May 8, 2023

What do innovators look like? They look like you

Evolve to Innovate Program celebrates variety of ways researchers can innovate, with evening of celebration, prizes and community
Innovation Slams
Riley Brandt photos, University of Calgary

What does an innovation look like and who does it? The Evolve to Innovate (e2i) program aims to challenge preconceived notions about innovation and innovators by giving researchers the tools, guidance, and cash they need to discover and evolve their research into action.

In September, the Office of the Vice-President (Research) and Innovate Calgary invited UCalgary graduate students and postdoctoral scholars from all disciplines to team up with their academic supervisors and dive headfirst into the world of innovation. Eight months later, members of the cohort celebrated their innovation journey and the conclusion of this year’s e2i program with the campus community.

Researchers participating in e2i are encouraged to think of innovation beyond venture creation and consider how innovation can also be embedded in their research labs, future job opportunities in industry and of course, what commercialization and startup creation could look like for them.

During the event’s Innovation Slam, the audience heard stories from scholars from Cumming School of Medicine, Faculty of Science, Schulich School of Engineering and Faculty of Arts about their experiences in the program, their thoughts on their journey as innovators, and the problems they are trying to solve through their research. Several innovators were also awarded cash prizes for their dedication to the process.

Congratulations to the winners

Yangyang Fang

Yangyang Fang, right, with presenter Bharat Maheshwari.

Yangyang Fang won the Selfie Award which recognizes exceptional advances in both their own professional development as well as leveraging the e2i program to translate their research. Fang and her team are developing Radical Mental Health Doula (RMHD), a community-based support that uses a participatory action framework by working with people with lived experiences of mental health struggles to identify and respond to gaps in the mental health care system.

“I saw myself as a creative thinker and an academic/researcher, but not so much an innovator. I always thought of inventions as things. And specifically, technical, science things. And so, I thought of innovators as scientists and engineers or the rare homo universalis like da Vinci.

"I'm an artist and social science researcher. I don't produce/build things, so I didn't see myself as an innovator until I discovered social innovation,” says Fang. Now Fang is fully immersed in her identity as an innovator and, alongside her team, will be conducting a six-month pilot project starting in June 2023.

Tie Wang

Tie Wang, left, with presenter Paula Berton.

Tie Wang won the AEiR award, nominated by Academic Entrepreneurs in Residence who work with program participants to supercharge their innovative research ideas and accelerate toward impactful solutions. Wang, alongside his teammates, wants to support individuals with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) by researching a new chemical to target overactivated or problematic inflammation. 

“I did not see myself as anyone close to an innovator before the [e2i] program. I am grateful to my mentors from AEiR for guiding me in the process of market research and validation. I have enjoyed every session of the program, which provides knowledge and skills to prepare us to become innovators.”

Farzana Aktar

Farzana Aktar, left, with presenter Liz Baker.

Farzana Aktar won the People's Choice Award. Following the Innovation Slam, the live audience voted for the most compelling presentation. Aktar’s project combines virtual reality and experiential learning to support health and safety training and education. Their first minimum viable product focuses on fire safety, and Aktar and team are exploring its commercialization opportunities.

“I have always felt drawn to solving real-life problems. I like to get out of my comfort zone and work in challenging environments. Evolve to Innovate was a perfect fit for me," says Aktar.

"Through e2i, I learned how important it is to test business cases, run customer discoveries and check financial viability before developing the product. The sheer amount of resource support, networking opportunities, and motivation I received made the experience more enjoyable for me.”

Greg Welch

Greg Welch, right, with presenter Steve Larter.

Dr. Greg Welch won the Rocket Fuel Award. Nominated by e2i trainees (postdoctoral fellows and graduate students), this award is given to a principal investigator who has been exceptionally helpful and supportive of their e2i trainee’s engagement in innovation-related activities within and beyond the e2i program.

Welch was nominated by Dr. Akpeko Gasonoo, a postdoctoral fellow in his research team. They are developing printed organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) to increase wound healing through electronic bandages, reduce health-care worker-patients' routine checkups through wearable sensors, and improve diagnostics through novel biosensors. Gasonoo has launched PrintedSun Inc. to focus on commercializing these technologies.  

“I have enjoyed observing Akpeko grow professionally, develop his technology and business case, and make lasting friendships with the others," says Welch. "The opportunity for e2i trainees from different disciplines to engage each other in a supportive environment outside of daily lab work is invaluable. We as professors need to continue to put postdoctoral fellows and graduate students first and support them on their journey, including non-traditional career pathways like starting a company if they are interested.” 

Own your innovator identity and explore diverse career pathways

Communities are built and sustained through innovation. Innovate Calgary and the University of Calgary’s innovation ecosystem work closely to ensure that our researchers have the tools they need to innovate and feel confident about themselves as innovators.

“Our program participants and their principal investigators have shown tremendous growth," says Jane Desrochers, senior innovation manager and program manager for Evolve to Innovate.

"I was inspired to hear how many of them did not view themselves as innovators early in the program and are now leaning into that identity. I am so proud of what we are co-designing together and I look forward to continuing to build out our ecosystem to take ideas and turn them into action.”

If you are a researcher interested in exploring the practical solutions of your research, feel free to contact us or fill out this form to be notified of the next intake for the e2i program.

Innovate Calgary is the innovation transfer and business incubator centre for the University of Calgary. As part of the Office of the Vice-President (Research) portfolio and as a member of the UCalgary innovation ecosystem, we work closely with researchers, faculty, and students to help bridge the gap between discovery and creating economic and societal impact. We do this by going beyond traditional technology transfer services to include focused startup support programs and services for research-intensive companies.

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