Five years ago, Mike Brown broke his back, leaving him with severe spinal injuries and bladder problems.
Fast-forward to the present. Brown and the rest of the Uri-Go team have developed award-winning technology to help those suffering from similar difficulties – and now can claim the top prize from Callaghan Innovation’s 2017 C-Prize technology competition to show for their work. The win secures support worth $100,000 for Uri-Go to develop and market their product.
The Uri-Go team.
Uri-Go has created a wearable bladder sensor for people who have difficulties telling if they need to use the restroom. This can include those with a spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s or numerous other conditions. “In my case, it can lead to embarrassment, but it also puts me at risk of contracting dangerous infections,” says Brown. “I just dreamed up this idea of a device I could wear that would tell me when my bladder was full. Essentially something that would notify my smartphone.”
Callaghan Innovation, the government’s business innovation agency, set up C-Prize to encourage people to push the boundaries of what’s possible through technology, and solve real-world challenges. This year’s edition of the competition focused on wearable technology to improve human performance and wellbeing.
When he found out about the C-Prize, Brown brought together a friend with technical expertise and a urologist, formed Uri-Go and started building prototypes. “The user testing we’ve done has been phenomenal,” he says. “We’ve proven beyond a doubt that there is a strong need. It’s comforting to know that the market really wants this innovation.”
Brown says he has “learned tremendously” from C-Prize and the connections he has made. “This competition is fantastic in its collaborative nature.”
Judging convenor Blythe Rees-Jones, an award-winning industrial designer, says Uri-Go’s product deserves to be an international success. “It is a really great idea and a highly innovative hardware-software solution. The team has shown the talent to pull this off and generated impressive momentum in their program.”
Callaghan Innovation CEO Vic Crone says the C-Prize helps the teams take a technology idea through to a prototype, then gives them international exposure. “C-Prize has already led to business success, with the top two teams in the 2015 competition, Vortec and Dotterel, forming companies that have earned acclaim on the world stage. Helping that success is what Callaghan Innovation’s all about.”
The 2015 C-Prize focused on drone technology for the film industry – an experience Vortec engineer Ryan Kurte says was “fantastic” for the business. “In the workshops on business development we learned things we apply all the time.”
Dotterel won “most innovative product” at a major US trade show, and recently completed one of the world’s largest business accelerator programmes, Techstars. Further, the company announced last week it had closed a funding round of AU$500,000.
Along with Uri-Go, nine other teams made the finals of C-Prize 2017. “Some exciting technology has been developed by these teams and we want that to turn into more successful high-tech businesses,” explains Crone.
The finalists each received $10,000 and support from Callaghan Innovation and NZTE to develop their wearable technology prototypes.
The other finalists were:
- Bobux: providing parents with information about their children’s foot health and shoe fit.
- Hauraki: improving communication for people with oral language impairment.
- Migo: helping people manage their moods, particularly anxiety and depression.
- Photonic Innovations: a methane detection wearable that aims to reduce gas explosion risks.
- Quoralis: providing people with foresight about their risk of falling.
- Rehabilitation Innovation Team: helping stroke rehabilitation by reading and stimulating brain activity.
- RippL: helping deaf people interact with their environments.
- Sculpt: improving how people in remote environments can know where each other is.
- Urusense: tracking muscle movement to better motivate people to exercise.
Blythe Rees-Jones says all the teams can take credit for tackling very difficult problems and giving powerful presentations to the judges. “The lengths the teams have gone to in creating innovative next-generation wearables is a testament to them and the C-Prize as a whole.”
Callaghan Innovation is the government’s innovation agency. Its programmes help hundreds of companies each year improve their ability to innovate, and it boosts business R&D through more than $140 million a year in grants.
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