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Turning scientists into entrepreneurs with Techno’s startup accelerator program

Bootcamp helps entrepreneurs brings tech-powered science to society

Mehrad Mashayekhi, Miad Fard, and Richard Medal are wrapping up their work with Techno (photo by Jimmy Lu)

A fresh crop of scientists-turned-entrepreneurs – researchers launching a business concept grounded in rigorous scientific discovery – will graduate this week from the Impact Centre’s summer incubator program, called Techno.

"I was excited by the Techno program because it offered the full range of business education programs, mentoring, prototyping facilities, and a supportive community all under one roof,” said Richard Medal, an Electrical Engineering alumnus who, along with his two co-founders, developed a custom electronics lab kit allowing users to experiment with various circuits and electronic components.

After Medal graduated from the Department of Electrical Engineering in 2013, his company, Illuster Technologies, and its project caught the interest of U of T which was interested in modernizing electrical engineering undergraduate laboratory courses. So with the confidence that comes from an established first customer, they started refining their product.

Medal soon realized that although their team had technical expertise, they lacked the business experience that would let them become truly sustainable. While speaking with a friend who knew participants from a previous Techno, Medal learned about the Impact Centre and the programs it provides to U of T students and graduates. (Read more about Techno)

Just one of the University’s many entrepreneurship hubs, the Impact Centre is now concluding its fifth annual Techno workshop. The four-week program provides fundamental entrepreneurship training to graduate students from across the physical sciences and engineering to help them take their technical, academic work from science to society through startup companies.

Coming from universities across Canada, the 38 participants represent a wide range of fields, from computer science to biomedical engineering. Their companies are developing technologies that range from a cleaning formulation that will remove environmental allergens, to a system that can selectively separate stem cells.

Participants take part in a variety of sessions that include talks on intellectual property strategy, fine tuning their value proposition, management 101, and networking events. Most important, they have opportunities to work with experienced mentors to apply the lessons to their own emerging companies.

“I am excited to be part of a community of experienced entrepreneurs who are willing to help in my business plan development,” said Oleg Chebotarev. "Their network will help in my search for additional team members as well as ensure I have the best plan and pitch to raise funds to support my prototype development.”

Chebotarev, a recent Master’s graduate from U of T's Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department, developed a research tool that simulates human tissue and blood. He believes it can help pharmaceutical companies reduce the development costs for new drugs.

Chebotarev says he enrolled in Techno with an established technology and a desire for hands-on training in business fundamentals and a network of experienced individuals who would be able to support his technology’s development

In recognition of this work and its far-reaching commercial potential, Chebotarev was recently awarded a $32,000 U of T Heffernan Commercialization Fellowship, which supports researchers turning technologies developed in university labs into businesses.

For Medal – and the rest of his Techno cohort – the four weeks spent developing their startups with The Impact Centre could mean the difference between a short-lived idea and a sustainable company:

“Participating in Techno will allow my team to focus on developing our business to ensure that we identify the best market opportunity and have the tools to expand.”

(Read more about entrepreneurship at the University of Toronto.)