Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. tech entrepreneur nabs $550K investment for inhaler invention

It's becoming a common phrase among Newfoundland and Labrador tech startups — "We're hiring."

Brett Vokey, 23, is out to fix a problem and make some money

Brett Vokey couldn't stop smiling on Thursday, as it was announced his company had landed $550,000 in venture capital funding. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

It's becoming a common phrase among Newfoundland and Labrador tech startups — "We're hiring."

Brett Vokey couldn't wipe the grin off his face as he uttered those two words to end his speech at a press conference on Thursday, where it was announced his business had secured $550,000 in funding.

At the age of 23, Vokey has a product and a team that stands to make serious money, while helping thousands of people.

"We've developed an inhaler add-on device that will track and train proper inhaler usage for asthma and COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] patients," Vokey said. "Our goal is to essentially make people take their inhalers right and get more medication into their lungs."

The device fits to the top of inhalers and sends data to a corresponding app on smartphones. (Breathesuite)

It's called Breathesuite, and it's a small piece of plastic that fits on common inhalers. It measures how many times you've shaken the inhaler, how hard you breathe and how much of the substance made it into your lungs. The device sends the information to an app you can download to your phone.

Vokey came up with the idea during an engineering internship. He had done other internships in the oil and gas industry, but this one was in the health-care sector.

A 2016 study showed about 90 per cent of patients do not use inhalers properly. They have to be shaken properly and held at the correct angle, and users have to breathe hard enough and at the right time for it to work perfectly.

When Vokey looked at what solutions were available, he saw a lack of technology on the market.

Funding announcements becoming common

Breathesuite was aided along the way by the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship. About half of the funding is coming from the capital investment firm Pelorus Venture, while more came from several angel investors.

Pelorus director Chris Moyer said the money is pre-seed funding — an early investment to get the business running so it can get its products to market.

This is the third venture capital announcement in 30 days in St. John's.

Tech company Verafin landed Canada's largest-ever venture funding deal on Sept. 25, a whopping $515 million.

On Oct. 3, St. John's-based CoLab Software announced $2.7 million in new funding to hire more staff and release a new version of its engineering design program.

Vokey said Breathesuite's new funding will go toward doubling its staff from five to at least 10 people. He said they are hiring two software engineers.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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