Participants can join the service without disclosing their name or email, according to the co-founders. COURTESY OF HONEYBEE

Honeybee, an online platform whose app will soon be released to the public, aims to create a central hub that will attract and incentivize people to participate in research studies in Toronto.

Just six months after the startup’s initial launch, co-founders and U of T alumni Catherine Chan and Weiwei Li have extensively expanded upon the company. They plan to launch the official app on November 7.   

The concept behind Honeybee

While pursuing her Master of Science at U of T’s Department of Nutrition, Chan continuously struggled to recruit participants for her research study. “I [had] exhausted all social media channels trying to recruit people… and I only got half of the people that I needed,” Chan explained in an interview with The Varsity.

She elaborated further, explaining that the delay had compromised her research data and said it was a massive waste of resources, because she had spent more time trying to recruit participants than actually performing the study.

Unfortunately, Chan’s circumstances are not unique. She noted that clinical trials are often terminated around the globe due to insufficient participant recruitment.

Chan immediately saw an urgency for a solution to this problem. That’s when Chan had the idea of Honeybee, an online platform where researchers could post their studies in search of participants, and participants could easily search for studies that they were eligible for.

During the end of her graduate degree, Chan took a week off from writing her thesis to pitch her idea to the Impact Centre’s Techno entrepreneurship program, where she was ultimately rewarded a microfinancing grant. Chan then went on to receive multiple other business grants targeted toward young entrepreneurs.

Li joined Chan as a full-time co-founder, shortly after graduating with his Master of Applied Science from U of T’s Department of Materials Science & Engineering.

How does Honeybee work?

Many of the current ways to discover research studies are through government-affiliated or institution-specific websites. In an interview with The Varsity, Li said that these websites can sometimes be “intimidating,” and often lack a friendly user interface.

A lack of awareness of the resources is another issue. According to its co-founders, Honeybee aims to combat this by building a community feeling and a centralized space for research studies across various disciplines.

Specifically, Honeybee wants to make sure that participating in research studies is easy and accessible. The company aims to take extensive measures to ensure informed consent in order to make participants feel that the researchers are being transparent.

“Sometimes people feel [like] a guinea pig of research, but [that’s] really not the case,” Chan explained. “We are working with a research ethics board coordinator [from Unity Health Toronto], who is our company advisor.”

A useful feature of Honeybee is its anonymous request process. Participants can join the service without disclosing their name or email, and access anonymous chats where they can freely speak to researchers without exposing their identities.

The future for Honeybee

The Honeybee app launches next month, and, according to its co-founders, is the first of its kind to market in Canada. Currently, Honeybee lists over 20 research studies, and has connected them to more than 100 participants, according to Li.

Chan explained that they “really want to grow in the city that [they’ve] built the product in.” As such, Honeybee will be focusing on expanding in the Toronto research community before anywhere else.

In the near future, Honeybee plans to include the implementation of artificial intelligence and natural language processing in order to optimize search options, according to Chan.

Another one of the co-founders’ goals is to support U of T students. As such, they’re beginning to bring on various students, including one from U of T’s Impact Centre Entrepreneurship course IMC392, who will earn course credit while accumulating work experience, according to Chan.

How can students earn money and gift cards with Honeybee?

Honeybee represents a great opportunity to earn extra cash, Starbucks gift cards, and even rewards such as free fitness trackers — all while meaningfully contributing to U of T and engaging in the research community, according to Chan and Li.

The search function is designed to be user-friendly and free for participants. To promote student engagement, Honeybee further plans to have their mascot active around St. George campus, and also engage with students on Twitter and Instagram.

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