May 20, 2016

Alumna Breanne Everett receives prestigious Governor General Innovation Award

Medicine and business grad developed devices to help diabetics
Dr. Breanne Everett, MD’09, MBA’13, wears a pair of running shoes fitted with one of the Orpyx sensor platforms

Dr. Breanne Everett, MD’09, MBA’13, wears shoes fitted with one of the Orpyx sensor platforms.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Dr. Breanne Everett took the road less travelled when she chose to take a temporary leave from her medical residency to pursue an MBA and focus on the business she co-founded, Orpyx. That road has led the University of Calgary alumna to achieve great successes in the world of business innovation and has culminated in receiving a Governor General Innovation Award. The inaugural award was presented to six Canadian entrepreneurs this week. Read more about the awards.

The award recognizes excellence in Canadian innovation that is having real-world impact. Inclusive of all sectors in Canadian society, the award also aims to inspire entrepreneurs and risk-takers to develop new and stronger ways to positively impact our quality of life.

“It’s an incredible honour,” says Everett, who was also recognized as the 2014 Arch Awards Graduate of the Last Decade. “As CEO of Orpyx, I work among a large organization of very talented and dedicated people. It’s very humbling to have my name on this award.”

‘True inspiration to other young entrepreneurs’

Ed McCauley, vice-president (research), attended the awards ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. “I am so proud to see one of our graduates being recognized on the national stage for innovation that is shaping the future by solving real-world problems,” says McCauley. “This is a testament to Breanne’s drive and dedication, and is a true inspiration to other young entrepreneurs who aspire to make a difference in our society.”  

Everett cofounded Orpyx in 2010 when she was part way through her residency in plastic surgery and reconstruction at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. It was through her training that she realized the devastating implications of foot wounds resulting from diabetic foot ulcers — a common complication of the disease. Patients with these wounds have ultimately lost feeing in their feet due to nerve damage and are unable to perceive when injury is happening.

“I wanted to create a device that provides a substitute way to provide feedback to the user that would basically enable the user to feel their feet again,” she says.

Innovative device replaces lost feeling in the feet

Currently, Orpyx is home to two sensor platform devices that provide feedback to the user in different ways. Both shoe inserts, one communicates foot pressure information via a smartphone or watch, while the other provides tactile information via vibrations in a vest worn by the user.

“They’re essentially feeling on their back where they should be feeling their feet hit the ground,” she says. Both of these devices allow users to adjust their foot position accordingly, thereby minimizing the risk of injury.

Everett knew that as a physician she had a strong background in understanding the medical problem and potential technological solution. What she lacked was the business context through which it could be created. With full support from her colleagues, family and the university as a whole, she chose to take a leave from her residency and enrolled in an MBA at the university’s Haskayne School of Business.

MBA helps launch full-time career running company

“The MBA provided me with the didactic training to enable me the confidence to do what I do in business and to learn on a daily basis,” she says. “In that way, my experience with the MBA and moving into real-life business was similar to that of medical school and moving into clerkship and residency: you learn the most through your day-to-day application of the education, but you wouldn’t have the confidence or ability to do that unless you had the base training.”

Since completing her MBA, running Orpyx has turned into a full-time job for Everett. While the devices are for sale in Canada, the United States and the EU, clinical trials are currently taking place. She hopes the product will be eligible for reimbursement one day so patients won’t have to pay out of pocket.

“Getting to the point where it is mass distribution is very exciting to me,” she says, “but right now the exciting thing is we’re already seeing very tangible results among the patients who use it.”

Everett says the support she has received from the university for her nontraditional pursuits has been invaluable. “I’ve been very fortunate to have the mentor and advisers I do at the university, and that they see the potential and are open to me exploring that, even though it’s not the typical path. At the end of the day, I think that’s what a university is for: for education, creating ideas and innovating. It’s when that flexibility exists that you can maximize the potential of students.”