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The Review

TRSS X DMZ: Startup Certified Program


What our founders gained from hiring Startup Certified Program participants.

By Jude Saqer

The Startup Certified program at the DMZ Sandbox is not only helping entrepreneurial students fund their business idea – it’s greatly impacting founders at the DMZ. Through this program, founders at the DMZ can employ post-secondary students to support their marketing and sales teams. The Ted Rogers Student Society (TRSS) subsidizes up to fifty percent of the students’ salaries, further helping founders employ tech talent from Toronto Metropolitan University. Students are put through a rigorous program on startups led by experts in different industries. Once they’ve completed the program, they can either apply to work with a DMZ startup or start their own company and get paid to do it!

Since its launch, the DMZ Startup Certified Program has matched around 30 founders with students who bring value, ambition and expertise to their startups. I spoke with a few of these founders to understand how the overall process went and what they appreciated most about the program.

Karen Lau, founder of Furnishr, a startup focused on furnishing your home from selection to delivery, assembly and clean-up. Karen’s team needed help on the operations side of running her business, and appreciated that the program allowed her to look at a pool of talent from Toronto Metropolitan University. At the end of the process, Karen selected Julia, a Business Law student at Ryerson. The impact Julia made exceeded her role as an operational specialist – she expressed interest in UX Design, and was able to convert sales into clients. The tweaks she made to the design of the website helped provide an overall seamless user experience for potential customers of Furnishr.

Chris Snoyer, Founder of Spiffy, boasts that he only hires young talent through the Sandbox’s Startup Certified program. “As soon as I know students are being put through the program before they apply and they do it voluntarily, it automatically gets me more interested”, Snoyer says. Startup Certified has not only provided founders with the financial support needed to hire interns, but the students help fix broken processes. Snoyer explains how having fresh eyes in the business can tell you a lot about what your business is currently lacking. “If I can’t train a student to follow a certain process, that tells me that my processes aren’t working well and I need to iterate on them.” Snoyer’s previous student staff, Neal, created a content services program enabling the company to expand their services to a portion of a running business that may be overlooked when involved in a startup, therefore solving an adoption problem they once had. Spiffy’s founders would definitely recommend this program to any founder looking to gain financial support and an extra set of hands that help run your startup. It also provides you a perspective you may have not considered in the past about your marketing best practices.

DMZ Alum Brandon Pizzacalla, co-founder of GrowthGenius, had a great experience with the program and says that his past student staff from Startup Certified is now working for the company full-time. This would not have been possible had it not been for the talent that is provided within Toronto Metropolitan University, which focuses on enhancing students’ entrepreneurial mindset. “A lot of great talent is locked in universities and the program provides great exposure to participating students”, says Founder of FortunaAI Omer Jamal.

Through this program, the DMZ Sandbox is making an impact on founders and students, from the community they’re exposed to, to the coaching and opportunities provided through the network. The Startup Certified program will be starting again, to find out more about the program attend one of our Information Sessions on either Jan. 30th at 2:00pm or Feb. 5th at 5:30pm at DMZ Sandbox. Register here.