Student-founded startup Themis — which leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to streamline contract-drafting for lawyers — recently took home the top prize at the eighth-annual Hatchery Demo Day 2020, hosted by the Entrepreneurship Hatchery.

The event is the culmination of the Hatchery Nest program, a four-month accelerator that connects student teams with experienced mentors and industry leaders to develop their businesses.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Demo Day took place virtually over the course of a week. A panel of judges and registrants had the opportunity to view pitch videos made by 16 competing Nest teams, as well as four Go-To-Market Stage teams — startups that are further along in their businesses.

Joseph Orozco, executive director of the Entrepreneurship Hatchery, says although the pandemic had made putting on Demo Day a challenge, it enabled students to pitch on the world stage.

“We received 2,900 votes and 1,800 views of your video pitches,” says Orozco. “These came from all over the world — San Francisco, Boston, Oxford and Mumbai, to name a few.”

“I want to extend my congrats to all the participants in the Hatchery for your resilience and being able to pivot in these times. As one of the judges, I was amazed by the initiative, entrepreneurship, innovation and professionalism,” says Dean Chris Yip, U of T Engineering. “The Hatchery is the jewel in the crown of our startup ecosystem at the Faculty, and has been such a huge attractor for students in choosing to go to U of T Engineering.”

Themis was among four companies to share a total of $42,500 in seed funding, composed of one $20,000 grand prize and two $10,000 runner-up prizes. A $2,500 Orozco prize is furnished through funds raised by the students themselves.

Here are this year’s four startups to watch:

$20,000 Hatchery Prize: Themis — AI-powered add-in simplifies contract drafting for lawyers

Drafting a legal contract can take hours. With the power of AI, the Themis team aims to simplify this process with the click of a button.

Their Microsoft Word add-in streamlines the contract-drafting process for lawyers by automatically building a library of clauses from a lawyer’s own precedents and makes these clauses conveniently available within Word.

“There are no competitors who provide this fully integrated solution out of the box. Our competitors generally either allow lawyers to manually add their clauses to a library or provide generic clauses, but do not provide a fully automated solution as Themis,” says Rishi Dhir, a corporate lawyer at Stikeman Elliott LLP who co-founded the company alongside fellow lawyer Jey Kumarasamy, Amardeep Singh (Year 3 ChemE) and Cindy Chen (Year 4 EngSci).

Looking ahead, the team will beta test their prototype and look to partner with small law firms across Canada to gather feedback. The team plans to use their $20,000 prize money to fund development costs to increase the number of clauses and definitions Themis can identify, as well as to support infrastructure costs.

“We are also very proud of ourselves for making it this far. Each of our co-founders were either working or studying full-time during the summer and we had to be creative and disciplined to find the necessary time to work on Themis,” says Kumarasamy. “It wasn’t easy but in the span of four months we successfully delivered a functioning, viable product.”

$10,000 Hatchery Prize: Indus — 3D-printed smart soil gives a novel, futuristic approach to growing root vegetables

The Indus team is replicating the physical properties that enable root vegetables to thrive in hydroponic systems. (Photo: Patrick Diep)
The Indus team is replicating the physical properties that enable root vegetables to thrive in hydroponic systems. (Photo: Patrick Diep)

Indus aims to manufacture 3D-printable “soil” to grow root vegetables within existing commercial hydroponic systems.

Hydroponics — a controlled, soilless method of agriculture — still requires plants to be held within a porous material called “growing media,” which replicates the physical properties of soil.

“Our competitors in this space have no efficient solution to grow a high yield of root crops, as they don’t have the technical ability to engineer their materials with specific fluid retention properties essential for important staple crops, such as root vegetables, to thrive in a hydro-culture environment,” explains Adnan Sharif (Cell and Molecular Biology). The Indus team also includes Chihiro Tow (Architecture), Patrick Diep (Year 3 ChemE) and alumnus Gamen Liu (ChemE 1T9).

The co-founders are recreating the physical properties that root vegetables require to thrive within soil into one robust material, optimizing it to be more applicable in more widely practiced commercial hydroponic techniques.

“Our team is confident that, with our technical prowess and connections within our respective fields, we’ll help to disrupt the hydroponics space within the decade with our engineered smart soil,” says Sharif, adding that winning the $10,000 prize is one big step towards meeting this goal.

$10,000 Hatchery Prize: Toothpod — Triple-action chewing gum for cleaner teeth

Logo courtesy Toothpod
Logo courtesy Toothpod

We all know we should brush our teeth twice a day, but many of us don’t spend the full amount of time on oral health that we should. Ninety-six percent of Canadian adults have had at least one cavity, despite the fact that this outcome is largely preventable.

Toothpod’s answer is a smart gum that cleans your teeth as you chew. It contains three different components to clean your tongue and mouth, and is designed for any situation where it is inconvenient to brush your teeth — when you’re on the go, at work, on an airplane, camping, etc.

“We worked very hard this summer to understand the customer need and develop Toothpod prototypes despite restricted lab access,” says Toothpod founder and CEO Vishar Yaghhoubian, a U of T student in Health Studies, Global Health and Psychology.

“This award validates our mission and tells us we’re on the right track,” she says.

The team also includes Lucy ChenAlton Rego and Nikhil Konduru (all Year 3 ChemE) as well as Jenise Chen (Chemistry).

Team Toothpod. Top row, left to right: Prof. Laurent Bozec (Dentistry), CEO Vishar Yaghhoubian (Health Studies, Global Health, Psychology), Alton Rego (Year 3 ChemE). Bottom row, left to right: Nikhil Konduru (Year 3 ChemE), Jenise Chen (Chemistry), Lucy Chen (Year 3 ChemE). (Photo courtesy Toothpod)
Team Toothpod. Top row, left to right: Prof. Laurent Bozec (Dentistry), CEO Vishar Yaghhoubian (Health Studies, Global Health, Psychology), Alton Rego (Year 3 ChemE). Bottom row, left to right: Nikhil Konduru (Year 3 ChemE), Jenise Chen (Chemistry), Lucy Chen (Year 3 ChemE). (Photo courtesy Toothpod)

“The most valuable part of the Hatchery process was hearing the comments from mentors on our pitch, and those of other startups,” says Konduru. “Many of the mentors are investors and entrepreneurs with decades of experience. They taught me a lot about what investors and key stakeholders care about when they put their trust and money behind you.”

Toothpod plans to use the seed funding to file their patent by the end of October and begin the process of getting the gum approved as a Natural Health Product by Health Canada in May. If all goes well, the product could be available in stores by 2022.

$2,500 Orozco prize: ID Green — Aerial imaging and analysis for precision agriculture

ID Green’s prototype camera mounted on a drone over a field of potatoes near Otterville, Ontario. The team aims to use this technology to provide new insights for farmers and crop advisors. (Photo: Ehsan Vaziri)
ID Green’s prototype camera mounted on a drone over a field of potatoes near Otterville, Ontario. The team aims to use this technology to provide new insights for farmers and crop advisors. (Photo: Ehsan Vaziri)

ID Green is leveraging precision agriculture to increase the profitability of small and medium-sized farms. Using drone-mounted cameras, the team analyzes images of crops in order to diagnose problems and recommend solutions.

“Our solution provides actionable data for plant counting, detecting disease, assessing the nutrient and water status, and predicting the yield,” says team member Ehsan Vaziri (UTIAS PhD candidate). “Our cloud-based platform transforms complex data into easy-to-use insightful reports, which help crop advisors and farmers make precise and timely decisions.”

In addition to Vaziri, the team includes Muhammad Omar Sawal (Year 4 MIE), Eric Jiang (Computer Science), along with precision farming specialist Mohamad Yadegari and hardware-software integration expert Samira Eshghi.

Over the next few months, the team plans to continue their involvement with The Hatchery, moving from the NEST program into the Go-to-Market phase, for startups that are further along the path toward commercialization.

“Compared to where we were at the start of the NEST program, a lot has changed,” says Vaziri. “Our business model has flourished, and our mindset about the market has improved. This was all because of meetings with Hatchery connectors and the board members. We made a lot of valuable connections through this program.”

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