Michael Rouben and Spencer Gardner

Graduates of Mathematical Physics, Co-op

Two recent Math grads develop biofeedback athletic gear

Michael and Spencer

Dynamic Academic Ventures creators: Spencer Gardner, on the left, and Michael Rouben stand in front of UWaterloo’s Math and Computer building.

Michael Rouben and Spencer Gardner have just finished their final exams, securing their undergrad degrees in Waterloo’s Mathematical Physics Co-op program, and both of them are feeling a little nostalgic. They met five years ago during a first-year physics class and discovered they were both in the Math Faculty and living at St. Jerome’s. They stayed on parallel courses academically and, not surprisingly, they came to share similar academic interests and ideas.

While in second year, they were taking another physics course together that led them to researching a device that maps electrical impulses from brain activities to musical sounds. Michael describes what happens: “Since the brain monitors every activity in the body, the information provided by the brain is very useful to interpret things that are happening in the body. For example, before someone gets a seizure, very distinctive electrical impulses happen in the brain. The device maps this activity to a certain sound so the individual is aware that they will experience a seizure soon. By connecting the impulse sound to the coming seizure, a person who gets seizures is able to predict when one is approaching and then try to prevent it from happening.” It was the discovery of this brain-mapping device that launched Michael and Spencer’s research into biofeedback.

Spencer attended a start-up conference and met soon-to-be Forbes 30 under 30 William Zhou, a fellow soon-to-graduate Math student founder of Chalk.com; a tool that allows teachers to prepare lesson plans their students. It was there that Spencer received solid advice onto starting up his own venture from William. He was asked to take a course called BET 300 that taught him about the process involved in moving an idea from conception to launch. The course inspired Spencer and Michael to do an “Enterprise Co-op” term, where students pursue an entrepreneurial venture while earning a co-op credit. Then in September 2014, they entered the Conrad BET contest where they pitched their idea for biofeedback gear to a panel of judges and they won. Their prize was $4000 to help launch their venture.

Fast forward to their final year in Mathematical Physics, where we find that Michael and Spencer have evolved their interests in biofeedback and a brain-mapping device into a serious effort to create a wearable device that will be strapped around the chest monitoring the user’s heart rate and providing real-time biometric feedback that quantifies the user’s physiological state. The goal is to give people a more evidence-based approach to managing their health. Michael and Spencer have named their company: Dynamic Academic Ventures Incorporated or DAV INC; for short. Michael and Spencer will build a prototype of the device this summer and then have it tested by University of Waterloo professors who are marathon runners.

When asked about their time at Waterloo, they both remarked that they loved their experience. Spencer remarks, “I met a ton people and made very interesting friends that you won’t meet anywhere else in the world.” They credit their Math courses such as Control Theory and being exposed to the different applications of mathematics for leading  them to their idea. Michaels explains his enthusiasm for math in this way, “Everything you see around you in life is described on a fundamental level by some mathematical phenomenon. Math and physics develop the tools that model the physical world, which can be applied to any field you can imagine.”

Spencer and Michael may miss the support that they have received from Waterloo as they evolve their product. However, Waterloo doesn’t cut ties when students graduate. The guys will be invited back to share their successes and experiences with the next crop of students with entrepreneurial ventures. This is the Waterloo way.

By Henry Guo, April 2015

University of Waterloo

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