Students United sweeps UTMSU elections, executives win over 1,000 votes each

Slate claims two contested positions, other three candidates win uncontested

Students United sweeps UTMSU elections, executives win over 1,000 votes each

The Students United slate dominated the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) 2019 election — unofficial election results were released on the UTMSU’s Facebook page today.

The slate ran mostly unopposed — the only races in which they faced opposition were the Vice-President Internal and Vice-President Equity elections. Both of these were won by margins greater than 500 votes.

Atif Abdullah, current Vice-President External, won the presidency uncontested by a margin of 1,231 votes, accruing 314 ‘no’ votes.

Kai Ng and Miguel Cabral won Vice-President External and Vice-President University Affairs, respectively, both by margins greater than 1,200 votes.

Vice-President Internal-elect Sara Malhotra won in a contested election against Luke Warren. Malhotra garnered 1,483 votes, 1,110 more than Warren, with 164 spoiled ballots.

Habon Ali won the election by the smallest margin of the two contested elections, winning 693 more votes than her opponent Saarang Ahuja. The race also saw the largest number of spoiled ballots at 188.

Five standout U of T startups to watch

Annual True Blue Expo showcase features travel, health and wellness startups

Five standout U of T startups to watch

On March 21, U of T held the True Blue Expo, the capstone event of Entrepreneurship Week. Hosted in the MaRS Discovery District, over 60 startups had the opportunity to showcase their work, while businesses and the public were given the opportunity to network with some great startups.

Empower Health

Ever gotten sick and found yourself in need of a walk-in appointment? Empower Health, formerly known as iamsick.ca, aims to reduce the hassle of phoning numerous clinics with inquiries for walk-in hours by aggregating a database. The app hosting the database will help patients see wait times for clinics, as waiting for an available slot at some clinics can take hours.

Founder Ryan Doherty said, “We now have enterprise clients, national coverage, government relationships, and a significant number of users and clinics using [the app].” The idea blossomed with the help of U of T’s Impact Centre, which “provided mentorship advice as well as office space to help iterate and test out the business model.”

AYTHA MAQSOOD/THE VARSITY

Weav

Weav takes a new approach to ride-sharing applications by allowing users to open their car doors for carpooling with strangers. Founder Peter Meng said that since drivers are already travelling with “three empty seats” and spending money on gas, why not “open up your receipt and charge each passenger $10–20 to cover up the cost of the ride? This way, the driver can cover the costs, and the rider can travel affordably.”

Weav uses automated logistic payments and other systems to facilitate the carpooling process.

AYTHA MAQSOOD/THE VARSITY

Health-Bridge

With a growing immigrant population within Toronto, some may find it difficult to communicate their symptoms to their doctors, which could lead to negative outcomes or inadequate health care provisioning. This is where Health-Bridge comes in. Its mission is to bridge the language barriers between health care professionals and their patients.

Despite numerous successes and accolades, especially for founder Haman Mamdouhi, who won the Young Entrepreneur Pitch Competition last summer and was subsequently selected for the prestigious NEXT Canada program as one of the top 36 entrepreneurs across Canada, the team is most proud of its start in the U of T entrepreneurship community. “We really learned first that we could be entrepreneurs here at [the] University of Toronto. Creating sustainable impact is more accessible than ever,” said Mamdouhi. With the support of U of T, the team has developed digital image-based methods in several languages to help patients describe their symptoms accurately.

One of Health-Bridge’s main values is impact. “The people who started this startup had family members who suffered from this exact problem,” said Mamdouhi. “Before we do anything, we make sure to eliminate that suffering.”

AYTHA MAQSOOD/THE VARSITY

Just Vertical

As an urban dweller, it might seem like a struggle to get your hands on fresh, affordable, and pesticide-free produce year-round. Just Vertical helps address that problem by introducing the concept of indoor hydroponic farming.

Co-founder Kevin Jakiela said that Just Vertical’s value is in helping “people integrate growing plants in their homes and appreciate the global food supply chain.”

In the future, they plan to integrate hydroponic growing in other pieces of furniture, such as tabletops and even couches, as well as to develop an app that will let users — who may have not-so-green thumbs — know when to water their plants.

AYTHA MAQSOOD/THE VARSITY

Cohesys

Craniomaxillofacial fracture surgeries — which relate to fractures around the face and head area — rely on plate and screw methods that tend to result in complications over 40 per cent of the time. Cohesys hopes to reduce complications, lessen surgery hours, and reduce operating room costs through an adhesive tape.

Founded by Michael Floros, Cohesys oversees the management of BoneTape, a “non-toxic and resorbable polymer with a biodegradable adhesive on it.” The resorbable aspect of the adhesive will reduce the amount of recurring future problems that patients may have with conventional titanium bone and screw methods, such as facial sensitivities.

Support from U of T incubators UTEST and the Creative Destruction Lab has helped Cohesys reach the product stage.

AYTHA MAQSOOD/THE VARSITY

Cameron Schuler on luck, success, generating interest

Being an entrepreneur is harder than you think

Cameron Schuler on luck, success, generating interest

Life as an entrepreneur is often a far cry from the rocket-like spring to success that Steve Jobs and various other lucrative garage-based startups have experienced. The reality is evident in that very few new startups succeed beyond initiation — far from the Hollywood fantasy many of us think of.

During U of T’s Entrepreneurship Week, the Vector Institute’s Chief Commercialization Officer and Vice-President Industry Innovation Cameron Schuler gave a talk on the reality of being an entrepreneur, which was called “When things don’t go as planned…Murphy’s Law in Action.” Schuler shared the highs and lows of his many past entrepreneurial ventures to show that success is anything but easy.

Trials, tribulations, and technology

Schuler said that less than 25 per cent of entrepreneurs who launch a startup are likely to succeed, and the same is true for their second time around. He said that luck is a big factor — most startups don’t follow a straight path to success. Many times, entrepreneurs face the harsh challenges of running a startup: it consumes time one would otherwise have for their personal life, family, and hobbies.

He was clear that these facts weren’t meant to deter entrepreneurs — this is just the reality.

Many times we assume that coming up with technical aspects of products is the hardest part. Wrong. According to Schuler, it’s turning a profit and convincing others to invest in you. “The hardest thing you will ever do is generate revenue; I don’t care how hard the technical problems are,” he said. 

We also often assume that the market will automatically adopt technology that can automate certain aspects of life and work, but history has time and time again proven this conception false. For example, Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone had little fanfare at first — people thought it was dangerous.

Better may not always be for the best

Schuler also questioned why many entrepreneurs tend to gravitate toward making something without any market need for it. For example, though there are 4,400 patents for mouse traps, only two dozen of them have procured profit on the US market. Schuler highlighted the importance of designing the product for the customer, as the success of a technical solution depends on how well it is received.

Schuler finished by saying that all of his endeavours were formative experiences, and they provided him with the knowledge that he has today. 

Let his words be a lesson to future entrepreneurs: the journey is harder than you may think and the challenge may not always be in designing a technical solution, but in designing a practical solution and convincing the market of its value.

Shana Kelley on founding, developing life science startups

U of T professor discusses life cycle of startups

Shana Kelley on founding, developing life science startups

U of T professor, scientist, and entrepreneur Shana Kelley shared her experiences in launching three medical diagnostics startups during her Entrepreneurship Week talk “From concept to acquisition and back again.” 

Kelley, who is cross-appointed to several departments including Biochemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences, presented two guiding principles for starting a successful life science startup. 

The first is to let your initial ideas in research and business interact to form new ideas for opportunities. She quoted John Steinbeck, who wrote, “ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”

The second guiding principle is to accept that you don’t need to figure out all aspects of running a startup company before its launch. “You’ve got to jump off the cliff, and then you’ve got to work like heck to build your wings before you get to the ground,” Kelley said, quoting Ray Bradbury. 

She noted that even if you think you have your startup figured out, conditions and assumptions often change over the course of its development.

Preparation, perseverance, and patience

Kelley advised perseverance and patience during the initial stages of launch, reflecting on how she received 83 rejections by investors for her startup Xagenic.

“You have to go through that process,” she said. “You have to get the answer that’s no, and reflect a little bit on why they said no; maybe adjust your strategy going forward and then just keep going and keep going and keep going.”

Furthermore, while there is space to learn on the job, Kelley noted that startup ideas should be based on research that is reproducible, robust, and that essentially “works every time.”

“Do that before you even near the idea of starting a company,” she said. She advised against trying to figure out the fundamental science at a later stage when “venture capital investors [are] kind of breathing down your neck.” She also suggested ensuring that the discovery is patentable, so it can serve as an asset around which to base the company.

Kelley further recommended that entrepreneurs start companies staffed by people with whom they already work well. A clear business plan and potential applications of the technology to better secure funding are also essential. Part of the initial research involves speaking with potential clients of the technology, such as clinicians or patients for many products in the life sciences.

Kelley’s concept to acquisition and back

Kelley launched her first startup in the late 1990s as a PhD student at the California Institute of Technology. Studying the electrical conductivity of human DNA molecules, she found that double-stranded DNA is normally a semiconductor. However, minor mutations in these strands could stop a DNA molecule from conducting electricity.

Without a clear idea of how to turn the discovery into a marketable technology, Kelley and her graduate advisor filed a patent and went to the institute’s technology transfer office. It was the time of the dot-com bubble, which meant the office was easily able to find them an investor who offered $5 million in funding to develop an application for the discovery.

Kelley and her advisor used the funding to start a company named GeneOhm Sciences, which used Kelley’s discovery to create a diagnostic test for antibiotic-resistant MRSA bacteria. These ‘superbugs,’ which can be deadly to patients with compromised immune systems, are easily introduced into hospitals by visitors who unknowingly carry the pathogen. The firm developed a convenient test for visitors that used a nasal sample, and it was later acquired by the diagnostics company Becton, Dickinson and Company in 2006.

Kelley’s next startup was Xagenic. She co-founded the firm around 2009 with the goal of developing a faster, more convenient test for doctors to diagnose sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in patients. She noted that the idea was promising, as clinicians had wanted to perform on-the-spot STI testing to better limit the spread of infections.

STI testing is also around a billion-dollar market, noted Kelley, with a straightforward regulatory path to developing the product. The firm benefitted from developing a product for an existing high-value market with little regulatory risk, and with an existing demand among clinicians. This made Xagenic attractive to investors, who are often skeptical of startups that develop products without existing demand. The firm was ultimately acquired by defence contractor General Atomics in 2018.

The final startup Kelley mentioned is Cellular Analytics, which she recently incorporated as a partnership between U of T and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. The firm plans to develop microfluidic technology to analyze tumour cells from blood samples of patients with cancer, which may be less invasive than analyzing cells from tissue samples.

UTSU executive candidates face off at The Varsity’s debate

Candidates for President, University Affairs acknowledge “mental health crisis on campus”

UTSU executive candidates face off at <I>The Varsity</I>’s debate

As part of the 2019 University of Toronto Students’ (UTSU) elections season, The Varsity held a debate on March 21 that featured candidates for the three contested executive positions of President, Vice-President External Affairs, and Vice-President University Affairs. The debate was moderated by Editor-in-Chief Jack O. Denton and Associate News Editor Andy Takagi.

Questions touched on topics ranging from the lack of candidates for three executive positions, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), and the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), a policy announced by the Ford government that will give students an option to opt-out of certain incidental fees.

Presidential candidates

When asked to clarify why he wanted to run for president, Bryan Liceralde said that he had a “visionary platform” to maximize the happiness of the student body, referencing the ethical theory of utilitarianism. He had said in an earlier interview with The Varsity that he was running in order to win the Rhodes Scholarship.

Joshua Bowman, presidential candidate and current Academic Director for Social Sciences on the UTSU’s board of directors, said that if elected he would focus on creating a first-year council in order to improve engagement with first-year students, restructure the organization’s student aid program, and start a mental health audit.

On the vacancies of the incoming positions of Vice-President Operations, Vice-President Student Life, and Vice-President Professional Faculties, both presidential candidates said they would create a hiring committee early in their terms. Bowman said the committee would be composed of both past and present executives, and that having an election during midterms or exams would be inaccessible for many students.

Bowman and Liceralde also acknowledged that there is a mental health crisis on campus, both criticizing the administration for the university-mandated leave of absence policy, which was passed in June and allows U of T to place students on a non-punitive leave due to mental health. 

Liceralde pledged to lobby Governing Council to invest more in students and have a more subsidized education, while Bowman said that he would work with the university and other student societies to be more “proactive” rather than reactive to mental health.

Candidates for Vice-President External Affairs

Innis College Director Lucas Granger and U of T Tabletop Gaming Club President Spencer Robertson are both running for Vice-President External Affairs.

At the debate, both spoke of the need for cooperation among student societies at the university in order to oppose the SCI, which could mandate an opt-out option for the UTSU. Granger in particular said that he would create a campus cooperation committee among student society presidents, similar to the St. George Round Table, which is a body composed of student council presidents and university administrators.

On the CFS, a national organization composed of student unions across the country that many member unions have attempted to leave in recent years, both Granger and Robertson agreed that the UTSU should leave as well. 

Granger said that he would support a non-binding referendum in the fall to ask students if they want to stay or leave the organization, while Robertson said that he would fund a YouDecide campaign to collect signatures for decertification if it was financially viable.

The moderators then asked the candidates how they would negotiate with the provincial government, especially given that Ford recently wrote in a Progressive Conservative campaign email that student unions were getting up to “crazy Marxist nonsense.” 

Granger said that he would focus on the two other levels of government — municipal and federal — and that he would still negotiate in good faith. Robertson, like Granger, referenced that there were other governments and that he would be realistic in talks with the province.

Candidates for Vice-President University Affairs

Debate moved on to the candidates for Vice-President University Affairs, which included Christopher Chiasson, Avani Singh, and New College Director Sharon Ma. Candidate Ramtin Taramsari was unable to attend.

All three candidates acknowledged that there is a mental health crisis at U of T and that the community bears collective responsibility.

Singh called for the administration to implement concrete changes, whereas Chiasson said society at-large needs a fundamental “cultural shift” on mental health and that he would march on Queen’s Park in order to incite change. 

Ma said that she would focus on the upcoming report on the university-mandated leave of absence policy, which is scheduled to be released in the summer. The policy was criticized by all three candidates.

The moderators also asked the candidates whether they consider the role as one of activism or advocacy. 

Singh said it was about both, adding that the VP University Affairs is in a privileged position to meet with administration and do more than just protest. 

Ma echoed this sentiment but said that it was important to let students know that union members were working for them. Chiasson, on the other hand, criticized the UTSU for allegedly not advocating for large-scale activism, while instead doing work behind the scenes.

Another issue that the debate touched on was U of T’s extreme weather policy. Many students have criticized the university this past winter for not closing campus despite adverse conditions. 

Singh called for clearer guidelines on snow day policies and the existence of more contingency plans, while Chiasson pledged to advocate for more online lectures, which he said could lead to a more “realistic” campus closure policy.

Voting takes place exclusively online at utsu.simplyvoting.com, and will run until Monday, March 25 at 5:00 pm.

Disclosure: Avani Singh served as the Chair of the Board of Directors of Varsity Publications Inc. — the not-for-profit corporation that publishes The Varsity — from May 2018 to March 17, 2019. Singh has recused herself from the role of Chair and is taking a leave of absence from the board for the duration of the UTSU election period.

UTSG students join province-wide walkout in protest of Ford cuts

Canadian Federation of Students pushes for repeal of changes to postsecondary funding

UTSG students join province-wide walkout in protest of Ford cuts

On March 20, around 150 UTSG students took part in a province-wide walkout to protest the Ford government’s announced unfunded tuition cut, changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), and an opt-out option for certain incidental fees, known as the Student Choice Initiative (SCI). The students began by rallying at Sidney Smith Hall before marching on Simcoe Hall. 

The walkout was organized by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) in conjunction with campus groups as part of a province-wide campaign to bring awareness to the postsecondary funding changes. The protesters were joined by representatives from the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students, the Arts and Science Students’ Union, and the Graduate Students’ Union. 

The Student Choice Initiative (SCI) is one of the other changes announced by the provincial government that would mandate an opt-out option for certain incidental fees. It threatens the funding of many organizations that rely on mandatory student levies for funding, including the student unions in attendance at the protest. 

In its January announcement, the Ford government characterized the mandate as giving students the freedom to choose what they would be funding. For organizations like the CFS, this could mean a severe funding cut.

However, the CFS has a plan to keep organizing even with potential losses of revenue. CFS–Ontario Chairperson Nour Alideeb said in an interview with The Varsity that while she can’t speak to the specifics of how the CFS will operate on a reduced budget, it does have a plan for continued advocacy.

“We have strength in numbers, and the reality is that this government’s going to be removed in the next four years, and there will be governments that will be around after that… Because of our strength in numbers, we are actually able to create change,” said Alideeb, also expressing a hope to unite campuses across the province to repeal the SCI. 

While protests continue across the province, the fight to reverse the Ford government’s changes continues at Queen’s Park. Ontario New Democratic Party MPP for Spadina—Fort York and Critic for Training, Colleges and Universities Chris Glover has announced that he will be introducing a private members’ bill next week. 

The bill is set to ask the Ford government to relieve student debt by converting all future OSAP loans into grants, and ending interest on student loan debt by the provincial government.

In a statement released to The Varsity, Glover wrote, “Cutting and ultimately eliminating student debt will also be good for our economy. Currently students and graduates are saddled with debts that can take decades to pay off.” Glover sees student debt as restricting participation in the economy and hopes that the government will see education as an “investment in our future, both economically and socially.”

Editor’s Note (4:00 pm, March 27): This article has been updated to clarify that the CFS organized the walkout in conjunction with campus groups, as well as that the protest was also in relation to the SCI.

“I don’t know how I’m going to come to school next year”: UTSC students walk out in response to Ford’s education reform

UTSC participates in province-wide walkout

“I don’t know how I’m going to come to school next year”: UTSC students walk out in response to Ford’s education reform

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) organized a UTSC Solidarity Action event with a walkout on March 20 as a part of a province-wide walkout to protest the Ontario government’s changes to postsecondary education funding.

The event took place across three locations at UTSC: the Bladen Wing, the Instructional Centre, and the Student Centre. At all locations, SCSU representatives and volunteers collected signatures for its petition against the provincial government’s reforms, as well as letters to be sent to various MPPs.

The SCSU warns that the planned tuition reduction will result in a loss of “approximately $360 million from university operating budgets,” and will increase the already “skyrocketing tuition fees for international students.” 

The province announced the changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) on January 17, saying that the previous model, which granted tuition funding to families earning up to $175,000, was fiscally unsustainable. 

The government eliminated the six-month interest-free grace period on OSAP loans, while also lowering the income threshold at which students can qualify for grants. This may force students to take on more loans and accumulate more debt.

In an interview with The Varsity, SCSU Vice-President External Hana Syed, who helped to organize the event, emphasized the importance of participating in solidarity action. 

“The services that our student union offers, like operating a food bank, and the Women’s and Trans Centre, or Racialized Student Collective, and [Free Book Network] that support marginalized communities especially, are now going to be cut.”

Speaking on the changes to OSAP, Syed said, “The way that I’m even able to access education and be here is because I am on OSAP… I have three siblings; it would be impossible for my parents… to send all of us to school, and education is that important to my family.” 

Chemi Lhamo, current SCSU Vice-President Equity and President-elect, believes the government’s changes affect all students. 

“It’s an attack on us,” Lhamo told The Varsity. “When you don’t invest in our future generations, it’s a testament to where your morals lie.”

“I am a part-time student because education is already highly inaccessible to someone like me who comes from different intersectional identities, and I think this can be relatable to a lot of other students, especially in the Scarborough campus because about 80 per cent of our students are racialized folks,” Lhamo said. “A racialized woman came into my office in tears, and said, ‘Chemi, I don’t know how I’m going to come to school next year.’ And that shakes me to the core.” 

UTM Principal signs on to UTMSU demands to speak against postsecondary changes

UTM students join province-wide walkout against Ford government

UTM Principal signs on to UTMSU demands to speak against postsecondary changes

During a campus walkout at UTM on March 20, UTM Principal Ulrich Krull agreed to a demand by the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) for the university to take action against changes to postsecondary funding announced by the provincial government earlier this year.

Students marched from the Student Centre toward Deerfield Hall, clutching signs and chanting: “Who are we? We are the students.”

These students gathered at the Student Centre earlier that morning to participate in the province-wide walkout organized by the Canadian Federation of Students, of which the UTMSU is a member. The protest is part of a We the Students campaign against the Ford government’s changes to postsecondary funding, which includes cuts to the Ontario Students Assistance Program (OSAP) and an opt-out option on certain “non-essential” incidental fees, known as the Student Choice Initiative (SCI).

After a free brunch offered by the UTMSU, students were addressed by UTMSU President Felipe Nagata and sessional lecturer in political science Kristin Cavoukian. Cavoukian is also the Vice-Chair of Unit 3 of CUPE 3902, which represents U of T’s contract workers. 

Executive members of the Muslim Students’ Association also spoke to students, as did Middle Eastern Students’ Association President Reem El-Ajou.

All emphasized the importance of campus life in shaping students’ lives, and how the SCI could endanger it.

Students also chanted, “Students, united, will never be defeated” and “Education is under attack, what do we do? Unite! Fight back!” as they walked through the new North Building to the Instructional Centre atrium. They continued to the Communication, Culture, and Technology building before settling in the recently renovated Meeting Place of the William G. Davis building.

“All I want to say is that Ford don’t really care about us” reverberated through the area, before Nagata called for Krull to come to the Meeting Place to listen to the UTMSU’s demands.

“[Number one, sign a joint letter with the UTMSU] address[ing] the cuts to OSAP, grants, and the SCI,” said Nagata to Krull. 

Nagata also called on the UTM administration to speak to Governing Council to discuss how the SCI would affect UTM students and the UTMSU, and called on Krull to attend a town hall hosted by the UTMSU. The final demand called on Krull to sign a petition to be sent to the Ford government.

Krull signed the document containing these demands, to the chants of “Ulli.”

“Thank you, first, of all for taking the time to protest,” said Krull to the crowd. “This is important: if you don’t speak up, in what we have as a democratic society, your messages are not going to be heard.”

“Recognize that the entire university is, in a sense, impacted by what the government is doing, whether it’s OSAP, whether it is the Student Choice Initiative. These are things that are impacting all of us,” said Krull.

Krull explained that though he had “no problem” signing a joint letter with the UTMSU, he could not sign on behalf of U of T. He did however emphasize that the “entire university” would be impacted by the changes and signed the letter “on the basis of supporting you and the initiative to get this heard by the President and by Governing Council.”

On discussing the impacts of the SCI with Governing Council, Krull added that UTM “already had presentations here locally in governance.”

“If this is a general statement, that there is a concern about the Student Choice Initiative, OSAP, no problem at all,” said Krull about signing the UTMSU’s petition to the government. “If this is the type of language, the type of text, that usually is more expansive, that starts demanding, for example, free tuition, that is beyond what we are talking about here, so that’s a petition I could not sign.”

“We’re all in it together,” remarked Krull, “This is something we need to work on together.”