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Alumna receives close to $60,000 in funding for Shoe Sensor creation

By Antoinette Mercurio

From left: Sherene Ng and Rubina Quadri

From left: Early childhood studies ’12 graduates, Sherene Ng and Rubina Quadri, partnered up to create The Shoe Sensor, a shoe designed for people with low-vision.

Sherene Ng turned her own challenge into a strength.

An early childhood studies (ECS) ’12 graduate, Ng became an entrepreneur after designing a product that would help people like her who have Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative eye disease that leads to vision impairment and blindness. Ng learned about adaptive design during her fourth-year internship at the EDGE Lab where she created The Shoe Sensor, a shoe that detects foreign objects in its path and vibrates to alert the user. The shoe was made for people with impaired vision to minimize slips and falls.

“I wanted to create something beneficial for me, my family and others,” Ng said. “Creating this product gave me the chance to take a risk with my career and not get into a typical 9-5 role.”

Ng designed the shoe with part-time ECS student Rubina Quadri, with the support of Jason Nolan, a Faculty of Community Services ECS professor and EDGE Lab director. The EDGE Lab is a Canadian Foundation for Innovation-funded trans-disciplinary research lab dedicated to studying user-initiated designs. Quadri was Ng’s supervisor during her internship and the professional relationship evolved into a business partnership for the duo’s Adaptive Designers company.

In March 2013, with help from the Office of Vice-President, Research and Innovation (OVPRI), Ng received a $54,000 FedDev Science and Engineering in Business Fellowship to commercialize a Shoe Sensor prototype. Ng says the current model is undergoing market research and field testing and the funding will help develop a smaller, compact replica.

In addition to the FedDev fellowship, Ng was one of 10 participants in the SheEO program, an incubator for female entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 and 35. Founded by serial entrepreneur Vicki Saunders, special advisor to the OVPRI in social innovation and enterprise, SheEO was hosted at Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone in August to help women further their business ideas. Ng, who was the only Ryerson alumna in the cohort, received $5,000 at the end of the program to invest in The Shoe Sensor prototype.

Ng says SheEO was a great opportunity to connect her and Quadri with their third business partner, who served as her mentor during the program. She said while the incubator helped participants focus on business matters, it also helped develop leadership skills and encouraged young people to do things at their own pace – advice she’s incorporated in working towards the launch of Adaptive Designers.

“With Ryerson’s name and the fellowship, I was able to further my idea into a business,” Ng said. “My day-to-day isn’t the same week-to-week. There’s value in still enjoying life as an entrepreneur, including taking a day off if necessary and flexibility in working from home or at the office. Most of the time is spent networking with various people from accountants to the City of Toronto.”

Perhaps the biggest influence on Ng developing The Shoe Sensor was her ECS background. “My knowledge of children allows me to create something that is suited for children’s needs,” she said.

Ng is one of countless student innovators and entrepreneurs who are making a difference at Ryerson and in the community. Ryerson is Canada’s first Ashoka Changemaker campus, part of an international network of universities and colleges that are committed to solving real-world problems in new and creative ways.