Community & Current Events

Bright ideas: Innovative products and services by Canadians

Bright ideas: Innovative products and services by Canadians

Getty Images Image by: Getty Images Author: Canadian Living

Community & Current Events

Bright ideas: Innovative products and services by Canadians

1. Medical care when you don't have a family doctor

Roughly five million Canadians aged 12 and older don't have a family doctor.
Solution: This website and app locates your nearest urgent-care centre, after-hours or walk-in clinic, emergency department and pharmacy.
Cost to you: Free

You've come down with a really bad case of the flu and need to see a doctor. But what if you don't have a family physician? You could check in to your local emergency department and wait, possibly for hours. There's a better solution: A tap of the app will show you the location of the nearest walk-in health-care facilities, as well as contact information and hours.

Three University of Toronto students—who recognized that they and their friends relied on the ER for same-day and after-hours health care— developed the concept. "We wanted to provide a host of health services that are open when people need them," says cofounder Ryan Doherty. The app serves only Ontario—for now; the developers hope to make it available across Canada by year's end.

2. Safer fun in the sun

Skin cancer is more prevalent than ever, with more than 80,000 casess diagnosed in Canada each year.
Solution: Suncayr. This ultraviolet-responsive felt-tip marker tells you when you need to reapply sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays.
Cost to you: $12

An award-winning product from a group of fourth-year University of Waterloo nanotechnology engineering students could change the way we enjoy the outdoors. Suncayr indicates when your sunscreen is no longer protecting you from UV exposure, which can damage the skin's cellular DNA and may lead to skin cancer.

The students were inspired by their own red-hot brushes with the sun. "I always get sunburned," says Rachel Pautler, CEO and one of the company's four cofounders. "You have to be so vigilant about reapplying sunscreen."

Simply draw on your skin using the opaque marker, then apply sunscreen. The drawing will turn purple when your skin is no longer protected from UV. When more sunscreen is applied to the area, the drawing disappears. The team hopes to offer more kid-friendly colour options by the time the product is ready for market.

3. More accessible mental health care

Low-income Canadians are 10 times more likely to report unmet health-care needs due to the cost of transportation, lack of childcare and difficulty getting time off work to attend necessary health appointments, according to the Canadian Medical Association.
Solution: Stella's Playroom. This in-hospital supervised childcare centre at Toronto's Women's College Hospital allows children to play while their families attend a healthcare appointment.
Cost to you: Free

Imagine a mother experiencing postpartum depression who has to cancel a therapy appointment because she couldn't find a caregiver for her children. This scenario was a reality at Women's College Hospital, says Marilyn Emery, president and CEO. "We identified a lack of childcare options as a barrier to care," she says.

While the hospital was planning a new facility, staff decided the addition of a short-stay childcare service was a priority. The result is Stella's Playroom, a play zone for children up to 12 years of age. Operated by a registered early-childhood educator, the free service can be booked by appointment, space permitting.

4. Neighbourhoods made more accessible

According to a 2012 Statistics Canada survey, more than 11 percent of Canadian adults are limited in their daily lives because of pain, flexibility limitations or a mobility impairment that, in some cases, requires the use of a wheelchair.
Solution: StopGap Foundation. StopGap's Community Ramp Project provides custom access ramps—free of charge—to local shops, restaurants and businesses with single-step storefronts.
Cost to you: Free

Design with everyone in mind. That's how founder and president Luke Anderson describes the work of StopGap, an initiative that improves accessibility by bridging the gap between buildings and sidewalks. "Everyone benefits from barrierfree amenities: a wheelchair user, a parent pushing a strolle or a delivery person. A single step can be a real hassle," says Anderson, who uses a wheelchair.

StopGap's first project took shape in Toronto's Junction neighbourhood in 2011. Portable wooden access ramps were constructed for 12 businesses using material donations from local hardware stores and volunteer labour. The project got people talking about the human right to equal access. "Since then, we have sharpened our skill sets and inspired others across the country to take on similar initiatives," says Anderson, citing ramp projects in Steveston, B.C. and Charlottetown.

Those interested in improving accessibility in their communities can download how-to resources at Stop-Gap recently became a registered charity to raise funds for additional projects. "As our name suggests, these ramps are not a perfect solution," says Anderson. "We hope our project will help pave the way for permanent solutions to this huge access issue."

5. A wearable way home

About 750,000 Canadians are living with Alzheimer's disease or dementia—and at least 60 percent of those people will wander at least once, putting their health, and sometimes their lives, in danger.
Solution: Arden Smartband. The tracking bracelet sends a signal to your smartphone to pinpoint a person's location.
Cost to you: About $185 for the Smartband, plus the cost of monthly cellular data.

Midi the dog has been known to wander off at venues where her owner, singer Jann Arden, is performing. Concerned about her safety, Arden contacted software developer Derek Sheldon, and he had the solution: a silicone-rubber collar that, via satellite and SIM-card technology, would track the dog's location and send a signal to a smartphone app.

Soon after they started a campaign on the crowd-funding site Indiegogo, Arden realized there was a need for a wearable tracking bracelet for humans. "We had thousands of emails within the first week," she says. "People were saying: ‘I need this for my parent.' ‘My mom wanders.' ‘My dad's got dementia.' ‘I need this for my son who's autistic.' "

Since then, nearly $30,000 has been raised to launch the Arden Smartband and the Arden Collar through Indiegogo. The products will be available for purchase in October.

6. Charitable dining

In 2012, four million Canadians experienced food insecurity, meaning they lived in households that struggled to afford the food they needed.
Solution: Mealshare. For every meal you purchase from a partner restaurant, this registered nonprofit organization provides one meal to someone in need.
Cost to you: One meal out

The Mealshare concept is simple: You dine at one of the partner restaurants and order a dish with the Mealshare logo. Just like that, you've donated enough from the cost of your menu item to help a local partner charity and an international cause (Save the Children Canada) provide one meal to a person in need in Canada or internationally.

"Buy a meal, give a meal! For a customer, it's a super-easy way to get involved in the community," says cofounder Jeremy Bryant, who brainstormed the concept with his cousin Andrew Hall as a way to help address food insecurity in thei hometown, Calgary, and around the world. "It doesn't take any extra work," explains Bryant. "You get to go out to an awesome restaurant—local, independent, cool places— enjoy your meal and, because you're eating something with a Mealshare logo, you're getting your good deed done as well."

Since July 2013, Mealshare has provided more than 200,000 meals. Partner restaurants are located in Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Alta., Toronto and Halifax, as well as a handful of smaller communities. You can find one near you at

For more bright ideas that will amp up your health and wellness levels, check out these 4 clever smartphone apps.

This story was originally part of "Super Solutions" in the April 2015 issue.
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Community & Current Events

Bright ideas: Innovative products and services by Canadians