Gabrielle Masone: 'My science background really gave it legs.'

Gabrielle Masone: 'My science background really gave it legs.'

You may have seen those tear-jerking YouYube videos in which colourblind people use special glasses to see the world in full colour for the first time. Until now, those heavily tinted glasses are the only market solution that lets colourblind folks see the rainbow.

Now, Halifax chemist and entrepreneur Gabrielle Masone has found a way to put the magic of those glasses into a contact lens. This means colourblind individuals can instead wear contact lenses, which are more discreet than the tinted glasses, to see colour.

Her company, ColourSmith Labs, got its start in an entrepreneurship class Masone took during her last year at Dalhousie University, where she was getting a degree in Chemistry. Masone and her group had to come up with a business idea and they got talking about helping the visually impaired.

“My science background really gave it legs,” said Masone, the Director of the company, in an interview. “I went home and started cooking up a solution that could figure out if there was anything out there that would allow us to take that technology and change it in a way so that it was new and can function better.”

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Helping the visually impaired is close to Masone’s heart. She was born with a condition called Amblyopia, which caused her to completely lose sight in her right eye.

“As a kid I ended up having to wear an eyepatch to try and restore my vision, so from that early age I knew what it was like to see the world differently,” she said.

Masone started doing customer discovery for ColourSmith in September 2017, and officially launched the business in early 2018. Since then, she has rounded up $60,000 in funding through several different events and competitions.

She won $25,000 at the second Volta Cohort pitch event, the Halifax startup house’s early-stage funding competition. Then she won $25,000 through Innovacorp’s Spark Innovation Challenge, a province-wide competition that provides development funds to early-stage companies. This summer she is going through the LaunchPad program at Dal, which provides an additional $10,00. And she’s raised $10,000 in private funding. The funds have allowed Masone to continue working on her solution.

Masone also has her eyes on an additional $75,000 to help obtain a second lab space, through two other funding bodies.  

With its scientific concept proven, the company is now focused on jumping through the necessary hoops and hurdles required to bring a medical device to market.

“It’s a really meticulous process,” said Masone. “We’ve onboarded the right people to get us through it as well as seriously educating ourselves on what we need to do to satisfy our own requirements.”

Masone has a clear plan for the future and has built a solid team of mentors and advisors, including experts from IRAP and the Creative Destruction Lab.

The company, which is moving into the prototyping phase, aims to be finished with gaining regulatory approvals and licensing by May 2020 and plans to launch the following June.

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  • June Trenholm

    This is very exciting. I was hoping the Enchroma people would come out with clip-ons. Contact lenses would also help people with colour-blindness. Thanks!

  • Kate Swiss

    This is exactly a great project for those color-blind people. - Phillip Elden