This is a big summer for Hamiltonian Michael Jobity. The 24-year-old completed McMaster University’s Engineering Physics Management undergraduate program in June and is set to start work as a digital-manufacturing engineering graduate at Airbus in September. As well as an engineer, Jobity is an entrepreneur and musician — business and tech publication the Logic recently named him one of Canada’s leading innovators from the class of 2020.
Despite the pandemic, Jobity has a variety of projects on the go. This spring, he worked to launch a website to connect student entrepreneurs with one another and with businesses. As part of their engineering coursework, Jobity and a team of classmates designed and built a robotic guitar-tuning stand, which they’ve been working to bring to market. They will pitch it on CBC’s Dragon’s Den in August, which is also when Jobity plans to release an EP.
TVO.org spoke with Jobity about creativity, the relationship between music and technology — and what it’s like to have so much coming to fruition during a time of global uncertainty.
Our journalism depends on you.
You can count on TVO to cover the stories others don’t—to fill the gaps in the ever-changing media landscape. But we can’t do this without you.
TVO.org: You obviously had a pretty packed year and summer. Before the pandemic, what were you most looking forward to?
Michael Jobity: In my final year of engineering, we're expected to create a solution to a problem that exists in the world. Me and four other Engineering Physics students wanted to create a solution that combined technology and art, which is not common. We developed a hands-free robotic guitar-tuning stand. Our company's called 2unify [pronounced tune-ify].
We started doing pitch competitions as early as January. We went to the Ontario Engineering Competition, which was in Guelph, and were fortunate enough to win $500 for innovative design. And then we entered another pitch competition called Ideas to Live, which gave us a $5,000 trip to South Korea's pitch competition this November. We were able to get into the Forge incubator, which is a start-up incubator in Hamilton, and we won $5,000 there, fortunately. So that was probably what I was most excited about even before the pandemic.
TVO.org: Come March, once things started closing and you couldn't go to competitions, did your perspective change? What was that like?
Jobity: We had an initial demo planned for the whole faculty to showcase our project. [TV station] CHCH normally comes in. But, obviously, that had to be cancelled. We already had our product working, so it was just a matter of logistics. Where do we put the stand? How do we do software upgrades remotely? Because, normally, we're in the same room, up with each other until 3 a.m. working on this thing.
I think the big thing is we didn't lose our momentum. We noticed that this was going on and ensured that we were operating with safe procedures — but also with an understanding that, whenever there's a dip in the economy, there's always innovation that comes out of it. Like, with the 2008 crisis, Airbnb and Uber became very successful after that dip. So, we actually worked even harder. We still applied for online pitch competitions. And, thankfully, we auditioned for Dragon's Den just before the pandemic happened.
TVO.org: Would you give me a brief rundown of what 2unify is, how it works, and why you decided that was what you wanted to do?
Jobity: All our team members are musicians. We really wanted to bridge this gap between the art and music space and technology. It's very rare that you have things like robotics and artificial intelligence in the music space. So we came up with the idea of having the stand tune your guitar for you. That really hadn't been done before.
We're targeting large music institutions like recording studios, music schools, and music stores, because they have a high volume of guitars that need to be tuned. For instance, in a music store, there's always little children coming in and playing with the guitar pegs, and then, if someone comes in and wants to test and purchase a guitar, if it's out of tune, it can affect their sale. So, having something that can tune rapidly, for large volumes, is really effective.
We're going to have an initial batch of 15 created and launch our pilot phase with different recording studios in Canada. Then, we'll scale up our sustainable manufacturing process to have 100 created, so that when we go on Dragon's Den, we have some initial pre-order sales already. And then we'll be able to support the increased demand from people watching the show.
TVO.org: You have an EP coming out as well.
Jobity: Yes, that will be in the second week of August. I have started creating music that is under the category of electronic but also kind of like funk. I feel like that is a great genre for the summer. Especially with COVID-19, it's kind of nice to have music that can take you to past memories and create new ones.
TVO.org: Is it weird doing all this music-related work at a time when concert venues are closed?
Jobity: I wouldn't be planning to perform during the summer anyway, so I'm just focused on creating the music. The rehearsal studios that we’ve spoken to with 2unify have said that a lot of people are using studios to record live performances, because people still create music and want to be a part of it. In some ways, it's created a closer relationship between artists and listeners because they're able to be on live calls together. They can form very intricate communities where maybe that wasn't accessible before.
TVO.org: We're still in this time of real economic, political, and social uncertainty. When thinking about the future, does anything makes you nervous?
Jobity: Even though you have livestreams and Zoom, and you can still collaborate online, the human aspects of being able to see a person's emotions in real time and be able to shake their hand have a lot of value. I think that's something that I'm definitely a little concerned about over the next year.
But I think people are social beings, and there will always be a way that people adapt. Humans are really great at adapting. And I don't think COVID will last forever. We have the whole world working at it. And there'll be a lot of innovation that comes out of it. And I think the human element will be even stronger, because we've all gone through it together.
This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman.