Discovery Tools Problem Pitch

Quantum Valley Investments® Problem Pitch - Discovery Tools

New for the Fall 2018 term, the Problem Lab is partnering with the Faculty of Science to bring you the Discovery Tools Problem Pitch!

Win support of up to $10,000 to conduct your own research into better tools for inquiry in the biological and physical sciences. Enter the Fall Term Quantum Valley Investments Problem Pitch Competition in the category of Discovery Tools*.

The team that best demonstrates an understanding of an important obstacle to scientific inquiry wins the award.

Application are now closed

If you have any questions about Problem Pitch Discovery Tools, please email Jessica O’Connor

problem pitch dates flow chartDates details:

  • Application Deadline: Sunday, September 30th @ 11:59pm

  • Discovery Tools Workshop: Friday, October 5th from 9:30am-3pm @ STC 2002**

  • Problem Topic Deck Submission Deadline: Sunday, October 21st @ 11:59pm

  • Problem Pitch Semi-finalists Notified: Wednesday, October 24th

  • Discovery Tools Qualifying Pitches: Thursday, October 25th from 10am-1pm @ STC 2002**

  • Quantum Valley Investments® Problem Pitch Competition: Thursday, November 1st from 7pm-10pm @ STC 0050

** Mandatory attendance from at least one team member. Workshops are designed as a drop-in format.

More information on general application requirements can be found on the main Problem Pitch Competition website.

What kinds of problems are we looking for?

We’re challenging students, both graduate and undergraduate, to identify and thoroughly understand the most important limitations affecting discovery tools in the biological and physical sciences. This is either a commanding limitation to discovery in a particular science, or it is a limitation underlying all or most of the sciences. We are not looking for a minor limitation that modestly affects experimental outcomes.

While we cannot predict all the problems that exist in the discovery tools space, here is some more information about the types of problems that we are interested in seeing from students participating in the Discovery Tools Problem Pitch:

1.     Time consuming processes

By this we mean that a scientific process (in academia or industry) is plagued by excessively long process times. For example, a process required to conduct different types of biological research takes researchers one month to complete with the current tools. This would indicate that the process is not sufficient and a new process or discovery tool is needed to expedite the research process.

2.    A type of research or process is prohibitively expensive

If a method or process of scientific or industrial research is limited because it is prohibitively expensive to use, it would fit here. A cost barrier such as this will limit who can use the equipment or conduct the research.  This could also apply to the materials required to conduct research and economies of scale.

3.    Problems of reliability

In research of any kind it is important to have high levels of reliability. If a method of research is unable to achieve high reliability or subject to varying levels of reliability, it would fit here. Alternatively, if high reliability is too expensive to achieve that would also be a problem.

4.    Narrow research capabilities

Research equipment that is only able to perform specific research uses would be a problem. Advances in discovery tools that overcome limited uses of existing technologies would increase the function of a discovery tool, and possibly create opportunities for new research to be conducted.

CRISPR Example

To expand on some of the items mentioned above, we will look at an example of a newer discovery tool that solved a problem of existing tools – CRISPR.​

CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspace Short Palindromic Repeats. This is a technology that allows researchers to change the sequence of DNA in a specific manner. CRISPR associated protein 9 (Cas9) is the tool that was created as a programmable genetic editing tool. The CRISPR technology comes from the natural ability of bacteria and archaea (single-celled microorganisms) to use Cas9 to break up the DNA of foreign bodies and viruses.

Prior to CRISPR, scientists used zinc finger proteins (ZNFs) as gene editing tools and later transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) were also available as gene editing tools. TALENs gave researchers more flexibility than ZNFs and required less optimization for specific genetic targeting. ZNFs were the intellectual property of one company called Sangamo. As such, the cost of ZNFs were exorbitant, costing thousands of dollars and taking about two months for premade or custom ZNFs.

The advantages of CRISPR over the ZNF and TALON tools include:

·      Simple design

CRISPR systems can be made to specifically target almost any sequence of DNA.

·      Efficient

The desired genetic changes can be achieved by injecting the RNA for the Cas9 protein and guide RNA (gRNA), used to guide Cas9 to the targeted sequence of DNA, into an embryo.

·      Multiple targets can be introduced

In order introduce multiple target DNA sequences, you need only inject multiple gRNAs.

The new research opportunities

CRISPR has applications such as research, agriculture/food, healthcare, pharmaceuticals and biofuels. There are also applications in secondary industries, like combating endangered and invasive species. CRISPR could be used to eliminate diseases that affect endangered species and introduce genetic diversity into species where small populations have caused the species to become too inbred. With invasive species, CRISPR can be used to input genes that would sterilize the species so the next generation can no longer reproduce. The development of CRISPR also allows companies to emerge, grow, and develop products and services that make use of the technology.



This competition is open to teams of 1 to 4 people. We encourage your team to bring together individuals from diverse backgrounds and areas of study. The team member pitching at the Quantum Valley Investments® Problem Pitch Competition must be a current full-time, or part-time University of Waterloo student (undergraduate or graduate) and all members are encouraged to attend prep sessions prior to the competition. For Discovery Tools applicants, at least half the team must be enrolled in the Faculty of Science.

*Funding won at the Quantum Valley Investments® Problem Pitch Competition is to be used for R&D to develop a solution to the problem and must be used within 1 year of receiving the funding. It will be administered by reimbursing approved expenses – receipts and documentation must be provided for reimbursement. Competition organizers will determine if an expense is eligible or not. The decision to award funding tp competition winners is at the judges’ discretion. Problem Pitch winners may be eligible for additional funding, up to the amount of the initial funding, based on their R&D progress. The Discovery Tools segment of the Quantum Valley Investments® Problem Pitch Competition is a collaboration between the Problem Lab and the Faculty of Science.

The Problem Pitch Competition is made possible by $300,000 in funding from Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, principals of Quantum Valley Investments® and founders of Blackberry.