Alumni Neil Reid (at left), co-founder of Sciex, and Graeme Ferguson, co-founder of IMAX, are just two of the distinguished speakers Professor Cynthia Goh (centre) has invited to previous Techno events at the University of Toronto (photo by Diana Tyszko)

Spotlight on Startups: How to get accepted into U of T’s startup incubators

Revealing tips for Techno, Creative Destruction Lab and UTEST success

Though the entrepreneurial spirit in many ways thrives on freedom and independence, those ready with a great idea but struggling with business chops often seek help through an accelerator or incubator program. And U of T has all sorts of them, for all sorts of entrepreneurs.

This Spotlight on Startups series profiles the entrepreneurial efforts of some of the hundreds of companies spun out from research and connections sparking every day at the University of Toronto:

U of T hosts more than 50 enterprise-fostering courses, programs, labs, clubs, contests and speaker series across its faculties, departments and campuses  and then there are all the innovations developing in informal settings. U of T ranks No. 1 in North America for number of startups launched. And its roster of spin-off companies driving innovation in Toronto and around the world continues to grow.

Three of the university’s many great incubator programs are accepting applications this spring, and U of T News asked their directors for best advice for getting the green-light on an application.

TECHNO (Run by The Impact Centre)
Accepting submissions until March 24

What is Techno? Its website says “Techno is an elite program for scientists and engineers –  'technopreneurs' –  who want to create technology-based companies. Starting only with scientific expertise, the technopreneurs are guided by experts to learn by doing, building their companies in the process. Techno is about actual company creation. It has led to more than 60 new start-up companies in the physical sciences sector, aimed at giving us a better quality of life. It is targeted towards fresh science and engineering graduates, current students and faculty supervisors looking to successfully translate their scientific discoveries to commercializable products and services.” (Read more about Techno on its site

What are you looking for in an exceptional Techno application?
Three things: technological expertise (they should have a solid scientific basis or background), personality (they should be good to work with, willing to learn, positive and share our value of creating benefits to society), and a strong team (it’s not required to be a team, but is preferred—so long as it’s a team in which the members have a good relationship). – Professor Cynthia Goh, Director, Impact Centre

What’s one common mistake you see in applications for Techno that might cause them to be rejected?
It’s not really a mistake, rather it’s just a matter of whether or not they fit with our vision. – Professor Goh

What advice would you give to those considering applying to Techno?
Form a team. Starting a company is difficult, and it is best if you have friends who share your vision and will work with you. – Professor Goh

UTEST (run by U of T’s Innovations & Partnerships Office and MaRS Innovation)
Accepting applications until April 17

What is it? Its website says, “UTEST provides nascent software companies with start-up funding, office space in the MaRS Discovery District facility, mentoring and business strategy support. It accepts companies in the very earliest stages of idea generation— before they’re ready for traditional incubators — and awards each company up to $30,000 in start-up funds. UTEST is jointly administered by the Innovations & Partnerships Office at the University of Toronto and MaRS Innovation. Financial support for the UTEST program is provided by the Connaught Fund and Mars Innovation.” (Read more about UTEST on its website

What are you looking for in an exceptional UTEST application?
Evidence of a strong and committed team.  It's critical to have standout technology and a great market opportunity but at the end of the day it's the team that makes these businesses work—it's about having a balance of amazing technical talent and business leadership and execution skills. When we come across an application that has a really awesome team, it stands out. Mike Betts, UTEST co-director

What’s one common mistake you see in applications for UTEST that might cause them to be rejected?
Commitment. We want entrepreneurs that are fully committed to the program and to their new companies. UTEST is a serious program for serious entrepreneurs who want support to create a sustainable successful company. The application must exude your confidence in your idea and the effort the entrepreneur(s) will commit to see it successful. Kurtis Scissons, UTEST co-director

What advice would you give to those considering applying to UTEST?
1. Build a balanced team. Understand the strengths of your team members and ensure that gaps can be addressed either through internal change or be open to external hires.

2. Be passionate about your idea but also understand it will be a rollercoaster of emotions. –Scissons

CREATIVE DESTRUCTION LAB (Run by The Rotman School of Management)
Accepting submissions starting in April

What is Creative Destruction Lab (CDL)? Its website says its eight-month program “is designed to help participating ventures build strong, scalable businesses around their product/service. The program is comprised of a comprehensive suite of support services, including mentorship from successful serial entrepreneurs, business education from Canada’s leading management professors, and privileged access to Toronto’s venture capital network. The program also provides the participating ventures with accounting services, legal services, and office space." (Read more about CDL on its website

What are you looking for in an exceptional CDL application?
Teams that are working on science fiction inspired ideas. We really like applications from early stage companies that are based on research coming out of a lab. Jesse Rodgers, Director, Creative Destruction Lab

What’s one common mistake you see in applications for CDL that might cause them to be rejected?
Over-simplifying the technology or science behind their idea which makes us think they are just working on an app. – Rodgers

What advice would you give to those considering applying to CDL?
Don't self select out of applying for the CDL. There is no 'typical' company that we are looking for. We have had a lot of success with hardware-focused companies in our first two years but it doesn't mean we are limited to that. Also, apply early. If we can identify a concentration of a certain type or sector then we can tool up to work with those type of companies. If everyone applies at the last minute then it isn't as easy to make adjustments. – Rodgers

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