TORONTO, ON – A new program that provides nascent software companies with start-up funds, work space, mentoring and business strategy support, was launched today by the University of Toronto and commercialization partner MaRS Innovation, with support from the MaRS Discovery District.
The new program, called University of Toronto Early Stage Technology (UTEST), is part of a growing ecosystem of incubators and commercialization support services at U of T, including the newly-launched Banting and Best Institute. UTEST is unique among campus incubators in that its companies receive start-up funds—$30,000 each in this inaugural year—and because it accepts companies in the very earliest stages of idea generation, before they’re ready for traditional incubators.
Kurtis Scissons, co-director of UTEST, says that creating a software company is tricky.
“The time between the initial idea and getting the product to market has to be quick because the market is so competitive—it’s only a matter of time before someone else comes up with the same idea,” said Scissons. “It takes weeks, if not months, to apply for traditional sources of seed money. By providing an initial infusion of funds and guidance, UTEST accelerates the process.”
Professor Paul Young, U of T’s vice-president, research and innovation, believes that UTEST is the latest example of how U of T supports its student researchers.
“UTEST enriches the student experience by introducing them to entrepreneurship at the same time that it contributes to a culture of entrepreneurship in Canada,” Young said.
Open to students, faculty members and recent graduates, the inaugural UTEST cohort includes six companies:
- Crowdmark collects and distributes the labour of marking papers in massive online open courses, which are exploding in popularity and do not lend themselves to traditional evaluation methods. By creating incentives to mark papers, Crowdmark empowers students to contribute to the assessment process.
- CoursePeer is an academic talent management program that links students with each other, with professors and with potential employers, using social and classwork interactions to automatically assess students’ creativity, problem solving and soft skills.
- Granata Decision Systems helps business and consumers make complex, data-driven decisions by gathering preferences and evaluating decisions to maximize value when group decisions have to be made.
- Thotra has developed software that transforms hard-to-understand speech into fluent, easy-to-understand speech in the speaker’s own voice, making it easier for people with speech-language disorders to progress in their therapy and for speakers of English as a second language to improve.
- ShotLst allows digital or physical objects to be annotated, facilitating collaboration by groups who don’t work in the same physical space, such as teams working on construction projects.
- Whirlscape has created an algorithm that allows mobile touchscreen devices to recognize even the most imprecise letter entries, allowing keyboard size to shrink and making it easier to enter text on mobile devices.
“We help inventors avoid the mistakes that new companies often make when taking their inventions out of the lab and into the world. We advise on everything from filing patents to brand creation to perfecting an investor pitch.” — Lyssa Neel, project manager at Mars Innovation and co-director of UTEST.
“My company, CrowdMark, is in the process of what looks to me to be a successful launch through the UTEST incubator. I’m a professor. I have a very good understanding of the scientific research process. I understand students, learning and how to teach. The incentives that drive me to do mathematics are orthogonal to those that drive business creation, so I sometimes find myself uncertain about my next action. The UTEST team has provided valuable resources to me and to CrowdMark. They understood the value of my invention and saw its potential when others didn’t. (Others are starting to now!) The UTEST team continues to guide me and my team toward entrepreneurial success.” — James Colliander, Founder, CrowdMark Inc., and professor, Department of Mathematics, University of Toronto.
“UTEST has provided me with the entrepreneurship education I need to take my technology from an academic project to a commercial product. I get support from the UTEST team on patents, corporate issues, strategic relationships, marketing, and company leadership. Running a start-up is not a nine-to-five job, and I can email or call on my UTEST advisors at any time day or night and get a quick response.” — Tyler Lu, Founder, Granata Decision Systems Inc., and PhD candidate, Department of Computer Science.
About the University of Toronto
The University of Toronto has assembled one of the strongest research and teaching faculties in North America, presenting top students at all levels with an intellectual environment unmatched in breadth and depth on any other Canadian campus. The U of T faculty are also widely recognized for their teaching strengths and commitment to graduate supervision. Established in 1827, the University of Toronto today operates in downtown Toronto, Mississauga and Scarborough, as well as in nine renowned academic hospitals.
About MaRS Innovation
MaRS Innovation (MI) is the commercialization agent for the exceptional discovery pipeline from 16 leading Ontario academic institutions. As a single-entry point to total member research activity of $1 billion in annual research and development, MI provides an easy gateway for investors and licensees who wish to gain access to technology assets in Ontario. Supported by the Government of Canada through the Networks of Centres of Excellence, by the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Centres of Excellence, and by its member institutions, MI is a transformational partnership that turns research strengths into real commercial opportunities. MI’s portfolio includes the most promising assets and advances commercialization into global markets through industry partnerships, licensing and company creation.