You’d be hard-pressed to find someone more ambitious and passionate about her work than Lianna Genovese.
The 20-year-old McMaster University student is the founder and CEO of ImaginAble Solutions Inc. and the brains behind Guided Hands.
While most 18-year-olds are just trying to navigate and survive their first year in university, Lianna came up with a prototype for a device that enables people with limited fine motor skills to paint, draw, write, and even use a tablet or computer.
“In my first year at McMaster, we were presented with a real-world problem as part of a design project,” said Lianna, who is now a 4th-year Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering student. “We were introduced to a woman with cerebral palsy and we were told to design something that would improve her life in some way.”
The woman living with cerebral palsy explained that she was a passionate and talented painter who was no longer able to hold a paintbrush because of uncontrollable finger curling.
“I wanted to give her back what she loved to do, so I created a painting-assistive device,” said Lianna. “The original prototype was made out of pipe cleaners, sponges, corks…”
From there, Lianna said she transitioned from a dollar store to a 3D printer and Home Depot for her supplies. Guided Hands has won at least 8 different awards and recognitions over the last two years, including the 2020 People’s Choice Award at Hamilton’s leading business pitch competition, LiONS LAIR.
“I simply cannot put into words the amount of gratitude and happiness I have for all of those who voted for us,” said Lianna. “To be a finalist in the LiONS LAIR Competition was a huge accomplishment and milestone in itself, but to know that the public believes in our product and our company’s mission is something I cannot begin to explain.”
Guided Hands works with ambidextrous and multi-functional handpieces that swivel, while a stabilizing mechanism glides vertically and horizontally. The product is designed to help give those with arthritis, ALS, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s, and other debilitating conditions the ability to enjoy hobbies and tasks many people take for granted.
“It was really heartbreaking to see children who couldn’t even write the first letter of their name, whether it be due to a spinal cord injury or a disease that affected their motor skills,” said Lianna, who added that she travelled by bus to almost every assisted living and health facility in Hamilton with Guided Hands packed into a garbage bag.
“These children can feel frustrated and socially excluded so there’s also an emotional component behind Guided Hands that can really improve their quality of life and empower them.”
Lianna, who filed for her first patent for Guided Hands when she was 19, switches hats throughout the day; from CEO of her own company to a full-time university student.
If the ultimate goal of post-secondary studies is to find a career — and you’ve already found one — how do you find the motivation to attend class and study for exams?
“You know, if it wasn’t for school, I wouldn’t have a company,” said Lianna. “There’s always an opportunity to take what I’ve learned in my classes now and put it towards my growth and making my company better.”
Having said that, Lianna understands that some people may look at her age and not take her seriously.
“I don’t want people to only see me as a student, I want them to see me as the CEO and founder of ImaginAble Solutions.”
In the middle of her busy school schedule, Lianna takes meetings from scholars and business professionals from all over the world who are interested in her product and her business. She says that she’s aware that there are some who may see an ambitious young female as an easy mark. Thankfully, Lianna says she has set up a strong support system of advisors and mentors.
“I have business and financial advisors from Innovation Factory and The Forge, as well as medical advisors at McMaster Children’s Hospital,” said Lianna. “I just think people saw my passion and the potential Guided Hands has to make a difference in people’s lives. And so people want to help me and make sure I’m protected in some way.”
Hamilton has never had an issue growing and developing bright, young talent. Keeping the talent in Hamilton, however, has been a challenge. The city has a long history of business start-ups and entrepreneurial minds heading for the exits for bigger opportunities and better support systems.
“I love Hamilton so much that I chose to continue my studies here and I want to help my community,” said Lianna, whose first job was selling newspapers at the Farmer’s Market at the age of 14. “So I want to start at home and then grow and expand to help other individuals.”
The number of programs and the amount of funding for innovators grow by the year in the city thanks to resources like the Hamilton Business Centre and developmental and networking incubators like McMaster Innovation Factory, The Forge, and Hamilton Hive.
Lianna is setting up here own network of young talent by recruiting students to join her team and contribute to ImaginAble Solutions.
“Look, I’m a student and I realize that sometimes people might look down on us. But students are so creative and such hard workers because they really want real work experience.
She’s even taken calls from students asking to do their co-op placements with Lianna.
“It’s really amazing and shows just how far this project has come.”
Guided Hands is on pace for a 2021 release and available for pre-order on the ImaginAble Solutions website: imaginablesolutions.ca
In the meantime, those interested can try Guided Hands at select healthcare facilities.