Supported by nine different incubator and accelerator hubs spread across three campuses, University of Toronto startups and the entrepreneurs behind them are pushing the boundaries in industries ranging from foodstuffs to health care.
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.
Leila Keshavjee of Happy Pops, which makes all-natural ice pops (photo by Chris Sorensen)
Leila Keshavjee originally planned to study medicine, but took a detour in 2016 when she spotted a 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.
So she took the plunge.
“I think the days of red, white and blue popsicles are done,” Keshavjee told U of T News last year. “All those artificial ingredients we’re feeding kids has to stop – and I’m on a mission to change that.”
The progress has been quick. Keshavjee “hustled hard” to get the word out, believing that if customers tried her bold, natural flavours they would be instant converts.
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, she’s preparing to relaunch the brand and prove that ice pops can be more than a summertime treat.
(photo by Chris Sorensen)
Run by a brother-sister team, Structura Biotechnology is based on a simple premise, even if the technology underpinning is far from straightforward: It’s much easier to discover new, life-saving drugs if you can see what you’re doing.
“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 despite the fact that it hasn’t begun to actively market its software.