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The Varsity's coverage of the UTEST program
The Varsity’s coverage of the UTEST program. Photographed at the bottom left is Will Walmsley, founder of Whirlscape.

“There is a path somewhere between extended study and becoming an office worker,” wrote The Varsity‘s Angela Brock, in “Be Your Own Boss: Student entrepreneurs combine creativity and business to forge new career paths” (February 3, 2012). “As it turns out, there are plenty of opportunities for those looking to flex their entrepreneurial muscles without straying too far from the bosom of U of T.”

Brock’s article describes UTEST, the joint U of T-MaRS Innovation program that helps students, faculty and recent alumni commercialize software ideas.

It also profiles Will Walmsley, founder of Whirlscape, and Tyler Lu, co-founder of Granata Decision Systems, about their UTEST experience leading companies created through the program’s first cohort.

Here’s an excerpt (bold emphasis ours):

The Innovations & Partnerships Office at U of T collaborates with MaRS (Medical and Related Sciences) Innovation through programs like University of Toronto Early Stage Technology (utest), which aims to help members of the university community develop, launch and commercialize their business ideas. The MaRS Centre, which has long been expanding on the corner of College and Queen’s Park, is home to the eight-month old program and its first cohort of start-up software companies. The modern glass architecture of the MaRS offices is integrated into the historic façade of the original Toronto General Hospital building, located between campus and the city’s commercial areas. The program’s base is emblematic of a similar marriage between academic research and the private sector.

utest co-director Kurtis Scissons explains that he and co-director Lyssa Neel hoped to create a program “that was open enough to the broader university community,” so that they could “see everything that’s out there, and if [people] like what we offer then we can work together.” utest offers up to $30,000 in funding, access to additional financial resources, and guidance for those without any prior business experience; it seems hard not to like.

“Mostly the people who come to us have experience in technology. Once they get to a certain point they need someone who has experience in management because there’s a lot of drudgery. It’s not as exciting as the technology part, but it’s part of building a company,” says Neel. The program includes expert and legal guidance, guest speakers, and help with the day-to-day goings on of launching a business, as well as assistance in gaining government support and making the right connections.

“A lot of these things they just don’t know about, and we do, so we make introductions and it just helps them so much more than struggling on their own,” explains Scissons.

These resources are part and parcel of the program, which isn’t just about financial support. “We call this high-touch investing which means we don’t just give you the money and walk away, we are there with you every step of the way. My inventors can email me at two o’clock in the morning and get a response,” laughs Neel. “And they do,” adds Scissons.

The full article, including interviews with Walmsley and Lu, is available on The Varsity’s website. UTEST also received coverage on the U of T Continuing Studies website and in The Bulletin, U of T’s weekly campus newsletter.

UTEST is currently accepting applications for its second cohort.

Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, marketing and communications manager.

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