from what other entrepreneurs have to do.”