Witnessing tomorrow’s leading ventures today at Liftoff!

L-R: Behina Tabatabaei, Caitlin Calder-Bellamy, Matthew Fung, Diogo José Notario
L-R: Behina Tabatabaei, Caitlin Calder-Bellamy, Matthew Fung, Diogo José Notario Guaitolini, Luiz Felipe Gama Di Grado, David Kim, Ana Clara Perrone. Ricky Lam, Hunter Hub
The entrepreneurial spirit was buzzing at the recent Liftoff! Pitch Competition, marking the culmination of the Launchpad program at the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking at the University of Calgary. 

The event celebrated six months of hard work from a diverse group of students, postdocs and researchers from various faculties. With 62 participating teams this year, the top eight finalists had the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of industry judges, competing for funding to propel their ventures forward.

At the heart of the Launchpad program lies a transformative journey aimed at cultivating entrepreneurial thinking skills among participants. Through weekly presentations and interactive workshops led by experienced coaches, participants are equipped with the tools necessary to navigate the complexities of entrepreneurship and make meaningful impact within their respective fields.

Innovative solutions take centre stage

Among the standout pitches at Liftoff! were RespiraLink, Minutora Livestock Inventory Management, Vitalize and Younme. RespiraLink won the first-place prize with its flagship product, COPDWatch. This groundbreaking Class II medical device empowers patients to manage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) proactively. The team members, including Caitlin Calder-Bellamy, Behina Tabatabaei, Dr. Matthew Fung and Faith Luu showcased the value of interdisciplinary collaboration.

"It’s been fun to merge industries and thinking styles," says Calder-Bellamy, BHSc’22. "Coming from a science background, you’re taught a specific scientific method to go into your thought process. To come here and have an opportunity to add business to that flexes a new muscle that is beneficial for all’of us."

Adds Tabatabaei: "For me, it was quite the journey to understand how business stuff works and how you should actually look at something that’s (going to go) to market, rather than just the research side."

Fung, MD, says a lot of science ends up going into journal articles, "but a lot of people don’t really ask the ’so what’’ Like, what does this actually mean for the rest of the world? I was drawn into entrepreneurship for that reason; taking what I’ve learned from the lab and making something meaningful."

The team from Minutora Livestock Inventory Management secured the runner-up position, impressing the judges with their platform dedicated to assisting farmers in reducing waste and utilizing data-driven decision-making to enhance efficiency. The team members included Ana Clara Perrone, Diogo Jos é Notario Guaitolini, Luiz Felipe Gama Di Grado and David Kim.

Vitalize won the hearts of the audience, cinching the People’s Choice Award. Vitalize aims to revolutionize prenatal care with a wearable band paired with a user-friendly app, providing seamless fetal monitoring for expecting mothers and health-care providers. The team members included Risat Haque, Catherine Betancourt Lee, Jay Gurjar, Rishabh Ruhela and Amy Miller, BSc (Eng)’23.

Reflecting on a passion for entrepreneurship 

Jay Chang holds the distinction of participating in Launchpad for the second time. The first time was for his engineering capstone class, but this year he returned with a personal venture. Younme, led by Jay and his brother, Yu-ming Chang, specializes in creating custom perfumes and scents at local events, bringing a unique experience to customers. 

"This year, it’s a personal project and we’ve actually incorporated this business," says Jay. "It’s something we’re really serious about. And, because of that, we thought Launchpad is the way to go. Just all the advice, all the funding - everything." 

Jenn McDonald, representing Platform Calgary and serving as one of the judges, underscored the significance of opportunities like Liftoff! 

"Opportunities like Liftoff! allow students to take the lessons that they’re learning in their classroom and apply it to the real world," she says. "They do so by solving problems (and) exploring ideas with the safety of the community."

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