Amrik Virk, Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens' Services, takes a shot during a demo of Vam-Tech, which uses technology to read a player's shots and is designed to help improve their game. It's among student ventures to benefit from new funding.

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TechE@SFU funding helps students take innovation to next level

December 02, 2016
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Simon Fraser University students striving to become technology entrepreneurs will have the chance to take their skills and innovations to the next level with the expansion of the flagship Technology Entrepreneurship @SFU program (TechE@SFU).

The provincial government is providing $400,000 to fund a new work-integrated learning program as part of TechE@SFU. The program helps students to develop a market-inspired technological product and pitch for the funds to take it from bench-top to market.

The Hon. Amrik Virk, Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, made the announcement at SFU’s Surrey campus on behalf of Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson. He says the funding will help “deepen the province’s talent pool,” a key focus of its @BCTECH Strategy.

Sarah Lubik, SFU’s director of entrepreneurship, says that SFU has been working to create a comprehensive, seamless continuum of support from all levels of education through to incubation with close ties across programs and to the community.

 “Cross-disciplinary experience and collaboration is key to successful entrepreneurship and solving the challenges facing Canada and the world,” says Lubik. “But if we are going to encourage this behavior in our students, we also need to support it.

“This funding allows us to fill a critical gap, ensuring that these high potential student teams don’t immediately have to choose between getting a job and putting their ventures on the back-burner, or struggling to take their business forward without sufficient resources.”

The TechE@SFU program was launched in 2012 as a pilot project, with funding from the Spencer Creo Foundation and matched by the BC Innovation Council (BCIC). Since then, teams from SFU’s Beedie School of Business and Mechatronics Systems Engineering (MSE) have been accepted into the program. Students from any faculty who are part of SFU’s Charles Chang Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship are also being accepted.

As students hone their innovations new ideas are taking shape. TechE@SFU students who began in September are finalizing their ideas for development, several, with a health-tech theme, including a user-friendly tech solution for those with sleep apnea.

“This new program is another step forward in SFU’s commitment to being Canada’s most community-engaged research university, and to our innovation strategy,” says Joy Johnson, SFU's Vice-President Research and International. “By equipping students with the skills to become entrepreneurs even before they have completed their studies, they are receiving the best possible start in becoming high-impact innovators, and putting their ideas to use for the betterment of society."

Those benefiting from the new funding include:

Orello Hearing Technology: A student team first developed a prototype for an inexpensive, customized hearing aid earlier in the TechE program, and now have the opportunity to move their idea forward.

Co-developed by William Brenner with a team of six other students, Orello’s goal is to enable people to custom-fit and tune the aid at home, rather than needing a hearing specialist. Their idea won the Most Impactful Award at SFU’s 2016 Opportunity Fest.

”I’m proud of what we’ve been able accomplish in this time, from completely redesigning our prototype to hiring our first employee last month, and we are looking to launch our first product for testing early next year,” says Brenner.

Vamo-Tech: a teams of six students has produced the Game7 Shooting System, which involves hooking up smart sensors to a player wristband as well as the net. Analytics are then reported back on different shots – snap, slap, wrist and backhand.

Players can measure strengths and weaknesses and work on improving specific areas. Student Ben Hwang says his team is currently finalizing their prototype.

The Game7 system may eventually be paired with a mobile app, which is also in development.