Innovation Awards – Career Coachin Mobile App

A Toronto entrepreneur has found a way to help newcomers to Canada and other under-skilled individuals find meaningful, long-term employment in today’s challenging work environment where jobs are at risk due to advances in automation. Shifting the mindset of employment services from job matching to job readiness, Arash Samimi has developed a state-of-the-art, science-backed mobile career coach that works like a Fitbit for securing and sustaining long-term career opportunities.

This first-of-its-kind innovation — called the Livelihood Project — has earned Samimi a prestigious award by Mitacs, a national, not-for-profit organization that partners companies, government and academia to promote Canadian research and training. In recognition of the ongoing success of the start-up and its efforts to address an important social issue, Samimi — who obtained his PhD in Applied Physics from Queen’s University in Kingston and works closely with his mentor, business partner and start-up visionary, Parin Kothari —were presented the Mitacs Social Entrepreneur Award at a ceremony in Toronto.

“Our goal is to help low-skilled and socially disadvantaged individuals, including refugees, build long-term careers that will be resilient to changes in the economy,” said Samimi about the Livelihood Project, a not-for-profit organization in Toronto. “The comprehensive career coaching program we’re developing blends state-of-the art digital technology with proven behavioural science to ensure these individuals are equipped with the skills and support they need to adapt to and succeed in the changing work environment,” he said, noting that jobs in the service, delivery, transport and administrative industries are at risk of being displaced due to automation and artificial intelligence.

The unique coaching program from the Livelihood Project is the first to tackle the problem from the mindset of applying technology to ensure people are job ready, and then supporting them after they are hired to ensure job retention.

Since launching in the fall of 2016, the Livelihood Project has hired a diverse group of newcomers from Syria, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan to assist in pilot testing and ongoing development of the career coaching platform. The technology is expected to be launched full-scale in 2019.

The company’s novel approach has three core components: a mobile app that applies artificial intelligence to assess an individual’s skills, create a personalized career map, and then coach and support job seekers as they progress on their career journey; social programs and environments (including a café the organization runs) that reinforce soft skills such as leadership, communication and teamwork; and hands-on workshops designed to teach skills such as social intelligence and cross-cultural competency, necessary to adapt with the new changes in economy.

The technology further provides a set of key metrics to evaluate the program’s impact and deliver important statistics that are currently lacking in Canada’s employment service sector.

“Current employment services measure success by how many people register with their services and how many matches they make,” Samimi explained. “One of the key challenges for the employment services is to measure their impact based on a set of concrete and actionable metrics such as employment retention, which is nearly impossible without having a digital and data-driven technology.”

“Our mobile career coach will continue to engage with job seekers even after they’re hired, help them retain that job and collecting valuable, measurable data in return,” Samimi said.

“As a physicist, I’m always interested in new models and processes that can solve fundamental problems. With the rapid socio-economic changes that are influencing people’s livelihoods, the most fundamental challenge that drives me is how we can have an inclusive economy that works for all of us,” Samimi said. “Right now, employment services are mechanical, slow, resume-based and focused on rigid job matching. The technology we’re developing is truly disruptive and at the end of day, could form the basis of a system-wide change in the employment sector.”

Futuristic Eye Exam Headset

The days of placing your chin in a manually operated device at the eye doctor’s office or following a swinging flashlight with your eyes may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to the ground-breaking work of a Vancouver start-up that is making routine eye exams as easy as putting on a futuristic looking head set.

Ophthalight Digital Solutions is set to go to market this summer with O-Glass, a first-of-its-kind digital eye care solution that not only makes it possible to treat patients remotely — a first for teleophthalmology — but also improves the speed and accuracy of administering common tests, leading to early detection and prevention of diseases such as glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and eye cancer.

At an awards ceremony in Toronto, the entrepreneur behind the breakthrough — Yaser Roshan, a former PhD student at Simon Fraser University who went on to co-found Ophthalight in 2014 — was presented the Mitacs Next 150 Entrepreneur Award and $5,000 in recognition of the ongoing success of his start-up.

“This is a company that is on track to positively impact the lives of Canadians for the next 150 years by making highly accurate and automated mobile eye examinations a reality,” said Alejandro Adem, CEO and Scientific Director of Mitacs, a national not-for-profit organization that partners companies, government and academia to promote Canadian research and training.

Ophthalight’s flagship product, O-GlassLite, is an easy-to-use, lightweight, wireless device that looks similar to a virtual reality headset, conveniently fitting over a patient’s head. It applies the latest digital imaging techniques to accurately and consistently detect the smallest abnormalities in eyes, including those that are impossible to see with the human eye using conventional optometry methods. Diagnostic results are automatically sent to secure online servers and integrate with existing electronic health record or telemedicine platforms, making O-Glass a truly digital platform built for the next-generation of healthcare delivery.

“We’re filling the gaps in the current eye care services market by providing a simple, digital alternative to conventional eye exam practices,” said Roshan, who co-founded Ophthalight along with Dr. Amirhossein Vejdani, and holds the position of CEO.

The technology behind O-Glass represents a paradigm shift in current testing methods, he added. “We’re reducing the time and cost required to administer eye tests by as much as 60 percent,” Roshan said. “At the same time, we’re offering a convenient solution that opens the door for doctors to serve patients remotely, an area that is currently under-served by telemedicine platforms on the market today.”

Expected to launch in the Middle East this summer and in Canada by the end of the year, O-Glass is in its second round of clinical trials. Early results indicate the device is able to diagnose and document cases with high accuracy. In one instance, a patient received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and was able to seek early intervention.

“She had a condition that three different eye doctors missed,” said Roshan, noting the ultimate goal is to help improve, and in some cases save, lives. “Our device detected a slight unnatural pupillary response, indicating the need for a follow-up MRI, and she’s now undergoing life-changing treatment.”

Moving forward, Ophthalight Digital Solutions plans to introduce a more comprehensive version of the headset, called O-GlassPro, which will offer more capabilities than a slit lamp — the most common device used by eye doctors worldwide — by using novel light projection techniques to stimulate the eye with multiple colours and patterns. Although it can detect 80% of all eye diseases, a slit lamp — which requires patients to place their chin on a ledge and look straight ahead while the doctor looks through the other side — is cumbersome to use and requires human intervention.

“When using a slit lamp, doctors need to be aware of their own posture and manually record what they observe,” explained Roshan. “By automating the process, we’re providing a higher degree of accuracy and objectivity.”

The company is also investigating the possibility of applying the technology behind O-Glass to help law enforcement officers administer DUI tests in the future by examining drivers’ eyes.

Roshan is one of five winners of an Entrepreneur Award, presented by Mitacs (www.mitacs.ca), who were evaluated according to their ability to demonstrate sound business plans, entrepreneurial spirit, and commitment to continued excellence in innovation.

Safeguarding the World’s Water

A Vancouver entrepreneur is helping to safeguard the world’s water quality by successfully commercializing a groundbreaking approach for treating dairy farm manure and sewage sludge, both of which are posing an urgent problem in the worldwide agricultural and wastewater treatment industries.

The first-of-its-kind innovation has earned Asha Srinivasan a prestigious award and $5,000 from Mitacs, to promote Canadian research and training. In recognition of the ongoing success of her start-up and its work to address an important global issue, Srinivasan — a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and one of four co-founders of Vancouver-based Boost Environmental Systems — was presented the Mitacs Global Impact Entrepreneur Award at a ceremony in Toronto.

Excessive nutrient build-up in soil due to the common practice of spreading liquid manure is a huge problem facing dairy farmers, Srinivasan explained, because it leads to the contamination of surface and ground water, which poses a significant health hazard to humans. At the same time, municipal wastewater treatment plants around the world are facing multi-million-dollar investments in aging infrastructure in order to meet more stringent environmental regulations.

The breakthrough clean-tech system, being commercialized by Boost, solves both challenges by efficiently and cost-effectively breaking down solids and facilitates recovering nutrients and energy from organic slurries before they pose a problem. Called IMPACT, the technology is changing the way organic waste liquids are treated and handled, by applying microwave heating and oxidants to improve and shorten the overall treatment cycle. Developed in the UBC labs, Boost has now secured the worldwide exclusive licence for the technology and is moving forward with pilot implementation projects.

“Not only are we working to keep our water sources clean, we are also providing a sustainable sludge management solution that will reduce the carbon footprint of wastewater treatment plants and give dairy farmers a viable way to manage land application of manure without contaminating local water supplies,” Srinivasan said.

For example, dairy farms of all sizes can use IMPACT to remove excess nutrients from manure before it is applied to crops, alleviating the potential for surface and ground water contamination, she explained. Municipal wastewater treatment plants can add IMPACT as an extra step to their current systems, reducing the amount of sludge that needs to be processed and achieving more efficient bioenergy production without the need for costly infrastructure changes.

“The management of wastewater streams is a huge environmental problem and there is an immediate need for a solution in both sectors,” said Srinivasan, citing as an example the high intensity farm operations in B.C.’s Fraser Valley that are currently outpacing nature’s capacity to accept liquid manure waste in the traditional manner of land spreading. “Successful commercialization of IMPACT will put Canada at the forefront of environmentally sustainable, carbon neutral waste management solutions,” she added.

Boost is currently teaming up with UBC to move forward with demonstration projects at a wastewater treatment plant in Abbotsford, B.C., and at a 350-cow dairy farm at the UBC Dairy Education Research Centre in Agassiz, B.C. The company is also receiving significant global interest from China, South East Asia and India and plans to go to market by 2019.

Winners of the Entrepreneur Award are evaluated according to their ability to demonstrate sound business planning, entrepreneurial spirit, and a commitment to continued excellence in innovation. “Mitacs is building on Canada’s strengthened commitment to technology and innovation by continuing to support up-and-coming entrepreneurs,” said Alejandro Adem, Mitacs CEO and Scientific Director. “Mitacs’ programs equip researchers with the career skills they need to successfully transfer breakthrough technologies, community and educational improvements, and environmental solutions from the lab to the business world.”

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