Umay has been busy preparing for what co-founder Sharmin Habib hopes is a flood of orders for Rest, a tool to improve sleep and eye health, following her appearance on the Sept. 15 episode of Dragons' Den with her brother and co-founder Ali Habib.
"It's been a whirlwind," she said of the lead-up to the release of their pitch on the long-running CBC show. "We're knee-deep in trying to prepare for that high exposure that we're anticipating ... But we're really excited to have the opportunity to share this story and just see how it resonates across a large audience."
The story begins about 10 years ago when Sharmin, who is an optometrist, diagnosed her brother with a chronic form of dry eye. "Go home and put a warm, wet towel on your eyes," she told him. "You're getting these blocked glands because you're looking at screens all day, and you're not blinking."
He didn't like her solution. "Most of my patients don't come back and complain like he did, but being my brother, he was candid," she told Taproot. "He shared with me that this is really inconvenient, it's messy, I don't know how people are going to do this."
They set about creating a product that would deliver heat, cooling, and vibration, with a better user experience that would be more likely to encourage users to rest their screen-tortured eyes.
Their entrepreneurial journey has included a collaboration with the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute and a chance to be part of Batch 1 of the Alberta Accelerator by 500.
Habib calls the accelerator a gift. "It just gave us the right amount of push and challenge to re-question every single aspect of the business," she said, noting that it put her and Ali in touch with mentors with lots of experience. "And if they weren't able to guide us with what we were doing, they would connect us with others who did have that experience. So that was wonderful."
The COVID-19 pandemic stopped the traction they were starting to get at trade shows and wellness events. But it also gave them a chance to further research and validate the idea, she said. And the increased screen time that resulted from work-from-home routines made the need for their device more obvious.
"As COVID hit, I think people just started to experience the problem much more intimately," she said. "It was just a no-brainer. We started spending less time explaining the problem to people and more about the solution."
Judging from the Dragons' Den trailer, the investors were impressed with Rest, but you'll have to watch the show to see whether they wanted in. A watch party at Startup Edmonton is full, but there's still a chance to attend virtually, or you can just watch it at home.