BioTec 2019

I had the pleasure of attending the 2019 BioTec conference at the university of Waterloo last week. It was a congregation of young students and professionals all sharing the same passion: biotechnology. This was the third BioTec conference and my second BioTec that I attended. Firstly, I would like to thank the organizers for putting together this amazing event including Muiz for putting up with all my questions before hand.

Before, the events started, I had the chance to chitchat with some of my fellow delegates from a range of backgrounds. Since it was 9 am on a Saturday, I asked everyone: “why are you even here?”.

The general consensus was that it exposed delgates to what the industry had to offer. BioTec gave insight into questions like: what can I do in biotechnology? What are people doing in biotechnology? What are my options? Malak from SYDE 1A told me that she wanted to “step outside her comfort zone and learn about biotechnology”. I can think of no better way to expand your horizons than going to an event like this and immersing yourlsef in an environment of passionate individuals.

The conference opened up with a keynote speaker, Victor Hanson-Smith of Verge Genomics. He shared his experience with entrepreneurship and research in biotechnology. His work at Verge Genomics is cutting-edge and fascinating but it was his life advice that really struck me: “It’s okay to take a breath and a step back to find something with a better impact for you and the world”. He also mentioned that it’s important to not rush into things just for a pay cheque. I feel like all of us, as we panic about getting employment and co-op jobs can appreciate and learn from this sentiment.

Then, there was the pitch competition. This was a new addition this year and probably my favourite part. I was absolutely mind blown by some of the FYDPs. The winner was KnowStroke, a biometric device for detecting heat stroke in construction workers. The strong prototype and the smart business plan of selling in an untapped market is what really pushed them to not only win first prize but people’s choice as well. However, all the teams including Hi-p, AfterShock, Heart Again, IuvoDerm, and AIR did an excellent job. They all set high standards for what an FYDP should be.

The pitch competition was judged by investors including Ricky Mehra and Nikhil Thatte. I asked them why they would take the time out of their busy schedules to come judge (and give money to) a pitch competition at a university. They simply told me that innovation comes from academia (us undergrads too) and investors like to keep partnerships with universities. These partnerships can help entrepreneurs and investors even as alumni. As the work force is becoming more competitive, connectivity is more important now than ever.

After lunch, there was a research breakout session with some incredibly smart people and some workshops with equally smart people. I learned a lot and felt very inspired.

I unfortunately was unable to be in four places at once and only had the opportunity to attend the Relay Medical workshop on the Cathedral model, a thinking strategy to consider future stages of a project for business. This is an extremely helpful strategy and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to take their side project or FYDP to the entrepreneurial level.

I attended the research breakout session with Dr. Ameri from Queen’s University who spoke about the past, present, and future of wearable technologies. The fact that biosensing tattoos could be a thing is mind-boggling.

The day concluded with a clinical technology panel. I did notice that there was an emphasis on entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship does seem to be very trendy these days on campus. There was so much wisdom oozing from the stage that I can only encapsulate a portion of it in this article. Basically, keep your teams small, design for the market, consider customers and investors who may not actually use your product, and most importantly design for an actual problem. I feel this last statement from my previous failures.

To best sum it up, three delegates, Tristan, Agosh, and Angad called the conference “informative, interesting, and inspiring”.

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