Celebrating 2023: revisit York’s top 10 moments

best of yu, diverse group of students at bench

York University celebrated transformative moments in 2023, with each one contributing to its drive to make positive change. From groundbreaking research milestones to community-driven initiatives, the University selected its top 10 moments that uphold York’s mission and values.

As a multi-campus University, York’s Faculties, divisions, units, faculty members, staff, and students take pride in their successes and deserve to be recognized. Faculty and students at York ignited new horizons in research, unravelling mysteries and pioneering solutions that shaped our world. Staff dedication paved avenues of inclusivity and support, fostering an environment where every voice resonates. The York community collaborated with external partners to become a driving force, channelling boundless energy into initiatives that reverberated locally and globally.

These monumental milestones weren’t just moments; they were movements. They reshaped narratives, empowered communities and redefined what it means to drive change.

These top 10 moments encapsulated the spirit of unity and teamwork, embodying diverse talents and visions and putting them into action. They stand as testaments to York’s commitment to excellence and its unwavering resolve to shape a brighter future together.

See the Best of YU for 2023.

Niarchos scholarship brings students from Greece to York U

skyline of Greek town

By Elaine Smith

Students from Greece have an opportunity to study or conduct research at York University through a scholarship supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), an international philanthropic organization that honours the late shipping magnate.

Alexandros Balasis
Alexandros Balasis

In fact, Alexandros Balasis, a PhD student in history at York University, can trace his connection to York back to that scholarship. In 2018, when he was a fourth-year history student at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki in northern Greece, one of his professors told him about the Niarchos Foundation scholarships that provided an exchange to York.

He applied, was invited for an interview and was accepted in November 2018 for admittance in January 2019. York International, the office that handles exchanges, assisted him with orientation, registration and other logistics. Balasis arrived on Jan. 2, 2019, in time for York International’s orientation for international students, and from there, he was off and running.

“I saw a university system that I really liked,” Balasis said. “I got hooked from the very beginning.”

A photo of Sakis Gekas
Sakis Gekas

At York, he met Sakis Gekas, an associate professor who holds the Hellenic Heritage Foundation Chair of Modern Greek History, and they met every few weeks to discuss various aspects of modern Greek history.

“The scholarship gave me an opportunity to clarify my goals,” Balasis said.

He decided to pursue a master’s degree in history with Gekas, a degree that he obtained remotely during the pandemic. Gekas urged him to continue on to a PhD program and he has done so, studying Greek migration to Canada after the Second World War.

“The foundation changed the course of my life,” he said. “My experiences, both in Toronto and later with their Istorima project in Greece, gave me the opportunity to understand how much I like history. It made me decide to keep open to opportunities and take advantage of them.”

Grigorios Iliopoulos
Grigorios Iliopoulos

A Stavros Niarchos Foundation scholarship has also impacted Grigorios Iliopoulos‘s PhD studies, bringing his topic to life. Iliopoulos, a third-year PhD student in the American Literature & Culture Department at Aristotle University, is working on a thesis about contemporary literature that talks about the city of Toronto. However, until recently, he had never visited the city that is at the heart of his research.

“This was the perfect program for me,” Iliopoulos said. “I worked on material referring to Toronto, but this was my first chance to see the place.”

Iliopoulos’s work centres on literature depicting urban spaces. He chose Toronto because it is one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in North America and he has focused on novels and collections of short stories by authors of non-French or -British background, those less represented in the past.

“When I got to Toronto, I walked the streets and got a much better idea of how the city and the residents worked,” he said. “I got a sense of scale that is much different than in Europe and it felt like there was a huge difference in how we perceive space. I acquired a different understanding of the perspective of the authors I’ve studied, including David Bezmozgis and Dionne Brand.

“I was also able to access a wealth of library material that wasn’t available in Greece, so this opportunity will have a huge impact on my dissertation.”

Gekas, who serves as a liaison with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, is eager to see more students in Greece take advantage of the opportunity to study at York. The foundation provides funding for three or four undergraduates and one graduate student each year, and he would like to exploit York’s partnership with the University of Crete and connect with the University of Athens to provide broad national coverage in Greece.

Faculty members who collaborate with colleagues in Greece and want to promote this opportunity are encouraged to contact Gekas or Ashley Laracy, associate director of global learning at York International.

From climate change to crisis response, York researchers explore 21st-century challenges

Header banner for ASPIRE

Welcome to the December issue of Aspire, a special issue of YFile highlighting research and innovation at York University.

Aspire is produced by the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation in partnership with the Communications & Public Affairs Division.

Renowned for its high-profile, research-intensive environment, York University fosters a community of forward-thinking scholars and changemakers dedicated to creating positive, global change.

In this issue:

York researcher traverses tick-infested terrain to beat back insect apocalypse
Off-road adventures, tick-infested terrain, and a rustic and isolated cabin were all part of the process for one graduate student advancing research on how climate change affects insects.

De-escalating robocops? York study imagines future of crisis response
Researchers at York University are using futuristic thinking to explore ways that artificial intelligence and robots could enhance mental health care and crisis response.

Voice-activated sexism: exploring consequences of gendered technology
Gendered technology, such as women’s voices as default settings for devices such as Siri or Alexa, influences how women tech experts are treated, show two York PhD candidates. 

York U sociologist travels to COP28 to research Indigenous climate leadership
Asssitant Professor Angele Alook is advancing the understanding of Indigenous methods to mitigate climate change.

York announces new funds to promote Black scholarship
York University has launched three new funding initiatives in support of Black researchers and their scholarly pursuits.

York alumni-founded startup breathes new air into industry
Two York alumni are helping to make the air we breathe cleaner through an innovative startup that’s quickly gaining national attention.

Intellectual property services at York give startups innovation edge
Read how a partnership between York’s Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation and IP Innovation Clinic is helping inventors and entrepreneurs succeed and grow.

York researcher traverses tick-infested terrain to beat back insect apocalypse 

PhD student Hadil Elsayed in the field. Photo: Briann Dorin

By Corey Allen, senior manager, research communications 

Academic research is often perceived to involve a lot of books and library visits, but Hadil Elsayed’s PhD work studying insects at York University has involved choppy boat rides, off-road all-terrain vehicle (ATV) adventures and one particularly nasty trek through a swamp.  

Hadil Elsayed headshot
Hadil Elsayed

“I joke that my PhD defence will include a graph that shows the number of cuts and bruises I’ve had to endure for my research,” says the budding entomologist, who is in the fourth year of her PhD in the Department of Biology.  

Jokes aside, Elsayed’s research into the effects of climate change on insects is no laughing matter. In fact, her work is adding to an increasing number of studies that reveal insects are disappearing. It’s a troubling phenomenon dubbed “the insect apocalypse.”  

Current scientific evidence suggests insects across various species and regions are in global decline and are decreasing in terms of population, biomass and diversity. This has serious consequences for the health of our ecosystems, as insects are crucial for pest control, soil quality and pollination, or plant reproduction. Insects travel between different plants, helping them grow by leaving behind pollen grains. These plants can then be harvested as an energy source for humans and other living organisms, including birds that depend on insects for food.

Hadil Elsayed collects a sample from one of her malaise traps. Photo: Briann Dorin
Hadil Elsayed on a boat. Photo: Briann Dorin
Hadil Elsayed on a boat. Photo: Briann Dorin

“Many of these decline studies are coming out of Europe, so my research explores to what extent we are seeing this same trend here in Canada,” says Elsayed, whose work is supervised by leading conservation scientist Sheila Colla, an associate professor in the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change. “As far as I know, research into biodiversity loss within protected areas at this level has not yet taken place in this country or in North America.” 

Elsayed’s research spans 13 sites, primarily in the Long Point Biosphere Reserve three hours southwest from Toronto, off the shores of Lake Erie. It’s an ecologically significant area, made up of several distinct natural habitats including woodlands, marshes, beaches, meadows and sand dunes, among others. Protected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization, the area is home to a wide range of plants and animals, including many aquatic birds and species at risk.   

To collect all the insect specimens for study, Elsayed used malaise traps, tent-like structures that are set up in the direction of the wind to catch insects flying upwards into jars of ethanol. Elsayed collected hundreds of samples biweekly, or sometimes weekly, in the summery months of May through August.  

Setting up all the traps in the right places and monitoring them means Elsayed often had to brave the wilderness and all its elements, including tick-infested terrain.   

“I would have to stop every two minutes to pick ticks off me or shoo away all the mosquitoes,” she says. “I complained a lot while I was out there, but it’ll be worth it if it means I can help protect biodiversity and make a meaningful contribution to the field of entomology.”

An example of one of Elsayed’s malaise traps.
An example of one of Elsayed’s malaise traps.

With help from a guide from the Long Point Bird Observatory, Elsayed travelled to some sites that are only accessible by going off-trail – by ATV, by boat or by bushwhacking. The demanding task of collecting samples also entailed a month-long stint living alone in a cabin, where the only visitors Elsayed entertained were some rather unwelcome cockroaches.  

Back at the lab, Elsayed processes her samples and sorts, weighs and analyzes hundreds of insects. Her research specifically focuses on the insects that live in protected areas, like Long Point, which should be safer from environmental stressors than insects found in urban ecosystems or cities – in theory.  

But some of Elsayed’s early findings show these protected areas are also suffering, experiencing a decline of up to 200 grams in biomass. This translates to a loss of hundreds of thousands of insects. These findings are possible because Elsayed can compare data collected from the same sites in the early 1990s by the Canadian Wildlife Service against the data she has gathered 30 years later.  

“Preliminary results indicate that climate change is a factor in insect decline, even in protected areas, and various climate stressors are behind their disappearance,” explains Elsayed. “For one group of insects, the main driver for their decline appears to be a decrease in rainfall. For another, it’s linked to an increase in temperature.”  

Recently, Elsayed presented parts of her work at an annual conference held by the Entomological Society of America, with over 3,600 attendees. She was awarded first place in the Student Competition for the President’s Prize, recognizing her efforts to advance climate change research. 

With her strenuous field work completed, Elsayed is currently working on writing her dissertation, with a projected PhD completion date in early 2025.  

Her work is funded by York University, the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Entomological Society of Canada.  

De-escalating robocops? York study imagines future of crisis response 

Robotic hand reaches for human hand

By Corey Allen, senior manager, research communications

Picture this: a 911 operator in your city receives a call from a person in mental distress and needs to send help.  

They could dispatch the police or an integrated unit of both police and mental health professionals. But instead, the operator sends a robot.  

This scenario may sound like science fiction, but it’s the kind of futuristic thinking that has researchers at York University considering all angles when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI) and crisis response.   

Building more empathetic bots through interdisciplinary research  
Kathryn Pierce
Kathryn Pierce

In a paper published in Applied Sciences earlier this year, psychology PhD candidate Kathryn Pierce and her co-authors explore the potential role robots could play in crisis de-escalation, as well as the capabilities engineers would need to program them to be effective.    

The visionary paper is part of a larger project at the Lassonde School of Engineering that involves early-stage research to design and test robots to assist in security and police force tasks. The York engineers asked the psychology researchers to provide their social scientific lens to their forward-thinking work on humanizing machines.  

“De-escalation is not a well-researched topic and very little literature exists about what de-escalation really looks like moment by moment,” says Pierce, who is supervised by Dr. Debra Pepler, a renowned psychologist and Distinguished Research Professor in the Faculty of Health. “This makes it difficult to determine what kinds of behavioural changes are necessary in both responders and the person in crisis to lead to a more positive outcome.”   

No hard and fast rules for de-escalation, for both humans and robots  

With limited academic understanding of what really happens in human-to-human interactions during a crisis response, let alone robot-to-human, training a robot to calm a person down poses an incredibly tall task.  

Despite the challenge, Pierce and her co-authors were able to develop a preliminary model outlining the functions a robot should theoretically be able to perform for effective de-escalation. These functions are made up of verbal and non-verbal communication strategies that engineers would need to be mindful of when building a robot for such a task.    

Some of these strategies include a robot’s gaze – the way a machine and human look at one another – the speed in which they approach (slow and predictable), and the sound and tone of their voice (empathetic and warm).  

But, as the researchers point out, ultimately, robots cannot be “programmed in a fixed, algorithmic, rule-based manner” because there are no fixed rules for how people calm each other.   

“Even if there were algorithms governing human-to-human de-escalation, whether those would translate into an effective robot-to-human de-escalation is an empirical question,” they write.  

It is also difficult to determine whether people will react to robots emulating human behaviour the same way they would if it was an actual person. 

Advances in AI could add new layer of complication to the future of crisis response  

In recent years, the use and discussion of non-police crisis response services have garnered growing attention in various cities across North America, and elsewhere in the world.  

Advocates for replacing traditional law enforcement with social workers, nurses or mental health workers – or at least the integration of these professionals with police units – argue that this leads to better outcomes.  

Research published earlier this year showed that police responding to people in mental distress use less force if accompanied by a health-care provider. Another study found that community responses were more effective for crime prevention and cost savings.  

Introducing robots into the mix would add to the complexity of crisis response services design and reforms. And it could lead to a whole host of issues for engineers, social scientists and governments to grapple with in the future. 

The here and now 

For the time being, Pierce and her co-authors see a machine’s greatest potential in video recording. Robots would accompany human responders on calls to film the interaction. The footage could then be reviewed for responders to reflect on what went well and what to improve upon.  

Researchers could also use this data to train robots to de-escalate situations more like their human counterparts.    

Another use for AI surveillance the researchers theorize could be to have robots trained to identify individuals in public who are exhibiting warning signs of agitation, allowing for police or mental health professionals to intervene before a crisis point is ever reached.  

While a world in which a 911 operator dispatches an autonomous robot to a crisis call may be too hard to conceive, Pierce and her co-authors do see a more immediate, realistic line of inquiry for this emerging area of research.  

“I think what’s most practical would be to have engineers direct their focus on how robots can ultimately assist in de-escalation, rather than aiming for them to act independently,” says Pierce. “It’s a testament to the power and sophistication of the human mind that our emotions are hard to replicate. What our paper ultimately shows, or reaffirms, is that modern machines are still no match for human intricacies.”  


The paper, “Considerations for Developing Robot-Assisted Crisis De-Escalation Practice,” was co-authored by Pierce and Pepler, along with Michael Jenkin, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science in the Lassonde School of Engineering, and Stephanie Craig, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Guelph.  

The work was funded by the Canadian Innovation for Defence Excellence & Security Innovation Networks. 

Voice-activated sexism: exploring consequences of gendered technology  

Man using virtual assistance

By Corey Allen, senior manager, research communications 

New research from two PhD candidates at York University examines the trend of smart speaker unboxing videos on YouTube, arguing that women who create content about devices like Siri or Alexa are perceived as a kind of domestic technology themselves.    

“Voice-activated personal assistants (VAPAs) use women’s voices as a default setting, and this gendered technology significantly influences the treatment of women tech experts by male audiences online,” says Stephen J. Neville, who conducted the work alongside Alex Borkowski, both of whom are in the Joint Graduate Program in Communication & Culture at York and Toronto Metropolitan University. 

Stephen J. Neville
Stephen J. Neville
Alex Borkowski
Alex Borkowski

Unboxing is a popular video genre on YouTube and features people unwrapping and reviewing the latest high-tech gadget or product, like smart speakers. These videos often also offer a walk-through or demonstration of such a device.

“Today’s consumers learn about new tech products online before buying them, and unboxing videos are seen as providing a trusted third-party review,” says Borkowski. “We were curious to learn more about the resonance between VAPAs and women tech experts.”   

Neville and Borkowski watched over 200 of the most popular smart speaker unboxing videos on YouTube, the majority of which featured men, studying their contents, structure and aesthetics. Videos of women doing the unboxing made up only 10.9 per cent of their initial sample and garnered far fewer views.  

Analyzing over 4,000 comments on videos made by women revealed a troubling but rather unsurprising finding: the women’s intelligence was often insulted, or they were sexually objectified.  

The pair of researchers argue some of these comments treat the women as if they are broken machines – a concept developed in previous media studies research – and are issued commands like a smart speaker to stop talking (or shut up), go mute or turn off.  

“Sexism and misogyny are pervasive online and offline, and it extends to YouTube, which creates a challenging environment for female content creators,” says Borkowski. “Our research shows the domestication of smart speakers has had a spillover effect in the media consumption of these unboxing videos and women tech experts.”  

A substantial portion of the pair’s research focused on analyzing each woman YouTubers’ presentation or performance style, and the ways in which they engaged with the product.   

Based on this analysis, Neville and Borkowski observed the female content creators showed technical prowess and a solid understanding of smart speakers overall, but one aspect of their performances contradicted this display of expertise.   

In some of the unboxing videos, when the VAPA is turned on, the women’s reactions were over the top, with some acting overwhelmingly shocked or audibly gasping.   

The pair see this exaggerated behaviour as indicative of the way women are forced to navigate society at large, being expected to conform to traditional femininity.  

“Our findings suggest that some of these women can at times act ditzy to undercut their own authority and expertise with new technology,” says Neville. “This behaviour functions almost like a pre-emptive defence to the negative reaction they anticipate receiving from the audience.”  

According to Borkowski, the idea of a technologically savvy woman is threatening to some, so these women have learned to adapt their behaviour in an attempt to minimize the level of vitriol or hate they receive online.  

“It’s a burden male tech experts never contend with,” she says.  

Despite these negative conditions facing women online, there are grounds for optimism. Neville and Borkowski see potential for the concept of women as broken machines to be co-opted to promote equity and social justice. 

“Albeit broken, women tech experts viewed as machines provides them with a platform and channel to shape the way their audiences see and use technology,” says Neville. “They can also block trolls and disable comments as a way to resist online misogyny.”  

“The popularity of these unboxing videos provides an opportunity for female content creators to discuss bigger issues with technology beyond the functionality or practicality of one product, including concerns about privacy, surveillance and control,” says Borkowski.  

The research, “Broken domestication: The resonant politics of voice in gendered technology,” was published as a book chapter earlier this year in the Routledge Handbook on Media and Technology Domestication.

York U sociologist travels to COP28 to research Indigenous climate leadership

COP28 flag

The 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) wrapped up on Dec. 12, with more than 50,000 delegates who descended upon Dubai in the United Arab Emirates for the annual international climate summit.  

Among the delegates was York University’s Angele Alook, an assistant professor in the School of Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies, and her research team: community-based researcher Lydia Johnson, of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, with the Centre for Indigenous Knowledges & Languages; and PhD student and graduate associate Ana Cardoso.   

The trio were there to conduct field work for a project called Indigenous Climate Leadership and Self-determined Futures, which aims to highlight and advance the understanding of Indigenous methods to mitigate climate change, derived from traditional knowledge and governance, among Indigenous activists and leaders, knowledge holders, other researchers and policymakers.  

From left to right: Angele Alook, Lydia Johnson, Graeme Reed and Ana Carolina De Almeida Cardoso at the COP28 Indigenous Peoples Pavillion
From left to right: Angele Alook, Lydia Johnson, Graeme Reed and Ana Carolina De Almeida Cardoso at the COP28 Indigenous Peoples Pavillion.

The project’s findings will eventually be shared through both academic publications as well as several arts-based approaches, including photography, video and graphic novels. It is funded by the Catalyzing Interdisciplinary Research Clusters initiative, created by the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation at York University.

Alook, who is a member of the Bigstone Cree Nation in Alberta, talks about the Indigenous-led project and her COP28 experience in this Q-and-A below. 

Q: What was your main objective with attending COP28?  

A: My team and I went to Dubai to interview several Indigenous leaders from Turtle Island (North America) and elsewhere in the world. We wanted to talk to them on the ground as they are simultaneously actively engaged in climate discussions with world leaders, government agencies, scientists and organizations. We believe capturing their stories in this moment will provide us with their best insights for our project.   

Much of our questions focus on learning about what motivated them to attend COP28, the challenges they face in a colonial space, their experience in policy talks and negotiations, and their climate actions back home.    

We also presented on several panels at the Indigenous People’s Pavilion and Canada Pavilion. We participated in the Local Communities and Indigenous People’s Platform youth knowledge holders discussions. We also participated alongside our Indigenous kin in several United Nations-sanctioned actions to promote Indigenous rights and human rights.  

Q: Why is Indigenous participation at events like COP28 important? 

A: COP28 represents the biggest international stage for climate change talks, but Indigenous Peoples make up only a small number of attendees. Indigenous Peoples are knowledge keepers and I believe they have real solutions to deal with climate change. We have a relationship to the Earth grounded in land-based practices and sustainability, so Indigenous Peoples’ voices are incredibly valuable if we want to see effective climate policies developed around the world.  

There’s also a lot of advocacy work that happens at these conferences to uphold Indigenous sovereignty, including in international treaties. Certain parts of the Paris Agreement, like article six, which focuses on carbon markets, could have serious implications for Indigenous Peoples and their assertion of rights. Some Indigenous communities have voiced their concerns that article six could lead to their lands or territories being exploited by companies or governments for carbon offsetting. It’s important Indigenous Peoples are fully consulted on these issues, as they often are the ones most impacted by these decisions.   

Q: COP28 marks the fourth time you’ve attended the summit. What progress do you see being made for Indigenous Peoples in climate discussions? What was your overall experience like? 

A: On progress, I think Indigenous people involved in negotiations at COP27 would point to the creation of the climate Loss and Damage Fund, which could benefit smaller nation states with Indigenous communities most affected by climate change. This year, they also announced a Gender-Responsive Just Transitions & Climate Actions Partnership with former United States secretary of state Hillary Clinton in attendance. However, these funds go to nation states that colonize Indigenous Peoples, who are demanding direct access to these funds, instead of those who continue to colonize us. 

I do think it’s one thing to come to COP as a business person or civil servant, but I think it’s a very different thing to come as an Indigenous person. There’s a whole other world taking place here among Indigenous attendees in terms of relationship building. There is an immense amount of Indigenous knowledge from around the world being shared with one another. I think it strengthens our sovereignty and our own Indigeneity to tell these stories to each other and acknowledge our shared experiences.  

Personally, the most hopeful thing I’ve felt at COP28 seems to be this growing solidarity among Indigenous Peoples. More and more Indigenous people are showing up as bold leaders in these spaces, sharing their knowledge and using their voices. It’s been an amazing experience for me and my research assistants to connect and listen to them. 

York announces new funds to promote Black scholarship 

Black student arboretum York campus laptop study

York University has launched three new funding initiatives in support of Black researchers and their scholarly pursuits.  

Carl James
Carl James

Established by the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation (VPRI) in consultation with Carl James, senior advisor on equity and representation in the Office of the Vice-President Equity, People & Culture, the funds are intended to help address systemic anti-Black racism and white supremacy within academia, as well as to help the University rise to the challenges laid out in the Action Plan on Black Inclusion and Framework on Black Inclusion.  

“The values of equity, diversity and inclusion underpin York University’s research enterprise, and Black scholarship is vital to its growth and expansion,” said Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation. “These new funds aim to address historical disparities and empower Black researchers, fostering their talents and impactful work that reflects the diversity of our community of changemakers.”  

VPRI also recently made $25,000 per year available to two Black-focused organized research units, the Harriet Tubman Institute and the Centre of Excellence for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean (CERLAC), to support equity, diversity and inclusion efforts.  

“These initiatives show our commitment to removing systematic barriers and combatting anti-Black racism in our spaces,” said Alice Pitt, vice-president equity, people and culture. “Through the allocation of funds and resources, we ensure that Black excellence in research is recognized in the curriculum and collections in all disciplines.” 

The three new funds, currently seeking applicants, are:  

1. York Black Research Seed Fund 

The York Black Research Seed Fund was established in 2022 to provide mentorship and funding in support of the research activities of Black academics, with priority given to emerging and early-career researchers. The primary intent is to promote equitable and inclusive funding to help set roots for research projects and support future growth. The pilot round of the York Black Research Seed Fund launched a call for applications in February 2022, with a total of $150,000 of funding awarded to six scholars in June 2022.  

Currently, the call for applications for the second round of funding has been released. There is a total of $225,000 available for a maximum of nine projects. The applications are due on Jan. 22, 2024 by 4:30 p.m. EST. The call for applications can be found here

2. York Incentive Grant for Black Scholars and Black Scholarship  

The York Black Scholarly Incentive Grant provides support for the development of research grant applications related to Black scholarship to external sources as articulated in York’s Strategic Research Plan 2023-2028. The main purpose of the fund is to defray costs associated with standard programs of research, such as: Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grants; Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Connection Grants; SSHRC Insight and Insight Development Grants; and SSHRC Partnership Development Grants. While the scale of initiatives supported may vary according to discipline, all proposals must clearly demonstrate the intended external source of support.  

The deadline is rolling – applications can be submitted at any time. There is a maximum of $3,000 available per applicant; however, the award is not to be used to conduct research. The application can be found here

3. Funding for Black Scholars and Black Scholarship: Events and Outreach Activities 

The Funding for Black Scholars and Black Scholarship: Events and Outreach Activities is intended for scholarly events or outreach activities that support Black scholarship and inclusion, build the profile and reputation of Black-focused and Black-led research, and strengthen the research culture of Black scholarship and inclusion at York University. Successful applicants can normally expect funding in the range of $500 to $1,500, depending on the level of demand across the University and the scope of the activity. 

VPRI is also accepting applications for outreach and engagement activities that connect academic researchers and students with non-academic audiences (industry, governments, community and non-profit organizations, schools, the public). These funds will be capped at $1,000, with 20 awards available in each year evenly spread over four competitions per year.    

The application deadlines in 2024 are Jan. 1, April 1, July 1 and Sept. 1. The application form can be found here

York alumni-founded startup breathes new air into industry 

(Left to right) Blade Air founders Aedan Fida, Giancarlo Sessa and Joe Fida

By Diana Senwasane, student and community engagement coordinator, YSpace and VPRI 

Since its inception five years ago, YSpace – York University’s entrepreneurship and innovation hub – has supported hundreds of startups from ideation to incubation to scale. One such startup venture is Blade Air, which is quickly establishing itself as a national leader in the air filtration industry.   

Founded by two York alumni from the Schulich School of Business, Giancarlo Sessa (BBA’19) and Aedan Fida (BBA’19), along with his brother Joseph Fida, Blade Air was recently named the fifth-fastest-growing company in Canada for 2023 by the Globe and Mail

(Left to right) Blade Air founders Aedan Fida, Giancarlo Sessa and Joe Fida
Left to right: Blade Air founders Aedan Fida, Giancarlo Sessa and Joe Fida.

The trio is also celebrating one of their other latest achievements from earlier this year: the acquisition of CleanAir.ai, a Toronto-based startup that specializes in electromagnetic HVAC filters.  

The move will enhance Blade Air Smart IAQ Platform, the company’s innovative software for indoor air quality (IAQ) solutions.  

“With this strategic acquisition, Blade Air has access to patents and technology that will fast-track the next generation of its Blade Air Smart IAQ Platform,” says Sessa, chief revenue officer. “This enables businesses, real estate groups and facility managers to access critical, real-time data regarding their indoor air quality while reducing energy consumption, carbon emissions and lowering operational costs.” 

So far, Blade Air has implemented air quality solutions in over 540-million cubic feet of building spaces across North America, including for government, educational boards, hospitals and commercial enterprises. The list continues to grow as more spaces prioritize indoor air quality after the COVID-19 pandemic.   

A Blade Air HEPA Air purifier, the portable air quality solution for commercial spaces
A Blade Air HEPA Air Purifier, the portable air quality solution for commercial spaces.

Sessa says the company’s success is due in part to the support they received early on from YSpace, which provides access to mentors, testing equipment, and connections with funders and key resources.  

“YSpace was extremely supportive in providing us with the resources we needed to succeed, including great advisors, tools for making our business processes more efficient and an always cheerful and supportive network,” he says.  

The company has also prioritized sustainability, working to reduce its carbon footprint using zero-waste technology. They also created the world’s first zero-waste carbon filters.  

This commitment to innovate and be leaders in their industry stems from Sessa and Fida’s days at York.  

“Attending York University not only gave us the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in the world of business, but we also found the inspiration to dream bigger and the network to make those dreams a reality,” Sessa says. “York empowered us to turn our vision into a thriving venture, and for that we are forever grateful.” 

To learn more about Blade Air, visit bladeair.com.  

Intellectual property services at York give startups innovation edge 

research patent innovation

By Diana Senwasane, student and community engagement coordinator, YSpace and VPRI 

For more than a decade, the IP Innovation Clinic at York University has been helping inventors and entrepreneurs protect and grow their wide-ranging business ventures.  

Based out of Osgoode Hall Law School, the first-of-its-kind and now largest intellectual property (IP) legal clinic in Canada has provided pro bono legal support to hundreds of community members.   

Recently, the clinic partnered with the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation (VPRI) to offer streamlined services and a more efficient pathway for faculty to bring their product or service to market.  

This new partnership enhances the clinic’s ongoing contributions to the business development of dozens of startups.  

Spotlighted below are three ventures that credit the clinic for helping them reach new levels of success.     


Founded in 2017, NURO is a health-care technology company that uses neurotechnology to create a form of communication for incapacitated patients who suffer from conditions such as stroke, trauma and neurodegenerative diseases.  

NURO’s second patented technology, The PAD, used for the detection and continuous monitoring of Alzheimer’s disease.

When the startup was first established, founder and CEO Francois Gand was referred to the IP Innovation Clinic to protect his intellectual property.  

“This collaboration empowered us to assess and prioritize crucial aspects of our work with the aid of talented scholars, allowing for a much more intricate and in-depth organization of our IP portfolio,” says Gand.  

The clinic provided pro bono patent searching that helped NURO assess the relevant patent landscape related to its technologies and helped the company begin the patent application process, resulting in NURO securing a patent and its IP more broadly.  

Skygauge Robotics 

Skygauge Robotics was founded by a trio of then-students, now York alumni, including two who were featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list: Nikita Illiushkin (BBA ’16) and Linar Ismagilov (BA ’18). Their company uses drones to create a workforce in the sky.  

A Skyguage Robotics drone performing an inspection on a ship. 

The drones do physical work for remote inspection and maintenance and can be used for painting, pressure washing, cleaning and even ultrasonic testing, which is used when inspecting large infrastructure like ships, bridges and piping.  

The IP Innovation Clinic helped Skygauge Robotics secure their IP, which later contributed to them obtaining $3.3 million in funding led by BDC’s Industrial Innovation Venture Fund.  

“What really set us apart from other companies competing for funding was the fact that we had our technology patented,” says Illiushkin. “We credit the IP Innovation Clinic for their guidance and support in the IP process and the expertise of the supervising legal team who continue to advise us today.” 

Indigenous Friends Association 

The Indigenous-led, not-for-profit organization created by then-student, now York alumnus Alejandro  Mayoral-Baños (PhD ’21) first began as an app to connect and support Indigenous youth. Mayoral-Baños turned to the IP Innovation Clinic to understand how to best protect his IP, develop essential contracts and become incorporated.  

Founder Alejandro Mayoral-Baños (top middle) posing with the Indigenous Friends Association board of directors.

The clinic was instrumental in helping evolve the app into other projects and gain access to more funding, notably a $210,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.  

“Working with the clinic was a transformative journey in turning vision into reality,” says Mayoral-Baños. “It enabled me to critically navigate the complexities of IP, leading to the creation of real-life solutions that have propelled the Indigenous Friends Association forward.” 

The Indigenous Friends Association now provides educational programs for Indigenous youth looking to enter the technology sector across the globe. 

The IP Innovation Clinic continues to offer tailored support for inventors and entrepreneurs looking to protect and commercialize their ideas.  

Backed by the expertise of the clinic and VPRI teams, these services give inventors and entrepreneurs the peace of mind that their intellectual property is protected. Clients can simplify a complicated process, avoid errors that can delay their journey to market, avoid costly lawyer or patent agent fees, and save valuable time.  

Services offered by the clinic can include: 

  • guidance on how to identify and protect assets, best practices and information surrounding freedom to operate; 
  • patent searches and prior art searches;  
  • trademark searches; 
  • IP Agreement review; and 
  • IP Application drafting and review. 

Those looking to bring their product or service to market or protect their idea can schedule free one-on-one consultations with the clinic by emailing ipinnovationclinic@osgoode.yorku.ca.