CSI member Awake Labs recently came together with Holland Bloorview, Community Living Windsor, YouX Ventures, and the Ontario Brain Institute to bring a new technology to the intellectual and developmental disabilities community. They are integrating a patented and clinically validated technology developed by a group of scientists at Holland Bloorview (the Anxiety Meter) with their existing platform, (Reveal Stories). The Anxiety Meter translates a user’s heart rate into their anxiety level so that the user and their care team can know when to apply relaxation strategies. Integrating it with Reveal Stories will allow care teams to have access to the most up-to-date strategies, and to share important information about potential triggers. Learn more in this press release.
We checked in with Awake Labs’ Chief Product Officer Paul Fijal to learn more about this project.
How is the project with Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital going so far?
Our project with Holland Bloorview is going great! We’ve been working hard over the last few months to get the app ready and set up the pilot with all of our collaborators. Right now, we are a couple weeks away from the official kickoff date and everyone is a little nervous, but excited!
The pilot will officially start during the week of March 20th. It will last a few months, during which we’ll be collecting feedback from our users to understand the impact that the Anxiety Meter and Reveal Stories are having on their daily lives. We want to know things like; how is their quality of life improving? Are personal support workers feeling more confident in their approach to care? Does this tool help promote independence for adults with disabilities? These questions will guide further improvements as we make this tool available to those who need it.
We’re very lucky to be working with a remarkable team of people with disabilities and their direct support workers, as well as world class designers, community service providers, engineers, and scientists to bring this project to life. A big focus for us is to make sure that we are having a meaningful impact on the daily life of people with disabilities. We do our best to involve them and get their feedback on how we can improve every step of the way.
This work also has a special significance for Awake Labs. Our company first began as a university project at UBC in Vancouver back in 2014. At that time, we reached out to one of the scientists who developed the Anxiety Meter and she was kind enough to offer her feedback to a group of students on the other side of the country. Here we are a few years later collaborating with this same scientist and her team to help bring their technology to market.
What is the most surprising thing you have learned since you started Awake Labs?
One of the most surprising things I’ve learned so far is how many people immediately connect with our mission and rally together to work towards our shared vision of the future.
Let me give you a very recent example. About a month ago, we solidified a partnership with a large therapy provider in the US who is interested in doing research with us. We are working together to develop new techniques that will improve therapy outcomes for youth and adults with autism. They don’t have a big research budget, so we decided the best way to move forward was to co-apply for a grant. But there was a catch; to be eligible for this grant, the main applicant needed to hold a faculty position at a university… which neither of us have.
Fast forward a couple weeks and we are still looking for a faculty member who might be willing to put their name forward as the principle investigator for this grant. 10 days before the due date, a professor from New Jersey reached out to us through our website. We quickly set up a phone call and we immediately connected with this professor over our common goal: to better understand how to improve quality of life outcomes for youth and adults with autism. It felt like a match made in heaven. After about 20 minutes we asked her the fateful question: “Do you want to put your name on this grant application with us?”
Not only did she say yes, she even brought along another company who would strengthen our application. In 10 days, the whole group managed to write a proposal, consolidate a 3-year budget, pull together references and resumes and successfully submit the application.
It was a real trial-by-fire, diving-into-the-deep-end kind of start to our partnerships with these groups and a real testament to what can be accomplished when people are aligned and working towards the same goal.
What is your biggest hope for Awake Labs? What does the world look like if all those hopes come true?
The world that we would like to see if one where there are no barriers to accessing health, education, and other support services. We want to see people getting access to services that are personalized and that respect their own goals and values regardless where they are from, where they live, their age or size of their bank accounts. The biggest hope for Awake Labs is to be a part of that new reality.
Our first idea for Awake Labs was to build tools that could predict the onset of anxiety for people who have trouble being understood because they do not communicate verbally. We decided to build a company because those same people told us they would benefit from these tools. Another big hope for us is to see that original mission through to completion. We are well on our way, though we know there is a lot left to do.
In the years since we started the company, we’ve learned a lot more about the challenges that exist for people with disabilities to access health, education, and other services that are often taken for granted. We see the impacts of those challenges on people with disabilities and their families. This is what motivates our team to persevere and drive our mission forward.
How has being a CSI member impacted your work so far? (Any great connections, conversations, collaborations?)
Being a CSI member has been a blessing for Awake Labs. Everyone on our team loves to be a part of this vibrant and badass community of changemakers. It is motivating to come to work when you’re surrounded by people who work every day to change the world! Like our 3rd floor neighbour Luke from StopGap, or our tamal-making-partner-in-crime, Anabelle.
As a small, scrappy startup, we have had (and will continue to have) our shares of ups and downs. What has remained consistent since we’ve joined CSI is the support we get from the community. We are grateful for your patience, understanding, and encouragement. We’re also grateful for all the little things that add up to make a big difference like Bagel Bonding, Salad Club, Morning Yoga, the smell of Marcus’ daily morning burrito, or Stefan’s monthly call-to-innovator-drinks.
It also doesn’t hurt to have daily visits from a few of our furry friends who roam the halls looking for treats.
How can CSI members (or anyone!) get involved in Awake Labs?
There are plenty of ways to get in touch with Awake Labs! Send us an email at email@example.com, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We’re always happy to hear from you! If you’re lucky enough to be a member of CSI, drop by our office a 192 Spadina office 304. There may even be some Mexican treats for you to eat!
If anyone wants to get involved with the project with Holland Bloorview, we are looking for a self-advocate advisor who can help us understand the impact of the project on people with disabilities. This is a paid position! If you or someone you know is interested in finding out more, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
BONUS QUESTION: What is your favourite portrayal of wearable technology in pop culture?
My favourite examples of wearables are the ones that are real and already changing lives!
Wearables are already transforming our health. They influence behaviour change to form new healthy habits, like FitBit’s 10,000 steps that encourages people around the world to walk more.
They replace daily necessary but painful tasks like measuring glucose levels for people with diabetes through wearable continuous glucose monitors.
And they even are saving lives, like the wearables that detect seizures for people with epilepsy and notify their loved ones and emergency services.
And soon – wearables to help manage anxiety and prevent significant health challenges for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.