Your holiday gift guide, meme-ified

Founded by Rotman students, DankTank sells everyday objects with a twist

Your holiday gift guide, meme-ified

The holiday season brings with it cold weather, exams, new Starbucks cups, and ongoing anxiety to find the perfect gifts. One company has stepped in to help you find the best present for your meme-loving friends and family.

Dank Tank, founded by third-year Rotman student Jonathan Ge and his partner, Jason Wong, ‘meme-ify’ everyday products to give them a fresh twist. Alongside their team of five, including two “meme researchers,” Dank Tank is making the products you never knew you wanted.

In December 2016, Dank Tank launched their first product, Holy Méme Bible, an adult colouring and activity book that included all of the most viral memes of 2016. The first edition generated $200,000 in sales in just three weeks.

This year, Holy Méme Bible: New Testament showcases all of 2017’s most popular memes in over 60 pages of activities. From connecting the dots of Mocking SpongeBob to learning some meme trivia, the book inspires hours of fun.

New Testament also pokes fun at US President Donald Trump on several pages, which Ge attributes to his unpredictable and random nature. “In 2017, Trump himself perpetuated the meme game. He probably takes up five per cent of the total meme space,” says Ge.

If colouring is not your thing, Dank Tank also offers meme-inspired bath bombs. The current stock includes a fidget spinner bath bomb with the scent of Summer Berry, and one Cherry Blossom-scented bath bomb with the inscription “Send Nudes.”

Ge also hints at future designs that will include bath bombs in the shape of the Swirling Mr. Krabs meme, and another paying respect to the widely popular game The Floor Is Lava.

One of Dank Tank’s products is slightly different than the rest: the candles. “They’re not based off memes. Realistically, we call them Relatable Candles because their scent and text is meant to convey a certain meaning,” says Ge.

Candles such as the “smell of your bed sheets when you cry yourself to sleep at night” and the “smell of the perfume from the crush that you never got to ask out” will surely strike a chord with many.

Though Dank Tank only has three products currently for sale, Ge gave The Varsity some insight into its future developments. The Lean Méme Cuisine Cookbook, currently available for pre-order, offers close to 20 meme-inspired recipes, including Cashew Me Outside and the Idiot Sandwich.

Ge also reports that “condoms that look like sauce packets” will also be for sale sometime in 2018. The meme team also plans to release a meme encyclopedia that categorizes, describes, and provides information for over 300 different memes disseminated from 2003 to 2017.

“Memes are one of the most important pieces of our generation,” says Ge on his inspiration. From leading political movements to vouching for social change, Ge believes we have yet to reach the heights of meme culture’s success.

Despite the initial success of Dank Tank, Ge doesn’t have plans to leave school. He says he has a lot to learn, including marketing strategies and how to properly manage a company’s finances. Ge also attributes the optimization skills learned during his Rotman education as a key element that has helped his company’s financial gain.

“If you want to become an entrepreneur, just do it. You have to stop thinking, ‘This might not be a good idea,’” says Ge. “If you want to genuinely impress employers, start your own business. That shows strength and initiative,” he added.

Dank Tank’s products are the perfect gifts for this holiday season. Whether you choose the Holy Méme Bible, meme bath bombs, or the Relatable Candles, each item will certainly serve as a conversation starter, in addition to a practical purpose.

Ge guarantees that the recipient of any Dank Tank product will be surprised by your choice of gift.

Alumni startup iMerciv wins TELUS Pitch

BuzzClip wearable technology for visually impaired chosen as grand prize winner

Alumni startup iMerciv wins TELUS Pitch

The final prototype for the BuzzClip, a mobility tool for the blind, culminated after 18 months of research and design, and it is now being used by more than 800 individuals.

This project, developed by Bin Liu, a U of T civil engineering graduate and co-founder of iMerciv, was awarded $100,000 through the TELUS Pitch small business competition. Recognized for their promising startup, the team won the grand prize of $100,000 among nearly 3,000 entries. The panel of judges included Arlene Dickinson, the CEO of District Ventures Capital. The other two finalists, Flashfood and JamStack, received a $10,000 prize.

iMerciv specializes in developing technologies to assist those dealing with vision loss, and aims to be a leader in the market by providing a one-stop shop for vision loss and mobility related products. The company’s featured product, the BuzzClip, is a wearable device that uses ultrasound technology to detect obstacles in the user’s path, particularly those at head level. Vibrations notify the user of an obstacle allowing them to recognize and navigate around the obstacle.

The name iMerciv stems from Liu’s desire to give visually impaired users a living experience that is more immersive. Combined with Liu’s interest in civil engineering, the name iMerciv was chosen.

Upon graduation, Liu was accepted into Techno 2014 program at the Impact Centre, and said that as soon as he was accepted into the program, he contacted Arjun Mali, who became iMerciv’s co-founder with Liu. The two previously researched technology for those living with vision loss, but only began conceptualizing their technology during the program. Both were 23 years old when they founded iMerciv.

iMerciv will use the $100,000 grand prize to increase BuzzClip sales and help with production costs of a new product. According to Liu, the money from the competition will help the company expand their presence in Europe and Asia.

It was a personal connection that drove the co-founders to empower and help individuals who are partially sighted or blind. Liu’s father suffers from inoperable glaucoma, and Mali’s family has been supporting a blind orphanage and school in India for decades. “People with vision loss are hugely underserved,” said Liu in an email to The Varsity.

The ‘ah-ha’ moment for the two came after consulting with users and mobility trainers for the blind, and discovering obstacles at head level are a major challenge for individuals with vision loss.

Despite the company’s current success, iMerciv faced challenges in advertising and manufacturing. “We were not able to market to our target audience through traditional media so we had to come up with new ways to reach end users,” said Liu. The two were able to navigate this challenge by attending conferences and utilizing online communities.

Manufacturing the BuzzClip was a time-consuming and costly process. Liu and Mali advise entrepreneurs to “look into marketing strategies earlier on, even before the product is ready” and to “plan ahead for manufacturing cost and time and then multiply both by 3x when you do your first batch of production.”

Despite the challenges, Liu fondly remembers shipping out the first batch of the BuzzClip. “It was one of the most fulfilling moments to see our hard work finally coming to fruition,” he said.

A second product is currently underway at iMerciv with pilot tests set to begin in 2018. “All I can say is that it will be a navigation system for the blind and it will be a game changer,” said Liu.

Ontario gives $18.3 million for development of JLabs incubator

U of T, Jlabs to support biotech startups

Ontario gives $18.3 million for development of JLabs incubator

The collaboration between Johnson & Johnson Innovation incubation (Jlabs) and the University of Toronto to build biotech startups, is coming to fruition. After receiving $18.3 million out of the $19.4 million that the Ontario government agreed to invest in the project, U of T has commenced the process of fitting a floor in the MaRS west tower. Jlabs primarily focuses on supporting early-stage companies by offering resources that range from core research facilities to opportunities for venture capital funding.

“Our role is sublicensing the space to Jlabs, signing the space license agreements for each company looking for space,” said Scott Mabury, vice president, university operations at U of T.

Mabury outlined the plans for construction, stating that the university plans on using the thirteenth floor leased to them by MaRS, to construct a space for Jlabs.  He also explained the conditions of the funding, mentioning that the space will consist of 40,000 square feet, to be used in creating labs, meeting rooms, offices, and other collaborative spaces. The funding will also be used for instruments and equipment.

“The agreement is for five years,” said Mabury, adding that, “after five years, there will be a peer review, like how we review divisions and departments here at U of T, led by the province that will assess the progress to date, how many companies have been created, mentored and what the potential is for the next five years.” It is Mabury’s hope that they will be able to sustain “ten years of robust activity.”

U of T students who run startups will use the space. “We currently already have nine campus-led accelerators, entities that work with students across the boards in entrepreneurships, engineering, around the creation of the companies and around mentoring and advising entrepreneurships,” Mabury said. He estimates that there are probably already around 200 companies in these accelerators, which places increased pressure on the project.

The remaining $1.1 million will support the operation of the lab. According to Mabury this money will not go to the university — instead it will go directly to MaRS innovation.

“This particular investment was made through the Strategic Partnerships Stream of the Jobs and Prosperity Fund — a stream designed to encourage open innovation technology partnerships that will allow companies, research institutions, suppliers, investors and customers to work together and establish industry-driven strategies,” said officials at the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, in an email to The Varsity.

Correction (February 8, 2016, 8:38 pm): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Ontario government gave $18.3 million for the development of the MaRS west tower. The funds are in support of the JLabs incubator. The Varsity regrets the error.