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Smith programs support the success of new ventures

Posted on January 16, 2024

Kingston, Ont. – Four ventures with ties to Smith School of Business are starting the year off on a high note as winners of two of the business school’s competitions that foster and support entrepreneurship. 

Smith’s Centre for Entrepreneurship, Innovation & Social Impact (CEISI) recently held two core events: the Kinnear New Venture Competition and UPstart Venture Challenge, which provided combined funding of $70,000. Both alumni-funded initiatives support entrepreneurship and innovation within the Smith and Queen’s community. 

The winner of this year’s Paul and Tom Kinnear New Venture Competition, and $10,000 in funding, is Tutor.AI and its founders Rodrigo Del Aguila, Sc’25; Ashton Seebaran, Comm’25; James Shapas, Comp’26; and Tharakan Karunakaran, Comm’25. 

Currently in development, Tutor.AI aims to simplify the student-tutor matching process by harnessing machine learning to connect learner and instructor based on their unique learning styles and needs, and complementary qualifications.  

“These funds will help Tutor.AI begin to enter the marketplace and scale at a rate much quicker than what we could have done organically,” notes Seebaran. “This will help us grow Tutor.AI into the venture that all the founding members dreamed of it becoming: a platform to simplify learning and advance education.” 

Equally thrilled at the opportunity to scale their ventures are the winners of this year’s UPstart Venture Challenge. 

HazTrack, founded by Tom McDonell, BCom’18; Zach Johnson, BCom’20, AMBA’24; and Adam Curtis were awarded $25,000. The company’s initial offering, the HazTracker, employs advanced sensor technology to provide real-time data on industrial tanks and pumps, improving efficiency and sustainability.   

“The funding comes at a crucial point for us, as we navigate our go-to-market strategy and deploy our first commercial units in the field,” notes McDonell. “We will use the funds to further improve our product, invest in additional manufacturing capacity and support our early customers as they deploy our solution at scale.” 

Securing $15,000 for her peer-to-peer wardrobe rental app rax, Marley Alles, BCom’18, says the support from CEISI is a game-changer. Her app aims to connect fashion enthusiasts, democratize high-end fashion and reduce environmental impact. 

“The funding empowers us to launch our app with a bang, enabling partnerships with content creators and strategic paid marketing to elevate rax’s brand awareness,” she says. “This investment propels us towards a future where sustainable fashion and shared wardrobes become synonymous with innovation and positive impact.” 

The final award winner of UPstart, Sprout Family, founded by Jackie Hanson, BCom’16, and Suze Mason, was the favourite among the virtual audience. In addition to winning $15,000 in funding, the venture also earned another $5,000 with the People’s Choice Award. 

“We are so excited to use the prize funds and support from the Centre for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Social Impact to continue building toward our vision of making family-building care accessible to all Canadians,” says Hanson. Sprout Family is a digital inclusive family-building benefits platform designed to support every unique parenthood journey. 

JP Shearer, associate director of CEISI, says he was impressed with the calibre and potential of the entrants to this year’s competitions and the progress each has made with their entrepreneurial ventures. 

“The team at CEISI looks forward to coaching and mentoring these founders on their journeys to start, grow and scale viable businesses that will contribute positively to our economy and society.”