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At QSperm, U of T engineers use “Sperm Olympics” to help couples get pregnant faster (Photo: Christopher Lance via Flickr).

In vitro fertilization is a costly, invasive process—but what if there was a way to vastly improve a woman’s chances of getting pregnant in fewer in vitro sessions?

Enter QSperm, a startup grounded in U of T Engineering-developed research from Professor David Sinton (MIE), PhD student Reza Nosrati (MechE PhD 1T6) and alumna Lise Eamer (MechE 0T8, MASc 1T3).

“QSperm is a one-step, inexpensive and easy-to-use device that selects the best sperm for assisted reproduction,” said Eamer. “It races the sperm against each other in a sort of miniature obstacle course in order to select the highest quality sperm to improve the success rates of assisted reproduction.”

Eamer is a researcher at the Sinton Lab where the science behind QSperm got its start. She says the current success rate for assisted reproduction in Canada is only 24 per cent.

“By selecting the highest quality sperm, we aim to improve the success rates and reduce the number of fertilization cycles that couples require to conceive. This will help reduce both the financial and emotional burden of trying to conceive,” she explained.

Last spring, U of T News profiled QSperm as the team competed in the finals of an international life-sciences-based startup competition called OneStart. (Read the original article here

With the competition again opening its call for applicants, Eamer looks back at the lessons QSperm learned in last year’s edition. And she talks about the entrepreneurship support her company continues to receive at U of T to help QSperm develop as a business.

How did taking part in an international competition help you develop your entrepreneurship skills?

The OneStart competition had many components which really helped in honing my business skills. The bootcamp in San Francisco was a great opportunity to learn about what makes companies attractive to investors, and how to sell them on your idea.

We also had breakout discussion groups based on our type of technology which made it possible to discuss the challenges specific to our businesses. In our case, there was a lot of discussion surrounding regulatory approval which is definitely something we must understand.

What I liked most about the bootcamp was the speed networking. The organizers set up a speed networking session with serial entrepreneurs, startup CEOs and investment directors. It was a great opportunity to make key contacts that will help us in moving forward. Working closely with a mentor was an invaluable experience which I strongly recommend to all entrepreneurs.

Why did you apply to OneStart?

First, it is geared specifically to startups in the healthcare industry, so it is a great opportunity for medical device companies and therapeutics.

Second, OneStart paired us with a mentor. Our mentor helped us develop a strong business plan and presentation which helped us get into the finals. Although the competition wrapped up in May we are continuing to work with our mentor to engage angel investors and potential partners.

What’s happened with your startup since we last spoke—any major milestones?

We have made some design changes to better meet user needs. We’ve also established some key partnerships that will make it possible for us to move to the next stage of commercialization.

How has U of T continued to support your startup?

Its technology was developed in the Sinton Lab in the department of mechanical and industrial engineering. I would like to acknowledge those that continue to work with me on this project, Professor David Sinton, Dr. Marion Vollmer (MIE) and Reza Nosrati. We have also received unbridled support from the University of Toronto Innovations and Partnerships Office, as well as MaRS Innovation.

What’s next for your company?

In the next year we are working on finalizing the design and conducting the final validation testing. We are of course continuing to develop our network of contacts and mentors in order to continue to hone our business and entrepreneurial skills.

Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs at U of T?

To aspiring entrepreneurs at U of T, I would strongly recommend making use of the large variety of resources available to budding entrepreneurs at the university as well as through MaRS and the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs.

It is also of utmost importance to find strong mentors. We have learned a lot from our continued work with various mentors, and they have served as one of the best resources. You should work on continuously growing your network since you never know where you will find someone who can help you advance your business idea.

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Marit Mitchell
Communications & Media Relations Specialist