When I was in my final year of school in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo, starting a company was the last thing on my mind. But when my grandmother, Marilyn, who lives with dementia read the headline of a newspaper perfectly, I had a light bulb moment. Marilyn loved to read before she was diagnosed with dementia, but slowly stopped as her dementia progressed. My family and I associated this with her cognitive progression until she impressed us with her reading of that headline. Knowing she could still read I went online to buy her some books that were specifically made for individuals with dementia. To my dismay, I did not find any available. As I returned to school I saw posters advertising the Big Ideas Challenge hosted by St. Paul’s Greenhouse, which included a call to action for Applied Health Science students who only needed an idea they wanted to see to fruition. I applied to the challenge, and began researching procedural memory and dementia to ensure that people with dementia can still read, and this problem was not unique to my grandmother.
From here, I was accepted into the St. Paul’s Greenhouse program where they taught me how to turn my idea into a prototype in 4 months, and Marlena Books, a portmanteau of my grandmothers’ names (Marilyn and Helena) was born. Marlena Books gained traction and market validation as we found a new home in the Kindred Credit Union Epp Peace Incubator. We began creating partnerships with long-term care homes, and did a soft launch in late 2016 where we sold our first books to long-term care homes. After being accepted into the Velocity Garage, we launched our online store selling to consumers, libraries, and long-term care homes. We have been featured on CTV and CBC, and our most recent achievement was winning the Velocity Fund Finals in March of this year. With Velocity funding we are digitizing our books to offer an immersive recreation experience for individuals with dementia.
Throughout my journey in entrepreneurship I have learned the value of taking risks and networking. I have been so fortunate to have learned these lessons from the various entrepreneurial supports on campus. The University of Waterloo is where I got my start in entrepreneurship, my education, and where I continue to access mentors on a daily basis.