Summer Cohort 2020: Starting a Business in the time of Covid-19

Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, many emerging entrepreneurs are passionately pursuing their entrepreneurial ventures in the face of adversity.

Fourteen ambitious start-up teams from the University of Toronto and Sheridan College are hatching their business ideas in the summer Leap Start Up League, hosted by ICUBE UTM and Edge Sheridan College. The participants come from diverse backgrounds and their ideas range from developing shampoo products, to online community platforms.

It is very obvious that this summer cohort is different from past ones, as the challenges and uncertainties that the teams face during this time are unprecedented.

Let’s take a look at some participating startup teams and what they are hoping to achieve this summer.


This startup is co-founded by U of T students Kristina Knox, a prospective MA/PhD student in cognitive psychology, and Stephanie Tien, a
second-year master student in clinical Pharmacology. Arbre is a sun care brand that aims to develop a range of universally functional SPF products. Their first product will be a mineral based dry shampoo which can protect the scalp from the UV rays of the sun.

“The idea first came about when myself and Kristina took a trip to the cottage and beach, it was really hot, and I got a sun burn on my scalp. So, we thought about how people could protect their scalp. We realized that there are not many options out there in the market,” Stephanie said.

“In addition to that, we wanted to create a mineral-based SPF that is environmentally friendly. A lot of chemical SPF impact the coral reef when they get into the water,” said Kristina.

The COVID-19 pandemic is of course effecting their work. The cofounders cited the absence of physical networking in places like ICUBE and MaRS as a major roadblock. Despite the unusual times, however, the co-founders of Arbre are ready to take on potential challenges.

“The biggest goal is to develop a complete business plan upon the completion of this summer cohort. In addition to that, we seek valuable advices from mentors on how our product could be approved by Health Canada as well as strategies to deal with more complex challenges that we might face in the industry. Overall, I think this will be a great opportunity”, said Kristina.

Dialogue Room

Sehrish Mahmood, who graduated from New York University in International Education, moved to Canada over a year ago and is currently developing her business Dialogue Room. She aims to engage college students in intellectually stimulating dialogues by providing them with a platform where they can share and discuss their ideas.

“Being in the education industry and new to Canada, I wanted to do something in the realm of learning. I came up with the idea of Dialogue Room… a platform that, along with other services, offers students a college readiness program. The program aims to develop students’ non-academic mindset and offers techniques that can help students with stress management, social interaction and generally managing,” said Sehrish during the interview.

The challenge lying ahead is tremendous, not only because of the unfamiliarity of the Canadian business environment, but the sudden outbreak of COVID-19 has brought additional uncertainties.

“I think the biggest issue is the loss of community. My idea for Dialogue Room is primarily based on students interacting in-person and for them to get to know each other and build a network. The inability to be physically together is the biggest drawback of this current situation,” said Sehrish.

Check Out the Full Summer 2020 Cohort

Undoubtedly, we are all living and working through this difficult time, but that won’t become the excuse for entrepreneurs to stop pursing what they believe in. Winston Churchill once said:

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

Adversity is inevitable and taking risk is necessary; these teams have accepted the challenge. Let’s stay tuned to see what kind of surprises they will bring us!

Click here to see the full 2020 summer cohort, and feel free to connect with the entrepreneurs on Linked In, or follow their work on social media.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *