Since its inception, Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation’s Wings program has helped a diverse, eclectic range of entrepreneurs and innovators successfully launch their businesses. Run by a team experienced in helping startups take flight and drawing on experts in a range of fields, the program has taught participants how to recognize their strengths, focus on what it is they are really selling, and identifying their customers. The program welcomed its final cohort of fledgling startups this January 2023. These are their stories.

“When you’re inventing, you’re usually on an island by yourself.”

Mantis mirror on bicycle helmet
The Manis Mirror on a bicycle helmet. Photo supplied by Mike Kelly.

That’s the intriguing way that Mike Kelly explains what motivated him to enter Queen’s Partnership and Innovation’s Wings startup accelerator program.

“Inventor” and “inventing” are terms we usually apply to people like Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell, tinkerers sequestered in a workshop somewhere, dreaming up the next telephone or lightbulb. So, it seems a strange way for an entrepreneur to describe himself. But what were those people but entrepreneurs? They had an idea, they developed it, and they got it out there.

A self-described “late bloomer,” a few years ago, in his late fifties, Kelly decided to enroll at Queen’s University to study psychology (“I graduated in 2020,” he says, “as their oldest psych graduate”). In addition to the work for his major, he enrolled in a course in entrepreneurship. Kelly keeps a book and whenever he has an idea – a potential invention, if you will – he writes it down. It’s one way of dealing with what he calls “inventoritis” – the danger that some idea you have had that is about to consume all your time and energy. The course sent him back to his ideas book.

“I’ve been biking for years,” he says, “and it’s just getting inherently more challenging.”

The danger is distracted driving. Because people are texting or eating, they may not notice a cyclist – and that’s a major problem when that distracted driver is coming up behind you. Lots of cyclists depend on a mirror that clips to their helmets, but that does not give you a clear view, especially if you are altering your posture on the bike. Trying to adjust them while riding is a dangerous business. What he calls his Mantis Mirror System overcomes this. It’s essentially two mirrors, one atop the other. One is useful when riding in a crouched position, the other when upright. A simple, efficient solution. From that initial course, one step led to another, ultimately leading him to Rick Boswell at Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI), who suggested he try the Wings program to help him focus his thinking on his newest invention (QPI has helped him in other ways, too. Kelly wrote the first U.S. patent application for his product, but QPI filed the Canadian application on his behalf and continues to look after the ongoing intellectual property (IP) process).

“Having people I could approach and soundboard off was a great benefit” he says. That included not just the instructors but his fellow participants. “Many inventors” – his words again – “have blinders on.” In Wings, he found that wasn’t the case. And the fact that the other program participants were working on disparate ideas didn’t really make a difference.

“It’s not rocket science,” he says. “There may be more money involved or regulatory aspects, but the concepts are all very similar. Being able to watch these people in their earlier stages and then in their later stages,” he says, “teaches you a lot about what it takes to bring an idea from napkin to market.”

Looking ahead, Kelly has developed an advanced prototype of his Mantis Mirror System. Hoping to avoid some of the problems he has had in the past with bringing some of his ideas to market, he has forged a number of advisory relationships, with people having experience in areas Kelly is weak in – “know your strengths when inventing” says Kelly.

As to whether he’ll be using QPI services (other than for IP work) in future, “I’ll keep the door open,” he says. In the meantime, he’s giving back. With approval from Rick Boswell, Kelly recently created and delivered a seminar through Queen’s called “To Invent, or Not to Invent – That is the Question.”

“I asked him, ‘Rick, can you give me a venue to help people not make the mistakes that I’ve made?’” Rick was agreeable and this May Kelly shared the benefits of his experience with a new crop of eager “inventors.”

Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI) offered the Wings Accelerator program, along with many other programs and services, with support from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, through the ScaleUp Platform, an initiative led by Invest Ottawa in Eastern Ontario and in which QPI is a regional partner.