U of T Entrepreneurship’s Jon French on the new RBC Innovation Challenge – and what students need to know

The University of Toronto and RBC have partnered to launch the RBC Innovation Challenge, the latest joint initiative to strengthen innovation and entrepreneurship efforts on campus and beyond.

The annual university-wide competition is open to all U of T students and invites multidisciplinary teams to focus on technology projects with the potential for global impact.

For its first year, the theme is “Technology for a Greener Future” and asks students how technology and data can be used to help Canada meet its 2050 net zero goals.. The challenge, which will officially launch with an event on October 11, will run until January 26 and consists of three phases: “Discover”, which gives students the opportunity to be inspired, form teams and register them by November 13. deadline; “Develop”, when they will create an initial version of their product or service; and “Deliver”, when the teams will present to a panel of expert judges.

Writer Alyson Bruce recently sat down with Jon Frenchdirector, U of T Entrepreneurship (UTE), to learn more about the challenge and opportunity it presents for student entrepreneurs.


How did the idea for the challenge come about?

We can start with the obvious – the science is clear. Human activity is having a devastating impact on our planet and many experts say the climate crisis is the most significant threat facing our society. Additionally, the U of T has always been a leader when it comes to creating innovative solutions to global problems, dating back to the discovery of insulin in 1921. This is just another opportunity to use our technology and expertise to help generate positive societal and economic impact. .

At the same time, the U of T is proud to be one of Canada’s leading public institutions committed to the goal of reaching net zero by 2050. We have strong collaborative initiatives in our ecosystem of innovation, including the School of Cities, BioZone, the Mass Timber Institute, the Environmental Governance Lab at the Munk School of Global Studies and Public Policy, the Adams Sustainability Celebration and one of the most ambitious strategic initiatives in the university, the Climate Positive Energy strategic initiative, which is a delivery partner for this year’s challenge.

U of T Entrepreneurship provides an ideal launch pad to take on the challenge, as we see huge potential for some of the projects created over the next few months to have commercial application. Our vibrant startup ecosystem has produced 107 companies in cleantech alone and they have raised $496 million in research funding and are advancing research into converting CO2 into renewable fuels and materials, decarbonization technologies, hydrogen and renewable energies such as solar energy.

What is RBC’s role?

An initiative like this needs a committed partner and we are fortunate to be working with RBC, who have long supported the U of T innovation ecosystem. This is the latest in a series of RBC-supported activities, ranging from startup pitch competitions, fellowships and ONRamp, our coworking and collaboration space on the St. George campus. As one of the largest banks in the world by market capitalization, RBC has an important role to play in the journey to net zero and has demonstrated its commitment to action through the RBC Climate Blueprint. With over 10,000 employees working in different technical roles, they are also very interested in how technology can be used for positive societal and economic impact.

Ultimately, it’s about learning, networking and developing entrepreneurial/intrapreneurial skills while having fun in a way that could make a big difference.

How will the challenge work?

Any current U of T student at any level, in any academic discipline, is eligible to participate. Projects created during the challenge will either be new or less than six months old, meaning it’s not for already well-established startups. Teams of three to six students can be formed in multiple ways – through curricular or extracurricular initiatives (including coursework, cornerstones, etc.), through the Entrepreneurship Accelerator Network of the ‘U of T and also from facilitated encounters and ideation clinics. Once established, teams will have approximately two months to develop their projects, with support throughout the process from RBC subject matter experts, educational advisors, targeted workshops – all culminating in a pitch competition for prizes January 26.

The strongest teams are likely to be multidisciplinary and representative of our diverse student body, as multiple perspectives lead to more effective and inclusive solutions to the world’s biggest problems. Teams are encouraged to focus on technology projects that are relevant to Canadians, small and medium enterprises or large enterprises and government. We hope to see a wide range of projects in areas such as: measuring, reporting and reducing carbon emissions; clean and renewable energy; food safety; responsible investment; transportation; clean water, sustainable manufacturing materials and planetary health, to name a few.

Why should students participate?

This is a great opportunity for students to work on an impactful project over a long period of time and not only learn from some of the world’s best climate innovators, researchers and experts, but also create a network of peers who are passionate about similar activities. .

There’s also $100,000 in prizes for the top teams, including a $35,000 first-place prize and a $10,000 audience prize. The best team will also be able to present their project – and represent the U of T – at an upcoming global climate conference or summit, taking carbon offsets into account.

We anticipate that some of these projects will also be transformed into startups supported by the U of T Entrepreneurship community, which consists of more than 10 accelerators spread across the three campuses. For finalist project teams that enter and pursue business creation, an additional $10,000 is available in the form of startup service vouchers to offset the cost of professional services such as legal and intellectual property protection, marketing, finance/accounting and more.

The university’s Innovations and Partnerships Office (IPO) is also committed to working with eligible teams in hopes of commercializing the results of their projects, while RBC is also exploring ways to support the talent of the university. ‘U of T and the team members and projects that emerge from the challenge.

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