Hamed Hanafi (34)
President and founder of NovaResp Technologies. The company developed a respiratory monitoring device that regulates airflow for patients with sleep apnea and other breathing conditions.
Alma mater: University of Mazandaran in Iran (BEng Electrical Engineering), Dalhousie (MEng Electrical Engineering, PhD Biomedical Engineering)
Headquarters: Halifax, N.S.
“We’ve invented software to help sleep apnea sufferers breathe easier and lead healthier lives.”
A smarter way to treat sleep apnea
NovaResp’s signature product could revolutionize sleep apnea treatment. People with sleep apnea have numerous breathing interruptions while they sleep, as their throat muscles relax and block their airways. The most common treatment is for patients to use Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines. The machines react when patients stop breathing and a fan forces air into their lungs to get them breathing again.
NovaResp has developed a small add-on device that attaches to CPAP machines. The software uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to predict changes in airways and prevent breathing stoppages before they happen. The aim is to make the treatment more effective and more comfortable for patients.
It all started when….
Hanafi drew on his background in engineering, his knowledge of breathing mechanics and his spirit of innovation to develop the initial platform, which could detect changes in the respiratory system much faster than a CPAP machine. It was a team effort after that. “I made the first invention but then I built up a team that explored the problem more and tried to evolve our solution and make it better.”
The turning point…
A pivotal moment came when he was accepted into the Mitacs E-Accelerate Program, which enabled him to pay himself through his company, something other funding sources didn’t allow. It meant he could quit his day job and turn his side venture into his main focus. That’s when things really took off. “It changed everything because that’s when I could completely focus on NovaResp.”
Putting technology to the test
“We built a prototype, now we need real patient data to show how it works on real patients.” The company has two studies planned: an observational study that’s underway now and a clinical trial that starts in late 2020.
How big can this get?
“This is a billion-dollar idea because it aims at multiple platforms that this (software) could work on. And, with the possibilities of building a physically better machine using this algorithm, that is huge.” It means virtually any machine that supplies breathing assistance to patients could be enhanced with the NovaResp software.
Hanafi recently won a Mitacs Global Impact Entrepreneur Award for the success of his startup and for developing an innovative product that could improve the lives of sleep apnea patients.
Where does NovaResp go from here?
“We’re now in the pre-seed to seed (funding) stage. When the observational study ends and we’re going towards the next study, we could have another round of seed. But we’re moving towards a Series A (investment round) because that would be clinical trials to actually certify NovaResp.” The company plans to take its first product to market in late 2022.
What does success look like for NovaResp?
“They used to say one out of 10 startups succeed; it’s apparently worse now. So just making it to commercialize something and take it to market, that’s success. But my real goal would be to build a business that other people are also employed in. I fell in love with Halifax and wanted to stay. So, if I can build something in Halifax that can employ a lot of people, happy employees who want to come from other places and stay here, that would also be success.”
Lesson learned: a founder wears many hats
Along with learning to cope with the challenges of launching a startup, Hanafi has learned to embrace the dynamic life of a founder. On any given day he can find himself either running out to pick up a part for a machine, writing a grant proposal or working hands on in the lab. “Startup culture is that everyone is a jack-of-all-trades. You just do everything, and I’ve learned how to manage that and stay happy.”
Best advice you received
“Have a plan, follow the plan and don’t follow shiny balls.”
Top tip for would-be founders
“There are a lot of ups and downs. You’ve just got to believe in your plan and stick to it.” •