spartan algorithmic explanations, filter-free

This is a newsletter about regulatory hacking featuring (mostly) Canadian startups.
Because all start-ups need a regulatory strategy to succeed.
Most of all, we need more startups to embed policy thinking into their product design processes and more policymakers to take an entrepreneurial, experimental approach to regulation.

spotlight: spartan bioscience

leadership: PolicyMe       

legislative pages: No Filter 

space policy: healthcare + deep-space spaceflight

tune: summertime - orville peck 

*a spartan calendar.

spotlight: spartan bioscience

Last week (honestly maybe slightly earlier than that) Ottawa-based Spartan Bioscience received Health Canada approval for a rapid COVID-19 test. Spartan says that its test can detect the coronavirus in as little as half an hour. It’s pretty cool that the government of Canada could work so closely with these guys to expedite the review and approval process. Who doesn’t want to test their DNA from the comfort of their very own home (or at an airport, border crossing, or in a remote community)? The company is also evidence that a lot of Canada’s programs to support innovation are productive.

From Spartan’s website:

DNA testing is an incredibly powerful technology for diagnosing infectious diseases, personalizing drugs to your genetics (precision medicine), detecting bacteria and viruses in food and water, testing your pets, and many other applications.

Right now, most DNA tests are performed in centralized labs and results take days or weeks. We're on a mission to revolutionize diagnostics—we believe everyone should have access to fast, accurate, and affordable DNA results.

*Throwback re: “precision medicine” and issue #5 where we talked about freezing our cells with Acorn Biolabs.

From the news release:

Spartan’s test consists of a portable DNA analyzer called the Spartan Cube, which is the size of a coffee cup. The Cube performs the test with Spartan’s COVID-19 test cartridges and proprietary swabs, manufactured in Ottawa. The automated test can be operated by non-laboratory personnel in settings such as airports, border crossings, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, clinics, and remote communities.

Spartan’s technology already has regulatory approvals worldwide, including from Health Canada, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and in Europe. 

Spartan is another Canadian (yay) tech firm that is experiencing rapid growth + usefulness during the pandemic. Here’s an interview with the Ottawa Business Journal about their 15 year ‘overnight success story.’ So is this technology something that we will see in people’s households, or will the state use it in certain instances, or both (aka, who pays and how is it commercialized?).

There is a little disclaimer at the bottom of the website: For research use only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures (except as specifically noted). That made me assume that the Spartan Cube was comparable (from a regulatory perspective) to a pregnancy test or a home glucose test. Here are Health Canada’s requirements for medical device license applications for lancing devices and blood glucose monitoring systems, and here is some guidance on Medical Test Kits for Home Use.

PS. My grandmother Kiki (short for “Vasiliki,” get it?) is from a small town outside Sparta (a Spartan suburb) called “Potamia.”

PPS. This is a workout my baby sister sent me and I did it (1x) last week. When she sent it to me, she was all “what is your profession?

Well, Dimitra - my most recent profession is re-training my YouTube algorithm away from Men’s Health videos.

leadership: policy me

Obviously I think it’s *extremely* cool if you straight up put POLICY in the name of your startup.

While a lot of firms are leveraging their little algorithms to make risk assessments on you in order to lend you money and determine the interest rate or offer some kind of insurance, PolicyMe EXPLAINS why they ask you each question. I think that’s worth acknowledging as a best practice that we should expect (and push) to see more of in the future. Can we demand more of it as consumers? I insist.

I haven’t received my life insurance quote back yet, and I’m curious as to whether there will be an additional element of explainability (i.e. why my quote is $X). Proactive disclosure of why data is needed, and how it is used, is such an important way to build trust with humans.

legislative pages: no filter

Instagram is yet another form of social media in which I do not partake - but I know what it is (that’s a brag). It’s fascinating to think about the unfettered access we’ve granted the app to our camera and location before our Shoshana-led surveillance capitalism awakening (what is this, Pokemon GO?) and how we create and embellish artifacts that have come to characterize “us”. What will biographers have to say about the personas we projected?

No Filter is fundamentally about ego and power - familiar forces in start-up land. I appreciated understanding that Insta’s co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger had complementary skill sets, and weren’t friends before teaming up on one of the most successful apps to date.

Ariana Grande has a cameo, directly speaking with Systrom about the bullying that takes place in the comments section. The book focusses more on the evolution of Instagram’s business model - only touching lighting on related regulatory realities like platform moderation - but it’s still a really neat read, especially re: teens as a digital economic force.

Chasing my championship of PolicyMe with a snapshot of Instagram’s life with Facebook makes me wish we could hover over each other’s posts for some simple psychoanalysis. “Why am I showing you the bread that I made? I show you the bread that I made because…

Aside: I’m also interested in the secondary and tertiary economies that Instagram has catalyzed. For instance: influencers. It’s perverse and WHAT that fashion or “mommy” bloggers have monetized 1950’s tropes of womanhood - the perfect outfit, hot husband, beautifully decorated home, etc. I truly think this is worthy of more scholarship, and I wish I was a student so that I could write a paper about it. Influencers are regulated, too - insofar as they need to disclose when they’ve been paid to promote a product.

Does the monetization of social media even matter? Art, fashion, and tech writer Tatum Dooley predicts that we’ll all be social media sellouts soon.

It all makes me…want to go to outer space.

space policy

If we go to space, we might need healthcare.

That screenshot is from the Report of the Expert Group on the Potential Canadian Healthcare and Biomedical Roles for Deep-Space Human Spaceflight.

Basically: healthcare that’s good for astronauts is also good for virtual healthcare.

Here are their recommendations:

  1. Canada should invest significantly in deep-space autonomous healthcare, as a bold contribution to space exploration and a means to develop national capacity in virtual healthcare for the benefit of all Canadians.

  2. Canada should pursue a role as the lead integrator and operator for astronaut healthcare in deep-space missions.

  3. In addition to operational oversight, Canada should contribute healthcare technologies to deep-space healthcare facilities, according to our national expertise.

  4. To assist the Canadian Space Agency with development and implementation of this potential opportunity, an external and diverse collaborative body should be established, representing Canada’s space operational, health-service delivery, commercial, research, and government expertise.


I miss summertime! And I don’t ever want to wear a mask when I go outside. But maybe if it’s a fringed lone ranger one?

Catch 'em by surprise and
Chasin' the horizon
Nothing holds me down

Askin', "Where the time's gone?"
Dreamin' with the lights on
Tryna keep your eyes on
Something along the rise


Honestly if you liked this, you can just keep it between us. You don’t have to share it.

Vass Bednar writes “regs to riches” and is a public policy solopreneur.
She can be reached at vasiliki.bednar@gmail.com or follow her (er, me) on Twitter @VassB.

Archives available via regstoriches.substack.com