A University of Alberta engineering duo is getting a boost from the university’s newly formed commercialization engine, imYEG, to get a new device for people with breathing challenges to market.
Medical devices that assist people who have a low level of oxygen in their blood have evolved from large stationary tanks of compressed oxygen to portable units, explained mechanical engineering professor Andrew Martin. These portable oxygen concentrators can weigh less than three kg, concentrate the oxygen from air on the spot and deliver precise doses with every breath.
Unfortunately, there’s a subset of patients – as well as regular patients when they’re breathing quietly – whose shallow breaths aren’t recognized by these units.
Martin and his engineering master’s graduate Cole Christianson have applied to patent a design that would replace the traditional nasal prongs with a design that fits more snugly into the patient’s nostrils to improve breath detection.
With more than 1.5 million adults in the United States alone using home oxygen devices for a wide variety of disorders, oxygen concentrators have become a multibillion-dollar industry that is anticipated to grow even further in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If I’m thinking blue sky, we would love to develop the whole system, but the leading portable oxygen concentrator manufacturers have extensive resources and are continuously improving their offerings,” said Martin. “So for now, our aim is to develop our interface to the point where it could be licensed.”
Martin said the product made sense the more he thought about it. It didn’t seem like it would take a huge investment or a lot of time to make a viable prototype.
“But the next stages of development didn’t really fall into traditional academic work.”
That’s when he was introduced to Innovations Masterminds Edmonton (imYEG), the U of A’s burgeoning pre-accelerator.
A co-creation of the U of A and Brass Dome Ventures, imYEG is an industry-led pre-accelerator created to help post-secondary-generated intellectual property overcome the earliest barriers on the path to commercialization.
“The novelty to our program is that we have proven business leaders who have actually successfully been there and done it themselves,” said Chris Micetich, CEO of Brass Dome Ventures and U of A graduate, who leads imYEG.
“We’ve recruited mentors that have founded companies from scratch, carried them to success and are now investing in new companies. And we have mentors that work in extremely large organizations overseeing hundreds of people.”
These titans of their respective industries, 45 in total, gather five times a year for a Dragon’s Den-style pitch session, where prospective U of A-borne business ideas are presented to determine the viability of the ventures.
“The idea can be at the stage where it’s only in an academic’s mind, right up to the stage that it is actually incorporated, maybe even has raised money, but it’s stuck at a hurdle,” said Micetich.
“Most of the innovators have not received any industry or business validation on their idea – and that’s exactly what imYEG offers.”
If the idea generates enough interest among the mentors, three to five of them volunteer to advise.
“Ultimately, the program is really designed to help navigate through the ‘valley of death’ where academia meets the realities of the business world,” said Micetich.
So far, more than a dozen ventures have been accepted into imYEG, including Martin’s. Since January, seven ventures are being positioned to raise a total of more than $15 million in funding.
“We came in, like many academics do, with essentially an idea and hoping to develop a technology. imYEG really helped us develop a viable vision and definition of what this product could look like,” said Martin.
Micetich hopes the different levels of government will recognize the program’s potential.
“Right now, the City of Edmonton is working with us to keep the imYEG ventures on the radar,” Micetich said. “They want to know what they can do to keep these innovations and researchers who are gaining traction in the city, whether it be by helping with space or incubators or even publicity – all of which is essential for imYEG’s contribution to local economic impact.
“These innovations in the pre-accelerator stage really need government support to help with that move out of academia into industry.”
| By Michael Brown
This article was submitted by the University of Alberta’s Folio online magazine. The University of Alberta is a Troy Media Editorial Content Provider Partner.
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