Knowledge mobilization for impact now, not just after graduation

Friday, April 22, 2022
by Victoria Lumax

As part of a thriving innovation ecosystem, the Grebel Peace Incubator at the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement provides students with opportunities to apply their knowledge beyond academia. Access to Mitacs funding and a diverse, collaborative network of innovators allows participants like Majid Mirza, Sean Campbell, and Brendan Wylie-Toal to pursue entrepreneurship and education at the same time, helping them bring their initiatives to market more efficiently and effectively. 

“In life, we tend to bucket and label students and professionals, employees, and entrepreneurs in different ways, but that’s not necessary because it makes assumptions,” reflects Majid Mirza, PhD student and founder of Grebel Peace Incubator participant, ESGTree. As part of a thriving innovation ecosystem, the Grebel Peace Incubator at the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement, provides students with opportunities to apply their knowledge beyond the realm of academics. Access to funding and a diverse, collaborative network of innovators allows Grebel Peace Incubator participants to stretch their entrepreneurial muscles while also pursuing their education, giving their budding initiatives a uniquely well-rounded head start.  

Learn more about the Centre’s collaboration with Mitacs in Further investing in peace

In November 2019, the Grebel Peace Incubator became the first social innovation incubator approved for Mitacs’ Accelerate Entrepreneur program. The Centre’s partnership with this Canadian grant-matching program gives students exclusive access to start-up funding, enabling them to put their new-found knowledge to work in business contexts. Joining the Grebel Peace Incubator opens the door to Mitacs funding. Participants Majid Mirza, Sean Campbell, and Brendan Wylie-Toal are living proof that that the chance to work with both Mitacs and the Centre’s peacebuilding community is an unparalleled opportunity for students to have an impact now, not just after graduation.  

Majid Mirza, Founder of ESGTree  

Majid Mirza

After working for over 10 years in impact investing, PhD student and founder of ESGTree, Majid Mirza, appreciates the flexibility of engaging in entrepreneurship and academic studies simultaneously. Mirza begun his PhD in 2019, looking into private equity, venture capital, and sustainable environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices. In 2020, support from the Grebel Peace Incubator and Centre for Peace Advancement helped Mirza launch his start-up. The PhD helps to deepen my knowledge of the industry and subject matter. I knew what the industry was like from my work experience, but had never produced software and technology beforehand, explains Mirza.

Since day one, the Grebel Peace Fund and Mitacs Accelerate Entrepreneur program have helped facilitate the company’s growth. “The funding is really important for us because it allows us to continually work on new techniques and features, really accelerating our work by enabling us to budget for new developments on the platform,” shares Mirza. Such practical contributions have allowed the start-up to proactively invest in research and development (R&D). Today, the growing company includes eight staff members and a thriving clientele. For Mirza, support from Mitacs and the Centre gives him the capacity to focus on both his studies and business.  

"Business can be more of an operational pursuit than an intellectual one, so I like stepping away to do research as well. Being able to come up with ideas, look at data and trends, and create meaning inspires me, and the balance is best."

Sean Campbell, Founder of Union Sustainable Development Co-operative (Union Co-op)  

Like Mirza, Mitacs funding has allowed Sean Campbell, founder of Union: Sustainable Development Co-operative, to dedicate more time to launching his start-up than would otherwise have been possible. Since joining the Grebel Peace Incubator in early 2021, Union Co-op has engaged nearly 150 members from Waterloo Region in community ownership.

In his Sustainability Management doctoral studies, Campbell looks at how laws, industry norms, and social expectations shape and constrain entrepreneurship. Union Co-op serves as an action research project for Campbell, while also creating real community change increasing awareness of the issues surrounding affordable housing and providing sustainable housing in the Waterloo Region.

Sean Campbell


"The most rewarding part of pursuing a career and my education at the same time is that they inform each other. My academic work teaches me best practices and frames of analysis, and my applied work tests them."

Brendan Wylie-Toal, Innovation Lead at KidsAbility  

For former Grebel Peace Incubator participant, Brendan Wylie-Toal, the Mitacs funding and connections established through the Centre for Peace Advancement expanded his career in new and unexpected ways. Wylie-Toal came to the Centre while pursuing his Masters of Applied Science at the University of Waterloo and working at St. Pauls’ GreenHouse, a fellow incubator on campus. His thesis explored how the public sector manages and approaches R&D through open innovation, which advanced GreenHouse’s approach to business development by offering insight into which qualities reflect a startup’s conditions for growth. “Understanding how and why organizations are interested in innovation creates opportunities for meaningful change that minimizes the risk of partnership and maximizes potential,” explains Wylie-Toal. 

Mitacs funding enabled Wylie-Toal to build a body of work with major commercialization potential. Meanwhile, the Centre served as an amplifier for network growth and impact, triggering his shift from independent entrepreneurship to intrapreneurship - entrepreneurial behaviour within an existing company. Wylie-Toal’s understanding of how to put to work his research’s insights landed him a dream job: building KidsAbility a strategic plan and new programs from the ground up. 

"Getting involved through the Grebel Peace Incubator and Mitacs was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The funding allowed me to create more space and time for research, and to do it in a deep and meaningful way."

Engagement with the Grebel Peace Incubator creates a way for students with an entrepreneurial itch to bring their dreams to life. Support from fellow trailblazers, encouragement and insight from the Centre community, and opportunities for financial support can help you make the most of your education and business journey.  

Visit the Grebel Peace Incubator webpage to learn about membership today.