For these Peel startups, the pandemic has been a catalyst for innovation
Canada’s leading thinkers reflect on how COVID-19 has changed our community, Canada and the world, and changed the future forever.
As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been exactly that for some startups working among Peel communities through the Ryerson Venture Zone in Brampton.
Ryerson Venture Zone in Brampton has received some of the best ideas for new businesses in the area. From COVID-19 screening software for employers, to an e-scooter sharing system, to an appointment scheduling system that uses artificial intelligence – innovators are solving problems caused by the pandemic right here.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Susan So lost her job in corporate media during a corporate restructuring.
With a background in newspaper production with the Toronto Star, as well as an understanding of the tech industry, So was approached by a Chinese company that had developed a COVID-19 screening device.
“I knew enough about what you can and can’t do with consumers,” So said, explaining that she was concerned about data collection and privacy.
This led her to become the co-founder of FirstScreen, a PHIPPA-compliant employee screening system for employers to help their employees return to the office safely.
The software takes note of vaccination status, can track rapid tests and detect symptoms, with sensitive information redacted and separated from HR data.
“We give companies a choice,” she said, explaining that there are different screening options for unvaccinated employees that are done discreetly and separately at home.
So works in the Ryerson Venture Zone, hires companies in Brampton, and is currently in negotiations for a contract with a rapid test provider.
Another Ryerson startup, Scooty, hopes to set up an e-bike and e-scooter sharing service in Brampton.
After getting the go-ahead from the City of Brampton for a mini-pilot program in Chinguacousy Park over the summer, Shoaib Ahmed and his team were shocked by the response from the community.
“We did over 1,000 rides,” Ahmed said, over a period of four to five days. “We had no more scooters.”
He said the COVID-19 pandemic was not the reason for the project, but the catalyst.
“It showed that the pandemic was kind of forcing people to get out and move around,” he said. “It amplified the development of this concept.”
A startup called Preparie is a program that connects home chefs with hungry customers, a gig-economy solution to shutdowns at the height of the pandemic. Another is a health device, like a watch, that monitors handwashing for people in medical and care settings.
For Manny Abraham, founder of rEVEN AI, the pandemic has accelerated the need for something he had seen before.
He developed a program for medical clinics to automate appointment booking, referral and request processes using artificial intelligence. He said many offices still require documents to be faxed or emailed to be manually logged into a system.
With this technology, medical administrators save an average of seven minutes per client on manually submitting documents and entering information into a system.
With virtual healthcare emerging in the first wave, Abraham says this technology is helping to fill a much-needed void for digital medical document management.
Usha Srinivasan, director of the Ryerson Venture Zone, believes these startups have shown resilience and ingenuity during a time of utter uncertainty.
The zone has a five-year funding commitment from the City of Brampton to help incubate tech startups in the city.
The first cohort of 10 companies graduated in August 2020, and another 14 companies are currently participating in the program.
“Sometimes it takes disruption for innovation to show up,” Srinivasan said. “Entrepreneurship is born out of this.”
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Entrepreneurs in Peel and Greater Toronto have come up with a wide range of innovations since the start of the pandemic. Some of these ideas were incubated at Ryerson. We wanted to find the individual stories behind some of these ideas, which have an immediate impact on people’s lives.