Before coming to the University of Waterloo, Christy Lee volunteered at hospitals and long-term care homes, working closely with patients and residents to help reduce the workload for staff. But Lee found that with the current communication call system, nurses and personal support workers do not know what types of requests the patients are making, and which patients need immediate help.  

Christy LeeAs a fourth-year Waterloo student, Lee wants to solve this problem using the skills and knowledge she gained from her Biomedical Engineering program. Her venture startup, PatientCompanion, is an easy-to-use solution devised as a communication app between nurses and patients to not only improve patient experience, but also help reduce stress and burnout for nurses. 

PatientCompanion allows patients to make specific requests that will then automatically prioritize the request on the nurses’ end. While non-medical requests for water or blankets can be distributed among personal care workers, volunteers or other available staff, which will ultimately reduce the workload for nurses at hospitals and long-term care homes.   

“On average, nurses are assigned between five to nine patients each, where roughly 56 per cent of requests made by patients are non-urgent requests,” Lee says. “As a result, 3 per cent of the time nurses would forget to come back after asking what the patient needs, while 10 per cent of requests get cancelled.” 

“What stands PatientCompanion out from other companies — though we don’t have direct competitors — is the fact that we can customize [the application] for each hospital or home care,” Lee says.  

“We take down the specific type of requests they want to see and distribute. For example, if they don’t have a personal support worker, we can replace that term with a clinical aid if they have one. It is very customizable from colours and icons to everything that’s based on the hospital. It’s a huge merit to our company.” 

From ideation to pilot program with a local hospital 

Lee presented PatientCompanion at three separate pitch competitions — GreenHouse Social Impact Showcase, Velocity Pitch Competition and the Biotec Pitch Competition, where she competed against other Canadian university students and their startup ideas in the health-tech space. 

Part of the total funding she received is going towards PatientCompanion’s first pilot program, where a local hospital has requested Lee to build a physical hardware system, which not only integrates the PatientCompanion software application, but also includes a separate light that would indicate the different types of requests for the nurses.  

Christy Lee receiving the Social Impact Fund from United College principal Richard Myers

Richard Myers, principal at United College, presents Christy Lee with $5,000 in funding towards her venture startup, PatientCompanion.

PatientCompanion does not save patient data directly within their system, so part of the funding will support running the software application on a cloud-based system that can protect both hospital and patient data. Lee aims to start their pilot program, which includes four hospitals and long-term care homes, by the end of April this year. 

“My goal is to help as many people as possible,” says Lee, who plans to develop other venture ideas that bridge health care and engineering. 

“That is why I chose the Biomedical Engineering program because I know I could help many people in the public and health care industry. Learning from the engineering perspective, I was able to gain knowledge and skills from both the development and the product side. I want to continue trying to build new products or new ideas and making sure I can help as many people as possible — not just in Canada but across the world.” 

Starting a health-tech venture as a full-time student is a challenging feat. Lee looks forward to graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Honours Biomedical Engineering and plans to continue growing PatientCompanion across Canadian hospitals and long-term care homes with the goal of expanding into the U.S. market. 

Watch Christy Lee pitch PatientCompanion at the Fall 2023 GreenHouse Social Impact Showcase 

Becoming an entrepreneur while as a full-time student 

Lee attributes her knowledge of developing her venture idea into a startup from talking to Wayne Chang, lecturer of the BET 300 Foundations of Venture Creation, who recommended looking into GreenHouse and Velocity programs. 

In the fall term, Lee attended an open house event where she then met Tania Del Matto, director of GreenHouse, who became interested in Lee’s venture idea and invited her to participate in their weekly workshops and the GreenHouse incubator. Since then, Lee has been able to grow her knowledge of campus resources and secure funding through pitch competitions. 

During her final term at Waterloo, Lee continues to balance her volunteer hours at hospitals long-term care homes, while meeting with nurses and management directors who are interested in having the PatientCompanion app integrated into their communication call system. 

“My advice for other students interested in becoming an entrepreneur is to take BET 300 and other BET courses at the Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business,” says Lee. “It’s a great way to learn more about entrepreneurship and the process of turning your idea that you are passionate about into a product that can help additional people.”