Where Ideas Come to Life
As Canada’s most innovative university, the University of Toronto is the best place for entrepreneurially minded students and researchers.
“There’s a tremendous amount of entrepreneurship activity happening at U of T, fueled by our internationally renowned research capabilities, as well as the ingenuity and persistence of our incredibly creative and diverse students and researchers across a broad number of areas,” said Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice-president of research and innovation.
In the past five years, the university has fostered the development of more than 150 companies, making it Canada’s #1 engine for research-based startups. U of T also submits a U.S. patent application at a rate greater than one per week with the help of its Innovations & Partnerships Office (IPO).
With the country’s deepest pool of research expertise, U of T offers multiple paths to personal and entrepreneurial success — whatever the idea might be, Goel explained.
Helping students and researchers make the leap from idea to commercialization are nine incubators across U of T’s three campuses. Budding entrepreneurs can also meet up and collaborate in the newly opened community space ONRamp.
“It’s fantastic to be surrounded by such motivated people,” said Albert Tai, co-founder of Hypercare, a communication and collaboration app for doctors. “When you’re surrounded by people who say, ‘I want to be the next Facebook,’ you’re more likely to think, ‘Yeah, I want to be the next Facebook, too.’”
Tai’s made good use of ONRamp, located in the heart of downtown Toronto’s Discovery District and across the street from MaRS, ever since it opened this fall. “I wish I had this space when we were in our early stages,” he said. “When I came here, I felt so supported.”
“U of T was very, very impactful in helping us get this startup off the ground,” Kepler Communications co-founder and CEO Mina Mitry, who started the company with students he met at U of T, has said.
The company, located in downtown Toronto at the corner of Bathurst and King streets, is now building satellites so small they could fit in your gym bag. They plan to place 140 of these low-cost “cubesats” into space over the next five years. The first one is scheduled to blast into orbit before the New Year.
It’s a similar story for WinterLight Labs, which has seen an explosion in local and international interest, in the past year with the global artificial intelligence boom and Toronto’s role in leading the wave.
“We were just researchers,” explained Frank Rudzicz, company co-founder and president, as well as U of T assistant professor of computer science (status) and scientist at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute-UHN. “It was a wonderful experience, talking with a lot of people about our technology, refining our business model, and that took us to a place where we’ve become a legitimate and strong business. It’s all because of the U of T community.”
U of T boasts 200 courses and programs attracting 11,000+ entrepreneurial minded students each year, startup money up for grabs in pitch competitions like the $20,000 Lacavera Prize awarded at the annual Hatchery Demo Day and countless events where students can listen and mingle with top entrepreneurs such as the Impact Centre’s E100 series and the RBC Innovation and Entrepreneurship Speaker Series.
U of T is also home to a new quantum machine learning program, touted as the first-ever attempt by a business accelerator to marry the booming field of machine learning with the nascent technology of quantum computing, which involves using tiny, atom-sized particles to perform ultra-complex calculations.
“Machine learning accelerators are everywhere,” said Sylvester Kaczmarek who is among those who relocated to Toronto to participate in the Creative Destruction Lab quantum program after spending six years in Silicon Valley launching two startups, including a mobile game studio with a global footprint.
“I mentored at Techstars, Google and all of these places. I’ve mentored more than 250 startups in my life — in Asia, in the U.S., Europe, Africa and Latin America,” he said. “But I’ve never seen anything like a quantum machine learning accelerator program — this is very unique.”
There are incredible opportunities for students and researchers to work with major international corporations like Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd in partnership on ground-breaking new technologies.
Students can also collaborate with other student entrepreneurs from Western University and McMaster University, who also have access to ONRamp, or from overseas like the Norwegian School of Entrepreneurship or Gründerskolen that came all the way to U of T for a 10-week crash course in entrepreneurship.
“Some people say it’s the new Silicon Valley,” explained Petter Bruåsdal about why he jumped at the chance to come to Toronto as part of the Norwegian visit.