Aspiring entrepreneurs compete in the Imagination Catalyst Pitch Competition


First place winner: 21 Toys

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur with an art or design background, perhaps there’s no better green room for you than a design store. While waiting for their shot at pitching in the second annual OCAD U Imagination Catalyst Pitch Competition, held Thursday, May 15 at Umbra in Toronto, 19 entrepreneurs-in-the-making milled around on the first floor of the store, while audience applause for their competitors rang out from the packed space set up as a presentation hub above.

The Imagination Catalyst is OCAD U’s enterprise and new technology program, and at stake was the chance at a one-year residency in its Take It To Market incubator program for the top applicants, plus cash prizes — important seed funding for fresh, new ideas that fit the five scoring criteria: candidate commitment and overall presentation; differentiation and innovation; quality of business model; customer validation and motivation to invest. But, with only three minutes for a pitch plus just two minutes to answer questions from judges, candidates were under pressure to explain and prove their ideas and projects both confidently and quickly.

This year’s judges were what Petra Kassun-Mutch, Executive Director of the Imagination Catalyst described as “an impressive heavyweight bunch” and included Dr. Sara Diamond, OCAD U’s president, along with eight leading business founders, organization heads and CEOs: John Albright, Relay Ventures; Atul Asthana, TIE Institute; Bruce Croxon, Round13 Capital; Lahav Gil, Kangaroo Group; Dave Kranenburg, Centre for Social Innovation; Peter McFadzean, OCE; Abigail Slater, Barlow Lane Holdings Limited and Mike Stern, Make Works.

Candidates (who included OCAD U students, alumni and some from outside the university community) pitched a wide variety of projects, services and social enterprises — everything from DIY bespoke electronics to a service promoting local food consumption, to a healthcare app for patient-focused emotional and wellness support.

This year’s winners are:
First Place: $10,000 cash plus two tickets to C2-MTL (including Travel)
Ilana Ben-Ari and Gonzalo Riva, 21 Toys

Second Place: $5000 cash plus two tickets to MESH Conference and a free year on Shopify
Ryan Church (MDes, Strategic Foresight and Innovation, 2014), Biomenergy

Third Place: $2500 legal voucher from Fasken Martineau Dumoulin
Jeremy Bell, Wattage

Top Social Enterprise Award: $5000 (in partnership with the Centre for Social Innovation)
Mojan Jianfar (MFA, Interdisciplinary Masters in Art, Media and Design, 2014), The PATCH Project

People’s Choice Award: $1000 from Meredith Cartwright of Donbow Capital
Olibiyi Dipelou (MDes, Strategic Foresight and Innovation, 2014), Eekonomy 

Special Jury Award for Entrepreneurial Spirit: $1000
Alex Leitch (MDes, Digital Futures), Mechanism

Diamond in the Rough: Free iPad
Alex Haagaard (MFA, Interdisciplinary Masters in Art, Media and Design), HXTag
“I thought the calibre of the pitches was terrific this year,” said Kassun-Mutch. “The application process was more formal and rigourous and applicants had to think through their business models carefully and do pitch training. We also opened the competition up to the broader community, considering a wide range of candidates that fit with the incubator’s overall strengths, and we did really well on the representation of women to men, compared to a lot of pitch competitions I’ve seen.”

Find out more

The Imagination Catalyst


OCAD University launches Imagination Catalyst, led by entrepreneur Steve Billinger

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 6:15pm

*UPDATE: April 26, 2013:
Petra Kassun-Mutch appointed Executive Director of Imagination Catalyst

Learn more about the Imagination Catalyst

(Toronto—February 28, 2012) Ontario's innovation economy gets a major injection of talent and support this week with the announcement of OCAD University's Imagination Catalyst, a student and alumni-centred entrepreneurship and innovation incubator/accelerator designed to aggregate OCAD U's existing innovation, research and commercialization activities.

The Imagination Catalyst is led by Canadian/British designer, technologist and entrepreneur Steve Billinger, with over 20 years experience in digital media, strategy and business development in Canada, the UK and US. He joins OCAD U as Executive Director, Business Development & Innovation this month.

The Imagination Catalyst gears up OCAD University's student innovation through two streams: by placing students and alumni and their inventions in receptor industries and by supporting the efforts of graduating students, recent graduates and faculty members in forming new companies.

The Imagination Catalyst will strengthen and integrate OCAD University's current and future industry collaborations with faculty and students in applied research and commercialization. The Imagination Catalyst will ensure that faculty research reaches appropriate markets.

Steve Billinger brings to the role unparalleled senior experience in both traditional and digital media where he has successfully incubated, launched and marketed new products, services, divisions and companies with the likes of Microsoft (MSN), News Corp (BSkyB), Bell, Cookie Jar Entertainment and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). He is supported by an advisory council of extraordinary leaders from the investment community.

"Through the Imagination Catalyst, students and recent graduates will engage in experiential learning while contributing to productivity, the integration of design, digital media, creative thinking and design capability across key verticals of the Ontario economy," said OCAD U President, Dr. Sara Diamond. "We're fortunate to be able to pair Steve's expertise with our talented and highly motivated students and alumni. Under his guidance, they will be able to hone their entrepreneurial skills while receiving unprecedented access to private sector partners and our expanding mentorship network."

OCAD University's emerging inventors and entrepreneurs are eager to attain support for ongoing innovation and commercialization of their ideas through licensing, work experience or company formation. Strategic companies and investors can connect and gain access to this window on new product ideas and talent. OCAD University's Imagination Catalyst will act as a feeder lane to commercial incubators that can further assist the inventors. Through the Catalyst, OCAD U will make further measurable contributions to economic gain in the forms of GDP and job creation in Ontario and Canada while building strong ties to the university and alumni.

OCAD University (OCAD U): 135 Years of Imagination
OCAD University ( is Canada’s “University of the Imagination.” The university, founded in 1876, is dedicated to art and design education, practice and research and to knowledge and invention across a wide range of disciplines. OCAD University is building on its traditional, studio-based strengths, adding new approaches to learning that champion cross-disciplinary practice, collaboration and the integration of emerging technologies. In the Age of Imagination, OCAD University community members will be uniquely qualified to act as catalysts for the next advances in culture, technology and quality of life for all Canadians. 


OCAD University's Imagination Catalyst
OCAD University's Imagination Catalyst fosters experiential learning opportunities, creates a vehicle for young entrepreneurs and creative business start-ups, including the acceleration of commercialization ideas from applied academic research, coordinates university-Industry research and development collaborations across key economic drivers in digital media, and provides networking opportunities for entrepreneurs.

It consists of a series of work space hot desks, project offices and digital studio spaces with access to high-speed infrastructure, production, testing and prototyping facilities that form part of the Digital Media Research and Innovation Institute.

The Product Development track provides matchmaking and IP transfer services between OCAD University talent and small and medium enterprises, and Canadian and international strategic companies. The primary role of this stream of the Catalyst is to assist with patenting or copyrighting the product or service, providing brand development advice and prototyping support if needed, then helping to place the product with a company, assisting in the negotiation of IP, resulting in payment to the student or alumni. This will also result in student and alumni hires by companies, helping to meet the Catalyst's job creation quota.

The Company Formation track provides company formation for the inventions and individuals where a start-up is appropriate. Products or services that appear to be substantive innovations that could be the basis of a successful company will be placed in this track, and the incubator will assist with patenting or copyrighting inventions, providing all manner of business formation advice, brand development, business plan development, and prototyping support with assistance from faculty and students. The Catalyst will provide a mentor for the company, help to publicize it, match the company with appropriate angel, super angel or venture capital funds and supervise the development of the company until it is independent. Companies may remain as part of the Imagination Catalyst through stages of development depending on their performance.

The Imagination Catalyst builds on OCAD U's existing capacity by aggregating existing incubator and accelerators - OCAD U's Digital Futures Accelerator, Mobile Experience Innovation Centre, and Design Incubator - under one physical and virtual umbrella, to form a dynamic commercialization and knowledge transfer environment. The Imagination Catalyst integrates OCAD University's strong collaboration with small and medium enterprises and strategic industries, affording unparalleled access to our faculty and student talent. Imagination Catalyst participants will be able to access OCAD University's excellent laboratories, studio facilities and faculty support.

  • OCAD U's Digital Futures Accelerator is aligned with the university's Digital Futures initiative, and supports product development in tangible and wearable computing, embedded systems, games, screen-based media, social media, mobile content, inclusive design products and data visualization.
  • The Mobile Experience Innovation Centre (MEIC) and its incubator form a not-for-profit organization with its own Board of Directors, housed at OCAD University. The MEIC provides support to the Imagination Catalyst for inventions and emerging companies situated in the spectrum of mobile technologies
  • OCAD U's Design Incubator supports all manner of design innovations across a wide range of technologies, grounded in the university's programs in Industrial Design, Environmental Design, Material Art and Design, and multi-platform communication design.

Steve Billinger
In his previous appointment as General Manager, Digital Programming and Business Development at the CBC, Steve Billinger was responsible for all aspects of the growth, revenue and development of CBC's digital programming and services, while fostering business development and partnership opportunities for all CBC network radio and television. He was also responsible for strategic planning (including ventures, mergers and acquisition); production and operations of all CBC's digital programming and services, as well as revenue responsibility for CBC's digital specialty channels and the international sales of all programming and archival material.

He has also provided strategic planning and business and product development consultation to leading corporations internationally, such as TVO, Digeo, BCE, PBS, the BBC and Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, as well as government and regulators such as the CRTC and the United Kingdom's Department of Culture's Future Media Inquiry Group and the Independent Television Commission.

Billinger has extensive experience of the media and technology landscape in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, having worked for platform and software/ middleware providers, as well as content originators, media companies and distributors in these countries.

As a writer, producer or director he received a BAFTA nomination for best Children's Documentary, a Prix Europa Nomination and a Recommendation for the Japan Prize. He was awarded the prestigious Royal Television Society Award for Innovation and received an RTS Nomination for an innovative graphic history of the crisis in Bosnia.

Billinger has been an Evaluator/Lead Advisor of business models and deals for projects seeking funding with the Bell New Media Fund, as well as acted as a mentor for start-up technology companies on business and strategic development as part of the Banff Centre's Interactive Project Lab Accelerator program in conjunction with Bell Globemedia's Content Innovation Network, the American Film Institute, Vortex (part of The International Film Festival Rotterdam). He held a similar role with the Ontario Media Development Corporation and the Canadian Film Center's Interactive Project Lab.

He has delivered keynote addresses on digital media at Banff, NextMedia, the Canadian Director's Guild, iMix, the Edinburgh Television Festival, MILIA, the UK Television Show, Periodical Publishers Association, Financial Times Conferences, the Rotterdam Film Festival and the World Summit on Programming for Children. Billinger is also listed in Business Age magazine's Hall of Fame for his contribution to the UK digital market sector. He was also part of the Department of Culture's Future Media Inquiry Group established by the UK Secretary of State.

Finally, Billinger has provided master classes on digital strategy, business and product development to the American Film Institute, PBS, the BBC and the Directors Guild of Canada. He also wrote a regular column on television and digital media for New Media Age in the United Kingdom and Variety in the United States, as well as features on technology for children for Today's Parent magazine.

OCAD  University's Academic Programs
The Imagination Catalyst is possible because of OCAD University's disciplinary and interdisciplinary strength in design, art and digital media learning. OCAD University programs support student learners to become entrepreneurial and research leaders in a future world of design thinking, artistic creativity, ubiquitous digital technology and communication, as well as enabling them to master contemporary creative skills.

OCAD University is home to undergraduate programs in Industrial Design, Environmental Design, Advertising, Material Art and Design, Graphic Design, Illustration, Integrated Media, visual arts and the Digital Futures Initiative. Minors, a major, a suite of graduate programs and continuing education offerings are providing learning opportunities in digital art, media and design, and ICT, linking this knowledge to emerging technologies with applications in fields such as art/design and science, sustainability, health and wellness, accessibility, diversity, and global innovation and business development. OCAD University offers graduate programs in Strategic Foresight and Innovation; Digital Media; Inclusive Design; Curatorial and Critical Practice; Interdisciplinary Art, Media and Design; Advertising and Contemporary Art, Design and New Media Art Histories.

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Download this release as a PDF document.

Imagination Catalyst Inquiries:
Petra Kassun-Mutch, Executive Director
416-977-6000 Ext. 4589.

Media Inquiries:
Sarah Mulholland, Media & Communications Officer
416-977-6000 Ext. 327 (mobile Ext. 1327)

PUSH & Sprout Guerrilla Launch Party

 PUSH & Sprout Guerrilla Launch Party
Thursday, October 10, 2013 - 10:00pm

Indiegogo/OCAD U Partnership launch party. Sponsored by OCAD University's Imagination Catalyst and Vega

Launch party for PUSH Strength, Sprout Geurilla, and the Indiegogo/OCAD U Partnership. Sponsored by OCAD University's Imagination Catalyst and Vega.

Come and help us celebrate our new partnership (Canada’s first) with Indiegogo, a premium crowdfunding platform, and also help two OCAD U student-driven start-ups (SPROUT GUERILLA & PUSH TECHNOLOGIES) launch their fundraising campaigns. Doors open at 6pm followed by 1 hour networking opportunities, and campaign launch presentations at 7pm. This event is by invitation only. If you plan to attend, please RSVP.

NOTE: Registration for the event will close once we reach 300 RSVPS. This will be measured on a first-come-first-serve basis. Thank you for your support and interest!

19+ Event - Coat Check Available

Dress Code: Dress to impress!



Venue & Address: 
Onsite [at] OCAD U 230 Richmond Street West Toronto, Ontario

What is the Imagination Catalyst?

What is the Imagination Catalyst?
Thursday, October 17, 2013 - 8:00pm

Briefing & Open House

Have you always dreamed of being an entrepreneur or commercializing your design? Are you faculty at OCAD U and have been wondering about what the Imagination Catalyst offers? If you have been thinking about either, you will want to attend this information session and open house where you will learn about the Imagination Catalyst, what we offer, meet our entrepreneurs, mentors, and Entrepreneur in Residence, and get a pre-commercialization look at the innovative products and companies that are currently in the process of being launched.

The event is open to all. If you plan to attend, RSVP at



Venue & Address: 
Imagination Catalyst 49 McCaul St. Toronto, Ontario