Desautels MBA
Detecting emotions: an AI challenge for two McGill MBA’s

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Detecting emotions: an AI challenge for two McGill MBA’s

Author : Justin Park & Abhinav Ravi (MBA'19)

It all started with a conversation, halfway across the world…

With the McGill first-year MBA’s currently on their international study trip, our minds wander back to last year’s study trip to Singapore, since it is during that trip that we, Justin Park and Abhinav Ravi, started pondering ways emotions could be detected in employees of large organizations.

From facial recognition to gamification, to artificial intelligence, no option was ruled out as ideas were tossed around and our emotion-detection concept started concretizing.  As time and conversations went by, a massive opportunity became abundantly clear to us: there was a chance to leverage technological advancements such as AI, AR, VR and Blockchain in the mental health space to develop powerful psycho-analytical tools that would help human beings understand their emotions better. Following some market research and going back to the roots of this complex issue, we eventually decided to pivot the idea from the corporate space, and focus on applying the technology to school communities. As a former teacher with the Peace Corps, Justin’s main goal with this project was to help the at-risk students to thrive. As a former at-risk student, Abhinav immediately acknowledged the need for it and offered to leverage his commercialization experience to start a company together. The goal of the company: to focus on the detection of mental illness among youth and to recommend an appropriate course of action to educators and parents.

In September 2017, the concept of SelfEmotion, Inc. was conceived as we joined the Founder Institute, a worldly idea-stage accelerator and startup launch program that takes place in Toronto and Montreal. Through a demanding curriculum delivered in weekly meetings, we gained access to a wide network and were able to work on the structure of our company while gaining invaluable mentorship opportunities. Incidentally, we were in different cities as we joined the Founder Institute, but thanks to our constant communication and determination to see our project through, we were the only team of founders located in two separate cities that were able to successfully complete the accelerator program, with SelfEmotion selected as one of the top 3 companies. Months of strategy and hard work paid off, and SelfEmotion was born, incorporated in Delaware USA in November 2017.

Justin & Abhinav at the Founder Institute

A timeline of notable events 

The creation process had many stages and countless hurdles to overcome (not to mention that the life of an MBA doesn’t stop and we had to continue managing our classes, extracurricular involvement and job hunting all at once!), but we were fortunate to get support, mentorship and enthusiasm for the project at every step of the way. Our year was filled with events and learning opportunities, and we had a growing feeling that we were heading in the right direction with the project.

September, 2017: as we were joining the Start-up Weekend Artificial Intelligence, a collaboration between Techstars and McGill University, we formed the first SelfEmotion team of developers and health professionals. With a variety of workshops sponsored by Google and IBM, this three-day event involved business model creation, coding, designing and market validation. It was the perfect opportunity to present our idea and then get judged by a panel of local entrepreneurial leaders. Our ambitious team won the “Most Likely to Change the World” award and was invited to pitch in front of IBM Partners in November, resulting in the formation of a formal partnership with IBM Global Innovation.

October, 2017: we joined a second hackathon, Cooperathon 2017, sponsored by Desjardins. For those unfamiliar with the concept of a Cooperathon, it is basically a competition to find innovative solutions to real issues our society is facing under the format of a cooperation marathon. This year’s Cooperathon included more than 40 participating projects and startups from Lévis, Quebec City and Montreal. SelfEmotion made it to the Top 4 finalists for the education track.

January 2018: We joined and won 2nd prize at the Startup Weekend Montreal Eco-Social Impact, an event with a sustainability focus and an unprecedented opportunity to attend workshops, share our project with other like-minded people and gain access to valuable mentors. These mentors, in addition to providing guidance in their various areas of expertise, were to support us develop our project through a sustainable business model from an economic, social and environmental point of view, while validating its impact.

And so where does this leave us now?

 As we both near graduation from the MBA program, we are now on way to scale the startup while pursuing our respective full-time jobs in Toronto and Montreal. Justin will be working as a Solar Business Analyst at Targray and Abhinav will be working as a Consultant in the Graduate Rotation Program at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Our aim is now to raise pre-seed/ angel investment in order to accelerate our product development.


About the authors:
Originally from India,
Abhinav Ravi (MBA’18) did a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at Amrita School of Engineering in India, after which he worked for 4 years in Sales and Marketing for companies such as Isuzu and Hyundai. He started the McGill MBA in 2016 and got involved as a campus ambassador for the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship and with PreReq. During his time at McGill, he met Justin Park (MBA’18), who is originally from the US. Justin did a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science & French at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He then joined the Peace Corps and moved to Cameroon as a teacher, where he was involved with developing the local high school curriculum and leading HIV/AIDS prevention and stigmatization campaigns. He is a recipient of the Fulbright scholarship to conduct independent research on the citizenship process of West African immigrants in Quebec. During the MBA, he continued his active community involvement with PreReq and ThinkR Not-for-Profit Consulting. The two started working on the development of SelfEmotion after discussing the possibilities at the McGill MBA international study trip that took place in Singapore. Post-graduation, Justin will be working as a Solar Business Analyst at Targray and Abhinav will be working as a Consultant in the Graduate Rotation Program at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). 

 Find out about Desautels’ small-size cohort and the unique opportunities arising from it by contacting some of our Student Ambassadors.

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