Arina Aboonabi has always had great affection for her grandfather. But after the family patriarch suffered a stroke, it broke her heart to see him struggle with his mobility.
So when the opportunity came to help develop innovative products to ensure the safety and well-being of seniors and individuals with mobility challenges, Arina knew she had found her calling.
While completing her master’s degree in electrical engineering at Simon Fraser University (SFU), one of her professors, Siamak Arzanpour, planted the seed of an idea that would grow into a company dedicated to reducing wheelchair related accidents and injuries.
“After graduating, I and another student from the program, Maryam Soleimani, decided to team up with Dr. Arzanpour to develop the idea for a safer wheelchair, and MobiSafe Systems was born,” Arina said.
Despite knowing they had a great idea, Arina and her co-founders knew it would take a lot of work and support to bring MobiSafe’s dream to reality. So when they learned about SFU’s Venture Connection program, they knew it was just what they needed.
Venture Connection is a unique program that supports SFU students and recent alumni who are interested in entrepreneurship. The program’s offerings include a business incubator, networking opportunities, workshops and seminars, co-ops, competitions and mentorships.
Since 2008, Coast Capital Savings has contributed over $800,000 to support the program, including $150,000 last year.
Serving as MobiSafe’s lead engineer, Arina says it was exciting when they found out that their company had been accepted into the incubator program. As a result, the company has received coaching and mentoring that has been critical to the growth of their fledgling business.
Arina also praises the networking events organized by the Venture Connection program for linking MobiSafe with the necessary funding. This funding made it possible for the company to bring in a graduate intern from SFU’s mechatronic systems engineering program to take their concept for a wheelchair airbag safety system to the next level.
“The funding allowed us to complete a prototype for a wheelchair that employs built-in sensors to detect imbalance,” Arina says. “It then deploys an airbag to prevent a user who is tipping over from hitting the ground. Our product is similar to the car airbag, but unlike the automobile system, it does not use a chemical reaction and the airbag can be easily re-folded after inflation and used multiple times.”
As an entrepreneur, Arina says she’s committed to the success of MobiSafe and is grateful for the invaluable help that Venture Connection has provided the company. But she says her drive to move MobiSafe’s vision forward is not simply fuelled by a desire to grow a profitable business.
“We all have family members or friends who need a wheelchair to get around, and we can make a real difference in their lives through our products,” Arina says. “We make a real difference for people who need a wheelchair to get around. And as lifespans get even longer, more of us will need these kinds of products.”