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Collaboration in ‘Axtion’

When you talk about the Springboard Atlantic network, there is a specific word that is often said: collaboration. With 19 post-secondary institutions in Atlantic Canada, the Springboard network embodies the spirit of collaboration.

We are a nearly 40-person, pan-Atlantic team who recognizes that collaboration is one of the greatest ways we can ensure success for the region’s economy. Our members are keen for new opportunities where our institutions can work together by sharing resources and know-how so new companies can access the full potential of what our universities and colleges have to offer.

One fast-growing Atlantic Canadian company that has greatly benefitted from interinstitutional collaboration is Axtion Independence Mobility Inc. Housed at the Dalhousie University’s Emera IdeaHub in Halifax, Axtion (pronounced Action) aims to revolutionize the rollator walker so it can better aid its users in the prevention of and recovery from falls. Though it’s currently working out of Dalhousie, Axtion got its start at Acadia University in Wolfville.

Its co-founders are two Acadia alum, McGillivray, who graduated from Acadia in 1987, and Liam Maaskant, who graduated in 2019.

“Our device is patent pending and re-imagines the rollator walker,” said McGillivray.  “Combining it with a mechanical lifting seat to help those who have fallen to get back up on their own or with minimal assistance.”

McGillivray, who lives in Ottawa, got the idea for such a device when her own father started falling and was unable to get himself back up. According to McGillivray, falls are one of the largest health problems that those who are 65 plus face today.

“I started to scour the market for something we could have in the home to help get dad back up. But I really couldn’t find anything practical. So, being the kind of person I am, if I couldn’t find something then I’ll just have to build it myself.” After a little research, she learned this was a widespread and growing global health challenge.

That’s when McGillivray decided to give Maaskant, who was completing his Bachelor of Applied Science and Mechanical Engineering at Acadia at the time, a call. The pair had been previously connected through Acadia’s Athletics program and had made an instant connection.

So, like most innovative ideas, Axtion Independence Mobility started as a simple conversation. Their overlapping skills, with McGillivray’s business acumen and Maaskant’s engineering know-how, reinforce and complement one and other as they embarked on this venture. And by January 2020, the pair incorporated and co-founded Axtion.

Above and Beyond

To get them on the right track Ray Ivany, former President and Vice Chancellor of Acadia University, introduced the duo to Leigh Huestis, one of Springboard’s Industry Engagement Professionals (IEP) at Acadia University. According to Maaskant, Huestis went “above and on beyond” to help set their budding company up for success in its early stages, touring Liam through the Acadia Centre for Rural Innovation and then Dalhousie’s IdeaHub.

“Leigh set it all up, travelled to Halifax, and introduced us to Margaret Palmeter, then Director of the Emera ideaHUB at Dalhousie’s Faculty of Engineering,” said Maaskant. “She asked all the right questions for us and really took us under her wing and set us up for success”.  Margaret and the ideaHUB team welcomed us with open arms and have been with us every step of the way.

Huestis also walked the pair through the different funding avenues they could pursue, particularly through Mitacs, and Nova Scotia Business Inc. Through Margaret, the team was introduced to Dr. Clif Johnston, their academic supervisor, is guiding them through  a user-centric design process.

In addition to Dr. Johnston, Maaskant also credits Graham Muirhead, the engineering lead at the ideaHUB, who helped turn Maaskant’s conceptual design into a functioning prototype after a number of iterations. Dr. Mae Seto from Dalhousie’s Department of Mechanical Engineering has also joined their team to help with future research.

Today, the team is completing and testing its V3 prototype and has formed a real-world research partnership with one of the largest continuing care providers in Atlantic Canada to help facilitate clinical evaluations of their product. Acadia’s School of Kinesiology will help lead the human interaction and usability research.

Leveraging Connections

In addition to their connections with experts and funders (all with the help of Springboard, of course!) the Axtion team has also taken their company through the many entrepreneurship programs available to new startups in Nova Scotia including: Innovacorp’s Accelerate program, Volta’s LEAP program and Dalhousie’s Design to BUILD program.  Between the founders investments and the grant programs available, Axtion has raised almost $200K, much of which has been devoted to product research and development

Looking forward, the pair make it clear that the Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurship community, and its vast resources, were an integral part in the growth and success of this company.

“It really takes a village, and to us that village that is Nova Scotia, I don’t think there’s a better place to do what we’re doing than right here,” said McGillivray. “It’s pretty incredible that we’ve made all these connections, through Volta, Innovacorp, Springboard, Dal and Acadia, all with experts in this field to help us along the way.”

The duo hopes to launch their product, which will be a Class I Medical Device, in Q4 of 2022.

Said McGillivray: “Entering this market is not for the feint of heart but we’re not afraid of the challenge because we know how helpful this product will be and we have an incredible ecosystem of expert support.”