McGill Dobson Chronicles

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Inspiring Entrepreneurs in the McGill Community
Updated: 7 hours 32 min ago

Recap: What it takes to win the McGill Dobson Cup (19 tips)

Thu, 01/17/2019 - 14:41

Editor’s Note: For those that missed it, here are the slides from the December info session on the Dobson Cup:

Get your tickets for the Awards Ceremony now to find out who wins – tickets sell out fast!  

On January 10th, our program manager Jihane led a presentation on what it takes to win the McGill Dobson Cup 2019 presented by National Bank. We also brought in some past winners from the competition, including the teams from Nimbus Tutoring and Cura Therapeutics, who won prizes the year before. There was plenty of time for audience Q&A, where the founders were able to provide detailed, tailored advice to all the new applicants. We’ve distilled some of that advice so that you can apply it to your business.


1. Pick the right Track

When you pick which track your startup goes into, you need to be thinking about what kind of help you want to get from the judges and mentors. Do you need feedback in the medical field or do you need something with more innovation driven experience and guidance? Narrow down which track your company fits into and then go from there.

2. Know everything about your company and the industry

During the pitches, if you seem like you don’t know your industry, your judges (who are experts in the industry) will call you out on it. Knowing everything about your industry gives you credibility in front of the judges, which gives you a better chance of winning.
This includes: market research at a macro level, market research at a micro level (through customer interviews), the biggest roadblocks that other companies are facing, and why your product can overcome them.

3. Demonstrate and highlight your progress

Being accepted into the McGill Dobson Cup is just the first step of this competition. Making and showing progress is what makes you win. Once your team gets to the Semi-Finals, your judges will be looking for major progress when you approach the Finals. You will need to provide them with a Minimal Viable Product (MVP). The judges need to see that you are working and committed to your company. Show the judges traction, however small it may be, and this will make you stand out.

4. Think long term

It’s great to have an idea and even greater if you are able to go forth and win the McGill Dobson Cup. However, you also need to be thinking about how you are going to take the experience of the McGill Dobson Cup and the potential funding you might get to help build into a long-term goal of the company. The McGill Dobson Cup is a stepping stone towards a bigger journey.

5. The key to success = commitment

The company that you are about to create, or have already created, has to be one of your top priorities in life. You need to be working on this company as hard as you possibly can and the judges need to see this.


6. Assemble an All-Star team

Product is important, but ultimately you need to have the people who have the specialized skills necessary to build that product.


7. Know what you’re being judged on

Judges will look at the feasibility, growth potential and innovation, as presented by the teams. Specifically for the Social Enterprise Track, social impact will be assessed.


8. Make progress between the Semi-Finals and the Finals

If you can show that you’re actively working on your business and that you’ve taken feedback and used it to learn, you’re that much better off when you’re presenting to the judges in the Finals.


9. Show that you are all in

When you’re speaking during the pitch or the Q&A, find a way to demonstrate that you are obsessed with your vision and that you are dedicated to seeing this through.


10. Tell a story

Judges will hear up to 10 pitches a day, so using emotional stories to differentiate your pitch will make their job easier and make your company more memorable.


11. Show your prototype

Bring samples, frameworks, products, or some kind of tangible Minimum Viable Product. You know how it’s said that a picture is worth 1000 words? Well a prototype is said to be worth 1000 meetings – bring one!


12. Talk about early traction

Even a few thousand dollars of revenue or letters of intent are useful. Judges are constantly judging whether or not you’re solving a problem. And the best way to do that, is by showing that people want and are using, what you’re building.


13. Make the most of it by keeping an open mind

Talk to the other teams and ask the judges questions! This competition is meant to embody experiential learning and provides students with invaluable feedback, mentorship and networking opportunities.


14. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Recall that you have 20 minutes in total: 5 to pitch, and 15 for Q&A. The Q&A is TWO-SIDED! You can ask for specific advice, or even introductions. And bring a small notepad to take notes – it’s practically useful and signals your dedication.


15. Use the competition as a FIRST STEP

Don’t get too attached to winning – ultimately, entrepreneurship is a marathon not a sprint. The most valuable things in the competition are the lessons learnt, the feedback you get, the people you meet, and the confidence you build. Focus on those!


16. Don’t be on time, be early

If you’re even a few minutes late, we will have whichever team is ready take your place. Our competition is scheduled in multiple locations at precise times – we don’t have the capacity to accommodate everyone’s schedule.


17. Re-evaluate your business between the Semi-Finals and Finals

If your financials change, or you uncover a new insight that could change the course of your business, that’s okay. In fact, that’s the kind of learning that happens in any successful business and is a reflection of progress. You may send in updated business plans that we’ll hand off to the judges.


18. If you’re a solo founder, find a co-founder: going into business alone is hard

Sign up for McGill Dobson Match, ask your friends, and go to networking events. But don’t rush into an equity split, you want to take your time while judging what they can bring to the table as well as their character and energy.


19. You don’t have to have a tech company

Roughly 1 out of 3 companies that go through the McGill Dobson Cup have a tech component in their business: apps, patented medical breakthroughs, physical feats of engineering, and unique algorithms. However, there are plenty of businesses that are not technological in nature – ultimately, you will be judged on the value you bring to other people’s lives, whatever form that takes.


Get your tickets for the Awards Ceremony now to find out who wins – tickets sell out fast!  

Recap: McGill Lean Startup Demo Day 2018

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 15:53

Editor’s Note: The McGill Lean Startup Program is a 10-week hands-on program that immerses early-stage McGill startup teams by having them test their business ideas and hypotheses outside the classroom. Inside the classroom, we deliberately trade off lecture time for students/teaching team interaction.

Since the end of September, 9 early-stage McGill teams have been going through the build-measure-learn customer development process and have been working on their pitches in preparation for this event. On December 3rd, we had them pitch in front of over 100 people including several judges to show the city what they’ve been up to. There was also a brief Q&A after each pitch.

Also note that applications for the McGill Dobson Cup 2019 powered by National Bank, are now open – click here to apply. Deadline: Wednesday January 16, 11:59PM EST.

Intro video

The pitches Arkangel: Uses AI to prevent chronic diseases Ugly Harvest: Turns “ugly” harvest and waste food into vegan and gluten-free produce Fofo: Video-only social media app that allows you to film and post your videos instantly with no time constraint HOST: Provides office space and tech consulting for healthcare professionals Observe Agriculture: Handheld instrument that measures active constituents in a given crop Turbodega: Helps small grocery stores improve their competitiveness by digitizing their sales and procurement operations CHK PLZ: Mobile app that streamlines the billing process at bars and restaurants Motek: Uses innovative material to enhance the efficiency of air-drying technologies PDT Food Depot: Food bank in China that redistributes surplus food from farms and bakeries to communities in need What’s next? The McGill Dobson Cup powered by National Bank of course – applications are now open, just click here!

Q&A with Abhishek Gupta, founder of the Montreal AI Ethics Institute

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 16:44

Editor’s Note: Abhishek Gupta is the founder of the Montreal AI Ethics Institute, a machine learning engineer at Microsoft, and an AI Ethics Researcher at McGill University. Last week, he won the Community Organizer of the Year award within Montreal’s startup community for hosting the official Montreal AI Ethics Meetup. The award is given to the individual who best mobilizes people in the community for good.

At McGill’s annual Trottier Public Symposium, this year’s theme was artificial intelligence. On day 1, there was a roundtable discussion including the likes of Dr. Doina Precup (Google DeepMind), Dr. Derek Ruths , Dr. Ian Kerr, Dr. Tal Arbel, as well as Alex Shee (ElementAI), where Dr. Joe Schwarcz asked them a series of thought-provoking questions related to the future of technology.

We decided to ask Abhishek those same questions, given that he is perfectly positioned to add uniquely valuable ethics-related insights. Abhishek has been invited to the G7 Multistakeholder Conference on Artificial Intelligence being held on December 6th.

What does the term “artificial intelligence” mean to you?

It’s an umbrella term that encompasses a lot of the things we hear about today including machine learning, deep learning, and reinforcement learning. AI is an evolving term. If you asked someone what it meant in the 80s or 70s, it’d be vastly different from today.

The key idea that underpins all of that is the ability to solve new challenges in a novel environment in a way that we would typically expect from humans. We don’t have an algorithm to solve everything. You can go learn skiing today, or cook indian food, and you don’t necessarily have to be loaded with specific programs to do that – you can just innately learn new things in new environments.


There are many misconceptions about AI and where AI will take us. Which concerns do you think are legitimate? On what aspect of life do you think AI will have the greatest impact?

Biggest misconception is that AI is some amorphous entity that’s going to subsume everything that humans do and take all our jobs. At the end of the day, it’s just software — at least in the near future. People attribute more “intelligence” to these systems than they have.

Transparency, fairness, inclusion, ethics – these are legitimate concerns. Things like superintelligence and robots taking over the world are not relevant in the moment and probably don’t deserve too much attention.

Ultimately it’ll help us automate menial, unfulfilling tasks that feel like drudgery. That’ll be its biggest impact: allowing us to spend more time on work tasks that are fulfilling and satisfying. Everyone has a few things they hate in their job, and a few they love.


What level of sophistication do you think robots can eventually achieve? Is there a chance they can develop  “a mind of their own” and operate outside of human control?

No one can predict this – humans are known to be terrible at predicting the future. Consciousness might just be a byproduct or an emergent property of inherently complex interactions within the brain.  In that case, it seems theoretically possible. But in the near to medium term, that’s not a concern.


What role will “machine learning” play in the practice of medicine? Will medical education have to undergo a paradigm shift? What about general university education? Is the traditional lecture becoming a dinosaur?

Doctors can focus on the complex cases by automating the simple, repetitive tasks. In the developing world, doctors are always short-staffed. And in some places, there are no doctors at all and so AI can democratize at least some aspects of medicine.

In terms of education, we should be focused on preparing the next generation for a very different future. This includes encouraging learning how to learn, soft skills (interacting with people, empathetic), and promoting a culture of learning in new contexts quickly. That’s what education needs to be all about.

Yes, the education system in its current state is a dinosaur – but disruption is already happening because of wider availability of information on the web. This means that instructors should be focused on helping students develop skills in the classroom instead of providing content.

Same with medical education: learn empathy, learn to work on complex cases, learn to co-exist and work with machines instead of working against them. People see it as a competition but it’s really more of a collaborative process.


Algorithms are already being used for hiring, consumer purchase targeting, investment decisions, finding romantic partners, evaluating insurance risks, parole board decisions, determining crime “hot spots” and potential terrorist profiling. What privacy issues are raised and what other concerns come to mind?

The biggest privacy concern is pervasive  data collection. Machine learning algorithms can operate on large datasets with or without consent. They may then create inferences out of those detected patterns, putting people in different buckets, and making decisions on attributes that aren’t explicitly stated but inferred through data, which means there’s potential to discriminate against people on many different axes without even being aware of why and how the system arrived at such a decision.


Smart phones have become ubiquitous, allowing around the clock access to Facebook, Instagram, Google, emails and text messaging. What impact has this had on society?

It has altered the way we communicate with each other. A huge portion of human interaction now happens online, asynchronously. This can have deeper long term impacts: we may become less patient as we deal with each other, have less empathy, and a shorter attention span.

Online messaging is mostly agnostic to emotions despite emojis. It just doesn’t jive well with our biologically hard-wired way of interacting with each other and we’re seeing that with the generation that is growing up with smartphones today. Those consequences will be clear in about 10 years, including lowered in-person communication skills.


Would you get into a self-driving car or fly in a plane with no pilot?

If it has been certified for safety, yes. That’s what we often don’t discuss. We need to be thinking about how we certify the robustness of these systems. If you hop into a car, you don’t actually know how the internal combustion engine works, but you trust that it’s safe and that it will get you from A to B. It’s the same thing with airlines. They arose out of a cycle of iteration and improvement. Once we have those safety standards in place after rigorous testing and certification, I would be comfortable.


Devices such as the Apple watch can monitor heart function. Can this cause unnecessary anxiety or can it lead to lives being saved?

That’s a false dichotomy. Yes its use as a tool for preventative healthcare can help people improve their health. But having information all the time is not the best for anxiety levels.

When I call an Uber and see where the car is, I don’t like wondering why it’s going so slow and taking weird detours – that’s a frustrating experience. Constant monitoring can lead to anxiety.


How do you see space exploration unfolding since we have moved from the purely government-led era to one where technology, being more affordable, can be developed by private enterprises?

I think it’s going to accelerate the rate of innovation and quality of products and services. I’m excited about initiatives like Relativity Space, whose innovative, autonomous, 3D printing rocket factory will redefine how we access space.

The speed at which we’ll be able to create rockets will increase by an order of magnitude. And it’ll be 100X cheaper.

If they’re subject to the same level of rigor and safety standards, I don’t see why we can’t have more private companies entering the space market.

Join Abhishek at the next Montreal AI Ethics Meetup! Sign up for his AI Ethics Newsletter here.

Made At McGill: The world’s 1st electric snowmobile

Tue, 11/06/2018 - 18:45

In this episode of the Made At McGill podcast, you’ll hear from Sam Bruneau – a McGill Engineering alum who won the McGill Dobson Cup in 2016. His company Taiga Motors is building and commercializing the world’s first electric snowmobile. This is the story of how Taiga was made at McGill.

What you’ll learn in this episode:
  • Why Sam and his team turned down job offers from Tesla
  • How they got their first important pieces of feedback
  • How you can leverage one investor to get more funding from another

Tune in on: Youtube / iTunes

(or just search for “Made At McGill” on your phone’s podcast app)

Every pitch from McGill Demo Days 2018

Sun, 11/04/2018 - 00:15
First, the thank yous!


Huge thank you to the 100+ mentors involved with the program and the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship this past summer.

San Francisco

We had an incredible time touring Silicon Valley and meeting with a number of McGill Alumni and friends of the university at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Y Combinator, B.Yond, Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners and Sequoia Capital. And we held our Demo Day at Sonder’s offices at Sonder’s headquarters!

Many thanks to Francis Davidson, Elton Satusky, Kat Mañalac, Ned Taleb, Jack J. Young, Aaref Hilaly, and Chris Turlica.


It’s always great to see the warm welcome that McGill University gets every time we visit Boston. From our colleagues at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship to our Alumni and friends at Fuze, TechCode Accelerator – US, Schooner Capital, Flagship Pioneering, Canadian Technology Accelerator – Accélerateurs technologiques canadiens Boston, UGo Smoothies and Pitch DNA.

It was fantastic to co-host McGill Boston Demo Day yesterday at the Fuze offices with Jihane El Atifi featuring our lineup of incredible McGill startups.

Many thanks to Steven Kokinos, Rubin Gruber, Scott Yaphe, Anthony DeOrsey, Avak Kahvejian, Stuart Paap, Susan Ahern, and Morgan Abraham.


Together with Jihane El Atifi and the McGill Alumni Association, we hosted over 100+ people at our Toronto Demo Day event.

While in the city, we had the opportunity to meet with many alumni and friends of McGill from TechToronto, Ramen Ventures, Panache Ventures, foodora, MaRS Discovery District, Ryerson DMZ, SAP Co-Innovation Labs and

Many thanks to Alex Norman, Prashant Matta, Ali Zahid, David Albert, Prakash Surapaneni, Glen Moffatt, William Dogué, Stephanie Hip, Jaxson Khan, and Mark Hyland.

New York City

Grateful to have been hosted at the Third Bridge Group Limited offices in Midtown Manhattan by McGill University alum Mergen Davaapil and his team Danaé Hirsch, Michael Marconi and Basile Chauffour – many thanks!

It was great to finish off Demo Days 2018 with 80+ people in attendance.

Excellent to be in New York City after a month-long trip that started in Montreal, taking us all the way to San Francisco, Boston and then Toronto.

While in NYC, we had the opportunity to meet with Alumni and friends of McGill from Tech:NYC, Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, dim3branding and the Canadian Technology Accelerator NYC.

Many thanks to Bryan Lozano, Jeremy Harper, Tessa Battistin, Sabine Landolt, Joshua Kleyman and Khawar Nasim.

Looking forward to McGill Demo Days 2019 already!


The pitches! 1. Keenoa

An AI-powered app built as a platform to connect dietitians and patients. Patients can simply take a photo of their meal, and Keenoa will identify the nutrients.


2. Haven Hub

A social enterprise that reimagines primary healthcare to curb the overuse of emergency services by offering home care therapies.


3. CURA Therapeutics

Developing innovative immunotherapies to cure pancreatic cancer and other solid malignancies with their patented technology and PhD expertise.


4. Krypto

Monitors & analyzes blockchain transaction to help financial institutions.


5. Nightline

National organization focused on implementing local support services for students at night and in-depth training sessions across Canada. It is currently looking at global expansion.


6. SMS Jobs

Targets the blue collar industry’s hiring process with its unique platform connecting employers and employees to communicate job offers and make appropriate matches.



Revolutionizing supply chain management as a unique collaborative Supply Chain Management platform automating informational and transactional flow throughout the external supply chain.


8. Nimbus Tutoring

An education platform that connects students with tutors for in-person, course-specific tutoring lessons at the university level.


9. Orbityl

Orbityl’s sensor integrates into earbud headphones and monitors brain activity from inside the ear. Algorithms translate the complex patterns in the signal to specific thoughts from a user.


10. Saccade Analytics

Saccade Analytics believes that accurate diagnosis of brain function is key to protecting patients and improving health outcomes. They use advanced eye-tracking software and analytics to provide a novel, more effective way of diagnosing neurological disorders at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional methods.


11. Remixed

Transforming the concept of traditional trail mixes by introducing dehydrated beans and re-purposed fruit, providing an affordable alternative that combats food waste.

12. Entr

A platform that helps you discover and book unique venues and creative spaces for your next event. Entr also recently raised a $1.13 million seed round towards expanding across Canada while continuing to build its product and optimize the user experience.


13. Taiga Motors

The world’s first electric snowmobile designed from the ground up that is faster, more reliable, more efficient & better connected to winter.

McGill Startup Bootcamp (Oct 27)

Mon, 10/15/2018 - 15:05

Farsighted – The Art & Science of Full-Spectrum Decision-Making

Tue, 10/09/2018 - 00:12

You have thousands of decisions still to be made in your lifetime. Some small, some large. The scariest ones are the big ones. Their implications are vast, and cascade over into every aspect of your life.

And yet, you haven’t been taught how to make big decisions well. Not in a systematic fashion. Not in school, not at work, not at home. You’re sometimes told to “just go with your gut.” In other words, using system 1 (from Daniel Kahnemann’s “Thinking Fast and Slow”) for decisions that really should be refined with a system 2 lens – a slower, methodical thinking process.

If you want to learn a framework that can help you and your team (whether it’s your family, friends, or your squad at work) grapple with long-term decision making that incorporates many variables and possibilities, this book is INCREDIBLY useful. It provides you with a 3-step process, along with various tips & tricks at each step. The examples and stories Johnson draws his inspiration from are varied and vivid: from the decision-making process used to capture Osama Bin Laden, to the author’s personal process to decide whether to move to California, and the system Darwin used to decide to get married.

Very few authors are able to distill key insights from different disciplines and tie them together with supporting stories coherently in a narrative that is informative, entertaining, and persuasive. After listening to Steven Johnson‘s “Wonderland” podcast, I knew that he was one of the best in the world at doing it. And if you decide to read Farsighted and improve your ability to make decisions by adopting “full-spectrum thinking”, you’ll see what I mean.

Below is my high-level preview of what you can expect to learn in this book.

You have plenty of practice going with your gut for small decisions, but you weren’t ever taught the practice of sitting down with a big decision and thinking it through systematically. If you want to learn how, grab Steven Johnson’s book Farsighted today.

The primary framework outlined by Johnson consists of 3 steps: Map, Predict, Decide.

The “menu” of choices you think you have, might not be complete.


This is when you’re trying to get an idea of what the territory looks like by building a metaphorical map of the decision. This includes writing down the variables that you’re facing, the people that can help you, what the end goal is, and the possible outcomes. A major tool you have your disposal in this step of the process is divergence. In other words, you need to build a (formal or informal) team to help you make your decision and get various opinions. Johnson cites plenty of evidence to show that intellectually diverse teams make better decisions than homogenous ones.

It’s also important at this stage to consider that the “menu” of choices you think you have, might not be complete. Take long walks and talk to your squad about hidden choices that you hadn’t considered.

Think about what those possible disasters are, and how your decisions may lead you there.


This is when you look at the (updated) menu of choices you have at your disposal, and attempt to predict where each one may lead you. A powerful mental modeling exercise Johnson shares here is the “premortem”, which you’re likely familiar with if you’ve read Kahnemann already. The idea is to imagine that your choice(s) will lead to a disaster. Think about what those possible disasters are, and how your decisions may lead you there. That way, you can cover some of your blind spots and prepare. A useful way to do this is to build a “red team”, where you find people to oppose you at every step of the way and tell you the downsides of every choice you’re considering – so that you can see the full spectrum of possibilities involved in the possible paths your decision can take you.

Another major mental model Johnson dives into here is the idea of building simulations, in whatever way you can. Simulate your decisions before actually committing to any of them. This can be done vicariously, and can even be fictional – which is the value of novels. By seeing how others make decisions and grapple with the complexity of life, we become more prepared to make our own. A more grounded example of a simulation would be the following: if you’re interested in a certain career path, go job shadow your role model for a day. Then you can consider if it’s something that you see yourself doing in the future.

You have to get comfortable making decisions with somewhat incomplete information and roll with the punches.


Finally, you have to decide. This is when you look at the map you’ve built, the predictions, where things might go wrong along the way, and commit to a course of action. At this point, your gut-thinking is way better than it was before the whole process, because it’s taking a lot more information into account, and has simulated many possibilities. It’s not a myopic, system 1 decision anymore because you’ve supplemented it with a deliberate thinking process.

He also shares a few techniques that can help here like value-modeling and cost-benefit analysis. It’s important to note that if a decision is time-limited, you have to get comfortable making decisions with somewhat incomplete information and roll with the punches.


Final thoughts

As you mature, advance in your career, and build your families, the stakes get bigger and bigger when it comes to the consequences of the decisions you make. And as society evolves, and technology advances, the same applies at a macro scale…with stakes rising exponentially. In order to maximize the probability of favorable outcomes, we need to learn to think more systematically.

If learning the art and science of farsighted decision-making is something that appeals to you, hit “Add to Cart.” It could be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make – one that makes all of your subsequent decisions easier and better.

Links to Farsighted book:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Audible (audiobook)

McGill University Selected to Host Hult Prize On Campus

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 15:17

McGill University has been selected to host local edition of Hult Prize as students answer the United Nations Challenge and go head-to-head for $1M USD

MONTREAL, Quebec. Hult Prize recently announced that McGill University has been selected to host a local edition of the Hult Prize, the world’s largest student movement for the creation of new social enterprises. The annual Hult Prize awards one million dollars in start-up funding to the team of students that develops the most radical and breakthrough idea to solve one of our world’s toughest social challenges.

The Hult Prize will unlock your hidden potential and take you heights you cannot imagine. Last year we sent 4 teams to the regionals, with 1 team making it to the Top 20 Internationally. Are you next?

In partnership with the United Nations, the Hult Prize is hosting college and university events around the world in search of the next game-changing start-up.  Justine Tupe will be leading the Hult Prize at McGill On Campus Program, and is confident that her peers have as good as chance as anyone to go all the way with this year’s Hult Prize. From her experience with the Hult Prize, Justine has this to say to her fellow McGill students, “The Hult Prize will unlock your hidden potential and take you heights you cannot imagine. Last year we sent 4 teams to the regionals, with 1 team making it to the Top 20 Internationally. Are you next?”

The winner of the intra-campus event will automatically advance to compete in one of fifteen regional finals happening around the world. One winning team from each host city will then move onto a summer business accelerator, where participants will receive mentorship, advisory and strategic planning as they create prototypes and set-up to launch their new social business.  A final round of competition will be hosted in September, where the winning team to be awarded the $1,000,000 prize.

“The Hult Prize is a wonderful example of the creative cooperation needed to build a world with shared opportunity, shared responsibility, and shared prosperity, and each year I look forward to seeing the many outstanding ideas the competition produces,” Clinton has stated.

Hult Prize at McGill is now recruiting volunteers and teams who are interested in registering for the competition.

To learn more, contact the director at or visit