Ottawa

App to track loneliness out to impress in Silicon Valley

Before she reached the age of 23, Elizabeth Audette-Bourdeau had already started three businesses. Now 27, Audette-Bourdeau is hoping to take her latest venture to the next level at a worldwide entrepreneur competition in California.

Ottawa health startup competing against other women-led ventures at global pitchfest

Elizabeth Audette-Bourdeau pitches her health tech startup to Canada's first SoGal chapter in Ottawa in November. On Saturday, she'll pitch to an audience of influencers and investors in Silicon Valley, with $600,000 US in seed money on the line. (Submitted by Alexandria Rose Preston)

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  • At the California competition, Audette-Bourdeau’s Welbi was one of 11 winners, earning $25,000 US.

Before she reached the age of 23, Elizabeth Audette-Bourdeau had already started three businesses. Now 27, the Ottawa entrepreneur is hoping to take her latest venture to the next level at a worldwide competition in California.

Audette-Bourdeau's grandfather inspired her latest project, an app called Welbi that aims to alleviate loneliness for people living in retirement homes. 

"My grandfather was socially isolated. He couldn't even talk on the phone to my grandma because of his hearing aids," she said. "I had to do something for families like mine."

On Saturday, Welbi will compete alongside Ottawa's Thawrih, a sport hijab and turban clothing initiative, and Fülhaus, a short-term furniture rental startup from Montreal, for $600,000 US in venture capital at a global competition sponsored by SoGal, a foundation that invests in startups led by diverse women.

SoGal’s Canadian chapter is headed by Ottawa-based Zainab Muse (centre, with raised hand). Sixteen startups from across Canada participated in the regional pitch competition in Ottawa in November. (Submitted by Alexandria Rose Preston)

Audette-Bourdeau earned her spot in Silicon Valley competing in the regional SoGal competition in Ottawa in November.

In California, 150 entrepreneurs from around the world will make their pitches to prospective investors, with winners receiving mentorship, international press and a good chunk of seed money. 

"There will be very important people in the room that can connect us to potential clients, so it's exciting to have all these opportunities," Audette-Bourdeau said. 

Tracking loneliness 

Audette-Bourdeau's grandfather had a difficult experience in a retirement home. After moving in, he became withdrawn and his health deteriorated. He died not long after.

Welbi is designed to help improve residents' connections within these facilities by analyzing behaviour trends. The app monitors an individual's routine so recreation facilitators can figure out how to encourage them to participate more.   

"A recreation team is in charge of making sure residents get out of their rooms, but these people don't have the right resources to provide care to the residents," Audette-Bourdeau explained.

Family members can also check up on their loved ones by logging into the app and viewing daily activities. 

Audette-Bourdeau said Welbi is slated to be in 265 senior care facilities by the end of the year. 

Zainab Muse, right, and Nickie Shobeiry, left, met while working on the documentary Creatorland. The two share a passion for highlighting entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. (Submitted by Alexandria Rose Preston)

Doc generated opportunities  

It's no coincidence two of the three Canadian businesses pitching on Saturday are Ottawa-based. The Canadian chapter of SoGal is based here, led by Ottawa's Zainab Muse and Nickie Shobeiry.

The idea came when the two were working together on a series called Creatorland, which focused on women and diverse creators.

"Oftentimes, you have to look like Mark Zuckerberg to grow a successful tech company. But there were a lot of people who look like me in those spaces. And that was the kind of story I wanted to tell," Muse said. 

In 2019, Muse partnered with CBC to create a feature-length film version of Creatorland, now streaming on CBC's Gem. 

After the film debuted, she reached out to the SoGal foundation to bring funding opportunities for diverse entrepreneurs, launching SoGal's first Canadian chapter later that year.

"This is what can happen with collaboration. It doesn't matter where you're from or what you look like. Everybody has an ability to create," Muse said.

Winners of the 2020 SoGal global competition will be announced on March 1. 

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