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Looking back on a year of innovation and entrepreneurship at U of T

UTE 2021 Annual Entrepreneurship Report on program highlights, new initiatives
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Last month, U of T Entrepreneurship (UTE) released its annual report for 2020–2021. In an interview with The Varsity, UTE Director Jon French addressed many aspects of the report, such as UTE’s initiatives and events that took place in 2021, as well as its goals for the future. 

Report highlights

The report covers many entrepreneurial activities that address pressing social issues such as climate change and health care, as well as other smaller issues. French noted that most of UTE’s pressing initiatives for social change have been mainly student-led. “A lot of the time, the students or the entrepreneurs themselves are often able to steer which social issues or which topics the accelerators in the U of T entrepreneurial community focus on,” said French.

This year, UTE also placed a lot of emphasis on intellectual property (IP) and IP education. UTE provided a free education program on how students could maneuver through the entrepreneurship world without violating any IP concerns while also knowing their own rights.

Getting involved 

The new UTE website is the best way for students to get involved in entrepreneurship. This website is designed to streamline entrepreneurial activities, regardless of whether you’re a student, faculty member, entrepreneur, investor, or anyone else in the business sphere. 

According to French, it is “the largest startup board for universities in the world,” and hundreds of initiatives and startups are posted on it for students to access and gain information about. 

“There is no wrong door in the ecosystem and in the entrepreneurial community” when it comes to getting involved, said French. Some great ways to get started include talking to specific faculties or campuses to seek out opportunities they’re offering or events they’re holding, and to explore unique initiatives offered around campus such as The Hatchery at U of T Engineering or the entrepreneurship librarians. 

Equity, diversity, and inclusion within UTE

UTE is dedicated to incorporating equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) policies in many of its initiatives to celebrate different voices in the entrepreneurship community within U of T. 

The Black Founders Network is an initiative launched in October 2021 that supports both current Black entrepreneurs and Black students aiming to start their entrepreneurship journey by providing them with necessary support. The support the Black Founders Network provides includes access to capital, programming, and a community of peers, mentors, and allies. 

FemStem is a UTE-led initiative with The Temerty Faculty of Medicine that is designed to encourage women and women-led startups in the life science and health science space. Many other initiatives are happening across the three U of T campuses, such as Pitch with a Twist, which is an initiative from ICUBE at UTM. The Cassel Fourlines Women in Entrepreneurship Fund, also presented by UTE, supports various initiatives for women entrepreneurs.  

One of the many other EDI initiatives discussed in the annual report was the Redbird Circle, an Indigenous entrepreneurship pilot program run out of UTM and led by Indigenous leaders. 

UTE aims to explore even more EDI initiatives in coming years and make the entrepreneurship community more welcoming and diverse. When it comes to EDI, French said, “[UTE is] just getting started.”

Looking toward the future

“The general perspective from U of T entrepreneurship is that there has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur,” said French. Many of the prospective goals and events that UTE has planned for the future will provide excellent opportunities for startups and entrepreneurs. 

UTE’s entrepreneurship week, which will run from March 7–11 in 2022, provides many exciting events for young entrepreneurs. One of the main events is the UTE startup prize pitch competition, where selected competitors will showcase their business ideas to a panel of judges and compete for a series of prizes. The pitch competition includes over $60,000 in nondilutive prize money for competitors and a special social impact prize of $10,000. Entrepreneurship week also features a screening of “Coded Bias,” a film about artificial intelligence and how algorithms may work in a negative way to disadvantage underrepresented minorities. 

UTE is also excited to introduce the Schwartz-Reisman Innovation Campus, a new 750,000 square feet innovation space being constructed on the St. George campus that will act as the new home for UTE starting in 2023. This space is predicted to become a hub for entrepreneurship and innovation within Toronto and Canada as a whole. 

When it opens, this space will be a “vibrant, incredible, inclusive and welcoming space for anyone that’s excited about startups and entrepreneurship across U of T’s tri-campus,” said French. Furthermore, this space is also going to be the new home to the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which, French added, will “help consolidate Toronto’s leading position in the AI world.”

Entrepreneurship at U of T keeps growing, and the possibilities for advancement and innovation are endless. UTE provides countless opportunities for students to get involved.