Professor Steve Mann is using Inventrepreneurship to change the way U of T students think about startups. “We bring a kind of ‘jazz’ flavour to something that is normally a very ‘classical’ kind of education,” he said.
Regarded by some as the “father of wearable computing,” Mann teaches the graduate course APS1041: Inventrepreneurship. In the course, he teaches students fundamental scientific principles that have led to innovative breakthroughs and startups. Mann is also the Chief Scientist of the Creative Destruction Lab, which provides a network of entrepreneurial talent and capital to support early-stage startups.
Among the most notable startups to come out of his course are InteraXon, Transpod, and Metavision. Combined, the three startups have raised approximately $168.8 million in funding.
InteraXon has created a wearable brain-sensing headband called Muse that measures brain activity and provides audio feedback to users that accompanies the readings. The result is an immersive, intuitive, and personalized device that aids meditation and concentration.
Transpod, founded by Mann’s student Ryan Janzen, is focused on designing and manufacturing ultra-high-speed transportation technology and vehicles in a similar vein to Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, while Metavision manufactures augmented reality glasses.
Mann structures his classes with an emphasis on authentic individualized mentorship, which he describes as having a “focus on invention,” while adding fundamental elements of mathematics, physics, and other scientific grounding.
He also aims to combine elements he has seen employed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford. “I combine the mathematical scientific depth and rigour of MIT with the social and business relevance of Stanford, to give the students the grounding that they need to make a new scientific breakthrough that can attract investment capital and be commercialized,” he wrote in an email to The Varsity.
Mann prioritizes the development of what he calls “tree-shaped” individuals in his lessons.
“Whereas other engineering disciplines typically favour the ‘T-shaped’ person who has one deep area of expertise (the vertical part of the ‘T’) combined with broad social and communication skills (the horizontal part of the ‘T’), I emphasize what I call the ‘Tree-Shaped person.’”
These tree-shaped individuals have a wider variety of skills that reach into more areas, providing them with a more diverse toolset. Mann’s objective is to create well-rounded entrepreneurs who are better prepared for real-world challenges and innovation.
When asked about the future, Mann was optimistic about the potential of InteraXon and wearable technology at large.
“I think the next big thing in the coming years will be health and wellbeing, especially mental health,” Mann said. “Our company, InteraXon, created the world’s leading brain health platform.”