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A guide to U of T’s incubators and accelerators

Where to launch your business at U of T

A guide to U of T’s incubators and accelerators

In 2018, U of T ranked among the top five universities in the world for launching a business. Incubators and accelerators facilitate the launch of most businesses; an incubator launches an idea into a startup, while an accelerator helps an existing business grow and develop. If you want to launch your own business, here’s a guide to U of T’s 11 incubators and accelerators. 

The University of Toronto Early Stage Technology Program (UTEST) is a year-long program that focuses on high-potential technology developed at U of T. UTEST partners with Mitacs, MaRS, and Ontario Centres of Excellence, among others, to provide services to early-stage ventures. UTEST assists students, faculty, and recent alumni with developing business plans, and provides legal advice and office space to launch their business. UTEST applications are due in May each year and final decisions are made in June. It will invest $100,000 in selected businesses, with access to an additional $500,000 in capital. Twelve companies participated in UTEST’s 2018 cohort for innovations, ranging from surgical adhesives to wound treatments. 

The University of Toronto Scarborough Campus Hub hosts a startup competition to help students and recent alumni launch their ideas into businesses. The Hub’s fifth annual intake will be held on Saturday, November 16 when entrepreneurs will compete for up to $5,000 in seed capital. The Hub has launched over 130 startups since its inception five years ago. To name a few, the Hub has helped launch CheaprEats, an on-campus food ordering app that rewards users; Weav, a ride-sharing app designed for students to carpool with one another, and BlumeX, a venture dedicated to helping startups hit sales targets. 

ICUBE is an incubator based in the Institute for Management & Innovation at UTM, but isn’t restricted to UTM students. ICUBE has a three-stage system: Startup, Scaleup, and SXL Grant. Startup includes extensive support for refining a business plan. Scaleup is for companies that have made less than $100,000, and includes networking opportunities and smaller cash prizes. SXL Grant comes with a 50 per cent labour coverage for one employee when the company hires a UTM student. Notable ICUBE alumni include Just Vertical, a company that promotes food sustainability, and Micharity, an innovative fundraising platform. 

Department of Computer Science Innovation Lab (DCSIL) is a startup incubator and accelerator for innovations rooted in computer science. In addition to helping launch businesses through their Research to Commercialization Program, the DCSIL offers courses in software and product development to undergraduate and graduate students. It works with U of T, government organizations, industry partners, venture capital firms, and other incubators and accelerators to commercialize promising innovations. In the past, the DCSIL has helped launch Brainsview, a software company that can monitor brain injuries in real time, and deepPIXEL, a company working to improve and automate online customer support. 

The Entrepreneurship Hatchery is a place where student entrepreneurs can submit any problem online to the Hatchery Idea Market, and their team will help them find a solution. The Hatchery operates through two streams: NEST is designed for students interested in launching or growing a startup, while the Launch Lab facilitates startups born out of graduate-level research. Previously, the Hatchery has helped launch Vercel, a company that created a subzero preservation system that extends the life of organs for transplant, and Medme, a smart pillbox that helps patients manage their medications. Each year, the Hatchery hosts Demo Day, an event that showcases startups that participated in NEST’s rigorous four-month program. 

Start@UTIAS is part of the U of T Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) and collaborates with the Hatchery to help students in UTIAS develop their business ideas. Start@UTIAS applicants can apply to the Hatchery’s Launch Lab, NEST, and social program streams and are eligible for up to $60,000 in funding. One of the successful past winners is Medchart, a cloud-based portal that gives patients access to their medical records. TeaBOT, a startup which sells robots that can custom-blend teas in under 30 seconds, participated in the Start@UTIAS program in 2015. 

The BRIDGE is an accelerator built on a partnership between the Department of Management at UTSC and the UTSC library that emphasizes experiential learning. The BRIDGE is best known for its New Venture Program, which allows students from a range of disciplines to gain business planning and management skills through industry and community placements. Program placement is contingent upon submission of a letter of intent, the completion of required coursework, and an interview. The BRIDGE also functions as a working space and a resource for business and financial services. Most recently, the BRIDGE collaborated with DCSIL and IBM Watson to launch a chatbot for Canadian financial services and information. 

The Impact Centre is an accelerator that aims to bring scientific discoveries to the market. The Impact Centre provides opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to learn about entrepreneurship through Techno, a week-long course on entrepreneurship, and also provides opportunities for eligible undergraduate students to work in startups for course credit. Some of the Impact Centre’s alumni include RealAtoms, a reinvented molecular modelling kit for students; Somnitude, a company developing artificial-light blocking glasses; and Pueblo Science, a non-profit organization focused on science literacy.

Health Innovation Hub (H2i) is an incubator that supports innovations, advances, and research in health care. H2i promotes external affiliate events such as ECHO, an entrepreneurship in cardiovascular health startup competition during which five ideas are judged and awarded from a $250,000 pool. In addition, H2i hosts the Pitch Perfect health matters competition, which awards $5,000 each to three fellowship winners. In the past, H2i has helped launch Scipertise, an online platform for scientists to share tips and tricks for scientific methods and troubleshooting equipment. H2i has also helped early-stage pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies like Porphysome Foundry and Phoenox Pharma get off the ground. 

The Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) is a seed-stage incubator for companies developing innovations in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, clean technology, space, and more. As part of the Rotman School of Management, CDL provides companies with mentors in business and scientific development. CDL has one round of application intake per year, which took place in August. Since its creation in 2012, CDL has launched over 500 companies and has generated $3 billion in equity. One of the more well-known companies launched through CDL, Kepler Communications, works to build internet connectivity and improve real-time communication through satellites. 

The Innovation Hub (iHub) is a student-led initiative that has adopted an empathetic approach to design in order to drive social change at U of T. Launched in 2016, iHub selects a number of projects to work on each year through student, staff, and faculty input. For example, iHub is now working to make Convocation Hall more accessible, and working with the Family Care Office to better accommodate students with families. In the past, this grassroots initiative has helped St. Michael’s College become more equipped to welcome international students and worked with Indigenous Student Services to better curate services for its students. iHub encourages students to submit their own ideas or join existing teams to work on projects.

Rotman hosts AI industry leaders for machine learning conference

Alibaba president, Sanctuary AI founder among speakers discussing the future, impacts of technology

Rotman hosts AI industry leaders for machine learning conference

The Rotman School of Management’s Creative Destruction Lab hosted 24 of the world’s leading artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, business leaders, economists, and thinkers on October 23. The “4th Annual Rotman Conference on: Machine Learning and the Market for Intelligence” featured discussions of AI and the impact it will bring to the future of business, medicine, and numerous other industries.

Ajay Agrawal, the founder of the Creative Destruction Lab, and Shivon Zilis, the project director of Tesla and Neuralink, co-chaired the 11.5-hour event. Among the speakers were Alibaba — the world’s largest online retailer — President Michael Evans, Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, and U of T Emeritus distinguished professor Geoff Hinton. Despite their unique perspectives, one message was clear: machine intelligence will revolutionize how we think about solving problems.

The event began with talks from leaders in the international business sector on why industries worldwide are rapidly adopting machine intelligence into their business practices. Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, explained how monumental AI will be toward optimization and efficiency. Sneader said that he expects “mainstream absorption” of AI within the next decade. Evans showcased Alibaba’s automated distribution facilities powered by intelligent roving robots and its multitiered corporate strategy to adopt AI.

The speakers made it clear that businesses see the huge potential upsides associated with smart automation, but none discussed the issues that AI adoption may bring to the labour force or customer data responsibility.

Many industry pioneers dream of closing the gap between human and artificial intelligence, and they want you to know that the results don’t have to parallel dystopian sci-fi. Suzanne Gildert, CEO of Sanctuary AI, is building sentient, fully autonomous robots powered by the next generation of AI.

The artist-turned-technologist said that designing the first generation of synths with realistic human bodies will allow them to interface with our human world. Debates around the treatment, regulation, and integration of robots into human society are still very unresolved, but Gildert hopes that AI will push humankind to new heights. Citing the possibilities to create hyper-empathetic, creative, and intelligent minds, Gildert emphasized her optimism for the future of AI.

She ended her talk with a fascinating, albeit slightly terrifying, demo of a robotic clone of herself, complete with a matching silicon body and voice capabilities.

Perhaps one of the more sobering talks of the day was given by theoretical physicist and former president of the Santa Fe Institute Geoffrey West, who discussed the “socioeconomic entropy” that comes with chasing innovation. Despite the optimism of other speakers and the crowd in light of continued innovation and growth, West cast doubt over humanity’s ability to support sustained accelerated innovation.

Based on his research into the scale of companies and human networks, he suggested an underlying futility to the aspirations of the field. This alternate perspective brought a human context back to the event; if we don’t understand how we grow, we are doomed to collapse under our own weight.

PHOTO BY NIKHI BHAMBRA/THE VARSITY

The lower floors of the event hosted Toronto AI companies, who demonstrated their latest and greatest tech. Dozens of startups and corporations presented their efforts to integrate AI into solutions for specific industry problems, highlighting the extent of AI adoption.