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Seeking startup ideas at a top-tier computer science department

Photo: Comp Sci Entrepreneurship Day

Members of the department of computer science and ROSS team celebrate at the inaugural Entrepreneurship Day.

What happens when one of the world’s top ten computer science departments gets involved in entrepreneurship?

University of Toronto students and industry contacts were invited to find out at the department’s inaugural Entrepreneurship Day February 27, sponsored by International Business Machines Corporation (IBM).

“Entrepreneurship Day is a new annual event where students can showcase how they are engaging in entrepreneurial activities, whether it be through startups, projects with industry, or their involvement with the programming community,” said Helen Kontozopoulous, coordinator and instructor of entrepreneurship‐related initiatives in the department. “We want to give students a stage where we can highlight the work and inventions they are creating outside of the classroom.”

The Department of Computer Science also announced its new Innovation Lab (DCSIL) located within the Gerstein Science Information Centre.

“Our plan is to create an incubator that gives students the chance to use their research and academic skills to create software‐based startups,” said Paul Gries, senior lecturer and associate chair for undergraduate studies in the department.

“The DCS Innovation Lab will introduce students to the structure and dynamics of the software industry and will include students from across the university – from different disciplines – to collaborate with computer science students to create innovative programming ideas.”

Among such multidisciplinary examples is Ross Intelligence, which shared its IBM Watson University Challenge presentation as part of Entrepreneurship Day. The team members spanned the disciplines of computer science, information studies and law and were enrolled in the computer science business of software course that took them to the contest.

They are now a full‐fledged company, part of IBM’s Watson ecosystem.

“Our students can solve problems through creative and innovative software solutions and computer science is an instrumental core for these multidisciplinary projects,” said Kontozopoulous.

Entrepreneurship Day and initiatives such as the Innovation Lab aim to enhance student’s skills and capitalize on their innovations; this year alone, undergraduate students in computer science have won six medals in cross-Canada and international hackathons.

Upcoming challenges include Aquahacking, presented by the de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation in partnership with IBM, bringing together citizens, field experts and digital professionals who believe technology can serve Québec’s and Canada’s waterways. The first Aquahacking will focus on the Ottawa River.

And for those interested in city building, a city‐wide challenge will create new apps for the City of Toronto.

The Department of Computer Science Innovation Lab will also be offering a summer entrepreneurship program starting this May.