Lakehead University students accelerate ingenuity

By Sandi Krasowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

THUNDER BAY — The first graduates from the Ascend Accelerator program in Lakehead University’s Ingenuity initiative are being celebrated.

The program provided support for the development of student-based business ideas while providing opportunities to learn how to overcome the challenges of starting a business and making it a viable enterprise.

Funded by FedNor, it gave mentorship through weekly workshops for four student-based business ventures.

The eight people emerging from the program includes Mary Wokomah, who started Sunkissed Universe, a fashion brand where “art and fashion collide” to create wearable artworks that are functional, stylish and durable.

Wokomah called the course a “game changer.”

“The course was incredible,” she said. “Every Tuesday we had milestone meetings where I would have to catch (everyone) up on what I was able to achieve for that week, and while in the meeting, set more goals for the next week.”

She added that the 12 weeks were engaging and full of useful workshops and events. Wokomah’s brand features urban lounge wear, hand-painted purses and an array of street wear clothing.

Titan Intelligence, founded by graduates Marius Fejzulla, Marko Javorac and Yash Gupta, is a Thunder Bay-based software solutions company. Through the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning applications with their software, the team is able to enhance the value of their clients’ business through growth and new revenue opportunities.

Ajey Meekis and Tristan St. Aubin will bring more competitive tournaments to the region while highlighting athletes with their By The Bay Esports venture. Their goal is to increase viewership to upcoming broadcasts.

Manilla, a mobile payment company that connects international students in Canada with their friends and families abroad, was created by graduates Nehi Igbinijesu and Austin Otsu. Through a clever peer-to-peer matching system, the application facilitates cross-border payments with speed and security for users.

Igbinijesu, who is from Nigeria, says he has been through the same problems as other international students in not being able to connect with his family abroad and not being able to meet certain financial needs.

“During the pandemic, a lot of international students felt isolated in three ways, emotional, physical and financial. They couldn’t connect,” he said.

“The time period between who moves money can take from three to five days and now we are building an application that allows for money transfers, it to happen in seconds.”

Manilla is the recipient of the 2021 Lakehead Ingenuity Award and is poised to start its interactive application on the App Store and Google Play this fall.

“We are looking forward to starting out in Thunder Bay and working with Confederation College and Lakehead University,” Igbinijesu said.

“As things progress, we would like to (expand) into southern Ontario and help all the schools down south. At the moment, our project is focused on India and Nigeria and when we launch, we will be helping Indian and Nigerian students connect with their families.”

Alyson MacKay, the manager of Ingenuity, was proud of her first cohort and graduation.

“It has been an exceptional 12 weeks,” she said. “The teams have put in an enormous amount of work. We’ve had 16 workshops, 24 milestone meetings, constant followup and mentoring.”

The program, which is aimed at keeping the businesses in Northwestern Ontario, was open to current students or alumni from up to three years. The eight students are all graduates of Lakehead University this year who have completed the additional accelerator program. Two of them will return to Lakehead University for their masters this fall.

“It’s absolutely incredible to see their dedication to go from a full school year to committing 12 weeks of this program, and they have certainly earned their success,” said MacKay.