University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine
From left: U of T professors Craig Simmons and Peter Zandstra and PhD students Jennifer Ma and Curtis Woodford are among the dozens of researchers who will work to advance treatments for heart patients at the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research
Craig Simmons, Peter Zandstra and Jennifer Ma. Photo by Anya Chibis

Testing the Waters

U of T offers undergrads the chance to try being entrepreneurs – without any of the risk

Ashrith Domun, a third-year chemical engineering student, was learning about business plans in an entrepreneurship course when he stumbled across what he reckoned was a good market opportunity: business incentives meant to kickstart the sluggish hydrogen fuel cell industry. “It seemed like a green light all the way.”

This past March, he pitched his roommate, Stefan Attig, a fourth-year student in environmental studies, on joining forces to apply for a spot at the Hatchery, a three-year-old business accelerator run by the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering. An engineering science student, Tian Tian, approached Domun and Attig about joining the team and the three put in a pitch. Several months later, they’re working on a plan to operate buses equipped with hydrogen fuel cells. They’re testing the commercial viability of their plan with a proposal for the shuttle bus service between U of T’s Mississauga and St. George campuses.

The Hatchery serves students in the earliest stage of the entrepreneurship “ecosystem” at U of T, offering undergraduate teams that include at least one engineer an opportunity to launch start-ups, based on a strong idea that solves customers’ problems. Each team is assigned a private-sector mentor and receives help with registering patents and creating a business plan. UTSC has launched a similar earlystage innovation centre, known as The Hub, and, in February, U of T Mississauga will open its own version, I-Cube.

Joseph Orozco, who co-founded the Hatchery, says the program has attracted multi-disciplinary teams working on wearable technology, medical applications and software. A few have gone on to commercialize their products. One Hatchery start-up, FuelWear, which makes thermal garments that heat up when you’re feeling cool, has raised $80,000 on a crowdfunding website.

Basic start-up advice and feedback are key components of the Hatchery’s program, whose students likely have no business experience. Domun says meetings with other hydrogen entrepreneurs gave his team a feel for the gaps in the Canadian market, validated their assumptions about the industry and provided contacts with potential equipment suppliers. At the Hatchery’s “demo day,” Domun’s team, called Hydron, presented its plan to other students and mentors.

The feedback they got throughout the Hatchery process prompted Hydron’s partners to reorient their game plan. The original idea was to build a hydrogen refuelling infrastructure for the province, but they learned that the sector is dogged by a chicken-and-egg problem: refuelling infrastructure only generates a return if there are vehicles, but no one purchases vehicles because there’s no refuelling infrastructure. With their revised market strategy – running corporate vehicle fleets using fuel cells – they also learned the importance of a compelling sales pitch. “The Hatchery makes you do things that you don’t think are important,” says Domun. “They forced us to focus on communications a lot.”

Recent Posts

Photo of front campus field and Convocation Hall with flower emoji illustrations floating above

Clearing the Air

U of T wants to drastically cut carbon emissions by 2050. It’s enlisting on-campus ingenuity for help

Abstract illustration showing a red-coloured body and face, with small black and white pieces flowing from inside body out of the mouth, and the U.S. Capitol Building dangling on puppet strings from one hand

The Extremism Machine

Online disinformation poses a danger to society. Researchers at U of T’s Citizen Lab are tracking it – and trying to figure out how to stop it

Prof. Mark V. Campbell with a beige background and red lighting

Charting Hip Hop’s Course

Professor Mark V. Campbell grew up during the early years of rap music. Now, he is helping preserve Canadian hip-hop culture for future generations

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *