University of Toronto

University of Toronto Startups to Watch

Top start-ups from the University of Toronto to watch out for. The University of Toronto has successfully branded itself as an innovation and research hub and academic incubator over the years. It has also been ranked as Canada’s most innovative by Reuters and among the top five university-managed business incubators in the world by UBI Global. Hence it is the place where the most innovative and most likely successful start-ups see their evolution.

The university supports nine different incubators and start-up accelerators and has seen start-up companies ranging from food to healthcare.

Over the past decade, U of T has helped launch or grow more than 500 research-based companies that have generated a collective $1-billion investment. Those companies, in turn, are helping to create the jobs and industries of tomorrow, according to the university website. Here are some of the start-ups from U of T that can change the start-up scene in Canada.

Happy Pops

Leila Keshavjee originally planned to study medicine but took a detour in 2016 when she spotted local ice pops business for sale. Having done a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, Keshavjee believed there would be a market for an all-natural, fruit-flavoured treat.

Her big break came last fall when she appeared on the season premiere of Dragons’ Den, walking away with a deal with Arlene Dickinson. Fast-forward to today, and she’s preparing to relaunch the brand and prove that ice pops can be more than a summertime treat.

Her all natural pops are available in over 35 flavours and are becoming popular among people looking for a health-conscious treat.

BioRender

BioRender is the world’s first tool designed to help scientists create beautiful, professional scientific drawings in minutes, the company’s Facebook bio says.

The goal of the team was to build an adobe illustrator like tool for researchers to depict their work visually.

Aoki, a trained medical illustrator and a former lead illustrator for National Geographic, got the idea for BioRender after her Toronto studio was inundated with requests from local scientists who struggled to create quality graphics to accompany their presentations and journal submissions.

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“Some of these are Nobel-winning scientists who are making the front page of really prestigious science journals, but when you open it up and read the articles, the images that are supposed to capture that science are completely unstandardized, which is obviously an issue for educational purposes,” she told U of T News earlier this year.

BioRender, which received support by ONRamp, is not only improving the look of researchers’ diagrams but is helping to create a visual language to represent protein structures and chemical pathways. That could ultimately make it easier for researchers to communicate their work to the public and each other, speeding up the pace of innovation and discovery.

Just Vertical

The co-founders of Just Vertical, who both studied sustainability management at U of T Mississauga, sell an upright hydroponic growing system that can be parked in the corner of a kitchen and used to grow everything from leafy kale to fresh strawberries.

Their latest model, Aeva, retails for $999 and looks like a cross between a piece of art and high-end furniture. Tidd told U of T News last year that the units are meant to be used “in your home, restaurant or wherever you want something that looks good.”

The Aeva can grow over 70 plants and produce nearly five kilograms of fresh, pesticide-free food per month.

The company is changing the way people are looking at organic gardening and infusing it with a sense of style.

Fian Technologies

This company aims to use technology to ensure that health workers are washing their hands properly. A concept that could be used in hospitals and health care centres across the world the company’s device is mounted next to handwashing sinks and helps guide the user through various stages of proper handwashing.

“If the user washes their hands insufficiently, the entire device flashes and beeps,” co-founder Luke Kyne told U of T News earlier this year.

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StageKeep

As a hip hop dancer, U of T Scarborough’s Axel Villamil knew first-hand how cumbersome it was for choreographers to map out their routines using conventional methods: pen, paper and sometimes the odd stool or sneaker to stand in for a performer.

He figured there must be a better way. So he teamed up with co-founder William Mak to build an app that allowed choreographers to map out their routines, with dots representing dancers, while taking into account the size and shape of the performance space – all in time to the music.

The Toronto Raptors are already using the app and choreographers representing other big-name performers have expressed interest.

“It was a dream of mine to do something with the NBA, and I was too short to do basketball, so this should suffice,” Villamil told U of T News last year.

Polumiros

Polumiros is a biomaterials start-up company founded based on innovative research at the University of Toronto and the University Health network, specialising in the development of novel immunomodulatory polymer technology. The company’s primary focus is on the development of biocompatible polymeric biomaterials, in the form of medical device coatings, tissue regeneration scaffolds and drug carriers, that reduce biomedical implant-associated inflammation and fibrosis while enhancing bio-integration. Polumiros’s family of polymers is amenable to being used as a platform technology as its immunomodulatory character can be maintained while producing biomaterials with a wide range of physical properties suitable for diverse applications.

Braze Mobility

Braze Mobility makes blind spot sensor systems that can be installed on any wheelchair and provide the user with feedback about obstacles in their blind spots.

“No one has eyes on the back of their head, but with Braze sensor systems, you can have eyes on the back of your wheelchair,” the company website said.

Pooja Viswanathan’s mission to improve the lives of wheelchair users began when she was an undergraduate student. She has completed doctoral and post-doctoral research in robotics and assistive technologies and has been working with smart wheelchair technology for over a decade.

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Structura Biotechnology

Structura Biotechnology uses artificial intelligence to create accurate 3D representations of the protein structures with which potential drug molecules must interact.

“Proteins make every process in your body happen, and drugs are these small molecules that have to bind to proteins,” Ali Punjani, the startup’s co-founder and CEO, told U of T News earlier this year.

“But if you can’t see the protein, then drug discovery is like solving a puzzle with a blindfold on.”

Structura’s software is designed to make sense of the noisy, cluttered images captured through Cryo-EM, a type of electron microscopy that won a Nobel Prize in chemistry two years ago.

The startup already counts several multinational pharmaceutical companies as customers even though it hasn’t begun to market its software actively.

LegUp Computing

LegUp is developing a cloud-based platform that allows software developers to scale and manage FPGA devices easily.

A field-programmable gate array (FPGA) is an integrated circuit (IC) that can be programmed in the field after manufacture. FPGAs are similar in principle to but have vastly more wide potential application than, programmable read-only memory (PROM) chips.

“LegUp allows software developers to leverage FPGA capabilities and eliminates the need for hardware-design skills,” Canis, LegUp’s CEO, explained to U of T Engineering last year.

“Traditional servers are overwhelmed by real-time requirements of applications like fraud detection, bidding for advertisements and video analytics – FPGAs can easily meet these requirements, so we are making them more accessible.”

LegUp closed a seed round of funding last year that was led by Intel Capital.

Chopin

This start-up weaves together data from different silos using something called a knowledge web while making it more accessible to front-end users.

“We’re interested in hospitals that haven’t centralised their data or for which centralised data isn’t working – specifically mid-sized hospitals that don’t have a large budget,” The company told U of T News last year.