UVic Harnesses Power of Research to Aid COVID-19 Recovery

University of Victoria launches Research Accelerator Fund to seed innovation.

Civil engineering researcher Heather Buckley holds a container of wastewater samples on the way to the UVic lab for analysis, part of a project collecting, managing and reporting data from wastewater plants.
Civil engineering researcher Heather Buckley holds a container of wastewater samples on the way to the UVic lab for analysis, part of a project collecting, managing and reporting data from wastewater plants. The data can be used as a predictive tool for health authorities on how active COVID-19 is in the Capital Region. Photo courtesy of UVIC Photo Services.

One of Canada’s leading research-intensive universities has focused its efforts on speeding up Canada’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The University of Victoria has engaged its staff and students in responding to need and fueling change through their work at its Coa​st Capital Savings Innovation Centre.

UVic researchers are particularly focused on projects around supporting mental health, healthy aging and substance use, and social justice and equality. The university is also finding ways to nurture entrepreneurs and industry as they craft, and adapt to, new ways of working in the wake of the pandemic.

Pandemic spurs new innovations by scientists, researchers and start-ups

Specifically, their scientists are working on developing solutions like rapid, non-invasive tests, virus-resistant surface coatings, and new ways of detecting and monitoring COVID-19. Among the over 100 projects currently underway, they are also examining how viral infections can alter brain function.

“UVic researchers have extensive experience in community-engaged research and activities related to the determinants of health including mental health, healthy aging and substance use, and social justice and equality,” says Michael Masson, Acting Associate Vice-President, Research at UVic.

“Important projects in these areas include studying responses to the impact of COVID-19 in Indigenous communities and evaluating mental health impacts of the pandemic, including suicide risk among vulnerable populations. UVic student researchers and alumni are also making significant contributions through innovations such as paper-free menus, ordering, and payments systems for restaurants, one of the hardest-hit sectors of our economy.”

UVic alum-led businesses help the economy rebound from COVID-19

Karan Tongay, along with his brother Ninad, were supported by UVic in realizing their vision for Contactless Dining Inc, a service addressing the restaurant industry’s need for paper free menus, ordering and payments. Their idea predated the pandemic, but they quickly realized its potential once the lockdown began.

Karan & Ninad Tongay
Karan and Ninad Tongay, Founders of Contactless Dining Inc. Photo courtesy of Karan Tongay.

“The Coast Capital Savings Innovation Center gave us an opportunity to present our goals, values, and motivation behind our venture in helping communities, especially around the restaurant industry to what we call ‘knockdown the effects of lockdown,’” says Karan Tongay. “They worked with us to explore possibilities and widen the impact we are trying to make through our venture on our communities. By offering initial funding, UVic helped us carry out our research in identifying the key problems and issues of our communities involving the restaurant industry affected by COVID-19.”

New Research Accelerator Fund encourages private and government support

The university recently launched a Research Accelerator Fund (RAF) to funnel donations to the cause, citing the importance of collaborative community, corporate and government agency support. RAF is a seed fund that will support and accelerate research at UVic through a targeted fundraising campaign.

The first Research Accelerator Fund campaign will focus on COVID-19 research. Longer term, the fund will also support future research projects tackling the world’s toughest social, economic and environmental issues, such as climate change and anti-racism.

“Donor support unlocks and accelerates research with local and global relevance. The UVic Research Accelerator Fund advances big ideas to make real change in our everyday lives over the long term,” says Lisa Kalynchuk, Vice-President, Research for the University of Victoria.

Tongay feels the Accelerator Fund can lead to an increase in “a critical understanding of the effects of COVID-19 and identify solutions. COVID-19 has given rise to a lot of social problems and restrictions in our community and in my opinion, this initiative fills this coveted need to generate useful knowledge through research that could be used for solving social problems.”

Fund will jumpstart new projects and push boundaries

UVic alum Iman Moazzen, Phd, Founder of digital content start-up Castofly, says “it is so heartening and inspiring to see that my alma mater UVic is at the forefront of efforts to accelerate recovery via the Research Accelerator Fund during this time of crisis. I think it’s the duty of public funded universities to showcase academic and social leadership especially during these times and this fund demonstrates that leadership.”

Iman Moazzen
UVic alum Iman Moazzen, Founder of Castofly, Photo courtesy of Iman Moazzen.

Moazzen remembers his time at UVic as inspiring and nurturing.  “The environment of innovation is rich, thriving and quite supportive,” he says. “When I was starting my first venture, I was a PhD Scholar at UVic and completely new to the entrepreneurship world. The feedback, support and knowledge that I received at the university from my mentors, Innovation Centre and peers immensely helped me become a serial entrepreneur. Even today, UVic plays an important role in my journey of leading Castofly and its success. We recently got selected as one of the Top 25 Startups in BC and participated in UVic’s venture incubator PlanIt competition, and won the first prize.”

To learn more about the fund please visit www.uvic.ca/researchaccelerator.