Joe Gagliese started his first business when he was 12, selling recycled paintballs. Today, in less than two decades, he is the co-founder of Viral Nation – one of Canada’s fastest-growing tech companies, and he is ready to make a difference in the lives of students who, like his younger self, nurture entrepreneurial dreams.
To this end, Joe has created the Young Entrepreneur Scholarship (YES) through a generous gift of $200,000, the bulk of which will support students across the University of Toronto tri-campus who want to advance their own businesses while pursuing higher education.
Having straddled both those worlds when he was a student himself, Joe faced a tough choice about which lane to take – academia or entrepreneurship, when he believed he could have benefitted from both in different yet significant ways.
Through the YES scholarship, he hopes to enable students to pursue all their goals and enjoy the journey by easing some of their financial constraints.
“When I was in university, I felt it added a lot of value, but I never finished school because my businesses started to take off. It can be hard to balance those factors and priorities as a young person. I want to create a space and a system of support for students who are focusing on their entrepreneurial pursuits alongside their degrees. That’s the support I never had. So, the scholarship has no grade requirements outside of passing and making sure that students are contributing academically. That is the driving force: we want them to finish.”
The YES scholarship is designed to support students in three ways:
- A significant amount from the contribution, matched dollar-for-dollar by the University through the True Blue Program, has been leveraged to create an expendable fund. This combined amount of $300,000 will support students participating in the New Venture program at The BRIDGE at U of T Scarborough, where Joe has been volunteering his expertise as a mentor to budding entrepreneurs. With enrollment open to U of T students from any program across St. George, Scarborough and Mississauga campuses, the New Venture Program delivers faculty-led incubation and mentorship to support young entrepreneurs seeking to launch and grow their own businesses.
- The gift will also support entrance awards for Management students who are also entrepreneurs and may not have the means to sustain both their academic and entrepreneurial ambitions.
- Lastly, a portion of the funds will be used to facilitate the participation of YES student recipients in new venture programming and an annual retreat to round off their experiential learning around the leadership that comes with being an entrepreneur.
With these unique components that set the YES scholarship apart from other financial supports that are available to students, Joe intends to diversify and create more holistic learning outcomes for the recipients.
“I tried to balance the incentive for students to grow their business while earning positive outcomes as it relates to their school career. When they finish, they will get the degree and they’re further ahead in their business. That’s how it works.”
Beginning in Spring 2023, students applying to U of T Scarborough Management who have already sowed the seeds of an entrepreneurial venture could benefit from this excellent opportunity to build their capacity as founders, while accessing a world-class education.
“I believe there are students who will be empowered to choose entrepreneurship because of the scholarship. Supporting and empowering a diverse representation of entrepreneurs is the goal. And if they falter on the business side, so be it. It happens all the time. They can still succeed on the school side and advance towards their goal of graduating.”