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Members of the Social Ventures Zone work together

Real-world experience

The Office of Zone Learning & Strategic Initiatives leads programming and activities that help students develop innovation skills and mindsets that help open doors after graduation. Our collection of courses, job placements and training programs are offered alongside our world-leading startup incubator network. We bridge the gap between the university, industry and community, establishing TMU as Canada’s innovation university.

Embrace the discomfort, growth doesn’t come by staying in your comfort zone. The Zone Learning community will be there to support you along the way. (1920 x 400 px) - 1
Embrace the discomfort, growth doesn’t come by staying in your comfort zone. The Zone Learning community will be there to support you along the way. (1920 x 400 px) - 2

Located in the commercial centre of Canada, Toronto Metropolitan University’s 10-Zone incubator network provides Toronto’s ecosystem with an accessible first step for early-stage startups and entrepreneurs, as well as support for the growth of their ventures.

At any time of year, you’ll find more than 300 startups on campus, and each incubator, or “zone”, provides a suite of support for the entrepreneur – coaching, a community of thousands of entrepreneurs and industry leaders, access to customers and access to funding. 

Students from any discipline can apply their degree coursework or their personal interest to real-world startups, causes, companies, projects or ventures. It’s not uncommon to find a nursing student with a fashion startup, or a psychology major building a practice. Zones are also open to the external community; about half of the entrepreneurs in the incubators are from outside TMU.

The experience of building a real venture builds entrepreneurial mindsets and valuable power skills needed for innovation in the 21st century. In just 13 years, more than 5,000 new jobs have been created and more than $2.5 billion has been raised. Standouts from their network of more than 5,000 alumni startups include Mejuri, Inkbox, AccessNow, 500px, Medstack, Zensurance, The Gist, Knix, Ulula, and Ownr.

Our unique model spans several sectors, providing students, entrepreneurs and industry professionals with access to world-leading entrepreneurial programming, state-of-the-art workspaces and one of the largest communities of innovators in the country. This widely appealing approach has seen the zones provide support to more than 7,000 innovators.

Each incubator focuses on advancing a sector. Partners have access to top talent, as well as the opportunity to bring industry challenges forward to the community where students, researchers and entrepreneurs can respond with ideas and solutions. Entrepreneurs are enabled and encouraged to pass through multiple zones to pull on relevant resources at different stages of their development process.

Focusing on a sector or a region has the advantage of building localized and niche partner networks that help identify new opportunities for programming, consulting, funding and collaboration. We have worked with corporate partners and industry associations to deliver industry or sector-specific incubator or accelerator cohorts as well as opportunities for talent development through student placements. Past partners include Aviva, BMO, CompTIA, Dynacare, GM, Goodmans, IBM, Joe Fresh, Medtech Canada, Scotiabank, Shopper Drug Mart, and TD.

Zone Learning’s efforts to expand entrepreneurial culture beyond TMU’s campus borders come in the form of collaborative partnerships. The group has launched or supported incubators locally – in Brampton, Innisfil and Niagara Falls – as well as internationally – in India, Vietnam, Jordan, Japan, Bermuda, Turkey, and Egypt.

However, its open-source model also extends to partnerships with other post-secondary institutions. Working with Dalhousie and Memorial universities, TMU launched the national Lab2Market program to empower Canadian-based deep technology researchers to accelerate their innovations from academic labs into new ventures that impact society and the economy.

Realizing the potential of Canadian innovation, as well as the systemic gaps of entrepreneurship, Zone Learning is also working to make the ecosystem more inclusive by developing incubation streams and grant programs that specifically support entrepreneurs who identify as Black, Indigenous, persons of colour, or women. 1 in 4 zone members is a first time entrepreneur, so our entry-level programs are designed to be as welcoming as possible, ranging from meeting new people over a free breakfast, to brainstorming side hustle ideas, to being a subject in a user test.

Not everyone needs to be an entrepreneur and not every startup will succeed. Our success has come as a result of embracing this experience, and how it develops students and innovators.

Leveraging startup and venture creation as a vehicle to drive innovation, Zone Learning creates opportunities for students to both pursue non-traditional careers via entrepreneurship and to achieve more in traditional career paths. We consistently hear from employers that it is difficult to measure the qualities that they are looking for in new hires—the ability to problem solve outside your comfort zone, to work in an interdisciplinary team, to be adaptable, to demonstrate resilience, and to show initiative. 

While technical skills can be taught and practiced, these valuable and intangible skills must be learned through experience working on real-world projects and interacting with others. This helps to develop “the entrepreneurial mindset” – a collection of competencies that develop from an authentic experience where an individual has the opportunity to lead, is held accountable for tasks, develops their personal network, and, ultimately, becomes more self-aware. We even differentiate our programming for those who want to develop startups and for those who want to develop skills for employability.

The process of trying to launch a new venture—whether successful or not—builds the entrepreneurial mindset, complements academic learning, and supports the growth of individuals. The Zone Learning experience produces higher quality entrepreneurs, improving the employability and success of graduates, regardless of their career paths.

John MacRitchie, Assistant Vice-President, Zone Learning and Strategic Initiatives

John MacRitchie, Assistant Vice-President, Zone Learning and Strategic Initiatives

The Assistant Vice-President, Zone Learning and Strategic Initiatives, strengthens the links of Toronto Met's 10 zones to the core education and research missions of the university, and scales the experiential learning benefits for students by integrating zone learning into the classroom. 

Got questions? Contact us!

Send us an email at or DM us on Instagam @zonestmu and a Zone Learning representative will be in contact with you shortly.