On the heels of a newly redesigned logo and website, FounderProject kicked off their November series of events on Wednesday night when the student-run venture capital organization hosted OMERS Venture’s John Ruffolo to speak at the first of four “FounderExpo” events.
We last covered FounderProject last week when they formally announced the four events- meant to serve as preambles to one massive event on December 4 to be held simultaneously in both Toronto and Montreal. That event will be webcasted to the public and both the Toronto and Montreal crowds will be able to watch every pitch via screens.
Wednesday night attracted 150 students, entrepreneurs and investors to the 26th floor of the PwC Tower in Toronto, where about 35 student startups pitched their ideas to six investors/ mentors. The mentors who came were Ruffolo (OMERS Ventures), Matt Roberts (BDC Venture Capital), Aron Solomon (MaRS), Ben Zlotnick (INcubes), Gideon Hayden (OMERS Ventures) and Russell Samuels (Mantella VP).
FounderProject’s Ilan Saks told us that student startups from universities all across the Greater Toronto Area pitched at the event, and some will receive follow-on meetings with investors.
Emily Luk is FounderProject’s director for its Toronto team. She told BetaKit that some were shocked at the calibre and originality of the ideas presented. “Especially because many of them were only 20 or 21 years old,” said Luk. Many of the 35 student startups who pitched had never actually pitched their startup to anyone, let alone an investor before.
Nevertheless, those who attended apparently come away impressed. Luk said she was extremely pleased with how the event went. FounderProject’s existence lies upon enabling student startups by providing them with the help they need.
“A lot of them were telling us they don’t know where to find the resources, and not having access to that is one of their biggest issues. It validated our vision and it was proof that there are student startups out there who want to be a part of this kind of thing,” she said. “Our entire premise is that students are interested in doing things that aren’t traditional career paths, and it proved to us that those people both exist and they’re much further along that we would have guessed.”
Zlotnick echoed those sentiments. The founder of Toronto’s INcubes accelerator program for startups said that FounderProject’s Toronto team did an “awesome job of bringing out a diversified group of students from across the Toronto University scene, which was very impressive.”
“The vibe was really strong in the room, and the passion was definitely there,” said Zlotnick. “From the ones I saw, some might have some promise down the road. The most interesting pitch I heard was from a startup that caught me on the elevator down and walked me over to King Street before we split off!”
Luk emphasized that the team is “strong and incredibly diverse in background”. Finally, the Toronto director said that she witnessed several connections being made in front of her eyes- as any event host would see happen – but for students interested in the entrepreneur life, it’s quite a special time in their development. Being able to watch the networking unfold was rewarding for her.
“They told us they had no idea others were doing similar things. People were inspired by the fact that normal, everyday students were doing amazing things.”
Solomon, the senior advisor at MaRS Discovery District, called it a “huge night for the Toronto startup community.”