Portrait of Team TRUSTi taken from Zoom call

Team TRUSTi took the top prize at the 2022 Business Plan Competition. From left: Al-amin Ahamed, Dante Foschia, Kristy Scarfone, Iselina Cascone

Students present innovative solutions to key healthcare challenges

The Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy Business Plan Competition provides students with the opportunity to hone their entrepreneurial skills by developing novel solutions for real-life challenges in the pharmacy landscape.

Hosted by the Faculty’s Office of Experiential Education, PharmD students put their creativity to the test, pitching innovative ideas to a panel of expert judges with experience in pharmacy practice, engineering, and entrepreneurship.  From conducting market research to forecasting revenue projections, students tackled many aspects of the entrepreneurial journey. 

This year, nearly 300 students participated in the competition with the hopes of taking home the top prize of $5,000. Of the 80 teams that entered, six were shortlisted to compete in the Grand Finale competition on March 30, 2022.

Have trust in TRUSTi

This year, second year PharmD students Al-amin Ahamed, Iselina CasconeDante Foschia and Kristy Scarfone took first place in the competition with their harm reduction tool, TRUSTi.

The goal of TRUSTi is to help de-stigmatize disclosure of recreational drug use by creating easy pathways to access drug testing kits. By partnering with pharmacies to provide TRUSTi kits, as well as offering an anonymous online purchase platform, TRUSTi hopes to empower individuals to make safety a priority in their substance use.

“TRUSTi began as a passion project for one of our team members, Kristy,” says Foschia, who shares that the two PharmD students bonded over losing peers to the overdose crisis in their respective hometowns in Northern Ontario.

“We quickly found common ground in this cause with Al and Selina, and realized that although we are taught to ask, ‘do you use recreational drugs?’ in patient interviews, stigma may prevent some patients from disclosing this information.  We automatically knew we had to create a product that would allow for people to trust their healthcare provider and make more informed decisions about their unregulated substance supply, and how their body may react.”

Combining team member Kristy’s name with the idea of building trust in healthcare in at-risk groups led to TRUSTi.

“What I love most about our product is that we are not reinventing the wheel, but rather connecting the dots.”

“What I love most about our product is that we are not reinventing the wheel, but rather connecting the dots,” says Scarfone. “While someone can access harm reduction modalities such as clean equipment, drug checking services, and other critical peer-led initiatives at harm reduction agencies, but services are not as readily available at convenience for the community.”

Scarfone explains that the kits would envelope several harm reduction modalities, pairing drug testing strips with an app-based platform that would provide information on the potential risks of substance use in the context of other health conditions or prescription medication use.

“We want folks to gain autonomy in both making informed decisions about their substance use and managing their own health data around unregulated drug use patterns and adverse effects,” said Scarfone.

As TRUSTi developed, the team quickly realized that the first step in harm reduction was changing their use of language and unlearning potentially harmful terminology.

“As future healthcare practitioners, it is our duty to be able to look at every single patient without judgment or preconceived ideas,” said Cascone.

Terms like “drug user”, “illicit drugs” and “substance abuse” have been commonly used but can increase stigma. Now terms like “person who uses drugs”, “unregulated drugs”, and “substance use” are preferred says the team.

“TRUSTi’s entire philosophy is based on trust,” said Cascone. “We want patients to trust in us, confide in us and take our professional knowledge into consideration when making drug-related choices, all while maintaining their autonomy and right to choose.” 

The team won over judges with their pitch, who were impressed by their innovative solution to a widespread challenge in public health.

“We believe Team TRUSTi has found an answer to a problem, one that recognizes and respects individuals but also gives them the power and information necessary to make the best possible choices for themselves,” said Zubin Austin, Professor, Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy and a competition judge. “We hope Team TRUSTi can advance their ideas, and turn it into reality,” he said.

With the competition behind them, team TRUSTi shows no sign of slowing down.

“There is so much in store for TRUSTi in the future,” said Ahamed. “With all the tremendous support and messages we have received, we have decided to continue to pursue this valuable project even further as a group. We are seeking key partnerships and will use the $5,000 first place prize to start making this dream into a reality to bring TRUSTi kits to a pharmacy practice very soon!”

Other winners from the 2022 Business Plan Competition

2nd place: Jr. Dose – Kayuri Champaneria, Afsa Hijazi, Sahar Karimi, Vicky Li

A mobile application for parents to accurately calculate the dosage of their children’s over-the-counter medications by age and weight.

3rd place: HeartPoint – Anthony Orsini, Jessica Venditti

A lifestyle habit tracker application tailored to individuals with cardiovascular disease, informed by evidence-based medicine.

Panel of Judges

  • Zubin Austin, Professor, Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy Professor
  • Paul Santerre, Professor, U of T Engineering
  • Michael Do, founder of MedEssist

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