Breaking Out: UBC program guides young tech minds

UBC's Hatch incubator is all it's cracked up to be

Embrace Orthopaedics is building a better knee brace

Hatch incubator provides a home for tech ventures connected to the university

Were the folks who created Hatch, a technology incubator based on the UBC campus in Vancouver, aiming for the familiar trope of scientists huddled in a basement lab? Heading down into the bowels of the Institute for Computing, Information and Cognitive Systems (ICICS), it’s easy to imagine scores of geeks fiddling away on obscure computer programs.

The reality: in every nook of the 8,000-plus square feet devoted to Hatch, fledgling companies are working on solutions to problems facing society. “Some of this stuff really is incredible,” says Hatch entrepreneur-in-residence Francis Steiner. “You’ll see.”

He’s not lying. The projects range from automating bicycle parking and umbrella rentals to a simple water purification process that can remove contaminants.

Tackling the latter is CarboNet Nanotechnologies. The company has set up a model showing how it deploys nanonet technology, which uses carbon to conduct electricity, to capture materials in water and bundle them into an easy-to-remove gel. “We can pull out anything. It’s 100 times more efficient than active carbon,” says president and CEO Mike Carlson, a PhD candidate in electrophysiology at UBC, referring to the most commonly used method of filtering water.

Hatch is a partnership between the ICICS and entrepreneurship@UBC in collaboration with the Sauder School of Business and the faculties of science and applied science. The program allows UBC students, staff and alumni (within five years of graduation) to apply for funding and space to build their ideas and businesses. 

In another corner of the workspace is an office dedicated to Embrace Orthopaedics, marked only by a piece of paper on the door and a life-size replica of a human lower body. On the model’s right leg are two sets of four wires that wrap around the knee. It’s part of the company’s pilot process, which strives to deliver the benefits of a knee brace without the clunkiness.

“We use tension instead of compression,” says co-founder and CEO Zack Eberwein, a 23-year-old mechanical engineering grad who’s already had two knee surgeries. The company is now testing its prototype with Team Canada gymnasts as well as the Vancouver Canucks. Embrace hopes to launch by the end of the year, and there won’t be any wires. “Hidden within the stitching of the tights will be support for the knee,” Eberwein explains. “We plan on bringing the same technology to other ligaments and joints, like shoulders.”

Steiner can’t help but grin as he checks in on each enterprise. “We launched a year and a half ago with 10 ventures; now we’re close to 30,” he says. “The stuff down here, it’s going to change the world.”