Alumni get AHead of the curve with simulations startup


Western Engineering News | July 19, 2018

What started out as a fourth-year undergraduate engineering project is now a fully developed medtech startup, AHead Simulations.

In 2015, Rob Koch, president and founder of AHead Simulations, began designing a simulator that could be used to simulate a patient’s head and ear while providing unique training opportunities within audiology. Koch went on to tackle his project full-time as part of his master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering with Western.

Koch, BESc ’16 and MESc ’18, met his colleagues John Iyaniwura, MESc ’17, and Justin Laing, BESc ’15 and MESc ’17, through Western’s Biomedical Engineering graduate program.

“I hoped they would come on board if this project turned into something serious, seeing how successful their own master’s projects were, and how talented they are at what they do,” said Koch.

Luckily, both Iyaniwura and Laing did come on board with AHead Simulations in May 2018, where Iyaniwura works as Lead Software Developer, and Laing is Lead Hardware Developer.

AHead Simulations got its kickoff with the help of a BURST grant, provided by TechAlliance. Koch stated that BURST was looking to increase London Ontario’s presence in medtech startups, and AHead Simulations was a perfect fit.

“BURST is a structured local incubation program with training sessions, mentors and funding. It has provided us with the support to get the company up and running and prepare for our next steps,” said Koch.

Following the BURST grant, Koch and his team also received two grants through Ontario Centres of Excellence, which has given them more time for development before delivering solutions to customers in the fall.

AHead Simulations focuses on improving clinical care in audiology through simulation. A major issue that exists within audiology and healthcare is the lack of realistic training opportunities available in pre-clinical scenarios.

“What ends up happening is the care that is being delivered to patients isn’t always ideal because the clinician may in fact still be learning,” said Koch. “By offering a simulator capable of allowing trainees to practise their procedures before they practise on patients, we can look to increase the quality of care that is delivered to patients.” 

To deliver this promise inside the field of audiology and hearing, Koch and his team are further developing the simulator that Koch started working on during his time at Western Engineering.

“John is an extremely talented software developer, while Justin has several years of incredible experience in CAD and rapid prototyping through 3D printing and moulds. With these two taking my rough prototype and turning it into a fully-fledged product for customers, I’m confident that we’ll be able to deliver an amazing solution inside audiology to help increase training opportunities.”

How has Western Engineering played a role?

Koch credited Western Engineering with providing him numerous opportunities throughout his education. Whether it was through his co-op with General Dynamics, or research opportunities through a summer research position, Koch was able to develop the skills necessary for his field.

“In my opinion, the best thing about Western Engineering is the people,” said Koch. “I don’t think many undergraduate students – speaking as someone who was one not long ago – realize how many amazing, world-renowned researchers there are at Western, and the cutting-edge work that goes on here.”

Koch added that reaching out to Dr. Hanif Ladak, professor in the Departments of Electrical & Computer Engineering and Medical Biophysics, during his fourth year was one of the best decisions he’s made. With Dr. Ladak’s assistance, Koch collaborated with Dr. Sumit Agrawal of LHSC and Dr. Susan Scollie, Dr. Paula Folkeard, and Dr. Sheila Moodie of the National Centre for Audiology.

“There are limitless opportunities within Western Engineering,” said Koch. “Taking the time to talk with faculty and staff and learning what is out there can be extremely helpful for a student’s outlook and future career aspirations.”

What’s next for AHead Simulations?

Koch and his team are very proud to be a part of the startup community full of young, driven individuals who can truly make a difference in the lives of so many with their products.

“The funding landscape in Ontario is one of the best there is, and we are lucky to be surrounded by such encouraging and helpful mentors,” said Koch. “We are fully committed to AHead Simulations and will do everything in our power to have an impact on the clinical care of audiology.”

Koch envisions AHead Simulations as a platform for teaching and training in audiology used by not only training programs, but by clinicians around the world.

“A common educational platform for the ever-changing field of audiology would ensure that all patients receive the care they deserve and have the hearing outcomes they require,” he said. “We have certainly started to pick up the pace in the past months, and we are excited for what lies ahead – pun intended!”