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Three health tech startups from U of T entrepreneurs making news

Bionym, Figure 1 and Quanttus see new funding, features, media coverage

(photo by Figure 1)

They’re building up, shipping out and being celebrated as the future of innovation.

U of T is a hub for many biotech and health innovators looking to develop their research and business acumen through programs, courses, accelerators and more.

With everyone looking for the next new thing, it takes a lot for any startup to break through the noise. But many companies created and driven by recent U of T grads are doing just that, making headlines from the Wall Street Journal to Wired magazine.

Below, U of T News entrepreneurship writer Brianna Goldberg looks at three companies from U of T entrepreneurs that are making news and winning followers around the world.

For Engineering alumnus David He, being named one of the MIT Technology Review’s ‘Innovators Under 35’  this week promises to be a big boost to Quanttus, the company he co-founded just two years ago. Based on He's PhD work on wearable sensors that measure the mechanical functioning of the heart in previously unexplored ways, Quanttus has a simple goal: to change how people manage their own health. (Read more about Quanttus)
“This could be the first time that we have gained access to an unprecedented amount of continuous vital signs data in real-life settings. These data may lead to new discoveries about our heart and how our lifestyles affect our body,” says He. “Our long-term vision is that unforeseen and preventable health events will be a thing of the past.”

“Over the years, we’ve had success in choosing young innovators whose work has been profoundly influential on the direction of human affairs,” says MIT Technology Review’s editor-in-chief and publisher Jason Pontin. “Previous winners include Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the co-founders of Google; Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook; Jonathan Ive, the chief designer of Apple; and David Karp, the creator of Tumblr. We’re proud of our selections and the variety of achievements they celebrate, and we’re proud to add David He to this prestigious list.”

“This watch could finally get your blood pressure under control,” reads the headline of Technology Review’s feature on He. But from the $22 million in venture capital his company has already raised, it seems like it has the potential to do much more. (Read the Technology Review feature) 

Figure 1 is a free, safe photo app for medical professionals who want to share and discuss images of curious or notable cases while still protecting patient privacy. (Read more about Figure 1) And media outlets around the world are taking notice. (Read the CBC coverage.)

The Atlantic magazine calls the service an "Instagram for Doctors," while Fortune calls it a "little app of horrors" in reference to the often gruesome images it hosts. But regardless of whether you find it inspiring or slightly gross, investors and users agree that this startup from a U of T alumnus provides an important communication and educational tool for doctors around the world.

Following media coverage on the $2 million Figure 1 raised from Rho Canada and Version One, the platform announced that doctors had uploaded more than 30 million images of surprising, mysterious or otherwise interesting cases they shared and discussed.

Now, Figure 1 has scored $4 million in funding from Union Square Ventures. (Read the Fortune feature) 

“U of T has been a great help in growing our business,” says Figure 1 spokesperson Mata Kranakis. “Our CEO, Gregory Levey, is a U of T alum and our co-founder, Dr. Joshua Landy, completed his critical care medicine residency at U of T in 2011. As well, we hired Daniel Krofchick as a software developer from the U of T career centre. He is our second employee and now leads our iOS app.”

Kranakis says the company’s student ambassador program has also recruited three members from the University of Toronto.

“We’re currently focused on growth. That includes making the product more useful for healthcare professionals, getting the word out about Figure 1 in North America, and continuing international expansion,” said Kranakis.

The Engineering alumni behind a wearable device called the “Nymi” – a bracelet-style product that eliminates the need for passwords, PIN codes and more – have already received widespread attention from media outlets around the world. And the spotlight is intensifying as the fall 2014 release of their debut product draws near. (Read more about Bionym)

Soon enough the device will be connecting with eager users and industry experts already watching Bionym from outlets such as The New York Times, Wired, The Economist and others.

And, as the date nears when the Nymi is finally being used by consumers, the Bionym team has begun tapping into the tech community’s creativity by putting sample ‘software development kits’ in the hands of volunteer developers. This will help them dream up new features to integrate into the Nymi’s offerings in addition to the applications it’s set to ship with, such as auto-unlock-and-lock:

“The Nymi can grant you access to devices that are password-protected (be it a phone, tablet, computer or more) when they are nearby one another,” reads a recent post on their blog. “The device will lock again when the Nymi is no longer nearby.”

“From students working on hobby projects, to IT engineers at very large companies, to those that build products and components for cars, buildings, airlines and stores, we’re looking for people around the world to realize the potential of the Nymi,” reads the blog.

Developers interested in working with the Nymi software developer kit can find it on the Bionym site. (Find Software Developer Kit here)

Bionym received support from several U of T entrepreneurship accelerators and spaces, including the Creative Destruction Lab, the Banting and Best Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Innovations & Partnerships Office.

Brianna Goldberg writes about startups and entrepreneurship for U of T News; read more about entrepreneurs at U of T.