Rhodes scholar Joanne Cave is one of U of T's entrepreneurs to watch (photo by Diana Tyszko)

Convocation 2013: five entrepreneurs to watch

The University of Toronto is a place where students don’t just think – they take the initiative to go out and make the change they want to see in the world.

The following five entrepreneurs: Joanne Cave, Stephanie Vega, Michael Murchison, Oloruntobi Ogunbiyi and Utkarsh Roy are forging new and exciting paths in social justice, the arts, business and technology.

Joanne Cave (Woodsworth College)

Joanne Cave is an entrepreneur for social reform.

At 12, Cave founded Ophelia’s Voice, an Albertan girls’ leadership organization. More recently, Cave co-founded Connect the Sector, a network of young non-profit professionals.

Graduating with an Honours BA in Sociology and Women & Gender Studies, Cave has been lauded for her work for women and girls’ equality. She won a Governor General's Person's Case Award, was named one of Alberta's 50 Most Influential People and was a YWCA Young Woman of Distinction.

At U of T, Cave was a peer mentor with the Office of Student Life and co-president of the Women & Gender Studies Students’ Union.

Cave also won a prestigious Loran scholarship from the Canadian Merit Scholarship Foundation. Through the foundation, she participated in multiple internships, including helping rural women start small-scale vegetable enterprises in India.

A Prairies Rhodes Scholar, Cave plans to take a Master's in Comparative Social Policy at Oxford. She’s interested in studying the changing relationship between the non-profit sector and welfare states.

“It’s important to think about social issues on a broader systems level, rather than as individual experiences,” she says. “This is why community advocacy is so powerful – it helps us influence the policies and decisions that affect inequality from a systemic level.”

Stephanie Vega (University of Toronto Mississauga)

Stephanie Vega firmly believes in the power of art to inspire change. Vega Stars, the business she founded at 19, supplies dramatic and vocal instruction to adult and youth disability groups.

“It’s a great way for participants to connect with one another and acknowledge their own potential while having fun,” Vega says. She hopes to expand the program to the GTA in the coming years.

Vega, who graduated with an Honours BA in English and Drama, was recently nominated for a Governor General’s Award and received the E.A. Robinson Medal. She has received multiple awards recognizing her academic achievements, including top student in the Honours of Bachelor of Arts and her own program. As a student, Vega was president of the English and Drama Student Society, an editorial member of the department’s undergraduate journal, and a program assistant for utmONE, an academic first-year transition program. She was involved in many research projects, including investigating annotations within early printed scripts of Shakespeare’s plays.

Vega loves the stage and is a production member, mentor and lead actor for a Brampton community theatre company that uses theatre as a positive outlet for youths. She also coordinated a two-week campus equity and diversity initiative called “Borrowed Shoes.”

Michael Murchison (Trinity College)

Michael Murchison loves the excitement of being involved in a start-up.

Murchison has had plenty of opportunities to experience this thrill. While on exchange in New Zealand, he founded Nucleus, an early-stage startup incubator, and placed in the top 10 of the Audacious Entrepreneurship Contest, a business contest sponsored by New Zealand’s national bank. He was also accepted into the Next 36, a prestigious Canadian entrepreneurial program, and was the co-founder and CEO of Atlus, the popular restaurant recommendation app.

At U of T, Murchison was involved in organizing Trinity’s Frosh Week and was a mentor at Accessibility Services, a role he hopes to continue after graduating with his BSc in Psychology.

“U of T attracts talented students from all over the world, which creates a student population that is both academically and culturally diverse,” he says. “Students seem to share the following in common: a desire to seek out challenges, a deep curiosity about the world, and an ability to work really, really hard.”

Murchison plans on continuing his entrepreneurial efforts, working on a new tech start-up that has recently secured seed funding. “I'm excited about working with tremendously talented people - many of them U of T grads - in Canada's startup ecosystem.”

Oloruntobi Ogunbiyi (Woodsworth College)

Oloruntobi Ogunbiyi says that U of T not only taught him skills, but encouraged his passion for entrepreneurship.

Graduating with an Honours BSc in Computer Science, Ogunbiyi received research funding from the University of Toronto Excellence Awards for his development of a plug-in for managing software models.

Winner of the Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award, Nigerian-born Ogunbiyi was Secretary of African Students Association, a volunteer at the Centre for International Experience and a first-year learning community peer mentor. He also worked as Software Application Developer Intern at NexJ Systems Inc.

After graduation, Ogunbiyi will be working with Toronto start-up DivNotes, which is a collaborative document annotator.

“U of T has equipped me with world-class skills in the computing field and has given me the confidence to be able to pursue my passion,” he says. “I’m excited about going out to pursue my dreams, innovate, make mistakes, learn, and apply the skills I have acquired to make a difference.”

Utkarsh Roy (Computer Science)

Graduating with his MSc in Computer Science, Utkarsh Roy’s entrepreneurial spirit has been a galvanizing force in making U of T a better place.

“I want to work on computing challenges that are at the edge of research and engineering,” says Roy who specializes in Cloud Computing and Distributed Systems, with his research focusing on increasing the performance of large scale software infrastructures. "I am passionate about tackling complex real world problems through technology, and I believe that an entrepreneurial spirit gives the courage to attack such problems head-on."

Roy has represented Canada and U of T at the Festival of Thinkers Conference in Abu Dhabi, won the NSERC Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate National Research Scholarship, and the Ontario Graduate Scholarship twice, as well as being a Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award recipient.

He brought his passion for hard work and new ways of thinking to many campus organizations, including multiple U of T Student Advisory Committees, the Computer Science Graduate Students’ Society and the Golden Key International Honour Society.

“U of T has provided me the platform to discover my interests and an opportunity to pursue them” says Roy. “It has been an amazing journey so far, learning from peers who come from a variety of global backgrounds with an array of diverse perspectives.”