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UBC hopes to spark tech ‘disruption’ with Creative Destruction Lab

New business program weeds out innovators’ ideas to find the best. Think Dragon’s Den-meets-Survivor-meets-Hunger Games—lasting for months.

University of B.C. alumnus Manoj Singh, president and CEO of Acuva Technologies, teamed up with a UBC scientist to develop a portable water purifier that uses light emitting diodes (LEDs) to produce ultraviolet radiation.

David P. Ball / Metro Order this photo

University of B.C. alumnus Manoj Singh, president and CEO of Acuva Technologies, teamed up with a UBC scientist to develop a portable water purifier that uses light emitting diodes (LEDs) to produce ultraviolet radiation.

Manoj Singh holds in his hands an aluminum container just larger than a tissue box as he stands by a brown-tinged pool of a University of B.C. water feature.

Glinting in the sunlight, what the UBC business alumnus holds a key to making murky waters like these drinkable — at very high speed and without much energy.

Singh, an eight-year Vancouver resident originally from India, sees huge promise in the portable product he developed with UBC chemical and biological engineering professor Fariborz Taghipour.

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The innovation behind their invention is light-emitting diodes (LEDs), but unlike the ones in a camping headlamp, these use ultraviolet radiation to disinfect water.

“Water affects everyone in all parts of the world,” Singh told Metro. “We wanted to contribute something valuable to people, that can be used everywhere.

Manoj Singh, president and CEO of Acuva Technologies, at the University of B.C. following the launch of the Creative Destruction Lab West at Sauder School of Business.

Jennifer Gauthier / Metro

Manoj Singh, president and CEO of Acuva Technologies, at the University of B.C. following the launch of the Creative Destruction Lab West at Sauder School of Business.

“This can be powered by a single solar panel, so it could be installed in a remote village anywhere, or used on boats, RVs, cottages.”

As president and CEO of his Vancouver venture, Acuva Technologies, he’s secured three rounds of seed funding in its push to expand the technology first to off-the-grid homes and RVs, and to developing countries within five years.

It’s just one of the business ideas that’s about to be put to trial-by-fire thanks to a new start-up incubator program launched Wednesday at the UBC Sauder School of Business.

According to the program’s head, Paul Cubbon, only a select few of the 25 projects admitted to the new Creative Destruction Lab West, which he described as a “tech venture accelerator” based on a pioneering program at the University of Toronto.

What makes the lab different from existing entrepreneurship programs is its focus on harnessing academic research to make “large-scale impact,” he said — not just product gimmicks or niche services.

Even more unique is how the program works: enrolees in the Creative Destruction Lab must meet pre-determined milestones every few months, and those that don’t are cast out as the remaining ideas are honed and advised by business veterans and venture investors.

“There’s no need to keep reinventing the wheel,” Cubbon, Sauder’s entrepreneurship group leader, told Metro in an interview at the launch. “You could say it’s a bit like Dragon’s Den, but with laser-pointed mentorship that lasts for months.”

Another project selected to participate in the new program is a wearable device which can help monitor the moment-to-moment stress levels of people with autism.

Why the “destruction” part of the lab’s name? Cubbon insisted that’s not a reference to the crushed egos of rejected students (they still benefit from the mentorship and networking they received, he noted).

“Creative destruction is about how innovation can completely disrupt or change entire systems,” he explained. As pioneering technologies develop, new ways of doing things replace old ones.

One of those attending the launch was tech guru Jeff Mallett, the first president of Yahoo! who was recruited to offer mentorship to enrolees. He knows about such disruptions intimately.

“When I started with Yahoo!, I thought, ‘What else is there to innovate now? We’ve done everything,’” he told Metro. “Since then, look how Yahoo! has been overtaken by Google.

“Big innovation happens in cycles and generations."

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