The Queen's Partnerships and Innovation (QPI) team develops and facilitates partnerships with industry, governments, not-for-profit organizations, and other academic institutions to advance the research enterprise at Queen’s and the commercialization and protection of inventions, and to strengthen the regional innovation ecosystem in Kingston and Eastern Ontario.

Queen's Partnerships and Innovation (QPI) team supports the university’s strategic goal to build community partnerships and fully embed Queen’s in the community. With support from external funding, the QPI team offers numerous services, resources, and programs to support entrepreneurs, including those from Queen’s, and to accelerate the growth of startups and small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) within Kingston and Eastern Ontario.

Glaucoma is a disease that can develop over time and many people don’t know they have it until they lose some of their sight. Regular eye check ups can help with early detection and diagnosis, but the process can be long and time consuming. Intraocular pressure (IOP) is currently the only modifiable risk factor for the progression of glaucoma. IOP is measured using tonometry and varies over time; however, the tonometry method currently being used only gives the doctor single snapshots of the IOP, which is measured only at the time the patient is in the doctor’s office.

A new method developed from Professor Yongjun Lai’s lab at Queen’s University is proving to be more effective. The novel device is a contact lens with an embedded AI microfluidic microchannel. A smartphone camera is used to measure movement of the microfluid within the channel enabling accurate calculation of the IOP within the patient’s eye(s). This method can provide a more accurate IOP reading and help in earlier diagnosis while also improving treatment efficacy for glaucoma patients.

A first patent for initial devices and their use was granted in 2020 and a separate patent application claiming improved lenses was filed by QPI in 2019 and is under prosecution.

In July 2021, Angelica Campigotto under the supervision of Dr. Lai participated in the Lab2Market program, which aims to help researchers validate their ideas with the purpose of finding commercial value for their technologies or inventions. During the program, Ms. Campigotto (PhD candidate at the time) conducted a commercial feasibility assessment and undertook market research for the technology.

“Through Ms. Campigotto’s research, we found that many doctors in this space were very open to the idea of a new method that would provide better results,” says Dr. Lai.

To build on this market research and to further the technology and get it into the hands of doctors, Dr. Lai, along with Dr. Tanzila Afrin (Co-Founder), Angelica Compigotto (Director), and Dr. Rob Campbell (Co-Founder) e founded a company called LenSense in April 2022, with support from Dr. Michael Wells, Partnerships Development Officer with QPI.

“We had the opportunity to take existing Queen’s technology and create a company, through a collaboration with the Toronto Innovation Acceleration Partners (TIAP), a not-for-profit organization with a mandate to bring members’ most promising research breakthroughs to market,” says Dr. Wells. “LenSense was a great fit for the program.”

One of the first steps for Dr. Afrin was to immerse herself in the entrepreneurial journey. She joined the Queen’s x TandemLaunch program in the spring of 2022, which enables Queen’s graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in STEM to gain valuable entrepreneurial training and real-world exposure to the entrepreneurial journey. Following the Queen’s x TandemLaunch program, Dr. Wells encouraged Dr. Afrin to enroll in QPI’s Wings Acceleration program, which aims to helps startups in the early, pre-revenue, stages of development. Wings provides founders with the tools and guidance they need to evaluate the feasibility of their business idea, determine its value proposition, and to begin developing a working business model.

”I was a newbie in a start-up. Both Wings and TandemLaunch gave me a basic idea of business fundamentals,” says Dr. Afrin. “I learned how to determine market value, differentiate products, and determine market size. As a result of all this knowledge, I have developed a business plan that outlines my next steps. Furthermore, Wings provided me with valuable networking opportunities.”

Now that LenSense has completed the Wings program, they have some big milestones to meet. The company is currently working on a better understanding of the lens performance, improving the lens materials for patient comfort and making the design more user-friendly.

“We now have a prototype to work with,” says Dr. Afrin. “But we need to perform clinical trials before we can fully commercialize the product. This requires an improvement in performance, and we need approval from the Queen’s Research and Ethics Board.”

In the meantime, Dr. Afrin says she’s focused on applying for more funding and building her network. Recently she has connected with QPI’s WE-CAN Project to take part in workshops and learning opportunities.

“Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation has been great at connecting me with a variety of opportunities to ensure LenSense is a success. I look forward to what the future brings!” adds Dr. Afrin.

Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation is involved as the lead or partner in several projects enabled with support from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario). Wings is offered through the Scale-Up Platform, an initiative supported by FedDev Ontario and led by Invest Ottawa in Eastern Ontario and in which QPI is a regional partner. The WE-CAN Project, led by QPI, has been made possible with funding from the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) Ecosystem Fund to strengthen capacity within the entrepreneurship ecosystem and close gaps in service for women entrepreneurs. The HI YGK Project, supported by FedDev Ontario, is led by the City of Kingston and aims to encourage health-innovation focused startups and SMEs to develop and grow in Kingston. The Venture Builder Program, also supported by FedDev Ontario, is led by TIAP and enables the establishment of up to four healthcare newcos that are commercializing intellectual property from Queen’s research.