Zennea Technologies, a start-up company founded by four Simon Fraser University students, took home the highest honour at the seventh annual Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize. Their idea of developing an adjustable, portable, and wearable device that can help sleep apnea patients reduce their snore during their sleep, as well as other health benefits, helped them secure their win at the recent SFU entrepreneurship contest.

      Earlier this February, the 2018 Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize was held at SFU Surrey. The event is an annual SFU entrepreneurship competition that invites SFU students, faculty, and staff to present their business idea to the community, as well as a panelist comprised of industry professionals.

      The prestigious award, valued at $10,000 in cash and approximately $25,000 in in-kind prizes, is given to the team that has the best business model, idea, and potential for real-life application, according to its website.

      The members of Zennea Technologies include Ryan Threlfall, Rachel Chase, Nell Du, and Oliver Luo, all of whom are business and mechatronic systems engineering students.

      The students are currently developing an alternate version of the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine — one that is much smaller and easy to carry. CPAP machines are used by sleep apnea patients during their sleep; it increases the air pressure inside their throat to prevent their airway from being constricted and collapsing. Sleep apnea is a medical condition where patients have irregular breathing patterns during their sleep, specifically shortages of breaths, and this is often caused by the narrowing of their airway. In addition, sleep apnea patients tend to snore louder than the average person, and a CPAP machine is worn to reduce the loudness of their snore, according to Threlfall, co-CEO of Zennea Technologies.

      Unlike traditional CPAP machines, the team’s device which is called ZENS, will be battery-operated and has the potential to reduce snoring. Chronic snoring can cause similar symptoms to sleep apnea if no interventions are taken, according to Chase, co-CEO of Zennea Technologies in an interview. ZENS also has the ability to track the patient’s overall quality of sleep (via a smartphone app), according to a press release by the university.

      Moreover, Chase stated in an interview that sleep apnea patients get a limited amount of oxygen in their sleep because their airway gets constricted by approximately 30%. This has serious health consequences for the patient because they could be breathing one minute and end up not being able to breathe at all in the next.

      In addition, the team’s prototype uses transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation technologies (TENS) to prevent a sleep apnea patient’s from suffocating in their sleep. TENS can achieve the same results as a CPAP machine, but it’s minimally invasive and more comfortable for the patient. For example, CPAP machines have objects connected to a patient’s nose or mouth, which can be extremely uncomfortable. However, TENS technologies stimulate the muscles that regulate a person’s airway without the need to connect objects to a patient’s mouth and nose. In addition, it allows them to move around more during their sleep instead of having to sleep in a fixed position.

      The team has been working on their prototype for approximately seven months after reading about studies that have been conducted on TENS in the United Kingdom. The Peak reached out to Zennea Technologies but did not receive a response by our print deadline.

      Zennea Technologies will use the prize money from the Coast Capital Venture Prize to purchase new devices, such as a portable ultrasound machine to further develop and test their prototype. The team will be relocating to Shenzhen, China for the next four months to work on developing the first 500 units of their prototype, according to Threlfall. In addition, Zennea Technologies hopes to have their patent-pending prototype launched in the beginning of 2019 to help sleep apnea patients improve their quality of sleep.

      “As cliché as it may sound, it felt kind of surreal [to win the Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize] . . . After we secure a round of funding, we want to start work immediately on the next version of ZENS, and begin the process of creating a medical-grade version for the treatment of sleep apnea,” Threlfall concluded.

With files from Peace Arch News.