An exhilarating detour

Posted on Thursday, June 15, 2017


Spring 2017 Convocation: Decisive moments

For Antoine Machaalani (BASc '17 in biomedical mechanical engineering), the decision to choose a particular elective course led to unexpected consequences, encouraging him to see far beyond simply getting a degree. He is now seriously considering entrepreneurship.

When I decided on biomedical mechanical engineering, I never imagined the direction my university studies would take me.

Given that I have always had a knack for science, I was intrigued by the program’s physics and biology courses. Even so, the first two years of my bachelor’s degree were harder than I expected. I didn’t really have any goals and my marks weren’t the greatest.

But all that changed when I enrolled in one elective course.

I was curious about entrepreneurship so I enrolled in Technology Entrepreneurship for Engineers and Computer Scientists.

Four of Dextra’s five members. Front row: Midia Shikh Hassan (left), Olivier Miguel, Malik Jumani (right) and back row: Antoine Machaalani. Roxanne Gauthier-Ferland is not on the picture.

The course required us to design a product and prepare to start a business. For me, inspiration came from watching the news and seeing images of Syrian refugees in Lebanon who had become amputees because of the war.

With help from my instructor, Professor Hanan Anis, who holds the NSERC Chair in Entrepreneurial Engineering Design, I built a team to work on designing artificial hands using the 3D printers in the Richard L’Abbé Makerspace.

Because I’m of Lebanese descent, I had no trouble flying there during the summer of 2016. With the help of the Red Cross, I met with amputees and showed them my prototypes. The feedback they provided opened my eyes to the real needs of these people, which helped me refine my prototype.

They helped me realize that in this part of the world, people put more emphasis on aesthetics. This trip also gave me a better insight into the market conditions for prosthetics in Lebanon, along with the sub-market for 3D prosthetics, which are much cheaper to manufacture than traditional prosthetics.

Even before I had graduated, I had an opportunity to solve a real problem and see the tangible results of my efforts. That’s when I really started to enjoy my program and I became so motivated that my marks rose dramatically.

The decision to pick this elective allowed me to look past simply getting a degree and to see myself as an entrepreneur. I started my company, Dextra, with four other students from my Faculty, and I expect it to grow.

Some of my team members are still in university, so the project will be developed at uOttawa for now. Eventually, once our careers are established, Dextra will spread its wings and expand beyond the walls of the University of Ottawa.

All the founders of Dextra agree that starting up this company has been one of the highlights of our university experience and an adventure we won’t soon forget!

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