Sharanya “Schrodinger’s Cat” Haridas is a fifth year student of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. She is the Founder-C.E.O. of “That’s So Gloss!“
When I think back to the day I saw the CFI smail about Ryerson Digital Media Zone fellowship, barely went through it and hit “delete”, I can’t believe I nearly missed out on what has undoubtedly become one of the best experiences of my life! Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone is this very vibrant, almost utopian incubator for young companies in downtown Toronto. It’s a collaborative environment where a scalable innovation can be made socially and commercially viable. At the time, the idea I’d been exploring since a couple of months, was taking publishing for desi teen girls and twenteens (currently a comatose industry) online (think: a free online Cosmo Girl! for Indians). Luckily, a good friend was kind enough to point out the smail, thinking I’d be a suitable candidate.
The best thing about the application process was the eligibility criteria – you didn’t have to be from a particular year, programme or discipline to apply. You could be any student with a unique innovative business idea, enabled by digital media that brings value. There were several rounds of application- initially we presented our idea as a short video pitch and professors overseeing CFI chose from among the pool. Ryerson then made a shortlist of those they found most viable and then we had to submit several modules including: a comprehensive five minute video pitch, a Business Plan, a 10 page applicant form and our CVs highlighting past accomplishments.
Three entrepreneurs and teams from IIT Madras were finally chosen: my project That’s So Gloss! , Siddharth Thakur’s Scanbox and Celestine Preetham’s TravelNet. We got a preview of what was to come when Ryerson flew us to Bombay for the FICCI Conference to meet with the University President, Sheldon Levy, the Zone Director Hossain Rahmana and Marsha McEachrane, from the International office.
Each Fellowship is valued at almost Rs. 5.95 lakh (CAD 12,500) over a four month period and involves reimbursing our pre-departure expenses (including flight tickets) as well as a generous monthly stipend. The Zone is open 24/7- with workstation and Wi-Fi Access. There are literally no walls- and everybody is very professional and very friendly at the same time. Zone members are a diverse cohort- representing all ages, nationalities and disciplines. The entrepreneurs are all super accomplished and the ideas, very cutting edge. Regular check-ins with mentors and our “DMZ Families” (a peer group of start-ups with broadly similar goals or at a similar stage; mine is The Kardashians) give us valuable feedback and help us stay on top of our goals. I love that two entrepreneurs working on vastly different projects can have such valuable and engaging discussions with each other. One of my favourite things about the DMZ culture is the tours – on any given day, a number of industry leaders, potential investors and VIPs come to visit the zone (my favourite thus far has been Prince Charles!). Social events like Good Scotch Fridays are an opportunity to get to know our peers and let our hair down.
Outside the DMZ, Toronto is an amazing city to be incredibly cosmopolitan and eclectic, and the people are SO friendly! Some of my favourite things we’ve done include the city tour, watching a Blue Jays vs. Yankees baseball game and the Roger Waters concert! Travel is on the cards and we’re planning to visit Niagra Falls and Montreal this month.
The Ryerson DMZ fellowship is an incredible opportunity in the vanguard of research and entrepreneurship. I absolutely recommend it to anyone passionate about entrepreneurship, who wants to spend a summer of their youth reinforcing his/her beliefs in the power of ideas and in their ability to change the world.