Awake Labs, a social-impact start-up formed in a joint Sauder-UBC Applied Science course, has won the Fall 2015 First Look Forum grand prize of $10,000 for its product Reveal, a wearable device that measures the anxiety of children with autism.
CEO and co-founder Andrea Palmer and her team came up with Reveal last fall in New Venture Design, a course that pairs senior engineering and business students to create and market new innovations.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” said Palmer, a mechanical engineer. “We needed funds, recognition and contacts and that’s exactly what the First Look Forum has provided for us.”
The award was announced on November 12. Held in Bellingham, the Washington Technology Industry Association's First Look Forum is a coaching program and presentation showcase for early stage start-ups. New ventures get a mentor, pitch doctor and presentation coach for their showcase. A panel of venture capitalists and angel investors review the showcases and choose the winner from the 10 competition finalists.
This is Awake’s second competition win after placing first in the Canadian Global Impact competition in April, which recognizes outstanding entrepreneurs with innovative ideas to improve lives.
One in 68 children in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder. Rates have risen quickly over the last decade and are thought to be similar in Canada. Anxiety leads to meltdowns for individuals on the spectrum and meltdowns can have significant negative impacts on quality of life for patients and caregivers.
Reveal is a wearable monitor that measures sweat, heart rate and skin temperature – all signs of anxiety – and reports data to a caregiver when there is risk of a meltdown. The caregiver can then intervene early with a calm-down routine to avoid potentially dangerous escalation.
When formulating their business plan, Palmer and her team put a primary focus on creating an innovation with the potential to change lives for the better.
“When we started we wanted to find something that helped people, that people needed, not just something that would be nice to have,” said Palmer. “We wanted something with a big social impact.”
Reveal’s potential impact is being recognized by more than competitions. A week before winning the First Look Forum, Palmer was accepted into a pre-accelerator called S-Factory, part of StartupChile. That placement comes with $15,000 U.S. and Palmer arrived in Chile near the end of November to work there for three months. Awake plans to have their first product in testing by March.
Palmer said she wouldn’t be where she is without the support of engineering and Sauder professors at UBC. She entered the First Look Forum because of encouragement from mentors like Sauder Adjunct Professor Blair Simonite and Lecturer Paul Cubbon who lead educational programs at entrepreneurship@UBC, the university’s initiative created to support ventures that find their origins on campus.
“Everything, through the idea’s conception to its early validation to all the competitions and the whole experience, it’s been fueled by Sauder, New Venture Design, and e@UBC support,” said Palmer. “They’ve provided amazing mentors and support.”