The Fields Institute announces its latest startup incubator cohort

From artificial intelligence to genomic engineering, these four startups are fast-tracking mathematical innovation

The Fields Institute announces its latest startup incubator cohort

The Fields Institute Centre for Quantitative Analysis and Modelling announced its partnerships with four Toronto-based startups in September: Agnostiq, Clientelligent, Syndemedic, and Tesseraqt. The centre, comprised of 11 laboratories, aims “to solve real-world problems in science and technology while training the next generation of innovators.”

Agnostiq uses quantum computing to protect client data

Agnostiq, an enterprise security company, is building software that enables users to store their data over a quantum cloud.

Quantum computing can be considered the next stage of innovation in computing. In classical computing, information is stored in bits — the smallest unit of data in a computer — that are represented as one of two binary states.

On the other hand, quantum computers store information as quantum bits, which allows information to be represented in an infinite number of states.

This means that quantum computers can perform extremely complex calculations, which classical computers would not be able to execute, and even break encryption.

Large banks and enterprises are migrating to cloud-based servers to handle “complex workloads” but the cloud environment is vulnerable to attacks, according to Elliot MacGowan, a co-founder of Agnostiq.

“The problem with that is that the cloud environment itself is public,” said MacGowan.

Companies gain a computational advantage by sending workloads to the cloud, but “lose out on security.” Agnostiq creates another layer of encryption in order to allow users to work with their data to ensure that “nobody can listen in or understand what you’re doing.”

Clientelligent used artificial intelligence to predict client behaviour

As a former financial services executive, Darren Cabral, the CEO of Clientelligent, found it challenging to effectively engage with clients and retain them in the investment and wealth management industry.

Cabral co-founded Clientelligent, which applies artificial intelligence (AI) to anticipate client needs and preferences and provide them with more personalized experiences, thus allowing financial companies to grow.

AI can have a transformative effect on corporations, but they often don’t know where to begin or how to implement it, noted Cabral.

Clientelligent “brings to the table a full service, start to finish,” said Cabral. The startup helps companies explore their existing data and use them to attract clients. The startup is now working with various established financial institutions and hopes to recruit new talent through the Fields Institute.

Syndemedic applied math to drug discovery

The cost of researching and developing a new drug can be expensive, and it can take decades to bring a single new drug to the market. Add to this the fact that the failure rate of molecules found through traditional trials is over 90 per cent, and the costs of development quickly pile up.

“Oftentimes you don’t realize that [a] new, very exciting potential cure for Alzheimer’s isn’t going to work until you spend almost a billion dollars on it,” said Mclean Edwards, CEO of Syndemedic.

Syndemedic uses drug design algorithms in computer systems to simulate molecular processes, predicting the side effects and various performance of drugs in development before clinical testing.

This software could help researchers select more effective compounds and could better inform researchers on whether a particular compound will pass clinical testing.

The startup is now working with pharmaceutical research groups to find high-quality compounds that can go through the stream.

Tesseraqt hopes to eliminate side-effects of CRISPR genome engineering

CRISPR, a gene-editing technique, is considered “the holy grail in genome engineering,” said Erno Wienholds, co-founder of Tesseraqt.

However, as a new and upcoming technique, it still comes with many risks, potential side-effects, and off-target effects.

To offset these risks, Tesseraqt uses mathematical systems to predict the outcomes of CRISPR-based genetic modification procedures. While the prototype is still being optimized, Tesseraqt hopes to partner with regenerative medicine companies to develop CRISPR-based gene therapies or manufacture drugs.

UTM plans for five capital construction projects

Enrolment growth, research goals prompted need for new infrastructure

UTM plans for five capital construction projects

The UTM Campus Council announced plans for new and ongoing capital construction projects for the 2019–2020 academic year on October 2.

Of the $274.5 million net operating budget of 2019–2020, $44.6 million will be allocated toward capital construction projects.

The Arts, Culture & Technology (ACT) Building; Robotics Lab Environment; a new residence building; and the Annex are in early planning stages, while construction for the Science Building is expected to begin later this fall.

“[The] Annex will be a new modular building located beside our current Academic Annex… and will house Campus Police and Hospitality Services,” Chief Administrative Officer Saher Fazilat wrote in an email to The Varsity.

According to Fazilat, $41.5 million out of $44.6 million will go toward the proposed ACT Building, and the remaining $3.1 million to “a project in [the] Davis [Building].”

The proposed ACT Building will house several departments, like the Institute for Communication, Culture, Information and Technology, Computer Science, Robotics, and units like the Blackwood Gallery and the Indigenous Centre.

According to Fazilat, the proposed construction projects are a response to enrollment growth.

UTM plans for a five per cent undergraduate enrollment growth by the 2022–2023 academic year, according to the Planning and Budget Office’s 2018 Enrolment Report.

14,544 full-time undergraduate students are enrolled in full-time studies at UTM this year, a 630 student increase from the office’s projected enrollment goals for UTM.

New intake of full-time undergraduate students “won’t increase over fall 2019 levels,” wrote Fazilat.

Yet, this increase has prompted a need for more student spaces, like a new residence building.

“There are very few available residence spaces for upper-year students and fewer still for graduate students,” wrote Fazilat.

Fazilat also wrote that the proposed construction projects aim “to enhance our research agenda.”

Jessica Burgner-Kahrs, Director of Continuum Robotics Laboratory, has been working with UTM to plan the proposed Robotics Lab Environment since she was hired in June.

“Having a building that had our needs in mind from the beginning will be transformational, so [that] our robotics program can really be the best and the biggest in Canada,” said Brugner-Kahrs in an interview with The Varsity. “And that will be great for UTM and U of T in general.”

The Science Building, “one of the largest capital projects at U of T,”  will house the Centre for Medicinal Chemistry, wet research laboratories, the Research Computing Data Centre, offices for science departments, and space for facilities support.

Upward of $20 million in funding for the Science Building was approved by the Governing Council in 2017.

The building will be located between the Terrence Donnelly Health Sciences Complex and the Davis Building, and is expected to be completed by 2023.

Honeybee app: a hub to find research study participants in Toronto

Company co-founded by recent U of T alumni, helps students earn cash for participation

Honeybee app: a hub to find research study participants in Toronto

Honeybee, an online platform whose app will soon be released to the public, aims to create a central hub that will attract and incentivize people to participate in research studies in Toronto.

Just six months after the startup’s initial launch, co-founders and U of T alumni Catherine Chan and Weiwei Li have extensively expanded upon the company. They plan to launch the official app on November 7.   

The concept behind Honeybee

While pursuing her Master of Science at U of T’s Department of Nutrition, Chan continuously struggled to recruit participants for her research study. “I [had] exhausted all social media channels trying to recruit people… and I only got half of the people that I needed,” Chan explained in an interview with The Varsity.

She elaborated further, explaining that the delay had compromised her research data and said it was a massive waste of resources, because she had spent more time trying to recruit participants than actually performing the study.

Unfortunately, Chan’s circumstances are not unique. She noted that clinical trials are often terminated around the globe due to insufficient participant recruitment.

Chan immediately saw an urgency for a solution to this problem. That’s when Chan had the idea of Honeybee, an online platform where researchers could post their studies in search of participants, and participants could easily search for studies that they were eligible for.

During the end of her graduate degree, Chan took a week off from writing her thesis to pitch her idea to the Impact Centre’s Techno entrepreneurship program, where she was ultimately rewarded a microfinancing grant. Chan then went on to receive multiple other business grants targeted toward young entrepreneurs.

Li joined Chan as a full-time co-founder, shortly after graduating with his Master of Applied Science from U of T’s Department of Materials Science & Engineering.

How does Honeybee work?

Many of the current ways to discover research studies are through government-affiliated or institution-specific websites. In an interview with The Varsity, Li said that these websites can sometimes be “intimidating,” and often lack a friendly user interface.

A lack of awareness of the resources is another issue. According to its co-founders, Honeybee aims to combat this by building a community feeling and a centralized space for research studies across various disciplines.

Specifically, Honeybee wants to make sure that participating in research studies is easy and accessible. The company aims to take extensive measures to ensure informed consent in order to make participants feel that the researchers are being transparent.

“Sometimes people feel [like] a guinea pig of research, but [that’s] really not the case,” Chan explained. “We are working with a research ethics board coordinator [from Unity Health Toronto], who is our company advisor.”

A useful feature of Honeybee is its anonymous request process. Participants can join the service without disclosing their name or email, and access anonymous chats where they can freely speak to researchers without exposing their identities.

The future for Honeybee

The Honeybee app launches next month, and, according to its co-founders, is the first of its kind to market in Canada. Currently, Honeybee lists over 20 research studies, and has connected them to more than 100 participants, according to Li.

Chan explained that they “really want to grow in the city that [they’ve] built the product in.” As such, Honeybee will be focusing on expanding in the Toronto research community before anywhere else.

In the near future, Honeybee plans to include the implementation of artificial intelligence and natural language processing in order to optimize search options, according to Chan.

Another one of the co-founders’ goals is to support U of T students. As such, they’re beginning to bring on various students, including one from U of T’s Impact Centre Entrepreneurship course IMC392, who will earn course credit while accumulating work experience, according to Chan.

How can students earn money and gift cards with Honeybee?

Honeybee represents a great opportunity to earn extra cash, Starbucks gift cards, and even rewards such as free fitness trackers — all while meaningfully contributing to U of T and engaging in the research community, according to Chan and Li.

The search function is designed to be user-friendly and free for participants. To promote student engagement, Honeybee further plans to have their mascot active around St. George campus, and also engage with students on Twitter and Instagram.

UTSG: Malcolm Gladwell on “Talking to Strangers”

Join us for the Big Ideas Speaker Series at Rotman for discussion on “Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know” (Little, Brown and Company, Sept. 10, 2019)

SPEAKER: Malcolm Gladwell, Staff Writer, “The New Yorker”; Host, Revisionist History podcast; #1 “New York Times” Bestselling Author

IN CONVERSATION WITH: Heather Reisman, Founder and CEO, Indigo Books & Music Inc.

BOOK SYNOPSIS: Malcolm Gladwell, host of the podcast Revisionist History and #1 bestselling author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, David and Goliath, and What the Dog Saw, offers a powerful examination of our interactions with strangers—and why they often go wrong. How did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for a generation? Why did Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Adolf Hitler? Why are campus sexual assaults on the rise? Do television sitcoms teach us something about the way we relate to each other that isn’t true? Talking to Strangers is a classically Gladwellian intellectual adventure, a challenging and controversial excursion through history, psychology, and scandals taken straight from the news. He revisits the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, the suicide of Sylvia Plath, the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia scandal at Penn State University, and the death of Sandra Bland—throwing our understanding of these and other stories into doubt. Something is very wrong, Gladwell argues, with the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know. And because we don’t know how to talk to strangers, we are inviting conflict and misunderstanding in ways that have a profound effect on our lives and our world. In his first book since his #1 bestseller, David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell has written a gripping guidebook for troubled times.

COST: $36.99 plus HST per person (includes 1 hardcover copy of “Talking to Strangers” and 1 seat for the talk)

Convocation Hall
University of Toronto
31 King’s College Circle
Toronto ON


UTSG: Secrets of the Best Leaders: 4 Short Talks

In the Fall 2019 issue of Rotman Management Magazine we share a wide array of “Secrets of the Best Leaders”. From knowing how to make a strategic pivot to understanding today’s ‘needs-adaptive’ consumer to creating an inclusive workplace to preparing for a cyber attack – these are secrets you won’t want to keep to yourself. Join us for TED-style talks by four contributors as we launch the Fall issue.

Claire Tsai, Associate Professor of Marketing, Rotman and Co-founder of Behavioural Economics in Action at Rotman on “Understanding the Needs-Adaptive Consumer”

Zayna Khayat, Adjunct Professor and Executive-in-Residence, Rotman on “How to Make a Strategic Pivot”

Michael Cherny (Rotman Commerce ‘11), Chief of Staff, Deloitte Canada on “Creating an Inclusive Workplace”

Michael Parent, Professor of Management Information Systems and Marketing, Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University on “Preparing for Your Next Cyber Attack”

COST: $18.95 plus HST per person (includes 1 copy of the Fall 2019 issue of “Rotman Management” Magazine and 1 seat for the 4 talks)

VENUE: Rotman School of Management


Professor Dilip Soman named Canada Research Chair

Rotman researcher studies how businesses, people make decisions

Professor Dilip Soman named Canada Research Chair

Most people say that the elevation of Mount Everest is 29,000 feet, forgetting the final 29 feet. During the last 29 feet is when the bad things occur — people fall prey to physical exhaustion, give up mentally, and get caught. People often put in a lot less effort at the end compared to the hard work and preparation that has led them to these last steps.

Similarly, most companies spend much of their effort on at the beginning, from the product design, brand strategy, and optimization of the production process in the hopes of putting out the best product on the shelves. Companies often forget about the final step, where customers enter the store and talk to a salesperson or click a website, to make the choice of whether to purchase the product.

This irrational shortcoming of human behaviour is what caught Professor Dilip Soman’s attention.

In 1992, Soman began his PhD program at the University of Chicago where he focused on marketing and management. However, he was drawn to the implications of consumer behaviour on the market and decided to delve into the field of behavioural economics: the study of how cognitive and emotional factors affect the decision-making processes of individuals and institutions.

Twenty-seven years later, Soman is the Director of the Behavioural Economics in the Action Research Centre at Rotman (BEAR) and serves as a Senior Policy Advisor on the Impact and Innovation Unit for the Government of Canada, while fulfilling his teaching duties at the Rotman School of Management.

“So much [of behavioural economics] I think is interesting because it says that there’s a deviation between what people want to do and what they end up doing,” Soman told The Varsity.

Now, Soman holds the Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Science and Economics. The Canada Research Chairs Program aims to help chairholders launch Canada into the forefront of research and development.

Making choices easier

The presentation of choices to individuals and consumers can impact their decision-making. Different designs can either facilitate action or impede it. “As a behavioral scientist, my contribution is that I can help consumers — you must see that and I can help organizations see that,” said Soman.

He went on to explain that, “People are impulsive, people don’t think too much about the future. They’re emotional. Anything in the context that exaggerates those tendencies tends to make people deviate from what they should do.”

Small and seemingly irrelevant details that make a task more challenging often make the difference between doing something and putting it off. Opting out of email subscription lists appears to be a menial task that will declutter our inboxes and make our lives a little bit easier, but because it is so complicated and inconvenient many people stay subscribed to email lists.

It is easy to see this tendency for people to deviate from what they intend to do becoming a lot more problematic — think retirement saving options and health care plans. When choices are confusing and require more effort to understand, people tend to stick with the default, even if it does not benefit them much, or at all.

Soman’s work consists of developing tools to help government officials and businesses create architecture that guides individuals to make choices that are in their best interests. It has a heavy focus on bridging the gap between the ideas of behavioural economics and how to practically implement those ideas in a real-world setting.

Soman’s work at the BEAR is a prime example of his contributions toward converting academic ideas in behavioural science to implementation-oriented framework.

“Our biggest work is in scaling what we know in the lab to the marketplace… with the goal of shifting the research agenda in behavioural science from the big ideas to where can we use it and how,” said Soman.

On being a Canada Research Chair

The Varsity asked Soman what it means for him to be named the Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Science and Economics, a prestigious title awarded to Canada’s most outstanding scholars.

Rather than reflecting upon his personal achievements, Soman viewed his appointment as a larger recognition of the field of behavioural economics.

“I think it’s more a recognition for the field… [that] this is the first candidate chair at the intersection of Behavioral Science and Economics,” said Soman.

Whereas the government has worked with an economic assumption of citizens’ decision-making when drafting policy, Soman believes that his appointment as the first Canada Research Chair in the field of behavioural economics marks a changing attitude towards the idea that people are not always rational actors.

“That’s a big acknowledgement for the fact that the field is now not only considered legitimate, but that it can impact society,” said Soman. “I think once there’s a Canada Research Chair in behavioural economics… all [of the] ideas of our team are now much more easily received.”

On what’s next

Soman wants to do more than understand the existing friction organizations have in place that prevents individuals from making good decisions — he wants to reduce it by applying the tools of behavioural economics to the complex problems of the real-world.

His main priorities for the upcoming years include converting academic findings into accessible information that businesses and individuals can digest; incorporating the ideas of behavioural economics toward a preventative health system; and improving the financial literacy of average citizens by using smart choice architecture to help people make better economic decisions.

Despite being an expert in understanding human imperfections in decision-making, Soman is the first to admit his shortcomings. He is currently working on his latest book, About Time, but when The Varsity inquired about the book, Soman confessed that he hasn’t had the time to work on it yet.

“I mean, one of the reasons I studied this stuff I’m doing is I’m pretty bad myself,” joked Soman. “I procrastinate.”

UTSG: Sarah Kaplan on “The 360° Corporation: From Stakeholder Trade-offs to Transformation”

Book Synopsis:  The business world is no longer entirely a “total returns to shareholders” game. Corporations are increasingly expected to address the interests of multiple stakeholders through corporate social responsibility. This pressure comes from “clicktivists,” socially-conscious consumers, Millennials, and a new generation of investors focused on ESG (environmental, social and governance) standards. The urgency for moving beyond the “bottom line” mindset has never been greater. Yet, the popular “shared value” framework uses a business case logic to inspire companies to find win-win solutions. But what if there is no win-win? How can companies cope when the interests of the shareholder and those of other stakeholders such as communities, workers, consumers, suppliers, and the environment conflict irreconcilably? This book is designed to provide answers to these questions, showing leaders how to engage with stakeholders to create possibilities for everyone, and to foster innovative business model transformation. Companies can look through the lenses of different stakeholders—taking a 360° view—and see new ways of doing business. The 360° Corporation is an organization that can tackle the tensions created by these trade-offs, and this book offers signposts to leaders who want to spearhead the 360° revolution. Using rich case studies of Walmart, Nike and other leading companies, this book shows every organization can address its trade-offs. Sometimes there’s a “win-win”; sometimes, creative thinking may lead to innovation; and, other times companies will have to thrive in irreconcilable tensions. The 360° Corporation addresses all of these modes of action, serving as a comprehensive playbook for managers, CEOs, and innovators who are burned out by constantly being tugged in many different directions. 

About Our Speaker: Sarah Kaplan is Director and Professor – Institute for Gender and the Economy, Distinguished Professor of Gender and the Economy and Professor of Strategic Management, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. She is a Senior Fellow with the Mack Institute for Innovation Management at the Wharton School at  University of Pennsylvania.  Sarah is co-author of the New York Times best-seller Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Built to Last Underperform the Market–And How to Successfully Transform Them (Broadway Business, 2003) and co-author of Survive and Thrive: Winning Against Strategic Threats to Your Business (Dog Ear Publishing, 2017).  Her new book The 360° Corporation: From Stakeholder Trade-offs to Transformation will be published by Stanford Business Books on September 3, 2019. 

$36.00 plus HST per person (includes 1 signed hardcover copy of “The 360° Corporation”, 1 seat for the book talk and the drinks reception)

U of T Career Fair 2019

Explore employment opportunities with more than 100 diverse and global organizations. University of Toronto students from all years, all fields of study and campuses are invited, as well as recent grads.