Luna ID – From Scientists to Entrepreneurs
Jarrett Blair and Charles-Étienne Ferland spent a summer driving around Guelph and nearby communities, collecting canola samples for the UofG lab where they both worked. As students of biodiversity and entomology, respectively, their thoughts on those long car rides often turned to bugs. The pair bounced around ideas for a mobile app – one that could put their hard-won, specialized knowledge into everyone’s hands by identifying insects on sight.
One concept – many products
Knowing that there are over a million species of insect, the team decided to plan multiple apps for specific purposes. For example, one app they have in mind will help teachers identify common backyard species to teach their students about biodiversity and the world around them. Another will help farmers pinpoint insects that threaten their crops so they can take appropriate measures to protect their livelihoods. Yet another app will safeguard outdoorsy Ontarians from potentially dangerous insects like ticks. Blair and Ferland knew that if they built a large database of images and a neural network, coupled with an easy-to-use mobile interface, the project’s applications would be limitless.
Making it a reality
But how did these scientists become entrepreneurs? They applied to the Hub, taking this idea from road-trip musings to a business called Luna ID.
The Hub Incubator Program operates through the University of Guelph’s Centre for Business and Student Enterprise (CBaSE). The Hub offers successful applicants up to $7500 in funding to grow the business, mentorship, office and meeting space, and workshops to motivate and inform budding entrepreneurs.
The Hub has been essential to Luna ID’s growth. With funding and mentorship in place, Blair and Ferland were able to hire Dr. Zhijie Wang to build the image-recognition technology. Luna ID also partnered with three software engineering students to help develop the user interface. Now, Blair and Ferland look forward to releasing their first of many apps to the public within the year. Within five years, they want to have an app available for each of their target markets – education, agriculture, and health care. In ten years, Luna ID products will be able to identify thousands of insects.
Blair and Ferland are incredibly grateful to the Hub. As they say, without the Hub, “we would be stuck with an idea and no way to turn it into a reality.” They point out that they started as scientists, who knew a great deal about the natural world but very little about business. Among many entrepreneurial practices learned through the Hub, one of the concepts that really resonated with Luna ID was the Lean Startup Methodology. Indeed, the pair was delighted to learn that the Lean Startup methodology is all about applying scientific principles to business! That, and many other moments, took them from scientists new to the world of business to confident entrepreneurs.
A priceless network…
Luna ID graduated from the Hub at the end of 2017 but Blair and Ferland look forward to staying a part of the Hub community. They know that they can always turn to Hub mentors for advice. They’re also pitching in to support new entrepreneurs – soon, they are meeting with the team at Cognitive, the business that won the recent Improve Life Challenge, to pass on their experience in developing a business using image recognition technology.
…that anyone can join
The Luna ID story is a great example of the Hub’s many strengths. It’s a welcoming culture that fosters growth and learning. You don’t have to be familiar with business practices to join that community – you just need an idea and a drive to do something with it. Students and alumni from every department at UofG are potential Hub participants. Anyone can be an entrepreneur.
That means you! If you’re interested in applying to the Hub, visit www.uoguelph.ca/cbase/thehub to learn more about the application process, or talk to John Lam, CBaSE’s Business Incubator Services Manager. Everyone has something to add to the entrepreneurial community, and everyone has a lot to gain by joining it. See what you are capable of, and bring your ideas to life at the Hub Incubator!