Toronto raised, world ready: two U of T startups receive funding to expand to international markets

The digital revolution has made it easier than ever to conduct business internationally but the internet can never fully replace face-to-face communication.

That’s why the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) have created GlobalStart, a funding program that gives young startups the opportunity to take their businesses international by removing funding barriers and setting them up with connections in host countries for up to six months.

DNAstack and iMerciv, two University of Toronto startups, are among the most recent round of successful applicants to the program and will be jetting off to the United States and India respectively this coming June.

“I think Toronto is the best entrepreneurial environment in Canada: great tax incentives, the culture is outstanding and we have some of the best machine learning and computer science experts in the world,” said Marc Fiume, founder and CEO of DNAstack. “That being said, a key market for DNAstack is in the United States. GlobalStart allows us the opportunity to grow our business in Toronto but interact with some of our partners in the US.”

DNAstack is a cloud-based software that helps researchers, clinics and pharmaceutical companies manage, search and analyze genetic information. In essence, it’s a search engine for genomic data. The platform is a solution that will facilitate diagnoses, risk analysis and treatment decisions based on genetic information.

“Imagine how much Facebook has changed the way we interact and connect with people,” said Fiume. “We think that sharing genetic information will be as impactful in changing the way medicine is practiced as social media has impacted our ability to connect with each other online. We hope to be the information highway that connects organizations and allows them to share genetic data more efficiently.”

Currently based out of U of T’s Banting Institute, DNAstack will be using GlobalStart funding to travel to either San Francisco or Boston, two locations that have strong ties to the genomics industry.

Moving even further away from home is iMerciv, a startup that produces small wearable devices which help the blind and partially sighted navigate daily life. Through a series of vibrations, their product, the BuzzClip, alerts users when obstacles are approaching, providing a more responsive and comprehensive approach compared to traditional solutions such as guide dogs or canes.

“With the help of GlobalStart, we will be travelling to Gurjarat where we’ve made a connection with a consultant who’s interested in getting an agreement going to distribute in three states in India,” said Arjun Mali, co-founder of iMerciv. “The population there is huge and there are lots of people living with vision loss so we’ll really be able to make an impact with this project.”

There’s been a big change in India recently, Mali explains. The government is currently working on changing the word “disability” into “specially-abled” and is now releasing large amounts of funding under this policy to help people with disabilities.

“Our plan is to get corporate social responsibility and state budgets on board to support us so we can distribute our product to local NGOs who need it the most,” said Mali. “It’s a win for multiple different stakeholders so we’re excited to work with our partners out there and help make a direct impact on the lives of people that really need it in India and eventually world-wide.”

The GlobalStart funding provides a match of up to $15,000 to youth-led startups who demonstrate the potential to achieve sales, investment and/or partnerships internationally. This program is one of many from the OCE which aims to foster the development of the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs in Ontario.

“We encourage all our startups to look at their markets with a global perspective,” said professor Cynthia Goh, academic director of the Banting & Best Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. “This award is a great recognition of the global potential of both DNAstack and iMerciv.”

While both DNAstack and iMerciv are looking forward to the opportunity to expand their markets, a strong Canadian presence will remain a priority for the U of T startups.

“We have an amazing network in Toronto and I see this as an opportunity to broaden that network,” said Fiume. “Being able to forge new interactions with leaders in an international market will allow us to bring that intelligence back to Canada and augment what we’re already building here.”