STEM student gets seasoning at Edmonton start-up
Outbreaker Solutions, an Edmonton-based biotechnology company, is onto something very innovative. The company is developing an antimicrobial touch surface that kills 99.9 percent of harmful pathogens. The surface is made of compressed sodium chloride (CSC), also known as table salt.
So, while most of us were using table salt to season food, entrepreneurs Matt Hodgson and Brayden Whitlock were teaming with inventor Doug Olson to commercialize a technology that uses table salt to kill harmful bacteria. No big deal. It’s a process that starts with compressing salt at extremely high pressures.
Think of turning coal into a diamond. You’ll never look at your saltshaker the same way again.
When the global pandemic hit, interest in Outbreaker Solutions’ proprietary technology spiked. The company had to find a way to scale quickly.
“We were in the fortunate position of developing a surface that kills harmful pathogens well before the global pandemic of COVID-19 began,” says Outbreaker Solutions Co-Founder and Director of Business Development, Matt Hodgson. “The boom in interest made it necessary to increase our team size to expedite development, research, and establishing partnerships.”
The start-up looked to the University of Alberta Health Accelerator for answers. It was through this that Outbreaker Solutions was introduced to BioTalent Canada and its Student Work Placement Program (SWPP) wage subsidy.
“We had several projects on the go and needed to increase our team in order to execute on the projects,” says Hodgson. “As a start-up, wage support programs are extremely valuable in growing your team to explore opportunities without vastly increasing costs.”
Enter Outbreaker Solutions’ SWPP participant and University of Alberta student Paramita Chaudhuri Basu. She was brought on to help with business development. She did that and then some. Paramita played an active role in planning and executing marketing initiatives that have built awareness of Outbreaker Solutions.
Her greatest accomplishment? She was the driving force behind the planning and launch of a pilot project with the Edmonton Transit Service to install their touch plates on swinging doors in transit centres.
Not a bad return on investment for a wage subsidy
“Her background in biochemistry gave her a thorough understanding of the technology, the importance of the problem of infections, and how much opportunity is out there,” explains Hodgson. “Paramita is very outgoing and fearless in her pursuits – qualities I’d love to see emulated across the industry.”
One exciting aspect of Paramita’s quick success is that she represents an underrepresented demographic within Canada’s bio-economy: women.
BioTalent Canada’s recent labour market information research brief—The Talent Differential: The case for work-integrated learning in the bio-economy— shows that women account for just 36.3% of the bio-economy workforce. This statistic is concerning given the higher proportion of women than men studying STEM and health-related fields at every post-secondary level in Canada.
With accelerator programs focused on research and innovation, and support from all levels of government to commercialize technology, there’s hope that the gender gap in Canada’s bio-economy will begin close and more talent like Paramita will advance their careers.
“There is a lot of untapped talent out there (among women), especially in STEM,” says Hodgson. “Because of (accelerator programs and government support), I think we’ll continue to see more women from STEM fields joining and founding start-ups.”
Taking his thought further, Hodgson speaks about the importance of diversity at Outbreaker Solutions.
“We understand and embrace the importance of surrounding ourselves with people who think differently and bring novel and unique perspectives,” says Hodgson. “That’s why we enjoy bringing on team members, like Paramita, who come with unique backgrounds and experiences which add valuable insight to the strategic path of the company.”
It’s hard to argue with the success Outbreaker Solutions has had since opening its doors to Paramita and SWPP. She was the first SWPP student Outbreaker Solutions has ever brought on.
But the fact is, no matter how successful a SWPP participant is, if the process to hire that SWPP student is burdensome, it could turn a company off wanting to apply again. The people at BioTalent Canada understand that and work diligently to ensure the process is smooth and convenient.
“BioTalent Canada has been great to work with,” explains Hodgson. “They exceeded my expectations in terms of responsiveness and helping to meet the needs of our business. I’d be more than happy to use BioTalent Canada and its programs in the future.”
As for Paramita’s future with the company? She’s currently serving in the role of a manager of business development and the company would love to hire her full time when she finishes her studies.
To apply for SWPP, or any other of BioTalent Canada’s wage subsidy programs, visit biotalent.ca/programs.
Funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Student Work Placement Program.