Mark Elias’s Steadiwear invention will benefit millions of tremor sufferers
When you hear that a 25-year-old entrepreneur was featured in Forbes magazine, you could be forgiven for assuming it was because he’d invented a flashy, trendy gadget aimed at millennials. But Mark Elias is making waves for inventing a glove. His assistive technology is designed to improve the quality of life for millions of people with Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor. And yet, the humble CEO of Steadiwear brushes off the accomplishment, crediting his innovative spirit to his father: “He taught me how to think and to discuss abstract ideas,” Mark says, “and to never stop questioning things.”
We are sitting in Elias’s windowless mechanical prototyping lab at the University of Toronto’s Impact Centre. The narrow room has all the tools of the inventor’s trade—3D printer, drill presses, circuit boards. Mark often slogs through 15-hour workdays here and in a nearby chemistry lab. The hard work has paid off. In 2017 Steadiwear won a Canada-wide competition hosted by AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence and HACKING HEALTH. “That’s really helpful to us fulfilling our mission to deliver Steadiglove to the world,” he says.
“My father taught me how to discuss abstract ideas and never stop questioning things”
A graduate of the U of T civil engineering program, Mark realized during his studies that the prospect of climbing the typical corporate ladder after graduation wasn’t for him. “I felt I could be contributing more to society,” he says.
In his final year, a different career trajectory came to light. After a family lunch during the holiday break, his aunt started to cut slices of Christmas cake for everyone. She and Elias’s grandmother both suffer from hand tremors. As his aunt struggled to control the sharp knife, others watched nervously in silence. “I had to jump in and take over,” Mark recalls.
He saw the social stigma of tremors. The sufferer often doesn’t acknowledge their limitations, making it difficult for others to know how to help. And broaching the topic can cause the sufferer distress, making the tremors worse. “You get into a negative loop,” he says.
Elias decided to apply his engineering knowledge to helping the 230 million people with hand tremors, like his aunt and grandmother. After graduation, he obtained a certificate in entrepreneurship and innovation, preparing to launch his own venture. “It’s a good idea to have a sense of the rules of the road so you don’t make critical mistakes at the start,” he says.
From friends to business partners
Successful entrepreneurs are rarely a solo act. This is true of Elias, who met his future co-founder and CFO Emile Maamary during university. They lived in the same apartment building and kept running into each other at a local print shop. As they struck up conversations, they found they had a lot in common, including the fact that Emile’s grandmother also suffers from tremors. After they became friends, Mark told Emile, “Let’s collaborate.”
Most tremors are wrist dominant, which makes daily activities such as eating, writing and drinking a real challenge.
Elias and Maamary launched Steadiwear in 2015. After extensive consultation with the tremor community, they decided to develop Steadiglove. “The majority of tremors are wrist dominant, which makes daily activities such as eating, writing and drinking a real challenge,” Mark says. Their invention is a lightweight, battery-free glove that applies the same vibration-dampening technology that stabilizes buildings against earthquakes.
With support from AGE-WELL, the team has quickly moved from laboratory testing to beta testing Steadiglove with people. “Our beta tests with volunteers are very promising,” he notes.
Elias and Maamary’s complementary skills are propelling their innovation to market. Emile brings the financial and marketing wizardry to run a successful operation. “He’s great at building networks,” Mark says. Mark focuses more on company vision, including product development. “I need to sit by myself and mull over things.”
It’s not uncommon for the partners to burn the midnight oil. But it’s not all work and no play. The Impact Centre is home to many young innovators. There is a spirit of collaboration, and the group makes time to meet for drinks, not only to talk shop. “These people become your friends,” Mark says.
The partners love what they do, and that’s the most fun of all. “The happiest days are when we hit a big milestone,” Mark says. “It’s like oxygen.”
2018: The year of the launch
This is the year they expect to achieve their mission. Steadiglove will move from prototype to commercialization. A pilot study in senior living facilities will happen this spring, followed by a formal clinical trial. A full-scale international launch is planned for this summer. But this won’t be the end of the Steadiglove story. The vision is to find other applications for the technology beyond physical tremors. But for now, Mark is keeping his plans top secret.
“I hope that by the time I get old, I will have made the most out of my time in entrepreneurship”
While Mark is decades younger than Steadiwear’s target market, he still thinks about his legacy. “I just hope that by the time I get old, I will have made the most out of my time in entrepreneurship,” he says. He has tremendous respect for the wisdom of the older generation, and wants to contribute fully to their well-being. “It’s our job to give back,” he says.