Students from all three U of T campuses came together to experience the life of entrepreneurs and collaborate with liked-minded peers and professionals over a 28-hour period on January 20–21 for Accelerator Weekend, hosted by the U of T Hatchery. Teams explained their startup ideas to judges for the $2,000 prize, which was awarded to those with the best pitch.
During the event, participants, grouped in teams of three or four, were asked to solve a problem on a topic they were passionate about. Due to the wide array of backgrounds and disciplines represented by the students at the event, the problems that were tackled varied greatly.
The first-place team, ShrimpSense, did not work on a ‘hot’ topic, like artificial intelligence, opting instead to focus on quality monitoring within shrimp farming.
According to Zi Yang, a member of the winning team, “ShrimpSense is a low cost water quality monitoring device that gives shrimp farmers the ability to have instant [feedback] to the quality of their tank’s water parameters.” Parameters included “salinity, pH, ammonia [levels], temperature, and dissolved oxygen.”
Yang shared his view on their success with The Varsity: they focused on the economics of the idea, rather than attempting to “hit emotional buttons embodied by grandiose ideas of how to change the world in a big way.” He believes it “does not start with big ideas… unless you have big money.”
After winning Accelerator Weekend, Yang registered for The Hatchery’s 2017 cohort and began to look for investors and partners to take ShrimpSense to the next level. He has started building the ShrimpSense system.
Yang and Jillian Barreca, an organizer of the event, both commented that an exciting entrepreneurial spirit was in the air over the course of the weekend, owing in part to the presence of Toronto-based business professionals and representatives of Y Combinator.
Y Combinator is a seed accelerator behind numerous startups, including Airbnb, Dropbox, Codecademy and reddit.
Mentors helped critique and inspire idea development and the pitches. With Y Combinator on campus, U of T students had exposure to a top seed incubator, comparable to schools located near Silicon Valley, like Stanford and UC Berkeley. This helped draw upper-year students to participate in the event. Mentors like Clive Robertson, Principal of Syngergeant Consulting LLC, and Dr. Jill Becker, founder of 02139 Inc., both praised the event and reaffirmed its meaning and impact in the U of T community.
Accelerator Weekend was a short but exciting glimpse into the unique experiences of entrepreneurs. At the event, students engaged with ideas, peers, and professionals that inspire and motivate them to continue changing the world.
Outside of Accelerator Weekend, The Hatchery offers regular resources and advice to students pursuing entrepreneurial ventures.