Tech Transfer eNews Blog

U of Toronto’s True Blue Fund gives alums new way of giving back

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: June 5th, 2019

The University of Toronto (U of T) is one of the most successful universities in the world when it comes to research commercialization and start-up formation. Over the past decade, its entrepreneurs have launched more than 500 research-based start-ups, generating more than $1 billion in investment. Despite these successes, however, challenges remain in the area of funding for these start-ups and their ability to take ideas to market.

To address this challenge, U of T has created an out-of-the-box philanthropic funding model to support its entrepreneurs — the True Blue Fund. The seed money for the fund is coming from the university in the amount of $2.5 million, which will match donations in support of student and recent alumni awards, fellowships and accelerator funds to total an impressive $5 million.

The brains behind the True Blue Fund concept were David Palmer, the university’s vice president of advancement, and Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice president of research and innovation. A few years ago, they were collaborating on putting together the Entrepreneurship Leadership Council and had one of those “aha” moments.

While it’s somewhat rare for university TTOs to work cooperatively with philanthropy/development folks, Goel explains that U of T Entrepreneurship is housed in the Office of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation Office, and works closely with the Division of University Advancement to further the university’s entrepreneurship mission. Both divisions jointly lead the effort to support the work of the Entrepreneurship Leadership Council, which provides U of T with expert advice on how to expand its innovation ecosystem, stimulate entrepreneurship, capitalize on breakthroughs and connect to other innovation ecosystems and markets worldwide.

Palmer said that, in the process of meeting with alumni around the world, it became clear a “large number” of innovators and entrepreneurs were looking for a way to give back to U of T by supporting its innovation and entrepreneurship efforts. So, Palmer and Goel worked with the Council and set out to create a vehicle for donors where they could make philanthropic financial contributions to an early stage angel-type seed fund.  Gifts can be directed to support a campus-linked incubator or accelerator or to a specific project.

“This model is an excellent way for schools to plug in their successful alumni entrepreneurs to advise on key opportunities and challenges they might be facing in the entrepreneurship space, and to create an even stronger network of mentors and advisors to the school’s budding entrepreneurs,” Goel says. He says Council members themselves are stepping up to provide the first donations to the fund, “and development staff are conducting outreach to alumni and friends.”

A detailed article on the True Blue Fund appears in the May issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. For subscription information, CLICK HERE.

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