co-founder Ian Mackinnon helps launch the Entrepreneurship Fund

MacKinnon (BMath ’06, MMath ’08) gave to the Fund with the aim of strengthening the culture of entrepreneurship in the Faculty of Mathematics

The Faculty of Mathematics has been a home to bold and visionary creators since day one.

In 1979, Wes Graham and Ian McPhee launched WatCom (now Sybase), the University’s first startup. In doing so, they started an entrepreneurial tradition in the Faculty that remains strong today. Over 500 start-ups have their origins in the Faculty of Mathematics, including industry leaders like OpenText, Maplesoft, RapidNovor and Faire.

This number could increase dramatically in the years ahead thanks to another Waterloo innovator, Ian MacKinnon, co-founder and CTO of MacKinnon recently made a $100,000 gift to help launch a new Math Entrepreneurship Fund.Ian MacKinnon

The Fund will empower students by creating entrepreneurship programs and supports, including pitch competitions, hackathons, conferences and one-on-one mentorship with industry leaders. MacKinnon hopes the Fund will “encourage more math students to consider entrepreneurship as a career path.”

Founding a community for entrepreneurs

MacKinnon says the Fund “spoke to a problem” he had as an undergrad. When he first came to the University in 2001, he had dreams of launching his own company. But, at that time, Waterloo had little in the way of entrepreneurship programming to nurture and guide his passion.

He found other outlets for his entrepreneurial side. He “wrapped” himself in the University experience, taking on numerous volunteer roles in the Faculty of Mathematics community. As a fourth-year student, he served as an orientation director, running activities for the incoming group of freshmen. Then, during his MMath, he became president of the Graduate Student Association.

These experiences allowed him to develop leadership and teamwork skills that proved perfect complements to the technical skills he developed through coursework.

“A lot of people don’t realize how useful the soft skills are,” says MacKinnon. “As a developer, you don't actually need soft skills that much early in your career. But as you get further along, you realize that getting a group of people aligned on a task, for example, is invaluable.”

As helpful as these experiences were, MacKinnon truly found his footing as an entrepreneur when he joined the Launch Academy Incubator in Vancouver in 2014 to develop The incubator’s mentorship and networking support was crucial to the business’s success. Today, is a leading social media management platform with over 7 million customers.

MacKinnon hopes the Fund will establish a similarly vibrant and supportive environment for student entrepreneurs within the Faculty of Mathematics.

“There's a lot in the startup world that seems very simple once you already know it, but you need someone to tell it to you,” MacKinnon notes. “Entrepreneurs really require a community to get started and there’s no reason these kinds of communities couldn’t be at the universities.”

The next big thing starts here

MacKinnon believes promoting entrepreneurship among the student population is incredibly important. He points out that when you compare the top ten tech companies from twenty years ago to the top ten today, there is surprisingly little overlap. This suggests that the companies that will shape tomorrow don’t yet exist—they are no more than ideas in the minds of our students and need to be nurtured and developed.

“In the rapidly evolving world, the next big thing hasn’t been started yet,” says MacKinnon. “Students need to know that they can play a part in making it happen. We’re always progressing as a society and we need fresh ideas, fresh ventures, fresh companies.”

He adds: “I’m just really excited to see what kind of hackathons, prizes, capstone projects and conferences happen as a result of this fund.”

If you are interested in supporting the Entrepreneurship Fund or being involved in entrepreneurship in the Faculty of Mathematics, please contact Charlie Clarke, Associate Dean, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at You can also give to the Entrepreneurship Fund on Giving Tuesday.