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Look what happens when researchers from one of the world's top ten computer science departments launch a startup

Professor Craig Boutilier and Tyler Lu

MaRS Innovation and the University of Toronto have announced that the founders of Granata Decision Systems Inc., a graduate of the University of Toronto Early-Stage Technology (UTEST) start-up incubator program, have joined Google Inc.

Craig Boutilier, a professor in U of T’s department of computer science, and Tyler Lu, a graduating PhD student in the same department, co-founded Granata Decision Systems in 2012 to develop their advanced decision-support technologies.(Read more about computer science at U of T and how it ranks among the world's top ten computer science departments.) 

Granata’s software platform provided what are known as real-time optimization and scenario analysis capabilities for large-scale, data-driven marketing problems and group/organizational decision-making.

The emerging spirit of entrepreneurship in the department is reflected by the many startup companies established by our faculty and students and rooted in our world-class research programs,” said Professor Sven Dickinson, chair of the computer science department. “Our strength in artificial intelligence is not only behind successful new startups, like Craig and Tyler’s, as well as Geoff Hinton's, but behind exciting new entrepreneurship initiatives like the Watson Challenge.

(Read about how Google acquired a U of T neural networks company last year.)  (Read about the U of T team taking second place in the IBM Watson challenge).

The company was part of the UTEST program’s first cohort. UTEST is part of U of T’s growing ecosystem of incubators and commercialization support services, and was named one of Canada’s top seven accelerators in 2013.

“This is a significant milestone for the UTEST program and the wider MaRS Innovation portfolio,” said Raphael Hofstein, president and CEO of MaRS Innovation. “We co-created the UTEST program with U of T to foster entrepreneurship in a meaningful way while encouraging students and professors to translate their academic ideas into commercial realities. 

“We hope Craig and Tyler’s success will motivate other researchers and students to consider working with MI and participate in UTEST and our other commercialization programs.”
Jointly administered by MaRS Innovation and U of T, UTEST’s mission is to support early-stage startups in computer science. Through UTEST, aspiring entrepreneurs launch a company, develop a business strategy, meet with industry representatives to get feedback on their products, secure seed funding and opportunities for follow-on investment, receive mentorship and have use of office space in the MaRS Discovery District for a year.

“Craig and Tyler’s success is an excellent example of what can be achieved when innovative ideas are transformed into reality by the kind of support UTEST provides during critical early stages of development,” said Professor Peter Lewis, interim vice-president of research and innovation at U of T. “We're thrilled to see them take their next steps with Google.”   

Unlike other start-up incubators, UTEST accepts companies in the very earliest stages of idea generation – before they’re ready for traditional incubators – and can be a springboard to other North American accelerator ecosystems, such as YCombinator, Creative Destruction and One Eleven. (Read more about startups and entrepreneurship at U of T.)

Watch a video from CBC's Lang & O'Leary report (below) featuring Professor Boutilier and Granata.

Elizabeth Monier-Williams is a writer with MaRS Innovation, a partner of the University of Toronto.