Entrepreneurs and their early-stage startups at the University of Toronto will soon have access to a new financial support fund worth up to $5 million.
Called the True Blue Fund, the new program announced today provides philanthropists a way to support U of T’s entrepreneurship and innovation activities. The university is committing $2.5 million to match donations to the fund, which, in the coming months, will provide funding for prizes, awards, fellowships and support for U of T’s entrepreneurship programs.
David Palmer, the university’s vice-president of advancement, said the fund will provide crucial support for early-stage U of T startups that are trying to get ideas off the ground in fields ranging from cleantech to regenerative medicine.
"A small grant, prize or fellowship given to a company or team at this stage can be hugely transformational in terms of their ability to prototype new ideas, demonstrate proof-of-principle and put together business and market plans,” Palmer said.
The new fund is expected to add further momentum to U of T’s innovation and entrepreneurship efforts, which have helped underpin the Toronto region’s transformation into a global innovation hub. In particular, it will encourage entrepreneurs who are students or recent alumni to take the risks necessary to develop game-changing technologies and businesses – helping to create new jobs and investment in Ontario and beyond.
Over the past decade, U of T entrepreneurs have launched more than 500 research-based startups, generating more than $1 billion in investment. The university was recently ranked Canada’s most innovative by Reuters and among the top five university-managed business incubators in the world by UBI Global.
The idea for the True Blue Fund was first hatched a few years ago as Palmer and Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice-president of research and innovation, were putting together the Entrepreneurship Leadership Council. The council comprises leading entrepreneurs and innovators and offers the university advice on how to stimulate entrepreneurship, connect to global markets and expand U of T’s innovation ecosystem, which includes campus-based accelerator programs that operate across all three campuses.
Palmer said that, in the process of meeting with alumni around the world, it became clear a “large number” of innovators and entrepreneurs were looking for a way to give back to U of T by supporting its innovation ecosystem.
“They wanted to mentor students, advise startups on how to find funding and help them develop effective market and business strategies,” he said.
“Many were also looking for ways to become angel investors themselves."
So, Palmer and Goel, working with the Entrepreneurship Leadership Council, set about creating a vehicle for donors to make philanthropic financial contributions to an early stage angel-type seed fund. Gifts can be directed to support a campus-linked incubator or accelerator or to a specific project. Examples include projects focused on supporting women, Indigenous communities or mental health.
“The True Blue Fund will provide our student entrepreneurs with critical support,” said Goel. “And it will encourage even more visionaries and innovators to choose U of T as the place to translate ideas and research into real-world impact and launch successful startups.”