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Business Boot Camp

U of T’s “technopreneur” program gives scientists such as Mallika Das a crash course in running their own company

For protection from the ravages of water and ice, wood products are often treated with volatile organic compounds and other chemicals that can be toxic to human and animal life. But Mallika Das, an entrepreneur who earned a PhD in chemistry from U of T, is using nanomaterials to develop a new kind of water-repellent wood coating that she says will be easier on the environment.

Her fledgling company, Ecoatra, is also exploring antimicrobial treatments for windows and the idea of coated nets, which can slightly raise or lower the temperature and humidity over a small area. Das hopes such “smartnets” could be used as a low-cost alternative to greenhouses in developing countries.

Das was a scientist with good ideas but no experience running her own business when she entered Techno 2010 – a sort of entrepreneur’s boot camp offered at U of T’s Institute for Optical Sciences. The course stretched across an intense summer month, taking up most of her evenings and weekends. Within half a year, however, she’d started her own company, and has been growing it full time ever since. “This company wouldn’t be in existence if I hadn’t gone to this course,” says Das.

The course for “technopreneurs” is the brainchild of Cynthia Goh, the director of the Institute for Optical Sciences. The program gives young scientists and engineers a crash course in technology development and business, including finance, marketing and human resources. In Das’s case, it also brought her idea to the attention of the Ontario Centres of Excellence, which focuses on the commercialization of research. The group gave her a small grant that helped her hire two staff members. “Seed money can be very useful,” she says. “It wasn’t a lot, but it gave us a chance to go for this.”

Das sees herself in business for the long term – and says the Techno 2010 mentorship was particularly important to her development. “They light a fire,” she says, “and then stand back and let you grow.”

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