Genetics-based wellness startup and education consultant win U of T’s 2021 Pride Pitch competition

Tuesday, July 13, 2021 - 4:26pm
Sharon Aschaiek

Innovations in achieving wellness and education design and delivery impressed observers and scored the top prizes at the University of Toronto’s 2021 PRIDE Pitch.

Hosted on June 16 and organized by U of T Mississauga’s ICUBE social entrepreneurship hub, the second annual business pitch event provided an opportunity for 2SLGBTQ+ students or recent alumni from all three U of T campuses to showcase their startup ventures to a panel of judges consisting of three successful business professionals. Five finalists—chosen from applications submitted to ICUBE from May 3-31—took part in the event, which awarded $3,000 and $2,000 to, respectively, the first- and second-place winners.

From grand prize winners Kyle Wang and Zi Yang emerged Archipelago, a service that helps one leverage their unique genetic makeup to live a more healthful lifestyle. Both molecular genetic PhD students, the duo saw an untapped opportunity to use genetic science to help people optimize their fitness, nutrition and skincare routines.

“We understood that genetics goes beyond just health care—it impacts us in our everyday life, the way we eat, exercise, take care of our skin,” says Wang, a former personal trainer. “We want to enable people to act on their genetic information in a professionally guided, science-based way.”

Archipelago members are provided with a DNA testing kit to submit a saliva sample, and receive a free genetic report revealing various pertinent data points. These include one’s propensity for muscle-building and fat-burning, insulin resistance, risk of sustaining and recovering from an injury, food sensitivities, collagen production and vulnerability to sunburns.

From there, you can purchase one of several “blueprints”, two- to 12-week training programs customized to your unique wellness goals and biological traits that you follow with the support one of Archipelago’s vetted fitness trainers or health coach partners. Whether the goal is to gain muscle, lose fat, build mobility or endurance, rehabilitate an injury or get back into shape after giving birth, the service caters to a wide range of lifestyle and fitness objectives and circumstances.

Wang and Yang developed their business model with the support of U of T’s Health Innovation Hub, an accelerator for health-focused ventures. Wang says the PRIDE Pitch event further validated their current beta version of Archipelago, and provided added momentum to officially launch by year’s end.

“PRIDE Pitch affirms that the LGBTQ community can innovate, start successful businesses and lead by example, so it was significant for us to experience and to discover the ideas coming out of the community,” Wang says. “The feedback was priceless and has helped us evolve the business more strategically.”

The kind of evolution that interests Maya Saggar, meanwhile, lies in the connected spheres of teaching, program creation and curriculum development. Her business, Maya Saggar Consulting, won second place and the People’s Choice Award.

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Maya Saggar won second place and took home the People's Choice Award for her startup, Maya Saggar Consulting. (Photo supplied by Maya Saggar)

A 2020 graduate of a Master of Education from OISE in curriculum studies and teacher development, and someone who has worked in various teaching and curriculum design roles since 2015, Saggar has fresh ideas for helping educators and entrepreneurs create thoughtfully designed learning experiences. She says her professional insights partly derive from the five years she spent until 2019 as a self-employed dance instructor/business owner at K-8 schools in her community of Mississauga.

“I found that I loved developing the programs, the planning and organizing the resources—that all got me excited,” Saggar recalls. “Then I transitioned it into a business and hired others to teach the classes, and was able to expand to different schools.”

Her current entrepreneurial endeavour was sparked by the pandemic, in response to teacher friends seeking her help to shift their practice online. She realized the market was ripe for independent educational consultants who could work with individual instructors, schools and small businesses. She says presenting at PRIDE Pitch confirmed her insight: “The feedback was that I’m in the right space at the right time, and there is a need for this service.”

After building up a clientele base over several months and fleshing out her model, Saggar formally launched her business in March. She then developed her website and Instagram channel, and has recruited eight co-op students to help grow the business. Along the way, she received guidance from training sessions and mentors at ICUBE.

“This work is a creative outlet for me,” says Saggar, who is currently pursuing her PhD in education. “I love the designing and the planning. I get to work in my zone of genius, and pass things off to instructors and let them carry out their genius.”