Over the past decade, faculty, staff and students at the University of Toronto have developed a remarkable culture of entrepreneurship. In fact, since 2007, U of T has been at the heart of one of the fastest-growing entrepreneurial clusters on the continent. And since 2010, no single university in North America has created more startup companies than U of T and its partner hospitals.
One of the exciting aspects of this phenomenon is the increasing prominence of our students in bringing cutting-edge research to the marketplace. Among this remarkable group, international graduate students are making substantial contributions – a fact that deserves greater attention, especially as we celebrate the university’s ability to attract top talent and its role in driving the Toronto region’s culture of innovation. Here are two examples.
Nilesh Bansal (originally from India) and Professor Nick Koudas founded Sysomos, the social media analytics company, based on Bansal’s research as a master’s student in computer science. The company’s software processes vast amounts of social-media data in seconds, enabling users to analyze and customize marketing campaigns with unprecedented speed and effectiveness. With offices in Toronto, San Francisco, San Jose and London, Sysomos recently announced plans to expand its team and introduce a number of new products.
Zhibin Wang (originally from China) co-founded OTI Lumionics with fellow engineering PhD students Michael Helander and Jacky Qiu. The company, developed with the help of the Rotman School’s Creative Destruction Lab, manufactures the world’s most efficient organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs). OLEDs are becoming the industry standard in the production of advanced electronic screens. By manufacturing them on plastic, OTI Lumionics offers a less expensive and more durable product. Last year, the company launched aerelight, the world’s first consumer-ready OLED lamp. In February this year, they received a substantial investment from Sustainable Development Technology Canada, to reduce production time dramatically. Today, OTI Lumionics employs 15 staff – many of them U of T alumni.
These are just two examples of how our brilliant international graduate students are contributing to the innovative capacity of the Greater Toronto Area. Of course, this role will come as no surprise, particularly here in the world’s most multicultural urban region. For generations, the combination of immigration and higher education has been crucial in enabling the city to reinvent itself continually over time. In today’s world, this combination is a huge advantage for Toronto, and for Ontario and Canada, providing the backbone of an educated, diverse and highly creative workforce.
Welcoming students from around the world is a win-win. International graduate students – and indeed faculty, staff and students at every level from abroad – enrich and internationalize the university experience for our entire academic community. These students also open doors and forge connections whether they stay and become Canadian citizens or return home as Canadian ambassadors.
U of T’s computer science department, for example, is ranked among the top 10 in the world and its graduates are keenly sought after by leading businesses at home and abroad. Among its international students, approximately 50 per cent choose to remain in Canada and make their careers here after graduation, many of them as entrepreneurs. But those who return to their countries of origin also make a great impact for the better, while heightening the reputation of U of T – and the Toronto region – as a global talent destination.
For the fall 2014 term, U of T received 3,565 applications to its PhD programs from students outside the country – over half of them in subjects such as sciences, engineering and mathematics. Unfortunately, we had the financial capacity to accept only 219 of them. This is a very significant missed opportunity for Canada, when we are forced to turn away so many immensely talented applicants.
With greater support for international graduate students from our partners in government and the private sector, together we could take a big step forward in our ability to draw the best and brightest from around the world – a development that would bode well for our economic and social prosperity, now and for generations to come.