Ryerson offers many resources to support entrepreneurship on campus, such as incubator zones like the DMZ — but it’s not the only one around. Here’s a complete guide to understanding the Zone Learning incubators at Ryerson.
Ryerson Zone Learning
What it is: Ryerson Zone Learning is a network on campus responsible for overseeing all 10 of the incubators. This is also where new learning zones are created and managed. Randy Boyagoda, director of Zone Learning, defines it as a larger, administrative umbrella regrouping all the learning zones at Ryerson. Zone Learning also helps students with or without a business, product, or design idea find which zone would be right for them and connecting them with the appropriate representatives.
For more information: ryerson.ca/zonelearning
What it is: Located in the Student Learning Centre, the Launch Zone is a space where students who are curious about entrepreneurship can go to learn and develop entrepreneurial skills. It’s also a destination for those who have a project idea in mind and would like to turn it into a business. The Launch Zone is open to any idea and business concept regardless of the field. It also helps those with an innovative idea to turn it into a business and get ready to pitch it to an incubator on campus.
What they offer: The Launch Zone offers a series of workshops and events. One, which is called Startup School and takes place every Tuesday night, is split into three levels of modules (beginner, intermediate and advanced), and is often hosted by industry members. These events are meant for anyone who wishes to learn about entrepreneurship.
How to become part of it: Any student can join the Launch Zone, even those without entrepreneurial experience. There is no application process to follow (unless you wish to have a one-on-one meeting). You can also attend the events and workshops any time if you register on the zone’s website.
Digital Media Zone
What it is: The DMZ is Canada’s top university incubator and aims to help the development of technology-focused startups “further along in terms of growth,” according to the zone’s media relations officer, Dasha Pasiy. It helps emerging companies by connecting them with resources, like advisors and customers. The zone is not exclusive to the Ryerson community, it’s for anyone with a startup. The zone says its goal is “to forge a home for digital industry and entrepreneurship in Toronto, and keep talent in Canada.” It has also served as a model for many incubators and learning zones on campus.
What they offer: Startups get a four-month membership at the DMZ, which gives them access to a variety of tools, such as a dedicated workspace, workshops, mentorship, and networking opportunities. When the four-month term ends, companies can pay a membership fee to stay and access the co-working space and services, according to Pasiy. Access to seed funding is also possible, depending how far along startups are in their business.
How to become part of it: The DMZ requires three things before a startup applies: an innovative business idea addressing an issue using technology, a complete business plan, and a working prototype ready to be commercialized or already on the market. For students, if one of these requirements is missing, the DMZ suggests receiving assistance from the other learning zones on campus, and passing the ideation stage of the product. If a startup meets the criteria, the applicants need to fill out the application form online. The DMZ then reviews the application to determine if the business is ready to be presented to their steering committee at the monthly pitch session.
What it is: The Fashion Zone is an incubator supporting the growth of startups and helping in the development of fashion-related products or services. “We are producing experiential learning at Ryerson University, which is a second level of education,” said Ayyyna Budaeva, the Fashion Zone’s marketing director. “We are focusing on fashion and technology, yes, but it’s a part of the bigger fashion innovation space.” They incubate startups for four months or longer, depending on their progress.
What they offer: Members have access to a wide array of resources: technology equipment, such as 3D printers to fabricate and design prototypes, boardrooms, meeting rooms, computer access, and mentorship from industry experts and entrepreneurs. Depending on their membership level, companies also have access to their own dedicated workspace. Budaeva said they “assist startups in getting scholarships and grants.” Additionally, the Fashion Zone organizes workshops and seminars every month.
How to become part of it: The zone offers three types of memberships: company, associate, and apprentice. Applicants with a business plan or a prototype may apply for the company membership. The associate membership is for those with a business idea, but who would like to work with another startup in order to learn how to build a business. Finally, the apprentice membership is exclusive to Ryerson community members without a business idea, but with a passion for entrepreneurship and who wish to learn new skills. To apply, participants need to fill out the online form found on the zone’s website, followed by receiving feedback on their application or brand, and then go through an interview process.
Innovation Centre for Urban Energy
What it is: The Innovation Centre for Urban Energy is the incubator branch of the Centre of Urban Energy. Launched in 2012, the zone helps entrepreneurs build energy-focused projects and make them profitable whether it’s a product, a new technology, or a service. The focus is on research and business innovation, and enabling student innovation through experiential learning. The iCUE assists in the development of projects addressing issues in the urban energy field, which can range between the creation of an electric vehicle, renewable energy, and smart grid technologies.
What they offer: Students can collaborate with each other or CUE researchers, receive mentorship, access workspace, and access financial and intellectual capital.
How to become part of it: Anyone with an innovative energy-related idea can apply to be a member of the iCUE. Those interested in incubating their idea at the iCUE should contact its executive director, Dan McGillivray.
Design Fabrication Zone
What it is: This incubator hub is a partnership between Ryerson’s School of Interior Design and the department of architectural science, which is where students can bring their concept and turn it into a design and fabrication innovation or business. Projects can be designed and fabricated at the zone for design competitions, for events like Nuit Blanche, or to address a need, such as with the creation of a portable electronic device sanitizer. The DFZ also collaborates with engineers and engineering students, as well as fashion industry members and students.
What they offer: The zone offers students networking opportunities with industry members, mentorship, meeting spaces, training workshops, and tutorials. Members also get access to technology to facilitate the design and conception of prototypes.
How to become part of it: Students and alumni are eligible to become members at the DFZ. The application process requires candidates to fill out a form found on the DFZ’s website. The DFZ’s administrative team reviews the application and, if it is relevant to the their mission, the applicants meet with the team. After the meeting, the team notifies the applicants whether their project has been approved.
What it is: Located on the second floor of the Rogers Communications Centre, the Transmedia Zone supports entrepreneurs in developing their ideas for innovative methods of storytelling with a focus on emerging platforms. These storytelling platforms include social networks and other services.
What they offer: The zone offers their members, known as Residents, an incubation period of four months. Residents get access to an open-space office, dedicated workspace, access to various equipment and facilities, mentorship, as well as workshops, seminars, and networking opportunities with industry experts.
How to become part of it: The Transmedia Zone is open to students, alumni or industry experts. It offers three types of memberships: prototype, interns, or as a member of the new Think Tank Ideation Team. Prototype is for those who already have an idea and a strong project plan, where an intern is paired with a current project in order to develop new and existing skills. And the Think Tank Ideation Team is for those without an idea but who, according to the zone’s website, want to “tackle creative challenges from various industries.” Applications are available online, but the zone only accepts pitches three times a year — winter, summer, and fall.
What it is: The SocialVentures Zone is an incubator hub supporting the development of products and services focusing on bringing social change to a community. It describes itself as being a zone “for changemakers and social entrepreneurs.” The goal of SocialVentures is to address and generate social change by ways of social innovation and social entrepreneurship.
What they offer: Members of the SocialVentures Zone offers similar benefits to the other zones, such as mentorship, a co-working space, and the possibility of incubation funding, but they have a 12-month time frame for their projects. The zone offers the possibility for its members to take undergraduate credit courses, offered by the faculty of arts, on viable social ventures, innovation in social change and social challenges. Members can also attend workshops focused on entrepreneurship and innovation.
How to become part of it: Ryerson graduate and undergraduate students, and alumni, may apply as a team or individually, alongside anyone outside of campus. To pitch an idea, SocialVentures requires applicants to fill out the application form found on their website, which asks to describe their project and its current stage of development.
Legal Innovation Zone
What it is: Created just six months ago, the Legal Innovation Zone supports the development of projects and technologies aiming to improve legal services, covering any aspect of the law, within the Canadian justice system. The goal is that, at the end of the four-month time frame given to a project, they will come up with solutions to address a particular issue of the law. It also partners with the legal community, the governments and organizations to help tackle challenges, according to the zone’s website. While it follows a similar approach to that of the DMZ in helping the incubation of businesses, those with an idea are not required to have a full plan before they get on board. They welcome new applicants on a monthly basis.
What they offer: The zone offers support similar to most of the other zones, says the zone’s director, Hersh Perlis, meaning members have access to workshops and co-working space. They also have access to mentors and advisors “who have already built companies, people who can advise on marketing, who can advise on finance, and so on,” Perlis says. He also says, “the most important thing is the culture of innovation,” and adds that the companies inside the Legal Innovation Zone “are able to work with each other.” In terms of resources, Perlis says the zone uses “all of the resources of the DMZ. We rely really heavily on the DMZ.”
How to become part of it: Any student can apply to become a member of the zone — the only prerequisite is to have a business or project idea in mind. Applicants need to fill out the application form on their website and, within two days or so of the application date, they should hear from the zone, according to Perlis. “You don’t even necessarily need a business plan. You really need a unique idea that we think is going to make something in the law smarter, faster, better,” he says. The zone also accepts volunteers who would like to sharpen their entrepreneurial skills or help with current projects. If you have an idea but not a plan yet, apply as an individual or a group. If you wish to build your entrepreneurial skills and you have no idea for a project, apply as an associate and help other companies and individuals at the zone. Perlis says, “as long as you’re doing something innovative within the law and you’re able to express it and pitch it in the proper way,” applicants have a chance to be a part of the zone.
What it is: The Biomedical Zone is a collaborative project between Ryerson University and St. Michael’s Hospital for scientists, clinicians, and entrepreneurs. The zone describes itself as being a collaborative space to create commercial biomedical or healthcare ventures to meet needs in the industry. It is also a channel to allow clinicians to leverage resources at the DMZ.
What it offers: A team membership and the average length for a project’s incubation at the zone ranges between four to 12 months. The Biomedical Zone is in a clinical setting, which means founders can easily test their projects and its potential. The members receive mentorship from industry experts and entrepreneurs, and have access to a co-working space and equipment to help them build their prototype.
How to become part of it: The zone requires that teams have a business plan and model, as well an idea with “commercial potential in the health care settings,” according to its website. The zone allows anyone to apply to join, but states that there is a preference for “teams affiliated with Ryerson University or St. Michael’s Hospital.”
Find them: Website
What it is: Launched in 2015, the iBoost Zone is a collaborative project within the department of engineering and architectural science. It’s an acceleration platform aiming to help technology entrepreneurs find solutions to customer-focused problems.
Images by Lucas Lucchitti