Scientist Innovators Celebrated at Mitacs i2I Skills Training Finale

May 17, 2021


Scientist Innovators with novel clean tech and biomedical processes took home top honours at the 2021 Mitacs Invention to Innovation (i2I) Skills Training Finale. Morgan Lehtinen, Founder and CEO of Micellotech was named the winner and Karolina Valente, CEO, President & Co-Founder of Voxcell the runner up at the Mitacs Invention to Innovation (i2I) Skills Training Final Pitch event, the culmination of a seventh month experience that develops an entrepreneurial mindset and innovation skills in research scientists and engineers. Through their partnership with SFU’s Beedie School of Business and Queen’s Engineering, Mitacs offers the i2I Skills Training to current and former interns across much of Canada, with Queen’s adding additional Innovation Scholars. The first cohort attracted PhD students and postdoc students from top universities across Canada, including Queen’s, McGill, Ryerson, McMaster, Waterloo, U Manitoba, U Calgary, U Alberta, SFU, UBC and the University of Victoria.

Universities have demonstrated the relevance of their emerging research to address the global pandemic and our climate crisis. Yet research scientists too often struggle to turn their laboratory inventions into innovations solving unmet needs. This part-time training enables research scientists and engineers to create greater impact with their inventions. Throughout the 7-month experience, scientists apply i2I course material to their innovation ideas, often based on their own scientific inventions. In the process, they develop into more effective scientist-entrepreneurs, innovation leaders, and translational scientists who know how to prioritize market applications for their inventions, attract investors and alliance partners, and sell the value of their product or service.

The pitch event was held in a virtual format this year, as finalists presented their research-based innovation ideas to a panel of expert judges with science commercialization, industrial innovation, angel investment, and legal expertise. Five finalists were selected from the graduating cohort:

  • Karolina Valente, CEO, President & Co-Founder of Voxcell. Karolina has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Chemical Engineering from the Instituto Superior Tecnico of Lisbon, Portugal. She has recently received her Ph.D. degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Victoria after devoting five years to investigating tissue engineering techniques and drug delivery systems. Valente is also an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Victoria.
  • Morgan Lehtinen, Founder and CEO of Micellotech, a start up with the mission to make industrial wastewater contamination in our water systems a problem of the past. Entering the home stretch of her PhD in Chemistry at Queen’s University, Lehtinen is fueled by her purpose of using scientific innovation to create a sustainable future. Lehtinen joined the Mitacs i2I cohort as a Frank Maine Innovation Scholar.
  • Anthony Tam, research scientist at NanoVation Therapeutics, working on the use of nanomedicine in optimizing and targeting different disease tissue types. Tam received his PhD in Experimental Medicine from the University of British Columbia and pursued his post-doctoral training at BC Children’s Hospital on gene editing. He is currently serving as Review Editor in the journal Frontiers in Network Physiology.
  • Yevgen Nazarenko, research associate at the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at McGill University in Montreal. Prior to joining McGill, Nazarenko was a Fulbright Ph.D. student in environmental sciences at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA, where he conducted multidisciplinary research focusing on aerosol science and air pollution.
  • Yao Yao Ding, president and co-founder of B3D Performance Inc, an award-winning additive manufacturing engineering company. She is in charge of business relationships and development. Before founding B3D, Yao Yao graduated from McGill University with a PhD degree in Materials Engineering in 2016. In 2008 and 2011, respectively, she graduated from the University of Auckland (New Zealand) with a Bachelor in Biotechnology and a Master in Materials Engineering.

“As the Mitacs i2I Skills Training has expanded across more of Canada, in partnership with Queen’s Engineering, it is helping to develop an outstanding group of scientist innovators, each of whom are making contributions to the national science innovation ecosystem as scientist-entrepreneurs, as champions of innovation in industry, and as translational scientists,” says Elicia Maine, W.J. VanDusen Professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship at SFU Beedie and Academic Director of the Invention to Innovation (i2I) program. “We are very grateful to Mitacs for their continued partnership on i2I and ability to create a national innovation ecosystem, and also to the mentors and judges who provide feedback, advice and connections for our scientist innovators.”

Mitacs CEO Dr John Hepburn, who gave a keynote speech on Building the Canadian Science Innovation Ecosystem during the judges’ deliberation, believes that developing talent is the answer. “We all know how powerful the Canadian universities are and what a great research ecosystem we have at the university level,” he says.

“We’re not so good at promoting innovation in Canada and getting ideas out of the universities out into society. Great ideas in universities don’t necessarily translate into benefits to Canadians and an expanded innovation ecosystem. At Mitacs, we believe talent is the secret to that. We believe very firmly that innovation is driven by people and we need more people like the Mitacs i2I scientist innovator pitch finalists.”

The Mitacs i2I Skills Training program grew from SFU Beedie’s graduate certificate i2I program, which has supported six cohorts of successful scientist innovators. The i2i Skills Training adaptation has won international recognition, after the pilot offering was highlighted among the annual Innovations That Inspire named by AACSB International (AACSB) — the world’s largest business education network.  Applications are now open for the 2021/22 cohort: