Two very different enterprises won the top awards at the National Impact Challenge 2023 ‒ Bold Innovations for Living, powered by AGE-WELL and SE Health. One winner’s service helps keep families connected, while the other’s product is designed to protect people from infection.
It was a triumphant and bittersweet moment for Anika Chabra when she accepted her award in the Community category of the competition. Accompanied by her business partner Jennifer Siripong Mandel, she told the audience that the inspiration for their enterprise, Root & Seed, came from a heartbreaking time in her life.
Voice cracking, she paid tribute to her father Jatinder, who looked on from the audience. And she remembered her mother, Ramma, who died suddenly and unexpectedly four years earlier.
“When we lost her, we also lost her stories,” said Chabra, Co-Founder of the venture.
Root & Seed, based in Toronto, is a platform designed to connect generations and preserve family stories. It is not an app, but rather a “phygital” experience that offers a variety of means – digital and physical – to explore family histories, including a mobile conversation tool to record the voices and memories of loved ones.
For the other Co-Founder, Siripong Mandel, the idea resonated because of her own background. Born in Boston of a Thai father and Irish American mother, she grew up knowing little about the Asian side of the family. She said that it was only after the launch of Root & Seed that she started asking her father questions about Thai culture and as a result they have come to understand each other on another level.
“People are forgetting how to have conversations and so we want to give them the prompts to give them the permission to ask questions, learn about each other and record those, so that the memories and the stories can be preserved for safe keeping, reflection in the future and celebrations today in life,” said Siripong Mandel.
Root & Seed also picked up the People’s Choice Award for which hundreds of votes were cast online before and during the event in Toronto.
The top prize in the Startup category of the competition went to Vancouver-based UVX, developers of a device called Zener, which uses a human-safe form of UV light to disinfect spaces. Co-founder and CEO Kunal Sethi said that he was moved to put his engineering skills to the task after seeing so many residents of long-term care homes die during the pandemic, with a friend’s grandmother among the casualties.
Many hospitals and long-term care homes already use UV light for disinfection, but the issue has been that conventional UV can only be deployed in empty rooms because exposure is harmful to humans, said Sethi.
“As engineers we thought, surely there’s a way to make UV light safe. We didn’t know that it was not going to be that easy.”
He and his partner, Saimir Sulaj, overcame the challenge and were able to develop a device that can produce a form of UV that can be continuously working throughout the day.
“The person can be in the room and you can disinfect both surfaces and the air,” he said.
The Nova Scotia Health Authority believes enough in the concept to invest in trials and there are also investigations underway in Vancouver with UBC Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases, Sethi noted.
The National Impact Challenge 2023 was open to start-ups, community-based, community-serving or youth organizations coast-to-coast, and brought together selected finalists to pitch their technology, innovative program or service for aging with choice and dignity in Canada. The first prizes each bring $25,000 in cash and a series of in-kind prizes. The winners believe there are other intangible benefits.
“For us it’s validation that we’re on the right path, that there’s a real opportunity here to make an impact in the lives of people living in senior care,” said Sethi.
“The endorsement is so important to us. We know the connections that we build as a result of this win will really help our exposure to not only new users, but also to new business channels and opportunities,” said Siripong Mandel.
The National Impact Challenge Runnerup – Spotlight on Community award went to AGING ProACTIVELY, a non-profit Community-Based Seniors Serving Organisation (CBSSO), which has launched and is scaling the Certified Age Friendly Employer (CAFE) program in Canada. Mature adults will be positioned to extend their health-span, enhance their financial security, engage in meaningful work, thereby, improving their ability to age in place. Employers improve their bottom line by recruiting and retaining experienced older adults.
In the Startup category, the runner-up (and winner of the People’s Choice Award) was ElderPRIME, the developers of an app that “helps aging adults and their families accurately track and communicate health needs and record, retain and securely share doctors’ instructions to improve health outcomes, reduce diagnostic error, and prolong seniors’ independence.”
All eight finalists in the two categories will be able to take part in the IMPACT Camp – a 12-month program where they will share and learn from each other and leverage networking opportunities and expertise through AGE-WELL and SE Health to advance their innovations.
The National Impact Challenge 2023 ‒ Bold Innovations for Living unfolded in front of an engaged, enthusiastic audience in downtown Toronto.
Each finalist had four minutes to make their pitch, then faced questions from a panel of expert judges. In the Startup category, each participant came with a prototype or service that was market-ready or looking to scale.
The sponsors of the National Impact Challenge 2023 – Bold Innovations for Living include: Ontario Brain Institute (OBI), Spotlight Development Inc. (presenting sponsors), Metro (gold sponsor), the Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation (CABHI) (silver sponsor), Sodexo, SPACES and Bereskin & Parr (supporting sponsors).
For more information about the competition, please visit here.