Tina Thompson of MUG Solutions received the Stevie for Best Canadian Entrepreneur, and her Coquitlam, British Columbia-based company was named Best New Company of the Year, in the 2008 Stevie Awards for Women in Business.
The idea that would change Tina Thompson’s life began to take form in 2006, just after she had given birth to her second child. Tina had been working in the fast-paced IT industry and was looking for a less frantic career—ideally one where she could work from home.
Around the same time there was lively debate in Vancouver about the Needle Exchange Program for drug users, which had been established there in 1989. Had it been a success or a failure? Curiosity led Tina to research this program, only to discover that the use of the word “exchange” was misleading. Fresh needles were simply distributed to drug users to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. So the question was: Where were all the old needles going?
A large number of them, it appeared, were disappearing down manholes. Again, “disappearing” is a misnomer. The needles might have been out of sight of pedestrians on the street, but they were rapidly becoming a health hazard for the utility workers who had to go down these manholes into dark, confined—and now hazardous—workspaces.
Whenever these workers were jabbed by a needle, they immediately had to start a severe medical regimen that lasted for six months and involved a program that frequently left them either ill or in discomfort. Thompson was already aware of this as her husband had had first-hand experience.
“It was at least 15 years ago and down a manhole that he got a needle stuck in his steel-toed boot, so fortunately no entry into his boot or skin,” explained Thompson. “It gave us a scare. When the big discussions were going on about the success/failure of the exchange programs, I asked my husband if the problem of needles in manholes had been alleviated by the exchange. When he told me how bad it now was down there, that's when I started to do my research.”