Last Tuesday a lecture hall in the Bahen Centre was packed for DemoCamp2, a symposium of eight presentations by U of T students demonstrating their web developments and entrepreneurial skills.
“People were actually standing in the back. They couldn’t find any more seats,” says Reginald Tan, president of Web Startup Society, who hosted the event in partnership with the U o T Entrepreneurial Society. Over 160 guests attended, well exceeding both the expected attendance of 100 and the room capacity of 150.
“We had to start turning people away after they exceeded the room capacity,” said Nitish Peters, president of UTES.
Tan and Peters created DemoCamp2 to combat what they perceived to be a lack of entrepreneurial spirit in the University of Toronto’s technology field.
“At Stanford, it seems like every single computer science student was creating a startup,” said Tan. “But when I went to U of T, I didn’t really see anything like that going on.”
Peters attributes U of T’s focus on high GPAs as a detractor from the “startup culture” found at other institutions. “DemoCamp fosters an environment where people can define their own success and show how they are following their dreams as opposed to the stereotypical environment right now where people are very marks-focused,” he said.
It wasn’t just U of T students who attended, students from all across Ontario came for the presentations as well.
“A lot of people from Queens and York showed up and really loved it, and said they wanted to start a DemoCamp at their university, which is really cool. I’d like to see that happen,” said Tan.
In contrast with last year’s DemoCamp, which was run by WSS in partnership with Rafal Dittwald, President of Skule Webdev, this year’s collaboration with UTES focused on the utility and marketability of students’ web applications, as opposed to nitty gritty tech details.
“The audience at this one was much more focused on the startup aspect, rather than the craft of making the project,” notes James Cash, the only presenter to even mention code in his demo for the Google Chrome extension, ComicNav.
Three of the eight demos were presented by student entrepreneurs with limited technical knowledge. Danial Jameel of OohLaLa, who switched from computer science to political science, showcased a mobile app for discount student coupons.
First-year commerce student Donny Ouyang, of the tutoring site Rayku, hires developers out of his own pocket. “Donny buys websites, hires developers to make improvements, then sells them off for five times the profits — instead of flipping real estate, he flips websites,” said Tan. “Rayku was his first start-up.”
When Khaled Hashem of NoteWagon.com was asked a technical question, his response was, “I don’t know, ask the tech guy.”
The other five presentations were given by so-called “hackers.” First up was fourth year electrical engineer Bijan Vaez with EventMobi, an iPhone application that allows users to view important details about the live event that they are attending. Next were Lori Lee and Andrew Danks, undergraduate students in computer science who developed LoveUT, a dating site exclusively for U of T students that has accumulated over 800 users. Michael Rice, a second year computer science student demoed Remember To Watch, an SMS reminder for TV shows recently featured in PC Magazine and lifehacker.com. After James Cash demoed ComicNav, wunderkind Vincent Cheung took the stage and demonstrated his massively successful Shape Collage, an automatic photo collage maker.
Cheung emphasized the value of every utility-based web startup in his presentation: “A lot of [the entrepreneurs in the audience] laughed at the ComicNav extension, but I liked it. You never know, it really could be the next big thing.”
When the event ended, Reginald Tan appeared very pleased with the results.
“Ultimately, what we wanted to achieve from DemoCamp is to glorify these student hackers and hustlers. And we did just that. Democamp UofT encouraged students to do what they do best: build great things. And the great thing about the Internet is that you can make an immediate impact on the world if you create something really valuable.”
Note: this article originally stated that Danial Jameel hired student developers with money he won from business competitions, but this is not the case. It also neglected to mention that last year’s DemoCamp was in partnership with Rafal Dittwald. The Varsity regrets the errors.