UV School of Pharmacy students win $5,000 for ‘innovative business model’

The Pharmasave business competition is held every year and has resulted in three real businesses

A team of third-year University of Waterloo students from the Faculty of Pharmacy won a $5,000 prize for their “innovative business model in the field of pharmacy.”

The Pharmasave business competition, held annually, allows students to work in teams to develop a startup that solves a current healthcare problem under Ontario’s health regulations by pitching their ideas to a panel of pharmacists, entrepreneurs and financial advisors.

“Every year, the Pharmasave business competition proves that pharmacists can be entrepreneurs,” said Dean Pacey, a professor in the School of Pharmacy. “Our course and competition are unique to the School and provide students with the opportunity to practice entrepreneurial skills while interacting with the strong start-up ecosystem in our community.”

This year’s winning team — Irina Zhirnova, Amanda Nicole Helka and Ali Mayer — took home the title with their business, URinCharge. The team focused on connecting patients and pharmacists to address pressing women’s health issues, surveying a group of pharmacists in Ontario to demonstrate the project and provide feedback.

While Ontario pharmacists can prescribe medications for minor illnesses, it is voluntary and only those who are certified and participating can prescribe, which can make it difficult to find participating pharmacists to address current illnesses.

“Technology is growing exponentially and there seems to be an app for everything on the market,” said Zhirnova. “Digital connectivity is becoming a normal part of everyday life — why not apply an app to something that can help people take charge of their health?” “

Teams’ app, using GPS location, allows a person with UTI symptoms to connect with a pharmacy of their choice and schedule an appointment within two hours. The app lists all pharmacies that report having appointments available to give the patient the ability to choose a location and time that works best for them.

When the application connects the user with the pharmacy, the patient will receive a referral for the doctor or the drug prescribed for him, depending on his situation. If the consultation results in a prescription, the patient can choose the preferred pharmacy to fill the prescription.

“Our goal is to help people with UTIs, usually women, get access to care in a way that won’t force them to take time off work and affect their lives,” Helka said. “If the last two to three years have taught us anything, it’s that Canada’s health care landscape will continue to face disruptive change in the coming decades.”

Winning the competition convinced the team that their idea had strong potential for real-world application; the competition has led to at least three actual businesses in the past.

“It was amazing to see pharmacists excited about the potential of our idea,” Meyer said.

The team hopes to use the prize money to develop the app with a software engineer and app developer they have consulted with, once minor illness prescribing is accepted in Ontario.

“This project was close to our hearts,” said Žirnova. “Historically, women’s health has been understudied and excluded from clinical trials. Adverse effects and drug metabolism may differ between women, so there is still much more to be done in this area. It is so important to stand up for the profession of pharmacy and for women.”

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