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‘Paying it forward’ with mental health support fund

Richi Tam (Com’13) knows firsthand how it feels to be sinking in the uncharted depths of mental illness, and to resurface on a relatively safe and stable shore.

[Richi Tam]
Richi Tam, right, with Com'13 classmate Justin Burke. Mr. Tam helped create the Commerce Legacy Fund for Student Health and Wellness, which provides support for mental health initiatives to benefit Commerce students.

Thanks to Mr. Tam’s own tenacity – and the support of his Queen’s School of Business classmates, faculty and staff members – he has turned what might have been a life-ending experience into a testament to the strength and healing power of community.

In 2011 Mr. Tam began what he hoped would be a great adventure, after completing a stressful second year in Queen’s Commerce. But his international exchange experience at Singapore Management University soon turned dark, and his earlier struggles with mental illness came to a head in the form of auditory hallucinations and suicidal thoughts.

Fortunately Mr. Tam’s academic advisor at Queen’s School of Business was able to arrange for his immediate return to Kingston and “helped me sort things out,” he recalls. “That was a huge boost, when I needed it most.” After taking the rest of the year to get better, Mr. Tam was ready to return to study – but with a different group of students from his Com’12 classmates. His biggest fear was that he would be treated like an outsider and might find it hard to make new friends.

As it turned out, the exact opposite occurred.

“The Class of ’13 made me realize I was surrounded by people who really cared – not just students, but faculty and admin, too – who were all very supportive, wanting to make sure I was okay,” he says.

In May 2013 Mr. Tam graduated in the top 10 per cent of his class and volunteered to be the group’s giving coordinator. He and classmate Kate Moraca created the Commerce Legacy Fund for Student Health and Wellness, which provides support for mental health initiatives to benefit Commerce students.

Through the Dean’s Matching Fund, a new initiative made possible by donations from several anonymous benefactors, gifts from young Queen’s School of Business alumni who graduated in 2004 or later are matched two-to-one. That fund will add $2,000 to Mr. Tam’s initial $1,000 pledge – one of the first such matches since the fund was established. Mr. Tam’s employer, KPMG Kingston, is contributing another $1,000 through its own matching program.

Now a staff accountant at KPMG, Mr. Tam is working toward his CA/CPA designation and is excited about his career opportunities ahead. Reflecting on the rollercoaster of the past several years, he says: “There was a lot of pain, but I think I’ve come a long way and am in a much better place now. It’s true that Commerce is a competitive program, but at the end of the day students are very supportive, too. I’m so grateful for the awesome people in my class.”

Mr. Tam’s journey back to good health has been a team effort, he emphasizes. With the help of his psychiatrist and a strong support system, he is managing his recovery – and will continue to do so.

Class giving campaigns are a powerful way to give back collectively to Queen’s. Annual class gifts support much-needed student bursaries and scholarships, library acquisitions, leading-edge technology and other programs and projects that are most meaningful to each graduating class.


Ready for the next stage

[SharpScholar Jawwad Sidiqqi]
 Upon graduation, Jawwad Siddiqui (Com’15), is looking forward to putting his full efforts behind his start-up SharpScholar along with partners Amin Nikdel (Sc’14) and Tejas Mehta, a graduate of the University of Toronto. Below are screengrabs of the app for teachers, top, and for students. (University Communications)

An app, developed by a pair of Queen’s University students, is helping connect students and professors to improve the learning experience in real-time.

Two years ago, Jawwad Siddiqui (Com’15) and Amin Nikdel (Sc’14), came up with the idea of using mobile technology to increase interaction between students and teachers through feedback on what parts of the lesson were working for whom, and which ones weren’t. And all of this is done in real-time.

The duo brought on board another student from the University of Toronto, Tejas Mehta, to help with growing SharpScholar, which is now being used in seven universities across North America, including Queen’s.

A key step in the development of the program, Mr. Siddiqui says, was identifying professors as the “core value proposition.” This changed everything.

Still, they had to connect with their target audience and they quickly realized it wouldn’t be easy. Professors often receive calls and offers for new programs to help in the classroom, so the team knew they had to design the app for the teachers first.

Simplicity was key.

“Once we took the modern approach to helping teachers, then they realized ‘Wow, this is so easy. I can do it in three steps and I’m done.’ In other words, taking a design approach to helping teachers’ lives,” he says. “We realized there’s a big opportunity to help these professors who were kind of not being served.”

The response to date has been very positive.

“It began with a very grassroots approach. We work with different teachers, from math to physics to computer science to business and we’ve just had tremendous success focusing on teachers,” Mr. Siddiqui says. “Teachers feel truly empowered when you value their time and initiative too.”

However, as is often the case when introducing a new, unproven product, created by a group of university students no less, getting their foot in the door would prove to be a big first step. They were entering the education realm and dealing with professional educators after all.

“It has been a very uphill battle in terms of building credibility, not just from a research perspective, because we did do research to back our software, but from a purely human relationships perspective, ‘Hey, these students they are not just out there to get our money or build their business,’” he explains. “Professors are just so tired of so many people emailing or cold calling them about this software or that software. So the personal journey of connecting with people, not necessarily for sales but for the betterment of society, in other words their teaching of students, has been a great experience to know how you really bring about change if you want to.”

The first professors they connected with were at Queen’s and U of T, who saw the potential in the technology. He says they “partnered” with these innovative educators for their mutual benefit. Once they had the validation, they could move forward and expand.

“That was essentially how we grew. Once we got it into the hands of the educators who were always testing new things, they were like ‘Oh wow this really works. This is unique and this is phenomenal,’” Mr. Siddiqui says. “They helped us build it. We gave them the ownership of it because, to be honest, we are not practicing professors, we can only hear and observe them.”

Expand they have, to where SharpScholar is already being used at seven universities.

With Mr. Siddiqui graduating this year, the team will be completely focused on getting the app into more classrooms.

It’s something that he is looking forward to.

“Fortunately we have an amazing team and an amazing group of people together, amazing community support from Queen’s professors and even professors worldwide, that it almost feels like an honour to graduate and work in it instead of more of a labour experience,” he says. “So in that regard it is absolutely fascinating but we do know we are stepping into a very risky landscape because currently we are in the stage of raising capital. And that would essentially give us the runway to get this going.”

Already, the journey has been a fruitful one for the team, one that Mr. Siddiqui describes as “liberating.” It has been a juggling act, of course, trying to balance studies with starting up a new company. Mr. Siddiqui says that he has found that balance, with personal development, school and his company “all falling together.”

For more information on SharpScholar visit sharpscholar.com.


Reconciliation through education

The Hon. Justice Murray Sinclair was appointed chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2009. Over the past five years, the commissioners have spoken with survivors, families, communities and other people affected by Indian Residential Schools.

Justice Sinclair visited Queen’s on March 27 to give the inaugural lecture in the Tom Courchene Distinguished Speakers Series. Before the talk, he sat down with Senior Communications Officer Mark Kerr to discuss his views on the legacy of Indian Residential Schools and the reconciliation process.

[Murray Sinclair
The Hon. Justice Murray Sinclair believes post-secondary institutions have an obligation to encourage academic discourse and research about Indigenous issues. 

Mark Kerr: How has your understanding of the Indian Residential School legacy changed and evolved after visiting hundreds of communities and listening to thousands of people tell their stories?

Justice Murray Sinclair: When I started this work, I knew the magnitude of the problem we were going to be dealing with. The experience of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has shown me the significance and the impact of not just the residential schools but the role of education more generally on Indigenous people.

The number of Indigenous people who went through residential schools is not much more than 30 per cent of the total Indigenous population in Canada. Yet most Aboriginal people in Canada suffer from feelings of inferiority, feelings of anger and frustration at the way the education system that they experienced has portrayed them. We have to talk about the ways public schools are implicated in the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people as well.

The experience of Aboriginal people in schools involves so much physical and sexual abuse. And that abuse has had significant impact on their lives when you consider it occurred to them at a vulnerable time when they were children and that it continued for such a long time. Even if they weren’t physically abused, they lived in constant fear that they might be abused.

MK: Why is it important that Canadians learn about the history of residential schools?

MS: Because this is their history too. At the same time Aboriginal people were being told in residential schools and public schools that they were inferior, they were heathens, they were savages and their history was irrelevant, that same message was being given to non-Aboriginal people. And so non-Aboriginal people have been raised in an educational environment both in the schools and public to believe in the superiority of European societies, peoples and cultures and that Aboriginal people are inherently inferior because of that.

That story, therefore, implicates all Canadians and we need to ensure that the story of what it means to be Canadian and what Canada is needs to be told in a way that includes everybody.

[The Hon. Justice Murray Sinclair]
The Hon. Justice Murray Sinclair says the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada will work to continue the conversation around reconciliation after the final report is released this June. 

MK: What can universities do to promote and foster reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians?

MS: The key to reconciliation – repairing the damage that has been done to the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people – is education. All educational institutions including post-secondary institutions have an obligation in the course of their teaching about this country and topics such as science and the environment to try and include the Aboriginal understanding of those issues as well to show the validity of Aboriginal thinking. Aboriginal people are so much a part of this country and they are so influential in this country.

Post-secondary institutions also have an obligation to engage in dialogue and academic discussions and to foster research into these issues. The full story has not yet been told and the experience has not yet been portrayed in a way that people believe is valid.

Quick Link
Learn more about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada by visiting its website.

MK: You’ve said that truth is hard but residential school reconciliation is harder. What does reconciliation look like to you and how do we achieve that as Canadians?

MS: Reconciliation is about establishing a respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Before we can have mutual respect, we have to understand the importance of ensuring that Aboriginal people in future generations have self-respect. That’s a difficult thing to do because it involves undoing a lot of things that are founded on the racism of the past.

One thing we have pointed out to people is that this history of oppression, of taking away from Aboriginal people their faith in themselves, their belief in their systems and culture, their ability to speak their language, their understanding of their own history, has resulted in a population of young Indigenous people who are not only angry and frustrated at having those things denied them, they’re also feeling at a loss because they want those things put back into their lives.

They want to know what it means to be Anishnaabe, they want to know what it means to be a Cree, to be a Dene, to be a Dakota. They want to know what those teachings are so that they will be able to stand up proudly and proclaim that to their children and grandchildren.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Policy series celebrates inaugural director's legacy

As the inaugural director of Queen’s School of Policy Studies (SPS), Tom Courchene strived to bring together the academic and professional policy communities through the school’s programs, conferences and lectures.

Queen's School of Policy Studies has developed a speakers series to honour Tom Courchene, the school's inaugural director and a distinguished member of the Canadian public policy community.

SPS has recognized the former director’s enduring legacy by establishing the Tom Courchene Distinguished Speakers Series. The Hon. Justice Murray Sinclair, commissioner and chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), will give the first lecture in the series this Friday at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts.

The speaker series is supported by the Margie and Tom Courchene Endowment Fund. It was established in 1999 with an initial gift by the Courchenes. Since that time, generous donations from Dr. Courchene’s colleagues at Queen’s and across the country have supplemented the fund.

“This speaker series will provide our students, and the Queen’s community more broadly, with a bridge between academics and policy-makers,” says Kim Nossal, Director, Queen’s School of Policy Studies. “This series will encourage an on-going discussion on critical issues, in particular Indigenous policy and governance, a policy field Tom has been increasingly engaged with in recent years.”

The Tom Courchene Distinguished Speakers Series
“What do we do about the legacy of Indian Residential Schools?”
The Hon. Justice Murray Sinclair, Commissioner and Chair, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
Friday, March 27, 11:45-1:15 pm, Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts (390 King St. West) Transportation available More information

Dr. Courchene came to Queen’s in 1988 as the Stauffer-Dunning Chair in Public Policy and the first director of the new School of Policy Studies. From 1991 until his retirement in 2012, he held the Jarislowsky-Deutsch Professorship in Economics and Financial Policy at Queen’s, where he was a member of the Department of Economics, the School of Policy Studies and the Faculty of Law.

Dr. Courchene has written more than 300 articles and authored or edited 60 books. The recipient of many awards and accolades, Dr. Courchene is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and an Officer of the Order of Canada. 

Justice Sinclair was Manitoba’s first Aboriginal judge and the second Aboriginal judge in Canada. He has received numerous honours for his work in the field of Aboriginal justice. Justice Sinclair chairs the TRC, which was established in 2007 with a mandate to inform all Canadians about the 150-year history residential schools, and guide and inspire a process of reconciliation and renewed relationships based on mutual understanding and respect.

The business of making a difference

[Social Innovation Boot Camp]
Ara Dungca (Com’16), Kirsten MacMillan (Sci’17), Adam Beaudoin (Kin’15), John Sibbald (Com’18) and George Henry (EMBA’16) begin discussing their idea for the Social Innovation Bootcamp Pitch Competition. Their team, “Heads Up,” went on to win first prize as well as the people’s choice award in the competition. (University Communications)

Queen’s School of Business (QSB) Centre for Social Impact has launched a new interdisciplinary initiative aimed at creating, invoking and inspiring social change.

Designed to span across faculties and departments, Queen’s RECODE will support the development of a social innovation zone on campus.

“Many faculty and students at Queen’s are committed to resolving some of society’s most pressing needs and challenges,” says Tina Dacin, Director, QSB Centre for Social Impact. “By consolidating and leveraging this activity, we have the potential to put Queen’s at the leading-edge of creating knowledge and teaching social entrepreneurship and social innovation.”

QSB Centre for Social Impact launched Queen’s RECODE with funding from J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and matching private donations. At the end of last year, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation launched the national RECODE program to support the development of social innovation and entrepreneurship “ecologies” within and in proximity to universities and colleges, along with business, community and public sector partners.

With the RECODE funding, QSB Centre for Social Impact will scan existing efforts on campus, convene a steering committee comprised of students, community, faculty and staff, and design interdisciplinary content and approaches to developing a mindset and toolkit for advancing social innovation.

Pitching social innovation

Queen’s RECODE expands the social innovation work QSB Centre for Social Impact has done over the past several years. Those activities include workshops and conferences on social enterprise, Aboriginal issues and design thinking. The centre also hosts an annual Social Innovation Bootcamp. This year’s bootcamp, held March 13-14, also featured the official launch of Queen’s RECODE.

In addition to dynamic and informative speakers, this year’s bootcamp included for the first time a pitch competition where students could work together to identify, design and test their social innovation ideas.

“Heads Up,” the team of Ara Dungca (Com’16), Kirsten MacMillan (Sci’17), Adam Beaudoin (Kin’15), John Sibbald (Com’18) and George Henry (EMBA’16), won the pitch competition and the people’s choice award.

They pitched the idea for a new type of mobile app platform to improve students’ mental health. Students would track their sleep, eating and studying habits and if there were any major deviations from their patterns – often an indication of a mental health issue – the app would prompt the student to reach out to a person they trust, and help set up a method of checking in on the student.

The team also wants to work with universities and ensure the app connects students with mental health resources offered on campus.

Heads Up received $1,250 of seed money – $1,000 for claiming first prize and $250 for the People's Choice Award – to continue developing its idea, but Ms. MacMillan was just as excited about the acceptance they received from the judges and their peers.

“We really wanted to show our passion for mental health. It was exciting that a roomful of people also agreed that mental health is important and it’s something we can talk about openly,” she says. “As we try and move the idea forward, it’s exciting to know that we have the backing of other students who are passionate about the issue.”

Ms. MacMillan says the bootcamp opened up a new world of thinking for her.

“Throughout the weekend, I was exposed to amazing and interesting perspectives. I’ve always thought I would have to make the choice between working with a non-profit organization or a for-profit company. It was eye-opening for me to hear people who are pursuing socially responsible businesses that have a positive impact on the world.”

Visit QSB Centre for Social Impact website for more information.

Putting the tech in technicolour

From left to right, Team Eye3: Zaeem Anwar (Cmp'15), Jake Alsemgeest (Cmp'15), Eddie Wang (Com'18)

Three Queen’s students have developed a way to make electronic technology more accessible for the 700 million people worldwide who are colour blind.

The technology, Ciris, took home first prize in the Microsoft Imagine Cup – an international technology competition.

The winning team, Team Eye3, represented Canada and was made up of Jake Alsemgeest (Cmp’15), Zaeem Anwar (Cmp’15) and Eddie Wang (Com’18). They received first prize in the Blueprint Challenge Phase for the World Citizenship category of the Microsoft Imagine Cup.

"The power of cross collaboration between faculties at Queen's University really shines here,” says Mr. Wang. “We are absolutely honoured to have been selected as the winners for this challenge, and we can't wait to show the world what's in store for Eye3 and the Ciris technology."

We are absolutely honoured to have been selected as the winners for this challenge, and we can't wait to show the world what's in store for Eye3 and the Ciris technology.
- Eddie Wang, Com'18

Ciris is a real-time colour augmentation overlap for desktop computers and mobile devices that allows colour blind people to see more clearly contrasts between different colours. The team has already enabled Ciris on a video app for mobile devices.

"We're really excited about the positive feedback from our professors and the community,” says Mr. Anwar. “We have a real chance to do something helpful for the world and are looking forward to the work ahead."

Using colour in charts, pictures, graphics and clothing can mean that colour blind individuals miss out on valuable information. Team Eye3 wanted to be able to provide them with a way to translate hard-to-see colours into a visual equivalent that is easier for colour blind individuals to identify.

“We are extremely excited and thankful for all of the feedback from the community, professors and colleagues,” says Mr. Alsemgeest. “Our team is very excited to continue pushing our limits to have a finished product we are proud of.  We hope to make the world a better place and hope to achieve it through Ciris.”

The team, which also received a $3,000 prize, was coached by professors Brent Gallupe (School of Business) and Patrick Martin (School of Computing).

“This is a very talented team.  I think that their combination of technical and business skills helped them win,” says Dr. Gallupe. “Ciris addresses an important problem affecting millions of colour blind people around the world who can’t distinguish colours on their smartphone, tablet and laptop screens.”

Next up for the team is the Imagine World Cup Semifinals, where the team will compete to win a trip to the finals in Seattle in July. A $50,000 prize goes to the winner at the World Finals.

“The Microsoft Imagine Cup is a great opportunity for our students to challenge themselves and to apply what they are learning here at Queen's,” says Dr. Martin. “Team Eye3 demonstrated great skill and innovation in coming up with their project and winning the Blueprint Challenge phase. Their project definitely fits the world citizenship theme of the competition.”

Visit the Ciris Facebook page for more information about the app.

A new way to pay GRAs

Current and former graduate students who received payments as Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs) between 2008 and 2012 could be receiving a tax refund from the Canada Revenue Agency in the next few months.

Effective January 1, 2013, Queen’s has changed the way it pays GRAs, who are typically graduate students who take on research positions that support their studies and provide financial compensation.

Historically, the support GRAs received for their studies was taxed as income from employment and a T4 was issued at tax time.

The university’s decision to change its tax treatment of payments to GRAs was made to reflect the fact that GRA positions are essentially research fellowships, funded directly from research grants awarded to the faculty members who recruit and supervise graduate students.

The change in tax treatment, which is in accordance with the Canada Revenue Agency’s guidelines, makes most GRAs eligible for T4A income (fellowship income) instead of T4 income (employment income).

The change, which aligns Queen’s with practices at other universities, also benefits graduate students by reducing income tax payments and increasing take-home pay. It may make some students eligible for a retroactive tax refund for the 2008-2012 period.

The change does not apply to a GRA if the graduate student held or holds the GRA for financial gain and also was or is performing work not directly related to his or her studies. Such students continue to be classified as employees receiving T4 income. If a graduate student simultaneously holds a GRA directly supporting his/her studies as a trainee and is also a research assistant whose work is not related directly to his/her studies, the student will receive a T4A for income received as a research fellowship, as well as a T4 for the income received as an employee.

Where applicable, the Canada Revenue Agency has agreed to issue retroactive refunds automatically to affected students and alumni and there is no need for anyone to re-file a tax return.

Questions should be directed by email to GRAT4A@queensu.ca

Student startup gets TV treatment

William Yin, Sci’15, says he wasn’t an entrepreneur when he first created his company, Scent Trunk, during the Queen’s Summer Innovation Initiative (QSII). It was during the months-long competition — where student teams compete against one another to design and create startup businesses — that he developed the skills he’s using as he continues to market and build his company.

William Yin founded Scent Trunk during the Queen's Summer Innovation Initiative. (Photo supplied)

Scent Trunk, for which Mr. Yin is founder and CEO, is a cologne subscription service that sends monthly samples to its customers. Equipped with a predictive algorithm, the company personalizes and forecasts what scents they think each customer will like best.

“Buying cologne in a store has problems,” says Mr. Yin. “There’s little variety, the selection isn’t personalized and though you can smell the scents, you don’t know how they’ll react with your body chemistry when you actually wear them.”

By analyzing customers’ preferences and responses over time, he says Scent Trunk is able to find the colognes that best match each individual.

The company has had a number of recent successes, winning the Toronto regional competition in the Global Student Entrepreneurship Awards and was given a chance to pitch the business on a CBC spinoff of the popular show Dragon’s Den. Called Next Gen Den, the web-based show has young entrepreneurs pitch their early-stage businesses to a panel of industry professionals including Michele Romanow, Sci ’07 and MBA ’08, who co-founded Buytopia, an online discount service.

The episode featuring Scent Trunk is set to air on March 9 and Mr. Yin has to stay tight-lipped until then.

“At the moment, all I can say is that it went well,” he says.

Despite these successes, the company has faced its fair share of challenges, one of which happened while in QSII.

“We fared poorly in QSII and it was one of the biggest defeats I’ve ever had,” says Mr. Yin. “I’d never put so much into something and not had it pan out. I wanted to prove the judges wrong.” Failing to win the competition, he says, was a spark that made him work even harder. “My biggest motivator is being told I can’t do something.”

In the months since he started Scent Trunk, Mr. Yin says he’s made his company’s pitch hundreds of times and that to be an entrepreneur you have to have thick skin.

“You get rejected often, so you have to seize on the small wins to stay motivated. In QSII I learnt that I love growing a business, selling things, crunching numbers and making an enterprise work. The competition prepared me for the challenges I’ve faced, but each day as the business grows, it gets harder,” he says. “But, I’m very competitive, I love a challenge.”  

LIVES LIVED: A key player in increasing QSB’s global reach

David Rutenberg, Emeritus Professor in the School of Business, recently passed away while on vacation in Thailand. He arrived at Queen’s University in the late 1970s from Carnegie Mellon University and would remain here until he retired in the early part of this century.

From the beginning, and continuously over these years, David’s publications, his teaching, his doctoral supervisions, and his influence at Faculty Board and through various admission and hiring committees, had a very real and lasting impression on the school.

David Rutenberg
David Rutenberg

Perhaps the greatest of these impacts was in the student exchange program area, no doubt a natural offshoot of his basic interest in International Business. To understand this more fully one has to recognize that when he arrived, the university was a very insular place having one long-standing, but essentially moribund, exchange agreement with St. Andrew’s in Scotland.

Businesses, and certainly professors of international business, were increasingly turning their attention to international matters in what was to blossom into what we now know as ‘globalization’, and David felt that an important part of preparing students for this new world was a) actually getting them out there; and b) having others come here to give us another perspective; in short an exchange.

So into the fray he plunged and working with John McKirdy, Joan Wright and others David began to expand the offerings hoping to entice students to risk taking some time to go ‘on exchange’ somewhere for a term. At the outset most of these exchanges were in Europe but the destinations and participants kept expanding until today, in this year 2014-15, and thanks also to the efforts of Dean David Saunders who sees the world in the same terms as David, the Queen’s School of Business has agreements with 110 schools, in 39 countries, and will send 485 of its students out on exchange, and receive 466 in return. All this started with David Rutenberg.

Following his retirement he became more involved with the local community serving, for example, on the city’s Economic Development Committee (KEDCO) and with the McBurney Park Neighbourhood Association in that area of the city where he lived. He was also active in the life of Chalmers United Church where a Service of Remembrance was held for him just before Christmas. There people also recalled that he was, among all these other things, also “enlightening, motivating, supportive, inquisitive and genuinely such a nice man”.

He is survived by his wife of many years, Sandra, two sons Andrew and Michael, and numerous grandchildren.

Merv Daub is Emeritus Professor at the Queen’s School of Business and was a colleague of David Rutenberg.


Students test ideas at Startup Summit

  • [Queen's Startup Summit]
    Teams of student participants work on a project during the Queen's Startup Summit, which was held Jan. 30-Feb. 1.
  • [Queen's Startup Summit]
    Student participants discuss the details of their project during the Queen's Startup Summit, which was held Jan. 30-Feb. 1.
  • [Queen's Startup Summit]
    Participating students were divided into separate groups during the Queen's Startup Summit, which was held Jan. 30-Feb. 1.
  • [Queen's Startup Summit]
    Student participants discuss the details of their project during the Queen's Startup Summit, which was held Jan. 30-Feb. 1.
  • [Queen's Startup Summit]
    Teams of student participants work on a project during the Queen's Startup Summit, which was held Jan. 30-Feb. 1.

Undergraduates with an entrepreneurial spirit are gathering on campus this weekend for the Queen’s Startup Summit (QSS). The summit, which runs from Jan. 30-Feb. 1, brings together developers, designers and product managers who are given just two days to build a startup company and pitch their idea to a panel of judges. At stake is a cash prize to help make their idea a reality.

Klaudia Litwiniuk (Artsci ’15) and QSS co-chair, has been involved with the summit’s executive team since it began in 2013. She says that the intense environment serves as great learning experience for the student-delegates.

“They’re getting opportunities to network with industry professionals and other students while testing out an idea and seeing how other people react to it,” she says. “Delegates are learning the ins and outs of team dynamics and getting a taste of what larger conferences are like.”  

After pitching prospective products to the group, delegates vote on their favorites and form teams around the ideas they think have the most potential. After that, it’s two busy days spent making a business model, marketing plan and a prototype of their product. Working out of Goodes Hall, the teams have access to a group of mentors who have volunteered their time to offer guidance and advice to the students. Once time is up, they have 15 minutes to pitch their company to the judges and respond to critiques and questions.

Though many of the companies created for QSS don’t continue into the future, Ms. Litwiniuk says the benefits are in the experience and through meeting other students. Among QSS’s nearly 90 delegates, 30 are from universities other than Queen’s. 

“This is more about developing skills than finding a permanent career path,” she says. “That’s why we open the competition to students from first to fourth-year, from all over, we think everyone can make a contribution and learn something.”

Queen’s Innovation Connector is a founding partner and sponsor of the event which is meant to give students a brief foray into the life of an entrepreneur, along with its rewards, challenges, successes and failures. It’s just one part of an innovation network that includes seminar series, SparQ Labs and the Queen’s Summer Innovation Initiative.  

More information and the eventual results of the event can be found on its website.


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