The graduating entrepreneurs didn’t disappoint the crowd at the LaunchYU Graduation and Launch Day held on Sept. 27 at the offices of Aird & Berlis LLP in Toronto. Hosted by Innovation York’s entrepreneurship unit, LaunchYU, the event showcased presentations from the top ventures of the accelerator program and celebrated their success among fellow graduates, investors, mentors and industry professionals.
The intensive, four-month Accelerator program provides support to high-potential entrepreneurs as they build, launch and scale their ventures. The program has grown into something truly unique. Organized into four one-month sprints focused on product-market fit, pitching, go-to-market strategy, financing and fundraising, entrepreneurs participated in day-long boot camps, workshops, investor and peer feedback sessions. This year, LaunchYU partnered with Infounders, an organization that organizes mastermind peer feedback sessions for entrepreneurs. Struggles and challenges are openly shared in these sessions and talks go beyond the surface level to explore the good, the bad and the not-so-pretty aspects of entrepreneurship. Each year, the bar is raised and this year’s group of entrepreneurs are the program’s best yet.
To kick off the celebration, attendees were welcomed by Innovation York Entrepreneurship Manager Nilay Goyal. He spoke about the progress and quality of ventures participating in this year’s program. “This year, we had a fantastic cohort of startups run by inspiring entrepreneurs who have progressed significantly during the four-month period,” said Goyal. “Credit also goes to our amazing mentors, advisers and partners who equally deserve recognition for the success of these companies.”
Innovation York Director Sarah Howe continued this sentiment, recognizing the support of program partners like Aird & Berlis, ventureLAB and Infounders, program mentors, the many program facilitators and the investment community.
At the main event, the entrepreneurs were the stars of the show. A total of 19 presentations were delivered during the event and each showcased the program’s diverse group of startups. From Swob, an app that uses Tinder-style swiping for job searching, to Arfront Technologies, an augmented-reality solution provider, to the Green Campus Co-operative, which provides ethically made clothes to schools and other organizations, each startup has tackled a unique sector.
Those in attendance could feel a sense of camaraderie among the group, developed through the four months of amped-up programming.
“When you’re put in a room with other like-minded entrepreneurs, there’s more than just the mentors and advisers to learn from,” says Ali El-Shayeb, Nugget founder. “The ultimate takeaway comes from the participants in the program who share the same struggles, successes and journey. The LaunchYU program helped me build a deeper connection with every entrepreneur in the program from which I was able to learn from.”
During the event, Innovation York announced the following three venture winners of a $5,000 cash award:
- Blade Filters: a company that creates activated, indoor, carbon air filters for odour removal and filtration purposes;
- Ocutherapy: a virtual-reality rehabilitation assistant that focuses on helping those with brain injuries; and
- RedPine Music: a platform that allows artists to crowdfund concerts.
The journey doesn’t end there. The three finalists will work with LaunchYU coaches for the remainder of the year to further fine-tune their startup and compete for the $25,000 Aird & Berlis StartupSource Market Entry Award. The award, spearheaded by York University alumnus and Aird & Berlis partner Randy Williamson, will give the top startup $12,500 and provide an equal amount of Aird & Berlis’ StartupSource legal services. Already in its second year, the award has the potential to have a significant impact on the winning startup.
“Winning the $5,000 award from LaunchYU truly shows that hard work pays off,” said Giancarlo Sessa of Blade Filters. “This money will help progress our operations at a more rapid pace. We are thankful for the guidance and knowledge that the team at LaunchYU have given us.”
As the graduates prepare for the next phase in their journey, the three finalists will enlist the support of the LaunchYU coaches to prepare for the final competition. It won’t be until early 2019 when the winner is revealed at LaunchYU’s special announcement event.
“LaunchYU is a remarkable success story,” said Robert Haché, vice-president research and innovation, York University. “The calibre of ventures in this program continues an upward trajectory. We expect this will continue in the years to come.”
LaunchYU will welcome the next cohort of entrepreneurs in May 2019, with applications being accepted beginning in January. To learn more about LaunchYU, visit launchyu.ca.