UAlberta grad students win major TEC VenturePrize
Students commercializing a remote temperature monitoring system they developed for the restaurant industry.
By RICHARD CAIRNEY
A pair of entrepreneurial graduate students at the University of Alberta won the $30,000 TEC VenturePrize Telus ICT Award with a technology that will help restauranteurs maintain food safety.
Zack Storms and Preetam Anbukarasu devised a remote temperature monitoring system they dubbed Preza T-Monitor, which is composed of smart sensors that monitor and record temperatures in refrigeration units wirelessly, improving reliability and safety.
Some large restaurants can have as many as 20 walk-in refrigeration units. Regulations require that someone go into the unit, check the temperature and record it on a sheet of paper, three times a day.
The system is time-consuming and hardly foolproof.
The technology developed by Storms and Anbukarasu stores temperature readings that are recorded 24 hours a day by sensors. If the temperature falls below a set point, alerts are sent.
“From a restaurant manager’s position, this is helpful because you know the work is being done,” said Storms. “It gives you a record and you know the monitoring is being done.”
So do restaurant inspectors, who review the records.
“It’s reliable and it’s a simple system—you can install it yourself,” said Storms.
It’s no surprise the two graduate students started their own company, Preza Technologies, or that they’re focusing on food safety. Both came to UAlberta seeking to launch a technology company and both worked in a research lab run by materials engineering professors Anastasia Elias and Dominic Sauvageau, in which “smart packaging” that protects consumers from contaminated food was being developed.
“We were initially drawn to the smart packaging project because Drs. Elias and Sauvageau specifically wanted to commercialize their research and were happy to give their students the freedom to pursue technology development and drive the research in commercially relevant directions,” said Storms.
Storms and Anbukarasu realized the smart packaging project has a long road to commercialization so they actively looked for a technology they could develop with a much shorter timeline to commercialization.
As part of the MBA program in which he’s in right now, he conducted a detailed market survey of the restaurant industry, which revealed an opportunity to develop the Preza T-Monitor technology and commercialize it.
“We wanted to get our company started, build revenue, gain experience and be ready for bigger research commercialization projects as they arise. We’re hopeful the smart packaging project will be part of our future,” explained Storms.
Storms earned his PhD in chemical engineering at McGill and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at UAlberta’s Faculty of Engineering, with funding from Alberta Innovates—Technology Futures aimed at entrepreneurial researchers, before embarking on his MBA.
Meanwhile Anbukarasu is completing his PhD in materials engineering this year.
The two are investing the $30,000 prize from the competition into their company.
Over the summer, they will test a basic version of the product and hope to land their first sales by August. They’re also working with senior UAlberta engineering and computing science undergraduate students to find ways to improve their hardware and software.
In the longer term, Storms and Anbukarasu are hoping to leverage a new graduate student internship program to conduct research in partnership with UAlberta professors to develop more advanced sensing platforms that use energy harvesting strategies to extend the battery life of the sensors.