With the largest student body in Canada — including a staggering 67,128 undergrads and upwards of 700 undergraduate programs — the University of Toronto is not the easiest place to make meaningful connections. Students are further isolated on several structural levels, including year of study, faculty, and specialization.
The Hatchery is trying to change this.
Created nearly three years ago, the Hatchery is one of the university’s most innovative solutions to building bridges across different faculties. The program is designed for students who think they have a marketable idea that they are interested in pursuing, but don’t know where or how to start.
Carmen Choi, a communications manager for the Hatchery, stresses the importance of academic diversity at the heart of the Hatchery and encourages students from multiple disciplines to get involved.
“[The Hatchery] allowed me to network outside my comfort zone and meet people in more technical fields,” explains Choi. She has a humanities background and received a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and economics at U of T.
Networking is an important aspect of the Hatchery experience, and part of the first step in the program’s three-tier system: entrepreneurial evangelism, the Hatchery process, and the startup launch. Phase one is designed to provide students with the opportunity to collaborate with one another outside of the constrictions of faculties and programs.
“The evangelism section happens throughout the academic year and feeds into the application process,” says Choi. She encourages students to attend Hatchery events, even if they don’t have a solid or coherent business plan, in order to connect with other, often equally apprehensive students.
Weekly “Idea Markets” act as informal mixers, which serve to facilitate networking and collaboration among students in a neutral, non-academic environment.
“The market is a casual way to bounce ideas off people and get a sense of what the public might feel about it,” explains Choi, who stresses the importance of interaction at the markets.
BUILDING DIVERSE TEAMS
The goal of the Idea Markets is to establish relationships towards building a strong, multidisciplinary team for the next step in the program: the Hatchery process and application.
Stage two of the process emphasizes the importance of inter-faculty and inter-program collaboration, as well as proactively encourages women to become involved in potential startup teams.
According to Choi, women are a minority in the program. “Entrepreneurship is tied, typically, to engineering and computer sciences, where, structurally, there is a deficit in women,” says Choi.
“The mandate of the Hatchery is to open up the space,” explains Choi, adding, “We want to tackle the problem [of female involvement] from a more equalizing space so it’s not gender[ed] or discriminatory.”
MENTORSHIP AND LAUNCH
The third and final segment of the Hatchery process is the startup launch. In this phase, which is only available to groups who are successful throughout the evangelism and application processes, students receive funding as well as support from influential members of the Toronto entrepreneurship community.
The mentorship program is essential for students who plan to pursue their startup as a full-time career.
“We have mentors who are on the board of directors,” says Choi, “[They] are entrepreneurial alumni who are interested in helping younger students ease the transition from being a student to someone who’s running their own business.”
“We maintain a relationship with [the teams] so that they’re not pushed out into the open and have to fend for themselves — our doors are always open. We really want to help them with succeeding,” she adds.
For teams that do not launch successfully, the Hatchery offers alternative opportunities for students to rework their ideas into a refined start-up that could still warrant interest from business investors and partners.
“[What] we also have as an in,frastructure for teams who didn’t win is a collaborat[ion] with the Ontario Center of Excellence, who are really invested in getting young entrepreneurs involved in the market,” explains Choi, who also highlights the Hatchery’s continuous involvement with successful start-up launches.
More than just an opportunity to create a profitable business, the Hatchery is U of T’s premier program to inspire students from various faculties to work collaboratively and branch out from their respective areas of study.
“One of the major goals is breaking stereotypical views of what someone in [Arts & Science] would perceive an engineer as, and what an engineering person would perceive an [Arts & Science student] as,” explains Choi, adding: “Its so easy to disregard each others degrees, people forget to look at each other on a neutral ground, and to foster a collaborative environment.“