After a diverse career that included stints as an engineering officer in the Canadian military and the owner of a communications agency, Suzanne Grant was looking for a new cause to be passionate about.
The local entrepreneur found it with iBIONICS, a startup that is developing a product that combines visual data gleaned through smart glasses with a diamond-based eye implant to help vision-impaired people see.
Grant was one of four Ottawans who were among the recipients of the second annual WISE 50 over 50 awards, which recognize Canadian entrepreneurs who started their businesses after the age of 50. WISE and the 50 over 50 awards were founded by Ottawa entrepreneur and advocate Wendy Mayhew.
Grant became the CEO and co-founder of iBIONICS at 51. She was looking for a new business opportunity and had a few ideas, but she says the chance to start iBIONICS was “serendipitous” – a challenge, for sure, but also something that made her eager to get to work in the morning.
“I really wanted to make my next venture count,” says Grant. Armed with a degree in physics and an engineering background, plus her experience starting and running a company, she says iBIONICS seemed like the right fit.
Grant says she doesn’t stop to think about her age very often. In fact, she cautions any young entrepreneur to bring someone with more experience onto their team, noting the wisdom that only comes with time can be invaluable to a new company.
“I think every single new company or startup really needs to have a diversity of people, and that includes age,” she says. “Make sure that you’ve got at least one person that’s over the age of 50 on your board or on your executive.”
In August, iBIONICS received $438,400 in financing from the Quebec Life Sciences Strategy, a provincial fund fostering innovation in Quebec’s health-care system. The company is starting its Series A funding round in early 2019, with the goal of raising $10 million to work toward human testing of the diamond implant. Grant told Techopia Live in January that the product could be ready to hit the market in five years.
Another recipient was Gabi Szabadi, who received the award for his business iOTProximity. Szabadi launched his startup – which provides a technology solution that helps reduce accidents in large construction projects – at the age of 63. Using sensors, machine learning and Internet of Things and cloud computing technology, iOTProximity’s product alerts heavy machine operators about potential safety hazards in their surroundings.
Debbie and Melissa Pinard of InitLive, which makes an app that connects event planners with their volunteers and staff, were also recognized with the award.
Co-founder Debbie Pinard started the company with her daughter Melissa in 2013. Its app has been introduced in more than 25 countries and was used in last year’s Ottawa 2017 events, including the Grey Cup and the Juno Awards.
Patti Koeslag also took home a Fifty over 50 award for her company Thresholds of Life, which offers celebrant services for funerals, weddings and other life events. She began studying to be a funeral celebrant at the age of 56.