Made at Mac event celebrates — and inspires — innovators

Three photos in a grid. Two of them show people holding a sign that reads, 'Made at Mac - McMaster University Entrepreneurship. The other shows five people posing for a photo while three of them hold framed awards.

(Clockwise from top left) Representatives from GERAS Dance, a research centre focused on helping people age with dignity and independence; Longan Vision CEO Enzo Jia ‘15, ‘18 and McMaster researcher Leyla Soleymani with McMaster professor entrepreneurs Maryam Aramesh, Wael El-Dakhakhni and Jim Cotton, along with Andy Knights, vice-president, Research (acting) (All photos by Georgia Kirkos/McMaster University)

Surround yourself with people who want to see you get to the next level.

Just keep going — even if you get a no.

Enjoy the ride!

Successful innovators and business founders shared sage insights with a packed audience gathered on McMaster’s campus Wednesday for an event celebrating entrepreneurship at McMaster.

A panel discussion and innovation showcase, which featured almost 20 startup founders who have benefited from McMaster’s robust ecosystem of innovation, served as a celebration of the university’s focus on entrepreneurship, innovation and commercialization, and as a source of inspiration for community members.

The event also marked the launch of McMaster’s new entrepreneurship website – a one-stop digital hub with resources, programs, services and supports for community members at every stage of their entrepreneurial journey.

Here are some highlights from the day:

Leyla Soleymani, associate vice-president, research (commercialization & entrepreneurship) paid tribute to the students, staff, faculty and alumni who work every day on problems that matter to people and the planet.

“There is no doubt that McMaster is a research powerhouse,” said Soleymani, a co-founder of FendX Technologies and professor of engineering physics. “But we need to continue to ensure our research is being moved out of our labs and classrooms and into the hands of those who can put it to its best use.”

Soleymani also highlighted new supports for faculty through initiatives like the McMaster Entrepreneurship Academy, including the Professor Entrepreneur Fellowship, which will allow more McMaster researchers to commercialize important discoveries.

Learn more: Leyla Soleymani shares her entrepreneurial journey in a sit-down conversation with David Farrar

Three photos side-by-side. They all show a person speaking at a podium.
(From left to right) Leyla Soleymani, David Farrar and Sean Van Koughnett

President David Farrar echoed that message, highlighting the long history of McMaster students and researchers translating research into positive change in the world.

“We want to empower them to have an impact — the kind of impact that has the capacity to advance the economy, create jobs and, most importantly, improve lives,” said Farrar.

“I’m so pleased with this collective enthusiasm for innovation and entrepreneurship from our undergraduates to our seasoned faculty and everyone in between.”

“Students are an integral part of our entrepreneurship ecosystem,” said Associate Vice-President (Students and Learning) and Dean of Students and Special Advisor to the President, Innovation & Entrepreneurship Sean Van Koughnett.

“Engaging students in developing an entrepreneurial mindset and involvement in entrepreneurship not only benefits them but also contributes to the overall academic environment and broader community.”

John Valliant speaking at a podium
John Valliant is the CEO of Fusion Pharmaceuticals and a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.

“McMaster is on the cusp of something great,” John Valliant told the crowd.

Valliant, the CEO of Fusion Pharmaceuticals — which this month announced it is being acquired by global pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca in a deal valued at as much as $2.4 billion (US) — shared a message of perseverance.

The professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology urged students and innovators to tap into the vibrant entrepreneurial culture on campus — one that he said has greatly contributed to his success.

“Fusion would not be here without everyone’s support along the way,” said Valliant. “I am proud to be a part of it and am looking forward to seeing it grow.”

Four people standing behind a table. On the table are assistive mobility devices.
Innovation showcase participant Matthew Rosato ‘12, ‘23 (far left), is a graduate of both the Faculty of Engineering and the DeGroote School of Business’ MBA Program, and the president and founder of PROVA Innovations.

Startup founder Matthew Rosato is repaying McMaster’s investment in his entrepreneurship journey, which began when his son was born with cerebral palsy.

“I would find that when we took him to therapy, to our amazement, the therapist was able to correct his gait through using her hands and her voice. The problem was, as soon as we would leave the clinic, he kind of reverted back to what he was used to,” says Rosato.

Enter PROVA Innovations, Rosato’s startup, which specializes in wearable technology solutions for in-home gait training and neuromuscular rehabilitation.

“It really is precision medicine that we’re delivering at home,” says Rosato.
PROVA’s products, which can benefit patients with brain injuries, neurological disorders degenerative diseases and cerebral palsy, grew out of the thriving ecosystem of innovation alive at McMaster.

Rosato’s first stop in his entrepreneurial journey? The Forge, a McMaster-funded business incubator.

“An amazing place, rich in mentorship, rich in innovation and resources. And it really helped foster my company’s growth over the years to the point where now we’re ready to start to launch our products,” says Rosato.

The entrepreneur is now investing back into the McMaster ecosystem and contributing to regional economic growth, providing employment opportunities for students and innovators.

“I’ve always been a fan of hiring McMaster students,” says Rosato. “We’ve hired a number of co-op students, and on many occasions, they’ve turned out to be excellent employees and joined the company full time.”

Four people seated on a stage while holding microphones.
(From left to right) Gay Yuyitung, executive director of the McMaster Industry Liaison Office and acting director at The Forge, Sonia Sennik, executive director of the Creative Destruction Lab, Mo El Mahallawy, co-founder of Shepherd and Jocelyn Wessels, the co-founder and chief scientific officer at Afynia Laboratories.

“I call myself an accidental entrepreneur,” said Jocelyn Wessels (‘15).

The co-founder and chief scientific officer at Afynia Laboratories, a Canadian FemTech company that has developed an at-home test for endometriosis, described a steep learning journey entering the world of entrepreneurship.

“For me, I think it was having confidence in the skills that I gained in graduate school and taking those skills and applying them in a whole new way,” said Wessels, speaking at a panel discussion at the event. “I had to give myself grace and time to learn.”

Wessels was joined by two other McMaster graduates — Sonia Sennik, executive director of the Creative Destruction Lab, and Mo El Mahallawy, co-founder of Shepherd — in the discussion moderated by Gay Yuyitung, executive director of the McMaster Industry Liaison Office and acting director at The Forge.

Sennik’s advice for McMaster students? “Relationships are everything […] It’s not a one-size-fits-all model for mentorship. You are going to need many. Creating that group of mentors is really important.”

El Mahallawy seconded that. “Meet as many people as you can. You never know how the people you meet are going to change the trajectory of your life.”

A grid of three photos showing startup founders standing in front of their respective information booths

Thank you to all the founders who joined us at this inspiring event from the following startups: 20/20 OptimEyes Technologies, A.I. VALI Inc.,, EarthOne, Fitsentive, GERAS DANCE, Jetson Infinity, Longan Vision Corp, NerView Surgical, Prognostiq Health, PROVA Innovations Ltd., Rayyan Therapeutics, Synmedix and VisualizeAT. 

To learn more about the robust ecosystem of innovation at McMaster and the supports available to all community members, visit the McMaster entrepreneurship website.  

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