Tending the lions

The college is a key enabler of the success of participants in Innovation Factory’s annual pitch competition, LiONS LAIR

Mohawk College is a key enabler of success for LiONS LAIR pitch competition participants through applied research support and as a provider of a pipeline of talent.

The competition, hosted by regional business accelerator Innovation Factory (IF), is entering its 12th year in 2022.

“Mohawk College faculty, researchers and students have built strong relationships with LiONS LAIR participants over the years and have played a crucial role as they navigate the road to commercialization,” says Andrea Johnson, General Manager of the Centre for Emerging Research Initiatives at Mohawk’s applied research hub, IDEAWORKS.

That includes everything from working on designs and prototypes to testing and evaluation of products.

“Applied research out of the college is driving innovation with tangible results,” says Johnson.

David Carter, executive director of IF, recalls when he first arrived at his job in Hamilton, he took a tour of the mHealth and eHealth Development and Innovation Centre (MEDIC)  lab at Mohawk.

He marvelled at how students had the benefit of being able to clearly picture their future job, because the MEDIC lab is a working environment.

“I hadn’t been involved in academia and I can tell you that my conception of a postsecondary education was not that. They were finding industry solutions. I was completely blown away and then I learned about IDEAWORKS, which takes that applied research mindset campus-wide.”

Young companies need the support of Mohawk, says Carter.

“Relying on consultants or outsourcing would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a product out the door. That’s not realistic. Mohawk provides that kind of expertise through students and faculty at low cost or no cost.”

Health management platform provider TAMVOES has relied on MEDIC for integration with a wide variety of health platforms.

The company launched in 2020 after co-founder Jessica Lunshof found herself juggling the care of both her mother and grandmother as each battled cancer. She was exhausted by the constant repetition of their health history to health care professionals, trying to keep track of the barrage of new information, all while trying to manage keeping loved ones up-to-date.

She decided to build a platform to store, secure and share health information and partnered with co-founder Madison McBay, a specialist in health informatics.

“Even the healthiest of people have reams of health information about them captured in various places. When there is illness or injury, it’s key that patients and caregivers make informed decisions based on complete and accurate information,” says McBay.

“TAMVOES offers the ability to input and track all your health information in one place that you can access anytime from anywhere. Users can allow access to that information to doctors and to their own trusted circle of loved ones.”

Users can track their medical history, prescriptions, procedures, lab tests and appointments, take notes, and store it all securely and then share access.

MEDIC’s digital health software developers have designed a universal integration hub that allows the TAMVOES system to fetch information from different repositories of data.

“Working with MEDIC has given us access to technical expertise around high-level integration that we wouldn’t otherwise have as a start-up. They are so experienced with project management and they foresee issues before they happen,” says McBay

TAMVOES experienced exponential growth in 2021 when it was a finalist in LiONS LAIR.

There are now thousands of users and the platform is building out its features. It launched an iOS app in January and an Android version is on its way, too.

The company hopes to connect with eHealth Ontario’s immunization record system through MEDIC to directly input information about childhood and adult vaccine records into the TAMVOES platform.

“We never would have been able to make that connection without the help of MEDIC.”

The four IRIS members emphatically smiling in car

IRIS team

The MEDIC-TAMVOES project is supported by funding from Southern Ontario Pharmaceutical and Health Innovation Ecosystem (SOPHIE). SOPHIE is a healthcare innovation initiative established by Innovation Factory and the Synapse Consortium.

For more than three years, Mohawk has worked closely with IRIS, which helps municipalities auto-capture and assess the condition of roads through AI-enabled dash-mounted cameras.

The company was the winner of the 2019 LiONS LAIR.

“When we started out as a company, we had limited resources,” says CEO Emil Sylvester Ramos. “When we connected with IDEAWORKS, we determined that Bilal’s team was the best to help with development and to bridge critical gaps and to execute on our value proposition.”

Bilal Al Momani is a Computer Science Professor. His students developed an application to image and measure potholes and road defects found within a city. The system included image recognition software to recognize potholes and light and shading filtration to calculate their depth.

“I always try to bring an industrial focus to my classes. Students don’t just want theory; they want application of that learning.”

Working with cutting-edge innovators differentiates Mohawk students, says Al Momani.

“Our students are prepared and ready to get to work right away.”

With Mohawk’s help, IRIS developed a system that could be tested in vehicles in the City of Hamilton fleet. The sensors are now found in City waste trucks and inspection vehicles and the system is now used in the U.S., Japan, Brazil and Europe.

The partnership with Mohawk has led to hiring graduates, says Ramos.

“It’s really worked well for us and we are going to continue working with the college. We have been successful because of the people who believe in our technology and our team and the impact we could have.”

Ye Qi, who studied Computer Systems Technology - Software Development at Mohawk, is working as a full stack developer for IRIS. He handles the collected data, develops and maintains the server and the database, and integrates the data with the frontend web app.

While he was a student, Qi built a demo mobile app to collect road images.

Steve McBride standing strong with a calming smile in front of his office desk

Steve McBride, Weever Apps CEO

“I gained work experience as a developer, furnished my skills, solved real-life problems, and got familiar with the latest, most popular development tools in the industry,” he said.

“Mohawk helped me pave a solid way to become a professional developer.”

Al Momani says Mohawk supports future entrepreneurs by providing real-world experiences, end-to-end supports and professional feedback.

“Real-world work helps enrich the students’ experiences and affords them the opportunity to build their skills independently, allowing them to grow.”

Mohawk still works with Weever Apps, the very first winner of the LiONS LAIR competition in 2011.

Weever builds platforms to digitize and automate processes on the factory floor, including safety reports, maintenance breakdown records, quality defect reports and other reports that have traditionally been inputted manually.

Weever’s systems are used by multinational giants, including Unilever, Mars Wrigley and HelloFresh.

“Mohawk has been tied to us since we won the competition,” said CEO and co-founder Steve McBride. “We’ve hired Mohawk grads, computer students have done user testing for us and we’ve helped the college develop curriculum. We’ve helped each other all the way along.”

The company has secured a federal grant to do a project with Mohawk in wearables over the next year.

“LiONS LAIR introduced us to a number of partners that have been crucial to growing our business over the last 10 years. Mohawk is one of them.”