Last Wednesday, University of Toronto (U of T)’s annual Entrepreneurship Week featured a series of highly anticipated business events hosted by several incubators and accelerator programs. The week-long salute to academia-owned innovation and research-based start-ups included the “Pitch with a Twist” event, presented by ICUBE UTM. 

Sponsored by a diverse range of organizations, such as the Mississauga Board of Trade and International Women’s Day, Pitch with a Twist showcased an exciting business pitch contest at the Innovation Complex (KN).

Eight innovator finalists, each representing a unique business sector, presented concise and well-rounded proposals in their engaging pitches. The finalists each competed for the chance to win cash prizes or in-kind support awarded to their ventures.

Pitch with a Twist was presented in theme with International Women’s Day. The event comprised of a team of female-identifying judges, including a panellist discussion featuring award-winning entrepreneur Kiana ‘rookz’ Eastmond. 

During the event, keynote speaker Eastmond reflected on her personal journey as CEO and director of the urban music artist development and recording facility in Toronto, Sandbox Studios. The “accessible, creative space” was founded by Eastmond to “cultivate, develop, and empower Canadian artists.”

In her speech, Eastmond described the institutional obstacles for urban artists in Canada. Through her own challenges, Eastmond found motivation to create the groundwork necessary for the successful growth and promotion of Canadian urban artists. 

“There’s always an opportunity for you to connect with another human being,” said Eastmond. “And that’s why, for me, I always talk about the humanity in business, but also just the humanity in your existence.”

The pitch contest was open to students in UTM or Sheridan College, or participants of the EDGE or ICUBE programs. Women-led start-ups were encouraged to apply, reserving the spotlight prize for a female-founder company. 

The event welcomed applications from any entrepreneurs who owned small start-ups incorporated in Canada with under $100k in revenue or investments. 

Kasey Dunn, Program Coordinator at ICUBE UTM, began the evening discussing how biasness and stereotypes have the potential to “shape the aspirations of women and young girls.”

“We need to support women to define success in their own ways and to ensure that their contributions are being valued,” said Dunn. 

According to the department for Entrepreneurship, U of T has been globally recognized among the top 10 university-managed incubators. The university is also rated number one in the country for its research-based start-ups.

ICUBE UTM, a hub that belongs to the Institute for Management and Innovation, provides “support, resources, and access to opportunities for entrepreneurial students and community members across all industries.”

The hub congratulated four of the eight pitch winners who earned over $20k in prizes at the event’s conclusion.

The “Enterprising Female Founder” recognition was awarded to Kushi Kaur for the venture Joint App. The remaining three winners included: the “Global Impact Award” to Shirook Ali for Ecosystems Informatics (ESI), the “Dynamic Entrepreneur Award” to Dr. Imad Salim and Jubar Choudhury from Saha Health Group, and “Innovative Technology Award” to Emil Sylvester Ramos and Milan Pandey of IRIS. 

Rounding up the finalists were the creators of Nodis, Joint App, Moveo, Tenatch, IRIS, ESI, Sitti, and Saha Health.   

Nodis is a website that helps keep local businesses afloat by connecting them with local communities through social media and online engagement. Joint App is a soon-to-launch app that helps international students save time and money by virtually connecting them to immigration legal services and resources. Moveo is an online short film streaming platform connecting small filmmakers with large audiences, offering global exposure and promotion. 

Tenatch is a retail solutions company offering small businesses the opportunity to optimize their location and reach more consumers in high-density cities. IRIS is a smart AI technology dashcam helping cities monitor road networks and to improve road deficiencies (like potholes) and reduce maintenance costs. ESI is an organization that uses advanced technology to monitor and facilitate data analysis to safeguard healthy and smart ecosystem management. 

Sitti is a social enterprise offering employment opportunities through community-based programming for women and girls in refugee camps. Saha Health is digitizing the customer experience by revolutionizing and customizing the health benefits space.

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