When Saumik Biswas co-founded Tenomix, he wanted to make a difference in improving health-care delivery through technology. But more than that, it was a venture that was also personal to him.
“My aunt passed away from improper colon cancer staging, they couldn’t identify it early on. She was 47 years old. That is one of the motivating factors for me,” said Biswas, CEO and co-founder of Tenomix.
Tenomix is a medical technology company founded by a team with engineering and pathology backgrounds, aiming to solve inefficiencies in pathology workflow. The company’s flagship device autonomously searches for lymph nodes (LNs) in resected cancer tissues. This bench-top device replaces the existing manual LN finding process, resulting in labour- and cost-savings, and increased cancer staging reliability that can improve patient outcomes.
Biswas, who completed his PhD in pathology and laboratory medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, said the current process being utilized in hospitals is tedious, unreliable and expensive; and that his company’s technology has the potential to reduce pathology costs and ensure more accurate cancer staging.
Biswas, and four other innovative entrepreneurs, will get an opportunity to pitch their business to potential investors at this year’s Western Angels’ Demo Day, a virtual event happening on Dec. 3, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“With medical technologies, the pathways can be quite long into hospitals,” he said. “We’re trying to find investors who have some experience in this process and guide us with the process of procurement. How do we get into hospitals? How to get customers? [How do we get] this kind of expertise? The beautiful thing about Demo Day is having these engaging conversations.”
In addition to looking for additional investors at Demo Day – the Tenomix team has already secured $218,000 through grants and other pitch competitions – Biswas said the opportunity to network and learn from industry professionals is equally important.
Hosted by Western’s Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship, Powered by Ivey, the biannual event was launched to bring together Western-founded ventures and the university’s community of experienced entrepreneurs and investors.
“We wanted to find a way to help support those high-potential companies and create a format where they could gain access to investment,” said Deniz Edwards, Morrissette Entrepreneurship director.
Edwards said the initiative was also a way to create opportunities for Western alumni and other supporters of the university to give back to the school and assist students.
“We often get the question: How can we give back more? We have a very dedicated group of alumni,” she said. “So, the Demo Day is really for our high-potential growth companies to make connections with alumni investors or those tied to the Western community.”
The first two Angels’ Demo Days took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, in December 2020 and April 2021, which necessitated a virtual format. Despite not being in person, the events were a huge success.
“As a result of those Demo Days, our companies raised a total of $4 million in early-stage investment from those pitches, so it really shows the success of this model, and that we are giving a great opportunity to these companies and the investors. It’s a win-win for everyone,” Edwards said.
There are five finalists for this year’s Demo Day. To get to this point, all participating companies had to make it through Morrissette Entrepreneurship’s Amplify pitch competition. For that competition, a panel of judges selected the top applications they believed to have the highest potential for success.
“We have 20 companies that pitch to a panel of judges, and then the judges pick the five teams they believe are investor-ready, and they get invited to the Demo Day event,” Edwards explained.
The four companies joining Tenomix at Angels’ Demo Day are: Tailwind, FoodFun, Untangle Money and Visionary Beverages.
Tailwind is a proactive wellness platform for postsecondary-bound students. Founder Devin Golets’ inspiration for starting this company came from his passion for helping students.
“When I was at Western, my first job was helping high school students transition to first year [university]. I loved working with students and getting to know them, being part of their journey,” said Golets, Honours BA’15.
After working with the university as a recruiter and a career services officer, Golets decided to test his entrepreneurial spirit and worked at start-up Top Hat. There he worked as a higher education consultant assisting professors in leveraging technologies to save time, and using analytics to teach with insight and engage their students better. As much as he enjoyed learning a new skillset in sales and technology, Golets missed working with students.
“I had applied for a job at Ryerson to get back into a consulting role but didn’t get it. After that I decided I’m not going to wait; I wanted to get back to helping students and marry that passion with the things I learned at Top Hat, and that’s how the business got started.”
Tailwind licenses its platform to high schools, universities and colleges to help students be proactive about their mental health before starting postsecondary education. It also provides staff teams with first-party student insights.
When Divyansh Ojha began his FoodFund business four years ago, he wanted it to be part of the solution to Canada’s excessive food waste problem, while making food more affordable for people.
“I was at a grocery store in town about five years ago on a cold day and saw some folks from the store dumping stuff in the dumpsters. There were people not far from that store on the street making a plea for food, which was unsettling for me. It made me ask, ‘Why is there waste when people are hungry? Is there something we can do about it?” Ojha said.
Ojha, who is currently in Ivey’s HBA program, spent time researching the best way to approach his venture, either as a non-profit or for-profit enterprise. He decided to pursue a for-profit business that is also sustainable and benefits the local communities and farmers in Southern Ontario by offering them better value for their crops.
FoodFund is an online, subscription-based platform that sources cosmetically imperfect or surplus produce from growers and delivers them to households in the community. Users enjoy convenient home delivery while saving on costs, and growers realize a new income stream while reducing waste and its economic and environmental impact.
Ojha is grateful for the opportunity to present at Demo Day.
“We’re always open and looking for partners in the community,” he said. “I think Western has a diverse and accomplished alumni base, and it’s really nice to see.”
For founder Kristine Beese, MBA’10, the idea for Untangle Money stemmed from an awareness of the challenges women face when raising capital and investing for retirement compared to men. At the same time, she recognized, and was experiencing, the challenges of building one’s career after becoming a mother.
Untangle Money gives women control of their money. It uses algorithms based on women’s financial situations and doesn’t sell users additional products. Untangle Money is billed as “judgment-free, affordable” and offers the financial tools to help women close the wealth gap.
Financial planners don’t operate under the assumption that women make significantly less than men over the course of their careers, Lowas said. And that can make financial plans less accurate.
“Women’s salaries typically peak at 40 [years of age] and men’s peak at 55… financial planners don’t use these assumptions,” she said. “Paying a fee for a financial planner also isn’t going to be as feasible for some women. They don’t have the same salaries or same incomes, so we wanted to make an affordable option.”
The fifth company to pitch at Demo Day is Visionary Beverages Ltd led by Branden Nikolaevsky (BBA’22). Visionary Beverages has developed a commercial drink, called Rewired, that uses an array of botanicals. With Health Canada-approved formulation, Rewired is a natural health product that harnesses the power of plants, bringing a unique and innovative beverage to the market.
As important as the potential for investment is at Angels’ Demo Day, the connections being made are equally valuable for these young entrepreneurs.
“We’ve been so happy with the result. I think investment in startups is all about connections, which is another main point of this event. We’re connected with so many investors, and we’re working with the teams, so it seems like a no-brainer for us to to bring both sides,” Edwards said.