Five days before the launch of her first app, Riter Liu is thousands of miles away from her team in Beijing, learning how to run her business at Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone (DMZ).
Liu, 24, is one of four visiting scholars from the Communication University of China (CUC) developing their technology startups at Ryerson.
While it’s well known for its work with local startups, the DMZ developed international partnerships with universities in Israel and India last year and now has its first fellows from China. International students from these universities face fierce competition to have their big ideas made business-worthy at Ryerson.
Liu’s app, Friends on Your Trip, combines a map with instant messaging to help groups travelling together plan their trip and find each other while abroad.
As her group works to finish the app for its demo release on the Android app store later this week, Liu is hard at work getting the product marketable.
“My major is computer application technology so maybe we have a lack of business or product experience. That’s why we come to DMZ,” she said.
Her stint at the DMZ has brought her together with Jane Li and Lee Li, two other technology entrepreneurs from her university. Although they didn’t know each other before competing to come to the DMZ, they now share an apartment in Toronto, and have toured landmarks like Niagara Falls and Quebec City together.
Jane Li, 26, co-founded Sound of Colour, a free mobile app with 20,000 users that provides downloadable audio entertainment — from news to novels to TV shows — for long commutes without Wi-Fi.
“Our goal is to make this app into everyone’s personal radio,” she said.
Lee Li, 24, is the co-founder of New Media Technologies, an audio system that records and plays back 3D surround sound for film and music production. Li compared his product to similar systems by Dolby Laboratories, Inc. or DTS, Inc., two audio behemoths leading the market in surround sound technologies.
“But we have (a) different way… and we think our way is better,” he said.
The fourth student from CUC, Mia Chen, is working an interactive design platform called UI creator.
The students from China were accepted based on unique ideas already at the prototype stage, as well as their ability to collaborate with others and pitch their product.
“The whole purpose of having international students is twofold,” said Valerie Fox, the DMZ’s executive director. “No. 1 is to attract other great talent and have them work with the other companies.
“And most important is to understand what do companies need internationally?”
Fox added, “It’s wonderful to see the interactions between the companies — all the different types of companies — and the learning from one another is priceless.”
Liu said the other startups she’s spoken with at the DMZ are interested in the Chinese market, and she wants to help them understand it better.
Ryerson has had international institutional partners for many years, according to Marsha McEachrane Mikhail, director of Ryerson International, a school department that assists with accommodations for students on exchange, among other services.
Last year, a group of seven students from India and a group of three students from Israel spent a few months developing their technology startups in Ryerson’s technology incubator.
“There’s been a concerted effort in the last several years … to partner with really strong institutions in certain countries,” McEachrane Mikhail said. “Both students and faculty want to engage with counterparts in many countries.”