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Photo of Francis Shen.
Francis Shen. Photo by Anya Chibis

Alumnus Elevates Entrepreneurship with $1-million Donation

Philanthropy key to supporting student inventors

U of T’s aim to help students create the next generation of successful Canadian companies got a lift this past summer from Francis Shen (MASc 1983), who built his own multimillion-dollar business right out of grad school. Shen has donated $1 million to U of T’s Institute for Aerospace Studies to develop an entrepreneurship incubator, providing future engineers with the kinds of competencies and opportunities he’s gained over decades in business.

“I want to show graduate students that there are more options than simply finding a job after you graduate,” says Shen. “Instead of working for someone else, you can create jobs for yourself and others, building prosperity within your community and giving back to your economy.”

Shen’s program will provide mentorship, networking and funding to participants with promising ideas, while encouraging collaboration amongst the groups.

“The Institute for Aerospace Studies is an ideal place for an entrepreneurship program of this type,” says Prof. David Zingg, director of the institute. “Our cutting-edge research has the potential to be commercialized in so many different areas, both within and outside aerospace, as has so often been demonstrated in the past.”

In 1983, Shen founded Aastra, a research and development consulting firm that rapidly grew to become North America’s largest provider of caller ID units. The firm recently merged with Mitel Networks Corp. for a combined worth of more than $1 billion. The merged company serves more than 60 million customers around the world.

Shen looks forward to being involved with the program and seeing students progress. “I want to do something meaningful with my time and with my resources,” he says. “I want to give back to the place that helped me get my start.”

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