Changing the World — One Startup at a Time
The McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship is a prime example of how we nurture McGill entrepreneurship through key training in the business steps and skills necessary to build a startup.
In 2019, Dobson continued to scale rapidly. The most immediate impact was on display during the McGill Startup Tour; more than 1,300 alumni, guests and investors turned out to meet our startups in Montreal, Toronto, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and London.
Perhaps most exciting is the growing number of cross-disciplinary startups from around McGill coming together at Dobson, especially during the McGill Dobson Cup Startup Competition powered by National Bank. In April, the Dobson Cup awarded 18 McGill startups prize money amounting to over $200,000. There were 108 teams competing in the semi-finals; the top 40 teams competed in the finals. Teams enrolled from across campus, emerging from arts, life sciences, agriculture, medicine, dentistry, engineering and management.
It is thanks to our community of donors, judges, mentors and industry partners that we are able to help McGill startups make an indelible impact across the globe.
Impact since 2009
|An AI-powered malaria detector.||Faculty of Engineering|
|A mobile application that streamlines the billing process at restaurants and bars, allowing customers to view and pay their bills from their own smartphones.||Faculties of Science, Engineering|
A medical technology company taking a personalized approach to treating pelvic organ prolapse (POP).
|Faculties of Medicine, Desautels|
Software for film sets to run digitally, safely and with less cost and effort so that production teams focus on what matters: making great films and television.
|Faculty of Science|
A marketplace for event vendors to sell their products on event websites, promoter apps, and other partners’ websites before and after events.
|Faculties of Arts, Science|
A mobile app that allows consumers to save time and money by pre-ordering food from local restaurants.
|Faculty of Science|
|PDT Food Depot||
A food redistribution network that bridges the gap between surplus food and hunger in China.
|Faculties of Science, Engineering, Desautels|
A collaborative software management tool that improves the competitiveness of small grocery stores in Latin America by providing access to better prices, fair credits and advanced analytics.
|Faculties of Education, Desautels|
A medical startup that focuses on managing cardiovascular disease via a smartwatch that continuously estimates vital signs such as blood pressure and oxygen saturation.
|Faculty of Medicine|
A weekly meal plan that delivers personalized meals to the office.
|Faculties of Science, Engineering|
For Julio Castañeda (MBA’19), a native of Mexico City, the corner bodega is a neighbourhood staple. “These small independent stores are integral to the social tissue of our communities,” he said. Unfortunately, many bodegas struggle to stay afloat because of their heavily fragmented supply chains. An idea for a solution began to percolate, but it wouldn’t take off until Julio began his MBA program at Desautels.
Daniel Franco (MBA’19) and Julio Castaneda Escobar (MBA’19), co-founders of Turbodega
Julio and his co-founder, Daniel Franco (MBA’19) graduated from every program the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship has to offer. Their Dobson journey started through the Dobson Centre’s Lean Startup Program, which provided guidance in developing their business model for Turbodega, a startup that uses a software management tool to connect bodegas with a virtual network of distributors. They then competed in the 2019 Dobson Cup and won 1st place in the Social Enterprise Track.
Turbodega also benefitted from expert guidance and investment readiness, thanks to the John Dobson Foundation’s 2017 gift to support the McGill X-1 Accelerator and McGill Startup Tour. The Foundation’s gift targets the University’s most promising young entrepreneurs, accelerating their progress through an intensive 10-week summer program designed to prepare them for investment readiness and launch.
While participating in the McGill X-1 Accelerator in 2019, they met Paolo Melgarejo, a technological adviser who brought the concept to life and became the company’s third founder. “The X-1 and the following Startup Tour provided game-changing support for Turbodega,” Julio affirmed. “The John Dobson Foundation, the Dobson Centre and the people who make it run have played a central role in helping us gain traction at every stage.”
According to Ari Kiriazidis, President of the John Dobson Foundation, the very first donation that the foundation made after its creation in 1987 was to found the Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship at McGill University. “John’s vision was to foster an environment that would reward people for taking risks and creating jobs,” said Ari. “Thirty years later, this vision is bearing fruit and helping put Canada on the map as an entrepreneurial force. It’s fantastic to see entrepreneurs like Julio take a good idea and turn it into a viable company with the support of the X-1.”
Today, Turbodega operates from Peru and serves more than 800 bodegas in the region. “Our vision is to start out in Latin America, where there are more than two million bodegas,” Julio shared. “From there, there is potential for us to become a truly global company.”
“These small independent stores are integral to the social tissue of our communities.” – Julio Castañeda
Sonder: McGill’s Latest Unicorn Has Its Roots in Dobson
The McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship has its latest unicorn. Sonder, the tech-driven hospitality startup founded by former McGill student Francis Davidson, is now a billion-dollar company.
While he was a philosophy and economics student at McGill, Francis’ idea for Sonder was born out of frustration. In the summer of 2012, Francis tried—unsuccessfully—to sublet his Montreal apartment so he could take a summer job in Gatineau.
His experience sparked an idea for an alternative that would shake up the hospitality industry: a hybrid of a homestay and an upscale hotel.
Sonder founder Francis Davidson
In 2014, Francis entered his company (then called Flatbook) into the McGill Dobson Cup Startup Competition. Flatbook didn’t progress to the finals, but it caught the attention of Tim Tokarsky (BSc’99), a Dobson Cup judge and co-founder of the McGill X-1 Accelerator. With the help of Tim’s mentorship and investment, Flatbook hatched into Sonder and took flight.
Francis has continued to invest in the Dobson Centre through mentoring other startup leaders, both in Montreal and San Francisco. At its San Francisco Headquarters, Sonder hosted a Demo Day, a component of the McGill Startup Tour that gives startups from McGill the opportunity to pitch and connect with successful McGill alumni in entrepreneurial and investment circles.
“I am fortunate to have had mentors who believed and invested in me, including ones I met through McGill, and to now have the chance to give back through mentoring upcoming entrepreneurs and innovators,” said Francis.
“Francis has been very generous with his time and knowledge,” said Renjie Butalid, former associate director of the Dobson Centre. “He’s opened up his network, which is really good for the startup ecosystem. At some point, we were connecting Francis to mentors and investors to help him build his business. Now, he’s using the Dobson Centre as an opportunity to give back.”
“I am fortunate to have had mentors who believed and invested in me, including ones I met through McGill.” – Francis Davidson