Honeybee app: a hub to find research study participants in Toronto

Company co-founded by recent U of T alumni, helps students earn cash for participation

Honeybee app: a hub to find research study participants in Toronto

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.

The Entrepreneurship Hatchery hosts Demo Day 2019

Magnetic aircraft-braking system takes home $20,000 grand prize

The Entrepreneurship Hatchery hosts Demo Day 2019

On September 4, the Entrepreneurship Hatchery’s NEST program hosted its ninth annual Demo Day for student-led startups. The event, hosted by the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, took place at the Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship. The 14 finalists from the program pitched innovations, ranging from addressing energy poverty in developing nations, to pre-emptive brain disorder diagnosis, and more.

A panel of professors, industry leaders, philanthropists, and Hatchery alumni awarded $42,500 in seed funding; $20,000 went to the first-place team, $10,000 to each of the two runners-up, and a $2,500 Orozco Prize to one crowd-favorite presentation.

The contactless airplane-braking company Aeroflux was awarded first place for its working demonstration of its patent-pending magnetic-field brakes. The team, composed of Nikola Kostic, Stevan Kostic, and Roshan Varghese, demonstrated its device, which minimizes the wear and tear on braking gear and could save airplane operators up to $7.2 million during a plane’s lifetime.

The team won the Clarke Prize for leadership in engineering design in May of this year. It plans to continue developing the technology within the U of T startup community.

Sparrow, an e-sports analytics tool, and eXamify, an end-to-end assignment marking solution, each won $10,000 Hatchery Prizes as runners-up. The team behind Sparrow developed an artificial intelligence agent which was fed by tracking in-game movement and post-game statistics. Sparrow delivers player-specific coaching suggestions in League of Legends, an online multiplayer game, with plans to expand into other competitive titles in the coming year, and eXamify is an all-in-one online test management suite that simplifies test grading for TAs and professors.

Crowd-favorite startup Brainloop was awarded the Orozco Prize for its predictive brain diagnosis platform. Up to 20 per cent of brain disorders are misdiagnosed, and Esteban Arellano and Juan Egas aim to use artificial intelligence to analyze test results to improve upon this rate. The duo hope that hospitals will adopt the tool to support diagnoses as early as April 2020.

Throughout the course of the four-month NEST program, the cohort developed products spanning a variety of markets. Other teams shone as well: Team Connct focused its efforts on predictive content suggestions and auto-replies for Instagram influencers, while Team OpenRace developed a platform for runners to compete in real time, from around the world.

As an early-stage startup incubator, the NEST program helps new founders understand the markets they’re trying to enter.

“In 10 or 15 years, we’ll be able to point at successful startups and serial entrepreneurs and say that they had a formative and enabling experience here. In that sense it’s quasi-educational,” said Professor Jonathan Rose, Chair of the Hatchery Advisory Board.

“The key for engineers is to pay attention to the business. Engineers have lots of great ideas, but they need to know if there’s a market for it.”

Disclosure: Nikhi Bhambra was The Varsity’s 2018–2019 Front End Web Developer.

U of T Sustainability Innovation Prize showcases 10 standout projects

Circular Toys, SoluSave, STP Sports claim $15,000 prize at inaugural event

U of T Sustainability Innovation Prize showcases 10 standout projects

On June 12, U of T Entrepreneurship hosted the 10 finalists of its inaugural Sustainability Innovation Prize for a pitch competition at ONRamp, a coworking space that supports U of T accelerators. The finalists, selected from a larger pool of applicants, each had three minutes to pitch their innovations to a panel of expert judges in the hopes of being selected as one of the three $5,000 prize winners.

The 10 finalists were chosen according to the opportunity, viability and impact, growth potential, innovation, talent, and communication skills demonstrated in their proposals. In April, each of the finalists was encouraged by U of T Entrepreneurship to work with an advisor to prepare them for the big day.

Following the 10 pitches, which ranged from energy efficiency innovations to financial services, the judges announced their verdict.

Daniel McKee and Lisa Pooley’s Circular Toys; John Russell and Leanna Smid’s SoluSave; and Paulina Szalchta, Samantha Dilorio, and Tom Chen’s STP Sports claimed top honours, each earning $5,000 to be used to support their innovations.

Circular Toys

McKee’s project aims to bring the circular economic model to the youngest members of society. Circular Toys is his answer to the short use of kids’ toys, few of which are recyclable.

Circular Toys is a subscription-based, eco-friendly toy delivery service. Consumers would pick from a range of educational toy packages, targeted according to age group, and can expect a continued delivery of five to six toys every three months to their homes.

After toys have been used to the child’s satisfaction, Circular Toys encourages its customers to send them back to the company, which they would then refurbish and incorporate them into boxes to send out to other families.

McKee told The Varsity that the $5,000 prize would be used primarily for marketing, “getting the website up, and reaching the first hundred [users].” Circular Toys will launch in August.



Life science students John Russell and Leanna Smid’s SoluSave provides a waste reduction solution for laboratories.

SoluSave aims to develop and provide technology to recycle used solvents. The two undergraduate students were inspired to develop their startup from having first-hand experience in U of T laboratories.

They hope that, once completed, their technology will make its way into more undergraduate laboratories to minimize waste.

Russell and Smid, who were participating in their first-ever pitch competition, were surprised that they were selected as one of the winners.

“One of our biggest concerns was to make sure that [our pitch] came across as pretty clear, what we were doing, and to have a little bit more of a story,” Smid told The Varsity. “We knew we were not pitching to chemists.


STP Sports

After this year’s NBA championship, Torontonians who have attended sporting events can vouch for the wasteful mess that fills an empty stadium after a game. Paulina Szlachta and Tom Chen pitched a service to reduce the wasteful nature of sporting events through a closed-loop supply chain model that diverts waste from ending up in landfills.

The pair had conducted field research, including a trip to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium and a meeting with its officials.

Beyond the excitement of the prize, Szlachta was particularly excited about the fierceness of the competition. “The other pitches got me thoroughly excited about what the future of U of T Entrepreneurship is, from the use of chemical waste to sustainable toys,” she told The Varsity. “[It’s] an amazing space and this competition is coming at a really, really good time.”

A good time it was — the pitch competition featured a great variety of pitches, and despite there only being three prize winners, there were no real losers. From searching for solutions to empower women in Afghanistan, to providing portable electricity to families in Western Africa, the 10 finalists truly embodied the standard that U of T is known for.


Editor’s Note (July 12, 5:50 pm): This article has been updated to correct the description of ONRamp.

U of T alumni discuss entrepreneurship at Female Founders panel

Leila Keshavjee, Saara Punjani, Pooja Viswanathan on challenges, failures, and future successes

U of T alumni discuss entrepreneurship at Female Founders panel

Founders, innovative thought leaders, pioneers, role models: these were just some of the terms lavished upon U of T alumni-cum-entrepreneurs Leila Keshavjee, Saara Punjani, and Pooja Viswanathan at a panel event at ONRamp on the eve of International Women’s Day. Dubbed “Female Founders,” this event was the first in an annual speaker series that leverages both the celebration of International Women’s Day and U of T’s thriving entrepreneurship culture to discuss the triumphs and challenges of being a female founder.

Christine Allen, the Interim Dean of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, moderated the panel. She is also the co-founder of tech startup Nanovista.

Overcoming structural challenges

Punjani cited credibility as one of the main hurdles on the path to success. Punjani is the Chief Operations Officer of Structura Biotechnology, a startup founded by her brother Ali and also Marcus Brubaker. The business develops machine learning technology for structural biologists.

“We have a product that’s based on a completely new technology. The market is something that we are actively trying to create as we go along,” she said. Part of building this market is finding ways to establish credibility within existing markets, which is why Structura Biotechnology has offered its software to academic institutions for free — results published using the software are their “foot in the door,” according to Punjani.

Keshavjee, the founder of healthy, all-natural fruit ice popsicle startup Happy Pops, said that earning credibility as a young female entrepreneur has been a recurring challenge. “People often don’t trust young female entrepreneurs… but I think hopefully we’re changing that,” she said. Keshavjee said that preconceived notions of what an entrepreneur looks like can be a strong inhibitor for women. Her appearance and subsequent $150,000 offer on Dragons’ Den, she said, has allowed her to partially overcome this issue when dealing with clients, despite nothing about her product having changed.

For Viswanathan — co-founder of Braze Mobility, a startup that develops sensors that improve accessibility for wheelchair users — perception can be turned to her advantage. “I think a lot of the [problems are] just how you perceive [them],” she said. “So when you walk in thinking you’ve got a competitive edge because you’re a woman, then it actually turns out that way.”

Failure can be healthy

Failure has been a recurring motif for the three entrepreneurs, and each has their own approach on how to fail and how to come back stronger. “You’ve gotta fail fast,” Keshavjee said. “You’re gonna fail so many times as an entrepreneur… there’s a lesson to be learned in all of this.”

Viswanathan said that failure prevents complacency and pushes her to pursue alternative solutions to problems. “One thing that I actually love about failure is there’s nothing [like it to] get you moving,” she said. The lack of wheelchair standardization made it difficult for her startup to create universal sensors, especially without enough expertise in mechanical engineering and design. Her solution was to assemble a team capable of complementing each other’s expertise.

As for Punjani, overcoming failure depends on “changing the definition of what it actually means to fail.” She added that “having had more life experience and more of an entrepreneurial experience, you start to see that it’s not really about what you accomplish at the end of the day or what you expected, but… that you keep going.”

Sensing a bright future

Keshavjee, Viswanathan, and Punjani’s brother all relied on U of T’s Impact Centre to help launch their startups. The Impact Centre is one of the university’s nine accelerators; it provides resources and commercialization aid for aspiring entrepreneurs. Punjani had also relied on support from the Department of Computer Science Innovation Lab and UTEST, two other U of T accelerators.

Changes are on the horizon for all three startups, owing to the continued success they’ve been able to achieve thus far. Keshavjee’s Happy Pops is projecting 500,000 sales in 2019, in what is only its fourth year of operation. Keshavjee hopes to distribute her product across Canada and the US within the next five years.

Punjani and Structura Biotechnology are likely to shift from developing software to becoming involved in the field of drug discovery as they continue to expand their reach into their market.

Finally, Viswanathan’s startup is aiming to be “the intelligence behind the entire wheelchair manufacturing industry.” She said that the “industry is very mechanical heavy,” meaning that it has not significantly invested into software and intelligence data, which in turn limits wheelchairs’ mobility and ability to overcome certain accessibility concerns.

Impact Centre founder and U of T Entrepreneurship academic director Cynthia Goh described each of the entrepreneurs best at the start of the evening as “changing not only the conversation, but the very landscape of their fields.”

Steve Mann on Inventrepreneurship and the ‘tree-shaped person’

U of T professor’s course has inspired tech startups worth millions

Steve Mann on Inventrepreneurship and the ‘tree-shaped person’

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.”

U of T startup wants to take pain out of parking

Grid Parking co-founder on finding the right spot

U of T startup wants to take pain out of parking

“The dynamic nature of parking does not allow you to be sure that you’re going to find the right spot at the right time.” Substitute ‘parking’ for ‘entrepreneurship’ and Grid Parking co-founder Ahsan Malik’s statement would still ring true; both require a significant degree of patience, sufficient time, and a bit of luck.

Fortunately, Malik and his startup’s team have the extra ingredients needed to start taking the pain out of parking: market research, pilot testing, and $20,000 in seed funding.

Co-founded by current U of T student Birinder Lobana and recent alumni Muhammad Sheikh and Malik, Grid aims to provide users with real-time data of available parking spaces through an app. The ultimate goal is to make parking — especially in major downtown hubs like Toronto — faster and more convenient.

On September 5, Grid won the $20,000 Hatchery Prize at the sixth annual Demo Day. Demo Day 2018 was the culmination of the four-month Hatchery Nest accelerator program. Out of a cohort of over 30 groups, 13 finalists were given the chance to pitch their startups to a panel of judges. For Malik and his team, the prize represented both the end of a journey that they had started from the 2017 Hatchery Nest cohort, and the transition of the project from a concept to reality.

Looking for a spot

The inspiration to begin work on the startup stemmed from Lobana and Malik’s personal frustrations with finding parking in downtown Toronto. The two met while playing soccer and frequently had to find parking at different venues to continue playing sports. This frustration led them to pursue a solution. Malik’s experience as a mechanical engineering student and Lobana’s computer science background made the collaboration straightforward. The system they wanted to design, however, required hardware, which is where electrical and computer engineering student Sheikh would come in.

“I’d say that we all came from cities that are not as mesmerizing as we found Toronto,” said Malik. “[The] interest in diversified fields… combined together into one space… Fueled our imagination to what we can do and putting in the efficiency that we see is still needed in the system.”

Together, the three applied to the Hatchery Nest program at U of T in 2017. According to Joseph Orozco, the Entrepreneurship Hatchery’s executive director and co-founder, close to $40 million has been raised collectively by startups that have participated in the program in the last five to six years. The Nest opens applications in September, and holds interviews for admission in February. The program runs from May to August, providing groups with advisory boards consisting of mentors from numerous different fields that provide groups with detailed feedback and resources to develop their businesses.

“[This] expanded collaborative network… [allows] us to keep on creating startups and generating a dealflow that is certainly transforming Canada and allowing our students to think big,” said Orozco.

Grid was not among the four teams to secure funding during Demo Day 2017, and Malik attributes this to his team’s failure to identify all the stakeholders that would be affected by their business.

“It took us time to realize that establishing a proper business has to find a very sweet spot within the existing chain of stakeholders involved in the market which you are going into,” said Malik. “The first time when we were presenting to investors, we were presenting the very, very positive feedback that we had received from the users, the driver’s side. So that market was not the right fit for the business model.”

Circling around

Still, failure to secure funding did not mean that involvement in the Hatchery Nest program was a failure for Grid. With the feedback they received, the team returned to the clients they had interviewed and sought new clients in different markets in order to refine their pitch.

Equipped with a richer diversity of feedback and responses, Grid reapplied to the Hatchery Nest in 2018. The team continued to fine-tune their ideas, and Malik notes that a meeting with Airbus Chief Technology Officer Grazia Vittadini and mentorship from John Phyper were particularly valuable.

Malik also added that Orozco connects groups with industry leaders and U of T students in the business stream in order to provide groups with more business-oriented input.

“[Orozco’s] feedback during your presentations is something that really combines everything that he has seen from the previous successful startups to help you know that what you’re trying to do is even viable or not in the long run,” said Malik.

The involvement of other student-led startup groups also helped Malik and his team develop their idea. “Those people are also going into their ventures, into the world of unknowns, trying to build something right from the beginning, lay the foundations. So they’re going through the same phases as [we] are.”

Finding a fit

In October, Grid began pilot testing using portions of their seed funding. This currently consists of additional market research and networking to adapt the team’s design.

“So the challenge is to incorporate the feedback of our actual customers, the clients, into the design we are building, and [determining the] trade-off between cost, performance, quality, scalability, and those kinds of things,” said Malik.

In the long term, the team hopes to expand their market to other major city hubs, including Calgary, Montréal, and Vancouver. For now, their go-to market is companies that sell tickets and already collect user information that can incorporate Grid’s interface of reservation links into their own. This would include stadiums for concerts or sports events and hotels. From there, the team will look to expand to more public spaces.

“It’s hard to put a timeline to it because so many factors are involved, but by the end of next year, we hope to be at [places like] Pearson airport, Yorkdale Mall, Rogers Centre,” said Malik.

The team is also looking into receiving further support from accelerators such as NEXT Canada and the Creative Destruction Lab.

Grid has received investment offers from friends and investors who attended Demo Day. Malik noted, “The point right now is that we, being engineers, lead with technology and its performance. So our focus right now is pilot testing and we know that we can raise much higher funds once we have proven that our concept is driving the future of mobility.”