July 31, 2018
Interview by Anjali Bhardwaj
Corowave is a sensing vital signs platform on the go, meaning it’s resilient to movement while being contactless, and having continuous monitoring. In addition, the team is being incubated by TandemLaunch today! We chatted with Mohamed and Hakimeh, Co-Founders of Corowave who met and assembled their startup through our Entrepreneur in Residence Program.
Can you introduce yourselves?
My name is Hakimeh Purmehdi, some people call me Haki. I have a PhD in wireless communications from the University of Alberta. After a year of my post-doctorate, I was ready to find my next steps. I always wanted to combine all my experiences and expertise into one thing. I initially found out about TandemLaunch after getting an interview with a startup here. I learned about their EiR program and I ended up getting an interview for the EiR position and I got accepted.
Mohamed El Badawe:
I completed my Bachelor’s back home in Libya, in Communication Engineering. I started my Master’s not long after. During that time the renewable energy industry was booming, and so I decided to study renewable energy. I did my PhD from the University of Waterloo which merged communication and energy harvesting, along with communication engineering. In grad school, I started my first company in IoT called SpeakIoT. Luckily, at the time I was the chair of the grad students and the department of Electrical Computer Engineering and at the time I organized a talk. Helge was one of the speakers there. From that, I learned about TandemLaunch and after his talk, I was really impressed so I wanted to join. I ended up getting in, and here we are.
What is Corowave?
Corowave is a platform and sensor for health care. It tracks three things: your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate, the basic health signals for the human body. We actually take these signals and use them for other applications such as athlete performance, baby monitoring, sleep monitoring, monitoring the health of drivers and more. These applications are all based on those three signals.
The technology leverages radio frequencies with signal processing and machine learning. The benefit of Corowave sensors is that they can be resilient to movement while being contactless, and having continuous monitoring.
I would also like to add that based on our unique technology, the applications and areas that we can enter are very different than our competitors. This means we are more than just a wearable tech company.
You should have as much as possible things that are in line with each other. It should feel like a smooth river, one where you can swim and enjoy.
What type of chemistry do you think is important between co-founders?
Since I moved to Canada, I learned something. Your happiness depends on two things. Your lab mate and your roommate. If your roommate is a disaster your life will be a disaster and it is the same thing for your lab mate or supervisor. For Co-Founders, it is the same concept. You have to find the right person. Everything for me about a Co-Founder needs to fit. Me and Haki, for example, have studied relatively the same things, and have been searching for the same things, we are complementary to each other and so we both understand what is going on and what we are doing.
To complete what Mohamed said, I strongly agree that you need to both have that background. I think for any specific project that needs to be done, you need to have someone that is complementary to your personality. You should have as much as possible things that are in line with each other. There is a lot of things that we need to sit and talk to each other about and if we are not on the same page, it is impossible to come to a good decision. We need a similar language: in terms of technicality, in terms of business, and in terms of how we socialize. It should feel like a smooth river, one where you can swim and enjoy.
Haki, can you tell me about your experience as a woman in tech?
So I am Persian, and I did my Bachelor’s and Master’s in Iran and I found that culture in engineering school is so different there than it is here. It is very popular for women to be in an engineering school in Iran and actually recently, there are more women in engineering than men. When I was in engineering school in Iran, my experience in tech as a woman, I would say is not that different than a man. I felt that I was confident in math, physics, and engineering in school and it was something I wanted to do. Interestingly, when I came to Canada and I was doing my grad studies in the electrical engineering department I noticed that most of the women were women from other parts of the world. I realized how the culture was different between the two countries. For instance, no one would stop you from going to engineering school here in Canada but instead, the biggest barrier for women was that they felt like they were not good enough. This understanding made me more passionate and active in women in tech communities.
From my experience volunteering, I learned that even after graduation, finding jobs as a woman is difficult. And for some women even when they do find a job they don’t get paid enough or as much as a male employee. For me personally, I have obviously had experience working in the industry in Iran, and in Iran there is no problem for women to attend engineering schools but coming into the workplace, no matter where in the world I am, in my experience people think that a good engineer is a male and not a female. And so really, I think if we want to solve anything, at least here in Canada the first barrier women face is themselves. I see that a lot of women have a fear to go and challenge themselves.
The first barrier women face is themselves. I see that a lot of women have a fear to go and challenge themselves.
How important do you think diversity is in the workplace?
I think that it is super important, without a doubt. I believe it is one of those things that should be in all workplaces because you can learn from everyone’s different experiences and perspectives. For example, Haki was talking about women in tech and how it is different in Iran than here and you can now know that there is a difference in culture, and now we are more aware of that. At TandemLaunch, you see the high number of women leading projects and you see how smart they are so that also gives an example to others. One other thing I also learned, especially at TandemLaunch, is that what I learned in Iran at school is different from what people learned in Canada or India. That is good because we can learn from each other. Even for me, when I was in Libya I never heard about anything called a “startup”, it wasn’t talked about. When I came to the University of Waterloo, there was a very big startup culture. They said things like “turn your idea into a company”. If you go to Toronto you will find that they have the biggest entrepreneurship hub in Canada I would say, and here in Montreal it is the hub of AI, so you see that there is a different culture everywhere and when you have diversity you learn a lot.
Yeah, in TandemLaunch especially, there is so much diversity in race, culture, gender, religion and more. The benefit of this diversity in a startup ecosystem is very good for so many reasons. For one, we are all Co-Founders and we will have to be speaking with people from all over the world sooner or later and so it’s good to be exposed to that diversity here first. Another thing is that our work is not purely technical, we have to be good at the technical side but also business and human resources. This experience is very educational.
What is it like to bring lab technology to the market?
It’s interesting because when we read about the technology in papers, we have thoughts about how it will change the world and all the things we can apply this technology to. But practically and realistically, we do want to change the world, but you find out quickly that it is a lot harder to actually create the technology. One key thing that we learned when looking for technology, is that the inventor must have an entrepreneurial spirt. They must believe that their idea can be applied to the real world, to the market. That is why most of the technologies you will find at TandemLaunch have come from entrepreneurial professors.
To add, when we are developing something in the lab it can happen where we unconsciously ignore some parameter in the design or development and when it comes to startups that is something you definitely can’t have because you are turning that technology into a product. Also, so many other factors will come into the equation of solving the problem that you haven’t even thought of. This is a very big problem. As Co-Founders it is important to go and negotiate with professors to see if the technology fits our ideas.
One key thing that we learned when looking for technology, is that the inventor must have an entrepreneurial spirt. They must believe that their idea can be applied to the real world, to the market.
How did you come up with the name Corowave?
That’s actually a funny story. I think Mohamed should tell the story.
We spent months finding the name… We went over almost all possible Latin and Greek names, even Sanskrit, all the languages. We were trying to combine all sorts of words to find the perfect name. We looked through lots of literature, and every time we would find a name we like we would find out that it is already taken. One day, all of a sudden, we are sitting together and telling each other names that we came up with, and Haki said “Coro”, which is Latin for heart and because the technology is based on radio waves, we thought to merge the two words together to get “Corowave”. This was after like two months. Going through all those Latin words I feel like I can speak Latin now, but I am glad we found the name.
Congratulations on getting incubated and thank you for your time!