A discussion with Noah Debrincat, the cofounder of SannTek and a graduate of Nanotechnology Engineering at the University of Waterloo.
We've all heard about sensors that help determine drunk driving, however, have you thought about a sensor that determines cannabis-impaired driving? We had the honor to interview SannTek, a startup under Velocity, which specializes in cannabis breathalyzer. Located in uptown Waterloo, SannTek is a startup that consists of around 10 people.
BioTEC: What was the inspiration behind Sanntek?
Noah: The idea of building a device that can detect if the drivers had consumed cannabis came up when we heard a police officer commenting that the regulation system might be incomplete in the time when cannabis is legalized.
BioTEC: Could you elaborate a little bit on the difficulty of designing such a sensor and how the mechanism works?
Noah: The difficulty of detection is that the concentration of THC in the blood is very low, which gives us a very small window for detection. With the current test, the result can be highly subjective. Physical tests such as if they can walk a straight line don’t exactly produce an accurate result. Our sensors work to test that if the driver has used cannabis in the two hours period of time, so you would know if the driver has been impaired. The sensors work in a way very similar to the blood glucose monitors. In our case, the THC molecule binds to the biomolecule on top of an electrode and that changes the resistance, which will be recorded.
BioTEC: What would you say is the advice you would give to people who wish to start their own startup in bioengineering?
Noah: Well, I’d like to see that what you sell, your solution, should be catered towards your problem, Because, when you have a problem, likely others will have it too. If you really define your problem, the solutions you create will solve the same problem for others as well, so you have a selling point.
BioTEC: As a co-founder, what does your day-to-day job looks like, and what would you say is the biggest obstacle you’ve come across so far?
Noah: Well, every single day is a challenge, and there are different tasks every day. Some days I work with the design, and some days I work with marketing. Since now we have 10 people, I am now more on the marketing and outreach side trying to find the market for the product and build the network. In terms of the biggest challenge, I would say it is to attract and maintain the talents. It takes coordination to put the right team together, and with the right team, everything would come easier.
BioTEC: What would you say is the future plan for the company?
Noah: As we are a company with around 10 people, so we are looking to expand. The product would likely first applied with police on the roadside. Also, we will likely need a marketing team as well in the future.
BioTEC: Do you hire coop students, and what kinds of characteristics would you be looking for?
Noah: We hire two coop students every term, and we are looking for students in mechanical engineering, nanoscience, and mechatronics. In terms of more details, we would be looking for people who really have gone out of their way to build their own projects, to enhance their resume.
Additional reading: The vast opportunity in the landscape of bioengineering
What could your degree of bioengineering lead to? When it comes to job finding, it is important to keep your eyes open. In the changing world, bioengineering will inevitably be needed in various fields to help create better tools to enhance health. Medical device, as seen above, is one example. Some potential fields include bioinstrumentation, biomaterials, biomechanics, cellular tissue engineering, medical imaging, physiology, rehabilitation engineering, etc. With the vast fields of studies and innovations emerging, the sky is the limit.
There are also many interdisciplinary opportunities, such as combining with the knowledge in quantitative biology and computational biology system to help model biological processes. Think big! Bringing the benefit effect of bioengineering from the daily routine, think of your Fitbit. Remote surgery? It is made possible by nanorobots. Even cooler, bioengineering can be applied in space, investigating life forms that are more suited for living in the outer space (Check out Elon Musk’s ideas in this interview).
How to attract employers with your degree? As suggested, building your own projects can be very helpful. Pay attention to projects going on around you in the community, be inquisitive, ask if you can take part. Check out some examples of UW student projects here, and some blogs of a UW professor’s on biomedical engineering here.
A Future in Bioengineering. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.asme.org/topics-resources/content/a-future-in-bioengineering
Rao, R. R. (2019). Thematic series on emerging leaders in biological engineering: convergence and new directions. Journal of Biological Engineering, 13(1). doi: 10.1186/s13036-019-0146-7
What Types of Jobs Can I Get In Biomedical Engineering? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.topmastersinhealthcare.com/faq/what-types-of-jobs-can-i-get-in-biomedical-engineering/