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BCom and Engineering students develop award-winning medical solution

Attentiv equipment

Photo credit: Dyson Canada

Posted 2020-09-25
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A year ago, two fourth-year BCom students and four UBC Engineering students joined forces and created a medical solution for a problem plaguing neonatal intensive care units: IV infiltration. Their collaboration was so successful, they’ve won five awards and counting.

IV infiltration is a common complication that occurs when the catheter used to deliver medication intravenously slips out of the patient’s vein or penetrates the wall of the vein, causing medication to leak into the surrounding tissue. It can be both painful and toxic for the patient. 

The team of students learned about the medical problem when they were searching for a real-world challenge to tackle for their New Venture Design course. The elective course is jointly offered by UBC Applied Science and UBC Sauder. Over 26 weeks, students are taken through the steps of launching their own tech startup, guided by a team of professors with industry experience in entrepreneurship and technology innovation.  

“New Venture Design is an intensive, hands-on course where students form diverse teams combining STEM, business and other disciplines,” says UBC Sauder Full-Time Lecturer David Miller. “Students come in as focused and motivated entrepreneurs, most of whom will push well beyond the academic requirements of the course.” 

Building a prototype and business plan 

After landing on the idea of developing a solution to address IV infiltration, the engineering students on the team got to work designing and building a product while the BCom students began working on the business plan. 

Siddharth Birla (BCom 2020)

Siddharth Birla (BCom 2020) is Business Strategist for the team’s venture, called Attentiv Medical.

Siddharth Birla, who graduated this spring with a Marketing and Entrepreneurship dual specialization, was in charge of business strategy. 

“Apart from the general market research tasks, my primary role for the project was to develop a short and long-term beachhead strategy and prepare the firm for early-stage financing rounds,” he says.

Jessica Yu (BCom 2020)

Jessica Yu (BCom 2020) is Attentiv Medical’s Marketing Director.

Jessica Yu, who also graduated this year and specialized in Global Supply Chain and Logistics Management, led project management and marketing for the team.

“I knew very little regarding the field of biomedical technology, but I was able to utilize what I learned at school to research the business side of buying and selling biomedical products, such as business model development, cost calculations, and price determination,” says Yu. “Other business skills turned out to be important when we pitched our project at several competitions. I was grateful for my Business Communications course that taught me how to tell a story and persuade the audience.” 

Jessica Bo (BASc, Mechanical/Biomedical Engineering 2020)

Jessica Bo (BASc, Mechanical/Biomedical Engineering 2020) is Research Lead.  

According to teammate Jessica Bo, the business students filled critical knowledge gaps. “They helped us understand a lot of the concepts and they had ideas about how we could do the marketing, the financial analysis and other business activities that would have taken us way longer to figure out.”

Introducing the Attentiv Catheter

By March, the team was putting the finishing touches on their project when COVID-19 hit and UBC students were sent home to finish their terms online. While it was disappointing to not be able to present their innovation to their classmates in person, the team made the best of the situation and presented over Zoom. 

The product they unveiled was ground-breaking: a new type of catheter with a sensor that measures bioelectrical properties and alerts care providers when IV infiltration is detected. 

The Attentiv Catheter sends an alert when IV infiltration is detected.

The Attentiv Catheter sends an alert when IV infiltration is detected.

The Attentiv Catheter is small in scale but loaded with technology. The catheter tip is embedded with a sensor that measures bioelectrical properties at the IV site. A transmitter receives signals from the catheter. A monitor with an onboard algorithm uses the bioelectric signal to perform blood-tissue differentiation and looks for spikes or irregularities that may indicate IV infiltration. 

The project was so innovative and carried so much market potential that it won the 2020 UBC New Venture Design Program Industry Award and Faculty Award. 

“The Attentiv Catheter team ranks among the top teams we’ve worked with to date,” says UBC Sauder Adjunct Professor Blair Simonite. “This is a competitive application course, so we see a very high standard of students.”

Attracting national and international attention

While the members of Team Attentiv have all graduated from their programs and are pursuing full-time endeavours, Jessica Bo and fellow engineer Kevin Ta are keeping the project going by preparing publications to share their engineering design and clinical interviews with the public. 

Earlier this month, the team got a pleasant surprise when Dyson Canada announced the Attentiv Catheter was the winner of the 2020 National James Dyson Award, a prize that came with a cheque for $3,200. This is the fifth award to date for the team of young entrepreneurs.

“Our team is pretty quiet and introverted and we don’t necessarily exemplify the typical flashy startup personalities,” says Bo. “But I think people are captivated by the magnitude of the problem and the risk to patients, not just infants in NICUs but other vulnerable patients, such as seniors and cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.”

Looking for partners and funding opportunities

Winning the Canadian competition automatically qualifies the team for the international James Dyson Award, to be announced later this fall. The winning team receives $50,000; funds that could be used to take the Attentiv Catheter venture to the next level. Whether they win or not, the team has thoroughly enjoyed the experience of learning how to launch a biomedical startup with high social impact potential. 

“This was one of my all-time favourite courses,” says Birla. “The professors pushed us to think outside the box and about global, large-scale issues. We were always comforted by knowing that the classroom was a safe environment to ask questions, make mistakes, and learn new things. My perspective on startups has entirely changed due to this course and it’s enabled me to guide others who are also looking to create something of their own.”

For more information about the Attentiv Catheter project, visit Attentiv Medical and watch the team’s video.