UBC Engineering alum wins coveted Manning Innovation Award
Geof Auchinleck graduated from UBC in 1981 with a BASc in Engineering Physics – and with absolutely no idea where or how to start his career. “Like most engineering physicists,” he reflects with a broad smile on his face, “I was qualified for absolutely nothing. You could do just about anything, but you didn’t have any idea what to do.” However, 31 years later, on October 17, 2012, he found himself standing on a stage in Ottawa accepting the Manning Innovation Encana Principal Award, one of our country’s top awards championing innovative achievement.
Geof won the award for his invention and successful commercialization of “Bloodtrack – An Advanced Transfusion Management System”, which revolutionized the process of blood management. Bloodtrack improves blood banking and transfusion safety and efficiency by electronically tracking units of blood meant for transfusion, ensuring that the correct blood is transfused into the correct patient in the correct manner, while creating an audit trail to allow for later review. Where implemented, Bloodtrack has resulted in a massive reduction in the units of blood wasted, a 52% decrease in the labour required by blood management systems and, most importantly, a marked drop in the number of fatalities or near-fatalities caused by mistakes in blood management.
Because of Bloodtrack and his other projects (he currently holds 16 US patents), Geof is now an internationally recognized inventor. However, he will be the first to admit that his road to success was neither straight nor predictable. In fact, it began when he found a mentor in a very unlikely place. Soon after graduating, Geof applied for a job and landed an interview with Dr. Jim McEwen, head of the VGH Biomedical Engineering Department and a fellow UBC Engineering graduate. The two men instantly connected through their UBC experiences and Dr. McEwen saw promise in young Geof, offering him a job on his research team at VGH and becoming a very valuable mentor and friend.
From there, Geof’s career took off. Working with Dr. McEwen, he became part of a company called Andronic Devices Ltd. in 1985, creating the first robot specifically designed to assist in surgery. He then went on to work on blood lab automation in the pathology and biochemistry labs at UBC, funded by the laboratory giant MDS Labs. When, in 1997, MDS moved its labs to Ontario, he took a risk and spun out his own company with business partner Lyn Sharman, called Neoteric Technology Ltd. Not long after that, Neoteric made Bloodtrack a reality.
The day after receiving his Manning Innovation Award, Geof spoke at the Manning Symposium at Carleton University, espousing the need for more innovation in Canada. “Canada should lead in innovation because we can afford it,” he argues, “We have the responsibility.” Geof sees entrepreneurship as integral to innovation and for this reason, among others, he is passionate about mentoring and fostering entrepreneurship in engineering students and other young potential business owners while at university. Geof supports the entrepreneurship@ubc program at UBC as both a donor and volunteer, and has mentored and supported more than 30 startup companies over the past ten years.
Geof fondly recounts his own experience of how a fellow entrepreneur unexpectedly helped him find his feet. Right before he left MDS in 1997 he met with Doug Philips, one of the founders of MDS and a fellow entrepreneur. Geof planned to ask him for the rights to MDS’ Vancouver-based projects, as well as severance pay, which he hoped he could put against the startup costs. “I marched into his office, basically with an ultimatum, and expecting him to call security to throw me out of the building”, Geof recounts. “Instead, Doug Philips sits back and he says, ‘Ah, I love entrepreneurs! How much do you need?’” In Geof’s first real experience with typical entrepreneurial comradery, Doug Philips put $60,000 into Geof’s new startup, Neoteric, and asked for absolutely nothing in return.
The moral of the story, Geof says, is that graduates who ask for it will certainly receive assistance from other entrepreneurs and, with a bit of luck, they may also meet an important mentor who will give them a chance and guide them along their way to success. “Do it now,” Geof recommends to engineering students and recent graduates looking to start their own businesses, “Don’t wait for the costs of life to add up.”
As his final piece of advice to a new generation of entrepreneurs, Geof recites the mantra that he lives by and that he believes has greatly contributed to his success and eventually to his Manning Innovation Encana Principal Award: “If not you, then who? If not now, then when?”
In January, 2012, Geof started a new company with one of his former Neoteric colleagues, Paul Sharman, called Claris Healthcare. Claris Healthcare is looking at health and structural issues and designing internet-based technology aimed at the dual goal of keeping senior citizens in their homes and out of acute care hospitals longer, while enabling them to increase connectivity with both healthcare providers and loved ones.
For more information on Claris Healthcare, see: http://www.clarishealthcare.com/about-us/