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Sudbury, North Bay entrepreneurs selected for Vale’s COVID-19 funding

Challenge called for commercial solutions to battling pandemic

A team of North Bay high school robotics students and a Sudbury-based med-tech startup are among the winners of the Vale COVID-19 Challenge.

In early April, the Brazilian nickel-mining giant announced a challenge seeking innovative solutions that could be rapidly commercialized to address problems posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Vale agreed to put forward up to USD$1 million in funding to help get the successful ideas to market.

Of the nearly 1,800 solutions submitted, more than 300 came from within Canada, and two from Northern Ontario were selected among the 11 finalists to receive funding.

They include Flosonics Medical, a Sudbury-based med-tech company, and First Team 1305, a group of high school robotics students from North Bay.

“The participation on this initiative was incredible, exceeding my expectations and is a great example of how open innovation can bring people together globally as partners in finding innovative solutions to critical problems,” said Afsal Jessa, the chief digital officer for Vale’s Base Metals operations, in a May 8 news release.

“It's been an eye-opener on the power of fostering collaboration among innovative leaders across diverse institutions to move quickly on a unified cause.”

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Flosonics Medical has developed a wearable wireless single-use hemodynamic monitor, which allows clinicians to access vital information about a COVID-19 patient’s cardiovascular state remotely via Bluetooth.

The funds received from Vale will help them increase capacity to manufacture and deliver the devices, which have already been cleared for use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration.

"Flosonics is pleased to partner with Vale in this important initiative,” said Joe Eibl, CEO at FloSonics Medical, in the release.

“Our aim with this solution is to facilitate monitoring where resources are limited, and to help support clinical decisions to improve patient outcomes.”

First Team 1305 developed a DIY ultra-violet (UV) sterilizer that facilitates the cleaning and sterilization of personal protective equipment.

They currently have two prototypes being used at the North Bay Regional Health Centre in the emergency department and intensive care unit.

The funds will allow them to further develop these prototypes and build an open-source model to be shared internationally.

They also plan to purchase the required material to build 50 units to donate to local hospitals and medical centres.

“The funds provided by Vale for the UV sterilizer project will have a positive impact on the people at risk of COVID-19 in our community and will help others to make a difference in their community as well,” said Fionna Truong, First Team 1305 student.

“The safety equipment and masks are key in keeping our first responders and those at risk safe. By being able to sterilize and reuse masks, we will be able to continue protecting our community, and with the help from Vale, others will now be able to help their community.”

Some of the other solutions include the production of face shields and hand sanitizer, the development of ethanol purification systems, and the creation of an online therapy program.

A full list of the solutions being supported by Vale is available here.