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NFTs for dummies: The hype, explained.

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NFTs for dummies: The hype, explained.

A quick crash course on how to use NFTs from start to finish.


NFTs have taken the world by storm. And while celebrities like Snoop Dog, Paris Hilton, Eminem and Emily Ratajkowski have embraced the NFT marketplace with open arms, you may still be asking yourself what the heck is a NFT?

Don’t worry — we are right there with you. 

NFTs have exploded in popularity, but there’s a lot of confusion around what they actually are. 

We thought we’d give a breakdown of what NFTs are, so our community can get in on the craze.

So, what in the world is a NFT?

NFTs, which stands for non-fungible tokens, are stored and secured on the public blockchain. They are unique tokens that cannot be changed, modified or destroyed. 

This means it’s a unique transaction that can’t be replaced with something else. Whereas fungible transactions are interchangeable, meaning you are trading money for the value of something. 

A prime example of a fungible transaction is when you purchase coffee. You pay a barista $4, and you get your latte. 

Non-fungible transactions are like sport trades. The Toronto Raptors traded DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard in 2018, which led to Toronto’s first-ever NBA title. The trade was a one-of-a-kind transaction. 

A computer screen with two people working at it

Where to start.

In order to do anything in the NFT realm, you’ll need to set up a few things: 

  • Crypto wallet: A crypto wallet will allow you to interact with the Ethereum blockchain. There are a ton of Ethereum wallets to choose from, but MetaMask is one of the most widely used wallets.
  • Cryptocurrency: There are a variety of different currencies that exist, and you’ll need to buy them to make transactions. For example, you can easily buy Ethereum directly within MetaMask, or through crypto-exchanges such as Coinbase
  • Marketplace: An NFT marketplace is the only place where you can store, buy and sell your NFTs. The most popular marketplace today is OpenSea. OpenSea also offers an easy process to create your own NFT, which is called “minting”. 

Once you’re set up with a crypto wallet, you’ll need to connect it to your marketplace. Think of this as setting up a credit card on your Uber Eats account.

What kind of NFTs should you buy?

That is completely up to you! NFTs are unique digital assets that you own, so think of it the same way you would a physical collectors item like art or a trading card — just in the digital economy. 

Types of NFTs you can buy include art, GIFs, sports highlights, video game skins and more. 

What do you do with a NFT after you buy it?

Again, that is entirely up to you! Just like you would collect art throughout your lifetime, you can collect NFTs to support creatives.

Some people will hold onto NFTs for potential long-term growth to turn a profit, whereas others actively trade NFTs to take advantage of price fluctuations. 

There’s no right or wrong answer here.

An image of the NFT collection Bored Ape Yacht Club

How much can NFTs go for?

In 2021 the NFT market grew exponentially, with trade volume at nearly $25 billion — up from $95 million in 2020. 

To put it into perspective, a popular NFT collection called the Bored Ape Yacht Club costs about 100 Etherum or over $400,000 CAD today. 

However, just a few short months ago you’d only be paying around 1 Ethereum for the NFT. Of course this is one of the space’s fastest-growing NFT collectibles, but nonetheless gives you an idea into just how much a NFT could be worth.

The future of NFTs

While many believe it’s only a matter of time before the NFT bubble pops, they’re certainly here to stay. Use cases for NFTs go far beyond just digital art and video games, and can translate to legal contracts, proof of ownership, licensing, certifying authenticity and much more.

For example, NFTS can be used for music royalties. Artists could generate royalties whenever their NFTs are traded, sold or bought and regain control over the value of their music. It’s safe to say that as our world becomes increasingly digitized, the need for digital ownership will be a growing need — a growing need NFTs can support.  

Ready to dive into NFTs?

Check out the DMZ’s Instagram to participate in our giveaway contest! 

We’re giving away 2 NFTs minted from a one-of-a-kind piece of artwork that was given to us from our partners at LAPSE Productions and created by Dreamdoodle.

Members of the LAPSE team gifting the NFT to the DMZ
Dario Nouri and Kyrill Lazarov, Co-Founders of LAPSE Productions, presenting their gift to Abdullah Snobar, the Executive Director of the DMZ, and Natasha Campagna, the Director of Marketing and Communications at the DMZ.

You can check out Dreamdoodle’s piece on OpenSea here

Startup legal 101: 8 common mistakes you might be making

Hear from startup lawyers on the top legal mistakes that new startups make – and how to avoid them


This is a DMZ guest blog by Konata Lake and Edward Fan of
Torys LLP

Portrait of Edward Fan in Business wear featuring a grey blazer, a checkered red tie, and a white button-up.
Edward Fan
Portrait of Konata lake in business wear with blue tie, black blazer, white button-up and glasses
Konata Lake

 

As startup lawyers, we work with founders across all stages of growth — from incorporation, to raising the first funding round, to IPO’ing or being acquired. We provide strategic and legal advice to startups as they grow, giving market perspectives and connecting clients with the broader ecosystem, including VCs and other advisors. 

Unsurprisingly, there are many legal issues that arise as your company scales. While it is your legal counsel’s job to help you navigate those obstacles, it is important to understand what may lie ahead. It is much cheaper and more time efficient to get things right at the outset rather than fixing expensive mistakes down the road.

Let’s walk through some of the most common legal issues that startups face, and how you can avoid them.

#1 – You don’t have the correct legal structure in place


A common question early-stage founders have is whether incorporating their company is worth the money—especially when they are bootstrapping, or in cases when funding is low. The general answer to this question is: yes, it is important to incorporate your startup as soon as possible.

When you incorporate your company, it will help ensure that all the work done is held in and owned by the corporation (reducing potential diligence issues later during funding rounds), and that the liability and risks of operating the business are with the corporation and not with you personally as founders. 

For example, if you are hiring an employee or contractor, you will need to make sure that the IP they create rests with the company and that a formal agreement between the corporation and the employee accomplishes this. To enter into this kind of agreement, you need a corporation. 

Another reason you should incorporate your startup early on is to better attract investment. VCs will expect your company to be incorporated on market standard terms, so being properly set up makes you much more appealing to investors.

When deciding the best legal structure, it is important to determine where you want to operate and whether you have any plans for expansion, as this will determine if you should be federally or provincially incorporated.


person signing contract

#2 – Your startup doesn’t own all its intellectual property (IP)


Not clearly showing that your company owns its IP can be a deal breaker for investors. A significant portion of your startup’s value comes from your IP, and so you should make sure you are the proper owner. This means that your company—not you, your co-founder, advisor or employees—should own all the intellectual property that it is developing, and this ownership should be fully documented. 

Everyone who works for, advises or consults with your startup should sign an appropriate confidentiality and IP assignment agreement. As a founder, you are not exempt from this requirement: you will need to assign all IP, including any pre-incorporation IP, to the company. 

If you started working on your company as a side gig while being employed elsewhere, it is important to ensure that your previous employer doesn’t have any claim over the IP you developed during that time. 

Another mistake is not employing the correct IP protection strategy for the kind of tech you are building. For example, if you have a SaaS business, you are likely hyper-focused on protecting your source code, so you may keep parts of the code a trade secret. This differs significantly from what a D2C eCommerce business selling products through Shopify might consider, which would typically focus more on trademark protection of their brand and products.

#3 – You’re not documenting your equity distribution


One of the most common mistakes for founders, especially in the early days, is to promise equity t
o individuals or companies who are helping the company without properly documenting and tracking it. This can result in a misunderstanding of the company’s ownership should a liquidity event take place. 

To avoid this, it is important to track the distribution of equity. Common documents used for this are employment agreements, board resolutions, and option grant agreements. Equity granted to employees, advisors and consultants is often subject to vesting. Vesting means that equity will be granted/released to stakeholders on a pre-determined schedule, rather than in a lump sum. If an employee leaves before their equity is fully vested, they forfeit any unvested equity back to the company.
signing a contract

#4 – You’re not properly mapping out founder shares 


Founder shares
need to be clearly documented. Don’t assume a 50/50 split or that a verbal agreement is enough. Unfortunately, disagreements among co-founders happen, including issues over ownership which can result in legal action. It is also important that vesting schedules are clearly documented and tracked, and that the recipients of the equity understand what the vesting requirements are. The standard vesting schedule for founder shares is four years with a one-year cliff. This means no shares vest for the first full year, 25% vest immediately following the one-year “cliff” period, and the remainder vest monthly or quarterly in equal installments until all the fourth anniversary of the vesting start date. 

Documents that are often used to show issuance of founder shares include a board resolution authorizing issuance of shares, a share purchase agreement or payment for shares.

You should also keep in mind that any options issued to employees should be properly approved by your board of directors and issued under a formal option plan. All options should be broken down and documented in employment agreements and option grant agreements. The standard vesting schedule for employee options is the same as that for founder shares.

#5 – You’re not complying with securities law


Every bit of equity in your startup needs to be issued in accordance with a valid securities law exemption. This means that, depending on the relevant exemption, you may need to prepare and file certain reports with the securities commission or pay related fees. 

Most startups rely on the “friends and family”, accredited investor or private issuer exemptions; however, it is important to have a solid understanding of what these exemptions entail.

 

#6 – You don’t consider how your first financing round can impact future rounds


You need to not only consider the legal and economic implications of your first financing round but also how the structure of that inaugural round can impact your ability to close future financings.

You should be focused on what rights are being granted to investors in these early-stage rounds, as mistakes can haunt a company going forward. For example, if you agree to a liquidation preference that is greater than 1x, or if you grant a preferred share class seniority over other preferred share classes, that is likely to be replicated in future rounds. Counsel with VC experience will help you avoid these pitfalls.

woman working in office#7 – You’re complicating your cap table with multiple valuation caps


Adding a valuation cap is a common way to structure convertible securities (convertible notes and SAFEs). Under this structure, investors cannot get less ownership than what’s calculated by taking their investment amount and dividing it by the valuation cap. However, having multiple valuation caps complicates your cap table. 

That is because of a combination of unfair economic treatment of investors and the nuances of corporate law. Your counsel should advise you on how to avoid this issue, or how to resolve it if it’s already happened.

# 8 – You’re not fully complying with employment laws


One of the most common diligence issues we come across is the misclassification of contractors as employees. The contractor versus employee distinction is based on several factors, including the nature of the working relationship, the level of control the contractor/employee has, and ownership of tools and equipment. 

Misclassifying contractors as employees will make you liable to the Canada Revenue Agency for failing to make the proper source deductions. In addition, you may become subject to claims from misclassified employees. 

 

Are you a startup founder with legal questions for Torys? Reach out to get your questions answered. 

Public relations 101: Our top 4 tips for success

The DMZ’s top 4 insider tricks for startup public relations success


Public relations (also known as PR) is a vital component for growth in any startup. PR helps you define your company’s narrative for the world by putting a spotlight on what your business provides as well as your success stories. 

For startups, good PR can drive brand awareness, put your name out in front of potential investors and partners, and help you become an industry leader.

Crafting a successful public relations strategy does not happen overnight. Laying the groundwork for a successful PR campaign takes time and love, which is why the DMZ is here to provide you with 4 of our go-to tips for PR success!

 

A startup founder working on PR

 

Ensure your brand and online assets are up to par

Before engaging with the media, ensure your startup is ready to show the best version of itself. That starts with an optimized website that effectively communicates who you are and what it is that you do. It is also important that your company’s social media features engaging content that is appropriate for your target audiences. 

Ask yourself, “Do I have a professional and clean website?” “Do my readers walk away with content that is worth the time they spent reading it?” Crafting a narrative for your brand at an early stage will elevate your media outreach efforts in the future.

public relations newspaper


Maintain a pulse on your industry

Media monitoring is an important part of managing how you, your competitors and/or your industry is being portrayed in the media. Google Alerts is a great free resource to scan the media for recent news and updates in your specific industry. This is one way to easily stay on top of conversations or advancements taking place in your field

Pro Tip: Add your company’s name, key updates you want to follow, and a few relevant competitors, to your Google Alerts.

If you’re setting up alerts for a health tech company, you can include relevant keywords. For example, try using ‘virtual health + Canada’, ‘e-health + Canada’, ‘digital health + launch + Canada’ , ‘competitor 1’, ‘competitor 2’  to keep an eye on industry updates and competitor milestones.

Twitter is also a great channel to monitor since most journalists are very active on Twitter. Not only do journalists amplify their own content, but they are connected to the topics and community that they cover. Take your media list one step further by following your target journalists on Twitter to monitor their content.

Make your media announcements meaningful

Have a story you want to share with the media? This is where media pitching comes in. A media pitch is an attempt to get a journalist or media outlet interested in your announcement so that they decide to cover it. Media outreach is traditionally done via email, but nowadays you can reach out to journalists via social media as well.

Ensure your announcement is newsworthy. Ask yourself these questions before you even begin to think about pitching to the media:

  • What makes my news actually newsworthy? How does it stand out from what competitors are putting out there?
  • Is my news presented in an exciting way that people will get people interested?
  • What’s a timely or enticing narrative you can tie into your announcement to elevate its attractiveness?

A startup team brainstorming PR

Be purposeful about crafting your media pitch

When it comes to media pitching, try to pitch journalists with a background in your sector. In the industry, this is called pitching to journalists with relevant ‘beats’. 

Avoid spraying your announcement to all journalists from major outlets. It’s important for you to take the time to research journalists who are writing about your beat and provide them with new perspectives or advancements in the space.  

Further, avoid attaching additional documents — unless absolutely necessary —within your pitch email. The less the journalist has to click through, the better. 

Never underestimate the power of your networks; remember to leverage them when amplifying an announcement. Provide your partners with the tools and assets they need to amplify the announcement, like social media sample posts, key messages, graphics, etc.

woman working on PR strategy
Final considerations

When looking at public relations as a strategy for your startup, ask yourself, “What is my goal in gaining PR?” Is PR a vital component of your growth because it can lead to more customers in your funnel, or are you viewing media exposure as a vanity metric? 

Oftentimes, founders look at media coverage as a silver bullet for non-related issues they may face:

  • An article in a major publication will help us acquire investment 
  • Having more “As seen on” logos on our website will help us close deals 
  • My competitors are featured in the news, so I should be too 

This is not PR as a core strategy, but the need for PR driven by fear: fear of not getting investment, losing deals, or dragging behind your competition. This is often why most startups’ PR efforts fail because it is not viewed as a means to an end, but the end goal itself. 

Understand that if you are looking at PR as a strategic objective, you are committing to focusing on it just as you would if you were to begin fundraising, hiring, or growth. Part-time focus will give your startup part-time results.

 

Looking for more PR or marketing support? Check out our programs for more insights into the support we provide our founders.

These young innovators are redefining what it means to be studentpreneurs

Meet the DMZ’s Basecamp winners

From student to startup founder, the DMZ’s student incubation program, Basecamp, helps young entrepreneurs create tech solutions to growing social and economic gaps in society.

Over the course of the summer, 22 student-led startups had the opportunity to develop and market their business idea, receive one-on-one industry mentoring, and attend expert-led workshops to gain a better understanding of the Canadian tech ecosystem. 

Bringing their innovative business ideas to life, it was another successful summer for the books! 

From edtech, artificial intelligence to cryptocurrency solutions, participating companies were anything but juvenile. 

Today’s students are digital natives. With more resources and tools available than ever before, there is a new wave of studentpreneurs who are punching well above their weight and developing unique solutions to a handful of society’s biggest challenges. 

Wrapping up the 8-week program, participating teams had the opportunity to pitch their startup ideas to a panel of judges for the chance to take home one of five grants — designed to help startups launch into the next phase of their growth — of up to $5,000 CAD.

So, who were the top winning teams of the DMZ’s Basecamp, and how are they redefining what it means to be studentpreneurs? 
mindful minutes image
After learning that only 8% of people who set goals actually achieve them, Dev, Urvush and Adisha knew there had to be a better way for people to stay accountable and accomplish their goals.

Dev Parekh

Mindful Minutes is a personal development platform that helps individuals achieve their short and long-term goals by leveraging community and group accountability.

“The Basecamp program provided us with a lot more goodies than we had expected! Over the course of just 2 months, we were able to gain valuable startup knowledge, incredible mentors and a community of like-minded motivated entrepreneurs!

The program has definitely enhanced the way we run our business, and connected us with important people and necessary resources needed to succeed.” The team plans to use their winnings for marketing, referral programs, incorporating their business, and research and development.

Urvish Patel

As leaders of a personal development startup, the team at Mindful Minutes truly understands the importance of a balanced lifestyle. 

“While taking care of your business, remember to take care of yourself. While there may be certain weeks that you need to put in the extra hours and effort to make something happen, always remember that burnout is real and can happen to anyone. Learn how to pace yourself!”

While running your own startup has a lot of perks — like being able to work at your own pace, and being your own boss — Mindful Minutes highlights that working for a startup requires a lot of commitment and grit.

Adisha Shankar

“Contrary to what some people may think, founding your own startup can easily require more from an individual than a 9-5 grind. Nonetheless, it is definitely a rewarding experience to witness the growth of Mindful Minutes.”

Mindful Minutes plans to establish a referral program to help them scale, and are developing their platform. They hope to reach a couple hundred members by year end to start making an impact on their users’ personal development.

Keep up with Mindful Minutes on Instagram!

“While taking care of your business, remember to take care of yourself. While there may be certain weeks that you need to put in the extra hours and effort to make something happen, always remember that burnout is real and can happen to anyone. Learn how to pace yourself!”

site scope image

Andy Xu

SiteScope provides AI and computer vision applications for safety and automation in the construction industry. They offer two solutions: hardhat detection and traffic control automation.

“As first-time entrepreneurs, our team has grown significantly throughout the Basecamp program.

We really enjoyed the legal, incorporation and leadership workshops. Our Basecamp mentor throughout the program was perfect — she answered all our questions, and played a critical role in SiteScope’s pitch deck development. We couldn’t have done it without Ingrid Polini and the entire DMZ team!”

Tom Pruyn

SiteScope plans to use their winnings to develop a hardware prototype.

While the Basecamp program wraps up with a demo day, SiteScope encourages all future participants not to treat the program like a competition. 

“As students, we can get pretty competitive, but networking and sharing advice with the entire cohort made the experience so much more rewarding. Take the opportunity to learn and share your knowledge with others.”

Vraj Patel

While many believe studentpreneurs live and breathe for ‘grind culture’, SiteScope emphasized that their fellow founders genuinely cared about their product and embraced work-life balance.

 

“As students, we can get pretty competitive, but networking and sharing advice with the entire cohort made the experience so much more rewarding. Take the opportunity to learn and share your knowledge with others.”

skilly iamge
Skilly is an ed-tech company that makes learning and teaching more accessible for people around the world. Their app allows individuals to trade skills for skills they want to learn — all for free.

Luke Galati

“Our Basecamp experience was amazing! 

The DMZ’s Basecamp helped us foster an understanding of the business principles within the tech world, and we’ll be able to apply these learnings in our future!

We were surrounded by talented students who were hungry to grow their businesses, and learn from the DMZ team and the Entrepreneurs in Residence. Our mentor, Ayodele Pompey, was such a positive influence, and inspired us to be the best professionals that we can be.”

Skilly plans to use their winnings to develop their MVP. With their user experience and user interface designs for their app underway, their next step is to build the product and then launch. 

Ayesha Azad

Skilly encourages other inspiring studentpreneurs to start their ventures as soon as they can.

“Find people who can support your vision, and build with like-minded people who want to achieve the same goal. Keep progressing, however you can. As long as you keep moving forward, you’ll reach your goal.”

While juggling school and a startup can be challenging, Skilly believes that studentpreneurs don’t need to choose between their education and business. 

“We believe that it’s possible to be ambitious and change the world, while still fulfilling the goal of getting your degree and graduating with your peers.”

Skilly is looking to hire a Chief Technology Officer to help bring their product to life. They also look forward to continuing their growth as a company with the DMZ Basecamp Fellowship.

“Find people who can support your vision, and build with like-minded people who want to achieve the same goal. Keep progressing, however you can. As long as you keep moving forward, you’ll reach your goal.”

Designed exclusively for fashion professionals, RESERVE is a B2B marketplace that features retailers and independent designers for commercial designer rentals. A stylist’s best friend, RESERVE saves time, money, and stress by providing an online directory of designer items available for rent and delivering apparel directly to fashion shoots.

Omar Abul Ata

“As a solo founder with a non-technical retail background, Basecamp was an integral part of my journey. 

From learning about fundraising cycles to understanding the mechanics of how a startup is run, Basecamp has allowed me to progress myself and my confidence as an entrepreneur.” 

RESERVE plans to use the winnings to secure their website domain and social media handles. Omar also hopes to use the funding for their launch campaign’s digital marketing, which includes partnerships with micro-influencers, retailers and independent designers.

Omar highlights there are only so many hours in a day to get work done, and encourages other studentpreneurs to readjust their priorities if the hustle comes at the cost of mental and physical health. “Treat the process like a marathon, not a sprint.” 

Although studentpreneurs may sometimes look like they have everything figured out, Omar underscores the importance of resilience and how every day is an opportunity to learn something new and overcome challenges. While some days will be better than others, a startup’s ability to learn and overcome adversity is far more telling than its solution alone. 

“Being in a startup is like being in the middle of a mosh pit at a heavy metal concert — it’s total chaos. However, that is also the beauty of it, as an entrepreneur you have to learn to trust the process.”

RESERVE looks forward to completing their MVP, and their beta launch to onboard their first batch of rentees and renters. By late November, RESERVE plans to have a soft launch exclusively for Toronto.

Keep up with RESERVE on Instagram!

“Being in a startup is like being in the middle of a mosh pit at a heavy metal concert — it’s total chaos. However, that is also the beauty of it, as an entrepreneur you have to learn to trust the process.”

Are you an inspiring studentpreneur looking for support to help build your business idea? Follow the DMZ on Instagram and Twitter to stay up to date with all of our student programming!

Our commitment to creating an equitable future for Black founders

Last week, I released a statement voicing the DMZ’s support for the Black community and our commitment to strengthening Black entrepreneurship in the tech ecosystem.

To enact real change for an equitable future, it is our responsibility as leaders in this space to do more than just express our support. We must action it.

Here are the first steps we’re taking to uphold our promise to our action: 

  • Recruit more Black founders: We pledge to recruit 30 new Black founders by May 2021 through our Black Innovation Fellowship (BIF) Program (up from 10 BIF founders last year).
  • Expand programming and resources: Since launching the BIF program in May of 2019, we have identified opportunities for widening our programs to support aspiring Black entrepreneurs that have not yet established market traction. Yesterday, we launched a free two-week bootcamp open to pre-incubator stage Black founders around the world to get their tech-business ideas validated. Full details and the application for this bootcamp can be found at dmz.to/BIF.
  • Giving back to the community: Each year, DMZ staff are encouraged to spend up to 40 hours volunteering in the local community in lieu of regular work hours. Starting today, we are asking staff to take paid time off to volunteer with the Black community on initiatives that will drive impact on things such as racial justice, equity, supporting Black owned businesses and many more. 

A prosperous economy is one that fosters diverse perspectives and actively removes barriers for those hindered by systemic discrimination. 

Black founders, we pledge to help level the playing field and clear the pathways to your entrepreneurial success.

Abdullah Snobar
Executive Director, DMZ
CEO, DMZ Ventures

COVID-19 Response DMZ Free Virtual Workshop Series: Topics and Dates

We’ve created a virtual workshop series to help startups navigate tough business decisions and also recognize growth opportunities during a time of uncertainty.

You do not want to miss what these subject-matter experts will be sharing! All workshops are free to join and are intended for tech founders.

Upcoming workshops:

Stay tuned for new workshop announcements.

Note, once you register for a workshop the link to access it will be sent to you prior to going live.

In case you missed it:


Find all of our workshop recordings here.

Have a question? Email us at dmz@ryerson.ca

How the DMZ Became the World’s #1 Incubator: Looking Back at Our First 10 Years

Over the past 10 years, the DMZ has evolved from an informal student coworking space into the world’s top university-based incubator and accelerator program. How was this made possible? Through a vision to empower people to go bigger. Bigger than themselves. Bigger than our space. And bigger than imagined.

As we celebrate our tenth-year anniversary, we reflect on how the DMZ became a globally-recognized, powerhouse incubator for tech startups.

How the DMZ came to be

In 2010, a student at Ryerson University approached the school’s then-President, Sheldon Levy with a request. The student had an idea for a business but he couldn’t find support on campus to bring it to fruition. Sheldon, as the visionary leader behind Ryerson’s transformation to what it is today, recognized the opportunity and founded the DMZ, then known as the Digital Media Zone.

When the Digital Media Zone was launched in April 2010, it was conceptualized as an open space for Ryerson students to work on business ideas. It had a 100% acceptance rate and the initial goal was to simply fill the space, test the concept and build energy. Spearheaded by its first Executive Director, Valerie Fox, the space was given its name because most students at the time were working on business ideas in the digital media field.

From the beginning, there was significant interest in the Digital Media Zone. Showing signals of early success, Valerie Fox and the leadership team made a transformative decision to open it up to the public. No longer would you have to be a Ryerson student – or even a student at all, for that matter – to belong to the space. This change marked a turning point, and the Digital Media Zone started receiving applications from tech founders across Canada, as well as volunteer mentors, advisors and corporate partners who wanted to be part of something new.

Then came another turning point for the Digital Media Zone. With the tech startup market growing quickly, the space was being flooded with applications and increased attention. The Digital Media Zone was becoming the benchmark for incubators, so a decision was made to give it a new face and further develop its programming. First, the Digital Media Zone was rebranded to become the DMZ, signaling it had become tech sector agnostic. Second, additional staff members were hired to build out its internal capacity, startup programs and investor network. And third, the Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR) program was established to attract additional outside industry mentors and community champions. Together, these changes set the course for the DMZ’s accelerated growth and success.

In July 2015, Abdullah Snobar took over the role of Executive Director, after working at the DMZ for several years as the Director of Business Development and Community and before that with startups in several capacities. Building on the momentum already underway, Abdullah had a vision to take the DMZ even higher, driven to uncover new ways to  help its startups grow. He set to work, talking to entrepreneurs and listening to their pain points, trying to understand how the DMZ could serve them better. He invested in rebuilding the DMZ so it offered more functional workspaces, better communal areas to host events and investor meetings, and home-like amenities, such as coffee, snacks and showers. Abdullah knew that if he could get more people into the space – from founders, to EiRs, to investors – it would elevate the DMZ’s visibility. He also knew that a comfortable environment would support founders as they spent long hours taking advantage of their short runway to build a startup.

Next, the DMZ set out to build a mission statement and clarify its values. The DMZ took a different approach to other incubators, deciding to put an emphasis on supporting founders, rather than startups. This, in turn, led the DMZ to begin accepting applications from founders who showed incredible potential, even if their startup idea wasn’t there yet. The DMZ also put considerable resources into expanding its program team, growing it to become the largest department.

Finally, with much success at home in Canada, the DMZ turned international, quickly attracting global attention and bringing founders from around the world to within its four walls.

What does the DMZ look like today?

Today, the DMZ is ranked as the top university-based incubator in the world by UBI Global, standing out as the best amongst over 200 programs in its category.

The DMZ has a growing team of over 30 staff and it occupies more than 40,000 square feet of space overlooking downtown Toronto. As of 2019, the DMZ has supported over 448 startups, which have collectively raised more than $714 million in seed funding and fostered over 4,000 jobs.

The DMZ is also home to world-class mentors and partners. It has opened international offices in New York City and Amman and is doubling down on a number of local initiatives.

What has helped the DMZ succeed?

Perhaps the biggest factor that helped the DMZ get to where it is today has been an unwavering commitment to its values: Founders first. Equity over everything. Be great. These values have set the course and helped the DMZ make difficult decisions along the way. They’ve also given rise to the DMZ’s four core offerings for founders: coaching, community, support with customer acquisition and access to capital.

Another factor that has contributed to the DMZ’s success has been its leadership. The DMZ has brought on an advisory council made up of exceptional individuals – including Ryerson’s President, Mohamed Lachemi – who are committed to the DMZ’s values. Some of the individuals who have been foundational in shaping and leading the DMZ include Raymond Chang, Alan Shepard, Valerie Fox, Sheldon Levy and Hossein Rahnama.

By thinking big, acting with laser focus and bringing in people who believe in its vision, the DMZ has grown its impact larger than it ever could have initially imagined.

What makes the DMZ special?

Reflecting on the accomplishments, challenges and victories of the past decade, these items stand out as particularly salient:

  • The DMZ has had the ability to influence post-secondary curriculum and policy. It’s brought industry and academia together (and also kept them separate at the right times) and developed a new model for experiential learning.
  • The DMZ has created a place where people are supported to work on their dreams. It’s a space infused with passion, purpose and energy. Founders are putting themselves out there, knowing that their ideas could either fail fast or impact the world significantly.
  • The DMZ has helped shape tech startup culture, transforming it from something that was considered simply “cool” to something that’s more mature. The majority of founders at the DMZ no longer set out for the coolness factor. Rather, they do it to fill an underserved gap in the market – often investing and risking serious time, money and resources.
  • The DMZ has helped change the conversation on employment. By empowering people to become job providers, rather than job consumers, the DMZ has helped the wider community rethink their view of tech startups.
  • The DMZ has helped bring attention to Toronto’s burgeoning tech sector. Over the past decade, the DMZ has been honoured to host notable visitors, including Prince Charles, Arlene Dickinson, Jack Dorsey and Prime Minister Trudeau. The DMZ has also expanded Canada’s presence internationally and helped high potential founders from around the world make Toronto their home.
  • The DMZ has created a benchmark across the world, offering best in class support that’s structured and customized around the needs of each individual founder and startup. Respected as the top incubator globally, other programs look up to the DMZ as the gold standard and are asking how they can model on its success.

What’s in store for the DMZ?

This year, and in the years ahead, we’ll continue to be driven by our values and mission, seeking answers to our most important questions:

  • What else can we do to support our founders and community?
  • How can we work more closely with governments to facilitate relationships with tech startups?
  • How can we embolden more corporations to work with tech startups?
  • What can we do to push even harder on the international scene, helping Canadian startups become global powerhouse businesses, while also attracting even more talent to Canada?
  • How can we continue to foster a “grit effect” and attract founders to our space who have both passion and perseverance?
  • And perhaps most importantly, how can we ensure that what we’re doing is not just a hidden secret for the DMZ? How can we continue to put equity above everything, supporting different communities and ensuring no one is left behind?

Building the momentum of the past ten years, our vision is to keep going bigger. Bigger for our founders, bigger for our community and bigger with our impact.

If we’ve gone from being an informal student coworking space to the world’s top incubator in only 10 years, just imagine what we can achieve in the next decade.

DMZYYZ applications NOW OPEN.

“(At DMZYYZ) you tap right into the middle of a network, not just 2 or 3 LinkedIn meetings, but you dive into a community and you are surrounded by customers and mentors.”

– Kata Ludvig, 2019 DMZYYZ Participant from Hungary CMO of BankZee

DMZYYZ is a two-week intensive soft-landing program in Toronto, Canada. The program fuels integration between international growth-stage startups and the North American market.

The North American innovation ecosystem is made of global Industry-leaders, and we’re just getting started.  DMZYYZ is your personalized ticket in.

Toronto has reached a whole new level, on and off the court.


WHY DMZYYZ?

This is not one size fits all, but a tailored two-week program based on your business.

  • Need to improve your growth strategy but completed your product testing?
  • Need investor support but not marketing?
  • Wherever you are on your journey, DMZYYZ will meet you right there.

HOW?

Week 1

  • 1-1 COACH- personalized coaching from our Entrepreneurs in Residence (EiRs).
  • TAILORED LEARNING- sessions with cutting-edge industry champions.
  • INTRODUCTIONS- pitch coaching and scheduled meetings with investors who make sense for your business.

Week 2

  • TICKETS TO A WORLD LEADING TECH CONFERENCE-  connect with DMZ’s community and alumni of serial entrepreneurs from Canada and America.
  • CONTINUED COACHING, NETWORKING AND SUPPORT- from DMZ’s team, community and EiRs while you are here and once you have gone home.

Meet one of  DMZ YYZ’s Entrepreneurs in Residence (EiRs) Phillip Gales:

“Harvard Business and Cambridge Engineering graduate, he’s raised $12 million from international VCs. He will teach you how he built an oil and gas data analytics company funded by Y-Combinator (W14).  He currently runs inate.ai, a company that optimizes startups and automates VC due diligence utilizing AI.”

Meet the rest of DMZYYZ’s EiRs (bios found in coaching subsection of page).

“We really benefited from the space. It was great going to meet with investors and seeing people interested in not just money making but also what we are trying to achieve.”

– Mohammad Saif Ahmad, 2019 DMZYYZ Participant from Jamaica, Founder of SmartTerm

RioAnalytics Founder, Victor Chaves from Brazil, saw an opportunity in Toronto and was able to take it because of DMZYYZ. RioAnalytics secured a lead investor for Series A round during DMZYYZ and generated 150+ customer leads. After DMZYYZ, RioAnalytics is now operating out of Toronto with staff and Victor is relocating to Toronto through DMZ’s Startup Visa Program.

“The calibre of the network within the DMZ community is huge. The amount of knowledge transfer that happens within the conversations you have is second to none.”

– Zoltan Czikos, 2019 DMZ YYZ Participant, Co-Founder of Hungarian-based startup, Neticle

After the program, DMZYYZ alumni have access to EiR online coaching, DMZ online content, investor introductions and community. Also, access to DMZ Toronto and DMZ New York offices for subsequent visits.

Applications are now open, it is time to start your global impact. APPLY NOW

 

DMZ Sandbox is proud to announce six student grant winners

Twice a year, students gather to pitch their innovative ideas to a panel of judges. Last week, Ryerson’s community of students, entrepreneurs, business leaders and investors attended the event at the Sheldon and Tracy Levy Student Learning Centre to hear about some of the most innovative and forward thinking startup ideas. With over 90 applications received, the list was narrowed down to 14 pitches. The ideas were incredibly competitive and saw some tough decisions made by the judges.

 

Who won?

$5K winners
*In partnership with Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship:

MettleAI is a system of care for opiate and alcohol-dependent individuals that predicts regressive behaviour before a relapse occurs using a predictive model created with Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence.

Ftr. is a platform that allows artists to feature on each other’s songs securely, outsource their mix and set their song for release all while growing their network and building exposure.

Menuless is a mobile app that connects users directly with the kitchen, immediately reducing labour cost while maintaining a high-quality experience. Menuless leverages technology to help restaurants improve experiences, keep up with the trends, and connect with a wider audience.

$10K winners:

uBioDiscovery is a gut microbiome monitoring program that not only tells you the composition of your microbiome, but also provides diet suggestions tailored specifically to each customer’s unique microbiome profile. uBioDiscovery’s SUPERBIOME kit is optimal for those affected by microbiome related conditions, or anyone else who is driven to improve their overall gut health!

Contraverse is a Canadian Academy Award-nominated immersive media company laying the foundation for the future of cinema. They have developed a turnkey Virtual Reality Cinema solution for film festivals and exhibitors to screen VR content with ease.

Co-Founder of uBioDiscovery,  Stage 2 Winner

$15K winners:

Taiga Robotics is developing the next step in human-robot interfaces for industry, through the emerging field of virtual reality. Taiga Robotics has developed a human-robot interface which makes control of robots easy and intuitive, requiring almost no training; they call it telereality.

What’s this all about?

A student’s finances can be the biggest barrier to turning an entrepreneurial idea into reality. The DMZ Sandbox Student Grant Program financially supports eligible Ryerson student-led startups with grant funding. It aims to fund innovative projects and initiatives that are positively impacting the economy and society.

The grant is available in a series of stages, with the following amounts available to eligible startups at each stage: Stage 1: up to $5,000, Stage 2: up to $10,000, and Stage 3: up to $15,000.

You want in?

To learn more about the Sandbox Student Grant visit https://dmz.ryerson.ca/dmz-sandbox/ and follow us on Instagram @dmzsandbox to stay up to date!

TRSS X DMZ: Startup Certified Program

By Jude Saqer

The Startup Certified program at the DMZ Sandbox is not only helping entrepreneurial students fund their business idea – it’s greatly impacting founders at the DMZ. Through this program, founders at the DMZ can employ post-secondary students to support their marketing and sales teams. The Ted Rogers Student Society (TRSS) subsidizes up to fifty percent of the students’ salaries, further helping founders employ tech talent from Ryerson University. Students are put through a rigorous program on startups led by experts in different industries. Once they’ve completed the program, they can either apply to work with a DMZ startup or start their own company and get paid to do it!

Since its launch, the DMZ Startup Certified Program has matched around 30 founders with students who bring value, ambition and expertise to their startups. I spoke with a few of these founders to understand how the overall process went and what they appreciated most about the program.

Karen Lau, founder of Furnishr, a startup focused on furnishing your home from selection to delivery, assembly and clean-up. Karen’s team needed help on the operations side of running her business, and appreciated that the program allowed her to look at a pool of talent from Ryerson University. At the end of the process, Karen selected Julia, a Business Law student at Ryerson. The impact Julia made exceeded her role as an operational specialist – she expressed interest in UX Design, and was able to convert sales into clients. The tweaks she made to the design of the website helped provide an overall seamless user experience for potential customers of Furnishr.

Chris Snoyer, Founder of Spiffy, boasts that he only hires young talent through the Sandbox’s Startup Certified program. “As soon as I know students are being put through the program before they apply and they do it voluntarily, it automatically gets me more interested”, Snoyer says. Startup Certified has not only provided founders with the financial support needed to hire interns, but the students help fix broken processes. Snoyer explains how having fresh eyes in the business can tell you a lot about what your business is currently lacking. “If I can’t train a student to follow a certain process, that tells me that my processes aren’t working well and I need to iterate on them.” Snoyer’s previous student staff, Neal, created a content services program enabling the company to expand their services to a portion of a running business that may be overlooked when involved in a startup, therefore solving an adoption problem they once had. Spiffy’s founders would definitely recommend this program to any founder looking to gain financial support and an extra set of hands that help run your startup. It also provides you a perspective you may have not considered in the past about your marketing best practices.

DMZ Alum Brandon Pizzacalla, co-founder of GrowthGenius, had a great experience with the program and says that his past student staff from Startup Certified is now working for the company full-time. This would not have been possible had it not been for the talent that is provided within Ryerson University, which focuses on enhancing students’ entrepreneurial mindset. “A lot of great talent is locked in universities and the program provides great exposure to participating students”, says Founder of FortunaAI Omer Jamal.

Through this program, the DMZ Sandbox is making an impact on founders and students, from the community they’re exposed to, to the coaching and opportunities provided through the network. The Startup Certified program will be starting again, to find out more about the program attend one of our Information Sessions on either Jan. 30th at 2:00pm or Feb. 5th at 5:30pm at DMZ Sandbox. Register here.

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