The 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.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, an estimated 1,450 Canadian women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2022 and an estimated 380 will die from it. Early screening is the best tool for early detection and treatment. In metropolitan areas of Canada, doctors or screening centres are often not far away but for many rural and remote areas of the country, accessing screening can be hundreds of kilometres away.

Karen Yeates headshot
Dr. Karen Yeates, founder of WEMA. 
Photo courtesy of Dr. Yeates.

WEMA hopes to address this gap for people who live in remote areas, both in Canada and abroad. Women’s Health Equity through Mobile Approaches (WEMA) is a not-for-profit co-founded by Queen’s University Professor Karen Yeates. Dr. Yeates is a clinician-scientist with a global health research focus in mobile health (mHealth) and how it can improve access to prevention, detection, and treatment for non-communicable diseases, and access to reproductive health services.

One of the first offerings of WEMA is SEVIA (Smartphone Enhanced Visual Assessment), which can increase access and accuracy of cervical cancer screening through virtual screening. SEVIA enables accurate diagnosis and treatment at home, thereby eliminating the need for people with cervixes to receive higher quality screening services and reducing the need for travel to clinics that may be a long distance from their home.

After WEMA participated in the Falcons' Fortune Pitch Competition, hosted by FACIT in March 2022 and with support from Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI), the company joined QPI’s Wings Accelerator program through Queen’s Startup Runway. The Wings program provides early-stage founders with small group workshops and individual coaching by experienced mentors to help them assess the feasibility of their business idea, validate their proposed value proposition, and begin the development of a viable business model.

“We received excellent feedback and ideas on how to develop our business model and how to clarify the proposition based on the targeted customer,” says Dr. Yeates. “Based on this feedback on different approaches to customer engagement and how to represent our product, we were able to implement it immediately.”

Following their participation in Wings, the WEMA team was introduced to the WE-CAN Project, to connect with the regional community of women entrepreneurs and participate in additional workshops and learning opportunities.

WEMA hopes to disrupt the current model of labour-intensive 1:1 training and improve the quality and access to cervical cancer screening through their application and platform. While the mobile application has primarily been used in low-resource settings in Africa, it has other potential applications in high resource settings where women and their access to primary care may present a challenge. If the program was combined with human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA self-sampling, set to be rolled out in many parts of Canada, WEMA could speed up additional screening that is required among women who test positive for high-risk HPV.

“We are really passionate about women’s health and access to important healthcare,” says Dr. Yeates. “Beyond developing an innovative technology platform, we want to empower women to seek screening for cervical cancer through early detection and preventive care that is currently unavailable to those living in low resource countries or areas of countries.”

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 and support from FedDev Ontario, 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.