Nanorobots and hydrogen fuel cell technology among i2I Venture Pitch 2023 winners

Oct 20, 2023

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six people scientist innovators standing staircase business attire

2023 i2I Venture Pitch Competition finalists. Top (L-R): Dr. Prince Kumar Lat, Emmanuel Balogun, Robert Teodoropol. Bottom (L-R): Aurelia Laxdal, Alisa Berger, Dr. Priyadarshini Balaraman. Photo credit: Kevin Pilar

Advancements in mRNA drug delivery with nanorobots and hydrogen fuel cell technology took home the prizes at this year’s invention to Innovation (i2I) Venture Competition at SFU’s Beedie School of Business.

The annual event is a platform celebrating a group of entrepreneurial scientists graduating from SFU Beedie’s Invention to Innovation (i2I) Graduate Certificate in Science and Technology Commercialization. It provides an opportunity for six participants to pitch their research-based innovation ideas to a panel of expert judges. This competition is renowned for its ability to propel innovative ideas, offering not only financial rewards but also invaluable mentorship opportunities.

As the program is now available to participants across Canada, this year’s event was hosted in person and online, with a judging panel from across Canada, and interactive opportunities for the virtual audience to connect, learn about, and celebrate innovation.

In the Venture Pitch competition, six finalists are selected from the graduating i2I cohort to compete in two categories, both with prize money in the amount of $2,500 CAD for the earlier stage Emerging Venture category, sponsored by SFU’s Charles Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship, and $5,000 CAD for the more developed Product-Ready Venture category, sponsored by SFU Beedie.

In the emerging category, Dr. Prince Kumar Lat has taken home the award for DNA Transformatica with his venture focused on targeted mRNA drug delivery. In the Product-Ready Venture category, Emmanuel Balogun won for H2Xplore Hydrogen, his venture specializing in cost-effective fuel cell testing services.

“One of the key factors limiting Canada’s ability to translate world-class research into sustainable solutions is the lack of people who can translate between the worlds of science and business,” says Dr. Sarah Lubik, national director of i2I. “It’s an honour to witness the journeys and dedication of these entrepreneurial scientists and their courage not just to advance research but to invest their time and effort into expanding their comfort zones, skillsets, and mindsets to become the innovation capacity that Canada needs. A huge congratulations to this year’s winners and all the incredible alumni from the program!”

This year’s finalists were:

Dr. Priyadarshini Balaraman, PhD, founder of Sustainable Fragrances

Dr. Balaraman is a scientist entrepreneur and a recent PhD graduate from SFU. She currently works as a manager of laboratory operations at SFU. With more than 12 years of research experience in multi-disciplinary fields, including protein biochemistry, molecular biology, microbiology, and more, her innovation idea is to develop sustainable fragrances through the production of bioactive organic compounds using metabolic engineering in microbial organisms. As an alternative to harvesting natural materials, her venture focuses on an eco-friendly way to make sandalwood and other fragrances of better quality at improved prices and accessibility.

Emmanuel Balogun, co-founder of H2Xplore and research scientist at SFU, PhD candidate

Balogun is a hydrogen fuel cell scientist with a passion for driving the global shift towards more energy-efficient economies. He is completing his PhD at SFU, with a focus on designing environmentally friendly fuel cell energy converters. Balogun co-founded H2Xplore, a company specializing in cost-effective fuel cell testing services that are tailored to meet the needs of this emerging sector of the Canadian hydrogen economy.

Alisa Berger, co-founder of IsoStage

While completing an undergraduate degree in kinesiology at SFU and spending countless hours at the gym, Berger realized that one of the most beneficial forms of strength training is missing from most people’s workout routines. Inspired by trends in fitness and technology, she and her father developed a novel invention for isometric training over a few months of tinkering in the garage. They obtained a patent on the technology and are in the early stages of launching their fitness equipment company, IsoStage.

Dr. Prince Kumar Lat, PhD, founder of DNA Transformatica

Kumar Lat has a background in engineering and a deep interest in biology. He holds a BTech in bioengineering from IIT Kanpur, India and a PhD in biophysics and computational biology from SFU. He has published six high-impact research articles spanning the domain of DNA nanotechnology and computational biology. He is working on a thermostable and reversible DNA nanocage for targeted mRNA drug delivery through his venture, DNA Transformatica.

Aurelia Laxdal, Peng, PhD candidate

Aurelia Laxdal is a nuclear engineer at TRIUMF, Canada’s particle accelerator center for nuclear and particle physics research. Laxdal is interested in the process of transforming R&D to technical innovation and commercialization, and is currently working on a proton therapy centre for advanced cancer research in B.C. She is also pursuing a PhD in nuclear physics through the University of Liverpool.

Robert Teodoropol, founder of ARcana

Robert Teodoropol is an electrical engineer working in the tech industry. He is an enthusiast of all things silicon and believes technology can save the world. Teodoropol, who graduated from UBCO with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a minor in computer science, specializes in developing embedded devices and firmware. Currently, Teodoropol is working on a software solution to create more ergonomic AR glasses with no wires, straps, battery problems, or gimmicks.

The finalists presented their ideas to a panel of expert judges who are leaders in Canada’s science innovation ecosystems. This year’s expert judges were:

  • Mark Betteridge, CEO of Mark Betteridge & Associates (MBA) Inc.
  • Jesse Vincent-Herscovici, CEO of Axelys
  • Kelly Nolan, Senior Director, Research and Innovation Partnerships, Queen’s University.
  • Omar Mawji, Venture Partner, BC Center for Innovation and Clean Energy
  • John Dick, Director of Velocity Campus, University of Waterloo

Based on deep research and industry expertise in the commercialization of science-based ventures, the award-winning i2I graduate certificate has empowered eight cohorts of PhD, postdoctoral fellows, and researchers to create greater impact on regional, national, and international science innovation ecosystems.

The year-long, part-time i2I program empowers scientists and engineers to develop and commercialize solutions for pressing global issues while continuing to advance their research, fostering and entrepreneurial mindset and driving culture change. By the program’s end, participants are equipped to take their business and translational skills into industry, create new science-based ventures, or become scientists ready to translate their research into impact.

Since fall 2019, aspiring scientist and technology entrepreneurs across Canada have also been able to access the i2I program with the launch of the Mitacs i2I Skills Training. The Mitacs i2I Skills Training program won international recognition in 2020 after the pilot offering was highlighted among the annual Innovations That Inspire named by AACSB—the world’s largest business education network.

Delivered in partnership with Mitacs, the program now offers cohorts in partnership with Queen’s, Dalhousie, and Memorial University, and launched a French cohort this year with collaborators from Laval University and Polytechnique Montreal. The program will continue national expansion next year with partners with the University of Alberta and University of Waterloo.  This year i2I is also part of a pilot program with NRC-IRAP, Unlocking Innovation Potential with Venture Labs, SFUInnovates, and the Charles Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship at SFU.

In 2022, i2I was recognized as a key component of the thriving innovation ecosystem at SFU, which was ranked by the World Universities for Real Impact (WURI) rankings system as being the top innovative university in Canada and ranked second in the world for our entrepreneurial spirit.

We want to thank our esteemed panel of judges for their support as well as SFU’s Charles Chang Institute of Entrepreneurship and SFU Beedie for their generous sponsorship.

If you are interested in becoming part of next year’s cohort, we would love to hear from you.  Please visit us at for more information or email us at: