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LocalStudent and uCast win 2021 Slaight New Venture Competition

April 30, 2021
Logos for uCast and localstudent

A business that connects students with clients who need home services and an app that allows podcast creators to monetize their work have won $25,000 each in the 19th annual Slaight New Venture Competition at the Ted Rogers School of Management.

For nearly two decades, the Slaight New Venture Competition, external link at the Ted Rogers School, generously supported by the Slaight Communications Inc., has fostered student entrepreneurship by awarding a $25,000 prize of startup seed money to a Ted Rogers School student. This increased in recent years to two $25,000 prizes – one for a startup led by a student founder who identifies as female and one for a student founder who identifies as male – to encourage more females to participate. 

The competition, hosted by Enactus Ryerson, external link and Dr. Sean Wise (Associate Professor, Entrepreneurship & Strategy, Ted Rogers School), was held over Zoom because of COVID-19 restrictions. The six finalists (three male-led and three female-led ventures) made their presentations virtually to judges on April 8, 2021.

“This year was special because the students refused to let COVID derail the competition. They insisted on a live competition, even if it had to be held over Zoom.” says Dr. Wise. “2021 also marked our first ever year of gender parity – we had an equal number of female-led startups and male-led startups apply to participate. This was a long-term goal of both the school and the sponsor, and it is good to see it reached. It was also the first year we had an all-female judging panel.”  

The 2021 Slaight New Venture Competition winners are Marko Semcesen (Entrepreneurship & Strategy) for LocalStudent, external link, opens in new window, which offers flexible employment to students by connecting them with people who need home services like shovelling and lawn mowing, and Alia Khan (Global Management Studies major, Finance minor) for uCast, a platform that allows anyone to create a podcast, and make money doing it.

“Initiated by my father, Allan Slaight, known as Canada’s broadcast pioneer, music leader and a prominent Canadian philanthropist, Slaight Communications Inc. is pleased to continue our commitment to the Slaight New Venture Fund,” said Gary Slaight, President & CEO, Slaight Communications Inc. “Congratulations to this year’s winners, uCast and LocalStudent, for their innovative businesses. We hope this support will help student entrepreneurs develop resilience in response to challenging circumstances.”


With inflexible hours, micromanaging and low pay, Marko Semcesen and his business partner Alexander Ryzer (Entrepreneurship & Strategy) felt that students’ needs were no longer met at typical student jobs.

“When I was younger, my first jobs were the typical student jobs, such as working part-time in a department store,” says Semcesen. “These jobs were fine at first, but as I became older, my schedule became increasingly variable because of school, homework, social events and extracurricular activities, so I no longer had the time to work even a part-time job.” 

“One summer, I began lending neighbours a hand with their yard work and renovations. I was able to coordinate the time with them, I didn’t have anyone bossing me around, and my clients loved it, so I was paid well,” Semcesen explains. “My clients even asked if I had any friends who could do other services for them.” That’s when the idea for LocalStudent was created with Ryzer. 

LocalStudent is an online platform that connects people who need on-demand home services with a student who can perform that service. When Ryzer and Semcesen first launched the company, they did everything manually, but were eventually able to automate a few processes. Today, they have over 12,000 students signed up to work, and the company just surpassed $100,000 in sales.

“With the funds from the Slaight New Venture competition, we’ll now be able to develop our own app to make the process as convenient as possible for both our clients and our students,” says Semcesen. “Our plans for this summer are to provide our students with another 5,000 jobs and expand to cities across North America. Our ultimate goal is to eventually have at least one student, on every street, in every neighbourhood. Winning this competition has gotten us multiple steps closer to that goal, and we can’t thank the Slaight Communications Inc. enough.”


The idea for uCast was created four months ago when Alia Khan and one of her friends were talking about the challenges of creating podcasts, and how difficult it is to monetize them. They started asking podcasters questions on Facebook and Reddit channels, and quickly noticed the pains of monetization. 

The founding team of uCast is made up of Khan, Rand Abou Ras (BComm, Entrepreneurship & Strategy, 2020) and Daniel Martinovic (Software Engineering, Ryerson). In just a few short months, they spoke with over 200 podcasters, enrolled in an accelerator program and received traction from podcast hosting and distribution services. 

uCast is a platform that allows anyone to create a podcast and make money doing it. It puts creators at the forefront of their business model by digitizing the business process of creating a podcast, so creators can focus on the creative process. Creators are able to upload or livestream podcasts directly on the app, accept and negotiate sponsorship deals, get live data directly from the dashboard and create automated marketing campaigns to push their content.

Khan says that uCast’s vision is “Every Podcast Gets Paid.” “We want to break down industry barriers and support small creators worldwide,” she explains. “We believe in the power of transferrable information, so it’s very important for us to support the 1.8 million podcasts that are not being supported monetarily.” 

The next step for the uCast team in their entrepreneurial journey is to build a minimal viable product (MVP) and create beta tests. And winning the Slaight New Venture Competition will help them do just that. Khan says that winning the $25,000 through this competition will accelerate their ability to create testable MVPs and reach their 2022 projected goal of $1,500,000 in revenue, servicing 1,000 podcasts and running 5,000 ad campaigns. 

“Thank you to the Slaight Communications Inc.’s generosity, which has opened the door for my team and me to grow our venture beyond just an idea,” says Khan. “This award will act as the foundation of growing uCast and preparing for further rounds of funding. We are filled with feelings of gratitude and owe all our future success to your family.” 

Judging panel and other finalists

For the first time in the Slaight New Venture Competition’s history, there was an all-female judging panel. The judges included Dr. Daphne Taras, Dean of the Ted Rogers School, Michelle McBane, Director at the MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund and Maayn Ziv, an advocate for creating a more accessible and inclusive world and founder of AccessNow. 

"I had the pleasure of judging this year's competition. The entries were inspiring, and the professionalism of the virtual event made for a delightful experience for all involved,” said Dr. Taras. “Slaight Communications Inc. has much to be proud of, especially in knowing the student-entrepreneurs are talented and resilient. It was an early sneak-peak at Canada's future entrepreneurs!”

Other finalists that competed in the 2021 Slaight New Venture Competition included Hasan Kami (Innowind Energy Solutions), Jordan Katz (Micanna), Elvira Da Silviera (Mindset Masters) and Maria Portillo (Somi).