Calgary-based teams took the top spots at the World Innovation Day competition in Geneva, Switzerland in 2014. SnapDx and MEDi came in first and third place, respectively, against teams from Hong Kong, Switzerland, and South Africa. 

This story appeared in UToday on September 9, 2014.

By Léora Rabatach

Three Calgary teams took top spots in the first World Innovation Day Innovation for Health competition (WID-I4H), an international event in Geneva, Switzerland, focused on promoting innovation in health care and medical science across the globe.

The fast-paced scientific and business pitch competition — held at the Campus Biotech facility near the shores of Lake Geneva in late August — drew participants from around the world. Each team had only 20 minutes to explain, demonstrate, and win over a global audience of more than 350 people and an interdisciplinary jury from four continents with backgrounds in science, academia, industry, health technology transfer, and venture capitalism.

After two grueling days, first prize went to SnapDx, a Calgary-based mobile health startup from Startup Calgary’s co-founder and CEO, Hisham Al-Shurafa, and University of Calgary resident physicians Drs. Rahul Mehta and Aravind Ganesh. SnapDx provides interactive, visual mobile applications that help patients and practitioners to quickly access medical knowledge by not relying solely on text to convey the information.

“We founded SnapDx only nine months ago and we are excited to have our work already recognized internationally,” says Al-Shurafa.  “Our vision of helping doctors provide the best care in the short time they have to see a patient is resonating with both the medical and investor community.

“We just launched our first product for health professionals, SnapDx Clinical, and are working with academic clinics nationwide on an even more extensive suite to streamline clinical work.”

Alongside SnapDx, University of Calgary lead researcher Tanya Beran, PhD, took third place with MEDi — a robot programmed to reduce pain and distress in children getting the flu vaccine. With the aid of Alberta Health Services, as well as researchers from the Schulich School of Engineering and the Department of Computer Science at the University of Calgary, Beran and her team were the first to create software applications for a humanoid robot.

“Many people around the world are now starting to see the possibility of human-robot interaction at the bedside as a platform that can transform pediatric care,” says Beran, professor in the Cumming School of Medicine, and member of the University of Calgary’s Institute for Public Health and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute. “This win has opened doors to international research and commercial opportunities that would have taken years to develop.”

WID-I4H is an event that links health and research institutions in Canada, Switzerland, South Africa, and Hong Kong.  Over the past year, each of these locations held joint Innovation Academies. In Calgary, this event was spearheaded by University of Calgary’s W21C program through the inaugural W21C Innovation Academy — a business pitch competition in the style of Dragon’s Den with the specific focus of identifying and nurturing health innovations that had the potential to contribute to the improvement of health services safety and quality of care.

Three winners were selected from 30 to 40 entries at each of four participating sites. Those 12 winners were awarded cash prizes and / or travel bursaries to further develop their innovations and to support the presentation of their ideas in Switzerland at the WID-I4H.

“WID allows us to step onto an international stage and showcase the research and technology innovations in Alberta and Western Canada,” says Dr. John Conly, founder and medical director of W21C and a member of the WID-I4H international jury. “It’s exciting to see the success of the Calgary initiatives.”

Calgary-based Orpyx Medical Technologies, which was represented by Stephanie Zakala at WID-14H and led by CEO and President Dr. Breanne Everett, a resident physician at the University of Calgary, took fourth place in the competition. Orpyx has developed sensor-based technologies and sensory substitution systems to monitor foot pressure and provide peripheral feedback to diabetic patients.

“There was a buzz created at this forum,” says Conly. “Through this unique platform, we are one step closer to bridging the gap between discovery and innovation, through to knowledge translation and commercialization.”