Open Education Month puts spotlight on accessible education

Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change students in class

March is Open Education Month, a time to celebrate open educational resources (OER), which are openly licensed, freely available educational materials that can be used, accessed, adapted and redistributed with limited restriction. York University’s engagement with OER has continued to expand and grow over the recent years, helping faculty create inclusive and adaptable learning environments while advancing a number of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) – specifically, UN SDG 4: Quality Education, UN SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities, and UN SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

In an upcoming series of webinars scheduled for this month, Dominique Scheffel-Dunand, an associate professor in linguistics at York and co-lead for Camerise, York’s French-as-a-second-language (FSL) hub, will spearhead efforts to promote the use of Camerise, H5P, and Pressbooks for developing inclusive OER for FSL and English as a second language (ESL). Supported by a $5,000 award from eCampusOntario, Scheffel-Dunand and her co-presenter, education technology consultant Sushumna Rao Tadinada, will deliver these webinars in both English and French.

“The events that York is hosting and participating in for Open Education Month show that the University is making great strides to support the University Academic Plan’s priority of Access to Success,” said Sarah Coysh, associate dean of digital engagement and strategy at York University Libraries. “Open educational practices in the classroom help provide students with access to course learning materials from the first day of classes. Our York eCampusOntario OER Rangers have also been instrumental in helping to spread awareness of open education on campus and providing faculty, staff, and graduate students with training and guidance on embedding these practices into their teaching and outreach programs,”

The first webinar, titled “Creating Accessible Interactive OER with H5P for Language Teaching (FSL and ESL),” on March 14 from 8 to 9 a.m., will demonstrate the use of the Canvas (LMS) and H5P platforms to design massive open online courses (MOOCs) – open-access courses with unlimited participation – in both English and French, focusing on the values of openness and diversity.

The subsequent events will delve deeper into using Pressbooks and H5P to publish interactive and inclusive learning modules.

The second and third event, titled “Libérer la puissance de l’apprentissage interactif et inclusif avec Pressbooks et H5P en FLS et ESL,” will be offered first as a webinar and then as a hands-on workshop by Scheffel-Dunand and Tadinada Ra. Delivered in French, the sessions will illustrate using Pressbooks to publish collections of training modules developed with H5P and made accessible on Lumi, H5P.com, HTML or in PDF format. The two events focus on how to conceptualize the interoperability between various tools and publishing platforms such as H5P or Pressbooks to foster accessible and interactive learning, from K-12 to post-secondary education.

Interested individuals can attend the March 21 webinar from 8 to 9 a.m. or the March 28 hands-on workshop from 8 to 9:30 a.m.

“These webinars and workshop have been co-designed with Ontario educators to ensure stakeholders in FSL and ESL in the province and beyond explore how to author high-quality content and why it matters that such content be discoverable, reproducible and modified for localized contexts to meet community needs for language and culture,” said Scheffel-Dunand.

During the first week of March, eCampusOntario – a nonprofit organization supporting technology-enabled teaching, learning and innovation at Ontario’s publicly funded universities, colleges and Indigenous institutes – will also be hosting several webinars to promote OER and open educational practices. Charlotte de Araujo, an assistant professor in York’s Faculty of Science, and Stephanie Quail, acting director of the Libraries’ Open Scholarship department, were accepted into eCampusOntario’s OER Ranger program last August, making them York’s institutional champions of the use of OER.

De Araujo will be speaking at the eCampusOntario Zoom webinar titled “Designing and Publishing OERs: Creator Panel Discussion” on March 7 from noon to 1 p.m.

“The OER Ranger program has provided us with the opportunity to share the benefits of OERs with our academic community, promoting a collaborative dialogue between stakeholders and encouraging OER integration in our teaching practices,” says de Araujo. “Being able to implement OERs, whether it is a textbook chapter or an ancillary resource to review course content, can be one solution to help alleviate cost challenges, enabling students to freely revisit course material, fostering lifelong learning for all stakeholders.”

Quail adds, “Being an eCampusOntario OER Ranger has provided me with the opportunity to build my network of open education advocates across Ontario, while also co-creating events at York University with my fellow ranger to support faculty, staff and student engagement with open educational practices.”

As York University continues to champion OER and open educational practices, it exemplifies its commitment to accessible and inclusive education, paving the way for innovative pedagogy and community-driven learning initiatives.

Experts unite for third annual Climate Change Research Month

A city showing the effect of Climate Change

This March, York University and its Organized Research Units (ORUs) are hosting the third annual Climate Change Research Month, which features a range of activities, including panels, lectures and workshops.

The month-long event series spotlights the University’s expertise in climate change-related research, the interdisciplinary work of its faculty, and the York community’s commitment to advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

“From the work of political scientists helping to shape government policy to equity scholars tackling issues of climate justice to environmental scientists and engineers exploring pathways to decarbonization and sustainability, climate research is one of York’s great strengths,” said Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation. “Climate Change Research Month reflects York’s big-tent approach to addressing the climate crisis through knowledge sharing, collaboration and community engagement.”

Some of the planned events include several sessions by the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, including a March 6 event on building community-engaged emergency response systems for extreme weather events, including in rural Indigenous communities. The City Institute at York University (CITY) will host a panel discussion titled “Greening the Grey,” exploring infrastructural solutions to the climate crisis. And the Institute for Research on Digital Literacies and the Institute for Technoscience & Society will hold a showcase for graduate students whose research is related to technology and climate change, among other events from multiple ORUs.

“Climate Change Research Month is an opportunity to have faculty, staff and students come together as a uniquely qualified collective to engage in critical and thoughtful dialogue on an existential issue impacting us all,” said Professor Elaine Coburn, director of the Centre for Feminist Research, who has led the organizing efforts for the yearly event series for the past three years. “This annual series exemplifies the kind of work that York’s Organized Research Units engage in year-round.”

Climate Change Research Month is hosted by York’s ORUs, centres of research excellence that bring together diverse experts from across the University to conduct inter- and trans-disciplinary research on some of the world’s most pressing challenges.  

To learn more about the series and each event, visit yorku.ca/research/climate-change-research-month-2024.

York conference inspires next generation of environmentalists

Change Your World conference 2024 team. Photo credit: Daniel Horawski

With news of environmental crises coming at us at an increasingly alarming rate, it can be easy to dwell on the doom and gloom of it all. York University’s Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) is doing its part to prevent that with its annual conference, Change Your World, which aims to empower Ontario’s youth to be the next generation of global changemakers.

Last week, some 500 Ontario high-school students and their teachers from more than 25 schools gathered in Vari Hall on York’s Keele Campus for the conference, where they spent the day learning how they can make a sustainable and equitable difference in the world – and its future – through a series of activities and workshops hosted in partnership with environmental and community partners from across the province.

Change Your World conference attendees gathered in Vari Hall. Photo by Daniel Horawski.

“At a time when there is a great deal of despair and ‘eco-anxiety’ concerning the state of the planet, it was inspiring to see young people coming together as active citizens to envision a different future,” said Philip Kelly, interim dean of EUC. “Connecting schools and environmentally-focused organizations for thoughtful discussions through events like Change Your World is an important role for the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change in our wider community.”

Pictured, left to right: keynote speaker Joanne Huy, EUC Interim Dean Philip Kelly, keynote speaker Alicia Richins. Photo by Daniel Horawski.

Students began the day by hearing from the conference’s keynote speakers, beginning with Interim Dean Kelly and ending with alumna Alicia Richins, director of strategy and governance for youth sustainability leadership organization Leading Change Canada and creator of multimedia platform the Climateverse.

Richins challenged the audience to consider their passions when choosing what change they should focus on and encouraged them to boldly share ideas, work collaboratively and never give up on their goals to make positive change.

“This annual event is all about showcasing ways youth can lead the change we need in our communities and around the world,” said Lily Piccone, strategic enrolment and communications officer at EUC and Change Your World conference co-ordinator. “Through inspiring keynote speakers, like our very own YU alumni Alicia and Joanne, and our community partners, the students can see local citizens that have turned their passion into a profession and are making positive change for people and the planet”

Toronto-based singer-songwriter and climate activist Brighid Fry performed at the 2024 Change Your World conference.

The students were then able to let their interests guide them by choosing two breakout sessions to participate in from a variety of offerings, including: a workshop on how to build resiliency in the face of anxiety about the future; a giant, immersive board game about power, peace and the planet; hands-on time with wind turbine models and solar panels; a tree identification walk; talks on green infrastructure, climate futurism, the importance of wetlands; and much more.

Following their lunch break, participants were treated to a special guest performance by Toronto-based singer-songwriter and climate activist Brighid Fry, recognized as one of the Top 25 under 25 by non-profit organization the Starfish Canada for her work on sustainability in the music industry. Students wrapped up their day of immersive learning with another workshop and enjoyed one final keynote address by community engagement professional and York alumna Joanne Huy, who shared her passion for transforming lives and communities through learning experiences and making local change in the York University and Jane-and-Finch communities.

Watch the video recap of the day’s events below:

For more information about the annual conference, visit the Change Your World website.

Annual event celebrates Lunar New Year with discussion, art

lanterns taking off at chinese new year

York University’s Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics (DLLL) celebrated the Lunar New Year Festival on Feb. 14 by organizing its annual Chinese Culture Day event.

“York’s annual Chinese Culture Day provides exposure to a unique and rich culture through lectures, discussions, music and art,” said J.J. McMurtry, dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. “This helps our students gain unique insights that enable them to thrive in a globalized world.”

This year the event featured a series of public lectures covering a range of topics from cultural transformation through the arts, to Chinese heritage in Canada and culture politics. Speakers included Jack Leong, senior librarian and former associate dean of research and open scholarship at York University Libraries; Chris Song, assistant professor at the University of Toronto; and Yu Chang, a member of the Hong Kong Collectors Society.

A Toronto opera troupe from the Starlight Chinese Opera Performing Arts Centre entertained with two live stage shows: one Peking Opera performance titled Drunken Concubine and one Cantonese Opera performance titled Scramble for an Umbrella.

Organizers at Chinese Culture Day
Organizers, attendees and performers at the Chinese Culture Day event.
From left to right: Gang Pan, Pietro Giordan, Yu Chang, Jack Leong, Jessica Tsui-yan Li, Alice K. Chan, Michelle Cai, Carrie Ling Wan Leung, Chris Song, Karen Xiaoning Shi and Jia Ma.

A Lunar New Year exhibition, displayed between Feb. 5 and 16, was also on hand, highlighting artistic Chinese calligraphy, artifacts, drawings and narratives.

Gabriela Alboiu, an associate professor and DLLL’s Chair, praised the event, noting it is the most important yearly occasion organized by Chinese Studies. “It was ingenious, insightful, inclusive and an informative way to celebrate the Lunar New Year,” she said.

Organizer Jessica Tsui-yan Li, an associate professor and the Chinese section co-ordinator of DLLL, also noted the event’s relevance to larger institutional goals at the University. “Through academic discussion and cultural performances, this event produced insights on equity, diversity, and inclusion and helped promote understanding, empathy, and compassion at York University and by extension co-construct a multicultural society in Canada,” she said.  

This event was open to the students, scholars, and faculty members of York University and community members in the Greater Toronto Area. It was sponsored by LA&PS, DLLL, the York Centre for Asian Research and Founders College.

One Fare Program to launch Feb. 26

Student walking away from subway on York University Keele Campus

The government of Ontario has partnered with Greater Toronto Area transit providers to make getting to campus more accessible and affordable by integrating fares across systems.

Starting on Feb. 26, transit customers paying with a PRESTO card, PRESTO in Google Wallet, debit or credit card (physical or in a mobile wallet) will be able to transfer for free between the TTC, Brampton Transit, Durham Region Transit, MiWay and York Region Transit, due to Ontario’s new One Fare Program. Also, TTC customers paying single-ride fares connecting to and from GO Transit will benefit from a fare discount, making their TTC fare free.

“York University commends the Ontario government for eliminating the need for double fares by creating a more integrated fare system,” said York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton. “The new One Fare Program will have a significant impact on our community, as over 74 per cent of our students, and most of our faculty and staff, commute to campus via GO Transit as well as the two subway stations on our Keele Campus. An integrated fare system will not only create a more affordable, accessible and efficient transportation network but also continue to provide a sustainable transportation option that will help to reduce our community’s carbon footprint.”

Metrolinx will be on the Keele Campus for a community engagement event on Monday, Feb. 26 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Vari Hall to discuss the new One Fare Program and the in-progress Finch West Light Rail Transit (LRT) line.

For more information on PRESTO, the electronic fare payment system available across 11 transit agencies in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area and Ottawa, and how to obtain a PRESTO card, visit PRESTOcard.ca.

York alumna to champion respect at Ontario Soccer Summit

soccer ball on field

York University women’s soccer coach and former Lions star player Farkhunda Muhtaj takes the stage at the 2024 edition of the Ontario Soccer Summit, where – as a celebrated advocate for social justice – she will emphasize the critical need for promoting respect in sport within Canada’s soccer community.

A two-time York graduate who holds degrees from the Faculty of Education and the University’s kinesiology program, she is one of 600 delegates expected to attend the summit, a gathering of coaches, staff, administrators and stakeholders from across Canada’s soccer community, taking place on the Keele Campus from Feb. 23 to 25.

Farkhunda Muhtaj 
(Credit: Mike Ford for York U Magazine)
Farkhunda Muhtaj
(photo credit: Mike Ford for The York University Magazine)

As a keynote speaker, Muhtaj will draw from her experiences within Ontario’s soccer system and her journey as an Afghan-Canadian professional soccer player. Muhtaj gained international recognition when, in 2021, she defied the Taliban by successfully relocating Afghanistan’s junior soccer team outside the country to safeguard its female players and their ability to play.

In her talk, the 26-year-old former midfielder will highlight the transformative influence of sports, particularly in marginalized communities. She will also present the documentary about the Afghan team’s story, We Are Ayenda, to underscore the resilience of the Afghan youth women’s national team and the power of soccer in shaping lives.

“I’ll discuss strategies for creating inclusive environments, prioritizing player safety and combatting bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination. Soccer has empowered me to give back to my communities as a global active citizen, and I believe it’s imperative to offer others similarly enriching experiences,” she says.

Named a York University Top 30 Under 30 in 2022 for her active dedication to social justice through sport, Muhtaj will also stress the urgency of rebuilding trust within the soccer community just as Canada is getting ready to host 13 of the 104 games at the 2026 FIFA World Cup, with seven in Vancouver and six in Toronto.

Her ongoing role as a mentor and role model for aspiring soccer players, particularly those from under-represented backgrounds, underscores her commitment to nurturing talent and diversity within Canadian soccer.

Through partnerships with soccer organizations, government agencies and community groups such as the Scarborough Simbas – a Toronto-based soccer program for refugees and other newcomers to Canada – Muhtaj aims to promote inclusivity and growth within the sport. She does so as well through Respect in Sport, a program within the Respect Group, which educates youth leaders, coaches, officials and others on how to approach bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination.

“As an Afghan-Canadian professional soccer player, the director of culture and conscience at the Respect Group and the co-founder of Scarborough Simbas, I am uniquely positioned to contribute to the development of soccer in Canada,” she says, “ensuring it is truly inclusive and growing the game.”

Muhtaj’s ongoing advocacy for policy changes within Canadian soccer governing bodies also aims to guarantee that diversity, equity and inclusion remain top priorities at all levels of the sport. By actively participating in policy discussions and decision-making processes, Muhtaj continues to shape the future of soccer in Canada. She believes the need for comprehensive, long-term plans to foster a culture of respect and integrity within the sport is important.

“In light of significant milestones in Canadian soccer, such as the establishment of a women’s professional league and the upcoming FIFA World Cup in 2026, there’s an urgent need for unity within the sports community,” she says. “It’s crucial to safeguard our children, keeping them engaged in sport for a lifetime.”

Connected Minds researcher explores AI’s future at top conference

AI robot looking at crystal ball

Thousands of artificial intelligence (AI) researchers from around the world have gathered in Vancouver this week for one of the largest international academic conferences on AI and machine learning.

Laleh Seyyed-Kalantari
Laleh Seyyed-Kalantari

Among the attendees of the 38th annual Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) Conference on Artificial Intelligence is York University’s Laleh Seyyed-Kalantari, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science and a member of Connected Minds: Neural and Machine Systems for a Healthy, Just Society – a $318.4-million, York-led program focused on socially responsible technologies, funded in part by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.

Seyyed-Kalantari will bring her leading research expertise in responsible AI to the conference, while also helping to run a Connected Minds- and VISTA-sponsored workshop on responsible language models (ReLM 2024), alongside researchers from the internationally recognized Vector Institute, a Connected Minds partner.

In the Q-and-A below, she talks about the workshop and the state of AI research.

Q: Why a workshop on responsible language models?   

A: The use of generative AI models, like ChatGPT, is increasingly becoming more and more common in our everyday lives. In fact, recent studies show that generative AI (GPT-4) can be programmed to pass the U.S. medical examination or pass the bar exam to become a lawyer. This has encouraged the idea that generative AI models can replace humans, but the reality is that this is not true, and we are far away from that point.

For my research and that of my Connected Minds colleagues, the question is not if generative AI models can be used for good – they can – but a more important and pressing question to ask inside and outside of this workshop is whether these AI models generate reliable and responsible things. Despite our rapidly evolving technological world, the answer is still no. Our workshop aims to get at the right kinds of questions both academia and industry should consider now and in the future.

Q: What makes a language model responsible?

A: Responsible language models can be evaluated with the following factors in mind: fairness, robustness, accountability, security, transparency and privacy. AI models need to be tested and evaluated for whether they are fair to all its human users. For example, AI models use data that may not include ethnic minority populations, and programmers run the risk of amplifying existing racial biases. Robustness involves assessing the generated material and its accuracy. Does it generate the right or consistent solution? Is it robust to adversarial attacks? Accountability involves decisions about regulation and legislation. Who oversees ensuring the model is fair? Security means how to protect a model from malicious attacks. Transparency and privacy refer to the use and permissibility of people’s private data, including medical information. These six factors set up a framework for a broad discussion on various issues related to responsible AI and machine learning in the context of language models.

Q: What are you most looking forward to by attending the conference and running this workshop?

A: The trip to Vancouver offers an opportunity for a significant exchange of ideas and collaborative brainstorming among a diverse group of communities, bringing academia and industry together. It’s a rare chance to gather with influential figures in the field of generative AI, all in one space. It allows us to discuss the issues, to learn from one another, and to shape future research questions and collaboration surrounding large language models. I’m grateful to Connected Minds and VISTA [Vision: Science to Applications] for helping to advance my work and for making this event possible.

York hosts conference examining impact of AI on law

Update: New information after publication of this article indicates the March 13 conference will now be held online only.

Leading legal thinkers from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School and beyond will gather to assess the seismic impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the law during a special conference on March 13 sponsored by the Osgoode-based Jack & Mae Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime & Security.

All York community members are welcome to attend the hybrid event, titled Artificial Intelligence and the Law: New Challenges and Possibilities for Fundamental Human Rights and Security, which will take place both online and in person in 014 Helliwell Centre on York’s Keele Campus from noon to 6:15 p.m.

Trevor Farrow
Trevor Farrow

“I am delighted that this incredibly important discussion is being hosted at Osgoode Hall Law School,” said Osgoode Dean Trevor Farrow.

“Academics, lawyers, policymakers and the public are already heavily influenced by and reliant upon AI,” he added. “Osgoode very much sees itself at the centre of these discussions and innovations.”

By bringing together researchers with AI expertise across various fields of practice, conference speakers and attendees can engage with larger questions about law’s role in the regulation of emerging technologies, legal neutrality, ethics and professional responsibility, said Carys Craig, associate dean of research and institutional relations, who will speak on AI and copyright.

Carys Craig
Carys Craig

“I’m very excited about this conference,” she said. “Osgoode is known for its thought leadership and critical, interdisciplinary thinking, which is exactly what is needed as Canada grapples with the rapid acceleration of AI across almost every facet of society.”

The featured speakers will also include Professor Barnali Choudhury, director of the Nathanson Centre.

“Although AI offers numerous opportunities to society, it also poses risks, particularly in relation to human rights and security,” Choudhury noted. “Lawyers should be well versed in these risks to ensure that AI use aligns with legal standards.”

 Barnali Choudhury
Barnali Choudhury

The conference’s comprehensive examination of artificial intelligence will include the growing use of generative AI, which powers tools like ChatGPT, said Professor Valerio De Stefano, a co-organizer of the event and a panellist who will address today’s challenging issues around AI and work. 

“The law will have to react to a lot of the challenges that arise from artificial intelligence in order for society to thrive on the opportunities that AI offers,” he noted.

De Stefano said that almost no area of the law will be left untouched, including criminal, copyright, labour and tax law. Conference speakers will also dig into the implications of AI for legal ethics, practice and education.

Valerio De Stefano
Valerio De Stefano

“It’s extremely important that lawyers, both academics and practitioners, start discussing how to react to all these new things that are coming out of the AI landscape – and this is the opportunity to do that,” he added. “There’s a lot of people at Osgoode that do top-notch, groundbreaking research on law and technology.”

Other speakers will include Professor Jonathon Penney, who will examine whether AI safety standards are really safe, and Professor Allan Hutchinson, who will discuss AI and law’s multiplicity. Rounding out the list of Osgoode experts are Professor Sean Rehaag, PhD student Alexandra Scott and Osgoode PhD alumnus Jake Okechukwu Effoduh, now a law professor at Toronto Metropolitan University.

In the afternoon, De Stefano will chair a roundtable discussion on AI, due process and legal ethics. Panellists will include: Dean Farrow; Professor Patricia McMahon; Professor Richard Haigh; Glenn Stuart, the executive director of professional regulation for the Law Society of Ontario; and Professor Amy Salyzyn of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law.

Registration is required. For more information about the event, email nathansoncentre@osgoode.yorku.ca and copy vdestefano@osgoode.yorku.ca.

Faculty of Science students, profs awarded for excellence

At the Faculty of Science’s annual honours and awards ceremony, several faculty and students received awards – including an inaugural one – recognizing their contributions in teaching and educational leadership.

The ceremony is organized every year to celebrate students, instructors and researchers who received awards and scholarships between September 2022 and August 2023 – as well as giving the Faculty a chance to bestow a few awards of its own.

This year, around 400 postdoctoral fellows and undergraduate and graduate science students were recognized by being given a chance to come up to the event’s stage at the Second Student Centre, on York’s Keele Campus, to be congratulated and applauded by their peers, supporters and mentors.

The event’s masters of ceremonies were Associate Dean of Students Michael Scheid and Associate Dean of Research and Partnerships Vivian Saridakis, who also announced the recipients of the Faculty of Science Excellence in Educational Leadership Awards – an inaugural award category – as well as the Excellence in Teaching Awards and Excellence in Research Awards.

The recipients of these awards were:

Excellence in Educational Leadership Award, Faculty category
Associate Professor Amenda Chow, Department of Mathematics & Statistics; and Chair and Associate Professor Vera Pavri, Department of Science, Technology & Society.

Excellence in Educational Leadership Award, Graduate Student category
PhD students Laura Keane and Yohana Solomon, Department of Mathematics & Statistics.

Excellence in Teaching Award, Junior Tenure Stream Faculty category
Assistant Professor Stephanie Domenikos, Department of Science, Technology & Society.

Excellence in Teaching Award, Contract Faculty category
Sessional Assistant Professor Charlotte de Araujo, Department of Biology.

Richard Jarrell Award of Excellence for Teaching Assistants
Recent MSc graduate Amanvir Virdi, Department of Biology.

Early Career Research Award
Associate Professor Elizabeth Clare, Department of Biology.

Established Research Award
Professor Randy Lewis, Department of Physics & Astronomy.

Excellence in Graduate Mentorship Award
Associate Professor Iain Moyles, Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

For more details about the awards and a full list of recipients, view the ceremony program booklet.

York entrepreneurs recognized by award, prime minister

BEA Demo Day image BANNER

York University alumni Yemi Ifegbuyi (BA ’10) and Zainab Williams (BA ’07) are among the top three Black entrepreneurs named the winners of a startup pitch competition hosted by the Black Entrepreneurship Alliance (BEA) founded by the Black Creek Community Health Centre in partnership with York University’s YSpace.

The competition, the inaugural BEA Investment Bootcamp Demo Day, is the final assignment of a four-month program run in partnership with YSpace for early-stage and capital-ready, Black-led startups.

The Investment Bootcamp program is aimed at supporting Black-led tech startups with training, mentorship and fundraising insights to secure early capital. With a community-driven approach, the program offers curated content and resources to support entrepreneurs through educational workshops, one-on-one coaching and peer founder circles, which provides a safe and open space for founders to connect and receive support.

The nine startup finalists in the BEA Investment Bootcamp program
The nine startup finalists in the BEA Investment Bootcamp program.

Applicants to the competition were narrowed down from the 17 Black entrepreneurs who participated in the program to nine finalists who pitched their businesses to a live audience at an event on Feb. 1 celebrating Black excellence.

The Demo Day event, which also marked the start of Black History Month, was attended by a number of government officials, including Filomena Tassi, the minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. Judy Sgro, member of Parliament for Humber River – Black Creek, was also in attendance and was impressed by the entrepreneurs. “Witnessing the dedication and leadership of these young entrepreneurs has not only inspired me, but it reaffirms my belief in the incredible potential of our community’s future leaders,” she says.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with first place winner Yemi Ifegbuyi
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who met finalists at a special event before the awards were announced, with first-place winner Yemi Ifegbuyi.

First-place winner Ifegbuyi will receive $5,000 toward his business, Cozii Technologies, an artificial intelligence-driven property management platform tailored to multi-unit landlords. Ifegbuyi immigrated from Nigeria about 15 years ago and received his degree in international development and urban studies at York as well as a master’s degree in entrepreneurship and innovation. As a founder known for his entrepreneurial drive, Ifegbuyi is excited for the future as his business continues to grow.

“This fund will be channelled into our sales and marketing endeavours, with the goal of reaching and serving more small- and medium-scale rental property owners and managers,” he says. “It’s not just a cash prize. It’s an investment in Cozii Technologies’ vision to revolutionize the way we approach property management.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with second place winner Zainab Williams
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with second-place winner Zainab Williams.

Second-place winner Williams, the founder of Fundevolve Inc., a pioneering platform dedicated to empowering women in their financial journey, will receive $3,000 to further her company. Williams developed her passion for business while studying business administration and management at York. Born out of an investment gone wrong, Williams became an independent financial planner and was determined to empower individuals to make the right financial decisions. Her business is quickly building momentum as she works to further develop the web-based platform and equip women with the tools to take control of their financials.

“We plan to use the prize winnings for testing before launching our platform,” says Williams. “This investment in security ensures not only our project’s safety but also our users’ trust.”

Both Ifegbuyi and Williams cite the boot camp’s collaborative spirit as a contributor to their startup’s success. “Participating in the program has been a transformative journey,” says Ifegbuyi. “The unwavering support and mentorship we received are catalysts for long-term growth.”

Special guest Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also attended a private event – where York President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton was also present – held before the awards to meet the finalists and learn more about their businesses.

“Meeting Justin Trudeau was a great honour and opportunity,” says Ifegbuyi. “It symbolized the recognition of our hard work and the federal government commitment to supporting the Black entrepreneurial community. It’s a reminder that our efforts are making an impact, and it inspires us to continue pushing boundaries and striving for excellence in everything we do.”

Both BEA and YSpace offer several innovative programs and events for entrepreneurs at all stages, including curated programming dedicated to under-represented groups like Black entrepreneurs and women founders.

To learn more about this partnership, visit BEA’s website at YSpace.