A new kind of entrepreneurship

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The University of Waterloo is well known for not only its innovation, but for its enormous support in helping students become innovators and finally “startup.”

St. Paul’s GreenHouse focuses on social entrepreneurship and is “the only program like this in all of Canada … if not in all of North America,” said GreenHouse’s director Tania Del Matto.

The following startups were presented this year at the Spring GreenHouse Innovation Showcase and received funding from the Social Innovation Fund.

PASS Kit

Founded by Tina Chan, a public health student at UW, PASS Kit is a mental health first aid kit.

Standing for panic, anxiety, stress, and support, Chan explained that “PASS just wants those feelings to pass.” Her inspiration for this product came from growing concern over mental health in post-secondary institutions.

These kits include a stress ball, moist wipes, a sleeping mask, earplugs, and a pack of gum. They also contain heath cards with professional advice, relaxation and controlled breathing techniques, positive motivators, meditation, and more. With these kits, Chan stated that she hopes to “prevent relapse and promote maintenance.” A test version of her kit will be administered to all first-year students at St. Paul’s in fall 2015.

Chan hopes to expand PASS Kit to all of UW and eventually worldwide for not only students, but also for office workers and any individual who is struggling with stressful situations in their life. She also hopes to expand the PASS Kit product towards other “PASS” situations such as eating disorders, mental disorders such as obsessive -compulsive disorder, and even death in the family.

Chan has already gained interest from the University of Toronto, Sheridan College, Queen’s University, and businesses concerned with mental health. She was awarded $1,500 from the Social Innovation Fund.

Node

Aiming to improve “the lifestyle of people suffering from lymphedema,” Benny Hua, a Kinesiology graduate from UW, created Node, a stylish compression garment that lymphedema victims wear on the affected areas of the body.

Lymphedema itself is an abnormal collection of fluids that lymph vessels are unable to drain properly and are trapped beneath the skin ­­— usually following breast cancer surgery — that 89 per cent of survivors (140 million individuals) suffer from. Huo’s driving force into the creation of this product was his mother: a breast cancer survivor and an unfortunate victim of lymphedema.

What is different about Huo’s compression garments is that his are not only much more comfortable, but are also affordable — most compression garments range in the thousands of dollars and are made with stiff, restricting material. Through GreenHouse, Huo was able to make a connection with the Lymphedema Treatment Act that helped him significantly lower the price of his product. Along with the low price range, Huo wants a percentage of the sales to go towards lymphedema research, an area that is severely lacking.

Hua’s future goals for Node are to look further into different designs and medical fabrics for his compression garments as well as to add a tech side to it. The tech within the garment would ideally help to monitor and manage the condition, much like a Fitbit. He received $1,500 from the Social Innovation Fund.

Marlena Books

The inspiration for Rachel Thompson’s startup Marlena Books comes from the unfortunate circumstance in which both of the UW grad’s grandmothers suffer from Alzheimer’s and cognitive deficiencies.

“Imagine you enjoy reading … but you suffer from dementia,” Thompson said bluntly, when presenting her startup. A patient who suffers from Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive deficiencies, has an incredibly difficult time reading. With cognitive decline, side effects associated with reading include: decreased vision, colour distortion, depth perception, recognizing colours and faces, as well as changes in the field of vision and a loss of dexterity that make reading excruciatingly difficult. However, this is not where the problem ends. “Current reading options do not fit their needs,” affirmed Thompson, as she explained that reading often becomes an overwhelming task that only reduces victim’s dignity and makes them feel misunderstood.

Thompson’s main goal is to “create books that are mature, engaging, and diverse that everyone can enjoy.”

With Marlena Books, Thompson wants to write not only her own stories, but transcribe classic stories in a research-based and age-appropriate fashion.

These books will have thick paper, prompts, beautiful illustrations, and will follow the Canadian National Institute for the Blind practices.

Thompson received $2,000 from the Social Innovation Fund.

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