On June 12, U of T Entrepreneurship hosted the 10 finalists of its inaugural Sustainability Innovation Prize for a pitch competition at ONRamp, a coworking space that supports U of T accelerators. The finalists, selected from a larger pool of applicants, each had three minutes to pitch their innovations to a panel of expert judges in the hopes of being selected as one of the three $5,000 prize winners.
The 10 finalists were chosen according to the opportunity, viability and impact, growth potential, innovation, talent, and communication skills demonstrated in their proposals. In April, each of the finalists was encouraged by U of T Entrepreneurship to work with an advisor to prepare them for the big day.
Following the 10 pitches, which ranged from energy efficiency innovations to financial services, the judges announced their verdict.
Daniel McKee and Lisa Pooley’s Circular Toys; John Russell and Leanna Smid’s SoluSave; and Paulina Szalchta, Samantha Dilorio, and Tom Chen’s STP Sports claimed top honours, each earning $5,000 to be used to support their innovations.
McKee’s project aims to bring the circular economic model to the youngest members of society. Circular Toys is his answer to the short use of kids’ toys, few of which are recyclable.
Circular Toys is a subscription-based, eco-friendly toy delivery service. Consumers would pick from a range of educational toy packages, targeted according to age group, and can expect a continued delivery of five to six toys every three months to their homes.
After toys have been used to the child’s satisfaction, Circular Toys encourages its customers to send them back to the company, which they would then refurbish and incorporate them into boxes to send out to other families.
McKee told The Varsity that the $5,000 prize would be used primarily for marketing, “getting the website up, and reaching the first hundred [users].” Circular Toys will launch in August.
Life science students John Russell and Leanna Smid’s SoluSave provides a waste reduction solution for laboratories.
SoluSave aims to develop and provide technology to recycle used solvents. The two undergraduate students were inspired to develop their startup from having first-hand experience in U of T laboratories.
They hope that, once completed, their technology will make its way into more undergraduate laboratories to minimize waste.
Russell and Smid, who were participating in their first-ever pitch competition, were surprised that they were selected as one of the winners.
“One of our biggest concerns was to make sure that [our pitch] came across as pretty clear, what we were doing, and to have a little bit more of a story,” Smid told The Varsity. “We knew we were not pitching to chemists.”
After this year’s NBA championship, Torontonians who have attended sporting events can vouch for the wasteful mess that fills an empty stadium after a game. Paulina Szlachta and Tom Chen pitched a service to reduce the wasteful nature of sporting events through a closed-loop supply chain model that diverts waste from ending up in landfills.
The pair had conducted field research, including a trip to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium and a meeting with its officials.
Beyond the excitement of the prize, Szlachta was particularly excited about the fierceness of the competition. “The other pitches got me thoroughly excited about what the future of U of T Entrepreneurship is, from the use of chemical waste to sustainable toys,” she told The Varsity. “[It’s] an amazing space and this competition is coming at a really, really good time.”
A good time it was — the pitch competition featured a great variety of pitches, and despite there only being three prize winners, there were no real losers. From searching for solutions to empower women in Afghanistan, to providing portable electricity to families in Western Africa, the 10 finalists truly embodied the standard that U of T is known for.
Editor’s Note (July 12, 5:50 pm): This article has been updated to correct the description of ONRamp.