June 13, 2016

Nursing and engineering grad students team up to help families with disabilities

Enable is a startup that connects families to caregivers; vote online to help raise cash
Suzanna Crawford, Master of Nursing student, and Michael Purdy, a biomedical engineering graduate student, started Enable.

Suzanna Crawford, left, and Michael Purdy started Enable.

Karen Cook, University of Calgary

Two entrepreneurial University of Calgary graduate students want to prove that access for people with disabilities should not be a privilege, but a right. And they are turning to the campus community for a little love to help their cause.

Suzanna Crawford, BN’13, a Master of Nursing student and Michael Purdy, BSc’13, a biomedical engineering graduate student at Schulich, met in New Venture Development, a Haskayne School of Business/Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation course offered to research-based graduate students.

As a result, they launched Enable, a startup aimed at increasing a sense of community for people of all abilities and overcoming barriers to access for people with, and without, disabilities.  

“The course brings together students from all different faculties. You come in with an entrepreneurial idea and/or skills that could lend to the startup community,” says Purdy, who holds an Alberta Innovates Health Solutions Graduate Studentship for his research in the recovery of nerve injuries.

“I have always been intrigued by startup culture and never guessed within a few months we would have this exciting project launching. Sue introduced me to this community, and I am so excited to be a part of it. With my engineering and program background and my general interest in helping out, I know I can make a difference.” 

Offering support to community with disabilities and families 

Crawford is a registered nurse with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Emergency Services team at the Alberta Children's Hospital. She says, “I’ve been involved with the disabilities community for nearly eight years with Between Friends and most recently as a camp director of Camp Fun'zAmust at Easter Seals Camp Horizon.

“I come across families in the community and the emergency department that urgently need support. They either can’t find support and often do not know where to start. We want to connect families like this to our service — matching them with post-secondary students who might not realize how easy it is to get involved. It is rewarding, both personally professionally. We can’t wait to bring this opportunity to our community.”

Interprofessional innovation is at the heart of new project

Crawford and Purdy’s partnership has been met with huge support. They hold a grant through the Hunter Centre and Innovate Calgary in The Inc. space. Crawford also received the Faculty of Graduate Studies Scholarship for Entrepreneurship and Innovation for the project.

The pair decided to target fellow students as caregivers. “We think it will be great for skill-building,” says Crawford. “Families can offer feedback that students could use to support applications for employment, education and scholarships.”

Opportunities will range from swimming to going out for dinner or catching a movie; the commitment level will be based on each person’s availability.

Project entered into global scientific and business pitch competition

Crawford and Purdy have also entered a video in the Global Healthcare Innovation Academy Wildcard Competition, a global scientific and business pitch competition in partnership with W21C.

After a round of public voting June 16-30, Enable stands to garner a first place prize of $26,000 if the video achieves the highest number of votes.

“This award would go toward start-up costs and to continue to develop our online platform,” says Purdy.

Crawford adds, “Of course, the networking opportunity makes it worth it even if we aren’t in the finals.” In late August, the winners will be announced at a conference at TELUS Spark. “The conference has attendance from many people that we are eager to meet, and they may be willing to offer various investments into helping make this project a reality.”

Visit the website or video to vote, share their links on social media accounts and get involved in the community to see how they can make Calgary more accessible for everybody.