The true story of how a Canadian startup moved to Brisbane
The world is a weird place. You never really know who you’re going to meet next, or how one new connection can spark a chain of many more that ultimately when looked back upon resembles a journey.
Our connection to Australia started at the Queen’s Entrepreneurs Competition.
I pitched in a room with four investors and financial experts in the preliminary judging round. One of these judges was John Trang (pictured above). John pulled me aside after the judging round, and said “you need to talk to my wife Marisa [Caple]. She created the famous YouTube video ‘Dear 16 Year Old Me’ and she could open doors for you in the skin cancer community.” We exchanged business cards, and I followed up over email with John later that evening.
Marisa came from a background in marketing and advertising and was completing her Masters in Public Health. I learned public health professionals correlate behaviour change, influencing factors, and epidemiological data (ie. studies about the population over time) to drive better health standards for a population. This was almost too perfect to be true. A new friend who was an expert in marketing and advertising, directed one of the most popular skin cancer awareness campaigns of all time, and now was able to help shed light on how we can use behaviour change (better sun protection behaviours!) to direct change in a population from the perspective of public health professionals.
When it comes to research about sun exposure and skin cancer, no country has more published data than Australia. Marisa set us up with an introductory meeting with the Cancer Council of NSW, and we were then given a list of follow-up tasks. Our most important follow-up was to have the industry experts in sun exposure and skin cancer publish peer reviewed studies about the performance of our product Spot so they could validate the technology would provide a positive public health impact — a perfectly reasonable demand.
We found Dr. Elke Hacker of QUT and her investigation into sun protective devices. We scheduled a phone call, she loved it, and our research partnership was ready to go!
Meanwhile we’d been pitching to Johnson & Johnson to become Quickfire Challenge winners of their new JLABS at Toronto program that was due to open in June.
We won the J&J challenge, and began to work with Rebecca Yu and her team at the site.
We mentioned to the team at JLABS we were about to do some clinical trials in Australia. Our mentors mentioned Johnson & Johnson had opened a partnering office in Australia, and were looking for J&J mentored companies to move in. Once again another intro phone call was setup.
We began talking to the director of the new Australian J&J Partnering Office and she offered us a desk if we wanted to move . We looked up where Dr. Hacker’s office was, and to our surprise they were not only in the same building, but on the same floor as well — just across the hall from each other.
So with an office and research happening in the same building, in the same town, half way around the world, the question then became: How do we get to Australia?
Well, we used the help of our two new friends. Kathy told us about the Hot DesQ program, and Elke introduced us to Tim Evans from BlueBox (QUT’s entrepreneurship hub). When we looked at the Hot DesQ program, we noticed that QUT Bluebox was one of the host organizations. Everything seemed to be making too much sense for it not to be a sure thing! We applied for $100k in funding to establish research partnerships, conduct high quality research, and generate sales in a market that is perfect for Spot.
We received word we’d been accepted into Hot DesQ. Our first clinical trials began at the end of October, so I booked my flight to arrive in Brisbane by October 19th, just before the start of Australia’s summer. The above picture shows me at the Queensland University of Technology Gardens Point campus, filming a promotional video for Hot DesQ
Now we’ve arrived, we’re going to be working with Dr. Hacker and her team at QUT, as well as other skin cancer and dermatology experts from QUT, UQ, and the surrounding scientific community. We’re looking forward to working with Surf Life Saving Queensland as some of their branches have expressed interest in being pilot groups with Spot.
Being in Brisbane has opened up the opportunity to be a part of so many skin cancer and sun protection conferences that we would have never had the opportunity to be a part of in Canada. I’ve learned about novel skin cancer therapies at the Brisbane Cancer Conference, the struggles of translational research in Queensland at TRX 2016, and about better strategies for a harmonized sun protection solution through focus sessions at QUT’s Sun Protection Forum. I’ve been able to get active in the Life Sciences Queensland (LSQ) community, and they’ve been able to open the doors for us to investors and
In 2017, we’ll finish conducting our high quality research to show Spots are effective. Then, we’ll bring you Spots. We promise. And they will be legendary.