Three to watch: Convocation 2014's entrepreneurs

Author: 
Brianna Goldberg
 
More than 12,500 students are expected to cross the stage at Convocation Hall this June, receive their hard-won undergraduate or graduate degrees, and join the ranks of the University of Toronto's more than half a million alumni around the world.
 
That's more than 12,500 unique stories of dedication, struggle, creativity and triumph to celebrate - from those who held part-time or even full-time jobs while studying, to those who juggled family and volunteer responsibilities, launched their own companies, or published leading research.
 
While most of those stories will only be shared among family, friends, classmates and mentors, U of T News asked faculty and staff for their suggestions of grads who are global citizens, health leaders, community builders, entrepreneurs, education leaders and city builders to watch in the years to come.
 
This season’s class of graduates is packed with entrepreneurs ready to turn their research and experiences at university – from complex and revolutionary lab equipment to everyday palm-of-your-hand solutions  into jobs and businesses all their own. Below, writer Brianna Goldberg shares a few of the stories of  graduating students who super-charged their brilliant concepts and passion for success with support from a variety of U of T’s resources. 

Christina Mueller, Insight NanoFluidics founder (http://www.insightnanofluidics.com/)
PhD Chemistry

The concept: “Imagine yourself looking at a drug attacking a cell in real time, in real life,” said Mueller in a video (embedded below) celebrating her fellowship from the Ontario Centre of Excellence for work with her startup Insight Nanofluidics.

Mueller’s startup centres around a “plug and play” technology that allows researchers in a diversity of fields to visualize nanofluidic interactions on a molecular scale: it has a window that researchers look through while liquids flow in one port and out another.

The development:  “I was mentored by Prof Cynthia Goh and Dr R. McAloney and the team at the Impact Centre (http://www.impactcentre.utoronto.ca/). They gave Insight a home throughout the last years, and provided advice and connections that are invaluable for the company. They also helped me leave ‘laboratory thinking’ behind and move into the business world in a very engaging and inspiring environment.

"This allowed me to develop an entrepreneurial spirit, which I never would have thought of before.”

Watch the video below to learn more about Mueller (Mueller appears at the three-minute mark.)

 

James McCrae, FlatFitFab founder (http://www.flatfitfab.com)

PhD Computer Science

The concept: “FlatFitFab has developed a model and educational design tool that allows you to create an on-line “Do-It-Yourself Design Structure” that can be your next IKEA furniture, your next Home Depot widget or your next Lego set.  The designs are unique in that they are made of flat pieces that can be fabricated into a 3D sturdy structure that you may want to sit on, play in the sand box, or hold your glass of water.” – Donna Shukaris, commercialization manager working with FlatFitFab, University of Toronto Innovations & Partnerships Office.

The development: “FlatFitFab was part of work done while I was a PhD student and Professor Karan Singh was my supervisor/mentor, and now he is also a co-founder of the company. Professor Singh possesses a creative vision and is excellent at providing motivation to work on specific projects – so he both provides ideas and makes them seem interesting and approachable. Arnold Rosenbloom is another great teacher I had while an undergraduate, who motivated me do my best in school and reach my full potential, and also overcome issues of self-esteem (in particular, ignoring that inner voice that tells us that we cannot achieve certain things). Finally, Frank Tall is another teacher I’d like to thank, who may be responsible for my admission into graduate school. It all happened during a brief conversation in an elevator, where he explained to me the importance of representing yourself well.” James McCrae

 

Jonathan Yam, FIXO co-founder (http://getfixo.com/)
BASc Engineering Science (Aerospace)

The concept: “FIXO is a mobile communication platform that enables tenants and their property manager to communicate more effectively and easily than ever."

"Tenants can submit repair requests with a picture through the app in literally seconds, and the property manager can relay updates with the click of a button. Property managers can send all their tenants building notices in real-time, keeping them informed of important updates such as emergencies and shutdowns. Messaging and tenant feedback functions are also incorporated. FIXO’s organized communication system saves a property manager time and reduces turnover cost by facilitating transparent and responsive communication to improve tenant satisfaction.” – Jonathan Yam

The development: “At U of T in Engineering, I am always surrounded by bright, ambitious individuals. There is a culture of aiming high, and with some of my friends having created startups, I was inspired to join the Next 36 to realize a startup too. The rigorous and analytical nature of engineering courses has certainly helped me analyze business problems foreign to me and devise strategies to solve them. We have begun our launch here at U of T, having partnered with two residences which will help us collect insights needed to refine our app. We have already deployed FIXO to one residence and will launch to the other in June.” –Jonathan Yam

The University of Toronto hosts a vibrant mix of entrepreneurship activities ranging from intense boot-camp programs, early-stage incubators, licensing and industry partnership supports, courses and programs to simple organically grown business ideas imagined between friends and colleagues. (Learn more about U of T's entrepreneurship supports http://www.utoronto.ca/spotlights/fostering_tomorrow_s_entrepreneurs.htm)