Buy Blue: University of Toronto becomes customer for student startups
Helping the university community use products that are developed here
Of all the ways a university can help students with startup companies, one of the most effective ways is also the simplest: become a customer.
A new U of T initiative called ‘Buy Blue’ is encouraging university faculties and departments to become early adopters of products and services developed by U of T startups.
“Buy Blue removes a barrier to entry to many new companies by allowing startups to engage a large client who is open to new and innovative ideas,” said Brian Lee, co-founder of teaBOT, one of the companies participating in the initiative. “Having this type of support and openness is ultimately what fosters growth in the startup space.”
U of T faculty and departments can tap into funding from the Banting & Best Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (BBCIE) to ‘Buy Blue’. This funding allows the cost to the university customer be reduced, while the startup still receives 100 per cent of the deal’s profit.
“It’s a win-win situation,” said Karen Sievewright, managing director of BBCIE. “The startups gain credibility and exposure, and the university receives a quality product that they can proudly say was developed right here on campus.”
The university has already secured three Buy Blue deals to date, with more agreements expected soon.
Created by U of T alumnus Mark Goh and his co-founder Pat Laureano, ChargeSpot turns any table into a wireless charging space, allowing users to charge their phones simply by placing their phone on the surface. The sleek wireless charging receivers are compatible with almost any device and LED feedback gives the user peace of mind knowing that the charge is underway, Goh says.
Right now, ChargeSpot is installed in two U of T boardrooms on the fourth floor of the Exam Centre just south of the downtown Toronto campus and the product is being tested for a wider rollout.
The company got early support from DemoCamp and the Creative Destruction Lab at U of T.
“U of T has helped us validate the product in real life spaces,” said Hayden Tay, ChargeSpot’s marketing and customer success manager. “The installations have provided us with valuable feedback, helping us improve our product and processes.”
Adrenalease is a startup launched by recent U of T grad Noureddin Chahrour. The athletic wear company’s Posture Performance Shirt is a garment that is designed to improve and reinforce proper posture through passive stretching. (Read more about Adrenalease.)
Adjustable straps gently pull back the shoulders of the user to their desired tension and comfort, improving the user’s posture and enhancing their athletic performance.
By retracting the wearer into a healthy upright posture, the patent-pending shirt promotes increased flexibility, stress relief, improved circulation and range of motion within joints, Chahrour says.
His innovative concept recently won over most of the Dragons on CBC's Dragons' Den, with Chahrour rejecting an offer of $350,000 for a 50 percent stake in his company from one investor, in favour of $90,000 for a 30 percent stake, split among three Dragons.
The Posture Performance Shirts have been purchased through Buy Blue and given to the Varsity Blues men’s basketball team who will have the opportunity wear the shirts and provide feedback to Chahrour. The antibacterial and antimicrobial X-Cool Wicking fabric will keep the players dry and cool from sweat, while the shirt increases their aerobic performance.
teaBOT is a robot that serves premium loose leaf tea for the busy grab-and-go market. Tea lovers can choose from a variety of flavours, or can build their own blend by choosing a flavour profile, water temperature and even caffeine level to create a customized cup of tea in under 30 seconds.
Like ChargeSpot, teaBOT also found early support at the Creative Destruction Lab at U of T –and the concept has received plenty of interest beyond the university.
You can find teaBOT in The Green Beet Café at the Gerstein Science Information Centre on the downtown Toronto campus, ready to order through tablet or mobile device.
“Being such a large and influential campus, U of T offers the ideal test market that can represent our model in the higher education space making it easier to scale across both Canada and the US,” said Lee.
“It demonstrates a demand for what we are developing and offers us that ability to test it close to home, to iterate and learn from our clients and customers. It ultimately allows us to build something people love.”
Interested in Buy Blue? Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org