PharmD students Nursan Abdullah, Harneet Gill and Nina Seuntjens photographed inside Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy Building

Winning idea uses simple technology to detect presence of unconsented drugs in alcoholic drinks

A team of three second-year students in the Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) program at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy has won the top prize in the 2023 Business Plan Competition for their idea to develop a rapid test to detect the presence of drugs commonly used in sexual assaults. Harneet Gill, Nursan Abdullah, and Nina Seuntjens, collectively known as Team DipSip, won the $5000 prize at the annual Business Plan Competition finale on March 29.

Approximately 80 teams entered the competition, which was narrowed down to six finalists who presented at the finale event. The pitches were judged by Zubin Austin, professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, Paul Santerre, director of the Health Innovation Hub at U of T, and Jamie Stiff, managing director of Genesys Capital.

At the event, Gill, Abdullah, and Seuntjens pitched their business, DipSip, a one-time-use rapid test to detect drugs in alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.

“We knew that we wanted to pitch a product that targeted our demographic and was something that we could easily relate to,” says Gill. “We talked to our classmates and friends to see what health care–related issues were of concern and drink spiking came up quite often.”

While some products are already available to help prevent or detect drink spiking, the team saw opportunities for improvement. They developed a pitch for a discreet, inexpensive rapid test that can detect the most common drugs used in these types of sexual assaults. A discreet test strip could be dipped in the drink, and within 10 seconds the technology provides a result indicating whether drugs are present in the drink.

“It’s very simple to understand. Anyone can get it, with or without a science background,” says Abdullah. “We had confidence in the product and in our abilities, but the other pitches were very strong, and competition was high, so it feels very good to win.”

When announcing DipSip as the winner, Austin said the judges thought that the idea was viable and the product should be available to the public.

“We were intrigued by your idea, we were impressed by the methodical way in which you explained the technology, and we felt that your idea actually had technological legs under it,” he said. “It was doable, it was practical, and it represented something that is a real need, particularly for individuals of your age group.”

“We’re very glad that we got the opportunity to do this and learn new skills, and it opened our eyes to new opportunities within pharmacy.”

The team hopes that they can use some of the prize money to continue moving their idea forward to market, and they also plan to make a donation to sexual assault support centres.

“We know DipSip isn’t going to solve the issue of sexual assault,” says Seuntjen. “But we hope it will give people a way to increase safety when going out and prevent the effects of drink spiking from happening.”

The three students initially joined the competition as a requirement of the Management: Skills, Communication and Collaboration course, but all three valued the opportunity to go through the process of developing a business plan and communicating that plan to experts.

 “Pushing us outside of our comfort zone helped us improve our communication skills, which is something we can use through the rest of our careers,” says Gill. “We’re very glad that we got the opportunity to do this and learn new skills, and it opened our eyes to new opportunities within pharmacy.”

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Third place: stiX (Mackenzie Richardson, Rachel Kuruvilla, Emily Lam, Ayman Lakhani)

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