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Jana Rieger, '91 BSc SPA, '01 PhD
From lab to market - disrupting medical research through

Mentorship team:
Jodi Abbott, John Rogers, Ryan Heit, Stuart Lomas, Todd Carson

Many of us who enter the world of entrepreneurship for the first time have, at best, ‘scholastic’ knowledge about what we will face on the path to achieve our dreams.

There is a big difference, however, between having that knowledge and navigating what actually happens on the path to success. After all, it’s estimated that only 1 in 10 start-ups will succeed. Certainly, the other nine had the best of intentions. While the entrepreneur has core knowledge and enthusiasm about their product that none could rival, it's our good fortune in Alberta to have a strong business community to guide us towards the fulfilment of our dream. With each additional success story, the network and community of business leaders grows, which, in turn, will make Alberta’s intellectual and entrepreneurial capital its true strength.

In our minds, a great entrepreneurial community should have a group of like-minded people at different stages of their entrepreneurial journey, who are willing to provide help and support to each in both good times and bad times. And to us, VMS is just that. Whether it is about the connection the Mentors and fellow entrepreneurs provide to each other, or challenges and experiences shared with each other on common obstacles, most of the time, we get help from the community when we ask for it. We were able to get the brainstorm needed when we were clueless, the guidance needed when we felt lost, and all kinds of support not only from our mentorship team Mentors but also the entrepreneurs and Mentors across the VMS community.

The benefit of a strong business Mentor community is that, as a group, they are able to bridge the gap between knowledge and wisdom for a fledgling entrepreneur. My story is a case in point. With three university degrees in hand, I embarked upon a career of being a clinician scientist and set down roots at the UAlberta. The best part of my job was being around innovative minds and people who pushed the boundaries of what technology could do for medicine, especially in patients treated for head and neck cancer. What grew out of this was an innovation from my lab, a device for patients who have lost the ability to eat normally because of a swallowing impairment.

That innovation is called Mobili-T, a portable adaptive remote exercise and monitoring technology that will reshape patient care for the 250 million people globally who are living with a swallowing disorder. Through traditional research grants, we designed, tested and created a minimally viable product in the lab.

But, then what?

I sat on the edge of what seemed like a very wide valley and peered over the other side. If patients were ever going to benefit from all the years of hard work, I was going to have to make a leap. With my own entrepreneurial spirit kicked into high gear, gathering knowledge about how to get to the other side was second nature, but putting it all together and setting a strategy was where I needed guidance.

This is where mentorship and wisdom became critical. Fortunately, the VMS community was there from the outset to help make crossing that bridge a whole lot smoother.

putting it all together and setting a strategy was where i needed guidance

As a VMS mentee, I am fortunate to be a benefactor of each Mentor's wisdom. What is unique about the VMS Mentor community is that they rarely give advice. Instead, they use their wisdom to guide a mentee to find an answer on their own—to dig deep, and to get to the heart of a business matter. This guidance has always taken place with the utmost professionalism and trust. This type of mentorship has grown my thinking about what it means to be a CEO, what it means to streamline business processes, and what it means to meet your product market wisely.

Jana Reiger
VMS entrepreneur since 2019
Mentorship team: Jodi Abbott, John Rogers, Ryan Heit, Stuart Lomas, Todd Carson